As one of the most successful crowdfunded MMORPGs currently in development, Crowfall is under a lot of pressure to deliver a new experience to gamers. Until recently, the game has been in a very early pre-alpha state with tests consisting of focused, instanced events. It was revealed earlier this month that the next step for Crowfall was going to be huge, and that the game is going to begin open world testing very shortly. We had the opportunity to discuss this ‘Big World’ concept with lead designer Thomas Blair and what that’s going to mean for testers.
We appreciate you taking the time to discuss Crowfall and the upcoming ‘Big World’ test phase. Can you please introduce yourself and explain your role with the game?
Howdy everyone! My name is Thomas Blair and I am the Lead Designer for Crowfall. I am been working on MMOs since back into the Everquest I days, and spent a considerable amount of time on the Star Wars Galaxies team as well as the DC Universe Online team. Today I am going to answer some questions you all have about our upcoming Big World Milestone.
In the Ace Q&A Creative Director Todd Coleman said “we’re done building stuff that we’re not going to use.” Does that mean we won’t be seeing any specific scenarios like the Hunger Dome or Siege Perilous in the future
That is exactly what that means! We have hit a point where we have enough of the game features built that we can push towards building the game world as we ultimately want it to play. Hunger Dome and Siege Perilous were both “matchmaking” type games, sort of like a MOBA or an FPS match. They were very useful to test large features like combat and sieging, but Crowfall isn’t a MOBA and it really is time for us to move into testing the MMO architecture, the core loop of fighting in campaign worlds and bringing the spoils of the campaign back to an Eternal Kingdom.
Do you have any specific ideas or concepts that you plan to test in the near future?
We came up with a pretty intensive checklist for our testers to use in what we are dubbing “Big World 1.0” last week. Everything from our new chat system, grouping, the Duelist archetype, stealth, harvesting, crafting and a lot more! All of that said, this is still primarily a testing experience and not an actual campaign. There are no victory conditions, and we are likely going to reset the server(s) whenever we need to.
Crafting was mentioned this week and also earlier this month in your blog. Based on the blog, it looks like crafting will be fairly in-depth. What types of items will players be able to craft in the next testing phase and will they have any effect on the gameplay that’s available?
We will have a first pass at weapons, armor and tool crafting as well as a variety of testing potions available to craft. The testing potions won’t be in the game at launch, but we needed a way to temporarily give players increased skills so they could test the skills that normally aren’t accessible until you are deep into our skill trees.
The list of items that you can create in this version is huge. Deceptively so, because one recipe can produce a large array of different items, depending on which resource(s) that you feed it. For example the metal bar recipe alone has 60 different types of metal it can produce. Players will also be able to customize the statistics that are on any item through experimentation and resource variety. As I said: it’s an incredibly deep system.
How does experimentation work?
In this first version, we don’t have crafting stations yet. Instead, we are allowing the players to access the full crafting tree from anywhere in the world…. And that includes the experimentation system.
We also don’t have factories available yet, so as a stop-gap measure we have reduced the craft timers to near zero and removed the recipe requirements that look for factory-identical components.
On the good side, removing these elements will make it a lot easier to test (which is the point). Once we know we have a firm foundation, we will add both crafting stations and factories to the world.
Speaking of items, how will inventory management work? I can imagine that players will become overburdened rather quickly without any type of storage facility.
Crowfall does not have a series of quest NPCs handing out items, and the NPC’s primarily drop crafting resources. We also don’t have caravan animals in yet, so right now we allow the resources to stack to pretty large numbers.
With this version, we hope players will craft items as quickly as they can find resources (which are plentiful) so that we can find and fix any bugs in the system.
Will combat still be primarily PvP or will there be additional PvE elements implemented? If so, what kinds?
There has always been some PvE in the game – even in our first versions of testing (which we called ‘the Hunger Dome’) we had monsters—hellcats and zombies–that were very aggressive.
This next milestone (Big World 1.0) will include those monsters and more. The nature of the Hunger Dome rules required each match to end quickly — 14 minutes or less. This means that a fair bit of functionality (like NPC respawns) were never actually tested in the live environment. This is a great chance to test out that functionality.
This milestone also introduces the stealth mechanic (on the Guinecean Duelist archetype). This is good because we expect this testing to be rather… bloody. Being able to stealth will allow those players who primarily want to test the new non-combat systems to stay hidden from those players roving the countryside looking for each other, for better or for worse.
All players in Big World are treated as hostiles (red names) to each other unless they group up, then the system treats them as friendly (green names) to each other.
How close will the Big World test be to the actual maps that you expect to have in the actual MMO? Will there be multiple types of worlds once the game goes live depending on the scenario
This is a huge, very early step for us. We are testing out our idea of “land parcels” (Tetris shaped pieces of contiguous land that might contain a mountain range, or a river valley). These parcels are stitched together seamlessly (no zone loading) and cosmetically; players shouldn’t be able to tell where one parcel meets another.
Each parcel is made up of ‘cells’ (the small blocks that make up a Tetris piece) that are 256m by 256m in size. A continent can be up to 20 cells by 20 cells in size.
This test will be limited to a single continent. We’ll start the continent at roughly a quarter of the potential size, and work our way up from there. We don’t want the player density to be too high or too low, so we’ll start small. Over time, as the server proves stable, we will in more of our backers and snap more land onto the continent to accommodate them.
I have no doubt that there will be many iterations before we find the right mix (and spacing) of parcels that result in fun, playable worlds.
We are planning for each campaign to use a dynamically-generated map, one that has never been seen before, so that each campaign will feel different. (Think Civilization or Diablo 2.)
Crowfall Parcel builder
When can players expect the ‘Big World’ tests to begin?
We are in the final bug fixing phase right now. We’ll start letting our first backers in around the end of October.
Based on current progression with world development, is the game still on track for beta later this year?
We’ll have a full, playable experience by end of the year. We won’t call it beta, though, because we still have a ton of stuff to add. Beta will begin sometime after we’ve implemented everything we plan to include for our soft launch next year.
Crowfall is one MMORPG that we’ve been tracking very closely due to how much potential the MMO community (us included) believes it has. Do the developers feel a lot of pressure from the fans to truly create something unique?
MMO development is always a pressure cooker, but I don’t think it’s driven by external expectations. I’m not worried about whether the game will be unique; the sum total of all the systems and features will make Crowfall a very, very different experience. No one is going to point to Crowfall and earnestly be able to claim that it is “just another WoW clone.”
Our risks revolve around more core questions, like “Will it be fun?” and “Will it find an audience?”
I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss Crowfall and its development with me. Is there anything else that you would like to add or want to tell our readers?
For backers who only check on us every now and then, I just want to give the warning: this milestone is huge for us, but it’s more ‘test’ than ‘playtest’! If your guild has been waiting for the moment to jump in and try out the game, don’t do it yet! We have mountains of new tech that needs to be vetted and we purposely didn’t put in a game mode to determine winners/losers for this phase of testing. If you aren’t used to seeing games in such a raw state, wait until the next major milestone. On the other hand if you really enjoy early testing and want to help us out, I can’t wait to see you in Big World!