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Getting prepared for E3 2011

March 16, 2011

   It is almost that time again… E3. And like many game companies, the MMO Magic team is making a big push to get ready for the most important show in the game industry. This year we are setting up meetings with several publishers at E3 to give them a look at Citadel of Sorcery. As you can imagine, in order to be ready for that we are pushing many of the game elements forward to specific goals by June.

The new Terrain system has seen a lot of progress in the past few months, and is shaping up nicely. We have now generated several planets, though we have not settled on one in particular quite yet. Once we choose one (probably next week) we will still be doing some tweaks to the geography to get the optimal world for the Citadel of Sorcery game. The new Terrain system generates an entire world algorithmically, but once the world is created we can still edit in many ways. First, we can tweak the algorithm seed numbers slightly and get slight alterations naturally. Once that is done and we think it is pretty close, we can hand edit at any of several levels of resolution, and any change on any level propagates upwards and downwards. This means we can add new continents at a high altitude, or zoom down and change the bend in a river at a lower altitude. Regardless of where we make the change it will affect all resolution levels. Most recently we have added a new terrain shadowing system (standard shadow systems were too inefficient in a world this large) and wrote a new river cutting algorithm to enhance the rivers that were created through natural water erosion.

We can currently generate the entire world and process it through time with gravity, water and wind erosion, as well as glacier alterations and then add additional river systems improvements. Once created we can look at the world from space or zoom down to various levels of detail, or zoom to ground level and drop a character to walk around.

There is nothing quite like walking a character on the terrain to get a feel for size and distance… and the size is extraordinary. The world is the full 900,000,000 sq. kilometers we promised when we released that information a long time ago. Everything is to true world scale, meaning, if you want to climb a mountain, expect to spend a couple weeks doing so, or if you want to follow a major river to the source, expect to spend a few months. This is made like a real planet, not a postage stamp of ground that you can cross in twenty minutes.

Another recent addition to the terrain generation system is the full Biome locations around the entire planet. These are naturally generated based off of weather patterns, average rainfall, latitude and longitude, seasons, wind, geographic shape, and much more. Water speed calculations are also complete for rivers. Soil typing has also been completed so that the correct plants know where to grow. Next up is the growing of the plants, and we are doing this biome by biome. First up is one type of forest biome, Temperate Deciduous forest to be precise. All biomes are there, but plants will only appear as we grow the types of plants that should exist within each biome. This work will go on for some time, but as soon as one biome is complete, Level Design work can get started there while other Biomes are grown.

Speaking of Level Design, work is continuing on NPC lives, and this is something that will go on even after the eventual release of the game. Among other things, the Enact tool set has NPC management, A.I. net and special Event tools. Right now LDs are working primarily with the A.I. net, with the Event tool soon to become available. The Citadel City has seven Tiers and right now we are working on the NPCs that live in Tier One. There are currently over 400 NPC working at buildings and locations within the eleven districts, so there is a lot of LD work to give them all natural lives. This means that NPCs go to work when it is their shift, but they get off at some point and then go out and socialize, or go to an organization to which they belong, or meet with friends or family, or go have dinner, or go out for entertainment, and eventually go home and go to sleep before getting up for work on their next shift. But all of this is not hard scripted, instead the A.I. net allows us to setup patterns and choices based off of an individual NPCs personality and situation. The NPCs can then make the choices to do what they want, when they want based on what they feel like at the time. Once an NPC is finished, even the LD who put in their net options will not know that they are going to do unless he follows them around to watch. Work on this A.I. net has been going on now for months, and will continue right up to E3 (on Tier 1). NPCs living in other areas in the Reflected Worlds are also going to be under development by our LDs.

In art the some of the human village sets for the Reflected Worlds have been developed. These sets allow countless villages to be constructed within the biome and political area where they are appropriate. Our castle creation set is also ready to go, and one of the ruin sets is underway. This will allow us to populate the world rapidly using programming routines rather than human man hours. With the scope of this planet it takes a lot of automation to make a living world without using a gazillion Level Designers (even though Level Designers are still and always will be the largest department in the company). But we want their time spent on making content for great game play rather than more mundane tasks that can be handled by algorithms.

In Tool creation we have had even more progress on Enact including improving many of the A.I. Net tools. With Level Designers now working with the tool daily, we have had a lot of feedback and made changes to make their lives easier and to get better work faster. Meanwhile we are not just improving the existing tools, we have also spent programming time adding and working on future tools in Enact.

Enact is a massive set of tools, and will encompasses almost all of the game making elements of this world from terrain manipulation, to object placement, to A.I. controls, to construction of Quests, Missions, Crisis, Adventures, Endeavors, League Actions and more. We will never stop improving and adding to Enact as long as CoS is being developed or played. Enact is almost a game inside the game, and allows all of this work to be done inside the running game world just like a game client.

Years ago in the design phase of Enact we were excited by the concept of this tool, but as portions have become a reality we are finding out just how much fun it can be to play god inside a running game world using a tool set like Enact. Sure it is still work, but Level Design has never been so much fun! Next up for Enact is the Event tool, probably the most powerful and exciting tool in the entire set. We hope to have that ready for E3 and for the demonstrations we will be doing at that time. It is important that we not only show the design of this ground breaking game, but how it can be completed and still deliver all that design and content while staying on budget. Enact is the reason Citadel of Sorcery can be built and how this game can bring more to the MMO genre. We will post more about the Event tool and the powerful things it can do quickly and easily in a future dev blog.

There are many other areas of work on the project that were not mentioned in this post, including music composition, writing, and further refinements to the game design, but we can leave those for another update.

As you may have noticed, though most of our efforts must stay on the game development, we did take a little time and added a simple MMO Magic company web site and moved this dev blog to that location. Just for fun the top scene reflects the actual time of day in the Citadel of Sorcery and will change throughout the day. We have not actually settled on the speed of a day in the game, so in the future this may speed up or slow down when we adjust the time and date system in the game world, but it will reflect the time of day at the Citadel of Sorcery part of the world within the game (being an actual planet it has many time zones).

We have also decided to go ahead and add a forum to the Citadel of Sorcery web site in the next week or two. Once that is up, stop by and speak your mind or ask questions. We do not promise to answer everything, but we will discuss things, or answer questions on information we are willing to release at this stage.

To sum up, we plan to show Citadel of Sorcery to publishers at E3 in June, and so we are pushing the new terrain system and the Enact tool set forward as well as developing the game world in specific areas that will show off the power, scope and excitement of this new type of MMO and game creation system. For the fans that have followed the progress of the game, we also plan to release screenshots of these same elements and world areas around the same time. If it is good enough to show to Publishers, we figure it is good enough to show to the future players of the game. This is a very exciting (and sleep deprived) portion of the development of Citadel of Sorcery, but progress continues.

 

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