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End of the year briefing, 2014

December 19, 2014

   It is time for our end of the year development briefing. We will begin with a review or progress and end with a forecast for next year.

This year has been a long push to get our publisher demo ready. We had hoped to get the game ready for demonstrations by August, but there were delays in the creation of our newest version of our terrain system. There were many issues, and sometimes we felt like every time we stuck one finger in a hole to stop a leak, two more leaks started.

The system we were using was just too complex. I donít mean it had too many features, I mean that it was broken up into too many different systems. It needed to retain all of the features in a unified architecture. So we finally had to tear down the system and consolidate many different rendering elements into one system. This took several months, and so, in the end, we decided to push the demos forward to early 2015, and spend the rest of this year getting the latest terrain system to where it needs to be for those demos.

Iím happy to report that we have gotten the hardest parts of that unified system working now, and are just putting in the finishing touches on the whole system reintegration. Grass went in last week, and now we just have one last issue in the tree integration. That means we are still on schedule for those early 2015 demos.

But the year hasnít been only about the terrain system, though it seemed that way. While that was going on we have been building a lot of new things, like massive systems for constructing dungeons, villages, towers and forts. These include hundreds of separate models that all work together in modular systems. We are quite pleased with these, and though they are still only a portion of the sets we are building to use in the construction of the whole world, they are significant in that they demonstrate how all of them work.

We also spent a lot of time this year working on replacing old placeholder art with some game ready stuff. This includes early work on final character and monster models, though there is still plenty of work to go on that. We have also continued replacing building placeholder models in the Citadel, and revamping much of what is there to better looking art.

In Game Design, we have worked hard on the nearly 2000 Abilities that players can get, though we feel that this is one of those areas that will never be done. We will keep improving these as long as the game is being built and tested. Another area that we fleshed out further in the game design is how players can continuously and steadily advance their characters in Stats, Skills, Abilities and Equipment to take on bigger challenges in the game, and yet also go back down to lower Tiers and adventure with their friends who arenít as far along. Though we have had this goal all along, this has required a LOT more design work to make it a reality. We want every player to be able to go on any quest on any tier they have access to, in any mixed group of players, and yet still have everything be a challenge for everyone, while still requiring players to advance their character as they play the game. In other words, we wanted a system where you can have your cake and eat it to. We believe we have managed to create the details of this system, and look forward to getting to player testing soon to try it all out.

Our Level Design team has continued to work with new tools at they come available for the Enact Tool Set. This serves a few purposes for us, we test the tools, and get feedback to the programmers on bugs or missing elements, and we continue to construct the world. This year has largely been about getting NPC to NPC interaction working well, and tested for the future. It is a very big and complex system to have NPCs who can react to what other NPCs are doing, when we donít know what they will be doing at any given moment, since CoS does not use a linear system of NPC control. However, we have been both working out the system, adding the tools needed to make it work, and testing them out by building in these interactions. This is ongoing, but things are working nicely. A simple example of this is that now any time any NPC decides to go to any pub, the waiters or waitresses will notice them sit down, and go take their order, fetch their food/drinks and bring them to the patron. In this system we donít know when an NPC will choose to go to a pub, or where they will sit ,or how long they will choose to stay, but the waitresses or waiters have to deal with them correctly no matter what.

These systems continue to add layers of reality to the world so that we have a place for players to adventure in that feels more like a living world. In order to get that level of interaction between our NPC populations we had to keep improving the Enact Tool Set. A lot of progress was made on those tools this year, and they will be a big part of our demonstration to publishers. What is important to show about these tools is that they run in the live game, letting Level Designers make changes and test those changes in real time. They are both extremely powerful, basically letting the Level Designer do anything they can thing of with the NPCs, and yet fast and easy to use so that progress can be made swiftly in the building of the game. With a game as large as CoS (and we mean BIG) we had to have ways to construct a lot of things swiftly. Enact still has more tools already designed that need to be built, but a good portion of the design is now functional, and can be demonstrated to show the true power of these game building tool sets.

But letís get back to the elephant in the room, the massive Terrain System. It seems like we have been working on this procedural terrain systemÖ forever! But, as of two weeks ago, when we got the first working version of it since the tear down and rewrite, things are looking up! Speed issues are vastly improved and the world just looks better. Month ago our initial version of this new terrain showed the potential of this hybrid polygon and point cloud system, but we werenít making full use of that potential in any demonstrable way. This newest version has started making use of those detail levels that were previously just randomly generating patterns, and is now beginning to use them to create different logical terrain features. We decided early on to concentrate on one biome for the demo, so the entire world is still currently a forest world, but that forest is starting to look much nicer now. It shows how the base system can be used to create any biome details, and now that we have this forest biome, the potential to make many others completely different looking biomes is already built into the system. Eventually this powerful system will be used to create detailed deserts, jungles, plains, etc.

This first forest biome uses things like actual seed drop patterns by trees to figure out what age and what kind of trees grow in what patterns in a forest. It uses soil types to figure out what kind of plants grow where, and slope angles to figure out average sunlight for how much foliage might grow in any area. There are pebble routines, grass routines, mud routines, each making use of the same high detail potential of the system in completely different ways.

So with the delivery of this new build of the terrain, we think we are now finally ready to start showing the demo to publishers as soon as the holidays are over.

However, in a last piece of really good news, we have recently obtained a chunk of private funding, which will vastly pick up the production speed of Citadel of Sorcery. Much earlier we tried to get some funding through Kickstarter, but there we seemed to have experienced a chicken and egg problem. People wanted to see more of the game functioning before they would donate, and we needed them to donate so that we could get more of the game functioning swiftly. We understand their reluctance to donate without first seeing more of the game, players have been promised big things before (by other companies) and then not seen them delivered. This doubt has not shaken our resolve to deliver everything we have promised, and we have made great strides in getting to a demonstrable version of this game.

However, this lack of earlier donation support means that things have taken a lot longer to get to the current stage of development, though we have been progressing toward that goal anyway on our own dime and some small donations by players. However, that time is behind us now since we have procured a new pool of private investment money that will kick in at the beginning of 2015, and this means that we can hire additional workers and pick up the progress of the game significantly, even without a publisher on board! So, due to this we expect some big things in 2015 for the game, and will continue to keep you updated as those things come along. However, one of those Ďbig thingsí is that we intend to let all the people who DID believe in this game, who donated to the Patron forum level, to get into a playable version of the game in 2015. How big that playable version is will depend on whether we get a publisher or whether we continue with private funding, but in either case, we are going to reward those people that believed in the game early on with first access to the developing world, and within this next year.

This will not be just a demo; they will get permanent access to the world servers from that point on, where they can log in at any time and hang out or play the developing game to whatever level that it is at currently. This will still likely be pre Alpha, but there will be playable elements. The people that donated the most will get in first, and then weíll move on down the donations levels, adding in more patrons as time goes on. Since we only want so many players in this initial test of the game world, eventually we may cut off donations until we get to a further point in the game development. Weíll keep people posted about if and when this cutoff will take place.

So, 2015 looks like a promising year for Citadel of Sorcery, with our new funding we are very excited about the increased speed of development that is coming, and with our publisher demo getting buttoned up soon, we are also excited about the possibility of working with a publisher; we think they will be amazed at what this game design and new technology has to offer.

We wish you all a very happy holiday season, and a Happy New Year! We hope to see some of you in the CoS world in 2015!

 

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