This is our July update (a few days early for once) for progress on Citadel of Sorcery. As discussed in the previous briefing, the team at A3D has been hard at work writing a new Trident3D engine, (version 2), for Citadel of Sorcery. This is ongoing, as more and more systems come online and are received by the MMO Magic, team for integration into the game.
Part of that new engine involves an upgrade to the texture quality. T3Dv2 uses a variable texture quality system that streams texture resolution changes. This means that as a player gets closer to a textured surface, the texture resolution keeps getting higher, all the way up to 2k x 2k. This is sixty four times higher resolution that most old MMO games, which tend to use 256x256 textures across the board.
However, this new system required us to rework ALL of the art in the game, and make sure every single art panel was a 2048 x 2048. Of course, this in turn made us rework the models in many case as well, since if we were going to retexture them anyway, we might as well improve the model at the same time.
Another improvement in the new T3Dv2 engine is model size. Gone is our old .cmf model format for the old engine and in replacement we have two formats, .imf and .rmf. The first one is our Intermediate Model Format, which stores things 20% smaller, but this format is just for the developer o the game to use, as it allows for many different live adjustments in the game tools. Once the model is done, and ready for players, it saves out into the Run Time Format, and that save down to an amazing 96% reduction in size. Typically, a fairly complex and large structure now saves at 80 bytes.
This is great news for players, as they reap three benefits, faster loading of models as the game calls them, a smaller client to download and far more models for the game to use.
Which brings us to one of the other art areas that is currently under construction. We’re working on a new modular tower system, but we wanted this new system to be able to create tens of thousands of unique towers, so many that not one will be the same in the game, and yet the system can populate an entire planet full of these things. So we are creating a system of about 10,000 individual models that work together to create different towers. Normally, storing 10,000 models for just one modular system would be size prohibitive, but with T3Dv2 storing them in the .rtf format, 10,000 models, each averaging 30 bytes, is only 10,000 x 30 bytes, or 300,000 bytes, or 300k, or less than 1/3 of a single meg. Or, in today’s size terms, just about nothing.
Once this tower system is done, we plan to move on and upgrade other modular systems to similar numbers of pieces. This sounds like a lot of work, but each piece is small, and a single tower uses quite a few of these pieces to construct a single tower. So each piece isn’t that hard to make, but with 10,000 pieces, the permutations of towers is, well, ridiculously high.
For a simple test, we’re starting with just 1,000 unique pieces and then we’ll see how well it does. We’ll build the other 9,000 piece variations over time. As for other similar systems, these will be things like Castles, Fortresses, Forts, Ruins, etc. (Note, we already have two dungeon systems, though due to this new .rtf format, we will likely expand them to even higher numbers of pieces soon).
In other news, we saw the next version of the new terrain system running in T3Dv2 this week, it is still getting various levels accelerated geo modification. The part we saw working this week was the real time (vastly accelerated) water erosion system working on the terrain. Continents have been generated with large geography elements (mountains, canyons, plains, etc.), these were soil typed with various levels of dirt and rock. Then the water erosion system was started on them, which not only carves rivers and lakes, etc, but based on the soil type and composition, washes sediments downstream, cutting the terrain. Then, based on the new data for the shape of the world, and jumping forward in time, weather patterns are adjusted, and then the water erosion system is run again. Eventually we have areas that were getting lots of water that over millennium become more arid and quit getting rain, but they have erosion patterns from the past.
If you think this is complex, you bet it is! However, we got to see the water erosion system working, watching a few billion gallons of water falling on a mountain range (for example) and see it all following and cutting the terrain, etc. It was a very cool moment in the formation of the terrain for CoS. Note: In all previous videos or screenshots, you were not looking at the new terrain with any of the erosion systems applied. However, we will release pictures of this in the near future, once all these various systems have had a chance to be integrated into the new engine, and applied over accelerated time to our planet.
In the end, we expect to have an incredibly detailed terrain, down to the smallest pebble and blade of grass, a vast world for players to explore. We plan to start moving other art assets (cities, etc.) from the old terrain into that new terrain system within a few weeks.
Our work on the 1890 player Abilities has also been taking place, with current concentration on Phase 9 of the work on the main attack Abilities. There are 945 different attacks (when including things that harm your opponent in any way, including something like a hold spell, since holding them in place is an adverse thing, at least to them.) This is coming along rapidly, and we think we can have that wrapped up soon and start Phase 9 on the other Abilities (945 more that do not harm your opponent, but do other things for the player, like healing, or tracking, or information gathering, etc.)
Each Phase of our work on the Ability system attacks creating abilities from a completely different approach. This does not necessarily toss out all the work in previous Phases, but does require us to rework them based on new logic. By constantly reworking the Abilities through these phases, we are trying to insure that each Ability is something every player will want, and that every single one is unique. Since we have changed the design to allow for any Ability of the 1890, to be gotten soon after starting the game, rather than a limited set that is unlocked as you progress, we had to rework things in Phase 9.
Remember that in CoS though you can get nearly any mix of the 1890 Abilities, it is unlikely that any player will ever get them all, in fact, we expect that most players two years into the game will have 100 or less. The reason is simply that getting an Ability does not make it useful, you have to improve it over time by study and practice to make it powerful. Therefore, working on more than 100 for two years would water down the power of those Abilities. Players are better served to improve a smaller set and make them powerful. This in turn means that though you can get any Ability, you will have to pick and choose which ones you want for your Character. Our desire in the design it to make it so you want all 1890, and have to make difficult choices on which ones you will choose to get for your particular set. Work will continue on adjusting and improving these Abilities right up to launch.
In other programming news, we have created a new tool called BackStage. This tool is exciting for us as developers, because it is integrating more of our tools into one place, and that tool runs inside the running game. We already had Enact doing this (Enact being the primary game play creation tool set), but we are adding things like the model editor, material editor, set editor, prop editor and particle effects editor, all into BackStage with Enact. This integration of tools into the live game lets Level Designers make changes to virtually everything right in the running game world. This cuts down the time a build process takes before it can be tested, to nothing, putting ridiculous power into the hands of our Level Designers (we hope they don’t get a god complex). BackStage is up and running now, with new features being implemented daily.
An example of a new feature going in this week is an improvement to our A.I. Net (which allows NPCs to make constant decisions on what they wish to do next). We’re adding a system that improves their choice level so that they can weigh the importance of what they are doing when an outside force acts upon them. If some other Event in the world attempts to impact them, they can decide what they want to do by weighing that new choice against the importance (to them) of what they were doing previously.
Example, a guard NPC is on a mission to escort a prisoner to the jail, when they witness a fight breaking out nearby. That guard would have to weigh the importance of his duty to escort the prisoner compared to his duty to stop a fight in the city streets, and then decide his course of action.
This new system will be working later today.
So that’s where we are right now, closing in on a nice publisher demo, but still working on the new terrain system, and until all of the terrain systems are integrated and functional, we’ll hold off on those demos. The new terrain is really advanced stuff, and we feel it is something any publisher is going to want to see in all of its glory. But with only weeks of work to go (not months) we should be ready to go soon.