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Happy Hallogivmaseve, or just happy holidays

November 23, 2009

   Tis the season to be jolly and all that stuff. We thought we would add a mid holiday update on our Citadel of Sorcery MMO game project. We have been spending a lot of time on the playable character races lately. As promised, we have started to release information on one of the six races each month (and we are due to release information on the second race sometime next week). This is not just a matter of what we want to tell you, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes as we continue to develop these races. Design meetings continue to define the races and modify them to make the more interesting, and more fun to play. Art continues to refine the look of the races with new models and animation.

In programming, among other things, we are currently working on the sound module. This includes all the ambient sound, noises, conversation, music and other sounds that bring the world to life. It also includes priority systems to make sure the player hears the more important sounds. Sound, in CoS, is not just ambient filler. We notice that in a lot of games we players turn the sounds down (or even off), since it does not really matter to the game play, it is mostly about immersion in the world. We want the immersion, of course, but we also want sound to be more than just ambiance. It should matter to your strategy and decisions.

Like many areas, CoS looks to both movies, books, RPGs and table top gaming as we strive to bring more to the MMO game genre. In this case we looked at how a player uses sound in a Table Top game. They can ask to listen to a door, and what they hear (since there is no ambient track) is what the Game Master tells them they hear. This information can be very useful, for example you listen to a door and hear a conversation that tells you the location of a secret door... or you hear a particular grunt that tells you this room might have a certain monster waiting inside. This is valuable sound, and worth the effort to listen before leaping.

Our sound system is attempting to bring more of this informational sound to the player so that they will want to listen. So they can hear the drag... step, drag... step sound of an approaching beastie in the dark, or the sound of flames from behind the door so that they do not just open it and get fried. Sounds that matter. From the movies we are trying to incorporate a dynamic sound system that adds to the tension of the moment, and allows you to hear the important sound rather than drown it out with music. This system tries to combine music with sound effects that are aware of each other and their relative importance, and vary accordingly.

This new sound module is underway, but will be developing over some months to come.

In other areas we continue to develop the character abilities. Right now we are still in our phase three of abilities design. We keep attacking the player ability system because we believe it is so critical to the enjoyment of the game. We are planning over 1,800 separate abilities, with numerous variables assigned to each. The system allows you to get ANY of these abilities as any player in the game, and improve the ones you wish with no cap. This makes the system inherently complex, which is why we are already in phase three of design, with lots still to work on before it is done. We have a complete list of Abilities created already back in Phase one. In Phase two we reworked the system based on everything that is possible to do in our engine. Phase three is attacking the system from a purely creative end, where we are just having open ended blue sky ideas presented, discussed and refined, as we try to make the best possible choices for players. Our goal is to make you want each and every one of the 1,800+ Abilities, so that, yes, you have to agonize over which ones you choose. Even though you can get any Ability does not mean you can get all of them. You get to pick the ones you want, but you can only pick so many. How many? Well, that is not a fixed number. The longer you play the more you can get, but... no, we do not believe anyone can play long enough to get all 1,800+. You would die of old age.

Quest storyline writing continues to be one of our biggest challenges. We have ruined several writers who thought they could write our type of massive quest story, but in the end they found that it was too difficult. Still, we have located a few people who are excelling at this strange form of fantasy writing. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent out there to writing our quests. Novels are easier, and our quests have absolutely nothing to do with what other MMOs use. There is a current RPG released that lots of people are playing... and the story they include would only be just one of our quests, and it would have to be far less linear and tie into the world events as well as player individual stories... you get the picture. Still there is good news here. Some recent quest stories written for CoS are finally capturing the goals of the game. We feel that we now have a few people writing quality CoS storylines. We need more talented writers to add to this pool, but at least we have a few doing productive work now.

Other areas getting attention right now would include the NPC behavioral A.I. This is another vastly important portion of the game. We are relying on a MASSIVE improvement in NPC behavior compared to previous MMO offerings. It is imperative to the game play for NPCs to have real and varying intelligence. We are trying to do away with the one strategy works for all, concept that works in most other MMOs.

For example, with our varied intelligence system, the old Tank system of combat will not work in most situations, and in truth, we are trying to do away with it for the most part. When you are facing intelligent opponents who may employ changing group strategy against you, then the idea of having one Tank stand around while all of the monsters beat on him (or her) just will not fly. Players will need to adapt their strategy to the situation at hand, based on the terrain around them and the intelligence, distribution and tactics of their opponents. This sounds complex for the player, but it is not. We are just designing the game so that good strategy will reap benefits in combat.

As for the holidays, it is nearly time for the annual MMO Magic holiday party. We always do something new in the game world for the party, but the details will have to come later on. It is a surprise! Sure, it is only for the team at this point, but later on when the game is released, we will continue to hold special holiday extravaganzas for the loyal player base as well; for now, this is good practice.

 

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