Dev Blog
New engine build and other progress this quarter.

April 6, 2010

   We have had a major new build of the T3D engine completed this quarter. This build improves the memory management as well as many other areas of the game. We got a 30% increase in performance, faster loads, and MANY bug fixes. Of course, it came with its own set of new bugs, but those were swiftly squashed and the build is now fully functional. This will help the development team to speed up work in many ways as they are not waiting as long for loads and the new build process goes from minutes to seconds. The world builders are VERY happy now!

Meanwhile, we have reorganized the entire code to be more efficient and gotten rid of some of the old legacy code from when this engine was first developed. We have also been revamping some of the data management systems to make the Enact World building tool more robust. Since Enact lets us edit in the live running game and allows multiple designers to edit in the world simultaneously, we had some collision issues with designers hitting the same data at the same time. This system has been redesigned and implementation is nearing completion with auto locking of certain elements as they are handled by designers.

Our database tracking tool has been improved to help us track all the different lives of each NPC in the game: where they work, live, where they hang out when they are off, who their friends are, what organizations they belong to (and attend), what time frame the do this or that, etc. Each NPC has a full life, and so we needed ways to track their design and follow their connections. This is essentially a social network for NPCs (so we can follow all of their complex connections to other NPCs). This tool has been working for some time, but we have added new things and ways of searching the data. Now we can do things like see who a particular NPCs friends are, and who shares those same friends. This makes it easier for us to make a more consistent and real world for players to enjoy.

In less technical areas, we have been dealing with some design issues. With a world this large (think VERY large), getting around the world can be an issue. Most games use an artificially small world to handle this (meaning you can run across the whole game play area in 10 minutes if nothing attacked you). In CoS you could take months (of real time) to get across some distances. So, we have been designing in a new kind of flight on a unique creature that allows players to skim across parts of the world at break neck speeds riding a very fast moving flying mount that they control. We will give more details on these new flying mounts later on.

Quest writing proceeds at a slow pace, but this is not really a problem. The reason that quests are taking several months to write is simply that we are still tweaking the system and having to chart unexplored territory. The depth of these quests, well, it is hard to explain, but try to imagine a story that is not only fun and interesting, but changes with game and player decisions constantly so that each PCs journey through the quest is unique. The number of challenges this represents are staggering, but we have persevered and stuck to the original goals of the game design.

The actual quest system we are using now is so evolved from where we started that it hardly seems the same, yet it is constantly getting closer to the original design goals. What were those? Well, to put it simply, to make each quest a novel quality story, but unlike a novel, to allow the story to change based on the PCs past, and sew itself into the PCs long term story and to allow the PCs choices to influence and change the path of the story and the eventual outcome. Easy, right? The good news is that we are getting there and since this is the primary game play of Citadel of Sorcery, it is a very important piece of the design.

Art continues to get work done, but frankly it is not our priority, though it will become a priority eventually. Right now we are still concentrating on game play and our technology. The reason for this is very simple, if we had gone out and done art first ALL of it would have to change now. As time moves on computers get faster, video cards do more, etc. Art that was created for the cards when we started this game would be wholly inadequate for current technology.

We knew from the beginning of this project that we were breaking new ground in almost every area of MMO game design. This would (and continues) to take time. Therefore, art had to come at the end of the development, not at the beginning.

Of course, even though we tell people this, they still complain about the concept art that we use during this portion of development. We even have better looking stuff than we have released previously, but there is still no point to showing this stuff since it too will all change when we make art the focus of final development.

Still, work continues as we develop techniques (if not the actual art). The first art that will be done that is not concept / prototype art is actually underway now in the new Terrain system, but it will be some time before we are willing to show that to people. Be patient, art will come after the game play and technology are finished, and we are working on that part diligently.

On that note, we are on the downhill side of technology and game design, though we are just working in some new areas of applying the design to the technology (world construction). That will go on for some time to come. This is a big world, and it cannot be rushed if we are going to stick to the design.

That is some of the progress on development for the moment. Keep the faith, we are working hard to bring CoS to you eventually.


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