I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the feedback from beta users posting here on MMORPG now that the NDA has been lifted, and after some discussion with Kevin (Isildur) Maginn, our Lead Designer, I’d like to take a few moments to address some of the common concerns that have been raised in these posts. A lot of it is good feedback for us to hear (and has been echoed in the beta forums as well), so I’d like to call out a few of the issues and either explain why it’s that way (if it’s not going to change) or how we’re going to address it.
The first and most frequent comment has been about our use of instancing. As many posters have noticed, we do a lot of it. More in fact than we’d like, but much of it is for good reason. The underlying reason for most of our instancing is that a continuous world doesn’t work well for a ship based game set in an even remotely realistically scaled Caribbean. We started out, several years ago, trying to do just that. We had realistic speeds, realistic distances between islands, realistic island sizes, etc. It was *horrible*. Taking 45 minutes to an hour to sail between even nearby islands was excruciatingly dull. There’s a lot of empty water out there, and crossing it in real time was work, not a game. On the flip side, if we made the sailing time for movement between islands reasonable, the combat portion of the game became maniacally fast and arcade like, not at all the strategic and tactical battle we were trying to build. The answer, then, was to use two different timescales. On the sailing map where you move between islands, the travel speeds are unrealistically quick, the geography is more iconic than realistic, and the view is more bird’s eye than crow’s nest. When a battle needs to be fought, we drop you in to an instance where you can fight it out at normal speed, with more detailed terrain if you’re near land, and at a view that is close in to your ship for excitement.
Given this model, though, we discovered that zoning from a port to the open sea, only to sail a very short distance before entering a mission instance, was two annoying load screens instead of one. So we moved to having nearby missions available directly from each port. This sped things up for the player considerably, but at the expense of having as many people sailing on the open sea at once. Of course since they were only popping in and out for a moment each, we didn’t think it a great loss.
The other advantage to instancing is that it gives us a lot more control over the user experience. We have a much better idea of what the player is going to show up with, and can tune things accordingly, without being as worried about a random level 50 sailing by and blowing the enemy out of the water. We also eliminate the problems of spawn camping or ninjaing of targeted NPCs because only you and your party can enter the instance. Like the warehouse or other door missions in CoH/CoV, once inside it’s all yours.
It’s not a perfect system, of course. You don’t get to watch other people fight as much as we’d like, and if you want to sail around helping noobs you’re not grouped with it’s hard to do so.
Another common comment, in various forms, is about the variety of content in the game. People have mentioned ports, missions types, and terrain as places that we need to add more variety, and we agree with this completely. Earlier in our development, when having avatars at all was a post-ship feature, the towns were expected to be very simple. When we decided to add a customizable avatar you could walk around, we started adding ports you could enter. But even then we had expected them to be mostly socialization spaces and a place to pick up new missions. It was only when we started adding avatar combat to the game that we started extending the number and variety of avatar spaces available. Our art team has been going gonzo creating new ones, but we knew we weren’t going to be able to have unique ones for every port. We decided instead to cover all the basic sizes and types of ports in the first pass, and now we’re going back and adding more custom ones with kind of a top down approach. We’ve already done Port Royal (the British Capital) and Tortuga (the Pirate Capital), and our artists are already at work on Point-a-Pitre (the French Capital) for soon after ship. San Juan (the Spanish Capital) will follow after that, and then we’ll start work on replacing other town with more unique content. At the same time, we’ll be working on creating more mission spaces, particularly for the avatar missions. Since we added avatar combat relatively late in development, we didn’t have time to create as large a variety of mission rooms as we’d like. Naturally, our content/writing team is clamoring for more, and the artists will no doubt rise to the occasion.
Missions are in a similar state. We’ve got a great set of missions, over a thousand per nations, but as the beta testers have noticed they’re not all unique. Many are customized for each nation, but are essentially the same. Most are based on a set of mission templates that cover the standard types of missions (escorts, kills, delivery, etc) that appear in most MMO’s (although ours have much better writing J). Many however, are unique to a nation or a class, and some are more hand crafted, such as the Role Playing Story Arc (which got a devlog of it’s own on our site). It’s these unique and hand crafted missions that are our template for the future. We consider everything we’ve done so far a great baseline to get things going, enough to ensure that you’ve always got something to go out and do, some task drawing you on to the next port, and a goal to strive for. Now that the Caribbean has been strewn with missions, the content team is free to do work on more varied and interesting stuff, and they’re looking forwards to the task.
And finally there’s the speed of progression through the game and the end-game itself. As one poster noted, progression is currently way too fast (he mentioned getting to max level in 11 days). That’s already been tuned down, and will probably be tuned down more by ship. Isildur has pretty fine control over how much XP can be gained per hour of play, and how much is required for each level, so we can tune how many hours of play it takes to move up the ladder towards 50. My expectation is that we will keep the first 10-12 levels fairly quick, to get you some skills and access to a better ship such as the Mediator Cutter. Above that things will probably slow down quite a bit, although we don’t want to make it overly grindy. Our goal is to make the progression reasonable for a person who plays a moderate amount of time, rather than trying to slow down the unstoppable hardcore and making everyone else suffer. But even given that, we agree that 11 days is way too short.
Once you get to 50, it’s another matter. As has been noted, we currently have a limited number of things for maxed out players to do, namely the economic game and port conquest. While port conquest can be a ton of fun, we do need more and are already planning it. We’ve got plans for more raid style content, difficult repeatable mission aimed at experienced groups that can work together. We recently redid one of our early missions (Red Tide, which you can get at level 6-8) as an example of this, and it rocks. We plans to do many more of these, dispersed throughout the level range, with a large chunk of them at 50. Similar to the Task Forces that CoH uses. Several things that are under consideration include player port governance, society vs society grudge match battles, and of course the ever popular player owned socialization spaces (such as a customizable captain’s cabin you can invite friends to).
When all these things happen, is of course, up in the air. All these features go into the Thunderdome, and only some of them come out alive! But we want you to know that we’ve heard your comments, and are doing our best to address them, both now and in the future.