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TerraX the MMO Dev Blog - Build... It... Better

TerraX is a new MMO in the initial stages of creation. Come with us and even get involved as we make a foot and half stack of spec's into an actual functioning game...

Author: alemap000

The Great Game Engine Search continues…

Posted by alemap000 Wednesday April 4 2012 at 9:41PM
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What a day.  This week is devoted (yet again) to checking out game engines – the buy costs, the add ons, the licensing fees, the tech support, the communities, and whether or not they’ll support TerraX’s specs.  It has actually been a pretty dynamic experience so far but I’m bone weary from juggling the boards, salespeople, and tech data from 8 gazillion different possible approaches to the game engine.

We had a 4 pronged approach to checking out game engines – sales, community, costs, and support.  While we’re still in the midst of gathering data, I have learned enough in the process to safely say the following:

Salespeople mean well but… 

Us:             “Hi – we’re looking for a game engine for an MMO.”
Sales:        “Our game engine has some super examples of released games… (lists 3 single player FPS games)
Us:             “Those are great but I’m looking for a game engine that supports MMO’s. Can you give us any examples of your engine in a MMO build?
Sales:        “Sure!  (sends 2 links that 440 on us).

We got a lot of very lovely screenshots and YouTube videos, and waves of emails going back and forth.  This kept up until The Phone Call which was basically the salesperson actually running numbers for initial buy, licensing, and launch percentages.  The very best of the salespeople had tech data for us and were able to run different scenarios – the not so great relied heavily on YouTube and a lot of graphics in their emails.   

Community is overall an astounding source of data regarding an engine but…

You do have to do a lot of reading.  A lot.  You need to read threads completely on the forums, check out the independent user sites, and make sure that you answer the myriad pm’s and emails that come your way when you start asking about their game engine.  The best communities were the larger more commercial game engines and the worst were the indie ones.  This surprised me greatly as I would have thought the opposite.  Hero had a stellar community and one fellow that pm’d me with some serious compare and contrast details while Unity had a forums member who decided I was unqualified to ask about game engines because he didn’t like how I asked about them.        

The best part of this process has been talking to the communities and the worst part has been talking to the communities.  The larger game engine communities seemed to understand that the process of making such a large decision involves a wide range of people within a company and the smaller game engine communities seemed to be much more likely to hop into debates about unlikely scenarios or in the case of the Unity guy, crawl the web and pull out random items to wave as proof of my unfitness. 

Whatever game engine we use we’re going to be neck deep in the community.  We’re not isolationists and I see nothing wrong with using the tried and true talent already in place in a game engine’s community as a pool to hire from and a resource to learn from.  Just reading through the threads on various issues and workarounds is invaluable and anyone that says a real game team would never stoop to interacting with a game engine community clearly does not understand the amount of sheer work involved in building a MMO.  After spending serious time wading through forums and sites created by users and dev’s of game engines I value the members of a game engine’s community enormously.  

Costs ranged widely and...

We found open source engines that were free but likely to cost more in programming hours, smaller indie engines that had buy fees but no launch fees, ones with licensing fees and no launch, all the way up to full on buy fee plus license fees plus launch fees.  Add ons, update fees, and a myriad of other options make the costing process intricate at best and truthfully it’s a moot point in some ways.  We need to have a game engine that can support TerraX and we need to have the engine balanced against the overall finances of the game so that we can pay back investors and make enough to plow back into the game for the first expansion.

The overall cost of the engine (initial buy + licensing + addons + expansion fees + support fees + launch %)  has to balance out between  what we can afford and what we need for the game.   While we’ve encountered one engine that is out of our price range the rest are not and at this point it’s more about the tech of the engine and the level of support and quality of the community more than the price.  

Support is quite consistent as far as what is offered.

Support seems to be offered in levels, with access to the dev’s at the far end of the process.  Most game engines offered a knowledge base, then the community if that did not work, then access to dev’s via forums, then actual access to dev’s.  Some engines had pay for access programs in place, others focused on pushing the forums/community as the best way to get support.   A few salespeople pushed hiring someone that knows their engine extremely well as the best means of “support”.  It seems to me that if we’re paying 40k for your game engine then my team should be able to reach a dev on the phone…

Sales, community, cost and support.  It’s a lot of research and truthfully, we’re not at a point where we feel comfortable making a decision yet.   That means... you guessed it.  More research.

Is it wrong of me to dream of an independent game engine creator floating down from the heavens with a NDA in one hand and a video of their perfect game engine in action in the other?

TerraX Dev Blog - Building The Core

Posted by alemap000 Monday February 20 2012 at 11:27PM
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After 2 years we're finally doing it.  We're bringing in more people to build the TerraX world and finding others just this side of nuts to help with the next big push.

The next big push is building planetary lore above and beyond what we've already got in place.  I can recite lists of specs for any given planet in TerraX space (and there are a few...) but specs are just bones and we need flesh now.  No, no, I'm not a zombie in the making, I'm just aware that without filling out the unique stories and history of TerraX we've got a spreadsheet, not a game.

The core group has been working steadily on the nuts and bolts of things by ourselves for years and now we're a bit frenetic with excitement at the thought of new blood coming in and contributing their wit and wisdom to the project.   And yes, we're still think tanking the game engine but that's only one aspect of the game and in the meanwhile we're pushing forward with content and in a few weeks, art.

Think about it.  Building the lore for a planet - the geological history, the cultural history, the timeline.  What beings and beasts have come and gone before the timeframe of gameplay in TerraX?  Who are the historical figures - the heros, the villians, the leaders, the losers?  How does all this fit into the main TerraX lore?  From backstory for NPC's to massive wars fought long ago and held in the racial memory of the people, there is a huge amount of world to be created.  And, did I mention, there are several planets to build up and flesh out?  Massive amount of work.

We're pulling people from everywhere.  Writers and gamers and people that just love the idea of creating entire lives that will live out their days in the worlds of TerraX.   Fans and friends and family are all signing their non-disclosures and leaping in to lead, follow, and create like mad.  It's like standing inside a hornet's nest of ideas.

And it's happening now.  4 years from now when TerraX launches (might be 3 if the game engine folks are right...) you'll be able to nod your head and remember when we were leaping with glee at getting the content built out to the next level.  

Thanks for bearing witness.



Master Instigator & Designer, TerraX

TerraX Dev Blog - Let's talk about PVP...areas or servers?

Posted by alemap000 Thursday February 9 2012 at 6:49PM
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So - ya like PVP?  Yeah, so do I.  Gankfests not so much.  Rezcamping not in the least.  But yes, I did copy that guy in the notorious Age of Conan facetube video that placed his mount just so on a bridge and relentlessly had his mount kick each time anyone tried to run past him, hurling the other players off the bridge to their death. 

I'm not proud of this but yes, I did do it.

But my love for PVP is based on the actual interaction with other players.  Monster play in LOTRO where you can be a feeble but deadly spider, burrowing to hide then springing out to nosh on defenseless hobbit players or even better an orc... don't even hide just run over your opponent.  SWTOR's rather oddly balanced but still quite enjoyable sith vs jedi lightsaber battles are filling the air with the sweet sound of bzzzrrrrrrtttttt and the occassional pew pew from smuggler vs bounty hunter duels.   Who can forget Age of Conan's attempt at massive pvp battles?  OK so everyone wound up with slideshows when assaulting the enemy fortress but riding a rhino into battle always seemed like such a cool idea.

In case you haven't noticed - I'm not just the Master Instigator and Designer for TerraX, I am also a gamer.  MMO's mainly though I did get sucked into Skyrim and Dragon's Age and still ocassionally run around hollering ssssppppppppaaaaaaaccccceeeeeeeeeeee...... space space space.....

As a gamer, the constant battles and bickering between the PVP players and PVE players is a bit wearing. I'd love to see the PVP in TerraX so integrated with the game as a whole that it does not restrict the PVP'ers and does not infringe on the PVE'ers.

Yes, I know, I'm asking for a lot.

So here's my question.  What do you see as the best PVP placement in a game?  Specific servers for PVP and invite to duel only/flag system for PVE servers?   All servers with PVP areas that anyone is flagged for when they cross into PVP territory?  What are your thoughts?

What's the best part of PVP for you?  Do you need the whole planet or just one other player foolish enough to challenge you?  How much emphasis should we put on PVP as a gear/reputation/skill rewarding system?

Talk to me of PVP.  I know how I approach it - and it's clear that each of our team members has a strong opinion  *points at dent in file cabinet* but I'd like to hear from you.

TerraX Dev Blog - Game Engine Design via Think Tank... the lil engine that could!?

Posted by alemap000 Thursday February 2 2012 at 1:38PM
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We're forming a think tank.  I know, I've mentioned this before but a game engine think tank means programmers and have you ever seen programmers argue?  It's vicious man... more vicious than that badger on the Youtubes.

Back in the day when I was actually gainfully employed I worked as a financial analyst for Wells Fargo.  What that meant was watching over budgets for technology projects and making sure that we didn't stray too far from what suit clad people thought was "reasonable expense".  Yeah. Funnnnnn job.  But it did get me interacting with a large number of programmers and in spite of their nerdy stay at my desk and code my heart out public image, these people are are fierce. 

Programmers believe in their structures and codes.  Ask any C++ programmer what language TerraX should be built in and they'll swear C++ is the ONLY code that should be used and for that matter forget the graphics cause scrolling code is so smexy who would need images to enjoy a game? 

Um... I do. I really do.

So here's a bit about game engine design as it stands.  A game engine is the structure that takes input from the player, translates it into something the game software understands, takes the response from the game software and translates it into something the player understands.  At the same time it handles load distribution and documents what goes on within the game.  Yes, that's a gross simplification.  We're talking rendering systems, anti-collision programs, database reference, scripting, storage, audio, AI and a host of other tools needed to make a game actually run. 

Right now most games reuse the same game engines and add ins, and that is indeed why new games seem to run along the same paths.  We're aiming to build a new game engine for TerraX, mainly because the game goes a waaaaayyy bit more than your standard mmorpg (ok so it's way outta bounds... )  and our erstwhile Group of Ramen (yes, that's a nod to OSC) does not think that current game engine components will support the level of interactive play we want TerraX to have.

So. Think tank for the game engine.  Funding is slowly rolling in for it and right now we're aiming for a March or April start to the actual "meet via skype/vent and harsh each other's faces while Pamela tries to keep people from flaming each other" think tank.

Maybe if I buy them all cool hats?  TerraX T-Shirts?  BBQ? Add a super cool programmer NPC to the game?

Sigh.  I think I'll just invest in some serious body armor and take my chances.


As always, if you have ideas, comments, suggestions or want to be a part of the creation of TerraX please drop me a line or post below. 

TerraX - Dev Blog - Linkedin... Wha? Woot!

Posted by alemap000 Tuesday January 31 2012 at 6:37PM
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So it's time to get going and get some more solid business support for TerraX..  We've done our business plan and understand the subtle nuances of a forecasted budget but we need the rarified air of the Investor and the Consultant around us to really make this fly.

So I did it.  I went to ... the big kid's version of Facebook.  Ever been there?  It's very white, dry, and a bit scary, like a frozen sandscape in a game where you never know what is going to lurch out of the ground and swallow you whole. The site screams "Here There Be Networking" and it's all about making sure that you know everyone and everyone knows you. 

You know, this blog is not all about us whining about how difficult our lives are and how so and so stole the last snack sized packet of gummy bears.  Part of this blog is about edumacation.. making sure that folks who are considering making mmo's know the path we're taking so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel.  So I'm going to talk about Linkedin and you! You're gonna listen!  

*watches as 7 million possible fans of TerraX click off this blog*

OK - so there's 3 of you left.  Excellent! More than I thought.

Linkedin requires that you actually have something to offer other than just your fav color and current status.  You'll need a resume of some kind, a past that involves either game design, project management, accounting, visual design work or anything that puts you into the "ahhhhh - now here is a credible game creator" category.   Once you've listed your credentials, work history, education etc. then the fun part begins.  You get to join groups.

Yep, groups.  There are thousands of them and a search of the term "game development" brought up hundreds.  C++ programmer search - pages and pages of groups.  Each group is chock full of people skilled in their job and experienced in game creation and or programming and I was like a kid in a candy shop.  I joined group after group, posted on endless group forums and generally made like a noob being run through content over their level and looting everything.

And investors.  There are thousands of investors.  I know it's sparse and bare looking, I know there's no way to properly enjoy someone's pic if they're in a suit and tie.... but still.  This Linkedin thing has my full attention. 

On your mark...

Posted by alemap000 Wednesday January 25 2012 at 9:01AM
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Welcome to the TerraX MMO Dev Blog.

After a few posts here and there on this mighty MMORPG site we've decided to buckle down and Start The Blog.   Yes, we know it's an obligation and a priviledge, it's a chore and a perk - but it's also what I would call community service. 

Ever built an MMO? 

I do not think that phrase means what you think it means...  Making an mmo is more about juggling cats and less about sitting around all night working out cool looking weapons for the tanks. 

It's difficult, stressfull, impossible and mandatory all at the same time.  It's dealing with investors, detractors, programmers, artists, and distant family members that wonder when you're going to either hire their new boyfriend (as a sales rep! cause he's just too cute and who wouldn't buy from him???) or stop wasting your time on that stupid game and get your doctorate like a proper adult.

But we're doing it.  We've got our concept, our overall game design, our 4 year budget (down to the frikken staplers), our investment data, our staffing requirements, and our foot and a half stack of specs.   We have endless enthusiasm, a willingness to raise funds for a GAME (snerk) and the ability to live off of coffee and meals we can create out of a half a pack of ramen noodles and pickles.

We have families.  We have regular jobs.  We have ... did I mention?... 1.5 feet of specs 2 years in the making that whisper to us endlessly about how wonderful it would be to actually play this game. 

Come with us.  Comment below and let us know you're in because this is huge and we can't do it without you urging us on, keeping us on course, and eventually joining the think tanks, focus groups, and testing protocols.

TerraX.  On your mark.. set... GO!