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Columns: Puzzles in the Dark

By Tim Eisen on March 08, 2017

Puzzles in the Dark

Before we begin I want to say I despise advertising. I hate it. Unfortunately, in 2017 clicks make the world go round so if you like columns and reading or writing words on this site please turn off your ad blocker. Its painful I know, but it makes it so they can afford wildly famous and successful freelance writers of the highest order such as myself. This from a guy who once bragged about working for Cheez-Its?

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Darn right but I won’t work for Goldfish…ok maybe. They just make sense in soup! You should see my contract rider! Sandbags full of M&M’s, all red because they taste the best. I also ask for my name to be written in green Aurebesh using red ink just to give the interns something to worry about.

Speaking of worries, onto Camelot Unchained. This column is always easier than the bullet point pieces because it’s based on new info from the best newsletter in the business. I know a thing or two about newsletters and young Max always does a fantastic job with the small novel that Camelot Unchained produces every month.

That said, as if often the case, Ben’s Dose of Design usually gets most of my focus because #1 Ben is MMORPG Yoda and #2 because the Dose usually gives us the most insight into development in ways the bullet points never can and #3 because it has dose in the title and I’m usually heavily medicated. Self-medicated. The latest was poetic if not cryptically sub titled Scribbles in the Dark.

The gist of what Ben was saying this month is; MMORPG development is extremely complex, slow and often ends up taking several iterations to get right. Unfortunately, real time and developmental progress are not equal. That realization is something many of us struggle with. Moreover, this dose was, to me, an explanation of why things take so long and how far things still need to go. I hoped the idea testing phase was under way, unfortunately they aren’t implemented yet but it sounds like they are close.

“We’ll need to take untested and sometimes BSC design concepts, which are laid out in a very tentative state in design documents and spreadsheets, and try them out. Then we can make decisions on what we need to throw out, what we can keep, and what we can iterate upon to make the game as fun as we all want it to be.”

The designs are complex with many of them having never been tried before. Others have been tried but not since MUDs. That leads me to think they will require deep testing to find the right balance between challenge and fun. You can see where this is going. The hour glass of development is still quite full.

“Once the technical features to support gameplay features are in place, and the fundamental mechanics can be tested out and improved upon, a lot of the important parts of the game’s design will seem to come together in a relatively short time, which we look forward to showing you as more and more of our User Story items reach completion.”

What I took away from this dose is that we are a lot further away from a completed game than I imagined. Your just now figuring that out huh? In its current state, Camelot Unchained is more like an engine with Avatars but little if any in terms of the infamous BSC ideas. It’s not a development I’m thrilled about but I respect Ben putting it out there for us rather than trying to hide it. CSE doesn’t have to put this kind of thing out but they do, and I’ve never stopped appreciating their candor.

He said things will come together in a relatively short time inferring development speeds up once the core mechanics are all in place. Naturally my question is relative to what? We don’t really have a base line beyond what has happened prior. Three years to create an engine and get near the idea implementation phase, how much longer? I don’t expect (or advise) a launch date but at some point, it would be nice to get a vague bench mark. I don’t mean a day or a month or even a quarter but having a few year marks would be nice. Just something to hope for then eventually grab pitch forks and torches and rage about when it gets close and speculation about hitting or missing it turns toxic. And there in you have the information paradox that is MMORPG development.

“Having a bunch of ability components made without the capacity to try them out is a lot like having a bunch of sketches drawn in the dark that you haven’t been able to look at yet.” Beyond his design skills he has leveled his wordsmithing as well. I would add making a MMORPG is like dumping two puzzles together then trying to assemble them in the dark. It’s going to take a lot of time, patience and many iterations. 

Tim Eisen / In my columns I walk the line between fan and critic as I document the development of Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, and Chronicles of Elyria.