An Update with Mark Jacobs
Last week City State Entertainment sent out a release letting the community know they had a special announcement. We reached out to Mark Jacobs to find out just what his special announcement was and what else CSE has been up to with Camelot Unchained. Read on to find out what Mark had to say.
MMORPG: Yesterday you sent out an email stating you had an important announcement for the backers and nonbackers alike of Camelot Unchained. What was so important you wanted to tell everyone on that live stream?
Mark Jacobs: That we were able to finally fill the two senior programmer positions that we had been trying to fill with the right people for more than a year. Doing so allowed us to keep our promise to our Backers with the “Programmers, where art thou programmers?” Stretch Goal, and also to develop this game faster.
MMORPG: Congratulations on the two new hires. We know that has been a troublesome spot. For those that didn't watch the live stream can you tell us who they are and possible some of the titles they may have worked on in the past?
MJ: Thanks! Yes, it has been a difficult hiring process. The combination of being in Va., non-VC backed startup, degree of difficulty, high standards, etc. has made it far more challenging to hire the right people than Andrew and I originally anticipated.
As to Marc and George, well, Marc is a senior network/server engineer, whose resume includes stops at Kixeye, LucasArts, Carbine, Insomniac, and Oddworld Inhabitants. Among the games he has worked on are two Oddworld titles, Resistance, Wildstar, and Star Wars: First Assault. While he is a very skilled network guy (and that’s the first area he is working in), he will be able to transition to gameplay as well.
George is a senior graphics engineer with an equally impressive resume. He has worked at Runic Games, Bungie, Warner Bros, Paradigm, and others. His title list is also quite impressive, and it includes Hob, Destiny, and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. He is, in his own words, an engine guy who is quite excited about helping to build out our client/server engine, without having to rely on “Voltroning” a ton of middleware together.
MMORPG: Like almost all large IT/software development projects CSE hit a few bumps in the road leading to delays. (Sorry to hear about your wife by the way, glad she seems to be doing better). For those that haven't been studiously following the City State Entertainment e-mails can you give us a broad overview of where you are at on the project?
MJ: Fortunately, those bumps in the road are now in our rear-view mirror, and we are moving along quite nicely, as the last two updates have shown. Overall, we are currently in Extended Alpha (in other words, we are late, so why try to hide it by just saying Alpha?), and working towards our Beta stage. We recently displayed our new Procedurally Generated Terrain System, which is a pretty neat piece of tech, but more importantly, an important tool for world creation. In the coming weeks, we will begin our class presentations (reveals of all the currently planned classes for the game), and our long-awaited crafting presentation.
MMORPG: What important systems are currently the development focus?
MJ: In terms of current systems: improving the FPS for the Procedurally Generated Terrain System so it’s back up to 60 FPS on older machines, improving our networking so we can smash the 2K player threshold, and getting our new animation system in place and working well. Those are some of the big-ticket items, but we will also be getting archery ready to go, the wound system, crafting, and a lot more. You can take a look at the User Stories on our website for more info.
MMORPG: What major milestones do you have left to achieve before the game reaches it's next phase of development (wider reaching alpha, beta, etc....)?
MJ: We will need to get everything from my answer above implemented, as well as some of the starting classes, the first true worldspace (using the Procedurally Generated Terrain System), a robust item/inventory system, tons of new components/abilities, and a lot more cool stuff. With Marc and George joining the team, we will be able to make rapid progress in certain areas much more quickly than we would have been able to, otherwise. And, if that isn’t enough, one of the big wins with bringing in two senior guys is that Andrew can let them work on some coding challenges he would have had to work on himself. That will free him to do more cutting-edge systems, like continuing to work on our Procedurally Generated Terrain System, sooner rather than later in the development cycle.
MMORPG: A few years back when you first announced that CU was heading for Kickstarter we talked about crafting. You had some pretty interesting ideas on how to incorporate materials that you would collect from your enemies when you killed them. Essential fragments of their souls. These could then be forged into weapons granting you powers and possible making the enemy you previously killed aware of where you are so they can get the missing piece of their soul back. Is that still happening or has it turned into something different?
MJ: Yep, still part of the plan. We’re pretty consistent that way. We also still plan on working players’ souls into the already announced and funded Bounty System.
MMORPG: Okay, bounty system? I somehow must have missed that one. Can you please elaborate?
MJ: No problem. Here’s the text from the Stretch Goal, all of which can be found here. Taking bounties to the BSC level, our bounty system applies the real-world concept of bounties to our game, and then adds so much more. Bounties can be offered by any one of three entities: by the Realm (all the way up to the king), by a Guild, and by individual players. Bounties can be placed on everything from certain NPCs in the game, to creatures found in The Depths, to the most well-known players in the land. These bounties are not daily quests, nor are most even repeatable.
MMORPG: Another MMO that was Kickstarted around the same time as CU has recently stumbled and in all likelihood fallen. Do you see projects like that and reevaluate what you are doing with CU?
MJ: Nope. We are not that company. Unlike them and some other projects, we didn’t use Kickstarter to raise “just enough money” to make something. We asked for enough money, when added to by myself and the other investor, to make our game.
MMORPG: What lessons can you learn from the successes and failures of the industry around you and in real time affect positive change in the development of CU?
MJ: In our case, we have certainly learned from some of the success or failure of games that Andrew and I have worked on, either together or separately.
I do think that one of most important lessons we have learned and followed since even before the Kickstarter began is our transparency. Our Backers and interested parties know just about everything that goes on in our studio. They see the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures, and while it bites us in the butt at times, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Nobody can say whether Camelot Unchained will be considered a success after it launches, but at least our Backers can say that they knew where we were throughout the game’s development, and that CSE was always honest and open with them.
MMORPG: Can you elaborate on the Procedurally Generated Terrain System? We have all seen systems like this in the past for ARPGs and Rogue likes but this sounds to me like one of the firsts for a MMO?
MJ: As far as I know (and please, I don’t know everything in the world’s MMORPG space, so I could be wrong), this is the first time an MMORPG has used a procedurally generated terrain system to not only create their terrain, but to also generate it on the fly. Our PGTS is not just an editor for creating the land originally, it is the system that is used to render the land as players move through it.
For us, it is a win on multiple levels. First, it allows us to create the islands/world map much faster, and with fewer content developers than in past MMORPGs that I have worked on. And when you are a small team and on a limited budget, this is a good thing. Secondly, it allows us to create more interesting areas than would be possible using the techniques that we used back at Mythic, and that most MMORPGs use. Thirdly, it allows us to truly change the terrain on the fly through GM/player actions, and have that terrain instantly change across all the players’ world, as well.
Now, this system does mean that we can also place objects in the world and make parts of it persistent, of course. We have options for both world generation and real time world regeneration that we haven’t had in the past.
MMORPG: Is there a part of the world that isn't persistent and constantly being recreated?
MJ: As far as a part of the world that is constantly being recreated, in a sense the whole world could qualify. As of right now, we haven’t added any abilities that can keep the world changing 24x7, but we certainly will be doing that once the concept of land ownership is fully added to the game. For example, as a Realm takes control of territory that was owned by another Realm, the land will change to reflect the new owner. So, when the Tuatha Dé Danann take over some land, the flora and fauna there will change over time to reflect their ownership. Think of it as terraforming caused by magic, as opposed to terraforming due to science.
MMORPG: You mentioned having more than 2000 people on a server. Is CU going to have multiple servers or shards or will it be a single megaserver like we see with games such as ESO and now WIldstar?
MJ: There is zero chance that we would use the same concept as ESO does. Not because I think it is bad, but rather because it doesn’t fit in with our vision and Foundational Principle of Server Pride.
As far as 2K players on a server, no, we will do a whole lot better than that. My references to smashing the 2K people threshold are about the 2K we can currently have in a smallish battleground area. If we could only handle 2K people across an entire server/shard, we would be in trouble.
MMORPG: Last one, Camelot Unchained, is it safe to say that this is no longer a working title and will be the name the game ships with?
MJ: Correct. We asked our players what they thought and “Survey Says” Camelot Unchained! Thanks Rob, Bill, and the team at MMORPG.com, for asking us such great questions!
MMORPG: Thank you for your time, Mark!