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Constant Sorrow

Red Thomas Posted:
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Despite the click-bait nature of the title, I’m really happy with where Crowfall is in their development timeline.  My sorrow is that I haven’t had more time to devote to a project that I’ve enjoyed supporting since before the public crowdfunding campaign.  Luckily, the constant part of the title is also true, as the project is now operating live on a 24/7 basis.  That means we may start seeing a more standard approach to updates with periodic patching.  It’ll be good to see the team adopt a process more akin to what we’d expect from a released game, if that’s the route they end up taking.

The new constantly online status of the game means campaigns are now in and running.  Today, we’re going to take a look at those campaigns.  What are they; how do they work; and in what ways are they different from what we’ve seen before?  Also, I’ll take you through some of the ideas on the table for how those factors look to change as the systems supporting the campaigns mature and more development effort switches to the more strategic elements of Crowfall.

Shifting to a more normal class/race system could have been a problem, but it fit well with existing archetype and specialization systems.

Preparation of the Battlefield

Campaigns are running on at least two of the U.S. East, U.S. West, and EU severs at any given time.  Todd Coleman tells me that they don’t have the campaigns set to end on specific victory conditions or in any particular timeframe just yet because the team is still collecting data and resolving issues with the relatively new mechanics.  It’d be frustrating to initiate a grand strategy for victory, only to have the campaign restart on you just before server conquest was within your grasp.

Plus, as Gordon Walton noted in our conversation, there are bugs still being worked out and losing from a random bug is equally frustrating to players.  The team also feels there are still mechanics in Crowfall that aren’t as well understood as they need to be, and that prevents the campaigns from really being as immersive and enjoyable as they could be.

Despite the minor problems that the team is working through, the existing campaigns do have some really cool pieces already in place.  The current ruleset divides players into Order, Chaos, and Balance, with each faction competing for specific victory conditions.  I really liked this aspect of what the guys are doing.

Each keep and fort is worth a number of points at the end of the campaign, and the “score” works on a sliding scale.  As Order or Chaos capture locations, the points slide the campaign status up or down the scale.  Each vying to push the points nearer the extremes of that scale, but the middle third of the scale belongs to Balance.  Balance wins the campaign if neither Order, Nor Chaos, have a clear lead.

It’s a system that creates a glorious sort of complex imbalance, and one that few projects would have the guts to try.  This also happens to be one of the reasons I’ve really found to like this project so much.  They’re okay with some imbalance, because “perfect imbalance” is where the best stories originate from.  Combat between equals is boring, and it’s only when there’s an underdog that’s still in the range of hope that we get the really epic battles that grab at our imagination.  This system strikes me as one that’s likely to keep true dominance teetering on a point and ready to shift at any time.  That’s the sort of thing that makes the fight interesting.

Work on assets has been moving along well, and the game is feeling a lot more finished.

Firing for Effect

Three words every redleg loves to hear is, “fire for effect.”  Thus begins the Opus 155, sometimes called the Symphony of Boom, but whatever the name, getting there is a process.  Like the first few spotting rounds sent down range, game development has a similar initial engagement of general rule-sets and systems to determine what works and which direction the team needs to adjust to hit their mark.

The general ruleset in the current campaigns is just a rough approximation of the myriad of eventual permutations that will be in the game.  Besides teams changing based on the tiered system of how hardcore a given Dying World is intended to be, there’ll also be a list of different victory conditions randomly selected for campaigns.

Ideas that were discussed while I was onsite gives us a rough idea of what we might expect.  For instance, the current ruleset in campaigns now gives victory based on the final state of the points slider at the end of the campaign.  It’s a system that rewards a sudden string of victories right at the conclusion of the campaign, but an alternative scoring structure would reward points for holding objectives over time.  Another idea for a victory condition does away with the banded slider concept and awards victory to whichever team holds the most points, period.

The slider approach means Order taking from Chaos has more impact, but Balance may have something to say about that.

Victory conditions are just one piece, as rules for accessing the Spirit Bank are being developed, as well.  Gordon noted that the team has some ideas for campaign scenarios in which the Spirit Bank transfers act as a reward/support system to various degrees.  Teams in the lead may get the chance to transfer more material out of the campaign over time, while those not doing as well may get increased options to transfer in items, a way to help over-come deficits.

Todd pointed out that the transfer of items in Crowfall is intended to be an integral process to the game, and they want it to have a distinct impact on the player economy.  They want that impact to be consistent and over time, so the idea that you’d only transfer items in at the beginning of the campaign and transfer out at the end doesn’t really support that concept.  Even so, it’s still another adjustable option that be slightly randomized once campaigns are dynamically generated.

Whatever the combination of rules, the intent is to create added suspense at the end of each campaign.  What the team doesn’t want, and what isn’t fun, is for one faction to gain early dominance and then prevent any other team from being competitive throughout the rest of the campaign.  There’s also a desire to create that added sense of pressure to the game as the campaign concludes as support for the lore behind Crowfall, if nothing else.  These campaigns are ending because the worlds are being destroyed.  The destruction of a world should be a significant event, even to immortals.

Unlike Forts, Keeps have to be captured through a siege. A cool mechanic that adds immediate diversity.

Battle Damage Assessment

At this point, I think the game is on a good pace.  Maybe not quite on the pace some had expected, but definitely on a pace that I’m happy with as a fan and backer.  I’ve covered enough of these crowdfunded projects that I’ve learned a few warning signs to look for, but Crowfall shows all the signs I’d expect for a healthy game.  The key indicator for health is consistent progress on the game, and even with some fairly significant pivots in the project, progress continues to move at a good pace.

The systems in place are solid bones and indicative of really cool mechanics in the pipe.  Additionally, with most of the major game systems, if not all of them, functioning to some degree in Crowfall, development strides are expected to eat up a lot more ground with each new patch.  I’m excited for what’s coming in Crowfall.  My recent visit revealed that the team has tons of high-yield fun in the chamber and that the breach is locked.  They’re just waiting confirmation to engage…   Gentlemen, you’re cleared to engage.  Send it.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.