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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Tim Eisen Posted:
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(Turns his radio to the Christmas station.)

It looks like the elf labor exchange program is really paying off, JTodd is growing a Santa beard and Artcraft had a productive December! The tech behind procedurally generating game maps has finally come online. That means every world being unique just became more than a catch phrase. Of everything Crowfall promised it was one of the features I doubted the most. I’ve heard it before, most recently in the polarizing No Man’s Sky, the solution is “procedural generation”. In theory, it sounds like the gateway to unlimited exploration. Minecraft seemed to pull it off but I’m hard pressed to think of other games that did it well. In most of my experiences procedural generation resulted in a boring repetition. Artcraft believes they have a path.

“The next step will be automating that. Our plan is to lay out the major terrain features (mountain ranges, valleys, hills, forests) and then have a "history simulator" for the world that fills in all the details. The simulation will start by populating the world with various races, and then use AI to let them explore and conquer the world around them, sort of like a game of Civ, only completely automated. As the races explore and capture resources and bump into each other, they will go to war, declare peace, build cities, etc. This process will populate the world with ruins (and history, and artifacts) for the players to discover once that world comes online.” Source (and shameless plug). Other than sounding incredibly cool it should work to counter stagnation over the course of the game if they can make it work as intended. That last part always seems to be the hang-up with game development.

Speaking of hang-ups, the QnA this month addressed the latest wide spread problem to plague the MMORPG genre, testing confusion. Thanks to countless games that allowed players to pay for “beta” we now have a whole generation of gamers that see pre-alpha, alpha, beta, etc. much differently than many developers. Compounding the issue is the fact that historically the percent of players that got into a testing phase of development is very small and that the aforementioned test phases have always been defined by each individual game studio! What we have here is a recipe for mass confusion.

I’m going to let developer’s darkest secret out, most games I’ve tested (and I’ve tested many going back 14 years) were nearly unplayable right up until launch! Every phase of testing was a nearly unplayable mess. At the end of Beta 4 developers would bring the game servers down, promise all of us a super patch before launch and claim everything would be fine. A month or so later launch would happen and it would be substantially better than beta 4, but still rife with issues.

The idea that testing is consistently playable let alone actually fun is a new concept. In fact, the few Alphas I got into had almost nothing to do with playing a game, they were about logging in repetitiously to test tech. Gameplay didn’t seem to happen until Beta and it didn’t become consistent until beta 3 or 4. By consistent I mean you could play for longer than 20 minutes without crashing! I’m not overstating!

In my experience, MMORPG testing is chaos. If you get in for an Alpha expect tech testing. If you get in for a beta expect basic functions that likely don’t resemble their launch day versions. If you come into Beta 3 or 4 you can expect to see something that looks like a playable game. It might be a shock for many people that bought into early testing but every inch of a MMORPG must be tested thousands of times before its fun. It’s about repetition and duplication of circumstances to find issues. Oddly I’ve met many people that consider that fun, I assume they are robots incognito.

Long before pre-Alpha I had some concern about the level of customization Crowfall would offer us. The vessel set-back further concerned me. That concern is quickly fading. As stated prior the plan for vessels is to bring up a customization UI or pre-set option upon possession. Further alleviating my MOBA character concerns was the Crows of Many Colors update. I was happy with the amount of customization being shown.

Between the many face options and armor dying I’m starting to think I’ll be able to create a character that feels unique enough to be my own. That said I would like to request more beards and face tattoos. Not that they were lacking, I just happen to believe we can never have enough beards or tattoos in MMORPGs (except on women, I prefer they not be allowed to wear a beard-even dwarven women).

Last week investors got a drinking fountain and backers got a drinking horn. This week investors get a villa and a woodland grove and backers get a woodland grove. I’m starting to see a pattern here, one I’m keeping an eye on. You could say I’m making a list and checking it twice. That I’m gonna find out which devs are naughty or nice. I’ll see you when you’re sleeping, I’ll know when you’re awake…wait no, no on-second thought that song is surprisingly creepy-but still compulsively catchy! Let’s just say I’ll be watching those exclusives and I hope Artcraft appreciates the backers that afforded them the ability to pursue the investor opportunity as much as all of us appreciate them!

Merry early Christmas! Thanks for reading, I’ll write you again next year! (Turns up “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, kicks back and chugs some extra thick Eggnog while pondering naming a character Eggnog.)


Tim Eisen

I roleplay a wordsmith that writes about the technological and social evolution within the game industry