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The Road to Persistence

Red Thomas Posted:
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I really dig the Crowfall project, and the folks around it.  It’s one of those rare ideas that come along occasionally and are mostly about scratching a neglected itch, but then manage to stumble into a really good idea at the same time.  Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton will tell you over the first handshake that their push is to serve the communities of hardcore gamers who have been neglected for the most part by the current MMO market.

It's certainly fair to point at current games with more vanilla rulesets and accuse them of pandering to the casual gamer.  It’s a business and accessibility sells well right now, so you can’t really blame them for it.  Nor can you deny that it’s enough the norm that the more aggressive among us tend to feel a bit left out and overlooked with each new title.

That’s where Crowfall comes in with their tiered system of rage-fueled mayhem and dynamically perishing worlds.  I got to talk to the guys a bit about what new backers, or returning ones, might need to know as they gird their beef loins and hamster nuggets and make their way toward digital battle.  Also, I wanted to find out how the unique terrain for new servers is created, and get an idea of what’s next for the project.

Special Sauce

In the era of crowdfunding, one of the best ways to determine if a project is operating with integrity and worthy of support is to observe their progress with respect to their originally stated goals.  Developers who are careful to stay as close to their original vision as possible, and who make significant strides towards realizing the initial design, demonstrate the level of integrity that I normally look for when considering whether to support a project.

You could easily say that Crowfall is just another MMO, and it is in a number of respects.  The crafting and character advancement systems are variations on systems we’ve seen in other games.  Even the locked archetypes design choice has been used in other games, but it’s the concept behind the Dying Worlds mechanic that’s particularly exciting, and it’s also what drives several other aspects of development.

The ACE tool for creating maps in Crowfall looks just like the concept art, showing a solid grasp of the project before the Kickstarter.

ArtCraft Entertainment is one of those companies with vision and integrity, as returning backers will find significant steps towards implementing that multi-server concept and a lot of the foundational components for building both the persistent Eternal Kingdoms and the temporary Dying Worlds have been implemented.  Multiple servers have been stood up with unique terrain and one with a different rule set in order to test interactions between server types.  Characters already transfer between servers, and the team has just recently added something they’re calling the Spirit Bank, which can be used to transfer items between servers.

The tesseract-like bank is one of the critical components for realizing the originally stated design.  The goal being to have multiple temporary servers with various sets of PvP rules and levels of resources proportional to the difficulty of the server’s ruleset.  The resources and gear collected on a PvP server is supposed to have a chance at being transported back to the PvE Eternal Kingdoms at the end of the PvP world’s life. 

The Spirit Bank allows material to be carried from server to server.

It’s a fundamental part of the crafting and economy model pitched by the team during their Kickstarter campaign.  Seeing them implement the basic functionality is a sign that the idea is sound and they’re taking steps to make sure it’s in place.

Returning players and new backers can also expect to see a much-adjusted combat system, loads of new skills, and a consistently expanding crafting tree.  Every patch holds new content for crafters and killers alike, the new Grave Digging skill line for instance.

It sounds a bit morbid, but the idea is that crafters can scavenge and repurpose the remains of fallen warriors to create enhanced avatars used by the immortal crows in their wars across the Dying Worlds.  In keeping with the hardcore mentality, these enhanced corporeal forms can still be lost in combat, though.  The risks add to the excitement for the more combat oriented players, and to the bank accounts of the more industrial members of the community.

Building Worlds

So, if you’re new or haven’t been around for a while, you now have a rough idea of what’s changed recently, but what about looking forward?  The battle standards will be Dying Worlds and Eternal Kingdoms, as the team works to get the many worlds of Crowfall online.  While many of the developers have been working on improving the combat systems, another effort was working to build the tools for creating worlds.

It’s significant to you for a couple reasons.  First, the tools allow developers to craft new unique worlds far more efficiently, as we saw when they recently stood up four new servers with their own terrain.  This is just an initial step, though.  Eventually, I expect they’ll start looking for ways to script the world generation to some degree.  Hand-generated servers are do-able, but not nearly as scalable in the long term.

Tetris-like terrain pieces snap together to form maps, but you can leave spaces that become water.

The other reason these tools should hold significance for backers is that they’re early versions of what players will use to layout their own Eternal Kingdoms.  Let me tell you, the system is pretty seriously cool, too.  In fact, it was the most unexpectedly cool thing I saw during my visit.  The system works with tiles, where different tiles represent different land features like plains, mountains, hills, and so on.  Holes where the tiles don’t line up become water, creating lakes or islands as appropriate.

Even as an early form of the interface players will use to setup their own Eternal Kingdoms, it’s a pretty cool process.  It also looks straightforward enough that there shouldn’t be too much trouble hooking it up to a system for dynamically generating terrain on the fly.  I see it as another indication that the team is moving in the right direction and are on course to deliver.

Systems in Progress

While the terrain generation was what really caught my eye, there are plenty of other pieces of the project ticking their way along the Gantt chart.  Archetypes are probably further along than most would think.  While some of the work was help up by the need to polish other areas, Todd and Gordon tell me some archetypes are fairly close to being ready for backer testing.  Pace should be picking back up and backers will see the archetype gaps closing up over the next several months.

Along with the Eternal Kingdoms and Dying Worlds work being done, the bank system for transferring goods between servers will be getting attention.  The current system allows everything in the bank to be shared between all servers and can accessed from anywhere.  Future iterations will start scaling it back to meet the original intent.  The bank should only be accessible from specific locations, and eventually only randomly selected portions of what you place in the bank will make it from the PvP server to the Eternal Kingdoms.

Crowfall devs are split into teams to make more progress across the board, like with character customization and the ability to dye equipment.

Siege equipment will be making its way back into the game soon, too.  Originally built and tested in a forked version of the code, the team will be working to reintegrate those systems into the main branch for players to test.  Not only will that reintroduce a really awesome, and fairly unique, component of the game for combat-focused players, but it’ll also likely carry additional crafting updates along with it.

Still Excited

All-in-all, I’m still really excited about this game.  The first time I heard the pitch and saw how far the team had gotten before even announcing the crowdfunding campaign, I told Todd and Gordon that I thought this would be one of those defining games.  They hated hearing it because they’re virtually allergic to hype, but I still stand by the statement.

Where vision, great ideas, and solid business plans meet, that’s where you find success.  Crowfall has that written all over it, and despite taking a bit longer than expected to iron out their hiccups with combat, it feels like the project is still primed to really shake the way the industry does business.

To be fair, I backed the game the first day the Kickstarter went live, and also took advantage of their recent  equity-backed crowdfund, so I’m admittedly a little biased.  Still, while you could certainly argue whether or not the game has general appeal to the larger market base, I don’t think you can say they haven’t been successfully accomplishing the tasks they’ve laid out for themselves.

Games like any entertainment are a matter of preference, so that’s all you can really ask of any studio.  If they’re true to themselves and their vision, while maintaining a standard of integrity with their backers, then most backers should be happy with the result.  I know I am so far.


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.