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ArtCraft Entertainment | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Development  (est.rel Q4 2020)  | Pub:ArtCraft Entertainment
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Growing the Murder

By Red Thomas on February 15, 2018 | Columns | Comments

Growing the Murder

Crowfall is another of those Austin-based projects that I love to follow.  They’ve taken their own approach to crowd-funded development. Thus, it’s always interesting to explore their take on how to engage with their community and the team’s subtle developmental adaptations created from the increased transparency.

No matter how transparent they tend to be, I was still tickled to be invited to their morning standup the day of my visit.  It’s a great opportunity to crosscheck what I’ve read in the forums and what Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton tell me during our conversations.  Both are good guys, and I trust them, but it’s always great to get a little confirmation.

I’m not so regular to the ArtCraft Entertainment spaces that everyone knows who I am, and standing in the back partly behind a wall, those that do know me probably didn’t realize I was there.  What I heard was encouraging.  Nearly everything was right on pace and linked with what I’d already been told by Gordon and Todd, and most of the issues noted were typical development issues that shouldn’t be major blockers.

With Crowfall approaching a point the team would be willing to call “Alpha,” the game is getting more interesting and more playable every week.  A few major updates just out, or about to be, is a new sacrifice system to smooth out game momentum, player-placed and controlled vendors to further expand the economy, and tweeks to the crafting UI.

Supplementive Sacrifice

One of the issues remaining in Crowfall is what players are supposed to do during those quieter periods between major PvP events, or when a player logs on with too little time to engage in anything involved.  Gordon tells me that the team has decided to target that problem in part with a new Sacrifice system.

Maybe we’ll see campaign modes where victory conditions are based on the gods’ favor?

Specifically, Todd noted that the intent was to fill those in-between-moments with more stuff to do, but it has to be something that’s productive and isn’t developed as just a time sink for the sake of wasting time.  The Sacrifice system accomplishes this by allowing players to sacrifice loot to the digital gods in order to gain favor.  That favor then results in the character gaining levels and attribute points.

The crafting system and economy already exists, which is great for those players interested in more industrial advancements, but there still remains the character archetype that just wants to go explore and kill critters.  The Sacrifice system is made to help everyone, but specifically gives players who want to go out and attack mobs a reason to go hunting.

Critically, it’s not JUST loot from mobs that can be sacrificed, though.  Anything can be sacrificed, and that gives crafters and gatherers an alternative path for advancement, as well.  The diminishing returns also mean that players have to sacrifice increasingly valuable items, which in turn encourages players to engage in the progressively more dangerous areas.  It’s a subtle system that helps to drive the larger game, along with other systems providing similarly indirect encouragement.

Encouraged Economy

Of course, anyone who reads my articles very often knows that I’m a sucker for in-game economies, and I always get excited at anything that promotes digital diversity in dividends.  The new Sacrifice system should go a long way towards establishing an in-game sink for resources and be good for the economy, but that’s not the only encouraging economic news to come out of my recent visit.

A new crafting UI will really help the game to feel more polished and release-ready.

The next piece to go in is finishing the loop on the economy.  A lot of that is just idea implementation and then letting the testers bang away at it.  For instance, capturing and holding keeps now matters because of the crafting tables in them.   Crafters require those tables to make the more advanced and better gear, which creates a native need for a limited resource, which is to say the keeps, and that then lends additional significance to PvP.

Todd says that the next coming will be player vendors, which will allow players to shop for desired gear.  It also creates additional value in having access to Eternal Kingdoms, and adds value to player subcommunities, like guilds and alliances of guilds.  Gordon pointed out that a lot of the work for vendors is really just some UI design and then the back-end mechanics of how to actually handle transfers.

At it’s most basic, player-to-player exchanges just require a basic version of the inventory system, but with added code to handle acceptance of the trade and then a message to the backend database transferring an item from one player’s inventory to the other’s inventory.  It’s more complicated, because those edge cases all have to be handled. 

What happens if there’s a sync issue or a network problem at the time of the transfer?  How do you handle it if one player disconnects, or if both do?  Those are the scenarios that create duping or just lost items if poorly handled, and so the player-trade system has to be a bit more robust than you might expect.  That said, the system is being worked right now and players should see an early version of it in the game soon.

Todd was pretty excited while talking about the coming economic updates.  He says up to now,  they’ve “had punctuated moments of awesome PvP and the strategy layer [in place], without the underlying gear cycle.”  So, the economy has ended up being like that old car that won’t quite start.  It turns over and you hear it trying, but it just can’t generate enough energy to self-cycle the pistons without help from the batteries.

Murder Multiplication

The developer crows have also added to their number recently.  Ten new team members and a couple consultants have been added to the team, which I think grows them by about 25%, assuming I’m correctly recalling the team size.  I was actually a little surprised to hear the news.  I’ve felt like the team has developed a very respectable development trajectory and wasn’t expecting to see hire on additional developers.  More developers mean an even faster pace, and that means they’re “damn close to alpha,” to quote Gordon Walton.

Player-placed vendors are critical to completing that economic loop and expanding the role of Eternal Kingdoms.

Crowdfunding encourages a certain amount of transparency to begin with, and then that transparency creates a kind of pull on how teams handle development.  For some, the public view completely changes the order and methodology of how they develop, and there are others equally extreme in the other direction.  ArtCraft Entertainment have their own version of that process with Crowfall, just like everyone else.

It’s really good to see the game moving forward well, and the new team members will make it go even faster.  I feel like most of that sense of progress is based on good information, in part because the devs are fairly prolific in posting their thoughts and plans.  The public-facing side of the project is detailed enough that it’s pretty clear things are going well.  Still, it’s good to get on site and look for those subtle clues that support or don’t support the public perception of the project’s health.

Everything I see looks good.  The integrity of the team is solid, and there doesn’t seem to be much turnover (certainly not among the critical members).  Watching folks in the back of the room that I’m not directly involved with, I see cheerful people who seem to be enjoying their work.  Listening to the problems and daily goals reported in the standup I was invited to also seemed to suggest a team with fewer big problems than many I’ve seen over the years.

I think Crowfall is in really good shape and that Alpha is maybe just a couple months away, if even that.  With an expanded economy to drive the campaigns, the game should start feeling much more complete over the next few releases.  In fact, I think I’ll reach out to a few friends.  The crows are circling in the distance, and I believe we might just see if we can get the jump on them.  Maybe we’ll get some cool stuff and try out that new sacrifice mechanic.

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. Follow him on Twitter: