Crowfall - A Chat With The Devs
Development on Crowfall continues as the game quickly approaches a state in which all the original goals promised during the crowdfunding campaign have been addressed. The game loop continues to be refined and enhanced through live user-based testing, but not without challenges.
I had a chance to swing by the ArtCraft Entertainment studios for an impromptu interview. I arrived minutes before the team announced their “Decap-a-Thon” competition for the holiday weekend. The obvious decapitation-themed nerd humor ensued, but we also spent a little time talking about some of the near-term development objectives.
The conversations revealed some update information that would be worth sharing, and then there were a few indicators in the conversation that might be worth talking about, as well. Specifically, the “Decap-a-Thon” idea actually tells us a lot more about the state of Crowfall than it would appear on the surface.
Heads Will Roll
Factions competed this weekend to determine the nature of a free cosmetic item that would be made available to all participants after the event. Everyone who participated over the weekend will get a skull item to tie to their belt. As far as I know, the item gives the wearer a 2% bonus to critical hits and healing chances, but otherwise serves no purpose other than being purely cosmetic. Also, while all participants get the skull, the color will depend on the winning faction.
On the surface, it’s just a cool competition that encourages a little extra PvP over the long weekend. It’s a fun event, but also one that should indicate an important fact about where the team is at in the development of Crowfall. From the lack of marketing around the surprise concept and the rather abrupt announcement, I think it’s pretty clear that this was an idea someone came up with and the team implemented it on the fly.
That’s not a huge thing typically, as the whole point of an AGILE development program is to take on these smaller challenges and handle them without breaking stride. In this case, it gives us a very good indication of where the game systems are currently because the implementation isn’t as trivial as it seems on the surface, or at least wasn’t at the time. ACE artists conceptualized the skulls, which were then created, textured, rendered and made available in the game very quickly. A new rule was developed and implemented in equally short time, despite the fact that they were effectively adding a new feature to the system.
I’m not sure if anyone commented on it, but this was an exercise of precisely what I see as being one of the Crowfall’s key differentiators in the market. Crowfall got my attention with this idea of multiple temporary “worlds” that would implement a variety of rulesets. In effect, I expected Crowfall to become a game of many games, each spinning up and giving players a chance to try something new, cycling through each season in turn before dying.
The only way that’s possible is if new systems can be invented, developed, and implemented rapidly, which is what we saw here. The system was even implemented in such a way that it’ll allow the team to easily adapt it to other events with similar ideas in the future. It’s subtle, but I think a telling, indication of how modular and well developed the game is.
Another key update for the game will be the new Infected Lands, which will also create a bit of a rework of the PvP in the game to make room for the new server type. The three-way faction-based PvP will be moving to the persistent Infected Lands as sort of the next step away from Gods Reach towards the Hunger. The Infected Lands will have been impacted by the Hunger and will feature pretty much all the systems players have become used to in the current PvP portions of the game. It might even be accurate to say that the current PvP is moving to a persistent server to make room for a new “Dregs” that will be Guild verses Guild, rather than the faction-based that PvP players have been experiencing for a while now.
The Dregs will remain as temporary campaigns that last for a limited amount of time before being destroyed. While the Dregs will eventually consist of multiple instances of campaigns of varying lengths, the Infected Lands are intended to be a persistent server with PvP for guilds that have just wrapped up one campaign and desire a little downtime before launching into another.
As proposed during the crowdfunding effort, Crowfall is a game of risk verses reward. Resources available in each server type are scaled in relation to the danger expected, along with level requirements for entering each new server type. Gods Reach can be accessed by players level 1 and up and will contain resources up to rank 7. Players will need to reach level 15 for the Infected Lands and level 20 for the Dregs, which will contain resources of ranks 8 and 10, respectively. The last server type hasn’t been implemented yet, but resources of rank 9 will obviously be there, and I expect level requirements to shift around again to make room once it is implemented.
The result is a smoother transition for new players into the game. By level-gating access to each new server type, the team is ensuring new players have reached a certain minimum level of understanding about the game before moving on, which is actually a lot more important than the level of the avatar. Since that new player experience is one of the key make-or-break periods for player retention, it makes a lot of sense to ease folks into the community a little. If you hadn’t noticed, some of these Crows are vicious when their game-faces are on.
Guilds can engage in PvP in the Infected Lands and fight over resources just as they can in the Dregs, but there’s less stress of having to “win” the campaign due to the persistent nature of the server type
The Infected Lands will be persistent and should provide guilds a server to in which to engage in PvP when between campaigns in the Dregs. There’ll also be no restrictions on taking items in or out of the server. Besides acting as a middle ground between the PvE of Gods Reach and anarchy of the Dregs, Gordon Walton tells me that the Infected Lands will also server a practical purpose for the game. It will create some needed flexibility and allow for easier patching. The Dregs running in North America and European servers operate in different time zones, making patching a problem until now, but the Infected Lands will resolve that issue going forward.
Loin Your Guilds
A significant impact due to the introduction of the Infected Lands and moving the existing PvP model to there is that the Dregs are now open for a new model, which will be a focus on Guild verses Guild. I did challenge Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton a little on this when we were talking, but I had an impression of where I thought the game was going and I thought it was fair to be a little forceful on getting answers on that point.
My early impressions of the Dregs was that guilds wouldn’t matter and that the Dregs would be pure PvP where the only loyalties that mattered were those that formed during the life of the server. GvG was always a thing, but I kind of expected it to be something before the Dregs in terms of PvP and general risk. I have to say that I’m a little on the fence about GvG being the ultimate in PvP in Crowfall and I’m not totally on board yet.
That said, let me just say that despite my own reservations I believe there are a lot of reasons for why this is a good call and I think it’s probably the right move from a business perspective. For one, creating a system that would allow multiple people from the same guild to also belong to another collective of players for the purpose of campaigns in the Dregs would probably require some additional development cost, which at this point is something the team should be staying away from. They’ll be moving into Alpha/Beta/Early Access/Whatever-the-new-term pretty soon, and that means they need to start looking more towards marketing and being able to cover the initial cost of standing up additional servers to handle the hopeful influx of new players.
The other thing is that servers with these other rulesets could easily come later, as the whole model is designed around modularity and easily adjusted rules on a server-level, as I mentioned above. Not doing it now doesn’t mean it won’t happen, just that it’s not happening right now.
Lastly, it probably just wouldn’t make much sense to implement the system since there’s nothing to stop a player from creating a guild of one, as Todd noted in our conversation. For the purposes of the Dregs, a guild is just the smallest unit of loyalty for the purposes of calculating contribution, scoring, and eventually determining a “winner.”
What they ARE doing is implementing the fealty system that allows networks of guilds to join under single banners and work together for the accomplishment of a goal. Depending on how it’s implemented, this could bring a very interesting and compelling player-generated story to the game. Guilds breaking away from alliances mid-campaign could bring interesting drama to the game, and drama is always awesome. That’s a fact that EVE Online continues to reinforce every few months or so.
Along with the implementation of caravans and mounts, the guild verses guild mode of PvP will be among a short list of remaining items for the team to check off on before having addressed all the intended features announced during their crowdfunding campaign. This more or less heralds the end of this stage of development and we should be seeing a fully functional game loop very soon. I’m excited to get to that point and I’m interested to see the community finally given free reign to build not just a world, but a persistent story spanning multiple worlds. No matter how well developed the game, it’s always the players that write the most compelling content through their interactions with each other. I’m really going to enjoy seeing what emergent story develops in Crowfall and I’m thinking I don’t have much longer before finding out.
Full Disclosure: Red Thomas is an SEC accredited investor and has invested in ArtCraft Entertainment, the studio developing Crowfall. While Red makes a good faith effort at subjectivity, unconscious bias is always possible, and readers should take the potential of bias into account.