Focused on Eternal Kingdoms
Last month, I stepped back into the world of Crowfall for the first in a series of monthly progress updates on the new MMO by ArtCraft Entertainment. One main battle standard the team intended to carry into the next several months was persistence. They’ve laid down a lot of the foundational elements for a more persistent version of the game over the last month, and Eternal Kingdoms are getting a lot of the attention.
I had a chance to talk with Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton about their approach to the Eternal Kingdoms and we also had a chance to discuss their near-term plans for Crowfall development. I wanted to know how backers will get access, and how soon. Plus, I wasn’t really sure how to expect Eternal Kingdoms to be implemented this early in development. Will backers all getting generic templated worlds, or will there be some sort of randomization? It was a good conversation, and I definitely walked away excited.
When and How?
First, the question nearly everyone has is when do the Eternal Kingdoms roll out, and how do backers get access? Well, the short answer is that they’re already kind of out there. For the past month, players have had access to an “Eternal Kingdom” of sorts. Basically, a shared server has been online with general rulesets and resources similar to what players will see in the more unique version to come later.
As a start, it was a good way for the team to test out those basic mechanics, like item and character data transfers from one server to another. Plus, it was an opportunity for the team to test out terrain generation and editing systems, which will be used on both Eternal Kingdom servers and the campaign servers. Multiple updates and tests later, it sounds like ArtCraft Entertainment has had a pretty successful trial run.
I couldn’t get Todd or Gordon to nail down precisely when they’d be allowing backers to have access to personal Eternal Kingdoms, but any timeline they’d be willing to give probably wouldn’t mean a whole lot. This development team has a habit of opening access up to small groups of backers earlier than their quoted timeline, which makes statements of any precision a little suspect. Not a bad problem to have, but in the interests of having something to write about, I did convince the two to confirm that personal Eternal Kingdoms will start to come online within a matter of weeks, and not months.
The two also noted that initial tests will be limited to a few dozen players, much like other early tests of major game components. Though, previous early tests also progressed to include the rest of the test-base if fairly short order. I can’t see Eternal Kingdoms being any different since most of the online and persistent aspects are pretty similar to existing features. Unless there’s something unobvious and more complicated that I’m not seeing here, benchmarking will probably take as much time as anything in granting access to additional tiers of backers as far as the EKs coming online.
Rolling out the EKs wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as how it’ll work. I was expecting players to get access to some sort of pre-canned tile set as an early test of the system before seeing anything more complex. The Crowfall devs are blowing right past unique and landing on custom as they throw traditional development expectations to the wind.
As I pointed out in a previous article, players will use a tool similar to what the devs have been using as they create new server maps. You’ll also get access to the tiles you’ve purchased in the store, which is clear indication that ArtCraft is starting to tie the game systems to the exterior web portal. That helps monetization and is good for the project’s health, so I’m really glad to see it. I’m especially glad because it’ll mean that I get to play around with my own set of map tiles, and not just random tiles I was granted for testing.
Everyone will access the same login servers, and as backers are pulled into the group with permission to create their own Eternal Kingdom, they’ll see the button to do so become active. Otherwise, the button leading to the creation UI will be there, but will not be click-able.
Backers will have the option of opening their servers up to the public, though. That means while only a few can create them early on, everyone will have new maps to explore from the start. Other options will start becoming available to backers when they create their own Eternal Kindoms, as well. For instance, players can choose whether to make their land PvP or not.
Just on the Eternal Kingdoms side of things, there’ll be a lot of work over the next several months. One major task for the team is to setup the permissions system that will allow higher-ranked players the option of granting land to minor nobility within their demesne. Anyone in IT will love the analogy Gordon related to me while we were talking about it.
Think of the Eternal Kingdoms as root folders, and the owner can partition out the realm into sub-folders as deep as necessary to put an appropriate number of plots (which you can think of as individual files) into them. Minor nobility are granted these sub-realms within the larger domain, and can additionally segment to lower-ranked nobility as they desire. Then, players use up their tile allotments placing their plots. It’s all controlled through an inherited set of permissions similar to the read/write/execute permissions with which every system administrator is intimately familiar.
The team portioned off to work on character customization will also continue expanding the options for character models. Differences are already noticeable. I logged in this last weekend to see what all had changed, and the answer was a lot. The most obvious was that my little dueling rodent no longer had his trademark feathered hat, and his vest was different than what I’d become used to. There were also options after choosing my vessel suggesting that more options for customization are right around the corner.
Of course, a little farther down the road will be the first series of campaign tests, which will also herald the more persistent state of the game. Todd and Gordon indicated that early campaigns will be as long as a couple weeks, giving the team time to test basic objective capture, feature destruction, and the spirit chest for pulling items back to the Eternal Kingdoms from a campaign.
In truth, I really expect the studio could take their game to a persistent state now, if they desired. All the pieces are there and the testing intervals have gotten progressively longer. At this point, the only thing really keeping them from flipping the switch is just a lack of content. Campaigns should be that Rubicon for persistence, giving the game enough going on to hold player interest between content updates.
All-in-all, I like the state the game is in for its stage in development. Obviously, there are some rough edges and certain lack of content, but the large mechanics and engineering that makes the game sustainable are really shaping up well. Crowfall was one of my picks to make serious waves in the industry, and I don’t see anything yet to change that opinion.
What do you think, though? I’m easily enamored by the techniques in building games, so that sometimes colors my impression. I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences in the game, and how you think it’s shaping up, so leave a comment below.