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Summer at FlyingLab

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Developer Journals 0

Producer John Scott Tynes reveals the team's summer plans

June is apparently party month here at Flying Lab, because we’re having two of them in two weeks. Last Friday we rented out the Pacific Science Center, down in the shadow of the Space Needle, so our staff and friends could get exclusive use of the Game On! exhibit. This is a traveling exhibit about the history of videogames, and the best part about it is they have dozens of playable games on hand, most on the original hardware. They’ve got original arcade machines, vintage consoles, and lots more. We played all kinds of stuff -- Space Invaders, Pitfall, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure, Bubble Bobble, Rez, Monkey Island, and tons more. My favorite was the original Star Wars vector graphics arcade game, which the exhibit includes in its sit-down cockpit version. But the most popular was the six-player Sega Saturn version of Super Bomberman. Vintage systems available for play included the Vectrex, the TurboGrafx 16, and every Nintendo, Sega, and Sony machine from years gone by. We played tons of games, ate a lot, and drank heavily. My wife completely kicked my ass in Centipede – and by “kicked my ass” I mean, I scored about 8,000 and she scored more than 38,000. Damnit!

This week we’re celebrating the release of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie by renting an entire theater. Every employee gets a fat handful of tickets for themselves and their friends. Come 6pm this Friday, we’ll pack the theatre with Flying Lab people and cheer on Jack Sparrow and company.

By day, though, we’re still hard at work. We’re accepting about 50 new players to our beta test program every week, which is great. But last milestone, we only put out a couple of beta builds because it takes a lot of hours to verify the builds for release to beta. I wanted to change that, so we could release a new beta build frequently without spending a lot of QA time ensuring that basic functionality was working. Thanks to fantastic work from our QA team, this is now a reality.

The way it works is that whenever we do a build of the game (which is usually every night), the build machine runs an automated suite of tests on the game. It verifies that every single town is working, that the open sea zone is working, that all forms of combat work, and so on. The test suite can’t do things like verify the user interface is working (since it issues slash commands instead of mousing and clicking) but it can easily ensure that all of our core functionality and zones are still working. If anything breaks, the build machine sends us an email listing all of the relevant error messages, so when we arrive in the morning we know what to fix.

This is a great new tool for us and it will only get better over time. It removes a lot of drudgery from QA and gives us a daily evaluation of the game’s reliability. This in turn means it’s a lot easier for us to designate a build as being beta-worthy, and that means our beta testers will get access to new features and content faster. When we hear jaw-dropping horror stories from other MMORPG companies about builds only coming every week or even only every month, we cringe in horror.

ConCo, our content creation team, is busy working on missions for ranks 16-30. New missions and characters are going in all the time and it’s great stuff. We recently added the ability for NPCs to react to a player emote, so that if you use “/emote bow” before a noble we can have him acknowledge your action.

This week we put in keybinding, a feature we just hadn’t gotten around to until now but which is obviously something we need. We also began implementing our new persistent-ship system, which Isildur wrote about in a recent dev log on our site. Our lead dev, Joe, gave us avatar tools, which means no more air fiddle – when you play a fiddle, now a fiddle appears in your hands. Ditto mugs of rum, brooms, and so on. We have tons of emotes that need objects to make sense and we finally have them.

Over in the art team, this is the milestone where we really start turning the crank on making new town art. On Monday I got a peek at the new “scuzzy pirate village,” a cool shantytown on an island of dramatic volcanic rock. Also in the works are a plantation town, a mining camp, and a bunch more.

Aether, our community envoy, is busy getting ready for our convention presence this summer. We’re going to GenCon in Indianapolis this August, followed a couple weeks later by the Penny Arcade Expo! If you want to play Pirates of the Burning Sea for yourself, come to one of these shows and you’ll get your chance. Back when I was a tabletop RPG designer, I went to GenCon for thirteen straight years. But it’s been a few years since I went, and I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and maybe rolling some funny-shaped dice . . .

Game on!

- John Scott Tynes, Producer

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