MMORPG: Unreal Engine 4. Are you confident in your choice, and what gives you that confidence?
Sharif: So there’s two real sources of confidence of that. The first source is we have a very veteran team of engineers on the project. We have the lead programmer, Kevin McPherson from Planetside 2, who held the record for the most players on server on screen. We have additionally a host of engineers that are tasked primarily with creating the backend systems necessary to facilitate the types of battles we expect to experience in Ashes of Creation on the siege field, on the node field, where we intend to have a lot of players. One thing is the capability of our veteran developers and veteran engineers.
The other side of that coin is Epic, Unreal Engine is a dedicated partner when it comes to achieving the impossible. They are capable of providing us with resources, providing us with assistance with issues in their engine that no-one else knows best other than them. And they’ve been working very close with us to [resolve] certain issues we’ve had, test periods like Alpha Zero, and providing us with support to actually facilitate overcoming those hurdles.
So those two things - veteran engineers combined with the support that Epic has to leverage against the engine, make us confident that we will be able to achieve what we intend to achieve from a player count perspective on the backend system.
Bard: Out of the box, if you’re not going to change anything about Unreal, there’s certain limitations it has. But if you acknowledge those limitations and you have a team of engineers who can go into the source code, modify it, [you can] make it work for the game that you’re building. Because not all games are the same. All games need to be built for themselves, and so that’s what we need to do.
Our other option would be either another engine out of the box - and I don’t think there’s any other engine better than Unreal 4 - or we would have to make our own engine. If we had to make our own engine, this would be a completely different project. We’re talking about years of development, years of research, just to build the engine, before we could even start building any of our content.
I think it was without a doubt the right decision and certainly, where we’re at right now reinforces that. We continue to make a ton of progress on the back end and we’re finding optimisations.
Sharif: Here’s the bottom line. Anyone making a strategic decision on engine and they think it’s going to be better for the project to employ some 30-odd engineers, that are going to need to focus on creating an engine to facilitate a massively multiplayer game, and have to keep up with other companies that are pure engine companies, like Unity, Lumberyard, Cryengine, Unreal 4 - you’re not going to compete with that. And if you are, it’s going to be very costly, and it’s going to have additional time associated with bringing that product to launch.
Bard: And you’re still going to have to build the backend anyways.
Sharif: Having access to the source code of Unreal is what makes that the capable engine. You keep the graphical fidelity front end of it, and then you focus on what needs to change in the backend.
So we feel that sometimes, engines like Unreal get a bad rep in the MMORPG community because you have a lot of talking heads that may not actually understand what goes in to customising that backend.
MMORPG: You’ve been testing tab-target combat in Alpha Zero. What’s the plan for the next phase?
Sharif: We’re purely testing action combat. And the reason for that is we tested tab, we want to nail down action completely, and then once that’s done, we will begin to integrate. And we integrate into a balanced blend between the two. Now, that’s going to be difficult. There’s no misunderstanding, we acknowledge this will be difficult. Action and tab are two different tempos when it comes to gameplay, and finding a comfortable blend between the two is going to be a hard thing to do, not to mention the balance between housing different CC effects on either tab or action, and making it not a meta, that’s something that’s going to require additional testing, which is why we’ve alloted a good amount of time for testing.
Bard: So Alpha 1 Phase 1 starts next month, and then we’ll be releasing a roadmap in our PAX Panel.
Sharif: We did end our Alpha 1 acces and sales. Our target goal from a testing standpoint was ten thousand players. We have just under that - I believe we have 9,300, and we wanted to keep that manageable. Our intent is to have two servers that we have up and running for Alpha 1 Phase 2, with 5000 on each. Our goal ultimately is 10,000 concurrent, but we’re going to begin stress-testing at 5000.
Alpha 2, Beta 1, Beta 2; those packages are still available on the website. So if they choose to purchase in, we are absolutely anti pay-to-win, so there is nothing there that gives any advantages. It’s all cosmetic skins, but it includes gametime and name reservation.