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The Artcraft School of Integrity

Red Thomas Posted:
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I enjoy covering projects that I like, though that’s not as limiting as it might seem.  I can find reasons to appreciate almost any effort, because I just enjoy seeing professionals at work.  Occasionally, I find projects that I like a lot, though.  Those, I love to cover, because it makes being positive easy.  I’ve also found that the teams I enjoy talking to the most, are also the ones who handle criticism the best.  It’s possible I like these teams because of that quality, but I suspect the ability to handle criticism is just a component of professional maturity.

The guys behind Crowfall are steeped in that sort of professionalism, and I’ve really enjoyed my trips to their studio in Austin.  I stopped by recently to talk with the team about where they were in development, where they were heading, and to wax philosophical about some of their development choices.  I walked in with concerns about some of their decisions.  I came away impressed yet again with their integrity in general, but also to their integrity to their artistic vision.

I Questioned Their Testing

Right off the bat, I questioned the Crowfall test schedule.  I haven’t made any of the tests myself because of the limited testing windows.  I’m not really a fan of stop-and-go testing or the idea of beta-weekend types of testing schedules.  For the most part, I’ve always considered it a bit of a marketing gimmick, and haven’t supported games that engaged in it, with few exceptions.

I asked Todd if he thought they were giving their players a better experience by limiting their opportunities to test the game to specific windows.  Todd replied, “I think so.  The Hunger Dome needs to meet a critical mass to be fun.  If you take the number of people, on say a Thursday, that would play and spread them over twenty-four hours, you never have that critical mass.  [If] you only have six people in the server, that’s not fun.  You need thirty-six.”

The next test looks to be taking form as some sort of siege mechanic, another test of what will eventually be a core component of the MMO portion of the game.

That makes sense, but I had a lot of trouble getting into a match that wasn’t full the first few times I attempted it (See!?  No special treatment for the media-types.).  That turned me off a bit initially, and while I was still a big fan of what the guys are trying to do here, I punted on any further attempts to play in the tests.

A lot has changed, though.  Gordon and Todd tell me that they do still limit testing to windows, but they have more concurrent servers in each region.  They also specifically time tests so that players are spread a bit more evenly across servers in multiple time zones.  There are also more windows, and those are for longer periods of time.  I won’t have a chance to try until February it seems, but it sounds like testing will be a better experience when I do.

I Questioned Their Development Cadence

Crowfall development may seem a little slow compared to other projects at first glance, so I asked about their cadence, and how comfortable the guys were with it.  At this point, they’ve made numerous iterations over combat, adding in several new classes to the testing, but there hasn’t been as much on the actual MMO aspect of the game.  I and many others did back an MMO, after all.  I thought it was fair to ask about why we haven’t seen more MMO-like content.

“Combat testing will never end,” said Gordon.  Todd nodded noting that a lot of people assumed when they announced they were starting with combat, that they’d knock it out and move on.  Rather they announced it first so that they could get more iterations on it, because it’s such a fundamental component of the eventual game.

While not exactly in the spotlight, there are more complex systems making their way into test, like the skill trees and some minor player progression.

Still, I expected persistent world first, and even wrote about it in a previous article.  Nodding, Gordon added that “it would be better for our funding to have the persistent world first.  To build all the [Eternal Kingdoms] and to build all the buildings… We could sell a lot more of those, had we done that.  We have moments of regret about that, but that’s not the way to get to where we want to go.”

Todd agreed with Gordon’s statement and pointed out, “It might be the best short term, but it’s not the best in the long term.”  Because, as Gordon went on to explain, if the core of the game isn’t fun from the start, then you’re hoping you figure out the rest of it at the end.  Gordon reflected that he’d been on games that went that route, and it wasn’t good.  They’d waited until the end to try to make the game fun, but by then they were launching and the game wasn’t fun.  They don’t want that for Crowfall.

The guys also point out that while there are plenty of other systems that will make up the eventual game, they all revolve around combat in some way.  Player-politics will be realized on the fields of battle, and in-game economies exist to support the war machines of those tribal conflicts.  Solidly fun combat is the genesis of everything else in this plan, and they’re standing by that ideal.

But there have been several combat iterations, and I thought it fair to ask when folks will see some of those other systems.  Todd answered by saying they have four of the thirteen archetypes in the game, and that they’ll move on once all thirteen are in.  Of course, that bothered me a bit.  I think they’ve done pretty well on introducing new ideas, but they only have the four classes in, so how long does that mean we’ll have to wait?

It turns out that several classes are, of course, hybrids of other classes.  The Templar being a blend of Knight and Confessor abilities, for instance.  As the team completes core mechanics (ranged combat and stealth being among the next to likely see attention), that opens up the purist archetypes and any hybrids that then have all the mechanics needed to make them functional.  Thus, we’ll probably see archetype releases increase in tempo as the team gets back to work after the holidays.

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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.