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Todd Coleman on Crowfall’s First Pre-Alpha Lessons Learned

William Murphy Posted:
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With the first Pre-Alpha test having wrapped up just a week or so ago, we caught up with ArtCraft’s Todd Coleman to chat about the lessons learned, the next step of Pre-Alpha, and what Todd thinks about the current state of MMOs. Read on for the full interview!

First, let’s point out that Crowfall just posted their Post Mortem by Thomas Blair. Blair’s leaned heavy on the stats and the system level stuff, but Todd and I went more into the big picture high level detail.

Todd mentioned that the first thing they noticed right away, but what they still think was the overall best idea, was that people reacted differently across the spectrum to there being no NDA on such an early test. They wrestled with this internally, but eventually decided that part of the community building and trust is to let people see the game bright and early in its development. The simple fact alone that they actually hit their first milestone with no delay was remarkable enough!

But the lack of textures and greyboxes everywhere was very polarizing. Obviously people who follow the game and know what crowdfunding games is all about were understanding. But there were loads of new eyes on Crowfall during the tests on Twitch and YouTube, and those folks were a bit more confused. Some people even thought that the greyboxes and white background means that this was somehow Crowfall’s idea of a snow landscape. Others assumed the game was just a PVP battleground, and not eventually the fully features MMORPG it’s being developed as.

But Todd said that the greyboxing serves a purpose. Why put so much effort into what is effectively the longest leg of development (art), when you test this early and find out that things you’ve put 3 months’ time into are wrong. This way, with greyboxing, they can worry about geometry first, and then the actual art and skinning of their models later.  The first pass they took was wrong, and they knew it immediately, and were able to tweak the Hunger Dome map within a day to make it more playable.  This is a huge savings on development later in the lifecycle.

Ultimately, Todd and the team have just come to accept that there’s going to be confusion over the not-nearly-done art of the pre-alpha testing. When the game’s looking sharper, and when it’s closer to its final form next year, no one will care about the greyboxes right now. 

The general vibe coming out of the first test is, “Holy crow… this is actually fun.” Todd and ACE thought the combat was good, but they really needed to get their backers in and testing to find out if that’s true. Sure enough, they’re affirmed that they’re on the right track with one of the game’s most important systems as players were logging in and playing the heck out of the Hunger Dome vertical slice every time the servers opened.

That’s not to say there weren’t issues. When Hunger Dome 1.1 comes up for testing in mid-November, the big focus will be on improving server stability and latency. By the end of the 1.0 test, things were much better than at the start, but Todd admits it was nigh unplayable at first. With 1.1 he assured me that the servers will be much more prepared to handle so many players from all over the globe. 

Also coming in 1.1 will be the fourth archetype, the Champion as well as a few other new features that Todd wasn’t quite ready to spill the beans on. He did say we’ll be hearing more about the next stage of testing’s feature set in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled.  And when Pre-Alpha 2.0 hits sometime after 1.1 is over and done, that’s when they’ll drop the Hunger Dome game mode for a new type of game, and the greyboxes will be gone in favor of a fully-textured environment. If this first test is any indication, ACE has every intention of nailing their milestones all the way up to the game’s final launch in the end of 2016.  Todd’s very secure that they’re on target.

As for the Eternal Kingdoms, the game’s form of player-housing and player-owned land, those tests will come closer to the launch as the focus of Crowfall’s overall loop is the campaign worlds that begin and end. Those need to be pitch perfect first, so that’s what they’re testing and pushing on the most. EKs are definitely still in the cards, just don’t expect to test them as a backer until sometime next year.

Finally, we got to chatting about the MMO market in general. Todd, Gordon, and most of the Crowfall staff really are all from the MMO industry since its inception. They’ve seen it rocket to success in the early 2000s, and then shrink a little as the investment money stopped chasing Azerothian levels of success.  

“Two years ago,” Todd said, “the focus was on mobile. Before that it was MOBAs, before that it was WoW-like games. Right now, we’re seeing the money go into VR and Augemented Reality.” But what Todd suspects is that when all these publishers see that one of their niche money makers is and was the MMO fanbase, they’ll realize they need to start putting some feelers into that market again. He hopes, by that time, games like Crowfall, Shroud, and so many other indies, will have made a dent so that we don’t just get World of Warcraft type games all over again.

“During the late 2000s, the MMO space was a red ocean.” Todd said. “Sharks were everywhere clamoring for the next big MMO hit. The water was bloody, messy, and very few games survived and thrived. What’s great about MMOs now is that the ocean is blue again. We’re free to experiment, try new things, and we’ll see what succeeds and becomes the next big thing. That’s exciting.”

It’s freeing for ArtCraft too, since most of their funding comes from the players and the company itself, they don’t have to worry about 50 million players. If Crowfall gets 50,000 they’ll be happy. They have 25,000 backers now, and Todd’s hypothesis is that backers could possibly equal 1/10th of what you’ll get when the game is officially out. The idea of 250,000 Crowfall fans made Todd audibly excited, and who wouldn’t be? Crowfall is essentially the culmination of the ArtCraft team’s dream game.

Lastly, Todd mentioned that he reads MMORPG every day, and every day he watches the most popular or most hyped games lists. He’s thrilled that Crowfall is usually around the top of course, but what he finds most exciting is that the top hyped games are all generally independent titles. So while it might seem like we’re in a lull because AAA games are slowing, the opposite is probably true. We’re at the beginning of a true new generation of MMOs. And the future is looking bright, and darkly feathered.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.