New World vs The Lord of the Rings
Lumberyard is a better engine than I think anyone expected and despite problems that other projects using the engine have had with development, Amazon shows signs of knowing what they’re doing. Part of that is the confidence to break with current fads and going back to a more traditional development process where Alpha/Beta phases were for testing and less for marketing.
Despite strict NDAs, there’s still plenty of information floating around about New World and I have a few reasons for being excited about what to expect from the game. A recent article I wrote cited New World as one of the games I’m excited about this year. Not all of the games I cited are expected to release this year but are games that I’m specifically looking to make news over the next month. Amazon easily makes that list, and it just happens that this is one of the games that does release this year.
That said, there are a few questions around the development. The recent announcement of Amazon’s partnership in a Lord of the Rings game, layoffs mid-last year, and a nearly comms-dark development program have given plenty of people reasons for concern. Let’s explore some of what we know about the New World development and see how and where that ties into the newer announcement.
One of the concerns related to New World stems from the acquisition of the larger new IP, which I’ll get into later. Some are worried that Amazon will pull developers from New World to work on the new game, but I think there are a few reasons to not be overly concerned on that note.
New World is one of originally three games intended to show off the Lumberyard engine and AWS hosting.
Amazon originally announced three large new projects, and one of them was Breakaway, described as sort of a fantasy sport brawler. The game was intended to appeal to streamers, leveraging Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch, and I personally expected them to push it as a new e-sports game.
In March of 2018, Amazon announced that development on the game would be suspended. Developers were shifted to work on another project. Because Amazon has all the weight it needs to cost-effectively push even a moderately decent game to profitability, especially one that links both Twitch and their digital distribution platform, this tells us that Amazon is most definitely not opposed to killing projects that don’t meet their standard.
I think it’s clear that Amazon executives are directing the Game Studio division of the company to produce quality or abort. As some have pointed out, Amazon has the capital to do things right, and that means they also have the freedom to punch out if things aren’t going well, as they did with Breakaway. This suggests to me that the idea that they’d steal developers from the New World team or phone in the production effort on the game is misplaced. Amazon will more likely either either release a game they’re happy with, or they’ll abort and spend that money on a project that looks to be more successful.
New World is still going, so I think that shows confidence in the game. That’s not without reason, either. The survival genre has been incredibly popular for a while now, and that’s despite multiple games doing their best to kill off the player base through iffy releases. Every-so-often another game comes along that breeds new life into survival games, and that’s a clear signal that the market hasn’t tired of those sorts of titles just yet.
All the graphics we’ve seen, including live game-play in a few cases, shows solid visuals from the semi-new engine. There’s no reason not to expect something that originated from CryEngine to look anything other than very good, though. The only concern for me will be resource usage and net code problems, two known issues that have plagued the CryEngine for a while. Of course, with Amazon developers on the problem, that could have been solved in Lumberyard. We just won’t really know for sure until the game hits release, or at least until Beta.
Guns, melee, and magic… No, it’s not another Final Fantasy, but it will be interesting to see how Amazon ties these things together in their own game.
A couple other things we know about New World that make me feel positive about the game is the classless system and colonial setting. On the one, I’m just a big fan of classless in most situations because it leaves you free to experience more of the game. Otherwise, you can feel penalized when rolling a new character to experience a different form of combat or crafting.
The colonial setting may be what I’m most excited about, though. It’s not a commonly explored period, and certainly not by games with larger budgets. The meshing of archery and melee with gunpowder is an interesting challenge, and it sounds like New World may also include some form of magic on top of all that. To me, it’s just a recipe for a new and interesting game with lots of new ideas to explore all at once. Even if the game isn’t fantastic, I’ll enjoy it a great deal just by exploring all the ways the developers diverged from “normal.”
That all combined makes me feel that despite the inherent CryEngine issues, Amazon has the tools and people to solve problems. Whether it’s enough to turn CryEngine into a key platform for other games as Amazon had intended is still questionable, but there’s nothing in design or what we’ve seen of execution that concerns me about the project in general.
Lord of the Rings
Some of the rumor mill around New World involves the Amazon licensing of the Lord of the Rings rights. Some expect this to detract from New World as development resources are shifted to support the larger franchise, but there are a number of reasons not to be overly concerned here. In fact, it’s possible that this story is longer and more interesting than it appears at first look.
For one, Steve Fowler (Blizzard, ArenaNet, Take-Two, and obviously Amazon) stated in a comment on a YouTube video by WoodenPotatoes that New World was being developed in Irvine, while he worked with two teams in the Seattle area. We know one of those games was the as-yet-unreleased Crucible, and this comment was made in 2017. Two other really significant things happened that year that matter here.
Smed’s certainty that the next big thing in gaming will be cloud-based AI isn’t far from what he was attempting with EQNext! from his SOE and DayBreak days.
In February 2017, Amazon announced the opening of a new San Diego studio led by John Smedley. The announcement declared it an “all-new team” working on a new project that was still early in development. Later in November of the same year, Amazon announced that it’d acquired the rights for a Lord of the Rings TV series. Reporting around the event indicated the deal was slated for five seasons and included a potential spinoff. The TV series precedes the events of the famous books.
In September 2018, Athlon Games announced a deal with an undisclosed partner to create a new Middle-Earth MMO set in a period before those explored in the books. The next month after this announcement, John Smedley and Raph Koster engage in a conversation on Twitter loosely discussing the use of cloud computing and AI in building immersive online experiences when Smedley declares that he “will make that game.” Later, Smed goes on to say in a separate thread, “well it’s going to happen just can’t say when.” (Note: Silly punctuation is not the fault of the author, but rather due to Smed’s barbaric and notorious disregard for anything resembling grammar.)
June 2019 caused some concern as Amazon announced the layoff of several AGS developers towards the end of E3 right after closing Alpha for New World, but no announcement on the game was forthcoming. Amazon’s track record of ripping the bandage off quickly gave hope until later that year when the release was officially announced for the game.
But just a month after the layoff announcement, AGS announced their partnership to develop a Lord of the Rings game set in the same period as their TV series and that partnership was with Athlon Games. Suddenly a lot of this time period starts to come clear. Lead times on these announcements are months after key decisions, which means that Smed joined AGS in early 2017. The studio likely took a few months to stand up, by which time it would have been known internally that Amazon was hunting the LotR TV rights.
Smed’s confidence could be an off-the-cuff comment, but it’s very interesting in the context of when it occurred.
It’s hard to know without actually looking at the contract whether the “spinoff” was another TV show or possibly the video game but picking up Athlon a year later (which again would have actually started much sooner) suggests it might have been. Followed with Smed’s Twitter comment, we have a string of coincidences that suggests the LotR title predates the New World Alpha test.
Since Smed’s project has been going in parallel to the New World development, the cancelling of the unannounced title last June was likely intended to drive developers towards the New World project ahead of the push for release and to speed up development on the immediately announced LotR title. That’s why I suspect New World has been used as a training run for developer and support staff in preparation for the Lord of the Rings game to be released in the future.
Okay, so this section isn’t so much about the game Crucible, but more just where I’m distilling the above down to a conclusion. It fit, so I couldn’t help but use it.
I have high expectations from AGS and what I’ve seen so far just inspires increased confidence in their ability to either deliver or announce that they’re walking away. That’s something I not only respect but appreciate. It’s too close to launch for New World to not happen at this point and there’s not likely much left in the development queue that poses much of a risk from what I’ve seen. The core loop is there and other than some tweaking to the PvE portion of the game and bringing up the whole map at one time and fully populated, there shouldn’t be just a whole lot more.
Not that those are little things, but in the grand scheme of development, those aren’t really the high-risk areas that normally kill games. Added to that is a stable of Amazon developers, many of whom have actually helped write the definition of DevOps, and this might be the least risk in any MMO launch ever. I’m sure there’ll be problems, but developers deploying fixes directly to production and correcting issues on the fly should rapidly smooth the normal bumps in the process.
So, in the end, I’m excited about New World and I’m not particularly concerned about the game getting to release. It’s not likely to be quite the MMO experience some are expecting, but what’s there I believe will run well and will be well received by that the portion of the community that is looking for the next survival game. In those cases, I think this’ll go a long way towards establishing a standard to which other games in the genre are measured.
Whether it’s your sort of game or not, there’s a lot to be excited about. A new company is entering the industry and they have money to spend. We’re going to get a good first look at what AGS is capable of and that’ll tell us a lot about what we can expect from their LotR game later. We’ll have a chance to watch how a cloud-based company deploys a game into their own infrastructure, and that could change the future of game launches depending on how it goes. This is going to be an exciting year for the game industry and I’m looking forward to it!