Crowfall is a game I’ve supported since before their initial crowdfunding campaign. Just the idea alone was worth throwing a little of my cash at them to see what they could do with it. As I learned more, I realized the project was in the hands of veteran developers with a solid plan of attack. While Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton are the names most often mentioned, the project is teaming with experienced devs from a solid list of successful games.
That experience shows on days like today, because while nearly every team hits key pivot points in a project, few pivot as forcefully or as well as this one. If you haven’t heard yet, Crowfall is about to pivot hard as the team makes three massive announcements.
First, and least unexpected, is the addition of one hundred new disciplines to the game, which are coming a bit earlier and are more developed than had been expected. The second major change is a Unity overhaul with the aid of vendor experts that will have incredible repercussions going forward. Lastly, the team has decided to drop the idea of Archetypes and go for a more traditional race/class character system, but in typical ArtCraft fashion, you should expect something unexpected out of it.
Disciplines have been in work for a while, and their addition to the game isn’t all that unexpected. What’s surprising is that they are being patched in so soon, and that the system is coming in as robust as it will be. A hundred new disciplines ranging from simple weapon specializations to major and minor specializations that effectively add another class to your character.
Weapon specializations are pretty much what you’d imagine from the term. They’ll allow you to become more effective with given weapons by increasing your damage or defense with them, or in some cases adding a couple other weapon-specific skills to the mix. These specializations don’t really change your playstyle as much as they enhance how you’ve already chosen to play.
The minor and major specializations are something else altogether, and there are some massive game-changing ideas in the mix here. On the simpler end, these specializations will act like sub-classes that expand available skills. For instance, you might enhance your melee-based knight by adding a ranged discipline that grants new ranged skills, or possibly make your knight more stealthy for those ambush situations.
I don’t remember if Todd or Gordon mentioned crafting with respect to disciplines, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that at some point, if it weren’t already planned. Disciplines are effectively mini-classes, and the guys are already talking about some really cool asymmetrical uses for them. The Scout discipline will allow players to create detailed maps of regions they’re scouting, which will make for a really cool mechanic in the campaign worlds later.
While a ton of disciplines are going into the game soon, don’t be shocked if they’re not all fully developed or implemented. A lot of them are, and you can build the runestones for all of them, but as with all new systems, expect a bit of a burn-in period while the team hunts down problems. With the main system in place, updates to it should be easier and you should see more coming into the game pretty quickly.
The first bit of truly surprising information I got from my conversation with Todd and Gordon last week, was that they’d been working with the folks over at Unity to take a hard pass through their code. For those that don’t follow game development very closely, most games these days are built on top of engines like Unity. Unless you’re insane and try to invent your own version of the netcode, engines like Unity provide a lot of the backend for how games work.
Basic physics, client-server communications, and a lot of the general representation of 3D space is handled by whatever engine a team adopts for their project. That said, a lot gets modified, too. Nothing is ever exactly as a project needs it to be, and then a lot of the project code is written to interface with engine APIs somewhat inefficiently.
Unity, taking an interest in Crowfall and wanting to help the team get the most out of their engine, had some of their team spend time with the ArtCraft Entertainment developers. They went over how the engine’s being used and addressed in ACE code, and made sure the team understood how some of the newer and more advanced features of the engine works.
The result is a massive graphical and performance improvement that’s immediately noticeable. Beyond the general improvement over all, there’s also a host of weather and environmental effects that have just been opened up for Crowfall. Think about that for a bit.
New environments will look dramatically better, and the opportunity to create weather events should make for some really interesting mechanics. Also, the team will be able to test out epic thematic ideas thanks to their dying worlds system, which just continues to be an incredibly good idea. If they want a Lovecraftian horror-filled setting saturated with dense fog and perpetual night, the new system allows it, and I’m stoked to see what they do with it.
Shocking with Class
Hands down the biggest head-spinner in the trio of big announcements, is that the team is switching to a race/class-based system instead of their announced archetype system. This is a bold and very smart move for the project. Archetypes were originally put into place as a cost-saving measure, but with recent successful rounds of funding, the team is in a position to offer more complexity.
I’m normally not a fan of class-based systems because I feel it restricts player-creativity, but the variation on the system intended to be used in Crowfall should allow for enough diversity through various disciplines and training options to keep the game diverse and interesting. The thirteen archetypes alone will be split into twelve races and eleven classes. Add a hundred other disciplines in the mix, and there is plenty of complexity.
The best comments of the conversation came as I remarked on how difficult balancing would be with the split of archetypes into classes and races, and Gordon quipped, “We never wanted to be balanced.” Todd quickly followed by saying, “Learn to play the game!” Maybe my favorite game dev quotes of all time, because I really hate it when games hold your hand and try to stop you from doing stupid.
Sometimes I want to be stupid for the challenge of it, and I’m really glad that Crowfall will allow me to make those mistakes. Besides, the diverse nature and rulesets of the campaign worlds will mean that bad builds may not always be bad, and the ease of switching vessels keeps you from being stuck in a particularly bad decision. In effect, it’s the best of bold worlds. Players can make bad choices and get burned by them, but the ease of recovering from those choices means you’re not having to reroll.
Backers can expect more combos of classes and races later, and campaign one-offs will probably create even more opportunities to try strange ideas. Though, there’ll be some restriction between classes and races. The Templars only accept certain races into their ranks, and as Guineceans are the only culture with gunpowder, you shouldn’t expect any other races to have the option of being a duelist.
The split from archetypes will definitely create some extra work for the team as they separate racial skills from class skills for the new system. The added flexibility and advantages for later expansion make it a great use of time, though.
I’m pretty excited to roll my new Guinecean Assassin named Boo, who has a focus on eye-targeted piercing attacks. As on the nose as it is, it’s worth it as the thought just makes me laugh. I’m curious what you all expect from the new changes, though. Do you see a game-breaking problem with bow-wielding mounted skirmishers, or has the change started your mind turning in even cooler ways to unleash your inner combat-troll? Is the change going to be good or bad for the project? I’m curious to know how the community feels about it, so leave your comments below.