Face of Mankind - Beta Secrets (PAGE 2)
The whole thing needed a careful revision from scratch, and we also needed to shoot our second trailer. Again we had to do many things in parallel.
The second trailer turned out to be a big success for us. Shot 100% live with online testers over the course of two days, we all experienced the great potential hidden in Face of Mankind. The combat scenes were exceptionally fun, impressing us much more than the even the initial arrival of the testers themselves. Many times our calls for a cease-fire were not heard, so the testers had emptied all their ammo at each other and we had to pause to refill their inventories. :)
But back to the topic - the mission system: On the 30th of July we started our "Operation Player Freedom". While that sounds like an initiative for player anarchy in online games, the thought behind it is really simple. We all sat together at a table and discussed how it would be possible to make the mission system more dynamic and allow for more player freedom. Player freedom in this sense means that no artificial game mechanics will be responsible for evaluating the success of any given team mission. It was nearly impossible to create a fair automated evaluation system with so many complex factors influencing the "success" of a mission. Success can't just be summed up by simple factors like enemy kills, team kills or civilian kills. There's more in a mission than just that. Simple game-mechanic evaluators could never accurately decide if the tactics of an attack mission were well formed or not.
So why not let the players themselves evaluate a mission?
Immediately words like "dangerous" or "cheating" run through your mind if you hear that -- but let's face it, there will always be potential for cheating in online games. One form of cheating in MMOG's has been underestimated and largely overlooked to date - playing game mechanics. Instead of playing the game, players will take advantage of the game mechanics themselves. If a certain mechanism evaluates the success of a mission based primarily on one factor - how quickly it was performed, for example - people will try to get it done as quickly as possible, disregarding the role-playing element or the fun involved in doing it a different way. MMORPG's often end up as Jump-n-Run's, with people hurriedly scurrying after the next bit of experience. MORPG's are, at their core, community games, and should be enjoyable as such. They are played because people like sharing the experience of the game or the world provided with other human players.
We revamped the entire mission system to the following: Faction agendas will define the basic path of a faction in the major storyline. They are very basic and leave enough room for independent decisions and developments. Based on this agenda all players of rank 4 through 7 are allowed to create missions. The complexity of mission splitting has been removed entirely. Players can quickly react on events in the game world by creating a new mission. All players of the same faction are allowed to join that mission, whether they are lower or higher in rank. Any team member could possibly be the leader of a mission - those who want to lead just request the position of leadership and the highest-ranked player will get it.
All mission events will be logged in an "Event Log". Those who evaluate the mission later on will get (together with the leader's report) a detailed picture of how the mission went.
Team members can give reputation points to each other, which will have an influence on how much XP they are rewarded for the mission. Once a mission is completed, the mission leader will be asked to write his report. Then the mission will be added to a pool of "to-be-evaluated missions". That means that uninvolved players of the same faction will be able to evaluate the success of the mission. After ten reviews, an evaluation is complete and the experience is awarded.
So, what does this have to do with player freedom? Players are now able to create missions beyond what would traditionally be offered. Much more complex scenarios are possible, with nearly any scenario you could come up with possible within the game's mission system.
Big changes, of course, cause a lot of new bugs. These bugs needed to be discovered and fixed, which can take a lot of time, and August had already arrived. It was very clear we wouldn't be able to keep the September Open Beta schedule.
Looking back, the mission system consumed the most time during this stage of Beta. Features like apartments, the new player models we had planned and the cloning system got heavily delayed, causing a little boredom among the testers - but the time had come for Beta 3.
Beta 3 started in September. Dramatic changes were implemented at this point, such as the new character creation, a combined FPS and 3rd person camera and the crosshair with cone of fire. One huge server-side feature had been waiting for us since early Beta, looming before us, taunting us even as we asked it to disappear.
For two weeks we couldn't release a single patch - the server code convulsed slightly as we tore it apart and put it back together again. I can't reveal exactly what we did, but the result changed the game world rather dramatically.
Server-controlled vehicles, birds, rats, beggars, civilians, technicians, bar staff, receptionists and medics populated the game world after the long-delayed patch. As I write this report these denizens of FoM are still being tweaked for functionality.
In October many more major features were added: Taxes on all transfers in the economic system, colony control (factions can take over colonies and control economic values, door codes and so on), new apartment types, hacking in the form of a mini game, security zones, a most wanted list and the prison system.
Since November we have been preparing everything to come to an end - rounding things up, as I'd like to say. Another performance patch from the 6th of December resulted in an additional 100% performance gain. The new server cluster was ready on December 15th. Everything is coming together now. Nine months of closed beta testing and we can finally see the finish line. Now with the help of a little tail wind everything should be ready to open the gates for public testing by end of January.
I would like to thank our beta testers for their continuous patience and trust in us - without you we wouldn't be where we are now.