Monthly Development Update – January 2012
A new year has opened its doors and new stories await. Another year full of potential adventures, features, challenges, pitfalls, content and updates. It's the time of year when plans come into focus, and we spend a little time appreciating where we have come from, what we conquered in 2011, and the battle plan for 2012.
2011 and all that...
It was an eventful year, and we really did get a lot added to the game. We had very ambitious plans for 2011, that were always going to be challenging, we knew we were going to be pushed. I am incredibly proud of the team for delivering on almost everything we set out to do. We released five new free dungeons, a large adventure pack in the Savage Coast of Turan, launched a new server option, started updating some of the older content with the Field of the Dead revamp, upgraded the Dreamworld technology (twice!), made hundreds of systems tweaks and adjustments, and managed to release the new free to play Unchained version of the game, bringing with it hundreds of thousands of new players to the shores of Hyboria.
It was an incredibly challenging year, and the Dreamworld updates in particular caused some headaches (in particular at the end of the year), but overall the final results of all that effort have been very satisfying. The technical updates are always challenging and we are grateful to everyone for their patience while we ironed out the kinks in the new server set-up.
Overall the game is much further along than it was a year ago. It is better than it has ever been, and with more to come. There is no resting on laurels when it comes to MMO development and thus we get to the new stuff and the plan ahead for 2012...
2012, a new year with new possibilities...
2011 was a good year for content. As mentioned above, we added a lot of new areas to the game. While we intend to also add more content in 2012, we took some time to assess what else we maybe had not had time to get to, and which other areas may benefit from some time, care and attention.
Content wise, the next slot up will be the new tier four raids. Now that House of Crom is out and done, the team have shifted focus to completing these encounters. We are also spending a little extra time on them as the locations and the encounters are really shaping up into something nicely epic. House of Crom was a magnificent location, but these new raid areas are spectacular in a very different way. The first part should be appearing on the test server over the next few weeks, and we will take things from there.
Then we came to consider the rest of the plans for 2012, and how we would approach them, and what order and priority we would take things in.
To this end we have been juggling the priorities here a little when it comes to the roadmap for 2012. Everything is still there, we have just moved things about to try and bring forward some of the things that players have cared the most about.
The main result of this is that we have decided to have more of a systems driven focus for the first half of the year. The feedback for our top level intention to revamp the trade-skill system has been incredibly strong. We always knew that it deserved this attention, but the positive feedback from players and the community means that we are going to make sure it is one of our priorities and that when it arrives (hopefully sometime in the summer) it will offer true depth, with an engaging and interesting system. As I mentioned in recent interviews, this new system will be looking a little further back for its inspirations, and we are trying to capture the feeling of the more complex systems that you saw in the first generation of MMOs rather than the 'point and click' nature of modern crafting options. We hope to be able to update those thoughts a little, and will of course be working hard to make sure it still fits within the expectations of a modern MMO. We will talk in more detail about the plans here in next month's letter.
Then we also thought about all the smaller "quality of life" systems updates that we have queued up, and we decided that we should move these up the priority queue a little. This means that things like the bank space increase, the stamina changes, the new dual-specification system, as well as the balancing and class ability changes will be moved up in the priorities a little.
The team will also be giving the classes more of a focus, with more class and ability changes incoming during this period. It's a chance to get to some time with some of those balance and ability issues that you have all wanted us to look at.
This means that the first half of the year will have a much more systems centric focus to it than we talked about at the end of last year. With an MMO the systems are important, everything we do links into them in some capacity. Our problem there in 2011 was that with so much content to support, the majority of the systems time was consumed by the creation of everything that is needed for the content itself. All the items, rewards and new systems stuff that simply can't be avoided when it comes to making all that content.
It is one of those things that easily gobbles up time, and you realise that while the team were incredibly busy over the year, we didn't get to address some of the important systems based issues that we would have liked to. While we did commit to resolving the combat exploit imbalances, which took a lot of time due to the scope of what was require there, most of the work was in supporting the content.
This year we wanted to give the systems team a window when they could address the non-content related systems updates, and dedicate a suitable amount of time to making sure the major updates, like the trade-skill update, is done correctly.
The content team will be looking at some smaller updates, tweaks and revamps in that time, and the art team are spending a little extra time on the ground work for the next adventure pack. The adventure pack will then come later in the year once we have hopefully gotten the major systems updates up and running on the live servers.
The single-server development is still under way. Being a Dreamworld engine component, it will be affected slightly by the impending launch of The Secret World in April, but the coders are still hard at work on the prototypes and working on the long term solution there. As we mentioned before, we will be talking more about those particular options as we move forward.
So there you have it
We are really looking forward to what we can add to the game in 2012. The beauty of working on an MMO is that you do get to continue to add depth and longevity to your game as you move along. With so much great content in the game now, we really hope that the focus on also adding some more depth to the game through these systems will make the Age of Conan experience even better, and mean that 2012 is another massive year for the game.
See you on the battlefield!