Monthly Development Update - July 2012
Welcome to this month's development update, which sees us coming to the end of the holiday period for much of the team, and the time of year when we embark full steam ahead into the workload for the rest of the year. So technically not that much has changed since last month, given most of the team have been taking some much needed R&R. There have however been some things rumbling along through the summer months, as we prepare for the Fall updates and the continuation of the tech integration.
Single Server Technology
With the launch of The Secret World, the new Dreamworld single server technology has now been tested, launched and released into the wild! The new technology is working well there, and has supported a very smooth launch for the folks enjoying The Secret World. The tech folk have been very pleased with the performance, and how well it has been received by users.
This means that we can start the process of rolling Age of Conan onto the new platform. This process is now in motion and will continue in stages until probably early next year. Retro-fitting a new system like this is not just "plug and play" when it comes to not just an existing game (that wasn't originally designed to support it), but an existing game with over four years worth of data. This means that to mitigate risk, we have chopped the process up into smaller steps so that we can ensure it is done as smoothly as possible, and that we aren't all hanging around waiting for a year before absolutely everything we want to do with it gets done.
As announced by the community team last week, the first phase will start in early August with bringing all the servers together into their two regions by rule-set.
It is important to again note that the single server technology will not be able to unite the US and EU dimensions, as the technical considerations are just too risky. The core architecture of the game was built well before this was even an inkling of an idea in a coder's brain and, after extensive analysis of the possibilities, it is simply too risky to try and merge the US and EU dimensions together. Too many elements of the code structure were built on those territories being unique and after over four years live, those roots simply go too deep for us to comfortably merge the two territories. Everything within those territories will still benefit from the technology, but we won't be able to go to the full cross territory implementation that you see in The Secret World.
So once that is done the tech and code teams will be working on converting the core of the single server tech into AoC, which will bring with it the potential for "cross server" mini-games, and being able to switch dimensions to play with friends relatively freely.
There will be some decisions to be made along the way, for example do we allow PVP and PVE players to mingle freely, or do we put restrictions on it? Please feel free to share your opinions in the forum comments because we would definitely be interested in people's opinions on that front.
Then we will have an additional advanced stage, and that is where we will have the really cool extensions to the systems, and will depend on what we decide is the best use for this new tool that we have at our disposal. Here is where we could potentially give you, the players, even more freedom to define your experience, and get to choose who you play with. We're genuinely excited for the potential that this system offers and we are looking forward to exploring it. It won't however happen overnight, and we felt that this staged approach means that you, the users, get to benefit from it sooner, in stages, rather than if we tried to do everything at once.
Crafting revamp changes
One of things that has been worked on over the holiday period is the crafting revamp. There are a couple of key changes that we are playing around with since we last detailed the system.
The first is that we have dropped the concept of work queues in favor of a crafting resource. We felt that with the depth in the ingredients and the concept of experimentation and combination that adding a timer to the process kind of delayed, and deflated a little, the process of seeing what your process resulted in. As we tested models we started to realise that delaying that pay-off detracted from the process, as you would have moved on to new creations in the interim. Thus we are now considering more of a resource system where each crafting process will require you to spend points from a finite pool that your characters has, think of them as crafting points. Each process would deplete that pool, with grander creations requiring more points. That pool would then regenerate over time. You will also probably be able to boost, improve or grow your pool through crafting, veteran items or other bonuses.
The second is that we are considering opening up the professions completely, and potentially not tying players down to just two (or more professions). With the depth this system offers it seemed a little overly restrictive to prevent those who enjoy crafting from experimenting in multiple areas. This isn't something we have decided upon categorically yet, and will be an important part of the testing process, but we wanted to mention it as a possibility to see what you all thought of the change.
Also, we are again looking at the content process internally, and going through a lot of the feedback over the last few months, and the summer surveys. One of things that is constantly mentioned (even as a wider issue in the genre, not just for us) is the pace of larger content drops. While of course it's a natural inclination to want more, and more often, there is a genuinely interesting factor underlying any unrealistic demands for content to consume, and that is about size and pacing of delivery. It is clearly something that concerns people.
So one of the things we are considering is moving away completely from larger content drops, and instead moving over to much smaller, but more frequent, content additions. We haven't come to any definite conclusions there yet, as there are other considerations, but it is something that many of you expressed was important, and something we feel we need to consider.
So for example rather than launch an entire area, as we did with previous expansions and adventure packs, we could release each playfield, dungeon, raid or arena, one by one, as they were ready. It may cover a similar development period, but would mean the content comes in much smaller pieces over that length of time.
We would also value your feedback on this topic, so feel free to share your opinions here, and let us know what you think. Even if it seems like a "no brainer" on the face of it, it does have implications on how you might receive the content updates, so nothing is "off the table" there. It would indeed mean a fairly robust change in how we work, and will certainly present some challenges, like how do you reveal larger storylines of an area when it comes piece by piece, or how do you stage item progression and system additions, but we are willing to consider it, and adapt, if we feel it will provide better value to all of you, as at the end of the day, that is what is most important. We love continuing to create this living, breathing, version of Hyboria, and we want to make sure that we present it to you in ways that maximise your enjoyment of it.
Until next month
That's it for this month, and there are obviously quite a few interesting irons in the fire at the moment. We will be working hard to craft them into the proverbial perfect blades. There are lots of cool new features and content to come this year, and yes, we are creeping ever closer to revealing which location we will be exploring next! To head off those who have been asking, the reveal itself won't happen in these letters, but in a wider announcement, that includes some wider asset releases and interviews. So keep your eyes peeled for more details over the next month!
See you on the battlefield!