First off, please let me apologize for the long delay in updating this blog. I have a rule that I always accompany new blog posts with fresh images and screenshots, but lately that's served more as an obstacle, or dare I admit it, an excuse. As we continue development that won't continue to be the case, especially as we start building the new Forra and become anxious to show off that progress.
The past several months I've been focusing primarily on improving the Toi Engine. Some of that progress is documented in the Technical Blogs, but not all of it is noteworthy enough for public discussion. As Antilia is no longer targeting an MMO, it was important to take a step back and reassess what game features we really wanted in Antilia - including features we had previously removed from consideration. In the process we've created a document listing all potential gameplay features, and this discussed what we want in the game, and what needs to be in the game. It's been a great opportunity to bring back some of those ideas we've had and really loved but couldn't fit into the mmorpg.
Moving forward my current priority is to continue improving the Toi Engine - which I plan to make available as an open source project. While sharing the world of Forra is an important goal in my life, another goal I have is to continue helping other artists and writers share their stories via the interactive medium. I've looked at the other game engines available, but I have yet to see anything else out there that provides a single solution for building a sizable story-based game with a small distributed team.
My next step is to update Toi's aging DirectX 9 based renderer with a more modern DirectX 11 rendering system built to take advantage of multi-core systems. Rendering performance has improved some since the last mmo build thanks to a new rendering pipeline, but the new DirectX 11 solution will help even more.
(Additional progress on the Toi engine and Toi Studio include an improved "Scene Management" system, a new camera system, a new GUI editor, improved terrain engine, and progress on the new terrain editor.)
It's still too early to confirm what gameplay features will or will not be in the game, but I do want to convey that a significant amount of effort is going into designing a proper single-player campaign. The mmo alpha never got as far as proper "quests" - the closest it came was a half-dozen NPCs that you might interact with repeatedly to unlock a skill.
Now that we are building Antilia with a single-player mode, we have the opportunity to present Antilia's lore not just through books and side-quests, but interactively with the characters themselves. A considerable amount of effort has been put into developing a satisfying story with interesting characters, and while I wouldn't want to spoil anything - I really cannot wait to share it. I think we chose a great place to start exploring the world of Forra, I really like the way the story structure is turning out to include both linear and non-linear elements, and I believe we have a great cast of characters. I realize that's a bit of a tease, but I wanted to confirm for those that are specifically interested in the prospect of a single-player mode, it will not be an afterthought.
That's all for this post, I appreciate everyone's patience and hope you all continue lurking!
This morning we announced that Antilia will be re-designed as a single player game with a multiplayer option via player-run servers. If you missed the announcement, a replay of today's live stream is available:
The decision to change a project's direction like this never comes easily, and has been something that's been in consideration since February 2014. I am sorry that this change will disappoint players that were specifically interested in an MMORPG experience, but after much consideration we have concluded this will result in a better Antilia. With this change, we'll be able to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to create Antilia while also lifting design restrictions that are preventing us from including the sort of creative-style gameplay we would prefer to design.
No More Restrictions on Creative Gameplay
When designing anything that will be a part of an MMORPG, that 'massively' requirement factors into everything. Something as simple as letting one player give something to another player radically affects the balance of the game, and in a successful MMORPG, maintaining game balance dictates everything. As soon as balance is lost, it effects the in-game economy, and a radical shift in any economy is never good.
As we're giving our gameplay systems a second pass, we are frequently finding this requirement directly in competition with the kind of gameplay we want to create. We want to create game systems that have a creative aspect to them - systems where if a player uses that system in a way we didn't expect, doesn't provoke an emergency meeting at 2:00 AM to patch that creativity out. I would like to design a magic system where players will do things with it I never even imagined, and I want to be wowed by what players create, not fear it. My point is not that MMORPGS are inherently a bad medium, but we've come to the realization that as creative people it is not a medium we enjoy working with. I'm sure experienced MMORPG developers could have told us this from the outset, but sometimes you have to explore the possibilities and decide for yourself if you can work within the limitations.
An Open Door to Community Content via Mods
Over the years, we've received a lot of requests for things people would like to see in Antilia. Sometimes the answer is "yes", but often requests have simply fallen outside our plans for the lore, the style of the world, or are just too specific for a single player. In this re-design, we can finally make use of the incredible modding potential that comes with owning our own custom engine and tools. By making these tools fully available, without concern that they will be used to exploit a closed MMORPG environment, the potential for Antilia really opens up. Creating a new fur texture, clothing item, or even a whole new playable race could be just a matter of running the editor and saving a new content pack.
A Better Environment for Story Telling
Over the years we've put quite a bit of work developing lore - describing the different races, their cultures, historical characters, and even their languages. The MMORPG format has been noted as a difficult space to tell such stories in. Often, much of that sort of work is hidden behind in-game books, awkward cut-scenes, and walls of quest text. To that end, we are interested in creating a single-player "Story Mode" - which uses all the same gameplay systems as Sandbox, but in a more carefully designed, linear way. Stories in Story Mode are comprised of chapters, with each chapter being able to more finely control the game environment in a variety of ways to lead the characters through story events.
Obviously this is quite a significant change for the project, and it will take more than just an afternoon announcement to fully describe how things will be changed. If you have questions feel free to ask in the forums, and we'll continue to provide information as we have it.
The problems we ran into that led up to the New Years Event being delayed have been resolved, and we are looking good for running Antilia this upcoming weekend - January 24th-25th.
An Important Note for Previous Testers
Please note that the older versions of the Antilia Client are not able to auto-update this time. Everyone will need to download the new Antilia Installer from the Download page and install the new Antilia Launcher to participate in future tests and events.
I hope you are all as excited as we are, and hope you'll join us this weekend in Antilia!
Our apologies to everyone, but unfortunately Antilia will not be ready in time for the event we had planned on December 31st. Yesterday a major bug was discovered in our auto-update and data archiving system, resulting in random crashes and missing objects in-game. While a technical work-around involving deleting and renaming files may be possible, crashes and complicated technical instructions on how to fix them is not how I want to kick off any social event.
Antilia is experiencing what are known in the industry as "growing pains". I hadn't intended to work on the auto-update system any time soon, but as Antilia grows sometimes things will simply break. Antilia has needed an official installer since the first test, and I think this is a good opportunity to not just fix the archive system but improve the entire installation and updating process.
We will re-schedule the event in January but can't set a specific date just yet. We'll plan the new event to run for a full weekend rather than just a single day.
The Technical Details
For those that are not interested in the technical details feel free to jump to the next section, but I expect some in the community would like more information as regards to exactly what went wrong. On Friday we decided to start testing Antilia within the development team, and the quickest way to start testing was to push out an update and run the server in developer-only mode. After publishing an update with the new client both Lokosicek and I immediately began experiencing serious problems in the game, including crashes and logs reporting that various random files could not be loaded. After many hours of sleuthing, I discovered that new data being added to the game data files was becoming corrupted. As it turns out, our data storage system is limited to a max of 2 gigabytes of data, beyond which it fails catastrophically. (While looking into the problem I also discovered that the storage system is extremely inefficient - nearly 40% of the data files is wasted space. I didn't create the system myself, so I'm not entirely certain why it is implemented like this.)
Rather than try to fix this system, I would prefer to find a simpler, more efficient way of storing game data that would suit Antilia's needs better.
A Case for an Official Testing Team
While I think there will always be the potential for an obscure bug that comes out of nowhere and surprises the development team, this case has really made the point that we need a better way of testing Antilia. While inviting the community to jump onto the server for an event here and there worked in 2012-2013, we need to move to the next phase. If our goal is to build a game and server that can run 24/7, we need a test server that runs 24/7. These aren't new ideas, I've written before on the topic of improving our testing model, and immediately following this event I plan to follow through in creating an official testing team.
Again - we apologize for this delay, especially toward those who downloaded the client early or who have not yet had the opportunity to play Antilia. We'll announce the new event dates as soon as we test Antilia more thoroughly and are satisfied it is ready for the community.
For the past few months Antilia has been the sort of project that makes for a messy space. In order to move Antilia forward, I've needed to take half the game apart to get at the inner workings. I'm adding a new 'game mode' system based on what equipment is being worn, as well as working on improvements to the skill system and inventory. Consequently, there are bits of Antilia laying all over my virtual workbench - a character creation system disconnected and laying on the floor, a shiny new 3D inventory system, and broken UI elements scattered across my desk. Anyone who saw Antilia in that state might wonder if the game could be put back together again.
Which is exactly what I've been working on for the past two weeks. While there is still a lot of work ahead for Antilia's gameplay systems, it's time to prepare for...
Antilia's Annual New Year's Social!
As is our custom here we'll be bringing the Antilia server online December 31st to celebrate the new year, and this year we're bringing in a bit of inspiration from Ariiel. This special social event will include fireworks to launch, magic-powered festival decor, and (if development time permits) fur dye patterns.
In addition to the visible changes, Antilia has also received some modest performance improvements. I focused this effort specifically on Base Camp, resulting in around a 30-50% FPS increase on my system. Whether or not there is an improvement on a particular computer will depend on whether the game is being restricted by CPU speed or GPU render operations.
The Antilia Behind-the-Scene Live Stream Returns!
As I mentioned not long ago in the forums, I was able to relax my work schedule recently, and this has allowed me to spend more time working on Antilia. With this extra time, I can finally resume broadcasting our weekly behind-the-scenes look at Antilia. I plan to move the format of these streams back to our original format, so that they focus on creating content for Antilia, discussing what's new each week, and answering your questions in live chat.
Our next live stream will be:
December, 14th at 12:00 PM Mountain Time (11:00AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Central, 2:00 PM Eastern)