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)
It has been quite a while since we shook up the development team with new members, which makes the past month quite special indeed. While we are overhauling Antilia with a second-pass on all of its gameplay systems, we've also been overhauling our development team to be more productive.
The New Writing Team
As we work toward an initial release of Antilia, understanding the Taipii and their culture is becoming increasingly important. While the lore and back-story played a very limited role on the Isle of Kasau , the exact opposite is true of the Taipii's oldest city-state. Lantros is where they first landed on Antilia, it is the seat of the Kisan Monarchy, and is central to the Taipii's transformation from a people of nomadic tribes into farmers and permanent settlers. To develop the city of Lantros, we have to define not just how the Taipii arrived on Antilia, but who they were, where they came from, and why they abandoned their previous home.
In order to ensure this happens, we've established a new official Writing Team. The Writing Team includes our core designers - Jeremii da'Ariiel, Kathryn, and myself, as well as three new additions to the development team. All three have been members of the Antilia community for some time, and I hope you will thank Argentii, Lokosicek, and Fang for volunteering their time helping us develop and document the lore of Antilia.
Writing as a member of a team is very different than writing something on your own. Good communication between the writers and an understanding of ownership and responsibilities are critical in creating an effective team. We're meeting regularly each week to brainstorm critical topics, and I've set up a common web space for us to document everything we discuss and every decision we make. While brainstorming and discussion are important, it is just talk unless we document and organize our thoughts. The new team will be charged with documenting the lore of Antilia, creating new characters, and presenting the new lore to the community.
The Programming Team
I'd also like to welcome our new temporary programmer from the University of Denver, Mitchell Mayeda. Mitch has been learning the Anitlia and Toi engine source code, and will be working with me on the new gameplay improvements.
While expanding the team, creating development spaces, and getting new team members set up has required considerable time the past month, Antilia continues to progress. Our next version of Antilia will be the single largest update the game has ever received - with nearly every screen and interface receiving a second pass. This month we started at the beginning:
Antilia has been given a fresh, customizable user-interface theme, and a proper main menu. The new theme reduces wasted window space by reducing border widths, and even allows players to define their own color schemes. You'll notice the new login screen also introduces a few upcoming features - the option to play offline in a limited sandbox mode, as well as learn how to play the game via gameplay tutorials. These options will allow new players to ensure Anitlia works smoothly on their computer and learn how Antilia is played.
Changes to the character select screen are less radical, and more practical. The character select screen no longer loads and displays all of your characters in long scrolling line, but instead loads and renders only a single character. Additionally, it now remembers which character you played as last, and will suggest that character first. This reduces the load time for the select screen, especially for players with several characters.
Jumping in-game, the new user-interface has already been applied to several in-game interfaces, and a new inventory+equipment window is being developed that features 3D-renderings of inventory items. The 3D rendered objects make it much easier to identify crafted and customizable items like weapons and lanterns, and makes Antilia more visually appealing. As these new 3D interfaces only update when something is changed, they are surprisingly similar in performance to the original icon-based inventory.
Stay tuned! In the upcoming months we have plans for more game systems improvements. We'll be creating a new internal testing team (application process coming soon), and the Writing Team will begin posting it's own blog posts revealing new details on the Taipii and the world of Forra!
If you're wondering why things have been a bit quiet - we've got some big changes in store for Antilia this year. As much as we want to always keep the community up-to-date on what we're working on, the past few weeks have been a perpetual case of "with just a few more days of development this will be really cool!"
After the April Fools event we returned our attention to Toi for a few weeks, but for this post I'd like to focus on what we worked on primarily in May - buildings. In late April I determined that the one thing that was really preventing us from moving players on to the Antilia Mainland was the lack buildings for the cities - we're now set to resolve that soon.
Rather than try to describe the system, I've recorded a video in which I use the new editor to create a building in the game:
I honestly believe that the addition of player-owned properties will radically improve Antilia. With a few additional performance and gameplay improvements, Antilia will finally deserve a 24/7 server.
I'd love to hear everyone's comments and questions, so please post them in response to this thread! To answer those questions and well as to demonstrate additional features of the building system, we will be hosting a live stream event next week on Tuesday, June 10th at 7PM Mountain Time. (If you can't attend, there will of course also be a recording.)
As is our custom, this year we ran the servers for a special event on April 1st. I had already decided that as the previous April Fools events had been graphical then lore-based in nature, it seemed a good year for a April Fools surrounding Antilia's gameplay.
An important consideration in planning these events is the value of our developer time. We tend to choose events that we believe we can reasonably pull off in around 2 weeks, and I prefer it if a good percentage of that work has value even afterwards. For the 2013 April Fools, we created the 'Monohorn Awareness' event, and in the process we also started the framework for in-game books and documents. For the more recent Chatoi/Lost event we created a "global variable" system which would allow us to make global changes to the game instantly as the script called for it. Designing an event that is a good use of development time, is unexpected, is partly absurd for April Fools, and is something we can do in a couple weeks turned out a little more challenging this year than others.
While the Monohorn event had been planed months in advance, it wasn't until the second week of March this year that we suddenly had the idea of Antilia Hard Mode.
(Considering the radical changes to gameplay, we opted to give players an outline of what to expect upon entering the game.)
Creating Antilia Hard Mode
It didn't take much effort to convince the other developers that we could have a lot of fun with this concept of a hardcore survival version of Antilia. The idea played very well with our existing gameplay and content, and we even had assets like firewood laying around that never found a use in the game. There was an irresistible draw to the idea of taking our relaxed casual game, and making it a frantic time pinch. There was an opportunity to do evil development here.
Adding perma-death and starvation were immediately assumed. We already had the food bar, and with a few lines of code it would be draining and decreasing health when it reached zero. I've long described Antilia as the kind of place that you need to find shelter at night, but that's never been a strong reality. Sure, in previous tests there have been a few extra iichii wandering around at night, but nothing you couldn't just run past and not encounter again in a run half-way across the island. There wasn't much actual danger in running from the mining camp to the base camp in the middle of the night, nor in collecting domynii fruit in the southern grasslands after the sun set.
For hard mode, it was time to make good on all that promised danger.
(The iichii finally did own the night.)
It was always planned, in fact, that the fire pits would only repel enemies at night if they were lit. We'd even added firewood to the game early on, but never got to implementing the fire pit mechanic. I was happy to see that finally make it into the game, along with the fuel requirement for cooking and smelting stations. When it came time to creating "The Void" - needless to say that didn't require much in terms of scene complexity or content creation.
An Opportunity To Experiment
One of the best things about this April Fools event was that it provided us an opportunity to experiment. We decided we would need to empty player inventories so that they would be forced to play, rather than use previously accumulated stockpiles of food. Because of that, the event became a perfect opportunity to try unique, non-stacking fish and food. In the process I discovered a bug in the fish distribution algorithm that resulted in the creation of a much better system, and cooking received a radical overhaul whereby the value and utility of cooked foods was directly related to the quality of the ingredients and player level.
One fear we had was that with so many iichii out at night, players would be inclined to crowd into base camp more than ever. To counter this, we experimented with spreading required resources out more, and making other camps like Maulei Beach more 'livable'. Maulei Beach was designed to be more convenient for general cooking, as it is close to ocean fish as well as mushrooms, and now features fishing and cooking supply merchants.
Our final experiment was in the removal of instant teleportation. While teleporting is convenient, it inevitably destroys the possibility of isolated local economies as well as the sense of adventure and commitment in moving from one place to another. Teleportation eliminates potentially interesting player decisions, and reduces the reward for good planning and strategy. By disabling the teleporters, the event provided an opportunity to experience the game for the first time without that influence.
The Joke was on Us
It was impossible not to feel the anticipation for this year's special event on the website and in Steam chat. As the day drew near, some were literally counting down the hours. I was a little late into Steam voice to hear the initial response as the server came online, but when I did arrive the response seemed to be one of surprise and enjoyment.
What was perhaps less successful was the event as an actual April Fools prank. It wasn't absurd like the Monohorn Event, and it wasn't even hard enough to be considered impractical. We discovered some of this while testing ourselves - in hard mode, suddenly Antilia had a goal: to survive. For the first time Antilia required planning and strategy, and paired with the gameplay improvements - it may not have been as good of a chat room, but it was a better game. Granted you starve a bit too quickly and perma-death isn't really a great idea in and MMO for numerous reasons, Antilia Hard Mode wasn't really hard enough, perhaps at best it was a little harder than "just right".
What the event may have lacked in that perfect "gotcha" moment I think it made up for by providing long-term improvements and a good time, and for that I think the joke was partly on us.
(I think I saw a perfume ad like this once.)
What We Learned From This Event
We experimented with a lot of changes in this release, and so the event provided us a lot of opportunity to learn and collect feedback. Obviously some features like the perma-death "Void" are not in line with our vision for the game. The idea of more difficult areas - perhaps isolated to a portion of the map or an instance, I think would add something to Antilia. Starvation should never be an issue if you're at your tent/house, or in a social setting like an inn or tavern, but I could see it coming into play in isolated areas like a desert. I want to reduce the convenience of free, instant teleportation, as it eliminates strategy from the game and encourages over-crowding of areas. We've begun a new campsite layout on the Isle of Kasau, adding more full-service specialty camps to create a sense of character progression via exploring and spending time at different places across the island.
While inventories and equipment will be restored to normal, several of the changes we made for the event will be incorporated into the game and will continue to be improved.
A New Model for Testing
We are asked frequently by new players if their character will be wiped when Antilia is released, and our plans have always been that alpha and beta players would be allowed to keep their players - an ambitious goal. When dealing with systems that aren't fully implemented or only surface tested by the development team, there is always the possibility of a bug or exploit suddenly appearing that can quickly destroy inventories or whole economies.
As we move toward a time where player trade and economies become a reality in the game we must put better safeguards in place. There have been a couple bugs that have been left open to exploit for too long, and I don't want to create an atmosphere in Antilia whereby cheating or exploiting bugs is acceptable under the guise of "testing". In this event three bugs were discovered that could be used to quickly circumvent the spirit of "Hard Mode". I don't think I've ever set a public rule as to what to do when such a bug is discovered, so I don't feel that the individuals who discovered them did anything particularly wrong. But it did unfortunately lead to one rushed patch and in one case some sour feelings. Hearing that another player is being openly permitted to exploit a bug demoralizes players who just wish to enjoy the game authentically, and if I've appeared permissive toward such abuse I apologize.
For players to be able to keep their characters, skills, and inventory we need to create and maintain an environment which isn't tainted with currency and items obtained through exploits. The first step in doing this is to separate testing from early-access playing. By doing so, we can clearly define the rules and community expectations on each server, and work to discover the most significant exploits in an isolated environment.
To that end, this year's April Fools Event will be our last public alpha test. What is currently the alpha server and all of the characters created on it will become the "early access" server, and we'll work to clean up characters that have become unfairly advantaged through game imbalances or bugs.
Testing will continue on a whole new server, with a limited group of selected testers. Please do not mail me asking to be a tester - there will be an application process announced before testing resumes. We'll select testers on a variety of criteria, and it will require some commitment from testers in completing personally assigned tasks.
From Dev/Alpha to a Game People Play
As those of you following the project are aware, we are also moving our development tools to a new package this year as well, Toi Studio. Over the next several months Antilia will be going through several major transitions: we'll be moving our dev process to a better tool set, expand the volunteer team, begin improvements to Kasau, create a new testing team, create a test to release process, and bring the polished game online on a full-time server.
We'll keep you informed on how that transition is progressing, as well as new volunteer and testing opportunities as they become available.
While we've discussed at some length our plans moving forward on Antilia in our weekly behind-the-scenes live stream (see the panel on the right-hand side of the homepage for details and the next air date), that news has been a little slow arriving here on our blog. For those that haven't been able to watch the show, here's a summary of where we are at and what we're planning next.
While we had hoped that our Kickstarter campaign would provide the funding we need to officially expand the team and focus on Antilia's development full-time, having fallen short of our goal we are continuing to work on Antilia and look for ways to speed-up development. We feel that our next best option is to find ways to work more efficiently and to be more responsive to volunteer offers coming from the community. Although our existing Antilia Editor has gotten the job done for our small development team, it was not designed with volunteer contributions in mind. Synchronizing work among the development team currently requires a lot of careful communication and using 3rd-party tools in ways which they were never designed for. With more than 3 people involved, it would be unmanageable chaos.
Several people have offered to lend a hand in Antilia's development, from improving the animations to going through the landscape and fixing simple things like floating trees - we just need to find a way to get the tools into their hands and keep everyone's work in sync effectively. This is where our new solution - which we are calling Toi Studio - comes in.
Our New Editor Suite - Toi Studio
Toi Studio is a resurrection of the engine's original editing suite, with a new tool system built from the ground-up for distributed, collaborative projects like Antilia. Every editor built for Toi Studio will not only make it easy for multiple users to work on a large project like Antilia - users can even work on the same resource together at the same time. From building landscapes in the world editor to improving meshes and animations - the new editor will bring our web-based team into a single virtual office. The tool system has also been designed with an auto-branching version control system built into its core. Volunteers will be able to create and submit improvements upon which the community can then vote on - all without affecting the official approved version of an asset in-game. This will prevent Antilia from losing focus or for resources inappropriate for the game's style to be introduced. Think of Toi Studio as a "wiki for game development" - one where you can watch as others edit pages, and there is a 'gatekeeper' that decides what goes onto the final page.
Development of Toi Studio is already well underway, and we demonstrated our first editor, a shared whiteboard, in our most recent live stream. The development team was able to simultaneously draw on a shared canvas, and the editor even included a real-time display of where remote developers were hoving their mouse over the canvas. With a few more improvements to the underlying architecture, I'll begin porting Antilia's existing editors: mesh, world, game object, particle, and tree to the Toi Studio platform. Beyond that, I'd like to add some additional editors: a gui theme editor, a window layout editor, a font editor (for Antilia's unique languages), a shader editor, and an NPC conversation editor to name a few.
In our recent Live Stream the Development Team tested out the new shared whiteboard in Toi Studio.
It will of course, take a bit of time to develop these new tools, and I really believe it is in the best interest of Antilia that we do so. As more tools come online, we'll continue to highlight them in our live stream, and in fact our live stream should become more interesting as the entire development team (and eventually members of the community) will be able to participate in crafting Antilia live.
Our Current Goals for Antilia
As for Antilia itself, my top priorities for the first half of 2014 are to:
Create Toi Studio to speed up development
Improve the game's performance
Provide an official installer
Build an improved combat system
We'll likely continue to stick to the Isle of Kasau for a bit longer, with testing becoming more frequent after Toi Studio is complete.
In the second half of 2014 we'll focus on making Antilia something that is enjoyable 24/7. I'd like to focus on player-owned-properties and the virtual game master. With improved combat and player-owned-properties - I think Antilia will finally begin to justify a server that is available 24/7.
There's a lot in store for Antilia this year, so stay tuned!