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!
As I posted in the forums, the Antilia Kickstarter Campaign is delayed temporarily while we do a bit of legal and tax preparation for the project. I discuss it deeper in the forum thread, but the short version is that we want to be smart about this and avoid some costly mistakes other Kickstarter projects have blogged about.
In the meantime, development and testing of Antilia will resume, starting with a new version and an in-game social event this weekend - October 12th & 13th!
The new version of Antilia will include:
New Character Creation Options - Fur Patterns
One of the first things you may want to try in the new version is refactoring your character - there are now 3 fur pattern options to choose from for each bloodline!
If you've learned that running through tents and trees is the fastest way to get from point A to point B - you'll have to break that habit with this release! This of course introduces the possibility for getting stuck, especially in cases where you can fall off of an object such as a rock into deep water - but we are aware of and working on most of these cases. (The future addition of jumping and swimming would solve many of these issues, so we won't be building an official list of places the player can get stuck until those are in place. If you find yourself stuck, you can always teleport!)
A New Clutter System
We've re-designed and re-written the clutter system from the ground up. The new system is faster, more memory efficient, and much more stable. If you've been playing with clutter turned off to avoid crashes, I highly recommend you enable it now and adjust the density and distance for your system! Once you've seen it, you won't want to play without!
Musical Instruments are Back!
Musical Instruments have been disabled for some time in the client, after a bug in the client started causing them to crash. The bug has been found and fixed, so players can once again share their screeching melodies around the campfire (yes, there is an option to turn them off.) Additional instruments and a composition/performance system are planned for the future!
Numerous Improvements and Bug Fixes!
In addition to the major improvements, we have a growing list of over 60 content improvements we have made and bugs we have fixed.
Rather than list them all out, here are a few shots of the sort of details we've been adding to the world:
Admittedly, it has been a while since Antilia saw a new release and some server up-time. We'd like to run the server as much as we can in October, gather some good screenshots and videos, and continue building our community. If you have friends you think would be interested in the project, please spread the word!
I contacted several websites and individuals this month, seeking support in promoting Antilia's Kickstarter. So far the response has been great and we look forward to working with these sites and more as the Kickstarter progresses.
We've been working to ensure all information about the game on our website is up-to date and accurate.
We asked the community for testimonials and received dozens of wonderful replies. (We can always use more, so if you've participated in the Alpha and would like to share, visit the thread and let us know what you like about Antilia!)
I started work on a new "press information" page for the site, so that members of the press and other websites can get accurate descriptions, feature lists, and the latest screenshots of the game in a single click.
We began recording high-quality video clips of Antilia for use in our Kickstarter video.
It may have seemed like a quiet month, as many of these items weren't individually news-worthy. With so many minor-but-required items getting crossed off, however, my pre-campaign task list is dwindling down. What remains is creating the final list of backer rewards, the Kickstarter project video, and then launching and running the campaign.
One of the final things that I'm working on, and could use community feedback about is in deciding backer rewards. To reach our goal, we have to offer reward tiers that are attractive and exciting to backers at all levels.
Before getting into specific backer levels and what rewards they each include, however, in this post I'd like to start with a broad look at the kind of things we're looking to offer backers:
The most obvious thing to offer as a backer reward is of course, the game itself. Antilia will be limited to a trial area for free players, with access to all areas requiring a one-time fee - so it makes sense to start our lowest reward levels off by offering full area access to everyone who backs at a minimum level.
Some special features of the game - most notably unique customizable properties which can only be owned by a single player at a time and require a higher server load - will require a premium subscription. For backers who back at a level that includes custom properties, 12 months of premium subscription will be included.
As the Kickstarter is likely to attract a lot of new users to the game, we will be required to restructure the way we do testing. While primary feature testing will shift to a small group of testers who are willing to perform exhaustive regression tests and fill out test reports, server load and real-world testing will continue as "early access" for those who back Antilia. Backers will be divided into groups by backer level, and groups will be invited incrementally as we ramp the server up to 24/7 availability. Special server events will continue as they have in the past, and will provide an opportunity to test with briefly higher server loads and gather data.
A final offering we can make with regards to access is friend coupons. Players who back at the higher levels may be rewarded with some one-time-use codes that they can pass out to friends - allowing their friends to enjoy the full world of Forra without the one-time fee.
Special Character Customization Options
There is no doubt that character customization options play a large role in a game like Antilia, and even while working on the Kickstarter we've been working to expand the options across the board. Some options, however, are special - and should be reserved for players willing to spend a few bonus points on them through our handicaps & bonuses system.
As a Kickstarter Backer reward - some of these extra customizations could be made available without costing bonus points, allowing backers to create character combinations that are really distinctive.
Unlimited fur color palettes
Unusual or di-chromatic eyes
Special character histories such as being a direct descendent of the gods (god-prince or god-princess)
Rare bloodline traits, such as Felos with pink noses, Lupans with larger teeth, or Vulans with two tails.
(Feel free to make suggestions for unique customizations in response - we'll try to incorporate as many as we can in the customization packages!)
Rare & Special Items
There are some things in the Lantros region you just can't find.... unless you have the right connections.
These backer rewards could come in the form of a bonus that provides access to secret item shops, or as a package that is delivered once to the player. These special items will eventually be available to all players as the game grows - but initially will be limited to backers-only.
Alenfay Herbs & Spices - These ingredients can't be found locally, but are invaluable in the hands of a chef.
Ariielian Clothes - Make a statement with the most fashionable and exquisite clothing from Ariiel.
Exotic Craft Materials from Chalei - Take crafting beyond steel and bronze with magically-enhanced metals from Chalei!
Glasswork from Talikus - Decorate your home with colorful glass lanterns and stained glass from Talikus!
Although a full pet system is not planned for the Kickstarter, the game already includes limited support for basic creature-follow, allowing us to offer some very simple decorative pets. These pets will be limited to backers only, and upgraded if a stretch goal adding pets is reached. These would include Jidou of course - as well as this recently introduced koura.
As Antilia will be expanding with buildings and cities with the Kickstarter, and these initial buildings will be unique, limited, and coveted - they are among our top offerings for backers. As the world is expanded into future regions like Chalei and Lantros the number of buildings will grow, and we'll always offer instanced residential suites at inns so all players can have customizable homes and properties. As these are the first buildings and represent a significant amount of development work, we'll offer the first buildings to our backers in limited reward tiers.
One last additional thing I'm working on is offering a digital copy of Antilia's soundtrack for backers - including all music in the game currently, as well as additional tracks planned to be commissioned for the Kickstarter.
One thing you may notice we are avoiding is physical rewards. All of Antilia's rewards are digital. There are a few reasons for this:
In several recent successful video game Kickstarters, backers preferred digital reward packages 10 to 1 over physical goods packages.
Offering physical rewards would have increased our budget significantly. Offering something like a t-shirt for example would likely cost us at least 10-15 dollars to have the t-shirts made, and end up requiring a lot of time shipping orders, dealing with lost merchandise, wrong sizes, etc.. Multiply 10-20 dollars in product and shipping cost by the number of backers... and we could quickly add hundreds if not thousands to Antilia's Kickstarter.
Kickstarter Video Progress
As I started work on the Kickstarter video this month, I just wanted to share a few things that have come from capturing new footage of the game.
For our Kickstarter video, it would be great if we could illustrate to some degree everything we plan on adding to the game. For some things, we have to rely on hand-drawn illustrations - there is no way to illustrate them in-game without spending months creating the very assets the Kickstarter is supposed to help us create.
Other concepts have been surprisingly easy to illustrate in-game. When we began thinking of special customization options and crafting materials to give out as backer rewards - it only took a couple minutes in the editor to create some potential new crafting materials and then craft with them:
Likewise, when we started talking about player-owned ships as a property type, it occurred to me that there was already a basic ship mesh in our existing game assets. With some quick modifications to the player object in the editor I was sailing - and I captured some beautiful video of the ship sailing around the Isle of Kasau.
As soon as I started sailing that boat and realized how easy it would be to turn it into a working game system - Antilia got a lot more interesting. Antilia is certainly going to need a bigger landmass and more islands to disembark at and explore when ships become available.