December update - beta in January
Two days ago we put together the first playable build of the upcoming 3 locations (Ganezzar – the third city, the ruins of Al-Akia – the birthplace of the Gods, and the ‘hangar’ giving you access to your very own flying ship). As I mentioned earlier, we discussed whether or not release it now as a questionable New Year gift or sit on it for a couple of weeks.
In the end we decided to wait and push the update release to Jan 19, which gives us about 3 weeks of work. This date won’t be changed or pushed back, so consider it a promise.
It’s tempting to release it now for the sake of saying that we did release an update in Dec. After all, we’re still in Early Access and work-in-progress is the norm here (in fact, that's the idea). Still, I think that if we take some extra time to smooth over the rough edges, your experience will be a lot more enjoyable.
So, the silver lining here is that after 6 months of work we’re very, very close and almost ready to get this ball rolling. The third city was the last major hurdle to overcome and soon you’ll be able to play it.
* * *
Since I don’t have much to add here, I’ll entertain you with our design process. As I mentioned previously, towns are the hardest, most time-consuming locations because of the multiple interwoven questlines with double-crossing and multiple solutions. The amount of scripting that goes into it is huge and it takes a long time to sort it out.
So step 1 – I write the faction questlines. It takes a while. For Ganezzar we needed 4 guilds: the Imperial Guards, assassins, thieves, and merchants. Plus 3 praetors: a praetor serving House Daratan who did not ruin House Aurelian, a Daratan praetor who did, and a praetor serving House Aurelian (they all have different paths to follow). Plus the main quest and key side quests (like the power armor quest). Overall, that’s 24 quests right there. Usually, it takes about 3-4 days per quest. When the quests are written, I enter them into the database, do ‘basic’ scripting that allows us to run through dialogues, and pass them to Oscar who is our artist/designer.
While I’m busy writing, Oscar is busy putting locations together, while Nick, Ivan, and Mazin are working on programming tasks (for example, now Nick is working on the power armor, which is a very unique item that requires its own interface), extra animations, and 2D art (portraits, icons, the aforementioned interface, quick concept art, etc). It takes about 4-5 days to fully implement a quest, so overall that’s ((3-4)+(4-5)) x 24 = 168-216 days right there (5-7 months) just to do the basic implementation.
Step 2 – the first draft:
When we have the first drafts of both the locations and the quests, we put them together, add ‘advanced’ scripting (usually checking events and variables) that allows us to run through and jump between the questlines, and see what we got there.
Basically, there is a difference between quests ‘on paper’ and an in-game questlines. Sometimes the difference is minor and can be disregarded (i.e. ‘sure, it can be tweaked here and there but overall it’s ok’), sometimes it’s not and you have to go back to the drawing board.
So, after debating it back and forth we decided that everything looks good except for the merchant guild’s questline's flow. The first quest (technically, the 7th quest) was quite good but required being sent all over the place. It was moved to the House Crassus questline as it fits it better. The merchants’ quest in question had to be replaced which is one of the reasons for the delay to January. I finished writing it last night and it’s a fun quest which will require you to perform miracles and dabble in the mysterious arts of faith healing.
Step 3 – once the first draft is discussed and approved, we start building it up. The faction questlines are a solid foundation but it takes a lot more work to turn ‘a place where quests take place’ into a city with its own atmosphere. It needs:
- side quests
- flavor characters to talk to
- ‘diaries’, messages, flavor text (various descriptions)
- various intros and endings
- expanded conversations with main characters
- new quest options that become clear after you play through several times
Step 4 – balance, bugs, minor things like journal and reputation
So now we’re at Step 2. I don’t think we can jump to Step 3 in 3 weeks, but we can do quite a lot, which will make your experience more enjoyable. Overall, we did release the first two towns when we hit Step 2, so it's sort of business as usual but we released it as a beta to testers. Now we're about to release it directly to Early Access, hence the desire to ensure that we give you more rather than less.
Overall, for those who’re curious about our progress rate, we released the first 3 locations in March 2012 (which included a starting town). It took us 20 months to do another town plus 6 extra locations, which were released on Nov 2013. It took us 13 months to release 6 more locations, add different states for the starting town, and almost finish the third town. Another month and we’re there.
Thank you for your support, patience, understanding and encouragement.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.