As we mentioned several weeks back, the design team and I are currently undergoing design review. This is the period when we take the high-level plans we had before and make sure all questions are answered and that there are enough technical details filled in that the engineering team can safely implement the feature areas.
To give you an idea of what we're looking at, some of the first feature areas we've reviewed (or are reviewing) can be seen here:
When going through the review process, we iterate over each feature area and make a list of questions.
This includes technical and UI question like 'what will the world/character selection screen look like', as well as functional questions such as 'how does your birth date specifically affect your destiny?' Finally, it often includes questions that result in data tables as well as statistical analysis, such as: 'what exactly are the different bloodlines/tribes of the world', and 'what is the average lifespan of an Elyrian for the purpose of character creation?'
You'll notice that Environment is near the top of the list. That corresponds with the recent changes we made to the day/night cycle, as well as the seasons.
Below that you'll see Characters & Character Creation. With the changes to seasons, it naturally made sense to re-evaluate the passing of time in Elyria, such as how many real-life days are in an Elyrian year.
Beyond that, the question of character creation ties in heavily with what a player's experience is like throughout their entire lifetime. This leads from one topic to another in a giant rabbit hole that keeps going deeper and deeper.
That, or a maze that keeps ending at the beginning of another maze. In either case, the labyrinth took us almost 16 hours of discussion over the last two weeks to navigate. But we finally came out the other side - with some design decisions which may surprise you.
But, before we jump into the latest design decisions, let's go through the roll call.
Over the last couple of weeks, Eddie has been polishing up the Kickstarter exclusive wallpaper. We shared a rough draft in a previous update, but here you can find the completed work.
Figure 1 - Haven Wallpaper
At some point in the future, we'll be re-adding wallpapers to the media section of the website. At that point, we'll be releasing the Haven Wallpaper to people who explicitly backed us on Kickstarter or through our online store during the first month of it being open (which is now being worked on).
For those that haven't been following the lore, Haven is, according to the Qindred, the capital city and home of our Ancient ancestors from before the Burning. Haven existed - or exists - on a plane separate from our own. To the Qindred, there would be no greater joy than finding their way back to Haven.
Ok. A few things to talk about on Production. First, our new Web Developer, Zac 'ZRO' Rogerson, joined us on Monday. Zac joins us from En Masse Entertainment, where he was a Lead Web and UI Developer on TERA and other projects. This week he jumped right in and took over the web development for the 2.0.9 patch and has since moved on to the 2.1 feature release. Hurray!
Second, over the last two weeks we've put our open positions on LinkedIn, our website, and Gamasutra.com. Since then we've gotten hundreds of applications for our open positions. No joke. We got so many that last week I was forced to set up a new JIRA Project just to track the candidates as they move through the hiring process. That's helped me cull down the list, but even with that, we've still got about 50, very qualified candidates. I'm really enjoying reading through the resumes and looking forward to having a fully built team. And let me say, we've got some real talent applying. If you haven't received an email me from me yet, and you submitted a resume via one of those channels in the last week or so, you should be receiving an email this week.
Finally, per our update last week, yesterday the 'Early Access' forum was made available on our forums. It's in a new forum category named 'Exclusive Access'. Within it, we've posted our introduction, NDA, and the link to our first exclusive video for people with Alpha 1 access. So far the feedback on the little video has been very positive. In the future, we'll record a similar video for everyone else. One that's a bit more polished and shows more of New Haven and Silver Run.
Two weeks ago in the Update titled 'Plenty of eye candy...' we shared videos of some of the work happening on armor customization. This week, we wanted to share some video on clothing customization. In the following video, taken in ZBrush, you can see the character swapping in/out different shirt and sleeve combinations.
Figure 2 - Video showcasing different shirt configurations
Any tailor with sufficient skill can make any component of the shirt and either craft it whole, or add it to an existing shirt to change its appearance. I can't wait to show you all what this system can do with different materials. But, that'll have to wait for another week.
The other thing the Character Artists has been working on is the female. Per an earlier update, we try not to work on something until it's necessary to solve the next set of problems. With us diving heavily into families and character creation, it's time for us to address the female.
This week, one of our artists has been working on the sets of models necessary to add the female to the world. The way our character system works is by taking different meshes associated with body fat and lean muscle and blending them together.
In the second A-pose in the image below you can see what the female looks like with 0% body fat and 0% muscle. In the third A-pose, you can see what the female looks like with 100% lean muscle and %0 body fat. In the fourth and final A-pose, you can see the female with 0% lean muscle and 100% body fat.
In reality, characters will very rarely be 0% or 100% of either, and will instead be a combination of the two. The female in the first A-pose is an example of one with both fat and lean muscle.
As an aside, these were based on extensive online research. But whatever you do, don't look at the recent search history of our character artist. It's... misleading.
Well, with all of that aside, it's finally time to see how deep the rabbit hole really goes. And it goes really deep. If you get started and decide it's getting too dark, too damp, or too smelly, just jump to the conclusion at the bottom for the... conclusions.
A few weeks back we made it known that the day/night cycle was shifting and that to slow down the game a bit and make decisions and experiences more meaningful, we changed seasons from one day to an average of four days per season. This naturally raised the question, 'If seasons are changing, does it make sense to adjust the passage of time in Elyria as well?' Previously, we had one Elyrian Year equal to four real-life days. But is that the ideal number?
While there's nothing inherently wrong with four real-life days being equal to 1 Elyrian Year, it does create some secondary problems. One of the main ones is the fact that when your character dies, possibly at over 100 years old, you've already got children, grandchildren, and perhaps even great-grandchildren. This exacerbated the need to give players a consistent amount of play time with each lifetime.
Based on the older model we had, if you were to live to 100 years old and then take over as your child (which you had at 15) they'd already be in their 80's, and your grand-children would be in their 60's. Since we'd said that an Elyrian lives an average of 92 years, having your character start in their 80's or even 60's would make for a really short lifespan. Meanwhile, starting as your great grandchild creates a huge gap between your current character and your next character, concerning lineage. What if your NPC parents and grandparents are power hungry and want the title for themselves?!
To mitigate this, the most recent changes we'd made was to pull your heir out of the timeline and put them in some kind of stasis so that after your death you could re-enter the world as your 15-year-old child-heir.
But now you're a 90-year-old with a 15-year-old invisible child. Furthermore, once you assume the role of your child you've got siblings that are like five times your age. While it's a fair solution, it feels awkward and unnatural. What we'd really like is a solution that lets you move more strategically from one generation to another.
So, faced with the question of whether we want to stay with 4-day years, or move to something else, we realized this gives us the opportunity, by lengthening the timeline a bit, to come up with a better solution. However, as you'll soon see, messing with the length of an Elyrian year is a complicated effort, with multiple things to consider.
So what did we do? We went back to the drawing board. Literally. We made a list of a few core rules which we weren't willing to break, and then we set to work once again, describing the perfect play experience for aging, families, etc. Here were the core rules:
After we'd defined those we came up with the following list of statements representing our 'ideal play experience.'
Each of those are statements based on what we felt was the richest, most rewarding player experience. Note that these weren't listed in any particular order. But now that we've got them, let's keep them in mind while we dig into the question of whether or not we want to change the length of an Elyrian year.
To help us decide whether or not we wanted to change from 4 days per Elyrian year to something else, we began by making a list of a couple of good, logical options, and then evaluating what it did to the maximum lifespans. In particular, we looked at multiples of 4, since that's now the average length of a season, as well as multiples of 7, as that's the duration of a week. In the end, and for the purpose of this update, we settled on the number 7. Seven real-life days per Elyrian Year.
The decision wasn't an easy one to make. For the rest of the update I'm going to try and follow a format of listing the pros and cons for a decision, and then digging deeper into them. With each decision and pro/con, which may or may not be a bulleted list, we'll go further and further down the rabbit hole.
To get us started off, here's the list of pros and cons we considered when deciding to change the length of an Elyrian year to seven real-world days.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons in more depth, starting with the con.
If you look back at the list of ideal scenarios, you'll see: 'I get to raise my children and see them grow and develop.' One of the main reasons for having children in CoE is to become attached to them, to create a future you can look forward to, and to watch them grow and develop, teaching them the skills you want to use in the next life. These are crucial as they make the loss of your current character seem less like a punishment and more like a natural transition. You mourn the loss of your current character as you eagerly move into the child you've nurtured for so long.
But it's virtually impossible to become attached to invisible children who just pop into the world at age 15. It's even more challenging, if not impossible, to get attached to children who pop into existence at age 15 if that means their birth date pre-dated your interest or capability to have children.
So when deciding what our ideal scenario was, we decided to back up our previous design choice and bring children back into the game. That is, they're no longer invisible stasis children, but NPCs in the world. Beginning as babies in a crib, you'll have the opportunity to see them grow and develop as NPCs for the first 15 years of their life. But that means they don't exist until you conceive them.
Here's the problem. If we can't take over as our child until they're 15 years old, then with seven days per year, those 15 years take 15 weeks! That's over three months! The chances of you having a child which is not yet old enough to inherit are relatively high if you wait until your 30's to have children.
As an example, let's say you have the financial stability and a place to raise your children by the time your character is 35 years old. Your child won't be old enough to be your heir and inherit your title until he/she is 15. By that time, you're 50 years old. That means you've already been playing 35 weeks. That's roughly eight months. Given the Death Penalty mechanic, if you play a more adventurous character, frequently die, etc., it's entirely possible your character will die before your child is old enough to replace you.
How do we solve such a problem? Let's go further down the rabbit hole.
The answer to the child not-yet-ready for inheritance lies in Non-Traditional Characters. For those new to this concept, NTCs are NPCs which have been 'inhabited' by a player. Put differently, imagine there's a 35-year-old NPC in the world. He has an established career, and he's got a family, land, some wealth, etc. Now imagine someone goes to the character creation screen and instead of selecting a family to join, they choose an NPC to inhabit. They become that 35-year-old NPC. That's an NTC.
After becoming that NPC, they get the NPC's land, wealth, family, etc. But in exchange, they lose any and all customization - including the character's name and appearance. This could be undesirable in many cases. But when the NPC you're planning to inhabit is one of your children or a nearby relative, it's no longer an issue.
NTCs are something we've had from the very beginning, but we limited them to something you could do in Exposition due to several problems we'll discuss in more depth below. The question is, how did we land on NTCs as a solution?
We went back and forth, talking about regents and who would be the best character to take over your title and estate in the event your child was too young to assume the role. We considered allowing you to extend the life of your character at a cost against your child's maximum lifespan. We even considered creating some random NPC you could control as a temporary regent. But in all cases, nothing truly made sense and fit in with the rest of the world. That is until we thought back to our own world.
On Earth, what happens if the Prince is too young to be the king? Someone else in the family takes over until the child is ready. That's a valid solution in our world, but in CoE, the temporary nature of the regent causes problems with internal consistency. It also violates our rule above, requiring any solution allow us to keep playing our soul from one lifetime to another.
But... if we make it permanent, that is, if we make it so the other, older character becomes the new heir rather than the child, it works perfectly. Logically it makes sense as well. Let's say there's a line of succession. If the first in the line is too young, then naturally the second in line would succeed.
What this means is, there is a set of NPCs - your children, nephews, siblings, etc., all of varying ages, all of which who are possible heirs. At any given time you can appoint one of them who is over 15 years old to be your heir.
If you die, you can choose to take over as your heir, regardless of their age.
Let's list the pros and cons, and then yes, we'll go further down the rabbit hole.
The first, and perhaps oldest real design challenge we've faced in the development of CoE is ensuring a maximum lifespan when you move on to an heir who is over 15 years old.
The thing is, we were focused too heavily on the highest lifespan of an Elyrian, rather than ensuring maximum playtime. This subtle shift in mentality enables us to go back to having heirs in a way that makes sense.
Instead of saying Elyrians always live 75 - 105 years, we simply say players always get between 40 and 60 weeks (Elyrian years) of play time. This means that no matter when you take over a character, you're guaranteed to get the same amount of play time as someone else, barring any deaths.
So as an example, you create a character that begins at age 15 and lives for the average 52 years (now that we have 52 rather than 90 years in one real-world year). At death, your character is 67 Elyrian Years old, but you have a child which you had when you were 25.
At the time of your character's death, your child is 42. Under the older model, you wouldn't want to take over as your 42-year-old child because you'd be losing 27 years of game time (42 - 15). But in the new model, this isn't a problem. Not only have you watched your child grow from a baby to a strong, powerful 42-year-old, but you're guaranteed that deaths aside, you'll get to play them for the full length of their life. In this case, your child lives the average 52 years as well and passes away at 94. But this too creates problems. Time to dig deeper.
This system works really great. However, it does create one problem. What happens when your 94-year-old has a child at 15? He's now 79. Since we guarantee you'll get a full lifetime, it would mean your next character would live to an average of 131. This process continues. With each life, your maximum age grows without bounds. How do we solve this?
We simply put a cap on the maximum age in which characters can be inhabited as an NTC. Right now we're looking at a cap of 52. This coincidentally allows you to, at most, double the life of a character, it carries over exactly one real-life year, and it represents roughly the previous maximum age we had of 105 Elyrian Years (2 * 52 = 104). How fortuitous. We've changed the Elyrian Year from 4 days to 7, reduced the generational gap, and preserved the maximum lifespan of an Elyrian in the process. Damn that feels good.
So now we've firmly established NTCs as a viable alternative to a traditional heir. If your heir is old enough, great. If not, you simply make some other NPC in your family that is old enough the heir, then take over them instead. But this creates yet another problem. Down we go again...
Once we've established that you can pass on inheritance and land to anyone in your family, it raises the question of how. It also raises the question of how you discover which family members are viable candidates to be your heir. This requires the introduction of some new views during character creation, as well as changes to the dynasty view.
First, we're going to be adding new NTC options to character creation. In addition to picking a family based on a set of filter criteria through your personal story, you'll now have the option to filter and select an NPC to become.
Also, we'll be adding a new view to family selection which allows you to see every dynasty you've previously been a part of. From there, you can choose to put your soul in any inhabitable NPC within one of your previous dynasties - unless you willingly or forcibly were disowned.
Aside from changes to character creation, we're also going to be making changes to the dynasty view. In this view, you'll be able to see all NPCs who are of age to become your heir, and who are unlocked for player characters.
But what do I mean by 'unlocked for player characters?' Yep. Further down the rabbit hole we go.
In any dynasty, you're going to have parents, grandparents, siblings, and children, as well as aunts/uncles, cousins, great uncles/aunts, etc.
At any point in time, those roles are going to be filled by either players or NPCs. If they're held by players, there're no problems. But if they're NPCs, it raises questions about who can become those NPCs as Non-Traditional Characters (NTCs).
To make that easier, we've created a set of ground rules, as well as adding the ability to 'lock' the NPCs within your family. The basic rules look like this:
If you join a family, and it has only NPC parents, the parents automatically become locked. This prevents you from having other players come in as your parents after-the-fact and make your life difficult. That said, if you examine your family/dynasty screens you'll see NPC codes for each of your NPC parents. This gives you the ability to become your own parent, or invite friends to become your parents.
In addition, so long as you don't have any PC parents, you can see the NPC codes for all NPC siblings. Furthermore, you can see the NPC codes for any nieces/nephews you have that do not have any PC parents. It's important to note here, you don't have the capability to lock your siblings, nieces, nephews or cousins, but you can see their NPC codes. This prevents you from preventing NTCs from joining your family, but it does give you the ability to invite those people into your family who you want to be there.
Finally, you can lock any children or grandchildren you have that are not children of another player. This gives you the ability to always create a chain of inheritance. It's important to note also that if you lock one of your children, their entire lineage becomes locked. The same is true for all your descendants. Once you lock them, all of their descendants automatically lock.
Ok. That really needs a diagram. Truth be told, it sounds far more complicated than it is. Early attempts at a UI in some prototyping tools has shown that it's very easy to communicate which family members are locked and which aren't, as well as making the view responsive to toggling NPCs locked and unlocked.
For the time being, just take our word for it. It's a new system that guarantees you mostly don't have unwanted people in your family, while giving you the option to spread out and grow a larger dynasty.
Phew. Ok. So we've got NTCs back, you've got a maximum amount of play time, and you can make any NTC in your dynasty your heir. We're good right? Wrong. What happens if all the NPCs in your dynasty get married?
One of the bigger problems we faced the last time we explored NTCs after launch was NPC marriage. We'd made it pretty clear that Marriage in Chronicles of Elyria was meant to be between a player and a player. No marrying NPCs.
Well, it's time for us to become more progressive (though we're still not encouraging waifus). Most of the stuff we've talked about above is about opening up your options to becoming another member of your family. But as those family members are NPCs, it's entirely likely they're going to marry and possibly even have children. That's a good thing! But if we disallow marrying NPCs, then we have to limit becoming an NTC to only NPCs that haven't married. That's not a great plan if your goal in picking the new heir is to establish your lineage. Ideally, your heir already has an heir.
In any event, rather than fight the establishment, we're giving in. So going forward, it will be possible to marry NPCs. It'll use the same fame/reputation system that's already in place, combined with some new mechanics, such as giving/receiving gifts, etc. It'll take time, but you can eventually convince that serving girl/guy you've had your eye on to be your lawfully wedded child-code generator. And before you ask, if you do happen to become an NTC that’s already married, don’t worry, you can lock your spouse like you lock your children, ensuring that NPC never gets replaced by another player you didn’t plan for.
With all that said, we also want marriage between players to continue to mean something. As a result, we're looking into ways to augment and add value to the relationship between two characters that have souls. One thing we've got talked about is a new mechanic we're calling Soul Binding. Players can go a step further than marriage, binding their souls to one another. Such a ceremony would be permanent, and the longer two people who are soul bound remain near one another, the tighter the bond.
This bond between them could have lasting effects, such as gradually making it so spirit loss is shared between them. Not only does this mean those adventurous types would do well to have a loving wife at home to live for, but it means real-life spouses would more likely end up with characters that pass away at the same time.
Ok... the light is showing at the end of the tunnel. But there's one more thing we have to cover before bringing this massive update to a close.
Let's say you're the King and you're killed, but you made your younger brother, a Duke, the heir to the kingdom. He's an NPC which you have the NPC code for. A few weeks go by and someone kills him as well, but before that happens, your nephew (the son of your previous character) reaches the age of maturity and so is now old enough to take over the Kingdom. So you've made him your heir, and now you take over as your nephew.
See the problem? With the ability to jump between NPCs in your family as an NTC, your staying power within a dynasty is significantly higher. That's a good thing - if you're an active contributing player. If you're not, it can leave a lazy, non-involved ruler in the family too long. So how did we solve this problem? Story Points!
It has always been our plan that Story Points were used to improve your lot in life. Work hard in your previous life, and like karma, you'll be rewarded in the next. This gives us a perfect opportunity to put Story Points in play.
Let's say you're a Count. You play actively, are good to your people, but are still assassinated for one reason or another four months after creating your character. Fortunately for you, you've racked up enough Story Points that you can play a character who is heir to a County - including your own heir. So you do.
But on the other hand, let's say you're inactive, you don't play much, or you just sit in your keep all day, drinking wine and eating mutton. When you're assassinated, you'd want to use your Story Points to take over your heir... but you can't. You lack sufficient Story Points to do so, and best you can do is take a demotion, keeping your role as Mayor or Baron, creating a power vacuum for your Count title, and making room for others.
To confirm what I'm saying, all heirs, under the new model, as well as NTCs, will require Story Points to continue playing, even if it’s zero. However, the amount of Story Points required to keep playing your heir will be easily achieved over about three months of play - the length of time for your spawn to grow up if you're actively playing. In general, this won't have an impact on most people. But it does mean that those in positions of power must be playing, or they risk losing their titles.
Ok. If you made it this far you're either a masochist, or took the TL; DR route. In either case, there was so much covered in this update that it's important to quickly recap. So here's the bulleted list of changes that accompany this update.
That's all folks. Until next time...