Time for another Chronicles of Elyria update! This week's update is relatively short as our last update was published just five days ago. However, there are already a couple things to talk about so let's get to it!
First, the title of this week's update—Mission: Improbable—is in reference to the major event that took place last week: our friends from Improbable traveled from London to Seattle to spend the week with us.
Before I move much further with the update I want to stop and say thanks to the folks over at Improbable. Making a game like Chronicles of Elyria is a daunting task, and without the help of our friends across the pond, CoE would be Mission: Impossible instead of Mission: Improbable.
That said, it was a super productive week as engineers from both sides sat down in order to do some focused onboarding of some of their new changes. In particular, if you take a look at the latest release blog of SpatialOS 8.0 you'll see two new items which are of particular interest to us.
Experimental - Unreal Client worker: You can now use Unreal as your client-side renderer / engine.
Experimental - C# SDK: We’ve built a C# wrapper around our existing C++ Worker SDK. You can now build arbitrary managed C# workers and deploy them to the cloud.
The first one means Improbable has been working to greatly simplify the work that needs to be done to connect an Unreal-based client to a SpatialOS back-end. MMOs using Unreal as their client—you know, MMOs like Chronicles of Elyria—will have a significantly easier time using SpatialOS with Unreal. While there will still be some integration work that needs to be done on our end, Improbable has gotten the ball rolling and, if done correctly, moving from Prologue: The Awakening toward our Alpha 1 should be significantly less time-consuming.
The second experimental feature means we can continue to develop the Soulborn Engine in C#, the same language used previously. Not only does that mean we can re-use any existing services we had before, but it also means we gain all the power of the .NET Framework Library for things like web services, database interaction, and code generation via Reflection.Emit. In short, being able to continue to write the back-end of CoE in C# means huge time-savings for us.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say our friends over at Improbable are going out of their way to be the best partners they can be and to ensure our success. Actually, that's exactly what they're doing, and we’re extremely grateful.
Ok, the next topic of this week is about Pre-Production vs. Production. In our last update, I said with Vye joining us, the store finally online, and with us continuing to hire, we'll soon be moving from Pre-Production to Production. But what exactly does that mean?
Pre-Production is the period in a project's life-cycle where there's a significant amount of R&D, some core fund-raising, hiring, planning, and development of essential workflows and tools.
Symptoms of Pre-production include having documentation scattered across text files, word documents, OneNotes, Google documents, and even physical journals. Also, work tends to be done in short bursts of focused effort as time is spent in research, attempting to 'fail fast' in an effort to learn quickly and establish best practices.
Work also tends to be done with whatever tools are available at the time, as funding is often limited and you need to get stuff out as quickly as possible. As a good example, when we first started doing motion capture based animation we were using a dual, Kinect One, markerless mocap system. It was inexpensive and the fidelity was good but, due to the need to post-process the point cloud into animations it required several iterations to get things looking good.
After that, we moved on to a single Kinect One system that captured and played back animations in real-time. This resulted in fewer iterations of the mocap process. However, due to only being a single Kinect One, any time a limb passed outside of line-of-sight the data would get corrupted. That required a non-trivial amount of hand-keying and cleanup as a result.
At long last, we've gone ahead and purchased a suit-based solution as our final destination. It has high fidelity, no line-of-sight issues, provides animations in real-time, and mocap can be done in our mocap studio or even at a nearby park if we want to. This is what it must feel like to sit at the grown-ups table.
All of the previous are signs of a pre-production project and a studio still getting settled in. However, in the next month we'll be moving into Production. Symptoms of a project in early production are:
In short, the transition from pre-production to production is about coming off the block and into the swim lane. Training and conditioning is almost over, and soon the race will begin.
With just about $100k left to go, the next stretch goal is in sight so I wanted to take a moment to talk more about what it means to players and to us.
In most MMORPGs it's not uncommon to see people gathering outdoors around an auction house or similar mercantile building, going about their business. This creates two problems.
First, and perhaps most importantly, in any fantasy novel you read the weary travelers enter a new town and immediately make their way to the nearest (or cleanest) inn or tavern. Here they rest and recuperate, get a hot meal and/or some ale, and in some cases, raise some money through gaming or gambling while they talk up the locals, learning about strange events happening in the region.
In precisely zero fantasy novels do the heroes make their way to the nearest auction house, then stand around people-watching, while both simultaneously shouting at others and whispering to people who aren't there.
You see, inns and taverns are designed to be social gathering spots, and the activities and information exchange that happens at such an establishment is vital to the thematic nature of an RPG. We've already come a long way in making that possible by introducing vitality, hunger, and thirst regeneration at an inn or tavern but, taking it one step further, by adding gaming and gambling really seals the deal.
The other, less obvious problem is that when everyone is gathered in large crowds outside, your client must be prepared to render all the travelers going in and out, the buildings, mountains, etc. But when you're inside a building, even in a game without loading screens, there's significantly less work needing to be done by your PC and GPU as the world outside is hidden behind walls. This ultimately means more people can populate the same town with less performance impact.
Those two things combined means we really want people inside of buildings, engaging in fun and entertaining activities with other players, not wandering around a central town square killing time while examining the clothes of strangers as they walk by. (Seriously, enough creeping).
As for us, hitting the Gambling / Gaming stretch goal means having enough resources to hire a new animator. This animator would be responsible for not only the new animations required to play the gaming / gambling animations, but a ton of new social gestures and interactions as well, leading to a richer role-playing experience.
The next topic I wanted to cover this week was regarding Influence Points. It has been pointed out that the naming convention of Influence Points and Bonus Influence Points (awarded from the purchase of Product Tiers and IP off the IP Table) is confusing. We agree! Which is why we will be renaming Bonus IP to Exposition Points (EP) and, thusly, renaming the store to match. The 'IP Store' will now be known as the Exposition Store.
This doesn’t change any of the functionality or what you can buy, but it does make it a lot clearer about what you are earning and what you can spend it on.
Both Influence Points (IP) earned from being influential, such as inviting friends to play the game, submitting bug reports, etc., and buying stuff from our Exposition Store increases your Total Influence within the community. However, where Influence Points can be used to purchase Packages & Tiers, Add-ons, Sparks of Life, and even items from the Exposition Store, EP can only be used to purchase items from the Exposition Store.
Again, there's no change here other than renaming "Bonus IP" to Exposition Points (EP). When the Exposition Store opens you'll see both your IP and EP so you'll know what your buying power is.
The final topic for this week is just an announcement that at the end of this week we'll be releasing both the layaway system in the online store, as well as some EP tables. This will give a good idea of what kinds of things will be available in the Exposition Store once it opens in November. As part of next week's update, we'll talk through the new tables in-depth and make sure common questions are answered before the Exposition Store launches.
That's it for this week folks. As 'Improbable' as a game like Chronicles of Elyria may seem we're making great progress and, with the help of the folks over at Improbable working on SpatialOS, our talented new hires, and of course, you the community, we're extremely hyped over what's coming in the next couple months. Stay tuned!