With 2022 having ended and it now being the second week of the new year, it is time for our last quarterly State of Elyria developer blog of 2022, and our first monthly developer blog of 2023.
To begin, let me say that some years should be put in the rear-view mirror as quickly as you can, with as few glances back as possible. With mounting legal fees, shrinking staff, and me being pulled away from engineering for 60%+ of the year to focus on funding the studio, 2022 was one such year. Fortunately, 2023 has a lot of great things going for it. So, let's spend a little bit of time looking back at 2022, and then we can turn our attention forward to 2023.
It is customary in the first blog post of the new year to look back at the previous year as a whole. But rather than re-listing everything discussed in the previous three quarterly updates, I am instead going to touch on the most significant elements of each quarter, and then provide links for further reading.
The first quarter was unquestionably the most productive quarter concerning KoE/CoE’s engineering. I had over 80 check-ins that quarter, which consisted of forward progress on both our new (.NET-based) platform, as well as migrating gameplay from our old (Node-based) platform to our new one. In addition to porting over many of our already implemented gameplay mechanics for use in KoE (and consequently CoE), there was also forward progress made on the engineering of the domain, settlement, and land management mechanics of CoE. As listed in the blog post here: State of Elyria Q1 2022 Update, an abbreviated list of the high-level features which were ported over from our previous CoE back-end consisted of:
As for the new stuff we implemented in Q1, most of it fell into the areas of:
While engineering slowed down beginning in Q2, design and content creation did not. Q2 continued the work that began in Q1, resulting in the completion of 72 different production chains; most focused on the resources present in the first 2-3 biomes that will be playable in KoE, along with some of their corresponding crafting materials and raw resources.
In the blog post, State of Elyria Q2 2022 Update, we showed a video of all the different production chains that had been completed, as well as a discussion on what those mean and how they are used. You can also see screenshots of the art assets that were created during Q2 in support of those production chains.
Finally, Q2 saw significant advancements in the domain, settlement, and land management mechanics which are vital to CoE, and form the entire gameplay loop for KoE.
As a quick reminder, CoE is a big game. My vision of Chronicles of Elyria is a role-playing game where you are part of an epic, evolving storyline; where every decision you make can have a meaningful impact on the world around you. You can fill your days adventuring, sieging, farming, or even governing a settlement, county, or kingdom.
Going back to as early as 2016 I started discussing our approach to developing CoE, which entailed breaking up such a large game into smaller, isolated pre-Alpha experiences we could then combine to create the final game known as Chronicles of Elyria. One such pre-Alpha experience, Kingdoms of Elyria, was the experience scheduled for us to implement, test, and play the domain, settlement, and land management mechanics of CoE. As a side benefit, we intended to allow players to experience those mechanics at an earlier point in Elyria’s storyline, enabling them to take part in, and witness, some of the key historical moments of Elyria’s recent history.
But it’s important to understand that KoE isn’t just world-building. The development of KoE is the development of CoE. All the art assets carry over. All the design decisions and data carry over. All the back-end engineering and gameplay mechanics carry over, etc. If you are waiting for us to “stop development on KoE and return to development on CoE,” you are missing a subtle, but crucial element of our approach to developing CoE. When we say, “we’re working on KoE,” it’s just a short-hand way of saying “We’re working on the domain, settlement, and land management mechanics of CoE, which is being made available to an audience that likes colony sims and grand strategy games, before integrating those things into the MMORPG.”
Q3, which we discussed at length in the blog post, State of Elyria Q3 2022 Update, was primarily focused on integrating the adventuring mechanics of CoE into KoE in an intuitive way. While players won’t have direct control over crafting stations, tools, and techniques in KoE, those things must exist nonetheless, and KoE must use them.
Likewise, while world interaction is a significant part of CoE’s core gameplay loop, and characters certainly need to interact with the world around them in KoE, the camera’s perspective is different, and the level of abstraction must be higher. As expected, these changes in point of view required us to iterate on our intended designs for CoE. As an example, what is the process for cutting an apple off a tree in KoE? What is the process of cutting an apple off a tree in CoE? If KoE’s mechanics cannot be the same as in CoE, except at a higher level of abstraction, then we have a problem. In some cases, we found that the abstraction worked perfectly. In other cases, we found a needed change to our planned implementations for CoE.
Having summarized the earlier part of 2022 at a higher level, I now want to address the most significant event of Q4. While I won't spend time speculating on their motivations or intended outcomes - as that is not what these blog posts are about - the plaintiff in the dismissed lawsuit against Soulbound Studios appealed their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The immediate consequence of that is us being forced to eat (what will likely be) another ~$50k +/- in legal fees and, should the appellate court overturn the lower court's decision, uncertainty about our future and our ability to continue developing CoE. That said, we are confident in the Magistrate’s recommendation and the U.S. District Court’s ruling and believe the appellate court will come to the same conclusion.
The second, and more immediate effect the appeal had was causing us to lose our last full-time designer and long-term member of the Soulbound team, Snipehunter. Snipehunter had become a good friend of mine over the years, and he knew the stress I was under to pay his wages as well as pay for the ongoing lawsuit. It was primarily this drive to keep him employed in the face of open-ended costs that motivated me to step away from day-to-day engineering and pursue a more immediate, residual income. So, when the case was appealed, he did me a solid and quit so that I would not be forced to continue supporting him.
I won't lie, Snipehunter's leaving is bittersweet. On the one hand, I lost an ally, a trusted friend, and a colleague to help shoulder the burden of developing KoE/CoE. On the other hand, contractor fees were still the studio's most significant costs, and, as I already mentioned, the main reason I was working to bring in a revenue stream. With our last full-time designer gone, I no longer need to spend my time pursuing outside income to continue to fund the studio. This gives me the ability to re-dedicate my focus entirely to the engineering and design of KoE.
So where does that leave us at the end of 2022? With one full-time engineer/designer (me), a small number of on-demand contractors to work on asset creation as necessary, a design for KoE that is, best guess 75% complete, an engineering for KoE that is around 50% complete, and an upcoming court case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If you stopped reading here, you'd be reasonable in thinking that 2022 was hard on us, and we're in a bad place. But the past doesn't define us - it prepares us.
Up until mid-2016 I handled all of Chronicles of Elyria's design; the technical design, narrative design, world-building, and overall direction. I designed everything from the rate at which characters learned new skills to writing the mythology and mythos of the world. If you learned about CoE through one of my design journals from 2015 through early 2017 then you know what CoE looks like for me.
But, shortly after 2016 began, I moved over to developing our product roadmap, then I began working on the playable demo for PAX East 2016, then it was on to working on our Kickstarter, then it was on to adding Xsolla support to our website, then it was on to hiring a team, and then ... it just kept going. There was no getting around it. While my role was Game Director, and I oversaw and approved most of the design, art, and engineering choices being made, my job was CEO. As such, I found it extraordinarily challenging to do much beyond running the business. All that said, with Soulbound Studios now back to being a studio of one, I once again find myself driving the game's technical design and engineering. I'm optimistic that the transition will be readily apparent.
To achieve this, I have set aside all external work on fundraising and am now focused 100% on the development of KoE/CoE. With me back in engineering, that means new features and functionality are finally being added regularly. That means forward progress toward Alpha 2, and with that, more gameplay videos and updates to the public.
While the quarterly updates were great at reducing the amount of time we had to spend on updates, the prolonged periods of silence have made it seem like no development was happening. That was worsened by the fact that... well, no engineering was happening. With only the design making forward progress, the quarterly updates were notably empty. But, with engineering in full swing again, the forward progress will give us plenty of game design to talk about, and more things to show off in terms of gameplay. So, from now until the launch of KoE, I will be releasing current updates on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. The next update will be Tuesday, February 13th.
And speaking of the next update, my first task having returned to engineering and retaking over the design of KoE has been getting a sense of what is left and what our actual progress is (keep in mind I've been semi-away for the last 6+ months). I began the analysis last week and was hoping to have that ready by the release of this developer blog, but I didn't quite make it. So, the developer blog in February will contain our most transparent look to date at what percentage of design and engineering is complete for KoE, with a feature-by-feature breakdown. Along with that, there will be a developer roadmap of the intended order the remaining work will be completed in.
Having a public roadmap and a breakdown of the work that has been done and the work that is still outstanding is great, but let's be honest, it’s not enough. With Soulbound Studios having fewer human resources, and with 2022 a bust, I need to do more to ensure we are making forward traction on KoE. One of my next tasks after completing the analysis will be looking at what assets, game data, and features we can push out later to ensure we can start the beta test by this Fall and can ship the game by the end of the year.
As a one-man team, it’s going to be difficult to achieve all that was initially planned for the launch of KoE: Settlements. To help reset expectations, I will convert some things into stretch goals rather than strict shipping requirements. This will likely include the number of biomes at launch, some of the planned game mechanics, and some natural resources, patterns, and recipes that were previously planned to be there at the beginning. Nobody likes reading about having to move things from “planned” to “stretch goals,” but it is necessary to be realistic about our current circumstances. I should also state, even things that get moved into stretch goals or do not make it into the initial release of KoE aren't permanent cuts. We will continue to add patches to KoE: Settlements, post-launch, as we make progress toward the KoE: Domains release.
As a final topic before we end this blog post, I wanted to thank all who have been patiently waiting for the second Alpha test for KoE, and with it the opportunity to test and provide feedback on the domain, settlement, and land management mechanics of Chronicles of Elyria. With me returning to engineering, and helming the technical design again, getting to Alpha 2 as soon as possible will be my highest priory. In addition to the design and engineering work on the game, there are a few more things that need to happen before Alpha 2 begins.
First, I have migrated my development environment entirely to Linux and free and open-source tools. This was done both to reduce development costs, as well as to make it easier for me to do the server-side work I have been doing. The side-effect to that is that I now need a Launcher for KoE that works not just on Windows, but on Linux as well. This makes sense since Unity is a cross-platform engine anyway. So, KoE's Alpha 2 will receive a new Launcher and will be available on Linux and Windows.
Second, before unlocking access to the Early Access forums on the website I'll be making some new website updates. Because Alpha 2 is open to a larger audience, I anticipate a growing number of players who will be messaging us to regain access to their accounts. With the limited amount of information we hold on the website, it can sometimes be difficult to authenticate the owner. To address that, the studio is going to be requiring members to provide additional account information to ensure that ownership is clear. And because we will hold more personally identifiable information (encrypted), we will also be integrating two-factor authentication.
Finally, Soulbound Studios will be launching a new KoE Alpha Discord server that uses authentication from the website to grant backers access. This will enable Alpha testers to communicate over Discord once again with each other; in an environment that is closed off to the public.
That's it for this Q4 State of Elyria update. While we ended 2022 in a rut, we are beginning 2023 with a surge of new energy, a return to more frequent updates and forward progress, and a plan for how we are going to get from where we are now, to where we want to be at the end of 2023.
The most important thing I want people to take away from this is that while 2022 sucked, I won't let us be defined by it. It has prepared us for 2023, which is starting strong, and we will be shipping Kingdoms of Elyria: Settlements this year.
Pledged to the Continued Development of the Soulborn Engine and the Chronicles of Elyria,