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Monthly Development Update: January 2012

burmeseburmese Austin, TXPosts: 546Member

Monthly Development Update: January 2012

It's my first time doing something like this so please bare with me! I've done a lot of preparations for this update to give you a fair insight into what we're currently working on, and I can see us sharing some good times ahead.

Graphics Engine

One of the things that we really want to focus on right now, is showing you the progress of our new graphics engine! We feel like it's about damn time, and thanks to Parsed and also Cube we're finally ready to produce our very first video!

Our artists have been preparing a couple of playfields to a standard that is very close to what we're aiming for. The focus features for this video will be showcasing what we feel look fantastic; grass, shadows, skydome, self illumination and, drumroll... godrays! (Water looks pretty neat too, but what do I know I'm not an artist (: )

I'm hoping to produce more videos when more features and areas becomes available, and I'm expecting that this first one will hit you sometime in february!

New Bug Report Forums

Another thing we want to focus on is making sure that we keep the communications line open with you. It's an important part of what makes AO special, and something I definitely want to maintain. To help with this we've gotten a few cool new things up and running. Kintaii has been setting up our new Report a Bug and Report an Exploit forums. Thanks to our amiable volunteers - This is now open and ready to be used!

If you post a new thread in this forum the development team can see it immediately, and only the people handling your report (the development team, quality assurance and bug hunters) will be able to see your post. This will allow you to bring these issues to us in confidence, and that you can help ensure we have direct knowledge of the things that effect you day to day.

We also wanted to make it easier for you to contribute on the test server. So as an extension to this new system, I present to you our new Test Live robot ”Auto” – who can boost your character up to any level free of charge on the Test Live Dimension, so you're ready to help us indentify bugs immediately without having to transfer an existing character. Test live is an essential part of our development process so we want to try and improve the ease with which people can help us out if they want to. I think there has previously been a barrier here, and with this addition we wan't people to just get into the action immediately and have more fun while testing.

Please keep using the ingame petition for any issues that disrupts you while playing. That is still your primary communication channel with the good people in customer service.

Character Heads

I'm very happy about us getting additional Funcom resources to aid us in the production of new Solitus character heads. This is greatly going to speed up our work, and once they have all been polished and approved by Flap and Mstr we will share some of them with you. These Solitus heads are in the last batch of heads we're re-making, and judging by the quality examples we've obtained I think you're going to find them hot! (:

Profession Changes

Many of you have asked me about the balance act, and ideally all of the things we want to improve would come at the same time, but in reality things will have to be prioritized. So right now we are working on approving the suggested changes, making adjustments here and there, and indentifying in which order the changes should be released. Genele is currently buried in piles of documentation, and she is doing a great job leading these meetings and I definitely feel that we can do this, a little bit at a time.

We all want AO to use it's full potential. That's why we are doing this, we want you to understand what all your tools do (yes I'm partly speaking about LE procs), and we want you to be able to use all your tools no matter where you are in the game world. Right now this is not the case because of how several systems are built on top of eachother. Improving this will also allow us as designers to make new fun content more freely.

Server Merge

I've seen a lot of discussion about doing a server merge, and we are infact looking into the possibility of doing this. The server capability now compared to ten years ago is a little more buff, so the hardware can definately handle an increased population. It's too early to give our verdict, but Macrosun is doing his thing and as soon as I know the result I will talk about it more because we feel like this is a natural step that will allow us to have more enjoyable team based content no matter in which time zone you live in.


So, to summarize our vision for 2012; for the next couple of months our combined efforts will strive towards three major goals: shipping the new player experience, the balancing act and the new graphics engine.

These are large tasks that will involve most people in the team at various points, but with good planning we will still be able to release content patches, continue to eradicate bugs and exploits, optimize and improve ao and deal with all the new and creative ways in which fate decides to mess with us.

Finally, as a more long time vision, I'm seing us planning for the next expansion or booster pack once we are done with what we're already working on. It's a little early yet to say when, but it's definitely on our horizon!

In the next newsletter I will amongst other things talk about my thoughts on the new startup experience, the battle station (and pvp in general), and the item shop. I need a chance to roll up my sleeves and get some more work done first.

The Next Game Update

The next patch should be released on the 8th of February.

This includes new fun content for Valentine's Day, created by the designer that brought you the Christmas missions - Michizure, and it will be available until the 27th of February!

By your request: Amesha Vizaresh will be greeting you on the platform leading to The Gauntlet, announcing the countdown timer until next Vizaresh spawn!

Please keep being the wonderfully unique community that you are, and I will do my very best being your advocate.


Fia ”Lindelu” Tjernberg

Ps. Hi Means (:


Game Director, Anarchy Online




  • burmeseburmese Austin, TXPosts: 546Member

    Of perhaps more interest is a post by the new Anarchy Online Producer, Ilaliya, in a wholly unrelated thread:


    In reference to this MMORPG article ('Content Locusts')



    Good article!

    Disclaimer: The below is my philosophical meanderings, so please don't read into it too much when it comes to practical applications in AO.

    First off, I'm not sure it's correct to say that WoW was the first MMO in the genre where the journey didn't matter; where end-game and max level are the game. WoW was probably the first nakedly theme-park park game, or maybe the first to make the explicit admission that the "real" game started when you hit the level cap. I'll explain this below.

    The two MMOs I played immediately before WoW were Shadowbane and Lineage 2. Lineage 2 was a grind, and I never reached endgame - although, I heard it's where all the 'cool' features were and guilds could own castles and whatnot. I stopped playing because it was taking me too long to get there. Shadowbane was fairly quick to level (and in fact we had late night macro parties to reach the level cap), and the end-game which was city sieging and global politics was the entire point of that game. The players all knew that levelling up was pointless a time-sink during which there was nothing to be gained other than a level increase.

    The problem with the MMOs of those days was this: It's not as if one would find Excalibur off a level 20 rat. It's not as if any NPC in the game cared that at level 37 you helped Farmer Bob clean out the skeletons in his basement. In an RPG, which by definition the important thing is how the game perceives and reacts to your character, if the game itself does not assign particular importance to an activity why should the player? Compare to Fallout New Vegas where you could find cool unique weapons all over the place AND Farmer Bob's opinion of you could very easily be relevant 23 levels later (also true in Fallout 2). In fact, in my opinion this is what RPGs do.

    In WoW, the job of the levelling game-play itself is to funnel you to the end-game. This is internally consistent, and really a logical conclusion. And what I mean by "nakedly theme-park" - in that the game is aware of it's own design premise and the limitations of the genre. Not sure if this has changed much, but at the time players generally didn't macro in WoW simply because it wasn't advantageous; the game got you to max level soon enough. There was no conceit that killing 10 ogres over and over in an open world was in itself fun, or that it particularly mattered in the scheme of things. If reaching end-game is a race, at least in WoW it's a race where the fast-track is what the designers intend. The game says "use this lane" and off you go.

    Now this raises some peculiar questions: Why have levels at all? Why not just skip all the boring stuff and have players create a character at end-game or close enough where they play through a several hour single player tutorial and then have at it?

    I think what we are seeing is exactly this: that time-to-reach-level-cap is decreasing with each generation of game. So one answer is clearly "let's not have levelling time, other than what convention dictates" Compare to the old-school answer of "the actual game is the journey, so lets spend time making this content matter."

    Which leads us to our next question. Why does the MMO industry seem to trend towards answer #1?

    Now, allow me to put forth some principles for your consideration:

    1. As game designers, we want to remove barriers of entry to players experiencing the "fun" of the game, whatever that is defined as.

    2. As MMO designers, we want players to have other people to play with (which clearly is not the case if a large percentage just solos or afk macros).

    3. By the same token, we also don't want players logging in and then either waiting a long time and/or logging out because they can't find something to do.

    These principles when taken together, and put in the larger context of the MMO industry, create a unique pressure. Let's examine the issue of grind. I don't think any (western) game designer says You know what? Grind is fun. Lets do that.

    Rather, we are acutely aware that grind is filler. The extent to which it exists is generally symptomatic of an overly-aggressive content goal measured in time (which goes to game longevity) coupled with too little features or too little resources. When you see grind in a game it's often because a philosophical decision was made early on that players should spend X hours in the content. But sometime during production, it becomes clear that resources on the project cannot be applied to fleshing out what the player is doing in those hours due to an ever-raising bar of expectations completely unrelated to the "game" part of the game. And thus, grind is born.

    The fact is that as the MMO genre matures, more developer resources need to be spent on elements of the game not central to the core fun. This could be anything from photo-realistic graphics and all the rendering features that entails (and the constraints this implies for artists and designers creating content); to more sophisticated rigging and animations; to a massive world which needs to maintain performance with high resolution textures and high-poly meshes; to technical features like no loading times, or instancing, or now phasing; to features such as moving platforms or physics; to even things like voice-over or cinematic content. These are things that players increasingly expect from their shiny new next-gen game, but in a budget sense it "steals" resources from the unique game-design specific elements that make a new MMO different and better than all previous MMOs. Or, what I call the "game" part of the game.

    I think what players perceive as a "dumbing down" of MMOs is really just a function of limited resources (in this case, it's money that hires people) which needs to be applied to things which didn't even exist 5 or 10 years ago. For every dollar spent developing volumetric fog and sliders that increase the width of the character's nose is a dollar not spent making a comprehensive open-world system of capturable PvP objectives, destructible terrain, modular auto-generated maps (or pick whatever feature you like here).

    And furthermore, because of the increased complexity of MMOs overall (and what this means for the code-base), the exact same design feature gets more costly every year. All the while, the quality bar gets higher.

    I remember attending a GDC in 2006 (I believe it was 2006) where Raph Koster had a presentation on the exponential increase of MMO costs. He said then, that within 5 years we'll have our first billion-dollar MMO. Everyone in the crowd laughed. Crazy old Raph talking about the unsustainability of MMO development. And yet here we are. And interestingly enough, the extra man-hours you are afforded from a project measured in the tens, or hundreds of millions, or billions, doesn't really get applied to what gamers consider "design features" and "content." It's all the things I talk about above, and then the corporate structure it takes to manage and organize a several-hundred-person team.

    In my own case, even though I had played MUDs in the early 90s, it was UO which got me hooked on MMOs. For about 10 years, for the most part, I exclusively was an MMO gamer. And I find myself now playing single-player RPGs more and more. Why is that? One day I woke up and realized that everything a next-gen MMO does for me, a single player RPG can do better. I don't need phasing and these complicated systems of client-side tricks to give me the illusion of changing the world. In a single player game I can actually change the world, because the entire game is on my machine and the game literally does revolve around my character. Basically, single player RPGs are supremely superior to MMOs at being single player RPGs. And, they can do it much more cheaply.

    In a single player RPG there is no race to end-game (and no pressure to do so). The game has an end and therefore I want to prolong that as long as possible by doing every side-quest and finding every collectible and so forth. I can login and play on my own time and don't have to wait for anybody else. If I find a game-breaking exploit, it's actually counter to my interest to use it because it reduces my own enjoyment.

    In fact, the only thing an MMO does better than a single player RPG is user-generated-content (competitive and cooperative PvP/PvE). Providing situations that can only arise by having sandbox elements that encourage player interaction.

    The main challenge with themeparks is this inherent conflict. If you want players to always log in and have something to do, you increase solo viability; but then run the risk of making a bad single player game with a robust chat lobby. If you want players to avoid a grind by shortening the journey to end-game and thereby increasing the amount of player-interaction (since everyone is playing at endgame), you run the risk of making a MOBA with a short single-player tutorial instead of an RPG. If you want to make an epic story-driven MMORPG with no grind because it's all content, and an endgame with the longevity of a MOBA, you run the risk of absolutely destroying your projected budgets and time-lines and spending a billion dollars.

    Sandboxes have a more straightforward challenge. If predicting player-world interaction is notoriously hard in single player RPGs, predicting player-player interaction is next to impossible in MMOs. It's horribly expensive to develop, and it's very easy fail. At best I think you can make a generic framework with a simple rule-set and clearly defined bounds, and accept the fact that players will do things you never intended. And have fun in ways you never intended. And to be honest, this is largely what designers what to make. I don't think anyone who is an MMO designer at heart would make a game on rails as their dream game. Certainly, nobody I know.

    And then we come full circle to the business of MMOs. Let me say it again: Predicting player-player interaction is next to impossible in MMOs. This sounds great as a player, and this sounds equally delightful as a designer. But this doesn't sound so great of you are looking to make a return on investment with 7 or more zeros and a 5 year development cycle. Because what you want out of your investment with 7 or more zeros is a favourable revenue projection, based on the reality of customer behaviour. And here we have the conflict -- the need for predictable customer behaviour which makes good business sense, and the desire for embracing unpredictable player behaviour which makes for appealing game design. See: Minecraft.

    Now here's the billion dollar question: what does this mean for the industry?

    I think we're seeing a convergence. I think business-wise, MMOs (or, at least persistent online games) actually do make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. They are fairly immune to piracy, ongoing revenue, micro-transactions, etc. There's a lot more financial stability than the single-player-box-sales model, under which a studio is always one failed release away from shutting down. When you ship a single player disc, and you have no regular venue for patching (make players go download something off your site after realizing the game crashes), it's very hard to recover from a shaky launch. MMOs at least give you the tools to do so. So personally, I think we'll see a trend where big-budget games across all genres will more and more start to resemble online themepark games. For better or worse, the industry is already blurring the line between DLC and Booster Packs, what ships on the disc and what you have to unlock. I imagine in the future, more and more single player games will require you to log-in, and everything will have a chat lobby. In the AAA space, a persistent internet connection will become somewhat of an assumption.

    By the same token, I think in the sub-AAA space sandbox games will really thrive. With sophisticated middleware and high-level programming languages, the barrier is constantly lowering for indie developers putting something together with a small team on budget with less than seven zeros. Maybe even less than six zeros. It's a lot easier to take risks when failure doesn't mean closing down studio doors.

    Not to break my disclaimer at the top, but this is why I'm very excited about AO. There is a great freedom in being a smaller player to be ambitious and take risks, and defy expectations by making those ground-breaking features which change the landscape of the genre. I think in the future, it's projects exactly like AO is now which will drive all the innovation which the big AAA games copy a few years later. I'm a designer at heart (I was a designer and design lead for years and years before becoming a producer), and like all designers I want to be on that cutting, forward-looking, creative edge. Truth be told, this is why when the opportunity presented itself I made the move.

    tldr; AO is the future

    Last edited by Ilaliya; Today at 19:42:32..


  • rpgalonrpgalon canilPosts: 430Member

    woah, long read, but it is really nice to know you guys are putting a good effort on AO!

  • deadmanbelldeadmanbell Central Coast California, CAPosts: 69Member Uncommon

    Thanks for the Post gang. I really liked the articale once again I find myself having some kind of hope that Anarchy Online will find some kind of new life. But then I think of the years that I have been waiting for the graphics engine to be done and I am so, so ,so dog tired of hearing that its coming along nicely and that we have some new heads for you to look at.

    I think there is a  small window here for them to get there act together maybe 6 month 8 at the most, get secret world out then put some love back into AO. But beyond that window the game is dead.

    I feel sorry for this gal, her heart seems to be in the right place but she took over a giant mess. It will be a real credit to her if she can bring it back to life. .... I would love nothing more.... I

    IF not put this game to bed and build AO2...Please... I will pay.

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