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Friday, July 18, 2014

Camelot Unchained BSC Days in Review

2 comments
Well, what a week! If you've followed the various reveals in the Camelot Unchained BSC (Bat Shit Crazy) Days you'll know what I mean. I thought the week overall was a great success. We got to know the team at City State Entertainment much better, the presentations were a lot of fun, and we got to see why CU might just be the most innovative MMO for years.

First of all a quick recap on some of the reasons I backed CU during the original Kickstarter. A good deal of the reason was the 15 foundational principles and the 11 promises they made to their backers. If all they were doing was creating a Dark Age of Camelot 2, with the tri-realm PvP and realm pride that game had it would have been enough. Tie it into a voxel-based, minecraft-style building system where players and guilds can build their own homes, taverns, towns and cities, and then fight over them, and then add the unique crafting economy... well I was pretty much sold.


They seemed to be doing a lot of things right, and a lot of the things I've written about before. Player-based economies, sandbox game play, mechanics to drive communities, horizontal progression, and the like.

It also helped that I was a big fan of the lore of Dark Age of Camelot, and the new lore they revealed during the Kickstarter campaign felt even better. I loved the idea of the Veilstorms that might crop up where huge battles and release of magic, changing the world as they raged. I loved the idea of trading settlements instead of auction houses. I loved that they were building an MMO engine from scratch in order to deliver battles containing hundreds of players with no graphics lag and high framerates.

Well, what we saw this week has gotten me both infinitely more excited and also a little worried too. The systems they are putting in place are so innovative and off the wall they they really could change the MMO game space and move things forward. They are also crazy enough that there is plenty of risk involved, but CSE made that plain right from the start of the Kickstarter.

This week was intended as a series of presentations to the game's backers of the detailed game systems that will be used. The systems are subject to changes depending on the discussions in the backer forums and the results of internal and alpha testing.

Here's a brief run-down on the major reveals of the week, along with my thoughts on each.

The Stats System

The stats system for the game forms the basis for all character abilities and progression. It is a complex system that will allow players to create gimped characters, but the developers are giving out all of the information players will need to ensure they can create the characters they want.

The game won't utilise a typical experience system, but rather stats will be improved by player actions that are tied into those stats. Want to improve your strength? Then go and do things that require strength. It's a usage-based system.

There will be three classes of stats, and no hard caps. Soft caps will ensure that your stats will always improve, though more slowly the higher they get.
  • Primary stats - can be raised or lowered during character creation, and can increase (or even decrease) through use. e.g. Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Will
  • Secondary stats - do not change after character creation, and are not increased through use. e.g. Mass, Hearing
  • Derived stats - based on primary and secondary stats, and can change. e.g. Vision, Health, Stamina, Encumbrance, Panic Rating
The stats themselves do not give bonuses to skills (such as +damage) but rather open up new skills and skill tiers, acting as a gating mechanic. This means more experienced characters have more options and abilities, but are not necessarily that much stronger.

Whilst classes have access to all stats, different stats will be more important for different classes.

Unlike almost all other MMOs items and equipment will not give any stat bonuses. Again, the stats are a gating mechanic, so to use the best sword you might need a certain level of Strength. This should reduce gear grinding and make things much easier to balance.

CSE's summary:
  • The stat system for Camelot Unchained is a nod in the direction of old school PnP games as well as to some early MMORPGs
    • Player’s actions are directly tied to gains in their stats. Swinging a heavy sword will increase your strength
  • The large number of statistics allows players great control over their character
    • Players who like to min/max will enjoy this system
  • During character creation, players will be given points to allocate to their stats
    • Players will have meaningful choices to make, as some stats are “locked” at creation and can’t be changed afterward
  • No stat bonuses to items is a major divergence from current generation of MMORPGs, where this is the “accepted” way of doing things
    • Instead, crafters will be given greater control over almost every aspect of item creation
    • Balancing stat bonuses on items has been a long-term issue for any successful MMORPG
I like the horizontal progression that this system will bring, and that players can pick areas to specialise in by stat allocation and practice. I also like the removal of stat bonuses from items, which in most other MMOs renders equipment useless once new tiers are opened and make it impossible for younger characters to compete.

To be honest this system does not seem that BSC. It reminds me a lot of some old pen and paper systems, and it has been tried in a few games before. I like that it ties certain characteristics into a system that players can understand too, such as why some players can see further, carry more, be harder to knock back, etc. The biggest risk as far as I can see is that it will require grinding to increase skills (repeating the same thing over and over), but CSE addressed this issue directly, saying it will not be possible to do this. Tied in with the truly BSC progression system detailed below my fears of ability grinding have been somewhat assuaged.

Check the video below for the full explanation of the system.



The Magic System

Here is where things do start to get a little crazy. Each magic user in the game will have a spellbook (shades of EQ?) into which they inscribe their spells. The spellbook will act like a journal, tracking successful spells, failures, charges, usage etc. Spells in a book ca be shown to other players and shared, and the books might even level up with the players and even become sentient!

That isn't the crazy part. The crazy part is that players will not just be handed spells - they will create their own. A rune will be used to create the core spell, then more runes added to change the basic effect of the spell. Different runes will react with each other differently. The final effect of a spell will depend on the type and strength of the runes used to create it. Other components and infusions can also be added to change the final spell's effect even further.

It's going to be fun seeing what unexpected effects players come up with by experimenting and combining different runes to make their own spells.

Spells will be able to be cast from spellbooks where they have been pre-created, or they can be built live during combat if the mage has the right components to hand. In this case it will be possible to "hold" the spell for a brief period before firing it.

Casting too many spells in one area could cause a Veilstorm, which can have an environmental effect on the outcome of a spell as the strange forces of the Veil rage. Other things that can effect spells include the time of day, season, phases of the moon, weather, and so on. I can imagine a guild waiting to make their assault on a keep until the dark of a winter's moon so that their spells are at their most powerful for example.

Even that isn't the really crazy part. CSE have come up with the A.I.R. system for magic spells (Action - Interaction - Reaction). The basis of this system is that spells are actual persistent items in the world when they are cast. A fireball for example, actually exists in the game world , and it can react with anything that crosses it's path as it actually travels to the target.

Someone could leap in it's way, sacrificing themselves to save the intended target. Someone could shoot a frost ball at it to cancel it's effects.

The effects of a spell will change depending on what it interacts with. CSE gave the example of an ice wall being used to defend the gate of a keep. The enemy team could shoot a fireball at it - the fireball would react with the ice wall and create a cloud of scalding steam - or the defending mages could continue to heal and strengthen the ice wall. If the ice wall is turned to steam by the fireball the defenders could use a wind spell to blow the scalding steam back over the attackers, damaging them.

All this means that the magic system will effect the field of combat in strategic and changing ways. Skilled teams will be able to react to these changes and turn the tide of battle, combining their spells. The effect of a spell interaction will also depend on whether the spell was cast by a friend or an enemy. Use a wind spell on an enemy fireball and it might deflect it. Use a wind spell on a friend's fireball and it will increase it's speed and damage.

CSE's summary:
  • The magic system of Camelot Unchained is unique to the world of MMORPGs, not in its core concept but rather, in the expression of that concept
    • Degree of customisation of spells unmatched in MMORPGs
    • Interaction of spells on the battlefield take RvR to the next level
    • Use and growth of spellbook adds level of immersion and customisation
  • Geared to players who want to have more control over their characters, and are willing to spend time experimenting with spells and combinations
  • Requires players to spend more time talking, reacting, and working as a team during sieges, not just mashing buttons as fast as they can
    • A.I.R. system is not only fun, but adds more immersion to the world, while increasing player cooperation and Realm bonding
The video below explains the whole system in more detail.



The Combat System

CSE have come up with another innovative system for their combat, and has been designed to be challenging and reliant on strategy and tactics. Here's the crazy part; characters don't just get given combat abilities, they create their own.

Each combat ability will be build up as the player likes from basic components. Primary components determine the object that the player wants to use (e.g. a sword or bow). Secondary components define how the object will be used (e.g. slash, fire, sweep). Modifiers are optional add-ons to the ability that change the effect (e.g. add range, add area, target a specific body part). Finally modal components change the nature of the ability (e.g. offensive or defensive). Each ability's power will be limited by a value rating, and each additional component will cost a certain number of value points.

Created abilities can then be improved through use and practice. Different classes will have access to different components, ensuring clear diversity between the classes and realms.

The system goes further. Armour protects only the part of the body that it covers, and attacks will hit different parts of the body, each of which has it's own health value. This seems like a real throwback to some early pen and paper games (Warhammer Fantasy RP anyone?). Hit someones legs to slow them, or their arms to reduce the speed of their weapon swings for example.

Projectiles are currently individually tracked in game, meaning, like spells, arrows can be intercepted. Successful defence can result in counter-attacks, and abilities can be interrupted. There will be no global cooldown, though individual abilities may have individual cooldown timers.

CSE's summary:
  • The combat system of Camelot Unchained is one of the most unique systems in any MMORPG to date
  • Players literally craft all their own abilities: nothing except the core components of an ability are premade. Epitome of “choices matter”
  • Four different categories of components, many with their own customization, yields huge number of possible combinations
  • Players can create abilities to match their preferred playstyle, not just play the classes that we create for them
  • System supports hard interrupts, positionals, reactionaries, and other staples of hard-core combat systems
The system is explained in detail in the embedded video below.



The Progression System

Now things start to get really crazy.

No experience bar. No levels. No reward for every action (you don't kill something and see your experience progress a little). No experience for killing NPCs. No PvE quests. Once more CSE have gone back to old pen and paper games for their inspiration. As detailed in the Stats system above abilities are improved through use, and improving them opens up new ability components.

Instead of receiving experience after each action however, CSE said the system is like old pen and paper games, where you would only receive your experience after the night's adventure. Once per day each player will receive a report detailing what they accomplished during the day and what rewards they have been given in terms of improvements to stats, skills and abilities. Everything they have done that day is detailed, such as defending, killing, mining, building, crafting, destroying, and more.

As part of the daily report the realm's King may bestow treasure, honours, medals etc. Not only that but the report will detail the latest Realm News, i.e. what your realm achieved during the day, in terms of activity and achievements.  Individual characters may be recognised and praised by the King for their deeds.

Only the aggregate rewards will be detailed, not the rewards for individual actions.

CSE said that this system will have several benefits. It will make it easier to clamp down on exploits (such as Keep Trading) as rewards are not given immediately. It will also remove the focus off personal gain and watching the experience bar, freeing players to go and do what they want instead of worrying about how they are going to obtain that last bit of xp required to level. It will also encourage realm pride, and allow everything the player does to help the realm and everyone in it as a whole.

CSE's summary:
  • CSE’s experience point and progression systems are unique among MMORPGs and most, if not all, computer RPGs
  • By tying players’ actions directly to their progression in stats, abilities, etc., we add fun and increase immersion
  • The aggregation of data over 24 hours allows a very realistic snapshot of what occurred over that period, and advanced data mining brings scaling rewards based on that data
  • The progression system rewards players for playing the game as it was intended (no cross-realm Keep Trading), and rewards based not only on individual actions but those of the Realm
Whilst I love the overall idea behind this progression system I do have a couple of concerns. First of all it is so different to any other MMO progression system out there that I fear it may put some people off, specifically those players who like to see an immediate reward for their actions. Secondly, CSE stated that the compilation of the daily reports and realm news may require the servers to be taken offline each day. If this is any more than a few minutes I can see it causing issues and exploits. Let's hope they can deliver this system without having to resort to server shutdowns.

Check the video below for details and more examples of the system.



The RvR Map System

The madness continues! This is perhaps the most important system of all, as it effects the world we will play in, where we fight our enemies, build our homes and towns, etc.

The basic map sees the lands of the One True City of Camelot surrounded by the lands of the three realms of the game (Arthurians, Vikings and Tuatha Dé Danann). Each realm will have a home city and small area that is safe from enemy attack. Here it starts to get difficult to explain...

The game is called Camelot Unchained because the recent tearing of the Veil and breaking of the world has literally torn the lands of Camelot apart into islands of various sizes. These islands can be drawn together and fitted back, like a giant puzzle, by the actions of the realms and the setting up of magical Veil stabilisers.

This means that the realms have an overall aim, to increase their own lands, obtaining resources. It becomes a land grab PvP game. Gaining control of the islands has several benefits. First of all the islands are drawn together, reducing travel time, and their resources are more easily available. Space for development and building of mines, housing and towns becomes available. The island will begin to take on the appearance of the realm to which they belong.


The map and the game world therefore become dynamic and change depending on how the RvR war is progressing. Veilstorms can also change the layout of the lands.

CSE's summary:
  • The RvR map mechanics are still at an early stage of development
  • The map is made up of puzzle pieces that can change over time
  • Players need to claim ownership over pieces of the land
  • Players need to place stabilizers on the land to speed up claim
  • Realms benefit from the amount of land claimed by players
  • Land that is stabilized will move closer to other land that is owned by the Realm, and try to reassemble itself
It's a difficult concept to explain in writing. The video below does a much better job!



The Crafting and Economy System

Out of all the systems revealed by CSE this week I think this is the craziest. It's the system that I still have the most difficulty getting my head around. Let's have a go at explaining it.

Crafters are a specific class in the game. Despite that all characters will have access to some "popcorn" crafting skills, allowing them to make minor repairs to armour, gather some resources, mine in low level mines, or fletch basic arrows for example.

Crafters themselves will need resources to make items. They will make their items using a Vox Magus, a magical instrument that looks like a pipe organ! The Vox Magus will create music and light shows depending on what is being crafted, almost make crafting into a performance that others can watch and enjoy. Guilds can own multi-crafter Vox Magus stations allowing several crafters to work together on items.


Crafters will be able to control all aspects of items that they make, building them up from components much as spells and combat abilities are created. They will be able to draw blueprints for these items so that others can also make them, and mark items they have created. Additionally crafters will be able to infuse the items they make with parts of their own (or captured enemy) souls, to make very powerful items. Someone using a soul-crafted item in battle will be highlighted to the player whose soul shard was used. Imagine fighting a siege and seeing an enemy wielding a sword that contains some of your soul taken from a shard dropped when you were defeated once. You could actually go and get it back!

Equipment will not drop from NPCs in the game at all. Everything that the players use will be made by crafters (other than very basic stuff which may be available in the cities). There will be no auction houses, but crafters will be able to set up shops in the city or in claimed territory.

CSE's summary:
  • The crafting system of Camelot Unchained will cater to both hard-core and casual crafters
  • The Vox Magus takes the familiar MMORPG concept of a forge to an entirely different level
  • The use of souls in crafted items, while not a unique twist, is being done in an original manner that will allow master craftsmen to make very rare and powerful items
    • This will allow crafters to charge premium prices for these items, and rarely will two of these items be the same
The crafting system is far deeper than the above explains. Have a look at the video below for more information.



It wasn't just basic gameplay mechanics and systems that were revealed this week by CSE. There was also information on some of the basic game engine systems that once again were innovative and a little crazy, but could really improve the way MMOs are built in the future.

The UI System

For the first time the entire UI code for an MMO will be made open source and available to anyone to use under a Mozilla Public License. CSE even provided a link to the current code.

The UI uses Chromium, meaning it is web-based. Written in TypeScript (a sort of Javascript compiler) it will allow anyone capable of programming in HTML5 or Javascript to create and distribute their own UIs. The web based system also means that game UI information will also be available outside of the game, making it possible to chat to your guild via an IRC client or integrate guild rosters with a webpage.

CSE's summary:
  • CSE took the first step in making the MMORPG’s U.I. open-source by a decision to build the U.I. out of Chromium
  • Now we are taking it to the next level by placing our U.I. code on GitHub and inviting people to work with it
  • U.I. codebase also includes jQuery and underscore.js, and is written in TypeScript
  • For discussion with your fellow intrepid modders and hackers, hang out in our backer forums at: http://citystate.vanillaforums.com/categories/ui-modding-hacking
  • Camelot Unchained’s chat system utilizes XMPP, and has been in testing for months with our Internal Testers
    • We will soon open chat system to all Backers
    • Chat can be accessed through compatible XMPP apps and programs: Backers who are out-of-the-game can talk to players who are in game and visa-versa
      • No cross-realm chat will be allowed at launch

The Patching System

A small but important presentation made by the CSE team this week detailed a new patching system that will allow the game to be patched, live, without any downtime. Bugs and patches will be able to be deployed much more quickly than is traditional for an MMO, with greatly reduced downtime. Have a look at the video below for details and some demonstrations.



The Physics System

This presentation, whilst not the most BSC of the week, and much more technical based, is probably the one that got me most excited about the direction of the game. This explains the whole reason why the team is building an MMO engine from scratch that can handle hundreds of characters on screen and deal with the emergent gameplay that the physics engine will bring.

Not only that, the engine they are building mean that it will be impossible for client hackers to cheat. No more speed cheats, clipping exploits, and the like.

It's hard not to get enthused when watching the passion and enjoyment of the developers in this video, and it's hard to watch this and not think Andrew Meggs is some kind of genius. Have a look.



Gameplay Demo

At the end of every day of the BSC week CSE showed a stream of the game engine running. What we saw was 200 characters fighting on screen at rock solid 60 frames per second, along with particle effects, huge draw distances and a full day/night cycle.

At the end of the week CSE opened up the test client to all alpha testers for one day. As there is an NDA I can't really say whether I played the game or not, or what I might have thought had I done so. I'll just say the whole experience left me very impressed.


My Thoughts

I've never really seen a developer do anything like the BSC Days before outside of a fan convention. It felt like a convention for backers, with all the social commentary, feedback, reveals and socialising you would normally get, except it was open to everyone.

Right from the early days of the Kickstarter CSE were clear that they were going to create a niche game that would take risks and do things differently. Their very first foundational principle discussed this very thing. Boy, did they deliver.

CSE have really thought outside the box with their approaches to basic game systems like progression, combat, magic and crafting. It's exciting to see, and if they can deliver the game is going to turn out to be something truly special. They have also taken the same approach to the fundamental mechanical systems underlying the game, such as building their own engine, the physics system, ui, and patching systems.

I do have a few worries. Some of the ideas are so crazy that I can see them turning people away or simply not working in practice. Certainly this game will not appeal to everyone. I do have some specific worries about some of the systems, like the potential ability grind or the realm notes downtime.

However I have never seen a development team so eager and happy to admit mistakes, discuss core features and decisions with their followers and react to changing situations. Having followed them on the founders forums for some time now I can say that I find their honesty and openness very refreshing.

In Andrew Meggs and the rest of the team they seem to have passionate and smart people trying to make all of this happen. I hope they can, because if they do Camelot Unchained could change the way modern MMOs are designed. The crazy ideas and determination to do things differently and better make following Camelot Unchained very exciting.

2 comments:

  1. wow.. amazing recap and sorry I didn't see it earlier.Was thinking about douing something like this myself but the work involved lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, thanks Eri :)
      It did take an age to write but it is so nice to be excited about an upcoming MMO again. It's been a while!

      Delete

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