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Monthly Development Update: March 2012

I spent a few days in San Fransisco at GDC this month, attending talks and panels. The best ones touched on ideas I've had for a while without being able to put words on them, and I felt really inspired when walking out of there.

One thing especially that I will bring with me home to my team was a talk covering tutorials by George Fan, the man behind Plants versus Zombies, who said something like "if you have a mechanic that is really complicated and you fear not being able to teach it to the player in a good way - add it to the vendor. Most players really enjoy reading up on how a mechanic works when they are making a concious decision how to improve their weapons."
This, combined with another quote from one of this years speakers Sid Meier, who said something like "A game is a series of interesting decisions," really pinpoints something we are working towards with the new starting area and systems changes. 

New Global Market Interface
We've felt for a long time now that you should be able to trade to others even if you don't have an organization city, and a few really intense weeks I can proudly present your new global market – a powerful interface that enables you to use the in game browser technology to buy and sell items to other players.

Full feature list:
The items and credits will be delivered to your in game email inbox (please note emails still times out after 2 weeks)
Accessible through terminals in the main cities
Includes Item-search featuring all tradeable items
Cross-dimensional trade system
You can buy existing items directly, or create buy orders with a prefered price
You can sell items directly to an existing buy order, or create sell orders with a prefered price
You can sell and buy more than one of an item at a time
You can sell and buy unique items
A small fee will be deducted when creating a buy or a sell order and a small tax will be deducted from the seller when an item is bought to prevent players from abusing the system
The Portable GMS Terminal and Portable Shop Interface items will still be usable to access the market from anywhere

You don't need an organization to use the market!
You need to be a subscriber to do transactions (Alien Invasion)
Free players can browse the market

We all think that it's really cool with outdoor cities and we may come to re-purpose them, but once we're ready to migrate to a new server we're going to disable the outdoor cities. We are currently determining the best way to reimburse org leaders. However, this is not going to happen suddenly, we will announce it at least a couple of months before and we are not there yet.

The outdoor cities are providing a very nice way to travel for tired explorers that just want to get home and take their sturdy boots off after a long day out in the wild, and we're going to consider new ways to provide this service.

We're getting ready to ship it to Test Live and do some serious testing before we're ready to release it, so don't expect it before May – but it will be included in the next scheduled Live update.

The Engine
The Engine Upgrade Video was released this week, and I am very happy for the feedback and support that we have gotten!

Originally, my scope was only to show it to all of you since you have waited for so long, but looking back I don't regret the decision to reach further, and I hope you can see that we're spending time and effort in making sure that AO gets back on the radar.

Producing this video improved not only the engine itself, but also our human knowledge of how we can work with it to get the best result. I need to leave the team alone so they have time to get some more work done before I can justify making another video, but I will keep you posted once we have made more solid plans.

In March, we successfully rewrote the code that converts our playfields from the old engine to the new engine. Things like ground now display correctly in the internal world building tool, something that is crucial for our artists to be able to add dynamic grass and other neat things. You may have seen in the video that the jobe location didn't include the new grass, and this was why.

We've progressed to a point where it's time to make the new engine work outside of our internal development environment. This is quite a large task that I don't expect to be completed on the first try, nor do I think it will be done before the next newsletter, so I will revisit this to give you an update on the progress next month.

Once we have a version that's compatible with our patching and deployment process we will not automatically be ready to release a beta, but it will allow us to start testing more extensively and integrate the engine into our regular build pipeline.

The New Player Experience
Having finished most of the ground work for the new starting areas, we're moving on to implementing the profession specific bit where you pick a weapon and get all the essentials.

Meanwhile, the artists are building these new areas with the engine upgrade in mind, and we are re-making as much of the old art assets as possible to get a ”free” upgrade in other locations in the world so it's a very efficient use of their time – and it will be supported in both engines.

There have been many questions regarding whether we're going to upgrade the graphical interface and the character creation, and the team feels really strongly that we should do this. 

The character creation shows some of our oldest assets, and with the new heads and bodies in place we will be able to make something that looks much better and feels much more intuitive.

The current GUI leaves much to be desired, however it's built in a very rigid system that doesn't allow for much improvement so we are considering ripping it out completely and rebuilding it, although we've not made any time estimates on when this will happen.

So short answer, for sure!

The Systems Changes
I'm going to start refering to the profession balance as ”systems changes” from now on, because this better indicates what we are doing. While balance is important, I view the it as an effect of our systems changes, and so you'll start seing parts of this in most scheduled updates from now on, and it may take the form of a formula change or a general improvement. Three of these general changes will appear in the next update, that will give us consistency and pave way for more significant changes. 

The first change is that all nano damage, including nukes and some of the perks, will be affected by the Damage Modifier stats. Currently, only the Nano Attack Damage Multiplier stat is affecting nano damage, but with this change nano users will get the same benefit from the Damage Modifiers as weapon users, allowing more options when it comes to gear.

Naturally, a multiplier stat is very difficult for us to control, so we've adjusted a dozen of items that currently uses the this stat to reflect this. The Nano Attack Damage Multiplier stat will still be available on certain items that we feel are special.

We wish this to affect damage over time damage as well, and we're doing some testing internally to see how we best can introduce this.

The second change is that Meta-Phycisist pets and Bureacrat robotic pets will no longer time out, a feature that previously only have been available to engineers! At the same time we are also disabling pets' ability to hunt by themselves, a feature that in it's current state technically borderlines breaking the EULA policy regarding unattended gameplay but more importantly without this feature we can better justify improving the pets themselves.

The third change is that friendly AOE auras will no longer run on people in the vicinity, but instead on everyone in your team and your own pets. With this change you as a caster will control who gets the benefit of your buff and who doesn't, this means you no longer will get accidently flagged by someone random in your vicinity!

"Report a Bug/Exploit" forums
These forums have been very successful, and we've been able to track down and fix some of the stuff that you've reported already!

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who is assisting us in improving AO, and to show our appreciation we're making a couple of unique social items that are intended to be given out as rewards on the Live dimensions!

I also wish to thank our volunteers – the ARK community and the Council of Testers, individuals whom we could not do this without.

The Next Update
In addition to the new trade market, we're releasing a bunch of changes, some available already on the Test Live server, and others coming in the next version. Preliminary patch notes are already available in the Test Live section of the forum.

And Vhab is back! so we will see his graphical character selection screen make it into the game in the next update, and along with this a more streamlined launcher. Release date to be announced (:

Thank you for reading!

Fia ”Lindelu” Tjernberg
Waldgeist edit: German Translation