IMPORTANT NOTE: New Non-Sanctioned Campaigns will kick off today (Thursday, December 20): EU at 2:30 pm CST and US East at 9:30 pm CST. Before the current Campaigns end, players need to take items they want to import into the new Campaign and place them into the Spirit Bank. This includes any weapons or armor that is equipped on your characters, items on your vendors and items stored in local banks. Disciplines that are equipped on your character are safe and will not be lost.
WOW! What a crazy, exciting, amazing week we have had!
As many of you know, this Tuesday (a mere two days ago) we launched our first playable “Campaigns” in Crowfall®. In many ways, this marks a turning point in our project where we finally start to realize the vision that we set out to accomplish.
We actually launched two of these: one in the U.S. (called Kvenlynd) and one in the E.U. (called Annwyn).
For the curious, here is what those Campaigns look like after approximiately 48 hours:
As you can see, these Campaigns are both three faction, allowing ORDER – CHAOS – BALANCE to fight across 10 unique worlds for victory (or defeat!)
Here’s an example of what just one of those worlds looks like, as the Winter approaches and this campaign comes to an end:
WHAT WE LEARNED
We’ve learned a LOT of great information off of these initial campaigns, and we’ll be using that knowledge to make the next round of Campaigns even better. A lot of the learning is technical, relating to server performance and player load, but that’s pretty dry, so let’s focus on the immediate round of changes.
…Oh! But before we talk about the changes, let’s talk about my approach. I’m sure many of you have heard of the halving-and-doubling rule for design. I can’t remember who I got this from (Brian Fargo? Warren Spector? Some designer smarter than me), but basically it says that the quickest way to iterate on balance is to half or double a number and try it to see how it feels. Then half or double the difference and keep doing that until it feels right.
The reason that I bring this up is because I can’t really do that right now because halving-and-doubling is a great way to move quickly when you don’t mind breaking things. Unfortunately, though, much of our team is now scattered for the holidays and, while the balance of the current Campaigns might be far from perfect, the last thing I want to do at this moment is take a game that is mostly playable and make it unplayable over the holiday break.
With all of that said, I’m going to be addressing the issues that we can, but I’m going to be doing it in measured steps. A lot of you will consider this “good, but not good enough” and all I can say is that I know and you’re probably right. I could have gone further. But I have to balance my changes against the risk that I might break something at the exact moment when I don’t have a team around to fix it.
Anyway, now you understand my approach, and just try to remember that – as always – game design is an iterative process. The goal is to get better with every build and to repeat that cycle as many times as possible.
SECOND TEST CAMPAIGN(S)
Thanks to our world building pipeline, which can create new maps procedurally, I actually have a new map ready to go – BUT, before we fire it up, I want to try out a few other changes in a more controlled environment. So, we’re going to make a few changes to the current map and try that for another pair of short-term campaigns (~2 days) to see how they feel and then follow that with a slightly longer Campaign (~5 days) with a unique, larger map and then another round of changes based on what we learn over the next 48 hours.
Here are some of the things that we’re going to tweak next:
Scarcity of Resources
The first thing we are going to address is the scarcity of resources. Two notable changes here:
- Adding more resources overall. I can increase this some, but I can’t go crazy because (as noted above) I don’t want to add too much risk in terms of playability or server performance. Expect to see a modest increase in the number of resources.
- Balance of resources. On this one, we took a more aggressive approach. Recognizing that most players want to create weapons and armor – and that the scarcity of ore can be a huge bottleneck to this desire – we changed the balance of resources to increase ore spawners by roughly 3x and to accommodate that we decreased stone and wood to about 50%.
This MAY make the world look a bit odd, and it MAY put too much rarity on stone and wood, but that’s what testing is for. This issue seemed important enough that it was worth taking a bit more risk on the playability front, in my opinion.
Victory Point Scoring
I also think our point scoring is leaning a bit too heavily on Outposts, which can be flipped at any time with a relatively small number of players. I was tempted to cut the number of Outposts in half, but I was concerned about the impact this might have on the overall score, and since it is likely that we will see a surge in peak concurrency over the break (we are seeing that already), I didn’t know how it would feel with 2x or 3x the current population. So, I went with a smaller shift and removed about 20% of the Outposts from the map. This is one that I’m going to watch closely over the next 48 hours and, assuming that nothing goes awry, we may take the number down again.
Point Disparity and Uncle Bob
Lastly, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the changes that we are going to need to support our first Sanctioned Campaigns (the official tournament campaigns that we’re going to run in January). I think the biggest challenge we’ve got is to make sure the point scoring doesn’t fall into a slippery slope situation that makes the latter end of the game unplayable.
For the curious, slippery slope is a term that I picked up from my colleague David Sirlin, and you can read about it here.
The slippery slope issue is the problem that I set out to solve with Crowfall, as (beautifully) dramatically re-enacted by my friends and family in our Kickstarter video. (Interesting side note: Thomas Blair, Crowfall’s design director, plays the role of Uncle Bob in that video… the player who wins the game too early, with everyone quitting as a result.)
I have some ideas to resolve this issue, and we should be able to get some of those in by the time we get to our first Sanctioned Campaigns. For now, though, I’m going to keep the campaigns short (two to five days, I think) so that the battles will hopefully be over before too much slippery slope sets in.
Imports and Exports
Crafty players on the U.S. server jumped into the E.U. server a few hours before the North America campaign officially started and used Import tokens to bring in resources for an early start on everyone else. Smart play, but I want to avoid that next time so we’re going to set the next round of Campaigns to No Import.
To see how level impacts slippery slope, however, we will allow you to bring in pre-existing characters from prior Campaigns, and we won’t be wiping passive skill training. When we look at the next round of campaigns, with a unique map and another round of changes, we’ll revisit this and let you know what will (and won’t) carry forward.
As I noted above, this phase of testing marks a HUGE turn for Crowfall. I am incredibly excited to see the vision starting to be realized, and I’m equally excited to see the positive response we are seeing from the community.
We set out to build something absolutely different, a bold and unique vision of a virtual world like no other. This week we came that much closer, and you can start to see that world materialize.
THANK YOU for making this possible. Thank you for believing in us.
As always, I will see you in game.
J. Todd Coleman
Co-Founder/Chief Creative Officer, ArtCraft Entertainment