Kingdoms, Chronicles, and Mud
Welcome to the Chronicles of Elyria Weekly Update for the week of June 20th! We've got tons of great information to share, as well as a few things to show off. But, before we get to the good stuff there are a few things we need to discuss with respect to our Kickstarter. First, it was a huge relief this week when we checked our bank account and saw that the money had finally been transferred from Kickstarter to us. Again, and likely not for the last time, thanks to all of those who showed their support during the Kickstarter and pledged to make Chronicles of Elyria possible. The remainder of the month and into July, we'll be working to get our job postings listed so we can recruit the talent we need to get us to Alpha.
That said, having the money in our hands also means that Kickstarter is no longer involved. While Kickstarter ensures people know that no charge will happen unless a funding goal is met and then holds the money for a full three weeks from the date the Kickstarter closes, there have already been a few people come to us and say "we backed you over a month ago, we got the daily emails during the KS and the weekly ones afterwards, we saw we had a 14-day period after the KS in which to go to Kickstarter for a refund, but now we're asking you for a refund."
This is an uncomfortable position for us to be in. On one hand, we don't want anyone backing the game that didn't want to. We certainly want everyone to feel like they're getting their money's worth. On the other hand, there comes a point in time where "what's done is done."
As it stands now, from the money pledged during Kickstarter, the payment processing system and Kickstarter have already taken their cuts. Add to that, with each copy of the game purchased during the Kickstarter counting as a pre-order with respect to our various licensing agreements, it means we now owe additional money to some of our partners for each copy that was sold during the Kickstarter. So even if we wanted to provide people with a full refund, we couldn't. Attempting to refund the full amount now would come at a loss to us.
So we're right now working with people on a case-by-case basis to make sure refund requests are resolved to everyone's satisfaction. That said, we will be, along with our online store, posting a very clear refund policy.
Ok. The heavy stuff is over. Let's get on with the good stuff!
Prologue: The Awakening: In the June 10th update we talked briefly about "Prologue: The Awakening", but didn't talk much about what it was. So in this update, I wanted to talk a bit more about what it is and what purpose it serves. We'll also talk a bit more about other milestones we've set for ourselves, along the same lines as the Prologue.
To begin with, Prologue: The Awakening is an offline, single-player experience that is designed to act as a hands-on test of some of our most important client feature areas. It ties in closely with our "Rope Bridge" philosophy of development as it's a first opportunity to get feedback from players, even before the Alpha 1 (Pre-Alpha) release of our game client and server. Over the last couple weeks we've been defining the feature areas which will be touched during the Prologue, and currently have a set of 22 feature areas which players will get some exposure to. These include (but are not limited to):
- the UI system
- characters & character creation
- inventory & equipment
- world interaction
- survival & resting
- skills and crafting
- NPC interaction & AI
- crime & punishment
As you can see, some of these are systems we've already shown off in videos. That is, of course, not at all by accident. Since we've known from the beginning that we would have an offline, testable version of the client at an early stage, the things we've been working on thus far have almost exclusively been systems that will be testable during the Prologue.
It's also important to call out that the Prologue serves a dual purpose. While it will initially be "pre-alpha" quality and as such be released to our Alpha 1 backers and high influencers only, it also serves as an introduction to the world and the story. In fact, the events of the Prologue are quite significant and take place approximately five Elyrian years before the start of Exposition. As a result, at some point before Exposition we will make the Prologue available for all backers to play.
Kingdoms of Elyria: While the Prologue is the first opportunity players will have to experience the world of Elyria, it may not be the first opportunity players have to impact it. We've got about 18 months left of development and during that time we want players to remain connected to the world. Idle hands and all... In addition, one of the biggest challenges MMOs face is creating a connection between the players and the history of the world. Oftentimes, games solve this by scattering books and lore throughout the world for players to read. While that's great at communicating to players the history of the world, it still doesn't connect them to it.
While it shouldn't come as a surprise, with Chronicles of Elyria we wanted to do something a bit different. So, sometime after v3.0 of the website we'll be releasing a web-based portal that will allow players to play the Dance of Dynasties. While we haven't set the full feature set yet, what we do know is it'll enable players to form and change alliances, declare wars, fight for shared resources, and even invest in research.
And here's the coolest thing about it all: Kingdoms of Elyria will begin approximately 90 Elyrian years before the Exposition. The actions that take place during Kingdoms of Elyria will quite literally be writing the recent history of the servers. As you can imagine, Kingdoms of Elyria will come after selection of Kingdoms, Duchies, Counties, and settlements, as well as selection of custom family names. The aristocracy and nobility that participate in the Kingdoms of Elyria game will be playing as their noble houses, 2-3 generations before the birth of their first character in Chronicles of Elyria. To protect the identity of the players, the KoE game will be entirely "in-character", with no visible indication of which player corresponds to which noble houses, etc.
So, right about now you're probably thinking to yourself, this all sounds great, but won't this extend the timeline and make it take longer until Chronicles of Elyria is complete? The answer is no. The reason that is, is because aside from the web front-end, the work going toward Kingdoms of Elyria is work that needs to be done for Chronicles of Elyria anyways. Much like the Prologue is an opportunity for us to test the game client, Kingdoms of Elyria is an opportunity for us to test some of the back-end databases, political systems, and other game mechanics.
Finally, you might have noticed that Kingdoms of Elyria is intended for the nobility and aristocracy. But what about the gentry or other players in Exposition who want to participate in the game and testing? Read on.
ElyriaMUD: That's right. You read that correctly. We've been talking with Improbable on ways in which we can expose the back-end mechanics of the game for early testing in the form of a text-based role-playing game. The idea is that by granting players an opportunity to get into the game in a strictly textual format, we can exercise and stress some of the server-side game mechanics even before pre-alpha. Again, aside from the MUD interface and the time spent on building out some of the textual elements of the world, all the mechanics are things we’re developing and testing anyways.
What does this mean for the players? It means that upon launch of ElyriaMUD, players will be able to create characters and walk around in the world, role-playing and interacting with their fellow players while helping us test the game mechanics. And to keep life super exciting, events that happen in Kingdoms of Elyria will be mirrored in ElyriaMUD and vice-versa! If a Kingdom in KoE declares war on your kingdom, you can be sure the NPCs in ElyriaMUD will be talking about it. And if you happen to kill a noble while in ElyriaMUD, it’ll be reflected in the dance of dynasties!
Those players wanting to begin building their guilds, forming in-game relationships, and staying connected to the world throughout the development process need look no further than Kingdoms of Elyria and ElyriaMUD.
Design / User Experience
Ok. Enough with the talk of text-based games. Let's get to some pictures! As I mentioned in previous updates, right now each of the teams are working to move existing systems which were currently "rope bridges" to something more stable and robust. At the same time, we hired a game / user experience designer this spring which many of the community members known as "Death." Yes, that's actually his alias on the website.
Death is currently going back over some of the designs of the game which are more heavily impacted by user interface and user experience and is working to make them better. One of the first experiences players will have in the game is character creation, which includes family selection.
If you saw some of our earlier screenshots on Family Selection you know we had a clunky filter system that was filled with drop-down boxes, checkboxes, etc. After a conversation, Death and I agreed that for being the most immersive world to date, and the first to offer a real family, that's a horrible first experience.
So instead, he's working to change the family selection to be more "wizard-like." In the new system, players will tell the story of their character's early childhood, and in doing so, the game will match their story against the best-fit family or let players know no such family exists. Here are some comps Death has been working on which demonstrates his plan for the new Character Selection / Family Selection system. Remember, these are just comps and are still subject to change. That said, they do reflect the new direction of family selection / character creation.
Since we've been having so much fun looking at pictures, let's look at a few more. We haven't shown much of what the character artists have been working on lately, so let's focus on that this update.
Over the last couple weeks, one of the character artists has been re-visiting our layer and equipment system. The idea is that there are multiple layers of body and leg equipment. This includes a clothing layer, jacket layer, and armor layer for the top, and a pant and armor layer for the bottom.
While that sounds great, it brings with it two important complexities. The first complexity is overdrawing and clipping, and the second complexity is transparency.
What that ultimately means is, if we draw a jacket over top of an undershirt (or armor over a leather jacket), we need to make sure there are no shirt-bits poking through the jacket. Nothing makes the world seem less real than equipment and clothing on the character cutting through each other.
At the same time, if we want to put a jacket on that has elements that can be seen through, such as lace-up drawstrings, we need to make sure the shirt underneath it is still visible. At the same time, the layer underneath the jacket can change as well. It could be a sleeveless shirt, a short-sleeve shirt, or even a long-sleeve shirt. Each type of shirt changes what would need to be hidden or shown by the layer above it.
In the end, we've come up with engineering solutions that enable us to do what we want to do, but it requires the character artists to construct equipment in very specific ways. Among those, each style of clothing is created as a full piece of clothing and then is cut up to support the various combinations it can be combined with to create a final outfit.
Here's an early render which shows a wireframe version of a character split into the different sections necessary to support the different formats and lengths of clothing that can be worn on the base layer. Or put differently, this shows the parts of the figure that could be hidden or visible depending on the equipment worn. To re-iterate, these systems are currently undergoing revision and are subject to change.
In this render, we've got a couple different equipment pieces worn over top of each other. There are pieces with different shoulder lengths, different boot lengths, etc. Please note, layers underneath aren't hidden in this picture. It's designed to show how different length equipment would lie against the body.
Finally, this render is designed to show what kind of flexibility the system brings to the game. Here we've got a single "style" of shirt. But as a result of the cutting we do when introducing new clothing styles, it's possible to have the same shirt crafted with different sleeve lengths, different collar types, and as indicated by the patterns, even with different material types.
Each section of the shirt could be individually colored before being cut and combined with the rest of the shirt, and within certain constraints, each section could be made of different materials or fabrics. You could mix cotton with a brocade fabric in order to have some sections of your clothing patterned while other sections are not. And while not visible, crafting finished pieces is asymmetric. You could have a long cotton sleeve on the left-hand side of your leather jacket, with a short-sleeve, or even no sleeve on the right.
The main takeaway from this update is that development is steadily moving forward. Systems that will be part of the Prologue but were previously put together as proofs of concept or “rope bridges” are now being polished and cleaned up in preparation for the offline demo.
Likewise, we continue to iterate to bring players the best, most immersive experience possible. And finally, pre-Alpha (alpha 1) will not be the first opportunity players have to experience or impact Elyria. With Kingdoms of Elyria and ElyriaMUD, Alpha 2+ backers and then perhaps more will have an opportunity to write the history of Elyria almost 100 years before, and leading up to, the beginning of the official game.
That’s all for this week. Also, as next week is the 4th of July weekend we’ll be taking the week off from updates. Look for our next Update the weekend of July 9th and 10th.