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Oops, we moved the Project: Gorgon dev blog a few months back, and forgot to update this one!

The Project: Gorgon dev blog has moved to here: https://forum.projectgorgon.com/blog.php

 

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[Edit: Citan has usually done these blog posts, but today we have a different author: srand.]

We have a lot of new people trying out Project: Gorgon these days, getting involved with the game and the community, reporting bugs and giving us feedback.

That is amazing and wonderful! We love you, and we are very glad you are here.

But PG isn’t quite the sort of game you may be used to - and I’m not just talking about Rita and Blanche here. We are a weird little team building a weird little game in the best way we know how, but it’s ... did I say weird already? Let’s go with ‘different’... and that can lead to some confusion for new testers.

So, just to make sure we are all on the same page, I wanted to give you all some more context.

 

“Alpha”

First, let’s talk about alpha. PG is in an alpha stage of development because we are still very actively writing and re-writing the underlying game systems. Big, big changes!

But in some ways, PG is far ahead of a normal alpha game. Alpha for many MMOs involves ‘Friends & Family’ only. It can mean that the server is only up on weekends for organized stress tests. It usually means a lot of client and server crashes. It may involve character wipes on a regular basis.

PG, on the other hand, is open to the public. The server is up 24/7 and relatively stable. We do have client crashes, of course, but relatively few for an alpha. And we are definitely not wiping characters.

So are we just calling it alpha? Is it really a beta in disguise, just to make us look better? And honestly, that confusion is natural.

But we call this stage of development alpha for very specific reasons. Here’s how we see things:

Alpha: Major, major things can change. All your equipment may go Legacy and need to be replaced. Skills may be merged; skills may be split up into multiple parts; skills may even be abandoned if they aren’t any fun.

Content is patchy - too many dungeons in one place, not enough in another, and big spaces with not a lot to do yet. Some skills and quests are really just tech prototypes and don’t make a lot of sense yet.

And even though we ask you to report any bugs you see - and goodness knows there are enough of them! - we can’t fix them all right now. We concentrate on the bugs that are most pertinent to what we’re currently developing, and bugs that are especially disruptive or confusing.

Beta: The bones of the gameplay - things like combat, advancement , and favor - are in place and settled. We’re adding more content: more races, more dungeons, more NPCs, more curses, more skills (because PG will always have more skills). Existing content is also being fleshed out and fixed. Placeholder NPCs get personalities; dungeons get more levels, more bosses, and more puzzles.

We’re fixing bugs large and small, and adding polish left and right.

Release: Now the game has solid bones and a good layer of flesh, so to speak. Now it’s a matter of expanding on that, growing the world, and moving the storyline along.

 

We Need You!

But we’re not there yet - obviously! We’re still in alpha. And that means that a lot of really annoying bugs and polish problems aren’t being addressed yet. Worse, it means the broken mod on your sword isn’t getting fixed for weeks, and what are you supposed to do in the meantime? So should you even bother reporting bugs?

Yes. Yes, report the bugs. Yes, report *all* the bugs.

Even if we know about it, we can get valuable information from your report. (This is one of the reasons an in-game report is important - it has info about your character attached.)

Even more importantly, knowing how many people are being affected lets us prioritize the bugs and make the most of our development time. Prioritizing our development time is incredibly important right now - so any help you can give us with that is invaluable!

And please, report bugs through the in-game bug report form. Feedback and suggestions can go on the forums, especially if you’d like feedback on your feedback from other players. But it is very important to report the bugs in-game. That’s how we track them and make sure they get fixed.

You are our QA team. You test; you report; we fix - and if we say it’s fixed and it’s not, you should re-report it! We make mistakes and we rely on you to catch them.

And that is ultimately the deal we have with you: We keep the alpha server up, we don’t wipe your characters, and you tell us what’s wrong so we can eventually fix it.

 

A Personal Note

It’s pretty common knowledge that we are a minuscule team, but I think that doesn’t sink in sometimes. Silvonis and I do our respective things, and we have contractors helping with code, graphics, and music ... but ultimately right now, the bulk of the game system design and coding comes down to Citan.

When we launch to acclaim and success - and I have every confidence that we will - we will of course hire more people. But where we are now, we are a lean, mean, development machine. And if we weren’t - if we had started this project with a larger team - we would never have made it this far.

So keep that in mind, if you would. When you are frustrated with a bug, fuming over a bad design choice, pounding out angry feedback - we get it. We are so, so grateful that you are helping us make this game better. But we’re still just a tiny team, and it’s going to take some time.

 

TL;DR:

We’re in alpha, which means we’re working on the bones of the game. There are a lot of bugs that aren’t getting fixed yet - but we need to know about *all* the bugs so we can prioritize our development time.

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We’re still working full steam ahead on the next update! The last dev blog gave you some hints of what’s coming, so this time I’m going to answer some questions you asked over the past few weeks. I can also give you the latest timeline I have... which is, unfortunately, extremely tentative. But that's alpha for you!

 

Battle Chemistry

Battle Chemistry was due for a major revamp, and... well, a major revamp isn't actually happening any time soon, if ever. My experiments didn't pan out satisfactorily.

See, the big "problem" with Battle Chemistry is that it's too broad in scope, and thus too powerful. Huge burst AoEs, potent buffs, and powerful restoration? There's way too much good stuff there. But in my experiments, splitting off some of its parts hasn't resulted in a fun skill.

After the second unsatisfactory experiment, I got to thinking: maybe this will all work itself out. The thing I keep forgetting is that Battle Chemistry is an advanced skill. As the testing NPC explains, you'll need level 50 Alchemy just to learn it! It's not a newbie-available skill.

With that in mind, I'll need to compare it to other high-level skills. (For example, most weapon skills will have several specializations at high level that offer more breadth, perhaps equivalent to the broad scope of Battle Chemistry.) When compared to other high level options, it might not be so overpowered, and it might not need any major changes. So rather than hack at it now and then potentially have to revamp it again in the future, I'm going to wait and see.

So, bottom line: no dramatic skill changes planned for Battle Chemistry. I've begun adding missing treasure effects, buffed some subpar mutations, and added other missing functionality to the skill, including a new Basic Attack. Players will be able to raise it to 70 in the next update.

However! I'm also going to take the training NPC out of Serbule. He'll move to Rahu and will require level 50 Alchemy, as he has always said he would. This will help to better reinforce that this is not a skill for newbies!

If you have Battle Chemistry already, but you don't have Alchemy at 50 yet, you will still be able to use Battle Chemistry, but you won't be able to raise it to 60+ until you do. So... best get on that, I guess!

 

Raising Other Skills Past 50

In addition to the combat skills, some non-combat skills can be raised past 50 in the next update. Others will come in time. I've already bit off way more than could easily fit into a single two-week snapshot - which is why this is now a four-week ‘snapshot’ - so I don't want to wait until every single skill is ready. But the ones with side-bar abilities, like First Aid and Mycology, are already ready to go in the next update. Some of the crafting-oriented skills will be raisable, too.

 

Test Server

A while back, we had a separate ‘test’ server where we could test out the more extensive code changes before introducing them to the real server. (Project: Gorgon may be in alpha still, but we try very hard not to put your characters in danger of getting seriously screwed up!)

But the test server requires a lot of logistics work, so we haven’t been using it for updates that don’t require it. There's a lot of stuff in this next update, but it’s not really anything TOO crazy in terms of new code features, so I don't think the test server would be worth it for the next update.

However, when we get the new GUI ready to go, tentatively in late February, we will put that up on the test server... so you can help us find any major bugs in the new GUI before we inflict it on the general populace of testers.

 

Where Are The Fairies?

As I mentioned in the December 22 note, I've postponed fairies and the fae realm until after Gazluk. The art assets weren't ready yet, and I still have some logistics of flying to work out. I'm not sure when fairies will be back on the radar, but it won't be too terribly far off. A few months.

(Oh, and just for reference: ‘Fairy’ refers to a specific race of people, the ones who will (eventually) be playable. ‘Fae’ refers to anything from the fae realm, including fairies.)

 

Steam Timeline

I'm still tentatively aiming for a Steam early access launch in late February/early March. But the new GUI is getting closer to being ready, and I'm starting to think it'd be really wise for that to be done BEFORE it appeared on Steam. It will probably take a while to iron out the kinks in the new GUI, and it seems silly to foist a buggy GUI on a new customer base...

Anyway, without getting into too many details, there are lots of logistics involved... so I'm not really sure when exactly it'll be on Steam. But instead of it being a far off "soon-ish", it's a much closer "soon".

 

Other Stuff

I also wanted to respond to some questions that I didn't get a chance to answer on the old forums before they closed.

Making animal curse-forms permanent if you stay in the form for a long time: This was actually close to my original idea. But after getting feedback from animal players, I've abandoned that plan. I like having some permanent "hard choices" in the game, but I don't think most of the animal forms would benefit from that. There will be various small pressures to stay in animal form -- like being able to make better milk the longer you stay in cow form -- but nothing that forces you to stay in those forms forever. (Except, of course, that lycanthropy is never curable.)

More animal-handling animals to tame: There will definitely be more tamable creatures! But they're on hold until I'm happy with more of the basics. I think the three animal families (cats, rats, bears) are enough for alpha. They give you the idea of how it will work for future animal families.

Grouped troops: I mentioned in a recent blog post that having monsters wander around is expensive, in terms of server CPU. Someone asked if having monsters walk in a group would be more efficient, and it would... if they were coded that way. Right now, monsters don't have enough AI features to be able to follow another monster. But that's something I'd like to have eventually, so I can have wandering packs of monsters. (I fake it sometimes already, by having several monsters that happen to wander to the same spot, but it's not efficient.)

Other new skills: There will be many more crafting and interaction skills in future updates!  And yes, brewing is one of them. Of COURSE there will be a brewing skill. So you can stop sending in that suggestion!

 

So When’s the Update?

The next update is tentatively planned for Wednesday, but you know how this stuff goes: these are my optimistic timelines, and delays happen a lot. I'm working REALLY hard to get it all set, but it could take a few more days. But I really, REALLY expect it'll be up by this weekend at the latest...

... Because I am so tired! Seriously, I need a week off after this huge update. We worked through the holidays on this one, so I'm gonna take a short "winter break" after this launches. It's been pretty much nonstop work for a month as I level up all these skills, monsters, and so on. The basic Gazluk area is finally almost ready... I just gotta finish up about a million loose ends, and then I can rest... rest…

 Edit: actually, I think I'm going to go ahead and set the date for late Friday. I want the extra time to polish things up.

 

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I've decided that it's time for Gazluk to be launched! So we've been pushing hard to get all the details ironed out. It will take another week and a half, I think, and then version 1 of Gazluk will be ready for testing.

Gazluk Plateau: Home of the Orcs

Let me give you some background info on the area so that we can talk about the details. This contains a few small spoilers, but nothing you wouldn't be able to figure out pretty quickly.

The Gazluk Plateau is a very cold and isolated place. Although it's well within the boundaries of The Council Lands, the orcs of Gazluk have claimed it as their own kingdom, and the mages of the Council are much too busy to care about it right now. The orcs are taking this opportunity to amass a mighty army and try to expand their territory, but infighting and sabotage seem to be keeping them from gaining any ground. But within Gazluk, they are the undisputed rulers. The main orcish city there, unsurprisingly named Gazluk City, was built around an old keep. After the Sand War, the orcs retreated here and refortified it with state-of-the-art defenses. It's not a place that welcomes visitors. (It's said that the city proper is but a tiny portion of Gazluk City, while the rest is underground, but that might just be a rumor.) Not all orcs are on the same side, however, and various warring factions and splinter groups have outposts throughout the area. The tiny number of non-orcs live in caves or hidden enclaves, out of the way of the orcs.

So that's Gazluk in a nutshell. The playable orc race will eventually start here, and a small portion of the land area is reserved for newbie monsters (it'll just be empty space for now). Aside from the newbie areas, the rest of Gazluk is for levels 60-70, with a few monsters and encounters placed a bit higher.

Because of our iterative snapshot development model, the first release of Gazluk won't have a ton of content. But it will have more content than other new areas have had, because I've learned that it's very helpful to have some dungeons and basic landscape fixtures installed early on. That way, when I have a few hours and want to add some more quests at the end of a work day, I have a solid foundation to work from. Building on a solid foundation is much easier than trying to install that foundation later: we released the first version of Rahu a year ago, and the massive sewer system underneath that city hasn't materialized yet, because it'll take a concerted push to get it set up. Adding to it and embellishing it are easy once it's there, though.

So for Gazluk, I've pre-loaded it with some caves to explore. ("Some caves" might be a bit of an understatement... I got a bit carried away.) There's also a group-dungeon to explore, which I think will be ready in time -- if not, it'll come in the update after this one. There are also... well, without spoilers, let's just say there are other things to discover. Not a ton at first, but hopefully enough to make it worth the effort to explore.

I realize that there are lots of areas of the game right now where more content is needed. The Rahu sewer is one such area -- it can be hard to level up to 60 right now. So why did I jump to Gazluk? Because it's an important test. I'll need to raise the level cap 4 more times before the game launches in a year... that's very ambitious! Gazluk will give me a lot of insight into where the bottlenecks are, what works, and what sucks.

But we intend to retrofit older areas soon, too -- a large newbie cave dungeon is still in the works, as is that Rahu sewer.

 

Level 70 Cap

As if that wasn't enough work to do, I also need to raise the level cap to 70! This involves a whole lot of data entry, but it's coming along. Not all skills may be ready to go to 70 in the next update, but most of them will be.

I had originally talked about having you seek out a different NPC trainer every ten levels, so for level 60 you seek out an NPC in Rahu, at 70 you'd go to another new city, at 80 another, and so on. I started making the NPCs for level 70 and realized this was too much. It's just... well, it's too grindy, for one thing, and the NPCs just don't feel that important. I like the NPCs in the game to be relevant for a longer time period. So I'm reusing the level 60 NPCs for level 70. They'll sell the skill-cap-unlocks for both 60 and 70, and sell abilities up to about 72-ish. I've done a few NPCs using this setup, and I like it much better.

The level 80 and level 90 skill-caps will be in a different city, Statehelm, the "jewel of the Council". And I'm thinking I might stick a special skill-specific quest in around that point too. (Either for level 90 or level 100, one or the other.) These quests won't necessarily be epic in scope, but will be a bit more involved than a favor-quest, too. But I guess I'm getting way ahead of myself: right now, we're focusing on level 70!

In addition to new levels of abilities, the treasure system is also being upgraded to be able to drop level 65 and 70 loot. This part is a TON of data-entry work, so I'm not sure how complete it will be in the next update, but I'll do what I can. I also plan to add new treasure mods that only drop at high level, but I won't have time to do that right now: just extending the existing mods up to 70 takes a lot of time. But it will happen.

The tricky part here is that I don't quite know how powerful these new mods should be. If I kept scaling the mods linearly, they would balance fine, but that's too boring for my taste. I mean, if a level 60 weapon is "almost as good" as a level 70 weapon, then keeping up with gear isn't really that important, or that exciting. So I've raised the numbers a good bit higher for the 61-80 level range. Probably too much, in fact. It'll take some iterations to find the right spot, so expect some ups and downs over the next few months. But the goal will remain the same: loot needs to be fun, exciting, and interesting. A tall order, but we're on the right track.

 

New Forum!

We're just about ready to switch over to a new forum software. You can create an account there now at forum.projectgorgon.com . We'll do the discussion thread for this news-post on the old forum, but future ones will be over there. (The old forums will become read-only soon.)

Thanks to everyone that backed our Indiegogo campaign! We've got a lot of fun stuff coming, so stick around.

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It's gift-giving time in Alharth! If you've reached at least Friends favor-level with NPCs, they'll have a present for you. No rush if your holiday is busy, though: they'll be giving gifts through at least the first week of January. We'll also have some other small celebrations starting in a couple of days.

 

Holidays in a Fantasy World

You know, presenting holiday events in this MMO is a bit tricky. The reason has to do with the game's atmosphere. WoW has things a bit easier: in WoW, nobody bats an eye at mecha-santa-claus killing robo-Rudolph because the game has always been full of fourth-wall-breaking stuff, mostly in the form of cultural reference jokes. That's not really the vibe Project: Gorgon goes for. It’s a fine vibe -- it’s just not our vibe.

This is probably a surprise to many people, but there are very few outside references in Project: Gorgon. (Most of the ones people think are references are just accidental. For instance, I've heard people say that exploding sheep are a reference to Worms... nope, I never played it. Just a coincidence.) Don't get me wrong, Alharth is a silly place, but I try hard to give it its own internal logic.

Every player is different, and for some, outside references are much less distracting than really weird NPCs or unlikely item names. But since it's a game I want to personally enjoy, I use myself as the yardstick here. I find cultural references to be really jarring to my immersion, so I don't make them very often. As a gamer, I can handle bad graphics, unlikely NPCs, improbable classes, and complicated GUIs... but I don't like having the fourth wall broken unless it's for a good reason. Making a joke in a quest title isn't a good enough reason for me.

But pop culture references are one thing, and holiday events are another! I don't want to close the door on holiday events. I mean, do I want to let players have candy cane sword fights and kill giant snowmen? Of course I do, at least for a few weeks each year. (Eventually... not this year!) And would that stuff have solid grounding in the game lore? Not really. There's a few in-world holidays that are similar, but none involving Christmas trees, for instance...

So I expect that holidays will be the exceptions to the "no outside references" rule of thumb. I still want to try to minimize the immersion-breaking elements: the NPCs are giving gifts because it's their custom at end of the year, not because of Christmas. But I'm also going to turn on a couple of Christmas trees in a few days -- since it'll only be a short while, and small in scope, it's no big deal. The NPCs probably won't even notice.

 

Upcoming Content

We've been pushing on lots of different pieces of content recently, slowly bringing them closer to being launched. But because of our slow art acquisition process, it's hard to predict exactly when things will be ready. Up until recently I expected the fairy race and the fae realm to be the next big content addition, but now it looks like that honor goes to the Gazluk Plateau. In addition to being a level 70 area for all races, Gazluk will also be the starting zone for player-character orcs. But we'll be rolling out the playable orc race separately from Gazluk itself, because Gazluk is a very large place and it will need its own time in the spotlight gathering feedback.

Gazluk is a big, big place. It's the largest map we've done so far, a bit more than twice as big as Serbule. It's hard to convey the size of the place, but here's a screenshot of a small area in front of the orcish city, taken from within the Unity editor.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_gazluk.png

 

If you click to enlarge, there's three cows in this screenshot for scale, but the third one is only like three pixels in size. You can kind of see the huge walls of the orcish city near the center of the picture, and the third cow is in the snow a bit below that. It's a desolate, cold place, but there are also lots of secrets to find, orc camps to raid, and monster lairs to delve in.

This map is important because it will push our technical abilities forward. This place is so large that even if a hundred players were in Gazluk, they could all be out of sight of each other. In other maps, monsters spawn and go about their lives without any concern about how many players are in the area. In Eltibule alone, there's about 400 monsters wandering around at any given moment. Gazluk will need several times more monsters. The number of monsters isn't actually the major cause of strain on the server, though. The big strain comes when a thousand monsters all want to wander around at once! Navigating that many creatures in that big of a space causes our physics sub-servers to get overloaded. (This is a problem we sometimes see in other areas, too, like Kur Mountains, where monsters will just pause for a while, unable to path.) We need to get smarter with which monsters are allowed agency. Monsters that are literally miles away from any player don't need to move around: nobody cares! So we'll be adding basic optimizations in that vein, and back-porting them to other areas when they seem stable.

We also have new skills (most prominently, the bard), new dungeons (large and small), revisions of the loot mods for animal forms, Battle Chemistry changes, and more NPCs in the works. So I expect the next few months will see a lot of new content! Buggy, imbalanced, content, mind you -- but with your help and feedback, we'll iron out the kinks and make each of these things a fun addition to the game.

A major rewrite of the GUI is also in the works. We've recently locked down most of the theming and style elements, and things are progressing pretty well. I estimate another 2-3 months of work before it can go live. Rewriting the GUI is a pretty stressful proposition, and despite a whole lot of in-house testing, I'm sure we'll end up with a HUGE number of bugs at first, but we'll come out the other side with a great modern user interface with a decent number of customizations and frills.

I'll talk to you again soon, hopefully with some more screenshots!