Greetings everyone! The new year is almost here and an update on Antilia is well overdue. In years past it had become my custom to begin each year by announcing new project goals as well as reflect on progress that had been made over the course of the year. This year I would like to rekindle that tradition, but first I would like to apologize again for the extended periods of developer silence in 2016. Over the course of the year I allowed too many other things to demand my time, limiting progress on Antilia to brainstorming, design, and a bit of engine programming. Even still, it was never my intention for things to become as slow as they did, and so over the past two months I have been working hard to get the project moving forward again.
The State of the Project
Before I announce the goals I have set for this year, I'd like to discuss the project's status and the challenges that the project faces. I would like to approach this in as positive a manner as I can - so please bare with me while I outline a few challenges, even if they seem a bit negative.
1. Antilia has a Large Scope - Even after changing the overall design of the project from an MMORPG to a sandbox-style RPG, the scope of Antilia is still quite large. I've spent many hours considering the project's current design, and I have identified a few elements that will have to be put aside for now. One proposal that has come up several times before would be to switch to using one of the commercially available game engines. Having spent some time using two of the most popular engines I can now say with experience that changing engines would not save a significant amount of time. While the other engines provide a few of the tools we are currently in need of, they also lack features that are well implemented in Toi (such as intrinsic support for a large open gameworld and customizable characters).
With a game engine change off the table, the next things that expand Antilia's scope are the large gameworld (which directly affects the amount of content we need to create), and our plan for multiple game modes. After discussing things within the development team we have decided to take "Story Mode" out of the planned list of features. While I still hope to one day explore the world of Antilia through the eyes of it's characters, a controlled "Story Mode" does not fit well with the open-ended nature of our simulation engine. We will instead focus exclusively on the single/multi-player sandbox mode.
2. Antilia has a Small Development Team - Let's face it, the development team behind Antilia is very small. While I am grateful that a good many people have expressed interest in helping the project in any way they can, these offers are from enthusiastic gamers and community members rather than seasoned game developers. Including more people on the project means more communication and coordination, as well as an investment of my time getting people set up and training them in our development tools. Doing this one-on-one has not led to much success.
Moving forward I aim to spend more time making our content tools stable and easy-to-use, and to produce more videos on how to use them. As the Toi tools become more functional I would like to make them public so that anyone interested in contributing to Antilia can download them and start learning how to create content.
Furthermore, after discussing the matter with the other artists that contribute to Antilia I have concluded that we can make better use of procedural generation when creating new content. Antilia will not be a procedurally generated world, but I would like to make better use of procedural techniques to eliminate repetitive editing tasks. Rather than placing each individual tree, world builders will instead be able to paint out entire forest regions, and then hand-edit where needed.
3. Progress in 2016 was very limited. This is just something that needs to be acknowledged. There wasn't really much in the way of 'secret progress' that I'm not showing. For most of the year my time on Antilia was limited to a few evenings and maybe one day each weekend. After a full week of programming work its difficult to then do more programming work. (There was still some progress on Antilia's simulation engine, AI systems, and general world building, as well as foundation improvements to the Toi engine, but not nearly enough.)
To address this I have reduced my regular work hours back to what they were in years past. I have freed up a full 3-4 days per week to work exclusively on Toi and Antilia this year.
There are without doubt additional changes that will be made to the project as we get back into the swing of development and continue to evaluate what is and isn't the right fit for the project.
Project Goals for 2017
I'm sure the question on everyone's mind is "Will we be playing Antilia again in 2017?" If I can reach the goals outlined below, then yes. I am making the production of a new (alpha) game client the primary goal for the year.
Here are my goals for Antilia in 2017:
Create a Minimal Set of Content Creation Tools - As a minimum, we need the mesh editor, game object editor, world editor, and a texture editor created or ported over to Toi Studio. We rarely used the tree and particle system editors, so I'm OK using the old tools if we have to for now. A few additional editors are planned, such as a GUI editor, but those can wait until we are making regular updates on Antilia again.
Build an Optimized DirectX 11 Renderer - I can't put off the move away from DirectX 9 to 11 much longer. I've been doing quite a bit of research and already begun work on the new rendering system. This doesn't have to be done immediately, but I want to complete this and sort out as many performance-limiting systems in the engine while it makes good sense to do so. One thing I learned from the MMO is that "we'll optimize later" is simply not a good development strategy.
Build the New Antilia Game Systems - There are a few things we can borrow directly from the Antilia MMO, but almost all of those game systems really needed a second pass. When the basic game foundation is ready, we'll begin a new series of alpha tests. I am aiming for a more organized system of testing this time with regular updates.
Right Brain Games has a New Office
To demonstrate my commitment to Antilia in 2017, over the course of the past two months I have been putting together a new location from which I can focus on development with fewer distractions. While the past few years I have enjoyed working primarily from home, a few weeks of crunch time at an office this year reminded me how productive it can be to have a quiet place to focus only on work.
Of course it wouldn't be affordable to use this space exclusively for developing Antilia, so I will also be using the space for my usual contract work in interactive media. However this will be my new office from which I will be developing Toi and Antilia, and if things to go plan, new live streams and videos.
((Almost everything that goes into Antilia starts as an idea on this whiteboard.))
When starting this post I had planned on including a section on this year's plans to make better, more active use of the website and social media, but I think it will have to wait for next time. I appreciate everyone who showed patience in spite of the lack of updates, and I hope it goes without saying that I am very excited to have the opportunity to work on Antilia again!
((Note: A few corrections and clarifications have been made to the original post.))
In April I started capturing footage for a new video series, and at last the first video is finally here!
This video is a little rough in the editing, as when I started capturing footage in April I was thinking this would be something more along the lines of a "development highlights" video. As the month progressed and I started receiving feedback the video changed to be a bit more general, including announcements and new lore information. It took a bit of extra effort getting this video out the door, but in the process I've re-acquainted myself with video production and looking forward to improving these as I create more videos.
There are a few important announcements in this video, so for the sake of those who cannot currently view the video I will summarize them here:
We would like to build Antilia as an 'episodic' or expansion-pack style game, which would allow us to produce a smaller initial game sooner, then grow the size of the world and number of stories over time.
The story of the initial release will be that of how the Taipii left Orliia and arrived on Antilia.
(It is also hinted/revealed that Antilia will allow players to create multiple characters and switch between which character you are currently controlling. This is a feature we need for story mode, so it makes sense to just make it a game-wide feature.)
First off, please let me apologize for the long delay in updating this blog. I have a rule that I always accompany new blog posts with fresh images and screenshots, but lately that's served more as an obstacle, or dare I admit it, an excuse. As we continue development that won't continue to be the case, especially as we start building the new Forra and become anxious to show off that progress.
The past several months I've been focusing primarily on improving the Toi Engine. Some of that progress is documented in the Technical Blogs, but not all of it is noteworthy enough for public discussion. As Antilia is no longer targeting an MMO, it was important to take a step back and reassess what game features we really wanted in Antilia - including features we had previously removed from consideration. In the process we've created a document listing all potential gameplay features, and this discussed what we want in the game, and what needs to be in the game. It's been a great opportunity to bring back some of those ideas we've had and really loved but couldn't fit into the mmorpg.
Moving forward my current priority is to continue improving the Toi Engine - which I plan to make available as an open source project. While sharing the world of Forra is an important goal in my life, another goal I have is to continue helping other artists and writers share their stories via the interactive medium. I've looked at the other game engines available, but I have yet to see anything else out there that provides a single solution for building a sizable story-based game with a small distributed team.
My next step is to update Toi's aging DirectX 9 based renderer with a more modern DirectX 11 rendering system built to take advantage of multi-core systems. Rendering performance has improved some since the last mmo build thanks to a new rendering pipeline, but the new DirectX 11 solution will help even more.
(Additional progress on the Toi engine and Toi Studio include an improved "Scene Management" system, a new camera system, a new GUI editor, improved terrain engine, and progress on the new terrain editor.)
It's still too early to confirm what gameplay features will or will not be in the game, but I do want to convey that a significant amount of effort is going into designing a proper single-player campaign. The mmo alpha never got as far as proper "quests" - the closest it came was a half-dozen NPCs that you might interact with repeatedly to unlock a skill.
Now that we are building Antilia with a single-player mode, we have the opportunity to present Antilia's lore not just through books and side-quests, but interactively with the characters themselves. A considerable amount of effort has been put into developing a satisfying story with interesting characters, and while I wouldn't want to spoil anything - I really cannot wait to share it. I think we chose a great place to start exploring the world of Forra, I really like the way the story structure is turning out to include both linear and non-linear elements, and I believe we have a great cast of characters. I realize that's a bit of a tease, but I wanted to confirm for those that are specifically interested in the prospect of a single-player mode, it will not be an afterthought.
That's all for this post, I appreciate everyone's patience and hope you all continue lurking!
This morning we announced that Antilia will be re-designed as a single player game with a multiplayer option via player-run servers. If you missed the announcement, a replay of today's live stream is available:
The decision to change a project's direction like this never comes easily, and has been something that's been in consideration since February 2014. I am sorry that this change will disappoint players that were specifically interested in an MMORPG experience, but after much consideration we have concluded this will result in a better Antilia. With this change, we'll be able to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to create Antilia while also lifting design restrictions that are preventing us from including the sort of creative-style gameplay we would prefer to design.
No More Restrictions on Creative Gameplay
When designing anything that will be a part of an MMORPG, that 'massively' requirement factors into everything. Something as simple as letting one player give something to another player radically affects the balance of the game, and in a successful MMORPG, maintaining game balance dictates everything. As soon as balance is lost, it effects the in-game economy, and a radical shift in any economy is never good.
As we're giving our gameplay systems a second pass, we are frequently finding this requirement directly in competition with the kind of gameplay we want to create. We want to create game systems that have a creative aspect to them - systems where if a player uses that system in a way we didn't expect, doesn't provoke an emergency meeting at 2:00 AM to patch that creativity out. I would like to design a magic system where players will do things with it I never even imagined, and I want to be wowed by what players create, not fear it. My point is not that MMORPGS are inherently a bad medium, but we've come to the realization that as creative people it is not a medium we enjoy working with. I'm sure experienced MMORPG developers could have told us this from the outset, but sometimes you have to explore the possibilities and decide for yourself if you can work within the limitations.
An Open Door to Community Content via Mods
Over the years, we've received a lot of requests for things people would like to see in Antilia. Sometimes the answer is "yes", but often requests have simply fallen outside our plans for the lore, the style of the world, or are just too specific for a single player. In this re-design, we can finally make use of the incredible modding potential that comes with owning our own custom engine and tools. By making these tools fully available, without concern that they will be used to exploit a closed MMORPG environment, the potential for Antilia really opens up. Creating a new fur texture, clothing item, or even a whole new playable race could be just a matter of running the editor and saving a new content pack.
A Better Environment for Story Telling
Over the years we've put quite a bit of work developing lore - describing the different races, their cultures, historical characters, and even their languages. The MMORPG format has been noted as a difficult space to tell such stories in. Often, much of that sort of work is hidden behind in-game books, awkward cut-scenes, and walls of quest text. To that end, we are interested in creating a single-player "Story Mode" - which uses all the same gameplay systems as Sandbox, but in a more carefully designed, linear way. Stories in Story Mode are comprised of chapters, with each chapter being able to more finely control the game environment in a variety of ways to lead the characters through story events.
Obviously this is quite a significant change for the project, and it will take more than just an afternoon announcement to fully describe how things will be changed. If you have questions feel free to ask in the forums, and we'll continue to provide information as we have it.
The problems we ran into that led up to the New Years Event being delayed have been resolved, and we are looking good for running Antilia this upcoming weekend - January 24th-25th.
An Important Note for Previous Testers
Please note that the older versions of the Antilia Client are not able to auto-update this time. Everyone will need to download the new Antilia Installer from the Download page and install the new Antilia Launcher to participate in future tests and events.
I hope you are all as excited as we are, and hope you'll join us this weekend in Antilia!