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New Thoughts about Gameplay

Monday, November 19, 2012 1:13pm
Lead Developer
At the beginning of each year, I like to set several goals that will set the tone for the year, and 2012 was no different. In January, I set some pretty ambitious goals for the year, and I take those goals seriously. We are now in the home stretch - and I think the two remaining goals: 50 skills across 12 disciplines and players setting foot on the Antilia mainland are well within reach. In any project, it is important to set goals, and even more important to reach them. Sometimes new information comes along that may change goals or the order in which they are achieved - but much of the success of Antilia is in setting goals for the year, as well as each month and then reaching them.

I think it would be good to close out 2012 by reaching our yearly goals - two years in a row now, in fact. In January, when I set my goals for 2013.. it'll be an important commitment for me and will affect the future success of the project.

Of course... I don't just set my year's goals upon waking up on January 1st - a lot goes into determining what are our top priorities, and how the goals should be set. Currently, I think there are five important things that need work. To keep this post from getting too long, however, I'm only going to discuss the first three of them in this post.

Improve Stability and Performance of the Game

Before we discuss the more interesting changes to gameplay - let's just get this one out of the way. This year, Antilia grew from some creepy-looking Vulans and Lupans fishing at the beginning of the year - to a game with fully customizable characters, custom weapons, changeable clothes, mining, smelting, moving enemies with basic AI, combat, magic.... I'm sure you get the idea. We added a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, and with each new system a few new bugs have crept in. If players can't eventually run the client, log in, and have fun playing without constantly having issues - its no good.

Clearly, some time needs to be taken to address these bugs and get Antilia back to a stable system that performs well, and regardless of any other goals - that will need to be addressed early in 2013 before we extend the game much further. At some point as well, I will need to separate "playing" from "testing" to provide a better experience for players.

Improve the Experience for New Players

Last weekend I spent some time playing the game with a completely new character - to get a feel for how the recent additions to Antilia have affected the game's experience from the perspective of a new player. The test led to some significant revelations. When the game was as simple as fishing and cooking, the lack of a tutorial wasn't as much as an issue - new players who joined the game were surrounded by players cooking and fishing, and most were happy to help new players join in. There wasn't much of a use for food, energy or even pearls back at that time - we were all just hanging out.

Of course - the game is significantly different now. Early players spent weeks fishing (there wasn't anything else to do, afterall), and many amassed inventories full of fish to sell - so much so that we had to dial fish values way down. Now, new players are surrounded by other players wearing fancy clothing, jewelry, lanterns, awesome swords, magic crystals... it's no fun grinding under-valued fish for several weekends just to catch up.

Clearly, we need to make some changes here - to ensure that new players get into the game and are immediately set up with the right gear, interface tutorials, and goals - so they are immediately having fun with the journey rather than feeling left out on the destination.

Improve the Gameplay

The final thing I'd like to discuss is gameplay. What we've created in 2012 is a good foundation - by doing a first pass on so many different gameplay systems, we've created a lot of server infrastructure, gotten a glimmer of what the economic system will entail, and created some initial dependencies between players specializing in different skills.

But the current gameplay is.. well... dated and a bit "grindy".

So, moving forward - I am going to begin moving away from window/UI based gameplay systems, and toward gameplay systems that involve more interactions in the 3D space. In other words - instead of dragging cooking ingredients from one 2D window into another 2D window and pushing "cook" while your character stands idle, I'd like to see players actually performing 3D actions in-game like seasoning a piece of fish and placing it on a grill. When I think of my original vision of Antilia - this is sort of thing that I think of. That the player isn't just moving a character around and clicking on UI buttons - but constantly interacting with things in the world. When someone burns a fish in Antilia - I want to look over with my character and see a panicked player character at a grill... with smoke billowing from the fish.

I believe that achieving this level of interactivity with the world is very important to the success of Antilia, and quite possible with today's technology. Now that we have completed a first-pass on several gameplay systems, I'd like to go back and improve each of them one at a time, making sure each skill/activity is really fun and engaging. Really... this is the part of the project that I've been building toward for years now, and needless to say... the volunteer devs and I are all very excited about finally getting here and what we'll be working on next.

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