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The New Design of Antilia

Thursday, February 7, 2013 11:59am
Lead Developer
One of the interesting things about giving gameplay a second pass is that we can look back in time via the blog and compare our design goals and attitude to the first pass. When the alpha tests started in November of 2011, we put ourselves under a lot of pressure to have something in the game beyond just walking and chatting. We wanted some sort of gameplay, and the first hint of it came in November:

I still have a couple weeks of tuning and testing to do before I can release - and we are working to include a surprise bit of actual gameplay in the initial release as well... so stay tuned - we'll be setting sail to the Isle of Kasau very soon now!

Over the course of just a few weeks, I put together a skill system, an inventory system, a hotbar with warm-ups and cool-downs, created a crude fishing animation, and Alex modeled and textured a dozen fish. That fishing system has since been improved here and there to include more fish with tweaked catch ratios, but overall it is still very close to the original design.

Throughout 2012, gameplay was kept simple, so that it could be added as quickly as possible. Antilia needed a lot of systems interacting before any of them were really useful, and I believe it was the right approach to get the game off the ground.

Now, it is time to make the game fun and interesting, and the development team has had several awesome brainstorming sessions working out Antilia's new gameplay systems. From our experience in designing a 'standard' mmorpg model in 2012, we've learned a lot about the process, and we have re-invented what Antilia gameplay is going to be based upon.

I've posted a couple news posts now dissecting areas where Antilia falls short - the unanswered question is, "What is the dev team planning to do to fix it?"

Keep in mind, this is stuff that is in active development right now - some of it still fresh on my whiteboard - and we'll be refining this along the way.

(Mushrooms! Because I didn't show them last time and wanted an image here. :)

A New Focus on Disciplines

I'm letting go of the idea that every skill is individually learned and leveled, in favor of a new focus on skill disciplines. The disciplines have existed all along, but only as categories. In the future, disciplines will be expanded to include:
  • Experience - Experience will be changed to be tracked per-discipline, but will not be used to determine a base level anymore. Earned experience will be something the player can 'spend' at their own discretion on perks and customizations.
  • Special Moves - Special moves are the nearest equivalent to our current 'skills'. For each discipline, there will be a base activity (such as fishing), and special moves can be activated to do something specific or complex. Special moves must be learned from NPCs or books.
  • Perks - Perks are what I am calling boosts and constant effects that change a particular discipline. For example, in fishing there will be perks to identify fish underwater at longer ranges, as well as perhaps displaying those fish on the mini-map or displaying which bait the spotted fish prefers. Perks can be unlocked by spending EXP.
  • Techniques - Techniques are similar to perks, in that they expand a discipline or offer an additional ability or constant advantage. Unlike perks, however, they cannot be unlocked by spending EXP, and instead must be learned from a book or NPC.
  • Customizations - Customizations involve a 'radar graph' of mutually exclusive directions in which a player can customize the discipline to their tastes. Would you prefer your fire magic effects to be tinted more blue instead of orange? Would you prefer more power or lower energy use per cast? Are you willing to sacrifice speed for extra damage (slowing down the game a little for a causal player, for instance)? Players can adjust these options however they choose, and if they don't like the result, simply spend EXP to move back in the other direction.

Lastly, we are redesigning disciplines to narrow the gap between a new or social player, and a seasoned or hardcore player. Who really enjoys it when after a few days away from your PC you discover you can no longer play with your friends in-game, as they got too far ahead of you to party with? Whatever your experience, however often you play, Antilia should allow players to have fun with their friends without stats getting in the way.

New Gameplay "Modes" System

This week, the thing I've been spending my time on is in a new gameplay mode system. Previously, Antilia was completely mode-less. Whether it be cooking, fishing, or combat - everything was done via execution of skills, and the game always felt the exact same way.

With the new mode system, player equipment can radically change the way the game behaves - optimizing controls, the camera, and the minimap. This allows us to offer a more diverse range of player experiences, optimized for the task at hand, and solves several issues that made the implementation of some skills - such as ranged combat skills, difficult in the past.

With this system in mind - we've redesigned the movement, fishing, bushcraft, combat (melee and ranged), and magic systems.

The first of these to be completed will be movement and fishing, which I'll begin work on as soon as the new system is complete.

New Workstation System

But wait? What about modes for Cooking, Mining, and Crafting?

These skills will all share a common mode and theme - that they require a workstation (much like they do now). These workstations, however, will be greatly expanded into an actual activity center. The camera will zoom in, providing a first person or over-the shoulder perspective, and the player will be expected to perform a task - in 3D at the workstation.

To summarize where this is coming from, it all comes down to a simple concept I expressed to the dev team: "I don't want to just fill in slots and click 'cook'. I want to reach into a 3D scene and flip my fish over mid-way through grilling it before it starts smoking."

(You'd never know it looking at current screenshots - but those players are probably cooking.)

From there, you can extrapolate the rest - we're removing the recipe skills and replacing them with techniques like "grill", "boil", "chop", etc., and it'll be up to the player to create their own recipes with whatever ingredients they have and techniques they know... to match that flavor profile. Depending on the results - calories and special bonuses will be calculated.

Everything Is Multi-Player

We never quite got to working battle parties in 2012, but in our new design every discipline will include activities that require multiple players to complete. From sharing a workstation with a friend and crafting something together, to fishing and combat - everything will be made more fun (and at times, chaotic) with the addition of a friend. (As the Taipii culture centers heavily on the use of magic, we're also working to ensure magic is relevant to nearly every system as well.)

Put the Pretty Characters In the Spotlight!

One thing that Jeremii keeps saying in the dev meetings is "players want to see their pretty character do things in the world" - and it is absolutely true and fundamental to these changes. The way character's heads look around as a player looks around has added a lot of expressiveness to the game. When you consider that you can sit, look at someone, and frown - that adds a lot of social possibilities to the game.

(Thanks to the addition of head-look and emotes, things like this started happening.)

Our new systems are all being designed with that in mind - that whatever you are doing in Antilia, your character should actually do it and other players should see your character do it. If a player is cooking - they want other players to see that they are cooking (and not just standing next to a pot or anvil). Character expressions can be used to automatically reflect the player's success in the task at hand. When a player catches a fish, a notification is... functional. Seeing the character hold their catch up for all to see and express pride or embarrassment is a lot more fun.

Final Thoughts... and More Teasers

Really, I hope to get everyone as excited as we are at the prospect of these new gameplay systems coming in 2013, and I've barely even scratched the surface here. We have a new mining/smelting system designed that I can't wait to try. There is a magic system planned that actually involves real-time creation of magic weaves - I finally discovered a way to make that practical. In the weeks coming, we are planning a new fishing contest as soon as the new system is ready - and I aim to make this year's contest the best social event yet.

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