Asked and Answered

Citadel of Sorcery, is this innovative game even possible?

When you take a leap forward in a game design and tell the public about something they have not seen before, there is some natural skepticism.  We understand and sympathize, after all we are also game players, and we have also fallen prey to the marketing hype that just isn't always true once you get into a game.

The game industry is not an easy one, and making MMOs is difficult.  While MMO game designers want to be innovative, they are often hampered by financial concerns and deadlines.   We understand, and have been there ourselves on other projects.  Fortunately, we got a chance to do something different this time, and stick to the design and goals, rather than be forced to push the game out before it is ready.

But, the perception of marketing hype rather than substance affects us all, so how do we overcome this and make you believe in Citadel of Sorcery?  That's a tough nut to crack.  We'd like to address, as best as we can, some of the concerns we have read about from players about our project.
The top concerns are as follows.

  1. The graphics don’t look as good as they could.
  2. After eight years of work, shouldn’t it be further along?
  3. How can a small independently financed team make a major MMORPG?
  4. Isn’t a full size planet too big?
  5. Isn’t what you are promising, impossible?

Let me take them in order.

Graphics:

We won’t be adding final graphics in all areas until we are in the final stretch of the game development.  So, what you are seeing now are Pre-Alpha graphics.  The reason we didn't create game launch ready art is because we didn’t know how long it would take a smaller team to reach Alpha.  It is after that where we would start putting in the final graphics.  If we tried to put them in early on, we would likely have to redo all that work again, especially if too much time passed and computers got faster (which they always do) and graphic cards got better (which they always do).

The graphics you see now are a mix of things; a few nicer ones, and a lot of placeholder. For example, all the NPCs are completely placeholder, since we haven’t finished the NPC generator system yet.  We created the current graphics (and NPCs) because we needed to test various systems along the way.  For that we need certain things, like models that use up texture space.  We needed to test polygon density, with over 10 million polys in a small area, to make sure our engine was able to handle this without loading any Zones.  We are testing a whole newly developed technology that uses Voxel based models in the distance and transitions them to skinned polygon models close up and seamlessly.  This is part of that idea of never making a player wait to load a Zone, and allowing them to travel to what they see, directly. 

As far as we know, no one out there has attempted a world of this size and detail for an MMO; it required us to build a new engine from the ground up, and that means we needed to test it.  What you see in art is what we needed to stress test this new technology, but it isn’t final art for the players.

Shouldn’t we be further along after eight years?

Boy, wouldn’t we like to be!  But the answer is ‘no’.  How long it takes to make something that has never been done before is anyone’s guess.  Not only that, but even if you COULD estimate that impossible number, you would also need to know how many people were working on it.  Our team size started very small, it has grown in spurts, now and then, going up from eight to now just under forty.  The team will continue to change and grow.  There is still no way to know exactly how long it will take to reach Alpha.  The further along we get, the better idea we get as to how long the rest will take.  The good news is that most of the risky technology is already working, but there is still a lot of man hours to go in just making content and building that final art.  The fact is, we set out to make something wildly new, and we decided from the beginning, instead of buckling to a time schedule and delivering less than what we designed and promised, we would spend the time we needed to actually give the players something new and different.   We are sticking to that goal and have for the past eight years.  We are exactly to where we could reach in that time with the personnel we have, and are working hard to get it to Alpha and beyond.

How can a small independently financed team make a major MMORPG?

Slowly.   I could just stop there and point to the paragraph above as explanation, but I won’t.  Another word is ‘sacrifice’.  Here is the longer answer though.  First, you make sure your team is experienced and hardworking, rather than a bunch of dreamers.  You have to know what you are doing.  Next, you spend a LOT of time on the design.   You do this not only to design a good game, but to design ways and systems that achieve your goals with fewer people.

We did this when we designed the Enact Tool Set.  We have been working on that tool set now for several years, and we have some of the major components working and building the game world.   With Enact one person can do a LOT of work.  Since it runs in the game world, there is no gap between work and testing, which speeds things up significantly.  It also needs a lot of automated bug tracking, to speed up finding issues, and Enact generates reports of odd activities to us automatically, and it takes us to those moments with the click of a button.

But there is much more to this.  We’re building a massive game, bigger than other fantasy MMORPGs, so we had to spend our time creating automation rather than hand making everything.  By shifting our focus to programming automated systems we were able to work with a much smaller team.  We wrote (and continue to write) systems that create what we need procedurally. 

For example, instead of a person placing a tree down and then hand rotating it into place, we spent three years of a programmer’s time creating PlanetForge.  I’m not going to go into the technical aspects of this (though there is a video on this on  YouTube in the Citadel of Sorcery channel, if you want to go to sleep, it’s very technical), but PlanetForge creates a planet and grows all the foliage, without a single human being needed.  This is a HUGE savings and therefore cuts millions of dollars off of the price needed to make this game.  It is the single biggest savings in the entire process.  That’s how you make a game like this with a small team!

Beyond PlanetForge, there are other systems being written by other programmers that also save us time and money.  There is the auto road generator, and the systems to build towns, villages, etc.  These not only build the town, they come decorated and with a full A.I. net installed. Even NPCs are generated through another NPC creation system that auto names, creates, and places the NPCs in the world.   Now, make no mistake, it takes some human touch to build this game.  A human created the initial bodies that are varied by the system.  A human decorated the room logically, so that the computer could use that direction in the creation of the town, castle, etc.  However, we don’t have to have real people doing repetitive tasks; computers are good for that, which keeps our people working on creative parts only.
We have some of these systems working and are still working on others, but we have enough done to know they work.

Finally, I should note that even with all the efficient planning and automated systems, it still costs money to make this game.   Adding more people will dramatically speed up the process, especially on the creative end.    However, our team has donated several million dollars to keep it going and will continue to donate for as long as necessary to get either more financing, or just complete the game.  After eight years of work, none of us are going to walk away at this stage; we have too much invested, and have come too far to give up now, when we can see the end of the Alpha road up ahead.

Isn’t a full size planet too big?

Why build a full size planet?  That’s not great for a game, right?  People, places and events will be too far apart.  This is another concern people have when we mention the full size planet.  Well, just because we have one, doesn’t mean we need to space things out.  We don’t, instead we pick several territories in different biomes of the world.  Each is chosen in a logical location, like an area bordered by the sea on one side, mountains on another and a river on the third and a desert on the forth (if this was roughly rectangular).  Then we build stories and adventures within these different territories.  Everything within a territory is close enough so keep travel time down, yet the territory is big enough for grand adventures.  Each territory is the size of a typical MMO game, but we use quite a few. 

So why have this big planet if that’s true?  Well, two things: it gives us lots of room to grow (make more territories), as well as the feeling of it being a true world, which it is.  Finally, it is great for exploration