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Beyond this Hill It Floods Rays of Hope

This past Monday was the end of our Q4 development period, meaning we were to complete all of our goals for Q4 2013. This week we are working to get all the results polished and operational; sometimes tasks are completed in the technical sense of the term, but may not be integrated with all the other systems that they need to interact with. Today we cap off with an internal team playtest to make sure we've got everything, and then a playtest with the folks from Paizo on Friday to get their feedback on the newest version of Pathfinder Online.

So, what did we work on for Q4 2013?

We started with an experience we wanted players to have once the quarter was complete. This list was:

  • At log in, the player can select a Wizard, Rogue, Cleric, or Fighter to play at 4th level (with prebuilt stats and wearing appropriate gear).
  • Each class has at least one weapon with a full set of attacks.
  • Once logged in, the player can run around a multi-hex area with different hexes having their own escalation Strength.
  • Each hex is appropriately populated with monsters due to the escalation cycle.
  • There are two escalation cycles running, originating from different monster hexes.
  • There are two settlement hexes, showing different stages of advancement.
  • Players can get loot from treasure chests spread across the hexes.
  • In combat, players can take advantage of different states and effects on the target and use attacks to put those on the target.
  • Characters can earn achievements for completing goals in game.
  • Players will have some number of XP they can spend at trainers in the settlements to purchase additional skills that require achievements to unlock.

While some of the moving pieces still have to fit together, we met the experience goals we set for ourselves.

We built the stats for each of the classes by hand, all of which have appropriate appearances for their class. We got wands, staves, shortswords, and greatswords in game, all with associated animations and visual effects. Thus, each class could have a class appropriate weapon to use in addition to wearing class appropriate armor.

We were attempting to create a fairly small version of the low level end of gameplay. We chose a segment of the map—roughly 5x5 hexes—that included all the locations we needed. It ended up being about nine hexes to the left and two hexes up from Thornkeep (our current origin point for our hex grid), so it'll be part of the initial starting area. The area we built includes two settlements, three monster hexes, a badlands hex, and lots of wilderness hexes spread across an area that is primarily Mountain and Forest terrain.

We're calling this section of the map and the servers that are hosting it "Chitterwood" and it will be the testbed for the next stage of our development for the game.


(An 6x6 segment of hexes, Chitterwood has mountains, farms, badlands, forests and monster hexes. It has two Settlements and a road network)

Currently, we have an escalation cycle for the Ripping Chains goblin tribe (including goblin dogs, new this quarter) and an escalation cycle for the Skull-Breaker ogre tribe (including wolves) running in the three monster hexes we have in the new area. They will slowly spread through the test area, as long as the server stays up, infecting more hexes as they go. Each escalation cycle includes spawning treasure chests in some encounter locations, which players can use to get loot.

We have trainers set up in the two settlements that can allow players to purchase skills and feats, assuming they have the XP and achievements to do so. Achievements can be earned for killing types of monsters, visiting special locations, using specific weapons, etc.

In combat, we've implemented a system where certain attacks or situations put states on characters, like being Flat-Footed or having Opportunity, that other attacks can take advantage of. Thus players have to pay attention to what their targets are suffering from so they can capitalize on those states most effectively.

We implemented our full large-scale world editing pipeline. This allowed us to produce in two days, from scratch, what used to take two weeks of manual work. It allowed us to build out the updated full world map with all of the appropriate hex types and areas, and then quickly detail out the initial area we are testing in. This is all done in a way that allows us to expand seamlessly, and we have more quality and speed improvements to come!


(A close-up view of a Badlands Hex, showing placeholder indicators of where PvE content will spawn)

We also finished all of the initial POI buildings, put new base clothing, core gear, suits and creatures into the game, and completed concepts for multiple new mobs, world landmarks, and suits.

Seth, our technical artist, added new tools that speed up production for the character team on both animations and characters, while also helping to clean up all of the existing assets to make sure we can work at large scale with minimal issues.

On the tech side, we got a lot of our server tech worked out this quarter. Currently we are we are on 16 virtual hosts now, running 27 hexes with connection servers, routers, launchers, a database and two authorities (chat and escalation). We even have a Master Control Program that starts and stops all the processes.

The question that everyone is asking is "when will Alpha testing begin?" Our answer is early in the 2nd quarter of 2014! The next quarter's milestone is targeted at getting us ready to begin Alpha testing and we expect that we will start that test in April. Right now we do not have firm dates or a process for how players will get access to the Alpha or how our Kickstarter backers who paid for Alpha access will be prioritized into the testing—those are all questions we'll answer in the first quarter as we determine critical system features like how much load we can put on the servers and what kinds of system requirements we need for testers, etc. We feel very confident right now in our processes and procedures. The team is firing on all cylinders and we achieved almost all the goals we set for ourselves for the Q4 milestone. It is increasingly likely that this crazy plan to make an MMO on a fraction of the budget and a sliver of the timeline that has become the norm is going to work.

Over the next several blogs we'll be doing some deeper dives into the current state of the game, showing you a lot of artwork from concept to in-game implementation, getting into the nitty-gritty of the UI, and listening to your feedback and suggestions on everything!

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