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Pathfinder fans, it's an exciting time here at Goblinworks—Milestone 2 has arrived!
To recap, our plan is to divide the work on the game into quarterly milestones. The first was completed on April 15, and the second was completed on July 15. We're using an "agile development" process, and one of our techniques is to reduce the huge number of tasks that must be completed to get us to Early Enrollment into smaller units of work. History tells us that if we try to estimate completion dates for the project all the way to the third quarter of 2014, we'll be wrong, and in being wrong, we'll be over budget and behind schedule. Being agile means that we're working on much shorter time horizons, which increases the accuracy of our estimates substantially.
Before each milestone, the leadership team (Mark, Lee and Mike) sit down and map out what they can reasonably achieve in the next three months, as well as some stretch goals. That is measured against the whole project plan to be sure that we're making adequate progress vs. the overall Early Enrollment goal. So long as the consensus is that we're on schedule, all is well. (If the consensus is that we have a problem, we'll have to evaluate our options—hiring more staff, expanding the resources we're using for the project, extending our deadline, or reducing the scope of the Early Enrollment target). The goal of each milestone is a playable "deliverable." We should be able to sit down with the game at the end of each milestone and have a reasonably coherent play experience that has evolved substantially since the prior milestone deliverable.
The milestone goals guide our work during the quarter. The first milestone was all about getting our pipeline of tools correctly configured and switching to the Unity middleware engine. The deliverable was a multi-player, client/server ecosystem running over the internet where humanoid avatars could move around an artistically pleasing 3D virtual world and interact with AI creatures. We nailed that deliverable, and many of you had a chance to see it at PaizoCon early in July.
The second milestone was about getting the first iteration of a lot of core game systems built. Milestone 1 had a combat system, but it was not really the system we're going to use for the game; it was mostly placeholder code to test input and animations. Milestone 2 incorporates the stub of the "real" combat system. It also has a much more complete avatar system—we can now swap equipment on the models so that gear changes have visible effects.
One of the biggest changes in Milestone 2 is the integration of a tool called Grome. Grome creates realistically sculpted terrain based on procedural algorithms. Because we need to make so much terrain, it's just not possible for an artist to hand-build every inch of the ground. With Grome, we can make gigantic terrain very quickly while still retaining a fine degree of control so that we generate terrain that matches our vision for the River Kingdoms. Then the art team can hand-tweak the most important parts of it to match our needs—for example, future sites for settlements and encounter areas. The landscape that was in Milestone 1 has been left behind, and with Milestone 2, we're playing on the terrain that we expect to use in Early Enrollment.
Another big change was the introduction of linked systems for escalations. Escalations will be one of the pillars of the PvE content in the game. These are server-wide challenges with localized effects that the characters must confront. For example, if a goblin incursion is left unchecked, it will spawn more encampments and attract higher-powered allies, eventually becoming a threat to the nearby settlements. These are much larger events than the "public quests" that have become popular in many theme park MMOs. Escalations will take place over many days (maybe weeks) of time, and will require persistent coordinated action to overcome. With Milestone 2, the programming team delivered a number of tools that the game design team can begin to use to craft escalation content. Milestone 2 has a simplistic "demo" escalation that involves killing goblins, recovering looted supplies, and confronting higher-end goblin foes and shows updates of quest progress in the user interface so that it's visible to all players.
The art team was incredibly busy as well, preparing to work on models beyond the humans we've been using since the Technology Demo. They have been concepting elves and dwarves, and they added an Ogre to our monster roster, which joins the Goblin that has been with us since the beginning of the project. Each model needs a customized animation suite, and we need to design clothing that looks functional and cool while working correctly on each model. The art team produced a wealth of assets that we'll put to good use in Milestone 3, many of which you can see in the teaser trailer we released last week.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the art team spent a lot of time working on settlement design. They worked closely with game design and programming to change our original conception of a monolithic single settlement object into a much more organic multi-part design that we think will allow a much wider degree of diversity in visual appearance than our original plan. They also spent time working on buildings and structures designed to fit into a holistic aesthetic for settlements as they progress from rough-hewn stockades to soaring structures of marble and glass.
The programming team had as much server-side work on their plates as they did client-side. Because Unity is not really designed as an MMO server platform, we are creating a lot of our own code to host the game. We have built our own networking layer to provide fast, efficient communications between the clients and the server. We're also making tools that allow us to set up servers quickly and to manage and monitor them while they're running. Luckily, this is work that Mark has done before at Cryptic Studios, so we have a very good idea of what it will take to ensure our server is secure, robust, and scalable.
Now we're looking forward to Milestone 3. We haven't used codenames for these milestones yet, but we're jokingly calling Milestone 3 "Kielbasa" because the objective is to polish polish polish the existing work we did in Milestones 1 and 2. We'll iterate on the combat system, improve the AI, find ways to have the animations interact with each other in combat, add ranged combat, and elaborate on the modifiers that affect the success or failure of attack actions. The escalation system will iterate with more complex options for quest design and loot drops for successfully completing tasks. On the server, we will implement our plans for a transaction processing engine, we'll have a connection-server architecture (meaning that we will be able to manage multiple clients connecting to multiple servers), and we'll have multiple physical server hardware systems running multiple hexes with full synchronicity between them. The art team will work on improving the existing terrain, settlements, trees, foliage, structure details, and current characters to be as bug-free, complete and good-looking as possible at this stage, while continuing to create more concept art, more models, and more gear. Polish, polish, polish!
In summary, we're very pleased with our progress to date. We believe we're solidly on track to hit our Early Enrollment goal. We feel the infrastructure we've built and the team we've assembled is up to the task of getting this game into your hands on time, on budget, and on spec.
As always, we're interested in your feedback and we are engaged daily in conversations with the community on the Pathfinder Online forums. Please join us and contribute your thoughts to the discussion!
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