this article will discuss some of the game specific methods of dealing with pre-release design issues, while allowing for evolution after release.
i prefer textual descriptions of systems, objects, character designs, and other details. i find them able to provide more detail than imagery such as storyboards or concept art, while also being able to be evolved along with technological or artistic advances without modification.
over the course of 2 1/2 to three years, various elements of the game world’s design was polished and refined through text, with the input of a variety of fans from all overt the world. after that i spent a year or two really working to find the best way to take this project from design to production.
i avoided getting definitive investors and development partners, for fear of having someone else’ time and money tied into a production which i knew would change and modify itself, not slide into some investor or contributor’s idea of what it should become.
that has been the most important thing, the project itself having the freedom to evolve and shape itself using whatever technological, creative, or social elements from the outside world would make it a better end product.
now that the design has gotten to a certain level of rigidity which has a nice intersection with the capability of current game engine technology, it is safe to drill the design down to a finer level of detail, as well as begin actual construction of the various characters, environments, and other pieces that exist in a finished game.
eventually there will be an alpha version of the game world released, which will require fan contribution in order to fund the further development of the game. to that end we plan on releasing a multiplayer version of the game world in december of 2010 and will charge $3 a month for inclusion.
the following year that $3 a month will fund further development, with the another version scheduled for release december 2011, with the price raising to $5 per month (and the final version being released in december 22, 2012 with a price of $7/month)
for now it is just a slow process of moving our models and environments into the game engine, simply to place them in a context where we can see how they fit together and interact, polish off a lot of the audio, visual effecs/animations, and math behind combat and other elements.
as an independent project without any current outside funding, we expect to possibly get behind schedule with the first public release, which is why we are lucky to have another three years before we plan to have a fully release ready version of the game.
due to the fact that technology has gotten to the point where even an open source engine can be used to show a virtually borderless world with whatever effects we can imagine (and technologically accomplish), we don’t have to worry about anything beyond simply beginning the process of production of the world in a way that is not dissimilar to movie production.
as stated before, we chop the visualized final game into various locales, characters, and objects and then proceed to paint pictures of scenes we envision either in trailers or during early production play.
hopefully those things will add up to further exposure and fans. ideally, because we want to host all of the players in one massive virtual world, we are not trying to maximize interest early.
we want a very very small group of initial players and to use the proceeds from that minority to further development. that will allow a nice smooth transition between development and production.
to be perfectly honest, i am not entirely sure if i will be able to maintain the one world one (virtual) sever design throughout the game’s release. unlike a traditoonal corporate funded game, profits fro this oe will be put immediately back into production and development and design until it is the size of any other major release (yumm WoW).
this is one of the main reasons i decided to hold off production until the technology became accessible to fully duplicate the natural terrains of our solar system (with planet earth of course being a starting point).
my thinking was.. it doesnt make sense to focus so much design on a one (virtual) server game world only to have to split it into virtual servers when the population reaches 30,000.. 100,000.. or 1,000,000 players.
the surest way to ensure that the game world would be able to hold all of those players and grow with the playerbase wasn’t to prevent them from congregating in clumps or forcing them to avoid certain places.
after playing world of warcraft for a while i decided that i didn’t want to arbitrarily divide players based on level range or affiliation. but how else? i decided that the most logical way to create a virtual world that could safely house 1 out of every 100 humans (or more if we were somehow lucky enough to get a larger playerbase than blizzard’s World of Warcraft) was….
to make certain that the game world was not ONLY at least as large as the real world Earth, but large enough to even allow expansion (within a singular dimension or reality plane) beyond the earth, to other locations within the solar system.
i figured if the world can hold a few billion people, a virtual version inch for inch SHOULD be able to hold a few million. it would be a lot of work, to design a world that didn’t become too overcrowded in certain areas (still a drawback of current technology, is how many detailed characters can inhabit one virtual area)..
but throwing massive amounts of real estate at a huge population was (logistically) the easiest method that i was certain would have decent results (while streamlining some elements of level design.. and allowing more of the emphasis and design time being put into surreal details instead of virtual mountain ranges, etc)
deciding to make certain that the virtual solar system (and beyond) that i had always planned for future iterations of the project would have to be possible using whatever engine was delivering the alpha/beta (first public playable version) did have the beneficial effect of limiting my engine choices (which was something i desperately needed to help focus development)
paged (also known as paging) terrain is one of the more recent developments in video game engine technology. the good thing about ti is it’s ability to allow the designer to create a terrain of pretty much any imaginable size. as long as the client computer has enough hard drive space to store the terrain, it can be created using paging(paged) terrain by loading new textures and geometry on the fly (also eliminating loading time)
the exact method i would use in the future to allow travel between terrains 9planetary bodies, etc) is not exactly known, and would most likely vary between engines.. but for the first year or two of release, that is a moot issue.
the only thing that really matters in the near future is satellites (due to the fact that players will have flight capabilities, both using vehicles and under their own power). even using an unmodified paging (paged) terrain engine, the satellites could simply be 3d objects placed on specific routes VERY high above the actual terrain of the game world (which should be pretty interesting in practice)
more later.. character as design absolutes.. or .. “how to manage a fully pve/pvp world”