So Starr stole my thunder by posting all the player stats so now I’m at a loss as to how to start off my post! To summarize, participation was way up, total play time was up, crashing… was up… hat envy, was also up! In case you missed it, for each release going forward, we’re adding a special reward that will only be available during that release. These will only be trophy items with no real purpose other than to prove you took part in the test. R10 was supposed to be a polish release but we apparently need to read up on what polish means because we crammed a ton of features and bugs in instead of polishing. So, in short, we suck. Sorry, we’ll do better! Now I’ll tell you about a particularly hairy bug our players discovered and then I’ll dive into a bit of design talk! So, for this release we added a “Challenge Dungeon”. The idea is, we need a way to test out and prove what it means to be a hard PVE encounter. For those who didn’t play it, the dungeon is basically linear and gets progressively harder with occasional variations in layout and presentation of the encounters. My direction on it was to make it so hard that no solo player can make it past 10 rooms and no party can make it to the end. Then, once you think it is so hard that not even a full party of 8 can make it to the end, go add 5 more rooms that are even harder! Aside from testing difficulty, it lets us observe strategies used and exploits and gives some replayable content. As I expected, at least 4 groups looked to have finished the dungeon to the last room! So much for impossible. I unfortunately didn’t have great metrics data in place for the dungeon yet so I could only tell how far people got through the heat map data we store. So the reason I bring up the challenge dungeon here is because it was the source of one of our nastier bugs we uncovered this release. We tested it a hundred times locally, on live, simulating a bad connection, and had no issues with it. Once it got to live, 95% of the people could get in just fine but 5% would get stuck on the zone in screen and then get kicked back to the front end. No amount of testing ever let us reproduce it. Finally, with the help of some users, we managed to track down that it only happened to the first person entering the scene but never any other members of their party. We also managed to confirm that if it happened to someone, it would happen on all machines in the same house and all accounts. Good stuff. That means it is likely tied to the connection. Now to figure out why it happened only in this one dungeon and what was special about it. For the first player into the scene instance we have logic that insures that they have an exact copy of the data before the scene will begin. For speed reasons, these are sent as a big stream of messages with just a single check at the end to make sure they all got there. If it misses something then it re-sends the whole stream. This is how all level starts have always been and we haven’t seen any significant issues with it even on massive levels like Ardoris. Well, due to some possible questionable implementation choices on our part, the dungeon scene had close to 1000 interactive objects that needed to be synced up right at the start of the level. This is far more than any other scene! The result is that players need to be able to receive around 1000 packets in a row without losing one. If they miss one, it tries to send the 1000 packet sequence again and again till they all get through in one send. After a fair number of tries it fails… badly and in a confusing manner. This is reason #937 why I love having real users for our testers. Before any network coders post it, yes, we have ways to simulate net lag and packet loss. We just don’t have the bandwidth (human bandwidth, not internet) to catch all the problem cases with so much content getting added in late each month. For the record, we still send things in this same manner. We just reworked the dungeon scene to send fewer elements. Also, this is now on our hot list of elements to improve on once we get more fires put out. Right now doing things like moving gold creation and trading to the server are higher priority than reworking this but we’ll definitely get to it if we start seeing it happen more in upcoming releases. Ok, enough talking about old stuff. Let’s talk about new stuff! So for R11 we’re turning on advancement. The result is going to be that R11 will feel VERY different than past releases! Unfortunately, we won’t have our new user experience and tutorial in until R12. The result is new players will be tiny, fragile lambs dropped into a cruel and confusing world. Ok, that might be a bit overly dramatic but players will definitely be dying fast if they don’t use a bit more caution than in past releases. First big change is leveling is in and we’ll probably start players at level 1. This means instead of 240 or 300 skill points, you will start with...8. Yes, you read that right, EIGHT. Why so few? While most readers of this are old pros by now and understand the differences between actives and passives, locked and dealt slots, and why these useless grey cards keep coming up, the new user will not have a clue. For the new user experience and tutorial we’re going to lock the player into basic combat mode (standard MMO locked skill bar), start them with only a couple of skills, and a few pieces of basic gear. We’ll hold their hand and walk them through the basics of how stuff works. When they hit level 10, we’ll let them take off the training wheels and allow them to choose advanced combat mode, aka deck combat, if they wish to. Also, by level 10 you will have around 100 skill points. Players gain points per level and then gain a big chunk of points (currently 20 points) every 10 levels. At each of these bonuses, the game will also get a little more challenging. At 10, the training wheels come off and we let you try out advanced combat. At 20, we make you put on your big boy pants and increase the minimum number of cards required in the deck. At 30, players should have enough abilities that they stand a good chance against a player of any level. We’ve talked a lot about a much flatter power curve than other games and don’t think that we’ve forgotten the plan. The leveling curve is pretty fast early on. Obviously these numbers are just targets but we expect players to reach level 5 by the end of the tutorial. Level 10 within an hour. Level 20 within 5-10 hours of total play time. At level 20, players will have half as many skill points as a level 50 BUT that does not mean half as powerful. For comparison at level 20, players will have around the same number of hit points as they have had in the last few releases. At level 50 (approximately 70-100 hours play), they will have about half again that many. At level 100 (projected to require something like 5000 hours of play to reach) they will have a bit more than twice the hit points of a level 20. At level 20, players should have the skill points they need for most builds, just not multiple builds at once. Obviously there is a LOT of other stuff that factors into power other than just raw hit points but I did just want to throw that out there so people knew this wasn’t going to be some crazy setup where level 20 people have 100 hit points and level 50 people have 5000. This week, while trying to get more cases for approximate combat lengths in different games, I watched a bunch of videos of WoW. I haven’t been back to WoW in a few years though I played to the end game through the first 2 expansions. I was shocked and amused to find videos showing WoW players hitting for 14,000 points of damage! Holy crap, that escalated fast! That is unfortunately what they have to do to make sure and keep their power tiers so tight that 5 levels means the difference between easy kill and impossibly hard. In addition to the strange new world players will be experiencing due to the advancement, much of the combat and items will be very different as well. I’ll mention one change that will probably be noticeable to most people _IF_ we manage to sneak it in for this release. Armor will no longer add slugs. Instead, armor will have an encumbrance multiplier. So bulky plate might have a 3, whereas fine chain might only have a 1.5. This means that even though your plate weighs 30 pounds, without skills to reduce the penalty, it will slow you down as if it weighed 90 pounds. The skills that were in place before to reduce slugs will now reduce that multiplier. In combat, encumbrance will make combat skills use more focus. If encumbrance goes too high, it will slow the player’s movement down. Higher still and movement will be slowed and use focus just to move at all! We are just now making this change so it might not survive our internal testing and make it into R11. I’m optimistic it will make for a better play experience for tank types. Some elements will still have slugs but including as many as we did was just annoying to most players. Ok, time to stop typing here and get back to making stuff happen in game! Looking forward to seeing you guys in R11!