Iterated Development

I’m planning at this point to borrow a development page from Mythic’s work on Dark Age of Camelot. I had the opportunity to betatest this game from fairly early on, and see how they worked and ran things. I was even a testing team lead for the last six+ months of beta and the first year or so of release, which added to the experience greatly. In fact, that run was in many ways what triggered my initial interest in game development as a career shift. It took some time to get here from there, but I’ll always remember DAOC fondly as the game that got me going in this direction.

Anyway… The initial implementation of DAOC’s beta included just one of the three realms (opposing player factions) that they included at release – Albion. When I entered beta, it had been running for a couple of months already, and Albion was still the only realm. In fact, neither of the other two realms were added until around late April, shortly before the E3 event; they wanted to be able to demo their realm vs realm combat at that event.

But prior to that, all their beta efforts – for about half of the total beta! – were focused on only one realm, one section of the game. In essence, they ran their own “simplest game” for the early beta. This enabled them to rapidly work on the overall gameplay issues in a simple, easy to understand environment before complicating things.

Adding the second realm, and only then beginning heavy work on the third, had the side benefit of giving them a functionally complete game at a point of beta six months before their actual release date.

Looking around at the MMOG-verse, this is rare today. Instead, what we usually see is games either desperately releasing incomplete, rough, and buggy because they have run out of development funds and need to release right away – or we see games that push back their release date over and over, because the way the games were developed meant that they would flop horribly if released before completed. This is the problem with building “everything at once”. It means that everything needs to be done before the game can be released, or you end up with release issues.

Mythic instead created a functional game; then added another realm, and their RvR gameplay. Only then did they start working on the added complexity of the third game section. As a result, if they had run out of funding and had to push their release out four months early, they would have had a playable two-realm game to push out the door.

For a small and underfunded team (which Mythic was, back then!), that’s a crucial part of any plan.

So, Role of the Hero will include a number of Faction Groups. These won’t be Realms like DAOC used, because players will have the ability to shift and move between them, and their membership choices will directly affect the player’s game experience and character abilities. But these FGs do give us a logical way to break the game down into functional slices from which to generate an iterated development plan.

We only really need one strong, well developed FG to release. The rest are gravy. Important gravy, mind you – gravy that greatly add depth to the game. Each additional FG will have complex relationships with all the other FGs, adding depth of story. Each FG will create complications for player decision making, adding depth of gameplay. But when push comes to shove, we only need one FG up and completely running to have a working game.

With just under 11 months left til contest end, and just under 10 to have a working beta, that’s pretty valuable. 😉

As we’ve discussed before, one of the biggest barriers to completion of a major project solo like this is overreaching, and designing something which simply CANNOT be completed in the required timeframe. By creating an iterated development plan, I can allow for a “beta release time” at any of a number of points along the development timetable. Additional FGs can be added during the beta (like Mythic did), or even as expansion elements after full release.

Even if at completion date I have only one FG finished, I will have a working game.

My next entries here will talk about the backstory for the game, and briefly go over the Faction Groups planned.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Iterated Development

  1. Nice! Do you have plans to publicly publish your design document? Or at least could you outline your timetable for the next 10 months. It would be interesting for us to see how you plan to get everything accomplished.

  2. Patrick Hedges

    I have come to really like the ‘Simplest Game’ concept since I first read about it over at mmorpgmaker.com

    The idea has changed the way I look at development.

    Good Luck

  3. Exactly, I’m moving forward with that concept as well. I’m not going to do the $10k contest I think. I’ve got a dedicated artist for a 2d project we are working on, and are sticking with Kevin’s ‘Simplest Game’ concept. This way we have a game out and build a community. Then expand the game if it becomes popular. Not to mention, it gives us a rewarding boost to see a finished product hit the public.

  4. Patrick Hedges

    Yeah.

    I’ve seen the Simplest Game concept work for a game I beta’d. It was a turn-based Vehicular Combat MMO called DarkWind. At the beginning of the beta, the game was already playable which made the testing process easier. It was also fun to see the game evolve with more features being added.

    Ill definately be trying this out with ‘Submerged’ a submarine MMO idea I have hatching. I’m trying to plan all the little steps out and what I need to accomplish them. It makes the whole process seem less…impossible.

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