A Small Update
For various reasons Lindelu will be unable to post her letter until next week. So I wanted to write you guys something, and touch on a couple of subjects she isn’t talking about. So you can think of this as a double-newsletter month.
First Things First
I’ve always tried to be completely transparent about the goings-on of AO, and as much as possible give you guys insight into the behind-the scenes. So first, I want to dispel any rumors and get the following out of the way:
I think it’s a safe bet that most people who read these forums are aware that Funcom has been making structural changes to the organization, in order to streamline the business side of things. There have been a number of press reports and articles I’m not going to link here. But due to the nature of the beast, all projects & teams were affected at Funcom. And yes, we’ve had to make some changes on Anarchy Online. However, this will not make an impact on our priorities and with a couple minor adjustments won’t make a substantial impact on our planned delivery schedule for most features. We’re still going to deliver the features that you guys have been asking for
Two things to keep in mind here:
- Anyone who reads Funcom's quarterly reports should know Anarchy Online is, and has been, “cash-flow positive” which is a fancy way of saying the project itself is extremely secure in terms of the finances. So AO isn’t going anywhere. The adjustments to the AO project were made for external reasons.
- In a lot of ways, the AO team has been impacted less than other projects because we had been staffing up in preparation for a couple of members who had been planning to move back to their country of origin in late 2012/early 2013, for purely personal reasons. We had been hoping to benefit from being “overstaffed” for a couple more months, but this can no longer happen.
Our major feature priorities are still the following:
- Server Merge
- Engine Upgrade
- New Player Experience
- Profession Rebalance
We are still evaluating as we go, but the changes to the AO team might mean that #3 and #4 get flipped with each other due to basically rearranging how work is distributed and what makes the most sense to do first. We had planning on doing the Profession Rebalance in smaller changes over time anyway, and some of those smaller changes may get re-shuffled. And there will still be regular bug fixes and improvements, content updates, tweaks to the item shop & etc.
I’ve written a number of detailed/technical posts about the engine, and I’m not going to re-cover that ground. But if you are interested in the more technical aspects you can read up here, here,here, and here
Basically, when Fia and I joined the project, we decided to take a somewhat different approach on the Engine Upgrade than what was in progress when we joined. Instead of focusing on the engine features themselves (getting X to work) and upgrading individual assets or areas, we decided to take a more holistic approach and ask the question “what is strictly needed to produce a playable version that can be deployed externally, and launches/updates/patches via the existing methods?” And this is where the work has been directed. Because let’s face it, you guys want to see something… and if various features need to come later (for example, the first public beta of the new engine probably won’t display helmets for various technical reasons) that’s probably preferable to not having anything at all. There are a million of these small technical things that, instead of trying to solve all at once, we can push off until after we have something that can you guys can have fun with now.
So I am pleased to say we have a series of internal milestones left to meet, but if all goes according to plan we should be able to get something in the hands of players early next year. This would be a public beta rather than an official release, which means the team is free to focus on the issues that we feel will get us to the endpoint the fastest. The fact is that AO players use an enormous diversity of hardware, and once we have a deployable version, we don’t really want to have the expectation of a released product (meaning officially “supporting” everybody’s video cards and have to prioritize these fixes first). If any of you guys played Conan, this would be similar to how the DX10 client was technically in beta long after everybody who wanted to use it had already switched over.
Server “Merge” (it’s really a Migration!)
I’ve talked about the server merge at length on the forums, so you guys might have read this before but I want to recap it. Some background reading is here.
Just to be clear, what we are really doing isn’t strictly a server merge; rather it’s a server merge on the data side followed by a complete server migration.
Technically speaking, we are taking the two existing dimensions of Anarchy and merging the data at a database level, and then migrating that onto a fresh server. While combining the populations into a single dimension is a positive thing (and a great benefit!), the primary motivation is good server health. Another benefit is that we plan to move inventories out of the BLOB structure they’re currently in, so this will save developers and players alike a lot of headaches. It will improve customer service and development, because item data in general will be a lot more accessible to our tools.
Obviously, we have one shot at this and we need to get it right the first time. There are also a lot of auxiliary design tasks (everything from expanding character slots, to improving instanced cities) that we will start to silently patch in the next few updates. Think of this as staging / testing / prep-work. The server merge is scheduled for the 18.6 update, so that will be our next “major” patch, after we are done with the 18.5.x series. The final patches from the 18.5.x series will be the aforementioned prep-work.
I think that about covers it! Lindelu’s GD letter is forthcoming. There’s a lot of great stuff in there, and I don’t want to spoil it. And before you ask me questions NOT about the above please wait until Lindelu's letter gets posted, because it pretty much covers everything I don’t.