In a post announcing the new Camelot Unchained website today, Mark Jacobs apologized for the alpha's delay, writing, "I want to thank all of our Backers for their understanding and support regarding the delay of the commencement of Alpha Testing. It is gratefully appreciated by myself and the team."
[Thanks to Andy for the tip.]
[Update: We've included the revised explanatory video below. Mark Jacobs also forwarded us his letter to backers, which hasn't yet been uploaded to the new-new site. We've embedded it below as well.]
Call it what you like; we are late, behind schedule, etc. No sugar-coating it, we are late. During our Kickstarter, we promised that we would always be upfront with news, whether good, bad, or middling. We are committed to an open and transparent process with our Backers, and what we are going to talk about today, with the delay and everything else, will further emphasize that commitment.
We are deeply sorry that we have to delay the opening of Alpha Testing. While the Alpha Test date, like all of our dates, was "estimated," that does not mean that we should be satisfied with just saying "We're late," and move on. The first thing I will address now is why we are late.
Why are we late? As mentioned in other updates, we were unable to fill most of our engineering openings until May 2014. We had hoped to fill most of those slots by the end of 2013. This put engineering far behind schedule, which led us to:
Focus the vast majority of our programming. resources only on tech foundations of the engine.
Slow the hiring of additional artists and asset creation as the latter might have changed as our tech evolved and left us with a lot of less-than-useful assets.
Spend more of studio leadership's time on interviewing prospective candidates. Andrew and I had to spend far too much time on the hiring process and as we have talked about before, we have a pretty thorough process.
Now, is this all bad news? No, there is some good news here too. First, all of our new engineers are meeting or exceeding our expectations for them. The state of the game engine and the improvements that have been going in have allowed us to make up some lost ground, but obviously not enough. Between the BSC Days and the present moment, there have been huge additions to the game engine and tech. Some of these changes are listed later on in this update. For example, the basic A.I.R. (Action, Interaction, and Reaction) system, that we talked about in the BSC days, of ability interaction has been up and running in our Internal Test for weeks, and we are working on implementing the next steps of its development.
As per earlier updates, we specifically slowed hiring of additional personnel, so while we are behind schedule, we have also spent less money than we projected. Just as with our delay of the BSC Daze, we are devoted to only releasing this game when it is ready to be released. We could have cut corners and made some sleazy design decisions and said "Alpha Begins Now!!!" but we won't do that. We know that we have to hold ourselves to a high standard because of the faith and commitment that our Backers have shown us and we plan to reward that commitment not only by our work on the game but by actions such as I'm going to talk about now.
Our plan to thank our Backers for their commitment in the past, present, and future is made up of several parts. The first and most obvious one is to continue to maintain the kind of communication and openness with our Backers that we have shown since even before our Kickstarter began. Today I did two Live Streams about the change to Alpha Testing as well as this email. While the second stream was made necessary by the lack of clarity and flawed communication in the first presentation, it was something that I felt had to be done. While I hope this will be the last time I have to do something like that, I and the studio will do what is necessary not what is expedient.
That being said, what is the rest of our plan going forward? The second part of the plan is the Alpha Guarantee. If we have to further delay the Alpha beyond that date, we will compensate all of our Backers with a combination of Founder's Points, CSE Points, and free days of subscription. The rewards will, of course, be appropriate to whether you are a Builder, Founder and/or lifetime subscription holder, but no matter what your tier, you will be rewarded if we are delayed again.
The current estimated date for the Alpha promised in our Kickstarter is February 2015. This is the deadline that matters for both us and our Backers in terms of our Alpha Guarantee. While that is still the estimated date, if we do not launch Alpha Testing by the end of February, we will be late and will follow-through on our guarantee.
While we know we don't have to promise this, we think it is the right thing to do. Delays happen, but if we are delayed again, well, that means we aren't doing our job properly.
While it would be easy to simply delay Alpha and even offer rewards as per above, we realized we would need to do even more. And that's when we came up with something we think meets the needs of both the Backers and our Team.
In between now and the opening of Alpha, we will periodically open the game to both our Internal Testers and Alpha Testers for everything from small, focused tests, to more massive stress tests. For the sake of nomenclature lovers everywhere, we are calling this the Pre-Alpha Testing Period. During this time, our Alpha Testers will have access to the game in order to help us test stable builds of the game. Internal Testers will still continue to have exclusive access to in-progress builds of the game.
For those who heard my first live stream of the day, this was initially called Alpha 1 and Alpha 2. Based on the feedback we received (basically the virtual equivalent of confused stares), we decided that "Pre-Alpha Testing Period" makes better sense. What I initially called "Alpha 1" (henceforth know as Pre-Alpha Testing Period) will commence when we have added certain features to the game engine that we have currently planned. These features will be detailed in the latter part of this update.
Over the last month, as we prepared for this announcement, we shifted some of our resources to make the game engine feel more like a game. However, at the same time, this has allowed us to work on some key parts of the game engine, such as (and this is just a small sample):
Large battles with projectiles, effects, and animations all firing at a more rapid pace than might be expected in the game. Right now, the game engine and archetype system is geared to having lots and lots of things flying around the screen quickly (other than walls, when they do that they are being bad!). This will allow Andrew and the team to identify and deal with problems that will arise further down the road as more players join in the fun and frolic.
Spells can already interact with each other, as per the A.I.R. system.
We have quadrupled the size of the core test area, and are beginning to flesh it out more to gauge its impact on rendering speed, network traffic, etc.
Added new projectile types, walls, and other attacks that will comprise key elements of the game going forward.
Many of the more recent changes which we have made were all in preparation for the Pre-Alpha Tests (PATs) will commence when all the features on the list to come are implemented. The PATs will be open at intermittent times to accommodate players from major time zones where the vast majority of our players are found. As per our Kickstarter and beyond, our Alpha Test is an old-school Alpha Test, much like the one we did back with Dark Age of Camelot, and what other studios used to call Alpha at the time. Alpha was and is not intended to be even close to a finished game.
We will have a mixture of tests that will be open to all IT & Alpha folks, and also some tests that will be open to a limited set of Alpha Testers based on geographic location/time zone (we want to ensure that as many of our Alpha Testers as possible can get into the tests), availability level (some tests may need to last hours to be effective), and other factors.
Due to the sheer number of players with Alpha Testing access (over 9K currently), we are not going to spin up enough servers 24x7 to accommodate all possible players in PATs. That would be a waste of time and money. By scheduling smaller tests at hours that are more region-specific, we can better serve our Alpha Testers and keep our additional costs down to a minimum.
This is not about being in the "Cool Kidz Club" but rather to ensure that all of our Alpha Testers can get access to the tests without having to wait in long queues and then find out that they were able to get into the game moments before the test ends. The largest block of Backers to our game are Backers that have Alpha Access. These additional tests were not in the initial budget/plan and we need to manage them properly to make sure that financially, we don't regret doing this.
Traditionally MMORPG companies limit the number of players that can access these tests through a variety of means. While it would be easy to simply limit the number of servers and watch as people have to deal with long queues and get frustrated, we don't want to do that.
We will be looking at our Alpha Testers to help self-screen those players who can commit additional time to help us break and test stuff during more studio-friendly hours. This way we can serve both the needs of our Backers and that of our studio.
We are also looking to admit more people into Internal Testing to help fill the ranks of testers and continue the development process.
The best way to look at these tests is that the earliest phase of these PATs will focus on the core tech for the game. As we get closer and closer to the opening of Alpha, we will be adding more gameplay features, as well as improvements to the game that will allow for more significant stress-testing.
The goal of these PATs is to better prepare the game for Alpha Access. A lot of things on the list for the PATP is not sexy stuff (except to other developers) but it is stuff that we need to make a great game and that is what we need to focus on now. As you folks have heard me say before, if the game doesn't work at launch, it doesn't matter how great/BSC the game's ideas/vision were; it's still broken.
No date is set for the opening of the PATs, other than that they have to start before Alpha. The current checklist for the beginning of Pre-Alpha Testing is the following (many of these have already been completed or are well on their way to completion):
System to define abilities by player race and archetype
New archetypes - Mages, Support, Melee.
10 abilities per archetype, with different strengths and weaknesses per realm
Ability to spawn a wall spell/object that has health and is also targetable
Character mobility system when casting
Ability VFX for corresponding ability types
New character creation UI
Interim ability editor
Abilities moved to Database
Movement speed tied to terrain incline
New physics objects
Dynamically updating placeable collision using mesh or primitive shapes
First pass of configuration settings on character and client
Character persistence - position upon logout, health, kills, stats
First pass of skeleton masking system for animation
Multipart animations to support stages of movements
Female Fir Bog in game
Server auto-updating system
Dynamic master server list
Server Zone Control and re-zoning
Set up new server hardware and software
Up-to-date server list for server controller and master server
New weapon models for testing
Texture updates for pre-existing characters
Terrain size increased 4 times
Improved terrain shader
Improved height map generation and accuracy
Improved draw distance fogging
Sky parameters exposed to editor
New website and forums
Fix low frame rate for lower-end graphics cards (object/tree fixes)
Fix AMD cards visual issues with trees/alphas
Client-side crash logging and sending to Database
Nice big list for Pre-Alpha Testing, eh?
To repeat, for clarity: As per our other posts/updates regarding Alpha in February, it will be open to all Alpha and Internal Testers, but our servers will not be running 24 hours, 7 days a week, just like almost every Alpha Test for an MMORPG.
Again, speaking on behalf of myself and everyone at CSE, I apologize for the delay. I hope our openness and willingness to put our money where our mouths are will go a long way.
P.S. I also apologize for having to do another live stream. I should have done a better job communicating the thought process that we went through in more detail; as well as the impact that was going to have on testing. As many of you might remember hearing these words before from me, mea culpa.