OK, we've finally done it! We've got a ship progression that makes sense; we’ve got swashbuckling avatar combat; we’ve got PvE and PvP combat rules that make more sense; the economy has been tuned to hum merrily along; we’ve got mission content that takes you to level 50; we’ve got Career paths and the skills to match; we’ve got Conquest content, code, and tuning much closer to our original intention in that missions and the economy are tied into port contention as they should be. In other words, we got game, baby!
I’ve talked before about the whole two steps forward, one step back sorta thing. It’s just a fact of life – we often make things worse before we make them better. Recently our Beta builds, while plenty playable and stable and even somewhat content-rich have been full of things that we’ve told the testers “no need to log bugs on that – it’s undergoing a big revamp.” Even I was having trouble coming up with areas that were worth it for them to explore. Being a pessimist by nature and a member of the QA team, historically I tend to be pretty cynical with each build. And then I write the Release Notes in which I mention known issues and areas Beta testers shouldn’t log bugs against and that doesn’t help. Sitting beside me, Rev comments how excited he is about some of the new missions that have gone in. I’ve seen the list of bugs in that mission chain that haven’t been fixed yet so I’m all like *rolleyes*. Rusty almost wrecks the car on the way home, rubbing his hands with glee about how excited the Beta testers will be with the new version of Avatar Combat. *rolleyes* Not this build, man! This build, I started writing the Release Notes and actually got excited! This build, they can log bugs against almost everything!
This build is not only the milestone build (the culmination of the work of a single milestone), it just so happened this was the “feature complete” milestone so this build contains basically all the features in the game. (Because no one can resist, I’m sure another small feature or two or ten will show up against great protestations from QA, but the big stuff’s in.) The milestone we just began is the “content complete” milestone. After that, it’s just polish, polish, polish.
This new build contains many exciting additions: revised tutorial, an Economy tutorial, new skills that enable new career paths, and the Conquest system (it’s now possible to “win” the game – conquer the world!). Jess Lebow’s goal is that we’ll have over 1000 “real” missions. We already have over 1000 missions if you count things like the Swashbuckling Demos and all the pieces of the Tutorial (which is broken into multiple small missions, each teaching a different aspect of the game.) There’s been a *lot* of tuning, particularly in ship stats and in swashbuckling skills but also in outfitting, the economy, and other areas. There’ve been a lot of performance improvements, particularly in the graphics handling but also in the way the game servers work and other things. Along with all that, it includes a ton of bug fixes: more mission fixes than I can count, a ton of fixes to the avatars – interpenetration bugs, color problems, etc. User Content had gone from mostly working to completely broken and now is fixed better than ever. And, on top of all that, there’s been a ton of polish: a world map available from within towns, more/better missions, lovely new art for the Login screen, more graphics options, more tooltips, more, more, more.
With recent builds having so little new stuff to test, many Beta testers have been “taking a break” and those that remained were having difficulty finding other players to group with or PvP against. With this build, not only are the Beta testers coming back in droves, we’re adding a ton more people faster than we ever have before. It feels more like an MMO every day. Now all we have to do is not break anything while we fix the remaining bugs. Yeah, good luck with that. *rolleyes*