Day: February 23, 2012

Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria’s Development Halt

Like many others, I recently read the news that Terraria is no longer going to be actively developed

First, A Few Thoughts About Terraria (Full Disclosure: Which I Still Have Yet To Play)

1. It’s sad news for the fans of the game, but ultimately they more than got their money’s worth.  The game is complete in and of itself and well worth $10, and is worth having even if it could have grown more than it did (this is true of our game Tidalis as well, which is the only game of ours which has had development halted).  Having untapped potential left in a game concept largely just means that it was an awesome concept.

2. It’s unfortunate that there won’t be ongoing bugfix support, and that’s something that I would handle differently (and in fact we do, for our game Tidalis).  Hopefully they will reconsider their position on that at least for bugs of substantial importance.  But either way it’s none of my business, and they seem to have done right by their players so far, so I have faith they’ll do whatever winds up being best.

3. Also unfortunate is the fact that more wasn’t communicated in advance about their intentions with the game.  I’m sure that they themselves didn’t know, but having a grace period where they said “we’re ending support for this in 6 months, so let’s get in the last things we can between now and then” might have done more to appease fans.  We didn’t do that with Tidalis, for the record, but that’s because Tidalis financially bombed.  Terraria made such excellent money that they shouldn’t have had that concern.

4. I think that embarking on a new project, after so long spent on Terraria, is probably a healthy thing.  Having a break to work on Tidalis was an enormous help for reinvigorating us to work on AI War versions 4.0 and 5.0.  Maybe the same will be true for the Terraria devs.  Or maybe their next project is actually going to be the successor to Terraria.

5. My own strategy with AI War has been to release paid expansions periodically, which both earn us more money directly, as well as making the base game sales spike, earning us more money indirectly.  Both of those are how we pay the bills and keep the lights on, but that’s but one of two paths.  The other path is the traditional sequel/succesor-game path, and it sounds like the Terraria devs are going that route.  It’s not what I would do with my own games, purely for matters of personal taste, but it’s an enormously valid choice to make.

TLDR: I don’t think that the Terraria devs acted in bad faith with anybody, but a little more forewarning would have smoothed things over better with their fanbase.  Either way, they still seem like really standup folks to me.  And the reason I’ve not played their game yet is that I’m worried I’ll get hooked and spend too much time doing that rather than coding my own games!

Now, How Our History With AI War Compares

The big thing that worries me about Terraria halting game development, as a game developer, is that this will create a perception that “you never know when developers will just randomly close up shop on a game.”  Minecraft is still sort of being developed, but really slowly, and that was a game I played a lot of — I remember when the update frequency suddenly plummeted, and it was jarring.  My worry is that players will be mistrustful of post-release support from indie developers for this reason.

For AI War, we have an incredibly lengthy history of post-release support spanning since May 2009 up until the present (and still going).  You may notice that there are two big gaps, though:

1. During the time we were developing Tidalis, AI War development really scaled back for about six months, and all but disappeared for two.

2. During the time we’ve been developing AVWW, AI War development scaled back even further, and daily releases became weekly, then monthly, and only recently have resumed being weekly again.

What’s different about both of these cases from Terraria or Minecraft is that we gave at least three months of warning before these events happened.  There was lots of “hey guys, we’re pushing out an enormous number of features here for 5.0 in preparation of taking a while off after 5.0/Light of the Spire releases, just so you know!”

The break turned out to be substantially longer than we had expected (5 quarters instead of 2-3), but sometimes that’s how it goes.  And the game has still managed to grow and get better polished during that time… just at a much slower rate.

We’ve also made it clear that we plan at least two more expansions for AI War.  This is still true, despite the fact that we’ve had to push back the release dates because AVWW development has run over-long.  It’s those sorts of expansions that really keep the game growing in leaps and bounds, and which make for one really large experience rather than a string of similarly-sized sequels.

That’s why I like expansions instead of sequels, as a player and a developer: you get to keep all the content from the first game, as well as get all the new content from the second game.  If Left 4 Dead 2 had been a $50 expansion pack to the first game, with the same content it had plus the ability to keep the characters and maps from the first game if I had the first game also, that would have been awesome.  I still bought both games anyhow, and both were worth it, but it would be better if I could put them together rather than having them as two isolated experiences.  As it is, I pretty much only play L4D2 now, never L4D1.

How This All Relates To Our Plans For AVWW

Sometimes these things just need to be explicitly stated: again, otherwise you’re leaving players wondering.  I keep talking about how we are approaching 1.0, and about various things that we’d “like to be able to do” after 1.0.  But what’s really going to happen after 1.0?

Our plan is to take the AI War route, and release tons of free DLC as well to do at least a couple of paid expansions.  Hopefully in 2-3 years, we’re still developing both AI War and AVWW — that is the ideal scenario for me personally.

Really, the only way I could see that not coming to pass is if AVWW financially bombs like Tidalis did.  Tidalis was simply too niche, and I personally still have lost about $50,000.00 out of that entire endeavor of making that game.  I’m glad that we did make that game, and I think it’s a great game, but we spent way too much money making it and it never made that money back.  Developing more content for that game would be simply a fool’s errand for us at this point.

If we somehow have that happen with AVWW as well, then… well, a lot of my plans for post-1.0 work probably won’t materialize.  But we’ll give it three months at least, and pack in a lot of free DLC during that time, to make sure that we give it a fair shot at succeeding if it has any chance of doing so.

But all of that is really very negative speculation: signs are excellent that AVWW is going to be our biggest hit yet, and absolutely blow AI War out of the water in terms of the audience it reaches.  And if it does that, great — we’ll proceed as planned, and AVWW is going to go from massive to incredibly massive, same as AI War did between it’s 1.0 and 5.0 versions (all of which were free upgrades, by the way, released alongside the paid expansions).

On the other end of the spectrum, what if AVWW goes viral and gets super incredibly popular?  AI War’s income will seem paltry and sparse at that point, right?  And wouldn’t it be better just to let that game quietly die and focus on the big moneymaker at that stage?

Well, no — that’s how a “suit” thinks, isn’t it?  I’m not a suit.  If AVWW goes sky-high popular then that will certainly put more demands on our time because we’ll have a lot more fans to please all of a sudden.  But that’s not going to mean we’re going to give up on AI War, or that we’re going to do lesser expansions for that game because of it.  It just means we’ll have to work harder to divide our time effectively between the two, which I believe is something that Keith and I are equipped to do (especially with Erik handling PR and Josh helping so much with QA and support).

The Bottom Line

For Arcen, communication is really a key part of how we do business.  Having an open development process has been a blessing and a curse — early on with AVWW, a lot of people thought we were crazy, but now it’s all coming together in a really positive way and there’s this great public record of how the game has evolved.

As we move forward toward AVWW’s 1.0 and beyond, that communication is going to be something we maintain.  We’ll try to give you as accurate of updates as we can on the timing and plans for AI War’s expansions, and for the free DLC and paid expansions for AVWW.

You won’t ever wake up some day and hear “oh, by the way, the last-ever patch for AI War or AVWW was today.”  You might someday hear “unless something changes to make this financially viable for us to continue, we’ve got three months left to work on patches for this or that game before we have to stop indefinitely with that title.”

If there’s anyone who was feeling doubtful in the wake of recent events, hopefully that helps to set some minds at ease.  With regard to Arcen titles, at least!

As typically happens, the discussion about this has continued on our forums.  Feel free to drop by to read or comment!

AI War Beta 5.027, “SuperTerminal Overload,” Released!

This one has a variety of balance tweaks, the most substantial of which is to prevent certain kinds of exploits with super-terminals.  Warbird and Beam starships also got a heck of a lot more awesome, and mapgen is no longer quite so unkind with where it is able to put Dyson Sphere planets.

Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the
in-game updater itself, if you already have 4.000 or later. When you
launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found
if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 4.000 or later, you can download that here.

AVWW – Learning The Game, FAQ, and Wiki Updated

Environ is a hostile place, but the game itself endeavors to teach you everything you need to know as you get started.  However, if you wish to know more about how the game works before playing, or if you’re the sort of person who simply prefers external manuals, then these are the links for you!

A Valley Without Wind Wiki: Learning The Game

Getting Started Guide

What Are All These Maps For?

Frequently Asked Questions

Multiplayer Co-Op: Differences From Solo Play, And Other Notes

We’ll continue to update the wiki as our centralized resource for this sort of thing from now on, rather than having it spread throughout our blogs, the forums, the main website, and so on.  Big thanks to Josh Knapp for getting the vast majority of these updates in place!

AVWW Beta 0.580 “Volcanic Gangs” Released!

This one is another big one — three days in the making, it ought to be!  Despite the fact that I lost about half of Monday to my motherboard frying.  But that’s another story.

There are an unusually high number of random tweaks and fixes and balance improvements in this one — too many to remotely begin to list, really.  That’s going to be one of the main foci for the next half week or so, as we polish the game up for beta phase 3 (which is going to be about more content and yet more polish).

One big group of changes in this version is interface clarity and usability.  There’s a lot of specific improvements noted in the release notes, but this is just the first batch of this kind of improvements.  Over the next couple of days, we’ll be doing even more of that.

There are also a few places where mechanics themselves were streamlined, and advanced functionality was put into enchants (great for advanced players) instead of being a baseline feature that new players would have to grapple with, etc.

New Stuff For Co-Op
There’s a new Healing Touch spell that you can use to transfer some of your life energy to an ally, which is helpful in rescue NPC missions as well as in co-op.

There’s also a major improvement to co-op in the form of individual spell unlocks per player.  So if you want fire stuff and I want earth stuff, we can now specialize without both having to unlock both.

And of course there’s a few multiplayer bugfixes, as per typical for recently.


Jumping And Movement Changes
There’s a whole bunch of changes relating to the mechanics of jumping and moving around.  Powersliding as a base ability is out, for instance (too easy to shoot yourself in the metaphorical foot with that), but there’s now an enchant that gives that ability for those players who want it.

The “inherent double jump” that you could previously get by walking off a cliff without jumping, and then “air jumping” after that, is also now gone.  That was really handy, and a lot of advanced players made use of it (myself included), but it was a bit counter-intuitive and made certain things too easy.

But as a counter-balance to that change, we added new enchants for not only true double-jump, but also triple-jump abilities.  And these can still be used in concert with the ride the lightning spell, meaning that you can effectively get a quadruple jump if that’s how you want to customize your character.

Then there’s a whole bunch of changes to how the world map movement works (now it’s smooth), and how heatsuits function (they’re a lot more restricted in terms of what enchant effects they allow you to use, which was always the idea because they’re our way of preserving hardcore platforming segments in lava areas).

Underwater Exploration Improvements
There are a few key improvements here, but lots more is coming soon.  It’s better at the moment, but still not at all what we ultimately want it to be for 1.0 or even for beta phase 3.

Like with the jumping and movement changes, I’m trying to go ahead and get these changes done now so that any bugs that crop up related to them have time to be fixed before we hit beta phase 3 early next week.  Last thing we want to be doing is core mechanics changes right before putting the game in front of a wider audience of press and players!

Two New Mission Types




These new mission types are really different in nature.  One is basically a mosh pit of bosses that normally you don’t see combined together; that’s interesting enough on its own, and makes some nice variety instead of boss towers.

The other one is our first hardcore platforming challenge, a lava escape sequence.  Lava is rising shockingly fast, and you’ve got to get to the top and hit the switch before it catches you and fries you.  And if it catches you at all, you’re pretty much dead right there.

The lava escape breaks a lot of our usual rules for the game (no deaths from twitch mistakes, etc), but that’s actually the point of the few missions we’ll have along these lines — we’ve promised these kinds of optional hardcore platforming challenges from the start, we think they’re fun, and you don’t lose anything if you don’t play them.  More details in the release notes if you want more on the rationale there.

More to come soon, mostly in the form of polish, bugfixes, and clarity enhancements for the next couple of days in particular.  Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the
in-game updater itself, if you already have 0.500 or later. When you
launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found
if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 0.500 or later, you can download that here.