Monday, February 4, 2013

10 Year Anniversary Retrospective - Part II

By now I'm sure you all know that to people who work on games, "soon" really means; "when we feel like it." So, is it really any surprise that when I told you guys to "check back soon," for the follow up to the last part of the anniversary retrospective, you wouldn't be able to read it until a year later?

I would have had it for you "sooner," but it's difficult to reminisce about how you spent all this time working on building things to help push the game forward, only to have the game go down for such a long stretch of time, a month later. Especially when the response, at the time, was that it would be back up "soon." So what was supposed to be a one week break from blogging instead became a month, which became until Rhialto got the game back, which became on the next anniversary since it looks like the game will be down quite awhile longer (aka, it will be back "soon").

Although, actually, kudos to me as I finally got around to writing this, not 12 months later, but 10 months later and I am just scheduling it to be published on February 4th. So, really, I should get an award or something for completing this early. Maybe a nice plump halfling wrapped in elf skin or a... what's that? I'm rambling? Well, duh, I don't refer to this blog as my "mad ramblings" for nothing. But, fine, I'll move on to the retrospective, if you insist. *mumbles incoherently*

fae Wyston Graveyard

The fae Wyston Graveyard is an important piece of Wyvern's history as it's one of the game's earliest dungeons. Sadly, it was also one of the most unbalanced. In addition to having way too much loot for its difficulty, it also handed out way too much experience - Like most early maps, there were spawns for random scrolls, spellbooks, rings, armor, and rods just sitting near mid-level monsters. Originally, you could even get an artifact spawn without having to fight the boss. But eventually, Rhialto took some of that treasure out and put the random artifact spawn in the inventory of a beefed up version of the arch dracolich.

That wasn't its only problem, though. Sadly, it, at one point, also earned the honor of having the map that gave out the highest amount of experience since experience goes up for every spell a monster has and the graveyard had a bunch of floating eyes and skulls grouped together (fun fact: I know this because Rhialto told me after informing me that the map with the second highest amount of experience belonged to me - whoops).

Rhialto eventually made some tweaks to how much experience these monsters got, but it was still too much and progression was far too simple. There were just four very small maps that were loaded with monsters. Thus, high level players would run through it in a couple of minutes and come away with easy experience... and an easy to obtain artifact. Due to this, we ended up blocking it off with boulders and then having it removed entirely.

You can see the original four levels and the above ground graveyard map below. Most of you who have been around long enough to have been able to go there probably went after we updated many of the game's graphics in 2003. But I decided to use the old ones instead to show you how it looked people first started going there. The game didn't even have different color staircases back then, so even dark and spooky dungeons had to make use of those white ones.

Anyway, after closing it off, I immediately started working on redoing it and got as far as the first couple of maps. My initial idea was to make this huge group dungeon that started off with the same easy bunch of undead monsters from the original map, but quickly became challenging and ended with Morgos as the boss. However, plans for an even harder Morgos dungeon came up and, although I never got very far with that one either, planning it out diverted my attention. Before I could get back to the graveyard, an old wizard showed up and signed up to redo fae Wyston entirely. So rather than make them work around my graveyard, I shelved the project, thinking that maybe one day I'd get back to it and put it in Minath Elion or Alaria.

Unsurprisingly, the wizard in question left again and nothing much ever came of it. So I'd occasionally think about going ahead and redoing it as fae Wyston needed to have monster maps again, but other things always took precedence. Then our 10th year anniversary was fast approaching and I wanted to not only provide new content for people, but provide content that celebrated the game's history... and what better way to do that than to give fresh life to old maps? Well, I had a bunch of things I wanted to complete, but the Minath Monster Arena ended up preventing me from getting to everything as it was a huge time sink. Fortunately, though, the graveyard made it in under the wire and it came out quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

It's now a large, 50 or so map dungeon (to be fair, some of those are duplicate puzzle maps) with three mini bosses, two bosses, several puzzles, a couple of tricks, new monsters created for the anniversary, a non-streamlined form of progression, (meaning you don't just go down one square map after another until you reach the end) and some nice rewards (artifact armor ftw!). As you probably know, there's no Morgos in there as I shifted the idea since then to instead build on the original dungeon. There wasn't much to work with, but I tried to keep the general look. Thus the simple dirt + cave wall combo, my use of only the original gravestones, and many of the same monsters appearing throughout the dungeon. An interesting little tidbit you might not know is that the Arch Dracolich at the end of the original dungeon was called "Shog," which is why he is surrounded by shoggoths. Well, for anyone who has gone through my redone version, you'll probably recall the points where I expanded on that.

Here's another interestingly little tidbit: I was in the process of expanding the graveyard when the game went down. I've long wanted to make a dungeon that can only be accessed by completing several other dungeons. It's something I've mentioned in-game, on the forum, and probably in this very blog. I briefly had the idea of redoing the Minath Elion ruins with something like that, (I even thought that I'd include this graveyard as one of the dungeons) but as I would have taken forever to do that, Teshuvah redid it instead. Then I briefly had the thought that maybe one day I'll make a west Minath Elion ruins. But, that wasn't going to happen either.

Well, skip ahead a bit and this idea popped into my head again while working on the anniversary, but obviously I wasn't going to have time to make multiple dungeons. So, I made some notes and shelved the idea until after the anniversary, whereupon I made eight additional above ground graveyard maps. I don't reveal unreleased content much, but here's the original map that you guys got to see, plus an additional eight that I intended to link to it.

My plan was to put up the whole graveyard and, every now and then release another dungeon, equal in difficulty to the first one. I have the basic idea of where I wanted to go with each dungeon written out and some are harder to make than others since, as to avoid being repetitive, some require things that don't exist. Therefore the likelihood of me ever finishing this was pretty low as it's rather difficult to get others to make specific things for your areas. Hence, why that other Morgos dungeon was placed on the back burner (our selection of high level undead and demon monsters was too limited for me to feel like I could do it justice). But I could've done a few over a period of time and maybe another wizard would've liked to contribute a dungeon or two. In the end, even if it took forever to get around to completing all of them and the boss the dungeon, at least there would be more dungeons to train in. Well, that was the plan before the game went down.

By the way, since I mentioned Morgos so much, here's a little factoid about him: The system by which I used to get him to drop other versions of himself was an idea I originally conceived for a vampire, of all things. I thought it would be really neat if I could have one that shifted into different forms (wolf, bat, and snake) before returning to its vampire form and when you defeated that form, I wanted him to turn into an unbeatable mist that would flee from you. I never really had a place for him so I didn't go anywhere with it, but the idea came back to me when I was making Morgos into a monster and I actually figured out how to accomplish it without needing any special code. It therefore seemed fitting that I'd finally make that original vampire as a mini boss for a dungeon that I initially wanted to make for him and I think it turned out to be a rather neat encounter. Needless to say, I love non-traditional stuff like that (hence the encounter with the Forgotten Oak catacomb's boss).

Oh and one more thing - In my last blog post I talk a bit about Amita and during the course of discussing its multi-map maze, I made reference to some really hard mazes that I was developing. Yeah, well, this is what they were for and, like I said then, maybe I'll share some details about them down the road.

Uncompleted Plans for the Anniversary

So, as I said, I had planned to redo more than just the fae Wyston graveyard for the anniversary, but I didn't quite complete everything in time. What exactly am I referring to ask? Well, there were little bits and pieces, but the main things [that I care to talk about] involved the Ziggurat, Moon Quest, and world map. At a later date I may share some images from these projects and other projects that I did not complete in time for the anniversary (and some may work their way into the game when it returns as they were close enough to done that I was able to complete them before the game went down). However, since I already posted that huge graveyard image, I'll only give you one small sneak peak when I'm done chatting about these things.

Okay, so, the Ziggurat has long needed to be redone and it was therefore one of things that I had been planning to get around to for awhile, but didn't have much motivation to do until the anniversary came up. For the dungeon, I decided to shift the entrance to the top of the structure and have players descend multiple levels that are compromised of different rooms complete with hidden passages, traps, and a few surprises. When they get to the bottom, they would have to navigate these rooms to find the boss room which is hidden somewhere in the middle.

With the Moon Quest, I didn't really do any work for it in the lead up to the anniversary. I planned the whole thing out and made sections of it ages ago, including the redone Alaria Inn and some other things that you haven't seen. Ultimately, I got bogged down with obtaining special code for it, but I had always really wanted to save it for the 10th year anniversary as it would have been fitting for the game's first quest to return on that day. However, I could have either bugged Contrare to work on/fix code for it or bother him for bonus XP hours, costumes, and the MMA. So, I didn't bother with it, but I am kind of bummed about it as I think it would be really fun for people who like challenging quests.

Moving on; the world maps haven't been updated in ages. The one on the website is still cluttered with places that had been removed and it is missing some of our recent additions. Meanwhile, the in-game one could do with a new coat of paint. As a result, I got Legolas to send me an easy to edit version of the website world map and I had set my sights on sprucing up the in-game world map to boot. However, at the last minute, Rhialto came through with those old New Verden maps that I used to show everyone how it once looked and changing everything to use the old graphics was so tedious that it ate into my world map work. It's not really all that exciting, but you may be interested to see that I wanted to expand the map eastward to accommodation a desert expansion.

This isn't an actual shot of the world map. Rather, it's from a smaller test map that I made to see how it would look before deciding whether it should be copied over or not. However, it's pretty much on par with the "final" version. As you can see, I filled the new expanse with some buildings that wizards could either make dungeons for or replace with something of their own (they're pretty much just place markers so it doesn't look empty). I also made a small oasis in the middle that I hoped could be replaced with a proper oasis graphic and would, at some point, have an area to go along with it.

You might be asking yourself why this matters if it was going to be updated without any new maps and, well, the point was to give wizards more room for desert areas that they might like to make in the future. If a wizard wanted to make one as is, there just wasn't any place for it and so it either would've had to have been attached to Bandar Gaah and Jbel or they would've have had to ask if something new could be made for their area. As a result, wizards might have been discouraged from pursuing a desert area. Plus, I think it works better for stories if we can refer to a large desert expanse.

Initially, I wanted to make it even bigger, extending further southeast, but I didn't want to expand the world map too much and it wasn't necessary at the time. I figured I could always add on to it later if wizards filled that place up, but it probably would've been awhile before that happened and so this small expansion would have sufficed.

Player Screenshots

Along with the amazing MMA video that I featured in Part I of my retrospective, Vesrayech was nice enough to provide the following screenshots. All but the last are from the party.

Unfortunately, Vesrayech was not using the Webstart client, so he didn't have the updated orb graphics in that final shot. However, I provided an entire view of the map in my previous anniversary post, so you can go back and see how it is supposed to look if you want.

Anyway, if you have any screen shots of your own from the big day that you would like to see featured in the next part of this blog series, let me know.

To be Continued

Check back "soon" for Part III of Arilou's anniversary retrospective. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, "soon" most likely refers to whichever comes first; the game's 13th anniversary or when Rhialto brings the game back up. In the meantime, be sure to check out Part I if you haven't already and if you have a question about the anniversary that you don't want to wait to see if I answer on my own, leave a comment.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arilou Turns Ten

It's hard believe, but it was ten years ago on this day that I was promoted to the rank of junior wizard in a little known game called Wyvern. Although the game has twice gone down for long periods of time since that day and I have since retired from it, I have consistently been affiliated with the game, in some capacity or another, for that entire time. I've done and seen a lot along the way, but as I did in my five year anniversary blog, I'd like to use this space to just reflect on my early days with the game.

If you go back to the last anniversary blog of mine, you'll see me discuss the development of my first area, Forgotten Oak. I had actually been planning to mark this date by releasing at least the redone village maps for that island of lost souls (fyi - in my plans for the area, the island map would be done away with and also replaced with dozens of individual maps that you would have to traverse much like Amita, only on a larger scale). However, since that's not possible with the game being down and all, let's talk a bit about my second completed area; Amita.

You may not know this, but although Amita is the second area I released, it's actually the third that I worked on. My second attempt at an area was a quest for the golem temple that's to the east of the Forgotten Oak village. I spent about two months working on it and got to almost 200 maps before realizing it was absolute garbage and decided to trash the whole thing. Ultimately, it was an important learning experience and while I still had a ways to go at that point, it helped me when it came to future projects like Amita.

Ironically, though, Amita is something I put together in about 26 hours in response to a discussion on the wizard forum about how we needed more low level content. The end result was 37 maps (it has since ballooned to over 250 maps - I kid you not) including six Orc Tower maps that I had previously worked on with the intention of putting directly on the world map (it was to appear on the land mass that later housed Terrim, but I re-purposed it while working on Amita as I realized how well it fit). Believe it or not but that simple tower was actually ahead of its time. I had been noticing how common it was for people to get trapped in multi-map monster areas, as anyone who has played for any amount of time has, and so I decided to create this tower that starts with a non-claimable map and then diverges into five monster maps (east, west, north, up, and down). To illustrate this I combined the maps together in one image:

It may not seem like much, but it was something different and I was able to build on it to make it a lot more interesting at a later date. If you go there when the game is up, you will see that each of those side maps now has multiple maps and there are paths leading from one to the other so a player can find their way out by progressing forward if their path backwards is blocked. I never did get a chance to release a redone version of the top or bottom floors, but the kobold basement has become kobold tunnels with lots of little paths in the general shape of a spiderweb. So that same multi-path motif continues into the rest of the tower's maps. It looks a lot better now, (see the below image of the entrance for comparison) but I'm disappointed that I didn't originally take the time to properly measure all the maps so that these side rooms and hallways all fit together like puzzle pieces. This especially became an issue for me after I finally fixed Amita's main maps so that they could come together properly when I made those sign maps for it (it had bothered me for awhile, but working on that map gave me the push I needed to make it happen).

Speaking of Amita's central area, obviously it didn't always look as it did now with forest paths and districts having their own maps. Originally it was this big 40x43 map that you can see below (note: not all graphics are the same as the ones players saw when Amita went live and, yes, I know you can see what's behind the hedges, but it's not a trade secret so don't worry about it). I don't know why, but when designing it I felt compelled to start drawing a wall in the upper portion of the map and I suddenly asked myself why there would be a city wall in only one portion of this forested village's map. I had just previously read a book about a city with inner walls that was meant to separate the wealthy from the near rebellious rift-raft and that's when it hit me that this would make a good basis for my own story and Amita's plot took off from there.

Next thing I knew, I had the gatehouse and the secret tunnel in place. Then I started dropping plot points about how the villagers hate the merchants, how there's hostility between the peasants and the guards, (hence the two taverns) and how people have been using the tunnel to escape the harsh rule of their tyrannical "king." It's interesting because I was trying to get away from Forgotten Oak's dark design with both the area that I scrapped and Amita. Instead, I ended up with was something that appears light and happy on the surface, but is dark and oppressive if you look deeper. I have found that this is a common motif in my work as a paradise itself is just not interesting. There needs be some intertwined madness on, or bubbling just below, the surface.  Otherwise, what's the draw for people to want to learn more about the area they're in?

Getting back to map design, I think we can all agree that Amita has come a long way since it's early days. Although, I actually started seriously updating it toward the end of 2003 as I made an account to further test the area to see if there was anything I could tweak. I was hoping just to get a feel for anything that might be annoying for new players so I noticed, for example, how irritating it was to die in the merchant houses and then have to go all the way down to the hospital to heal and then go all the way back up to continue fighting. So I added fountains to the church. I also noticed how annoying it was to have to go through patches of tree terrain, especially that patch just southeast of the church. So I began to wonder how I could maintain this forest look and, at the same time, make it easier for people to get around the village as it's a low level area and they don't really have to deal with that in Davos or New Verden. Then it hit me, like a ton of brick,s that I should split that one map into a whole bunch of maps, which I very quickly did and then put online without any fanfare. Ironically, it's not easier to get around as there's now a lot more space to traverse and new players often get lost (causing me to eventually put mall style maps of the village all over the place). But, it looks awesome and it's a whole lot more realistic.

I don't know why wizards had never done this before. Instead, wizards would generally make really big town maps and since large maps were a problem, Legolas would sometimes suggest that people make them smaller by splitting them in two. That's what ended up happening Coran - It was one big map and so Zifa took the top half, copied it into a blank map, deleted the bottom half in the original, and added teleporters between them. Zifa put a lot of detail in that city and so it doesn't look like a big box, but most towns did because that's what they were. The first thing everyone would do when making a town was create a big blank square or rectangle and start filling it in with wild abandon. Part of it may be laziness as it's easier to keep track of, but multiple maps just "feel" great in-game. There's such a scope to them that it that makes you feel like you're really exploring a majestic fantasy city or a wooded fantasy village when done properly. And it looks really great when you take all those maps and put them together in one big image. You've probably seen the small version of that for those direction signs in Amita, but one day I'll probably put a larger version up on my website. In the meantime, here's a look at just the slums so that you can compare it with the original version of Amita's main map.

All in all, Amita is my favorite area [of the areas that I have created] and my closest to being completed. Not that you can ever really declare an area completed in this type of game as there's always the possibility that new ideas will cause you to add on to existing content. But, it's not too far off from my current vision. I had planned to release some redone maps along with completed guard housing maps, maps for the logging operation that is the reason behind a select few's wealth, a small quest series, some additions to the PK Forest, and I wanted to filter some more mini-quests into existing and planned maps. It may sound like a lot, but I had been expecting that I could get it all done by March 16th, 2013 (ten years to the day that Amita was made public) and jokingly announce that I finally completed an area. Alas, the second great downtime put "a bit" of a kink in that. Although, even though I'm now retired, there exists a certain amount of completed unreleased content that I can throw up on the server when the game comes back (assuming, it doesn't go open source or anything). So if you're fan on Amita, you have that to look forward to.


-That rocky path was actually inspired by my grandparent's property. There was originally a house there that had a stone pathway leading up to it, but it burned down and they rebuilt it further back. However, since they no longer had enough matching stones to reach the front of the house, they moved a few right below the front porch and let the rest of stones be taken over by grass. Anyway, one day I was there playing cards with my siblings and father while my mother was working outside when suddenly, my mother came in to declare that she had uncovered one of these rocks. Having grown up with a love for the idea of digging up the unknown (and thus wanting to be either an archaeologist or paleontologist) I was legitimately excited and went right out to help her dig up the rest while my siblings and father basically responded with a collective "meh."

We didn't end up uncovering them in order, (and we never did finish) so as we were doing this there were breaks in the path. I liked that uncompleted image so much that when I went to make Amita I wanted to recreate that, but we didn't have anything resembling those stones. As a result, I just used the stone terrain until, one day, Legolas commented on how he didn't like the look and I concurred, telling him what I had envisioned. The next thing I knew he presented me with those stone road graphics that are remarkably dead on to their real life inspiration, which is a testament how awesome Legolas is. Anyway, I happily went about placing them throughout Amita and made sure to maintain the breaks as the idea is that there once was a completed road here, but it has hasn't been properly maintained and therefore grass and dirt has overtaken parts of it.

-Amita's similarities to where my grandparents lived [in the latter parts of their lives] doesn't stop with the stone pathway. It was very green and lush with a few evergreen trees on the property and it was surrounded by woods on all sides. If you go down to oneof the meadows, there's a path leading to a creek just like there's a path leading to the creek in Amita (although the one in real life is much, much smaller). The real life creek doesn't end in a pond, but actually neither does the Amita one - Nobody knows this, but in my head the creek actually continues on underground.

-Wrath of the Fey isn't the only quest I had planned for Amita. I have a write up (and some partially completed maps) for a four part quest series that throws you into the plight of our villagers as a way of exploring more of the area's backstory. Each individual quest has its own name and the series of those quests is called "Trouble in Paradise" which is a play on the idea that Amita looks so wonderful of the surface but some really horrible things are going on there.

-I used to play this Sega Genesis game called "Light Crusader" that was about a knight who returned home to find the kingdom he served was going through a hard time. To make a long story short, villagers were disappearing and nobody knew why. Well, you would go around talking to the remaining villagers and all the while this very sad music would be playing that, at least from memory, kind of reminded me of the church music that Wyvern has. So, when I heard that I knew that's that was the music for Amita. When I listen to it, I conjurer images of a guard knocking a peasant into the mud, a mother weeping as her child is taken off to be trained as a soldier, and a family shivering in the cold because their house burned down. Basically, all these really horrible, sad, depressing things. Therefore if you ever wondered why I chose that music for Amita or if you thought that I put no effort into the selection... well, here you are.

-Amita actually means sister in Latin. The reason I selected this is because I thought that it would be great if Amita was built to be the sister village to New Verden and now it's this closed off enclave that, frankly, is no New Verden at all. But, also an interestingly little bit is that I decided to create a little theme around this and use Latin words for many of the names of npcs throughout the village. I picked words that represented something about them so, for example, Panis means bread. Unfortunately, I didn't realize some people might misconstrue that at the time, but luckily only a select few players have ever brought it up [and one wizard].

-Since the ogre chieftain map hasn't been available in the orc tower for quite some time, you may not be aware that there's actually a note there from the Oaken Village sorcerer responsible for luring the orc hoards to the island. In the letter he promises that orc tribe a reward if they come to the island and join other tribes in the besieging Oaken Village. So, there's a nice little tie in there.

-There's a lot of hidden little bits within the village that you're probably unaware of it. I love easter eggs in games and there were actually quite a few in Wyvern's early content that are fun to look for. So, I threw a lot into Amita. Hint: Certain trees might have something carved on them if you look closely.

-You may not have been around long enough to remember, but there used to be a gateway on New Verden's west wall that led to the path that led to Davos. Obviously, that means that you would arrive in Davos from the east, not the west as you have undoubtedly become so used to it. Well, I had actually designed Amita with the intention that when you got to what is now Davos' entrance, you would come to the path that leads to Amita (this, btw, is also why the creek ends like it does as I couldn't have it continue to the edge of the map and then not re-appear in Davos). However, Rhialto immediately began speaking about finding a place for it on the world map, so I didn't even bother mentioning that and an icon was then created/placed a little bit south of New Verden. However, some time later, Legolas came to me with the idea of putting them all together with the tutorial in the center. So those three villages ended up together after all.

-Have you have been to the maze east of the orc tower and been frustrated to no end while trying to navigate multiple maps? Well you're not alone. Few have ever completed it since its too complicated for players new to the game and it doesn't reward experienced players enough to encourage them to try it. But, yours truly has been caught in its web even though I designed it - As you may or may not know, the trick to the maze is unlocking items hidden within it in a specific order and, when working on it, I made a little hand drawn map detailing what order players had to go in to aid me when putting it all together.

Well, when all was said and done, I got this idea that I should test it as a player would to get a feel for how difficult it truly was as wizards hadn't been linking together multiple mazes like this and so I didn't have a solid reference for what I was putting players through. As a result, I didn't use any of my wizard powers to help myself get around and I turned that hand drawn map over. Well, big mistake - I completely forgot the order and was stumbling around for who remembers how long going back and forth through the maze trying to randomly figure out where I had to go to next and I cannot begin to tell you how out of my mind with frustration I was. So, for those few of you who have taken up the challenge, I want to let you know that I feel your pain and am so very sorry.

That said, I'm not so sorry that I can say that I would never have put anyone through that again. In fact, I had planned to utilize and expand on the idea of linking together maze maps in future areas. I won't go into that now, but perhaps I'll blog about one of my more evil unseen designs in the future.

Have a question regarding Amita? Ask me in the comments.