That Ashes of Creation Live Stream

2523 wc

I’ve worked on this post for a very long time. I’ve added stuff. Then I’ve deleted stuff. Then I’ve added other stuff. Then I’ve deleted other stuff. I don’t even know what it reads like anymore. If this were a novel, it would certainly be abandoned.

Bhagpuss asked me what I didn’t like about the Ashes of Creation video. I actually try not to be this negative anymore, because it doesn’t do anyone any good to complain about something that other people might like. And it’s not like anyone is consulting me on how to make games. But you asked! :)

Based on his post, I think it’s safe to say Bhagpuss and I are attracted to new games for very different reasons. For me, with Ashes and indeed every single new game I play (as with books, movies, and television), I want to see something I’ve never seen before. I want to be challenged to learn new things and apply them in interesting ways to overcome gaming obstacles. Failing that, I want to be told a riveting story that is so good I won’t mind slogging through terrible gameplay to see the tale unfold.

Intrepid’s latest live stream doesn’t appear to be delivering any of that.

I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly or not, but every time I’ve looked at something from Intrepid, there seems to be a big disparity between what they say they’re doing and what I actually see them doing. They say they have a talented team of veterans making miraculous progress on a game with an epic scope of new ideas, but when I look at the videos released so far, I’m only seeing what looks like an Unreal Engine “demo” project with some imported landscapes, models, and textures and basic player controls. The kind of demo project that literally comes with the engine.

So when I’m looking at these videos, one thing I’m looking for is solid evidence that they are going beyond “My First Unreal Engine Project”* and into the places they need to go to make the game they’ve promised. There’s a whole lot of distance between a default Unreal Engine project and a finished AAA MMORPG. (Even an alpha MMORPG.)

I was also looking to see the “vision” they have for Ashes of Creation: What are they trying to do? What makes it different? What’s the theme? What’s the driving force? There is a glut of perfectly serviceable games we can all play right now. I could buy no games whatsoever for the next five years and probably still keep myself busy just with games I already own. So what is Intrepid trying to bring to the genre? How are they trying to make it better? (Keep in mind that I had not read much about the game’s “vision” from their web page prior to seeing this video.)

The answer to that last one, as far as I could tell from the video, was: Nothing. I didn’t see anything unique in that video. I saw generic fantasy players with generic models and animations running around in a generic fantasy environment killing generic fantasy monsters.

So if the models, animations, environments, and mobs were generic, that left the job to the UI to impress me, which was the only other thing you could see.

The UI in that video, by which I mean the 2D overlay over the 3D rendered scenes, did not impress me.

I deleted a lot of text here explaining specifically why I didn’t like it. I listened to the video with sound on, and GMSteven did specifically say that the UI is a placeholder. So I’m going to assume (and hope) that it will be 100% redone and not even a single pixel of what was shown will appear in the final game. Not the serif fonts, not the crazy messy font sizes, not the gray dishwater border outlines and text, not the indistinct icon imagery-I hope nothing of those screenshots above carry through to the final game and they start with a clean slate. It is just … not good. Not professional.

It boggles my mind that something like that could make it into even a placeholder UI in a professional game development studio, and then into a video that potential customers can see.

Some Googling tells me that they gave an “estimated delivery” of December 2018 on Kickstarter. This video clearly shows they are not even in the same decade with that schedule. Unless they are planning to release a barely functioning alpha and spend two or three more years polishing the game live in production (which would not surprise me in the slightest-that seems to be the default business model these days).

What else can I say about the video?

I did not care for the gigantic nameplate text floating over the players. I can only assume that is an effort to make the game friendly to view on televisions, and therefore an attempt to make it console-friendly. If so, they’re going to need to re-think their hotbar system there, or else study Final Fantasy XIV very closely.

One good thing: I did like the way the nameplates slanted a bit when they were off to the side of the screen. That, at least, is something new they are bringing to the MMORPG genre.

3:19 - The backpack is a grid of pictures with hovering tool tips. Sigh. Copy/paste. Same as it ever was. Total lack of innovation with inventory is my biggest pet peeve with all RPGs. At least the icons were a decent size.

3:26 - The character sheet was shown briefly. It’s, um, not finished, to put it charitably. The video makes me wonder if they have hired any artists at all to work on this game yet. Whenever I sit and contemplate the resources needed to make a game, I always imagine the team to be composed of about 25% programmers and 75% artists.

3:48 - PvE combat is shown. He clicks on the mob with the mouse pointer to select it, so I think it’s safe to assume this is a standard tab-target-style MMORPG (for now, at least). He starts with a chain pull ability to pull the mob to him (please god I hope that’s not in PvP, I hated that so much in ESO), then it looks like he just repeatedly spams the “Q” key which is labelled “Staff Combo.” (I guess he equipped a staff while the character sheet was shown.) There weren’t even any “rotations” in use. It was literally one button over and over again (you can tell because that was the only button that depressed again and again). Again: This game is not very far along in development. Pre-pre-alpha, in my estimation. More like prototype. He occasionally used other skills on that hotbar, so it’s not like they were unimplemented, it’s just that apparently the game only requires you to mash one key over and over again to play. That’s not an encouraging sign. Maybe they are planning to add “complexity” later. But shouldn’t that be part of the core gameplay design? Not just tacked on at the last minute?

4:15 - “This UI is absolutely placeholder.” Why, god, why??? Why not a good-looking placeholder UI?? Or at least an inoffensive placeholder? It’s like they were trying to make it ugly. Font sizes all over the place. Text outside the boxes. Gaudy outlines. Ugh.

5:15 - Around here is where a dungeon instance begins. Actually I can’t tell if it’s an instance or not. It might be a public dungeon that anyone can walk into. If it is, I sure hope they studied all the problems that ESO had with those at launch. And then I hope they decide not to do it, because public dungeons are generally awful, even with bot-proofing. (10:23 “It is an open-world dungeon.” Sigh. Say hello to boss-camping bots on day one, and boss-camping players on day two.)

9:42 - Here he details some lore about the dungeon. Honestly it sounds like the most work they’ve done so far is with worldbuilding, which is the thing about building a game that requires the least technical knowledge. All you have to do is open a word processor and start typing.

Inside the dungeon is when all kinds of technical problems surfaced. People started to jump up and down. I don’t know what other people mean by “floaty” but when I say a game is “floaty” I mean that it appears the gravity is about 1/6th normal, like the players are on the moon. This game looks like it will have the same problem, worse than normal. It’s not attractive. It’s certainly not immersive. (ESO also has this problem.)

It appears there are only about 5 frames in all the running, jumping, and combat animations. There was no “smoothness” to it-it was all kind of herky jerky, arms and legs flailing all over the place. The hyper-long jumps made it worse. I suppose it’s possible the stream is simply cutting out most of the frames, but I’m dubious. The current state-of-the-art in terms of high-quality, smooth player animations in MMORPGs is Final Fantasy XIV (and that engine is probably 10 years old now). That video fell well short of that. (And that kind of stuff rarely seems to change during a game’s “beta” period.)

Whatever that big yellow brick wall ability is will get tiresome to look at really fast. Any abilities that block my view of the environment are pretty annoying to me. (There’s also a humongous fireball effect that keeps happening over and over again, obscuring the battlefield.) Because I’m cynical, I’ll just go ahead and assume they think those effects are cool and they won’t include a “hide other player’s spell effects” checkbox in the settings.

The camera work gets really bad once they start going into those tight corridors. They really need to work on that or make those corridors bigger. (Granted this is a tough problem to solve and affects all games, but I really appreciate games that try to solve it… most don’t bother and happily let you walk around in tiny boxes so the camera flies in and out of the back of your character’s neck repeatedly, giving you vertigo and headaches.)

The frame rate did not look very smooth inside the dungeon, either, but that could have been the stream encoding.

16:15 - The boss gets stuck in the doorway, so ample opportunity for cheesing there. I hope someone is thinking about not only boss AI but environment collisions. The video makes me think they aren’t.

16:45 - There was a question about handling exploits. “We’re building the game around that idea.” “We have metrics and systems in place to make sure that’s quickly caught and dealt with.” That is encouraging, at least. I’ve always imagined that a significant portion of developing a modern MMORPG involves behind-the-scenes real-time metrics that show exactly what is going on in the game at all times, heat maps to show who is where at what level, real-time reports to show who has how much gold, notifications to indicate who is spiking in wealth, etc.

21:00 - The guy is telling us how amazing and fast their development is going. This video does not support that statement. Or, if it does, the game must have been basically non-existent at the end of the Kickstarter.

27:30 - I think I said above somewhere that they didn’t show anything that makes the game unique, but they do actually show a “node” at this point. It looks pretty much like how I imagined it would look: AI towns that appear in the world, somewhat like what might happen if you could walk around inside the evolving cities in a Civ 6 game. Supposedly this is what will make the game world “alive” but I am not at all convinced this will survive contact with real live players. In any case the one they showed clearly isn’t finished and definitely lacks immersion since the entire town literally appears out of thin air in the blink of an eye.

I suppose to be fair, the presence of a “node” on the stream does at least show they have extended the default Unreal Engine projects a bit. :)

I feel like the main thing they wanted to show off in that video was the cape animation, which I’ll admit was pretty good.

Yes, I know, I’m being brutally critical of this game. But they are the ones who put their necks on the chopping block by asking for money based on nothing but a feel-good sales pitch. One might even call it an exploitative sales pitch, considering they are promising the moon and stars to an MMORPG audience starving for good new games. I think we gamers have seen far too much of this in the last five years to take it lightly anymore. It’s one thing to get suckered by Star Citizen, but this is a post-Star Citizen world we are living in now. What I’m seeing here looks like a kid with too much money and time on his hands who thought, “Hey I like MMORPGs, I want to make one,” with little or no idea of what’s involved in making one. I think there was a baseball player who did something similar and it didn’t end well. And these people have the nerve to promote an affiliate program, to boot!

Anyway, I would love to be wrong, but I am about as skeptical as a person can be right now, and my money is not going anywhere near this project until after I can try an open beta for myself (for free).

P. S. I am pleased to say that the weird “press the key while the bar is in this one position” mechanic seems to be gone:

However, the bad news is that because it was there and now it’s gone, it makes me think they are just throwing anything at the wall in hopes that it will stick (or work). It does not suggest a cohesive plan or vision for what this game is going to be. It suggests people coming into work and saying, “Okay let’s try this today!” That makes it sound like a poorly-led organization, a team of chickens running around with heads cut off, hoping they will randomly stumble upon a working formula at the right time to meet their schedule.

P. P. S. Most of what I wrote here was based on watching the video without any sound. However, I did actually watch the whole thing with sound (actually, more like, listened to the sound while I did other things). They addressed some things but most of the talking was not very informative. Maybe 10% of the total running time had useful information in it.

* This is not to suggest that one’s first Unreal Engine project is not a big accomplishment. I’ve tried to use it myself. It’s no cakewalk. But, you know, I expect more from an experienced development team making AAA MMORPGs.

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