Camelot Unchained Focusing on the Small Details

Camelot Unchained Focusing on the Small Details

The MMO topping my watch list for years has been Camelot Unchained. I can't believe how much time has passed since I backed it on Kickstarter. It's crazy to think we already blew past the four year mark, and before you know it we'll be at 5 years.

 Mark Jacobs 

 President, CSE 


“It’s been a longer-than-expected road but thankfully, finally, things are moving along at the pace we expected. That makes us all very happy.” 

Time to check in a little bit and see what they're up to.

I follow every newsletter, internal test memo, and tidbit of news out there on the game. I'm purposefully controlling both my excitement and my immersion in the development process.

That saves me from three issues: (1) Getting anxious for release, (2) building the game up in my head to the point where it can't live up to the hype, and (3) suffering from knowing so much that the mystery and magic are gone before launch day.

In a recent newsletter, Ben Pielstick said something that stuck out to me.

Game developers generally can’t just focus on a few big important items to make a game ‘feel’ fun. The intrinsic sense of fun in games instead tends to come from a massive number of small subtle details, which cumulatively add up to an enjoyable experience. You can’t easily point to any one thing, like the ability button art, or the heavy armor footstep sounds, or the particle effects for casting a healing spell, and say how much more fun that one feature makes the game. If enough of these small details don’t achieve the quality standard set for the game as a whole, the overall feel of the game will start to suffer. When this happens, it can be difficult to point to a specific reason the game just doesn’t ‘feel’ good. Subtle details often don’t call attention to themselves, which can often lead to a guessing game as to which specific changes will fix the general problem of the game not ‘feeling’ fun to play. That is why it is very important to keep the details in focus.

I've spent the last 10 years on this blog striving to define what makes a game 'feel' good, and what makes playing one game 'feel 'more fun over another.

The answer is so complex that I believe even 10 years of blogging hasn't sufficiently scratched the surface. I don't think it can be defined, because it's not a definition. It's a feeling.

Ben is on the right track, though. We've seen many games fail because they focus on macro systems, or the big picture instead of the subtle details. He points out the cumulative effect of smaller systems and details being honed and polished to all add up to a better experience. I believe that is very true, but at the same time we've seen plenty of polished games fail -- fun is more than the sum if its parts.

Fun in a MMO has more to do with psychology than it does anything else. The closest we've come to identifying what makes a game fun is when we look at the psychological ramifications of certain actions, and how those systems interact with each other.

Alas, let's not digress.

I think the team at CSE is on the right track by focusing on the details. That seems like a great place to start.

I do hope that they can somehow manage to create the REASON for sieges and the REASON for wanting to progress. I could sit for countless hours crafting in SWG, harvesting resource, and decorating my house. I could grind constantly in EverQuest groups, or mine a cave in UO, and never wonder why -- I just did. I could spend hours in DAoC RvR and come back the next day craving more. That reason is the key to success, and without it the reason for failure (WAR, GW2, ESO, etc., etc).

Looking forward to seeing the CSE get to the point where they start talking more about game design and less about the technology. When that comes, I foresee a lot of great content and discussion with you all.

  • I came home from work this evening tired and intending to do nothing but chill out doing some exploring in the new GW2 expansion. I logged in on one of my other GW2 accounts first, one that doesn’t have the expansion, intending to do the dailies in 5-10 minutes and log out.

    Two hours later I finally took a breather. The minute I logged in I saw a crisis situation on our home borderland and I spent the next 120 minutes feverishly defending three keeps from relentless attacks by two invading armies. This has been a normal occurrence for me for the last five years.

    GW2’s WvW may not have worked for you but it works for me in a way that DAOC (which I played from launch) never did. From what I hear about ESO’s RvR, that works for a lot of people too. I don’t see how these qualify as “failures”. They are large, successful MMOs that have been running for years now and look set to run for a lot longer.

  • Man it has been so long that I completely forgot about this game.

    For your sake I hope it is everything you have been hoping for, and if it is that like many indie MMO’s these days it doesn’t immediately stagnate and die a slow death almost at launch due to what I presume is getting lost in a sea of STEAM gaming possibilities.

    I have seen indie MMO projects where testers expressed concern for a dwindling player base even at launch (Tree of Life for instance) compared to the beta phase, and unless the word gets out in a big way the F2P milestone may not be far off, which is why I won’t support unfinished projects such as this.

    Regarding your issues, I used to follow what sounded like a promising MMO for years prior to launch (GW2 and SWTOR as examples), and beta test, but I did find that my expectations were invariably and likely unavoidably greater than the reality, and getting repeated exposure to sometimes bugged plot-lines and environments ruined launch day Christmas morning feel, replacing at least the PvE novel experience with a paint-by-numbers leveling focused grind.

    Conversely RvR can remain novel for quite a while due to the unpredictability of human interactions, but that again is of course dependent upon a solid player base.

    Sorry for the perhaps self-fulfilling doom and gloom attitude toward indie MMO’s, but I’ll temper that by following your actual in game experiences following launch.

  • I’ll forget that I almost gave these guys $1k+ five years ago and just focus on facts.

    Software developers probably make about $100k per year. Or more. So having one of these on your payroll for 5 years is a lot. Having more than one is .. obviously.. more.