Today the Camelot Unchained beta announcement dropped, and you guys were quick to send me emails and notifications — thanks for that!
First, the date. Camelot Unchained beta will be July 4th-ish. I’m adding the “ish” because throughout the video announcement they were pretty clear to point out several times that this date was the date they want to hit, but then qualify it with caveats.
As you may recall, we're in a bit of a MMORPG drought. In my 2018 will be the year of... post I was hoping for the MMORPG drought to end with the late-year release of Camelot Unchained, but all hopes of that have been completely illiminated by today's (good?) news for CU.
Camelot Unchained has received $7.5M in a financing round that will accelerate development of the upcoming MMORPG. When they say "accelerate" development, it's also meant to say "catch up" because the game is years behind schedule.
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.
“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 was inspired (which I need more of lately) to write today’s topic on the status of Camelot Unchained. My inspiration came from a comment by one of our regular readers who hijacked a post. The comment hijack inspired me to look up a WordPress plugin that would move comments to another post, so thank you doubly for that.
Here’s the comment:
I’m going to hijack this to talk about Camelot unchained, cause, it seems to need some discussing.
We all love mark’s “openess”, but wasn’t the Kickstarter like 3 years ago?
And I, for a few hours, had more than $1k pledged. For beta access and a really cool storm tower or something. Thankfully I came to my senses, and cancelled that. Cause 3 years on there is still no beta, right? And nobody even talks about storm towers. Or personal taverns. Or any of the other crap they were selling.
I think the comment is right that Camelot Unchained needs more discussion. CU is a very, very niche title right now. Like all niche titles, it has a cult following. In this case, those followers are mostly devout backers. They’ve created a very tight community and naturally most of that discussion happens within that community and not within the greater MMOsphere — which actually sucks for all commentary right now, so perhaps that’s okay.
Despite being a backer of somewhere near $200 (I think?), I haven’t followed CU more than skimming the weekly emails. I browse the website every so often to see what’s new. They’re making progress, albeit slow. The CSE team is behind their schedule set out in the Kickstarter, but we all know by now that MMO timelines are mostly meaningless and when they hit their timelines the games aren’t finished anyway.
A couple months ago Mark (CSE President) admits the tone of development was a little more ‘negative’ or ‘serious’ as they hit snags (I think I heard him say that in one of the recent video update streams). I don’t think that it was ever negative or too serious to the point where I have doubted the game would release. People love to scream, “It’s vaporware at this point!” I don’t see any truth in that.
Beta (or as Mark likes to call it, Bater) is still delayed. It was, at one point, possibly coming as early as “early 2016.” Personally, I don’t care. I’d like a fun game like Camelot Unchained to get ‘it’ right. CU is probably the last chance I will ever give a PvP MMO. So in that respect, I really don’t care if it took another year or two to even reach beta. I wish games would stop promoting beta testing as if it was a promise or should mean anything to players. Let’s get rid of beta as a marketing gimmick, shall we?
As for promised features, I’ve lost track. Again, I’m following the ‘big picture’ ideas behind CU. I’m not following the systems or feature lists anymore. I have no idea how many of the things Mark discussed with me in the past are even true anymore. The game has been growing and changing over the years. Totally okay. Whether or not they ever deliver on the original promises of taverns or building or any of that sorta matters not to me anymore. I’m more interested in a game that meets the big picture and delivers a finished game with good animations and cohesive finished systems.
Mark’s openness and transparency under development has been a much better way of marketing the game. I like it too. I think that at times it’s too niche for the masses, which is fine. I think it would be inappropriate to romanticize the game updates (remember WAR’s overly-produced videos?) and try to get each of them covered on the news sites. Just doing a “sit on a couch with a palm tree covered in Christmas lights” works.
Patience for games to come out was a virtue I used to severely lack. Because of that, I’ had my heart broken by games, my dreams stomped on, and my trust violated so many times that I’m now completely beyond feeling any urgency to rush into them. Give me a completed game that’s fun, true to its big pictures goals, and I’ll be happy.
Though I haven’t been commenting and publicly hanging on every announcement made by the team at CSE, I have been following Camelot Unchained rather closely over the past year. My inbox is constantly blowing up with an evening update, an alpha test announcement (which by the way are always so last minute or during horrible times for me… come on Mark!), or a newsletter from the team. I think they’re making what looks to be fine progress on the upcoming PvP-centric MMORPG.
The latest newsletter (#19) discusses one item in particular that I think will hit home for a lot of us MMO vets: Balance. CSE is aiming to balance around rock-vs-paper mechanic rather than an apples to apples one. In other words, one class type can bet another class type — or taking it a step further, one class specialized in a certain mechanic can beat another class specialized into a certain mechanic like magic vs plate being strong and physical vs plate being weak.
This rock-vs-paper idea isn’t original — it’s been around forever. Even Dark Age of Camelot utilized the system. What’s also not unique is how difficult the idea of balance can truly be, and no matter how hard anyone has ever tried to create the perfect scenario, it never works that way. Paper doesn’t always beat rock in MMORPGs… and perhaps it shouldn’t be a hard counter. The idea of a perfect counter doesn’t exist, and that’s honestly part of the fun. I have no doubt CSE is well aware.
Taking things a little bit further out of the nitty-gritty mechanics side of this conversation, I like the concept of filling a role. When I say filling a role, in this context we can consider a role as a counter or a necessity — or both. I’ll dumb it down. I used to really, really like the idea of being the guy who killed archers on the walls of a keep. Those archers were countering melee who would run up to the doors, and to counter them I had to sneak into the keep and take them out.
I like to imagine a PvP world where players will say willing specialize to fill roles. If people are going to carry a battering ram, who is going to hold the shield above them to protect them from arrows? Who is going to repair that door? Who is going to protect the people repairing the door? There are so many complexities when you take a PvP game’s balance outside of “my class heals and your class shoots stuff.”
Balancing ROLES to me is just as important as balancing the mechanics of blunt damage vs. plate armor. Without a balance of roles we are left with a very sterile system where we just worry about what class we’re up against or what weapon they are using rather than how they are playing. Balancing classes around roles becomes even more complicated than simply balancing roles against roles.
The “HOW is my enemy going to defeat me this time” is something I want to see balanced around. It may seem obvious, but that’s where most of these PvP games fail even harder than class balance.