Hello everyone! For those who lurk from afar, are just joining us, or simply don’t use the discord it is with great excitement I can now officially announce I no longer am employed anywhere else and just completed my first day of working full time on Mirage Realms as the founding member of my own company HarveyDogs Ltd! This is obviously a huge step and would never have been possible without the continued support of you guys – thank you all so much for putting so much heart and soul into the community of such a small and undeveloped project, you guys are amazing, I genuinely haven’t been this happy in a very long time.
So, with all this precious time infront of me I am faced with the privilege of having to figure out just what to do with this project. I think before we talk about where we are going, we should look at some of the key things that come to my mind when I try to imagine what a v1 Mirage Realms might be, and some of the key problems that I think about when I think of what we have currently and my experience with working on the game sporadically as a hobby up until now.
What is a vague notion of v1 Mirage Realms in my mind?
- Seamless overworld, no “edges” to zones or anything like that. A meaningful world map. Fun environmental stuff, jumping down from ledges, wading through bushes, that sort of thing.
- Game systems that support heavy community politics, guilds, wars, pvp, death penalties. Ways for players to enjoy the game without being slapped in the face with this stuff however, not everyone wants to go to war and lose levels, some people just want to pew butterflies and loot stuff.
- Meaningful activities with rewards, unlocking outfits, colours, a large pool of spells and skill points through deliberate gameplay.
- No level gates. Overworld restricted by environmental barriers that can be overcome by completing content – think Zelda, flippers, hookshot etc.
- Instanced, themed dungeons with pseudo random layouts and 6 player challenges that scale and always give relevant rewards – more on this later.
- Afk activities that allow people to sit and chat while still progressing their character. Think making runes, potions or arrows, this sort of thing.
- Player craftable economy – gameplay essential items such as powerful runes, potions and arrows only being available when created by players. Sitting in the pub, chatting, and creating stuff to sell to other players being a 100% viable way to play the game.
- Guild halls with progression, focus on it being beneficial for players to be part of a guild even if they mostly play solo.
Objectively, what are some of the major problems I see?
- Stale content / inability to keep up with player progression. A new zone with new monsters and new items might take 2 weeks to put together but players will already be beyond it / bored with it in a matter of hours.
- “Content” or zones are generally themed with 2 or 3 monsters and you could be expected to play in a zone for sometimes up to 10 levels of grinding. I have to say, after the first few hours this is really boring for me personally, and if it is boring for me then it will be boring for many others.
- The dedicated playerbase are so far beyond current content whenever new content is added it has to be scaled totally out of whack to be compelling. This means as more content is added, old content is way too hard for it’s own level bracket which makes the game difficulty curve completely broken / too slow for new players.
- Essentially, the way the game is set up it would take an enormous amount of resource and time to ever produce enough content to provide a satisfying progression and also keep the highest level players engaged with stuff to aim for, this isn’t taking into account the amount of systems the game is missing… each time I add something that tweaks gameplay in any way it generally throws the entire fragile pseudo-balance into chaos, which is subsequently an enormous amount of work to try and re-tweak.
- Not enough ways to go after gear, too much RNG when you do finally get it, this can be really frustrating / unfulfilling for players who put in a lot of hours trying to progress but aren’t lucky enough to either get gear or when they do get gear it isn’t the gear they were after.
- This is first and foremost a mobile game, meaning people should be able to sit on the sofa and achieve something without booking an entire evening to sit and play. Currently there are no gameplay loops with a bounded time context, it is not possible to play for 45 minutes and complete any kind of meaningful gameplay loop – all there is, is the grind itself or getting involved in whatever community politics are happening at the time.
- The one chill half-afk mobile style way to play and progress your character involves literally standing in a cave with 2 monsters for what can amount to months of gametime. This sucks!!
- There is no concrete idea of what a version 1 might look like, and given the open nature of the game as it stands that is incredibly hard to quantify… when is there enough content, when are the game systems compelling, is it when there are 100 zones? 200? 300? When there is content to level 200? Level 250? Level 300?! I could do nothing but make maps, monsters and items for the next 12 months and it still wouldn’t be a very compelling experience. In fact, people would probably level out of the content again in a matter of weeks.
With all of this in mind, after a lot of thought and consideration, I believe I have figured out a development direction that solves the issues outlined above and sets us on the path to achieving a version 1 that is enjoyable and feature rich… keeping in mind of course the following very real reality checks:
- We have one developer (me!), and although I’m full time now I am still only one guy.
- I have a year to turn this into something awesome.
I believe there is a way to deliver on the open world while also providing enough content for even the most hardcore players. In order to understand how this can be, I need to talk through a whole bunch of fundamental changes to the core of the game, and I think the easiest way for me to do this is probably to just ramble them off as a stream of conciousness type of deal. Well, here we go!
Two gameplay modes, one world
Where do I start. Alright, let’s start with how think I can address a whole bunch of content issues, namely there never being enough content, it being stale, no meaningful progression for high levels and too much arbitrary RNG with acquiring gear drops. Over the Christmas period I played a game called Hades, and let me tell you, it blew my freaking mind. The 30 – 45 minute dungeon running gameplay loop is amazing and it is a masterclass on creating good content that is reusable and stays interesting.
Essentially this is where the Dungeon running aspect of the game is going to come in. Dungeons are going to be pseudo randomly generated challenges where teams of up to 6 players can run content appropriate to their level bracket as many times as they like. Monsters will scale to the difficulty of the run, and loot and experience will always be relevant for the bracket. Some facts about dungeons:
- Will take between 30 minutes and an hour per run
- Themed to the zone they have been found in
- Can be ran as many times as you like
- Will be made of a sequence of “challenge rooms” that must be cleared in order to progress to the next room
- Each room will present a different challenge. Killing waves of enemies, solving a puzzle, boss fights (with room mechanics)
- Each dungeon will have a pool of challenge rooms it can be generated from
- A dungeon run will consist of a select number of each type of room, randomly selected when your group enters
- The first successful run of a given dungeon will reward an unlock that allows you to access new overworld areas, think flippers, hookshot etc, this is how players will progress through the overworld
- Players who die in dungeon runs will lose nothing
- Dungeons will have a fixed number of lives, when a player dies in a dungeon the party loses a life, lose all of your lives and the run is over
- Monsters in dungeons will not drop loot, gold or experience. Instead, experience and gold will be rewarded upon completion of each room, with guaranteed loot being rewarded in chests at the end of a successful run
- Dying in a dungeon will make you a ghost, you will be able to walk through players and mobs, watching and communicating with your party to maybe scout ahead and still be useful even in death
- Completing a room will revive all of the dead players in a party, but it will not return any lives
- Subsequent runs will always reward relevant loot and experience
- Subsequent runs can unlock optional dungeon modifiers that make the runs more challenging and can stack
- Running dungeons with modifiers will increase the experience and loot rewards
- Completing dungeons with certain combinations of modifiers will reward achievements, titles, unique collectable items and outfits
- You cannot run lower bracket dungeons with lower level players, but they can run higher bracket dungeons with you (if you can carry them good for you!)
- Discovering a dungeon in the overworld will unlock a portal to that dungeon entrance in the player’s portal room which will be accessible from any town or guild hall
- Daily / weekly quests will be available to provide additional frequent rewards to players and guilds for completing specific challenges
Dungeons mean that it won’t matter if you are level 20 or level 300, the Troll fortress will always provide loot and experience that is relevant to your character. Monsters and loot will be completely reworked so instead of each unique monster being an arbitrary indication of it’s difficulty, monsters will instead become unique for their mechanics. Players who want to grind for the absolute best gear, outfits and rewards can increase their luck by teaming up and pushing increasingly harder content with modifiers.
This content mode is intended for people who want to really grind and challenge themselves in difficult PVE content. This will be the primary PVE content in the game, and it will mean that I can produce relevant content for everyone that doesn’t immediately get stale / outleveled. If I add 10 new rooms to the pool in the Troll Fortress, that is content everyone can check out that expands the game in a meaningful way.
Obviously this means monsters and equipment are going to have to function quite differently than they do now. Monsters will become dynamic, with their health and stats being calculated based on their level. Gear will also work this way and have a level, no longer will gear stats have a “range”, instead gear stats will be set depending on the level of the monster it dropped from, with the only RNG being which stats or boons are on the gear when it drops.
The overworld will be a large, seamless world of linear progression – similar in spirit to how Mirage Realms currently is, but much more deliberate. This is where the main community interaction happens, where your towns are, your classic hunting areas leading up to Dungeon entrances. Rather than write this out long form, here are some bullet points covering the overworld:
- It will be seamless, no zone edges
- It will have a world map! Woo!
- There will be no level gates, instead the overworld will be filled with obstacles that can be overcome with tools and abilities awarded by beating dungeons
- It will be a linear progression, zone difficulties will be assigned to certain level bands, similar to how things are in-game now
- Progression through the overworld will be driven through a main questline with story narrative. Each dungeon will have a story and objective, there will be a strong lore reason for you to be pushing to the next dungeon on top of the obvious benefit of access to the content
- The primary driver for pushing forwards with the overworld campaign is access to higher tier dungeons with different themes and challenges
- Spells and abilities will be found, earned and unlocked primarily through overworld activities
- If you die in the overworld you will suffer death penalties
- The overworld is PVP enabled, it will be possible for players to fight over access to dungeon entrances
- Players will only be able to craft runes, potions and ammunition while in pvp enabled areas of the overworld – these consumables will be necessary to push through high tier dungeon content
- The overworld will contain guild halls, which will be great places to hang out and safely create aforementioned consumables in the company of your guildmates
- It will still be possible to hunt and level almost entirely through overworld content if that is your jam. The dungeons will be the crown jewel of the game’s PVE content but if you prefer solo grinding orcs in the farthest corner of the darkest mountain that’s cool too – the content will be there for you up until whatever the current highest tier dungeon is.
A word on high scores
Something that I have definitely noticed is people love highscores. There is a rather large issue with the current highscores system however, if you didn’t start playing 3 years ago you’ll never be in them! So, with this in mind, highscores are going to be reworked:
- Highscores will be weekly and boxed into the same level brackets as dungeons (every 10 levels)
- Players in the top 100 for each bracket will receive cosmetic rewards, extra loot rolls, achievements and unique collectables at the end of each week
- Many more types of highscores will be added, things like number of dungeons ran, number of mobs killed, experience gained, experience lost, most biscotts collected, etc
- The “overall” highscores will still be available but much less enthasis will be put on these. This is about providing everyone content they can compete and play in, regardless of their total time invested 🙂
Oh boy that is a lot of stuff to do right?
Yeah, it sure is, but you know what for the first time in the history of this project I feel like I have a clear idea of exactly what I want to build and how I am going to keep content relevant for players even pushing the most ridiculous levels. Dungeons will give everyone a nice way to challenge themselves in PVE and push for the uberest gear, exp and outfits without hitting a content wall, the overworld will give the community story driven progression, a place to fly solo, a world to explore, a place to wage wars and forge friendships.
So all of this said and done, what the hell is the plan?! Well, essentially the elephant in the room is the current game engine… we can’t have a seamless persistent world if it is split into tiny boxes. It seems like a trivial gripe to have, but if I think back to my Tibia days the world felt like a world because you could walk everywhere, there were no loading screens or edges, you could pick a direction and walk there, you could chase someone from one side of the continent to the other! The world had a tangibility Mirage just doesn’t have. My major undertaking at the start of the year is going to be taking the world engine to pieces and rewriting it from scratch, I want a world with no loading screens or edges. I have written some proof of concept pieces in the past that were quite promising, if we can get past this major engineering hurdle I think we are well on our way to kicking this years ass and building a sweet game.
Here is my roadmap for the next 3-4 months. The timescales here are probably way off, some things will take way less time, some things will take way more time, the important thing really is that there is a plan that brings us in clear steps from where we are to the things I described above! If I finish January’s tasks in 5 days, well, hell yeah! Straight on to Februarys 😀
- Deploy the new Server hardware
- Mob respawn rates adjusted, ramp up based on rate they are dying in a zone
- Rollback of christmas assets
- Bank currency
- Red skull system, tracking pvp kills
- Death penalties
- New world engine prototyping
- New netcode to support new world engine, dynamic for PC and mobile resolutions
- Rudimentary support for zone instancing
- Open community alpha testing to bring tech to maturity ASAP
- Investigate feasibility of migrating existing content to new engine, add some more monsters and content to give long time players some new stuff to do while they wait for major changes to start coming through
- Automated monster scaling
- Monster data migrated to new backend storage
- Automated level-based equipment generation
- Item data migrated to new backend storage
- Rewrite loot table implementation
- Investigate rewriting items completely to be property based (composition not inheritance)
- Plan out overworld progression for the first zone (storyline, world, monsters)
- Plan out first dungeon for the first zone (mechanics, puzzles, bosses)
- Establish a list of engine requirements to build first zone
- Establish a list of engine requirements to build first dungeon
- Update roadmap accordingly
- Get to work
- Initial investigation into reworking how skill points work, explore achievement based approach where players need to complete small specific feats for each skill point – if we go this way it would need to be tied heavily into the game’s overworld content progression
- Iterative dev and closed alpha testing of the first iteration of the awesomeness that will become Mirage Realms?!
And that’s all folks!
That is a lot to digest, and I appreciate for some of you the timescales will be much sadface, but there is a lot of R&D in here and that is very hard to timebox. I think this essentially lays the path out ahead for a release where we have a compelling zone with story driven content progression that takes you to the first dungeon content where you can beat challenge rooms, solve puzzles, smash bosses, collect loot, and really put all these new ideas through their paces.
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of discussion about this post in discord and I look forward to seeing what you all think. Let me know what you are looking forwards to over in #general.
Thanks everyone, busy year ahead… I should get to work… peace!