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Horizons Developer's Diary

Part 3: Milestones

Paul Peterson, 2002-10-14

Welcome to another installment of life here at Artifact Entertainment. We just finished a milestone, so I thought I might let you know what we were working on and how it all went.

We've plotted out what features we want to have in Horizons at various times in its development. Each milestone has a specific set of goals based on what we think that we can get done and tested in the time we have. This breaks the game up into manageable chunks that we can work on individually.

Most of our goals for a milestone are feature oriented. For example, one of our goals for the last milestone was for players to be able to buy and sell property and build structures on their property. So we designed the systems for that to occur, and the programmers and artists went to work making it happen. As each part of the system was finished we went into the game and tested it to make sure it worked correctly. If something worked the way we wanted it to, we moved on to the next part, but if it didn't, we sent the bug reports off to the programmers so that it got fixed. Then we tested it again, until it worked.

Additionally, as designers we need to be looking ahead to see what features are coming up in future milestones. The process starts with us designing the systems before it ever gets to the programmers and artists. We have to be as far ahead as we can be so that when the time comes to work on something, we are ready to hand it off to them.

So here's the state of the projects I'm working on as of this milestone, and a look at what features we're planning on adding in the next milestone.

Our goal was to get large-scale combats working. Even though we are not in general a raid oriented game, it's still important to be able to have a large number of players and monsters on the screen at the same time, and still have the combat look smooth, and receive information in a timely fashion. We ran a lot of combats with a bunch of characters fighting at the same time and they look gorgeous. There were warriors executing special attacks, wizards casting big flashy spells, scouts firing bows, and healers keeping people alive.

Combat's working so well, that the next milestone will be much more about content than about the systems. We'll be adding more weapons, armor, and items; more special abilities; and more spells.

Community Building
We implemented a ton of features this milestone. There are plots all over the world that players can buy and sell. Once they own plots they can build a variety of structures on their land. The can preview what a structure looks like before they build it, and move it around to put it exactly where they want it. They can get information about plots such as ownership, structures, and outlines.

We will continue to expand all of this. Right now players can just instantly build structures for testing purposes, but we'll be changing that to tie in trade skills so that players will actually have to build the structures once they've decided on them. We'll also be continuously adding to the list of structures that players can choose from.

We're also working on how to build up the communities around player owned plots of land. As players develop their properties, the communities will grow and more and different structures will pop up like training halls, merchant stalls, and banks.

We added a bunch of monsters in this milestone. I was getting a bit bored fighting the limited number we had before, but now it's getting hard to keep track of them all. There are lots of gross undead and other beasts roaming the landscape. We implemented a new spawning system so that monsters are in their appropriate areas and are respawned as needed.

We'll be adding more monsters all the time. Variety is the spice of combat, and I love the thrill of fighting a monster I've never seen before.

Up until now we've basically generated characters as needed and everyone (both players and monsters) have had the same skills and abilities to make testing the systems much simpler. The experience and schools systems have been in place for a while, so people have gained skill advancement, but for the most part that wasn't a major feature.

Now we're going to be working very hard on the advancement system. We'll be spreading all of the content out and assigning more interesting skills and abilities to monsters and items to get a feel for how progression works and how the game plays as a player advances through our content. I'll also be creating more and more rewards for people as they advance such as special abilities, attacks, etc.

And there's a whole bunch of other stuff on the way as well, but I'll talk more about all of that in a couple weeks.

Paul Peterson
Horizons Designer


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