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News - - Wednesday, November 28, 2007 Edit

Beta Update - Part 4

James Nichols

We're back from Thanksgiving with turkey, stuffing, and all the fixin's ready to rock and roll into these final weeks before beta goes live. We now give thanks to Career Mastery, RvR Keeps, and if that's not enough a User Interface revamp. Hold onto your britches because this update is going to knock your socks off!

Waaagh! And well met!
This week’s update once again kicks off with new information from the Cities Team:
Hello from the Cities Team!
This week some truly exciting work is being done. As you walk through the streets of Altdorf or the Inevitable City, there are HUGE buildings that dominate the sky; think “Big Ben” or the “Eiffel Tower”. We call these structures “Marvels”. Marvels help us provide the iconic look and feel of a city and make them immediately recognizable. But as amazing as they are to look at, until this week you couldn’t actually enter inside.
It was a major let down and, many of us wept. But now we are rejoicing as we are building the interior structure of the Bright Wizard College, the grand hall and throne room of Emperor Karl Franz, and the terrifying Magus tower of the Inevitable City.
The process of building these interiors requires a great deal of planning. In keeping with our guiding principle - WAR is everywhere - these interior spaces are not simply places to take screenshots, but places to wage epic battles! So, with that in mind we carefully proto-type our play spaces, check them out for the number of players we expect to engage, and then the very necessary Games Workshop concept approval process, and finally we start to model and texture them.
We’re on the last phase now so it’s all coming together. We look forward to meeting you all inside these cities, making new friends, and bashing some heads together.
-Cities Team
If you think the Bright Wizard College looks good from the *outside*, you haven’t seen anything yet.
With a follow-up to last week’s Trophy system reveal , the Items Team gives us a quick Q&A on the basics of the tinting/dyeing system:
We’ve started applying tints to armors throughout the whole game. Some tint colors are “reserved” – they’ll only be used on specific cool bits of armor. Also, some colors will have specific in-game meaning. All the other colors will be distributed among everything else.
We’ve also been finishing up the details of our dyeing system.
Will players be able to dye their armor? Yes.
Will players be able to “bleach” or revert dyed armor back to its original color? Yes.
We’ll keep you all updated as this system progresses.
As an aside, we’ve also been playing around with some itemization systems to make random drops “feel” better to the player. These systems will make it much more likely that a player will be able to use an item that drops.
-Items Team
Very simple, but gets some of the basics of the tinting system out of the way. Plus, the changes they are working on for drops are going to mean the whole loot concept has a more straight forward impact for each individual player.
Speaking about art bits, I managed to wrangle up quite an update from our Lead Animator this week. I’m sure you’re familiar with him; in his production podcast he managed to break a foam sword while testing animations.
Since the Animation group isn’t a unit that’s directly responsible for core gameplay features, you don’t often hear much about what we’re doing unless it’s related to something that’s filling another team’s needs. Here’s an update to let everyone know what we’ve been working on.
Elves - Getting the Elf careers that we’re rolling out this round up to where we’re all happy with them being ravenously consumed (after such a patient fasting) has been really our top priority. Following closely behind is support for the Elf starter zones and monsters for those pairings. We’ve been working closely with code to get a system in for “monsters that ride other monsters” since we can’t keep those crazy content writers from making zones full of elf cavalry. No, this does not mean we have either player mounts in yet. It just means that we can hook a couple things together and have a mounted NPC be able to fight without having to do some crazy zillion bone rig with both rider and mount being in the same model.
As an interesting factoid, the proof of concept work was done on the Lab Rat (skaven model you’ve seen in so many videos), and our first tests were retargeted onto a goblin wolf rider. The main reason you keep seeing the Skaven show up in so many of Paul’s video diaries is that, since he’s not a player character, and NPCs don’t require a ton of work, I know that nobody will be needing him for anything important. This way I can continually do R&D with a valid model whose animations work on most humanoids, and I’m not ever keeping, for example, someone from polishing the Empire Male set because I’m busy testing a new feature. And because I like them. A lot. (EDIT: Trust me; his fervor over Skaven is scary!)
There are a ton of things we’ve been doing in conjunction with the Cities team as well, and they make me keep adding more insanity to my spreadsheets. But we’re getting a lot of neat ambiance in.
Thanks Jeremy! It’s always fun to look over the shoulders of the animators as they are plying their craft, especially when they are showing off some sort of new animation or sequence.
Next up, we’ve got another large update from the UI Team talking about some of the design challenges they face in regards to overhauling a UI system:
UI Overhaul and Redesign
User Interface, or User Interactions, or the Team of Extreme Awesomeness as we're often called, has always had a unique challenge. It is our responsibility to present each of the varied systems in the game (RVR, Careers, Crafting, Trophies, Public Quests) in ways that make them easy to understand and easy to use, while still reflecting how exciting they are. And we have to tie these wildly different systems together, visually, so it doesn't look like you're staring at the interface for twenty different games each time you open a new window.
So we made a decision to revisit the UI from the ground up. This literally means we're touching every window in the game. Nothing that was in the game a month ago can be considered finished.
It's an exciting, but daunting prospect.
Our first two attempts at overhauling the UI were with two huge and somewhat independent systems, the maps and the Tome of Knowledge. We showed updates of both those windows in the last few weeks, but showing you what they look like now doesn't give you any indication of the direction that we're going with the rest of the UI. The maps and the Tome are stylized parchments, a look we're not going to use for the default windows.
So our third, and probably most visually impacting attempt to overhaul the UI, was to take on the look of the default window.
There's a joke around here that starts with us showing UI mockups around to other people on the team, and ends with the punchline "There's too much brown." So when the UI designers and artists sat down to reevaluate the UI with our "ground up" mentality, we decided to get away from brown.
This fellow here is the inspiration for our new UI color scheme:
Arbaal the Undefeated
And to give you an idea of the holistic way in which we're approaching our UI redesign, here's an example of some things that have gotten extremely long discussions in the past few months:
-Use of Color
-Use of Iconography
-Messaging Types
-Things Over People's Heads
-Icons on the Map and Minimap
-Toggles versus Checkmarks
By the time beta reopens, you won't see an entirely new UI. We've been working on establishing the fundamentals, and will, over time, be incorporating the new look into every window. Aside from changing the look of windows, we're also revisiting the functionality of every UI element. But you will begin to see it, window by window.
So here's a mockup of what you should begin to look for...
The New, Improved, NOT BROWN, Quest Window
Not brown UI
-UI Team
So there’s a slight peek behind the curtain of the process of how visual design elements of a UI get updated and changed.
Whenever we talk about the way that players will be able to visually customize their characters there are always a couple of questions about what we are going to do to make ability and career customization unique. We keep telling them that we’ll be talking about it when we’re ready.
And guess what? We’re ready. So go take a break and come back. You’re in for a nice, long, solid read on what we’re talking about whenever we say “Career Specialization”:
Career Mastery (Specialization)
We know that you've all been eagerly awaiting more details on how we plan to allow players of the same career to differentiate themselves from one another, and we're thrilled to be able to take this opportunity to unveil the Mastery system for the first time!
General Overview
Career Mastery will allow players focus on different facets of their career giving them the opportunity to differentiate themselves from others, while still making sure that every character, no matter how they're specialized, can still perform the basic and fundamental purpose of their career. For example, every Sword Master will be an able tank, capable of absorbing much more damage then a lighter fighter. However someone who specializes in the Sword Master’s defensive path will find that they are generally more durable, able to hold aggro better in PvE and able to defend their friends more efficiently in an RvR scenario. Meanwhile a Sword Master who chooses to go a more offensive route will still be able to take a hit, but may find themselves hard pressed to defend & protect as well as their counterpart, admittedly they will be hitting quite a bit harder as a trade off.
To begin at the most basic layer, every player will have four grouping of skills: Core skills and skills that fall under one of three different Paths of Mastery. The Core skills include a small handful of abilities which are simply critical to the career (to continue the example above, a Swordmaster would find that their Taunt and Guard abilities are Core). These Core skills automatically improve as you gain ranks; once you learn them, they won't require any further investments. Moving beyond that, each career will have three paths available to Master, each of which emphasizes one specific facet of the career's abilities. While the Core skills represent a more automatic progress, the pathed skills are heavily player-controlled.
Each Mastery contains Base skills, Supplemental skills, and also has its own Mastery level. Base skills are the Actions, Tactics & Morale a player is granted as a reward for achieving a specific level, every character of that Career will always be able to purchase these skills, however their total effectiveness is intimately tied to the player’s level of Mastery. Supplemental Skills are the Actions, Tactics, and Morale that a player can only unlock by increasing their Mastery of a given path, like Base skills Supplemental skills continue to increase in effectiveness as you’re Mastery level increases. The Mastery level itself is the current amount of Mastery a player has in a particular path, players will be able to choose just how much Mastery they desire in each of the three paths available to them.
Earning Skills & Increasing Mastery
Skills can be earned in one of two ways Base skills are unlocked when you achieve a specific rank then purchased at your trainer, players can choose to skip a Base skill if they desire but there is no good reason to do so. Supplemental skills however are only unlocked once you reach a certain Mastery level, once unlocked a player has to choose to spend points to purchase these skills. This is a difficult choice because the same points used to purchase Supplemental skills are used to increase Mastery level. These points are referred to as specialization points, and are earned every rank, a player will never have enough Specialization points to completely Master multiple paths while purchasing Supplemental skills. It is a tough choice because every point of Mastery earned improves EVERY action in that mastery line by a small amount this includes the Base Skills you automatically get. One level of Mastery can seem trivial however they add up and 5 or 10 points of Mastery makes a significant difference!
There is some amount of automatic leveling of power for skills in the paths outside of their Mastery. This is done to make sure the ability is not completely useless to the player, in fact many abilities may still be useful for secondary effects such as Stun even if they have horrible damage/healing values because their Mastery level is lower. When comparing the general power of an ability of a path with 100% Mastery and one with 0% Mastery you will see around a 30 – 35% difference in power. Remember this number can be improved (or widened) further depending on which Tactics and Stats you focus on as well.
Simple Examples
Example #1 - How a Base Ability improves with Mastery
Graceful Strike, a melee attack which causes monsters to hate you more than normal would be a base ability that falls into the Path of Vaul, which is the Sword Master's defensive-oriented Mastery. Every Swordmaster, whether or not they've specialized in that path, would have access to that ability. However, after a certain point, the damage and additional hatred will have reached their full potential, and will stop increasing. If the player then decides to use part of their specialization to increase their Mastery in the Path of Vaul the damage and extra hate will increase above that cap - and the further they specialize into that Mastery, the greater and greater the effectiveness becomes, however this ability still retains some use to players of other Paths who will find it useful for the additional Hatred generated since it is still better then many of the standard Melee attacks.
Example #2 - Purchasing additional Supplemental Skills
To stick with our hypothetical Swordmaster, for example, let's rejoin him after he's spent several of his specialization points to gain further Mastery of his defensive path (Path of Vaul). Once his Mastery increases sufficiently, he'll see that a new attack has become unlocked called Crushing Advance. This ability is a shield slam that not only does damage and interrupts casting but also briefly increases his chance to block attacks further bolstering his defense. In order to purchase it, he'll need to divert his next point away from increasing his Mastery further, and spend it to gain the attack instead. This is only one such example of an additional supplemential Skill, players will also have access to improved tactics and a powerful Level 4 Morale in their Mastery
For the astute you’ll have also noticed that the Path of Vaul seems to have a focus on using a “Sheild” instead of a “Greatsword” tricky eh?
In the end every player can decide not only how deeply to Master each path, but also which additional skills they might want to purchase from that specialization choice. You may choose to go full-bore down one path, max out its Mastery and purchase every supplemental skill, making your character outstandingly good at that aspect...but you'll only have enough points remaining to Master another path halfway at the most. Do you go as far as you can in a second path? or do you split your other points between multiple paths? Do you purchase the supplemental skills in those other paths, or do you decide to push your Mastery as high as you can? Maybe you decide not to push one path to its limit, and instead purchase several supplemental skills from multiple paths - but remember, you need Masteries to make those skills more powerful, too! Our specialization system will be a rich and flexible tool to customize your character exactly the way you want them!
We hope you enjoyed the sneak preview of the Career Mastery system, we have high hopes that these improvements will further enrich our character systems. We’ll be listening closely for additional questions and feedback and answering them as we can over the next couple of Beta update letters.
-Combat & Career Team

Last, but certainly not least, we have an update from the RvR Team. This is some of the meat and potatoes that many of you have been asking about over the last few weeks. So… drum roll please:
The first stage of changes and additions to open world RvR is under way and I’ve been cleared to share with you a glimpse of the details. We received a lot of feedback regarding warcamp camping, the battlefield objectives, and the feeling of the RvR area as a whole, and we have been listening. We have begun making changes to the battlefield objectives to provide more incentives to players to capture them, as well as making them more dynamic and interesting.
Now for the part that has been the top-secret project the RvR team has been hard at work on: Keeps. Yes, you read that right – we are adding keeps. Keep warfare, namely protecting your keep and capturing your enemy’s, will play a significant role in open world RvR and the campaign.
The first pairing to have keeps on Beta will be Empire and Chaos. The art for the keeps will not be polished when Beta reopens, but this is very intentional. Our primary goal at this stage is to make sure the game play and functionality of the keeps are very solid and you can expect to see a lot of “focus discussion” posts from members of the RvR Team as we request targeted feedback.
What about Siege? There will indeed be siege in WAR. However, siege will not be ready when Beta reopens. I will have more information for you as we get closer to having it ready for release to Beta.
-RvR Team
Ta-daa! So there we go... A very high level concept of some of the changes we're making to open field RvR Expect to see more about Keeps and Siege and other aspects of the updated open field RvR experience as we continue to get closer to the re-opening of Beta. So stay tuned!
So that’s another week down here at ole’ EA Mythic HQ. Just think Lads and Lasses... Each update that you read brings us yet another week closer the re-opening of Beta. I know I’m getting excited… How about you?

Happy Holidays, - The Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Team

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