Welcome to Project: Gorgon!

Project: Gorgon is a 3D fantasy MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game) that features an immersive experience that allows the player to forge their own path through exploration and discovery. We won't be guiding you through a world on rails, and as a result there are many hidden secrets awaiting discovery. Project: Gorgon also features an ambitious skill based leveling system that bucks the current trend of pre-determined classes, thus allowing the player to combine skills in order to create a truly unique playing experience.

The Project: Gorgon development team is led by industry veteran Eric Heimburg. Eric has over a decade of experience working as a Senior and Lead Engineer, Developer, Designer and Producer on successful games such as Asheronís Call 1 and 2, Star Trek Online and other successful Massively Multiplayer Online Games.


Dev Blog: February 2022

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Time for another development update! Before I start, I want to warn new players about reading too much into these sorts of deep dev blog posts, because 1) we routinely change direction when new problems arise and 2) I tend to sound a lot more negative than I would be when talking to new players. It's just designer-speak, basically: if I say "the level-30 content range is boring and too hidden and needs work", new players can hear "the game is unplayable at level 30". But that's not what I mean -- the game is very playable right now, at all levels! I'm just speaking very frankly about parts of the game that I think aren't living up to their potential.

So if you're up for a long read, here we go.

Server Move Complete
Our ISP (that is, the company that leases us server hardware) relocated their Charlotte, NC datacenter to Ashburn, VA in order to have better internet routes -- it turns out that Ashburn is a major internet hub. The move caused some outages and problems, including a half day of unplanned downtime when our database server had a drive failure after the move. We did get some small benefits from all of it -- I used the downtime as an opportunity to upgrade some core components, including our database software, Java JRE, and OS version. We'll finally be able to move on from Java 8 now! (In non-technical speak, that's a quality-of-life upgrade for programmers.) But it was a very stressful week, and I'm happy it's over.

While the physical relocation is done, we're still getting reports of lag spikes and disconnections, most dramatically in the wee hours of the morning (meaning that the most-affected players are overseas from the US). The game-server itself is stable, and our home-office connection to the server is also stable, so this is obviously a network routing issue. We're trying to gather data to help the ISP resolve these issues.

I'm not too worried about it long-term -- it's basically "growing pains" from moving the datacenter -- but I apologize if you have un-fun game sessions as a result.

Basic Mounts Are In!
We've finally got the basics of player mounts added to the game. Now we can iteratively address all the details that still need work, including: horse genetics, mounts for animal-form players, non-horse mounts, and revising how non-mounted travel works. There's still a lot of work to do, but we're very happy to finally get the framework of mounts and saddlebags in place. This was one of the last big missing pieces of the game design, and we can finally start integrating it into the rest of the game's systems! As usual, that will be done iteratively: we'll be adding stuff piece by piece, getting your feedback with each step.

Mounts have taken up a lot of our development bandwidth for a while, but we now have room to think about other problem areas again. And the next short-term goal will be getting more players to reach high level.

More High-Level Players Needed
We're now at the point where we need more level 80-ish players in order to make high-level combat work. Balancing combat is vastly easier when there's enough players to statistically analyze combat! In a simpler MMO with the usual eight-ish classes, our current population would probably be enough. But we have so many combat skills, and they can be combined in so many ways, that we need a lot of high-level players to generate useful data.

And of course the main way to get high-level players is to keep low-level players playing longer! Most players don't reach max-level combat skills -- they quit sooner than that. (This is the norm for every MMO, of course, but I think we can do a lot better.)

It's been a while since I sat down and just worked on "smoothing everything out". So that's what I'll be doing for a few months. Two goals here: removing irritants that cause players to quit in frustration, and making content more accessible, discoverable, and useful, so players don't quit from boredom.

My basic approach will be to look at each level range and ask "what makes players quit playing at this level?" For some level ranges (like the 30s), I think we just need more accessible and useful content. For the 50s, we need to help players put together a great set of gear, because the 50s are when the game starts to take gear very seriously. And at most levels, we need to do more to point out where the content is!

I'll be revising some dungeons, adding more signposting and direction-quests, writing more books and popup informational windows, nerfing annoying monsters, etc. I think this will go a long way to keep players invested longer.

We're also going to keep working on high-level content, of course -- that's why we want more high-level players. In parallel to the above work, we're working on the design of Statehelm, the high-level city. Statehelm will be the home of the high-level trainers, which we need so that we can raise the level cap.

So what's the plan for Statehelm, anyway? To answer that, I should talk about Povus...

Lessons from Povus, or, Rethinking Statehelm
In November we released a new level 80 outdoor area called Povus, which has a large abandoned city in it. Each night the city is invaded, and high-level players can come together to defend it. I had to revise most of those invasion events several times to get something I'm happy with, but ultimately I'm pretty happy with the invasions. I know that low player counts can make it feel grueling at the moment, but when we have more high-level players online, I think the pacing will be just about perfect. (But in the short term, we'll reduce the town's "decay rate" significantly so it's not as exhausting to keep the town's level up. That will happen in the next update, in fact.)

I'm proud of Povus, but it taught me a painful design lesson. Povus was a test-run for Statehelm, the human capitol city. My plan for Statehelm was to fill it with city-style combat: muggers on street corners, demonic guerilla warriors causing all sorts of chaos, decrepit buildings full of thieves and cultists, and basically lot of close-quarters fighting. Lots of weaker enemies that can be blasted to bits, and plenty of chaos.

So Povus was a test of that idea of close-quarters city combat. And I learned that city fighting... sucks in this game. Some of the problems are due to issues we're planning to work on anyway, such as difficulty selecting targets in busy areas. But I think the main flaw is just the 3rd-person camera. The camera is at ground level, so every building is a place for enemies to hide. That means you need to either check behind every corner before starting a fight (which becomes tedious), or accept that you're going to be routinely jumped while you're fighting (which is a frustrating way to die). To address these problems in Povus, I dramatically reduced the number of surprise enemies and wandering monsters. That ended up working for the abandoned city of Povus, but it's not the vibe I was going for in Statehelm.

So I'm punting that idea for now. I'll consider some variation of it for future content, when I'm happier with monster targeting, enemy visibility indicators, overall combat duration, etc. But Statehelm doesn't need to be a dense combat zone -- that was just something I wanted to try out. There will still be some rough neighborhoods, and some guerilla demon incursions, but not wall-to-wall enemies.

Of course, there's a lot of other stuff that's supposed to happen in Statehelm...

Statehelm Is Coming... Iteratively
We made our first prototype of Statehelm back in 2017, but the Unity engine wasn't able to handle it. (Not even close, really. It's come a long way in 5 years. And we've also dramatically revised the design.) In the mean time we postponed the city and worked on other things.

But have you ever noticed how many NPCs reference Statehelm in the game? There's a lot of things that are supposed to happen there. Most obviously, Statehelm is the home of the Council, and the crux of the game's main plot line! I was excited to work on the main plot, so the delay has been frustrating. And I guess in response to that frustration, I've always wanted to release Statehelm in a fully-functional form with huge fanfare. "Here it is, the amazing city of Statehelm! We fucking did it!!!!!!!!" A city that's technically impressive, graphically beautiful, full of content, story endings for a dozen questlines, new skills, a mega-dungeon underneath, and of course the aforementioned "nest of thieves and demons" idea. (Oh, and also instanced housing, just to add a cherry on top.) Piece of cake.

Of course I didn't really expect to launch all of that at once, but I did want to launch with a bunch of those things. But Povus was a good reminder of how dumb that is. Each unique piece will need a bunch of testing, iteration, and probably optimization too.

So we're going to "soft-launch" Statehelm with little fanfare or features, then slowly add the pieces. We'll start by just focusing on typical MMO hub city stuff -- trainers, shops, and so on. After that we'll start adding more of the city's unique content and high-level skills, which I'll definitely need your help testing out.

I have a lot of ideas I want to explore here, and eventually I want Statehelm to be a shining jewel of the game, a really fun and quirky and innovative place. It will just take time to get there.

Item Wipe Canceled
I've mentioned this in Discord and on the forums, but here it is officially: we're no longer planning to wipe your character's items when we officially leave beta. The item-wipe is one reason that players stop playing in beta, and I need more high-level players during beta! So I had to sit down and think about whether a wipe was worthwhile. And it's not.

The main point of the item wipe was to "reset" the game's economy at launch, but it wouldn't really work out that way. Since we weren't planning on wiping skills or recipes, the "clean slate" would only last a few months. Then the long-term players would have enough items to start out-producing new players (due to their higher crafting skill levels). I think it would be disillusioning to actually-new players when they see these old-timers suddenly burst ahead of them. Almost like we've tricked them.

And is a clean-slate economy even that important for this game? I'm no longer convinced it is. Back when I announced the wipe (in 2014, maybe?), I was being pessimistic: I figured by the time the game launched, there'd be no room for new players to make a buck. But I don't think that's what's going to happen. The economy is diverse, and stratified, and we're still adding many new elements to it, with no plans to stop adding things! There's still plenty of room for new players to make money.

The other reason I wanted to do an item-wipe was actually a bit harder for me to let go of. After so many years of prototyping game ideas, I wanted a chance to clean up all my mess! If all the items in the universe were deleted, it would let me fix the numbering of item IDs, remove attributes that never got out of the prototype stage, and clean up a bunch of crufty stuff that's still being stored on old items. But that's really more of a perfectionist thing. We'll live without the cleanup.

So no item wipe is planned anymore. We may still need to wipe individual items, or even whole classes of items, or reset specific skills, etc. during beta, but we won't be doing any big wipe at launch.

The Team and The Future
You may have wondered what happened with animal husbandry and genetics -- it hasn't had much development since it launched. Genetics is one of Sandra's game systems, and she hasnít been able to work on it much for the past few months. Sandra had been suffering some mysterious ailments for a while, and doctors finally found the cause: a relatively rare kind of cancer. She's just started chemo, and it's rough. To put it mildly. So we'll have to see how it goes, and adapt.

We try to keep our private lives private, but we wanted to let you know about this because it's caused some development delays already and will no doubt cause more, not just due to Sandra's absence but also my absence from work (driving to chemo, doctor's appointments, etc.) But we'll keep trucking along!

In the short term I'll probably take over genetics and do a quick revision of the bee genome to fix some problems with attribute distribution. Sandra will tackle the next genome (probably horse genes) when she's able. She also has many other tasks on her plate, like the graphical revision of Kur Mountains, which might happen first.

To counter these slow-downs, we'd like to expand the team! Adding another developer would let us push through this difficult period without too many delays. And the best way to help us with that is to subscribe to the VIP plan -- all that money goes to hiring. You've already seen Nick's work recently -- he did all the recent UI changes, and all the mount-animation logic too. Nick is pretty amazing, and he's helped us shore up our coding schedule. With another team member, we could shore up our level-design schedule too. We haven't started seriously looking for another team member yet, but we'll do so when the VIP count goes up some more.

Anyway, we'll keep you apprised of the situation. This is hardly the first development obstacle we've had to overcome over the years! In fact, we're coming up on an interesting milestone. Sandra and I started prototyping this game in 2012. In August of this year, the game will have been in development for a decade! Of course, the first years were mostly just working on the game engine, but over the past few years we've gathered a lot of momentum, and I can finally see the light at the end of the development tunnel. It's still a ways off, but it's bright.

We'll see you in Alharth!

(You can comment on this blog post here.)

Updated 02-20-2022 at 06:59 PM by Citan

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Project: Gorgon