Archive for the ‘Episode 2’ Category
A few days ago, I checked in the last piece of code to Episode 2 that made it playable from beginning to end. It took a lot longer to stich together the storyline than Episode 1 did, I think because we tried to add variety to missions wherever possible.
In Episode 1, the majority of the missions are “Pwn this forum.” While the gameplay still revolves around pwning forums in Episode 2, we tried to vary it up as much as possible. This meant a lot of extra programming, but I think the end product is worth it.
BINGEBOT 2015 and I got together recently and printed out a huge flowchart of the paths you can take through Episode 2, then with a pen and paper started figuring out what forums should be what difficulty and why, and thus the true balancing stage of development has begun. Balance Bot is running the site like mad and slowing down my computer to a crawl. Things are coming together!
We’ve also received almost all the artwork we’ve comissioned for Episode 2. It looks awesome! Here’s a sneak peek of some of it:
In terms of a release date, we aren’t ready to give a specific date yet, but I will say I am very confident Episode 2 will be out in October!
Once we announce a real release date we’ll put up counters and work in some fun community stuff leading up to it.
Note: If you just want to know the cost of Episode 2 and not our justification behind it, scroll to the bold part at the bottom.
Nothing seems to divide our users more than the issue of cost. Last week I put up a poll asking how much you would pay for Episode 2, and as of right now it’s split almost 50/50 between those who say $0 and those who picked a cost.
Since we’re getting close to the launch of Episode 2, I figured it’s as good of a time as any to talk about our rationale for charging money for game content.
First of all, Forumwarz costs money to run. I know this should seem obvious, but I have talked to many users who honestly seemed to think that websites cost nothing to run. That might be the case for your average GeoCities page (people still use GeoCities, right?) but not for a dedicated dot-com like your favorite online RPG — or even Forumwarz, for that matter!
Bandwidth and hosting: Every time you click on a page within Forumwarz, it costs us money. Right now we have a single high-end server serving up all the data. It has served 20GB on busy days, which is considered a lot.
Backups: We use expensive software to back up our database nightly without interrupting service. Then we pay to host those backup images in a different location, to cover our butts. It comes in handy when certain users (or their evil Bizarro World twins) manage to hack us and force us to turn back the clock.
Payments and Banking: We pay Paypal a fee on every transaction we make in order to provide online processing of bank transfers and credit cards. We also have to pay our bank for a business account.
Legal Fees: Because Forumwarz is a corporation, we have to pay legal fees in order to keep the government from breaking down our door. Also to cover our butts if something goes wrong in the legal department.
Etc: We also have to pay for domain names, SSL certificates and a bunch of smaller fees that seem insignificant on their own, but tend to add up over time. (Jalapeno insists that we mention his allergy medication here. He’s allergic to Evil Trout’s cat.)
While our operating costs are considerable, they’re nothing compared to the cost of developing new content for the game.
Artwork: Do you like those painted character cinematics we have for each class telling you your backstory? So do we. But we have to commission that art from professional artists, and they charge us for it.
Stock Photography: We use a lot of stock photography to make up the non-commissioned artwork in the game. As much as we’d like to just take images from Google Image search, the majority of the characters, items and avatars have to be licensed for commercial use. When we’re talking thousands of photographs, this adds up! We do use public domain images where possible, but if you want stuff that’s been shot with equipment newer than 1918, you have to cough up some cash.
Software: The server part of Forumwarz runs on (mostly) free software. However, we use commercial software on our personal computers such as Photoshop, Textmate and Navicat.
Ah, human resources. If we treated humans the same way we treat our natural resources, this would be a grim world indeed. Am I right?! But I digress. The nonsalaried person-hours that have gone into creating Forumwarz runs well into the thousands.
Programming: Coding Forumwarz is more than a full-time job. Right now, I’m responsible for everything in this department, and I typically work 6 days a week, at well over 8 hours on most days. Forumwarz is a complicated application that we are constantly upgrading. It is rare that more than a day goes by without some kind of fix or enhancement being pushed up. According to a salary survey, the average salary for a Ruby on Rails developer is $87,000/yr. That’s in Toronto, where the Crotch Zombie team resides. And while we recognize that times are tough everywhere, this happens to be an expensive city to live in.
Writing: I believe one of the biggest strengths of Forumwarz is the high quality of its writing. Jalapeno Bootyhole does the majority of the writing and all the editing. While it isn’t a full-time job for him, he spends most of his evenings and weekends contributing to the site and has taken several months of unpaid leave from work to finish writing new episodic content. A salary survey puts an average writing/editing job at $60,000/yr.
Etc: Other members of the Crotch Zombie team have spent hours of their personal time contributing to the site, and their time is worth as much to the improvement of Forumwarz in the future as the writing and programming! Bingebot, for instance, has put a great deal of free time into creative and technological consultation and site maintenance, and he’s a pretty busy ‘bot. Even such mundane tasks as Photoshopping avatars, calculating finances each month or even updating the blog take a great deal of time to do.
You might ask why I used salary surveys for the above positions. The truth is, right now Forumwarz isn’t paying anything close to those numbers! Since we’re in a new company start-up mode, we haven’t paid anything to ourselves in a year of operation. Any income we’ve spent has gone directly into maintaining and enhancing Forumwarz.
Why We Do It
Why are we doing this? It’s partially because all investments involve risk. We hope that this hard work won’t go unrewarded in the future and we will be able to recoup our invested money and time. A bigger motivator is that we LOVE the game and the community it has spawned. It feels really awesome to create something that resonates with people so strongly!
The good news is, financially, Forumwarz more than covers its current operating costs. There is no danger of us pulling the plug anytime soon on the game or our amazing community.
The bad news is, we can’t devote ourselves to developing new content forever without a solid financial justification to do so.
Why am I being so candid with this information? Because I want people to know that we aren’t being greedy bastards here! We would be more than happy to develop Forumwarz indefinitely if it just paid us a living wage and nothing else.
The Episode 2 Experiment
Right now we give you a lot of gameplay for free. Episode 1 gives you about 10-15 hours of single-player gameplay, depending on how experienced you are with RPGs, and how much you care to read and explore the universe. On top of that we have free endgame content like Domination, forumbuildr and INCIT.
We accept Brownie Points (BP) as a way to upgrade your experience. Largely the BP upgrades are not related to game content. They are more about customizing your experience with the game, enhancing your visibility within the community or playing the game again as a new character.
Many users have purchased Brownie Points, and we can’t express our gratitude enough! You guys are awesome. However, the vast majority of people who play and finish the single-player campaign do not purchase BP. Of course, it goes without saying that we appreciate our non-donating players as well, and hope that they enjoy playing and contributing to the community.
I use the metric of finishing the single-player campaign here because I think it’s valuable: To beat Episode 1, you have to come and play over many days. Presumably you are doing this because you enjoy the game. If not, why would you keep coming back?
Sure, it might take you 10 hours to decide that you don’t like the game, or at that point you might just be beating it out of some obsessive need to finish what you started, but I don’t think I’m crazy in assuming that the majority of the people who finished the game had fun and thought it was somewhat cool.
Because Episode 2 has taken us a lot of time and money to develop, we are looking to increase the percentage of people who throw us a few bucks by charging for the continuation of the single-player campaign. The idea is to create an economic system where people support the content that they play.
It’s very similar to the shareware system of the old id Software games (Wolfenstein 3D, anyone?), where you’d get the first part of a game free but would have to pay to continue. You could also compare it to the Xbox Live Arcade, where each game has a free demo but then you have to purchase the full version (although the Xbox Live demos are CONSIDERABLY shorter).
This business model has been proven to work for other platforms for years. The major difference is that we’re going to try it for a browser-based RPG. The single best way to make this work, in my opinion, is to make sure Episode 2 is especially awesome.
Part of the reason Episode 2 has taken so long to complete is that we want to make sure it’s worth the money. The game is bigger than Episode 1 in almost every way and the gameplay is more varied. Since it’s the middle episode, the story arc is far more interesting, and small bits of information you got in Episode 1 will start to make a lot more sense. We’ve also gotten enough feedback and contributions from our players to give us a better idea of what you like best about Forumwarz, and tried to maximize those aspects.
What Will Episode 2 Cost?
After much deliberation, we have decided that Episode 2 will cost 7 Brownie Points (that’s about the equivalent of $9.99 USD, if you buy the 7 BP package). You will also get one free avatar change OR a free non-anonymous avatar prank (per account) with your purchase, which you’ll be able to redeem later. It will be a one-time Brownie Point purchase, and will enable access to all Episode 2 content for every character attached to your account.
We wouldn’t be charging for it if we didn’t think it was worth it. You probably spend more money than that without thinking more often than you realize! A movie ticket costs the same and it’s over in 1.7 hours, and there’s always some tall jerk sitting in front of you. Or you could spend that much on a couple of beers at any bar, and have nothing to show for it at the end of the night but a pee-filled bladder. Episode 2 will offer you far more entertainment than any movie — actually, more entertainment than many downloadable games that cost much more — and will kill more of your brain cells than any beer ever could.
Will we be blocked from playing Episode 1 when Episode 2 comes out?
No way! Episode 1 — and all other Forumwarz features you currently have access to — will continue to be free, and some of the new Episode 2 features such as the Job Board and Hacker class will soon be available for free as well.
Why don’t you just use ads to pay for the site?
Ads don’t even come close to covering our costs. We’re not allowed to say how much revenue ads bring in, but I can say our income from our best month ever from ads is equivalent to our worst month ever from donations. Ads just don’t pay what they used to, especially when they’re as relatively non-invasive as ours.
But I don’t have a credit card!
Check out this article on our wiki for some suggestions! Right now, those are your best options if you’re interested in contributing to the War on Forumz.
Why don’t you accept SMS payments?
We can’t seem to find a provider that will allow us to charge more than a dollar or two to a phone. Also, apparently chargebacks are ridiculous on cell phones, because people make payments that weren’t truly “authorized.” If you know a good payment provider, please let us know!
But my favorite website doesn’t charge money!
Yes, but Forumwarz is a complex game, not some forum or blog using customized or off-the-shelf forum software. It has considerable development expenses, and it’s all out of our pockets. If you only wish to use Forumwarz as a forum, you will be able to continue doing so for free, since it’s part of the core game.
All large browser RPGs charge money in one way or another, whether it’s for items or gold or other enhancements.
The Forumwarz community is dying!
It’s less busy than it used to be, sure, but there are still thousands of core players and the forums are still quite active. Also, you can expect that many people will come back when Episode 2 is released. Countless people are itching to reactivate their accounts when new content is available, trust us! Finally, we expect that when the word gets out about Episode 2, Forumwarz will grow bigger than ever.
Not to mention, we’re talking about paying for a single-player experience here. Our awesome community is just a bonus!
I don’t believe in paying for web games!
That’s fine, and you have every right to choose what you pay for and what you don’t. We think Episode 2 is worth the money, but if you don’t think the quality of our content is up to your standards, feel free not to pay for anything beyond Episode 1.
To reiterate, Forumwarz costs money, and we can’t afford to produce content and gameplay without support from our users. If you don’t want to donate as a matter of principle, we can only suggest that there’s always exceptions to the rule. The web-based game economy is a relatively new thing, and we think Forumwarz can become a good example of a high-quality indie RPG sustained by user donations.
With some luck, and your continued support, we can make this work!
Not everything in Episode 2 is related to new content. We’re using the development time to streamline some other things, such as the battle interface.
The biggest difference is that we’ve re-claimed the top part of the screen. While in battle, normally the only links from the top menu you’d want are to Leave Battle or to Report a Bug. Instead of wasting inches of screen real estate on the logo and tabs, we’ve come up with a one-line version takes up a lot less room! The text “Emi” in the screenshot is the name of the test character I’m using.
Another major change that you can’t see in the screenshot is that new posts in forums are now attached to the bottom of threads instead of the top. This is the way that every forum in existence seems to work. To accomodate this, the forum automatically scrolls to the bottom (like in sTalk).
Since your eyes are now focused more at the bottom of the screen, I’ve moved the thread vitals section to be just above your toolbar, since you mostly look at it when you look at your own vitals which are now just below.
Now of course all of these cosmetic changes are still very much a work in progress (although have been stable for a while in the Episode 2 code base.) If you guys have any feedback we’d love to hear it!
It’s been a while since I wrote about Episode 2 stuff on the blog, even though I am spending the majority of my time these days working on it.
One thing other RPGs have established is that grinding to level up your character feels a lot less like grinding when there is an objective just on the horizon. Right now, thanks to the community forums, there are more than enough forums to visit and pwn in Episode 1. However, besides levelling up your character or earning Flezz, there is little reason to visit them.
For Episode 2, we’ve constructed a job board interface. As with anything else I’m posting about Episode 2 it’s subject to change, but here’s the gist of it:
- New jobs are generated by the server for your character every day, based on your character’s attributes.
- The board will only use the community forums. The idea is to drive traffic to all those places you guys put so much work into!
- Like in the real world, some jobs pay better than others. It is up to you to pick the best jobs given your forum visits.
- Some examples of jobs: Pwn a forum, speed run a forum, deploy scripts to forum, and other new episode2 specific things we haven’t announced yet!
- Once you take on a job, you have 60 minutes to complete it to get the reward (right now they’re all flezz, but in the future they will probably give items too).
- Jobs also have a reward in job points. As you earn more job points, you get promoted and climb the corporate ladder!
The idea is that if you want to level up your character, you might as well get a rewards for it besides the deliveries you get overnight.
I demoed the interface at our Crotch Zombie meeting last night and everyone loved it!
While writing Episode 2 Jalapeno purposely left a lot of it out of order. So when it came down to the stage of integrating it all together, I was left with a bunch of missions and forums that I could introduce to the player in any order I wanted.
In Episode 1, we dabbled a bit with non-linearity, but we only had about 10 forums so we didn’t flesh it out very much. There are a couple of parts in the storyline where you can do things in the order you choose, but most of the time it’s a straight line.
In Episode 2, this is quite different. It works more like Grand Theft Auto, where you are given multiple contacts at once. You can do their missions in whatever order you wish, but new missions are only unlocked after you finish the original ones. Sometimes, finishing one of several missions unlocks several other missions.
It will be interesting to see the order that people play through the game once we open up the Episode 2 beta! I honestly have no idea what route will be the most popular.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on the introductory sequence to Episode 2. One thing that got a lot of positive attention with Forumwarz Episode 1 was the beginning, where Excre-Bot and Shallow Esophagus ease you into the universe and gameplay.
We spent a lot of time designing that sequence and I think the effort paid off, as our number one complaint when we launched the episode was that players were left wanting more after their first hour or two of gameplay was up and their daily visits were gone.
The opening to Episode 1 used our interactive cinematics engine. It’s basically like a web-based powerpoint presentation, except that on individual slides we can trigger events and wait for other events to be triggered. The whole Excre-bot quiz was created this way, as was the interactive tutorial.
I think around the time Episode 1 was finished I came up with the idea of taking the interactive cinematics to a much larger level. I threw some ideas to Jalapeno, we did some research and then he began writing. Before I knew it, he dumped a script in my lap that was about 3,500 words long!
He kept saying to me “are you sure we can pull this off?” and my stock answer was me might as well try our best. What’s the point of doing something if it isn’t ambitious right?
I’m happy to say now that the cinematics engine, with a bunch of extra tweaks, was able to hold up to the new interactive introduction to Episode 2, and I’m incredibly proud of the results. It’s not quite finished, and a lot of the artwork is missing, but I’m sure you guys will love the result.
To give you an idea of how much we’re adding to Episode 2, there are more shots in the beginning of Episode 2 than in all of the cinematics of Episode 1 combined. In fact, by the time the sequence is polished I expect it to be over twice the size of all the cinematics in Episode 1.
In terms of other size comparisons, Episode 2 will have at least twice as many story-related forums to pwn than Episode 1.
We also recently have begun testing a new text adventure sequence (Episode 2’s version of Trapped in the Cupboard), and it took me 3 hours of solid playing to beat it my first time.
The level cap will be doubling to Level 20, and all characters will receive completely new attacks and abilities.
On top of this, we’re also developing completely new features that expand the gameplay and economy, but we’re not ready to announce those yet.
So yes, we know waiting for a new Episode can suck, but when you see how much we’re delivering, I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the wait! As Shigeru Miyamoto pointed out, nobody remembers when a game shipped late, but everyone remembers when a game was bad!
Episode 2 of Forumwarz gives us a great opportunity to introduce changes to the gameplay balance. Since it’s a large content update we can piggyback on it with a bunch of adjustments to the balance between classes.
We have been collecting feedback on the balance between classes forever, and we have a bunch of great ideas for where to start tweaking.
The only problem is, tweaking even small stats on our classes means a lot of additional testing is required. When developing Episode 1, the best tool I had for this was my “Clone character” and “Reset character” tools.
In other words, I’d get a character to a point in the game, make a clone them, test something, revert, clone, test, revert clone, test, etc until I was happy with things. Unfortunately, if I got to a point late in the game where I wanted to make a change to something that would affect the earlier gameplay, I’d have to start all over again. Not only was this incredibly time consuming but it was mind numbing too. After a while I wouldn’t be able to objectively test the game, as I’d be so desensitized to the gameplay and storyline.
We are fortunate going into Episode 2 that we have an installed user base who are eager to test all sorts of permutations for us. We will definitely take advantage of that. However, I think it’s very important to get things as stable as possible from a balance standpoint before handing it over to actual users.
After thinking about it for a while, I came up with the idea of writing a bot to play Forumwarz for me. Since I have access to all the back end methods, it wouldn’t have to play through the interface, it would simply have to call methods, examine their results, call others.
Hence, BalanceBot 9000 was born. He turned out to take a lot more code than I initially thought, but earlier this week I got him to the point where he could beat Episode 1 from beginning to end. He’s smart enough to stock up on items, buy equipment, collect junk and sell it, fight threads (with different strategies for each class) and even grind in lower level forums in order to gain experience to beat higher level ones.
The main thing he doesn’t do is have conversations with NPCs, he just skips them and gains the desired ending effect. But those don’t need to be tested for balance anyway.
The idea is we can have BalanceBot run the game over and over, gathering stats as to how many attempts it takes him to beat a particular forum. After running it many times, we can get some cool numbers out of it. For example, we’ll know if a camwhore is slightly stronger than an emo kid at a particular level and weaker at another.
After every adjustment to the game balance, no matter how minor, we can run BalanceBot again and see how it affected the overall gameplay. Of course, this takes some time to run: It takes BalanceBot 9000 2 minutes to beat the game from beginning to end on my Quad-Core Xeon machine, and to get good stats we have to run the game many times.
I have already learned some interesting things about Episode 1’s balance that I didn’t before, and I haven’t even started tweaking things. I’m pretty sure we will see a much smoother gameplay experience as a result, both for Episode 1 and Episode 2!