“It’s about time.” Those are not my words referring to the current development status of Camelot Unchained. No, those came directly from the mouth of Mark Jacobs, City State Entertainment CEO, when we sat down together at DragonCon 2018 to discuss the game, its progress, and its future. It’s about time means that the basis of the engine and tech is almost done. And with that foundation laid, the meaty game bits like abilities and classes are going to be following at a quicker pace. According to Jacobs, the team can see the light at the end of development tunnel.
As we chatted, the conversation flowed from the current server stability to VR to battle royale to 64-bit client. Jacobs shared videos of large (and I do mean large)-scale battles, made me want an Oculus Rift even more, and even managed to pique my interest in the BR field. Add to that the DragonCon panel later that evening with Andrew Meggs, co -founder and code overlord, and Ben Pielstick, game designer, and the feeling that the game is finally nearing completion was real.
Almost done ™
First and foremost, folks want to know when the game will be done. The good news is that Jacobs noted he can finally see the ending in sight. “I can see the point the point where we’ve met all the tech challenges; [there’s] one last one that will get a the first pass in a couple weeks.” He continued, “We really are on the cusp of being able to say, ‘Yes, all the big technical hurdles that we identified in the Kickstarter are done’,” Jacobs said. “And we haven’t fallen on our face on any one of them, and that’s also unusual.” It’s been of paramount importance to Jacobs that CSE delivers on what was laid out in the Kickstarter that folks backed.
“I know how hard it is for devs teams to meet all the things that they may have promised during their Kickstarters and beyond. We can absolutely be one of those who say, ‘yup look at our list’ and say ‘see guys? We did it. We fulfilled the obligations of our kickstarter and post kickstarter backing by meeting these milestones.’ The rest is just getting the game out.
The focus has been on getting the tech right. Jacobs said, “We are spending the extra time and money to make sure we have we hope is as smooth a first week as Dark Age of Camelot did and Warhammer did.” The transition to a 64-bit client is scheduled for this year (the server is already there), and the move will allow even more details to be added into the game.
And that final hurdle? Rubble. No, really. “Once we get rubble in, we can really look at this and go, ‘We nailed it. We nailed the technical challenges’,” he stated. He highlighted that the building feature is part of dream scenario of RvR for “people who want to build castles and burn them down,” taking part in epic sieges. At the panel, Meggs noted that physics for the the next phase (damage/destruction of player constructed buildings) is already in place and will be added in probably around October 1st. Phase two will be exploding buildings, and then phase three is continuing to build out our crafting loop. After that hurdle is cleared, and add in that CSE is still hiring, and progress is going to start looking noticeable faster.
Currently, backers who are jumping into beta to test the game (and yes, it is actual testing) find three scenarios available, one for 500 players, one for 750, and one for 1,200. The first two are battle scenarios and the latter is a contested open-world island where players can test building and sieging. (By building, we mean plopping down a premade blueprint that adds 4K blocks a second, and sieging means you can destroy 4K blocks a second!) Jacobs stressed that the scenarios are not intended for the launched game but only to congregate players now for beta testing and stressing purposes; there will not be any scenarios in the main game except for a newbie one. As such, he understands well that players pop in, check things out, then leave because not much has changed day-to-day. But that will change as more betas open up. Jacobs also emphasized that everything now is placeholder and over the next year it will just keep getting better. Jacobs stated, “I have zero doubt by this time next year we will have a very different game.”
During the panel, Pielstick explained, “I’m really excited right now mostly because for the first time in quite a while we’ve actually been adding some new things as far as being able to design new class abilities that we haven’t had before in the game.”
Although PvP is not my preferred style of play, I’ve done plenty of it. In RvR, CU’s model, is actually my favored method. As such, I have participated in my share of massive battles like the fortress sieges in Aion, where even on good gaming machines you turned off other players in order to try and keep a decent enough framerate to move! That’s why three videos that Jacobs shared with me were particularly impressive. These three videos of large scale battle scenarios — filled with 500, 750, then 1,200 players and bots — were not marketing clips, but actually footage from the game’s current beta build where players are testing things in scenarios (of 500, 750, and 1,200). Jacobs did try to take us into the game live, but hotel wifi during DragonCon was just not having it.
I’d asked about sharing the videos with you, but Jacobs noted he is waiting until the game looks a bit closer to what it will at launch so folks will know what they are getting. At that time there will be more shader and lighting improvements, actual ground cover, and even better frame rates. Because things are not yet optimized, frame rates are not where he wants them to be nor are they steady. “We’re always going to go up and down in performance until things are finalized,” he said. “We’ve barely optimized the engine.” Jacobs explained,
“A thing to keep in mind with the performance is that for us it is always a roller coaster, right? Some days, some weeks, performance is better, sometimes it’s worse because we are building the engine at the same time we are building the game. One advantage to doing that is that you expose problems before you would try to market an engine.”
Another improvement Jacobs described that I am personally looking forward to is apparently one of his favorites: the sky. “One of the little things I want for the game,” he said, “I want the nighttime sky to be the coolest of any game.” Players will also start seeing “A lot of the little things that make it feel less like a game and more like a world” now that the hard part, the tech, is almost done.
CU in VR
Jacob shared with MOP at the beginning of the year that CUBE was being prepped for VR. But it’s gone beyond that now, and it made me doubly sad that we had neither a Rift with us nor could we log into the game. Why? Because he told me that if we did have one, we could plug in right now and go play in the game! Jacobs explained that over one month, input scheme and rendering was done and you can actually plug Camelot Unchained in to an Occulus Rift and play it in VR right now. It is, in fact, exactly what Jacobs did for some investors. Does that mean the game will being VR? Not Unchained, but CUBE could be yes. He explained, “The problem with Unchained is that because of the things we said about the combat system and the ability to use a lot of the screen to store all the different abilities you’re going to be creating, that doesn’t lend itself to VR.”
VR definitely is not impossible, but “it would just be a royal pain in the a** to play this game; it would not be anywhere near I think as easy as it would be to play with a mouse and a keyboard.” It’s also because CU can scale to over 1,000 players and the VR part of the engine couldn’t handle that. Putting more work into that aspect would allow it to be able to handle the 1000+ in VR, but that would really delay things. And Jacobs is not willing to delay things unnecessarily. But what about after CU is released?
There’s where it gets interesting. Jacobs began talking about how the team can branch out in the future if it wants to, thanks to all the work already put into making the engine. Or, CSE could go the licensing route, but why not capitalize on this creation? I’m still back thinking about playing these battle scenarios in VR, and then Jacobs starts talking about also watching in VR. VR spectator mode? I think we just found the way for me to really enjoy battle royale more.
So will CSE do a CU Battle Royale game? No. At least not now.
After such an exciting prospect of playing and watching esports in VR, which has the groundwork already laid out, it was a bit surprising to hear a game company say it won’t jump on and ride the industry cash cow. Knowing that your engine can more than handle this but bring something new to the table, why not jump into the hottest craze right now that the top dogs are raking in the dough on? Jacobs said simply, “The H word: honesty. I promised our backers that we wouldn’t to anything major to delay the release of the game.” He continued,
“We’ve kept every promise. One of the things that we’re very proud of is the fact that the things that we laid out are still the things that we’re planing on doing, We haven’t made a single major chance to any one of them. When we scoped it, we scoped it in a manner that we believed we could deliver on. Now we didn’t think that it would be this frigging slow… It’s one thing to be slow and then under-deliver; on the other hand when you are slow and then you deliver an engine made by this small team that can do things that no other engine in the world can do – that’s a whole different story.”
Then Jacobs did say that it’s not that CSE won’t to make it but that it’s “certainly not going to make it before Unchained comes out.” Making it would be “easy peasy — you already see it in the scenarios.” Cheating could be avoided by putting viewers on a delay and/or not allowing viewing in areas unless they have been already opened up or OKed as ready to view.
It could be that someone else will make it by licensing the engine using that company’s own IP. If another company doesn’t come through as a good fit, however, Jacobs would consider doing battle royale later down the road. There’s no problem making it — just not now. He noted that the company has definitely thought about it, but it would break a promise that he made and he isn’t going to do it. He wants backers to trust him. He can’t do something to destroy that trust. “Would I love to have a battle royale game that is making a billion dollars? Yes! Of course I would! But not at the cost of losing the backers faith.” But once CU is done and launched? All bets might be off! You just might someday see Jacobs making Gunfight at the OK Royale.
During the panel, Meggs was asked about VR directly. He answered,
“Our engine runs in VR and it’s really really cool, especially with the building system. And we’ve talked a lot about spinning that off into its own project. That’s going to be the place where that’s spun off. Just the basics of take the entire world – grab it, shrink it down with your hands, just like you’re zooming in and out with google maps, build directly with the blocks, pulling out walls, and then grab the world, stretch it back out to full size and walk around in it. And that’s an experience that I am really really looking forward to launching as a standalone thing independent of CU, in VR. That is a cool thing we really want to do. [We] can’t justify though until CU is done. But my heart wants it.”
We’d like to thank the CU team for speaking with us as always. Catch up on more of our DragonCon reporting right here!