Project: Gorgon Blog

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Man, I gotta stop posting solely on the forum and remember to post on this blog more often! To that end, let me detail the next big feature that's coming soon: vendor stalls.

We already have several ways for players to sell their items, including consignments with NPC shopkeepers, dispenser machines, and of course good old-fashioned in-person trade. But these don't make it easy for a dedicated crafter to sell their wares, and everybody has occasional spring-cleaning days when they want to get rid of a lot of stuff. Vendor stalls help with that.

They're stalls manned by NPCs, selling whatever items you want them to sell for you. You hire the NPCs in 24-hour blocks. These stalls aren't intended to be permanent shops, but more like a flea-market: you can rent a table when you have stuff to sell, or maybe each weekend (or whatever) in order to take special orders, but you wouldn't rent a table 24/7 forever. So the salary for the vendor rises each time you hire them during a given 30-day period. The first day's fee is pretty cheap, the second day is a bit more expensive, and so on. So dedicated crafters will want to be somewhat tactical about when they rent a stall -- but at the same time, the first few days of rental are cheap enough that anybody can afford to occasionally set up a table for a day.


 (Pictured above: one of the rooms in the prototype vendor hall. There's well over a hundred NPC stalls for rent in there, broken up into rooms with suggested categories, such as the "food and potions" room. But the categories are just suggestions -- you can sell anything from any vendor.)

The Serbule Keep has a large indoor area that hasn't been used for anything until now -- that's where we've implemented the first bunch of vendors. We'll use this area to shake out the bugs, fix confusing things, and add requested features. When the vendors are working well, we'll add more stalls in other cities.

So what do you get when you rent a stall? First, you can name it, choose a decorative motif, and set up signage and notes for your customers.


Decorating is done by picking an item that best exemplifies what you want to sell. Then an appropriate table will materialize in front of your vendor. In the picture above, I gave my vendor a shield, so it's an armor-heavy table display. There's several others to choose from, and we'll add plenty more over time -- and perhaps find a few more ways to personalize things, too. (Graphical performance restrictions keep us from letting you free-form decorate your table, but there might be more room to be creative within the limitations.)


Next you add items to your stall's inventory. Each item -- or stack of items -- can be configured separately in a bunch of different ways. You can set a price, of course, but you can also set how many get sold for that price -- for instance, "2 for 100 Councils". This gives you a bunch of pricing flexibility. A simple example is giving a discount: you can have one stack of items that sell at "1 for 10 Councils", and another stack set to "10 for 90 Councils". This gives the buyer a discount if they buy in bulk.


 (Pictured above: the shop owner GUI screen -- intimidating and kinda clunky -- a work in progress!)

You can view detailed logs of every purchase to see who's buying what and at what price. Logs are very useful when you're experimenting with prices. You can set several small stacks to different prices, and then review the logs to see how quickly differently-priced items sold.

A more advanced feature is item reservations. For each item in the shop, you can name an individual player who is the only person that can see the item. Nobody else will even see the item in the shop. With this feature, crafters can fill special orders.

And what's a special order without communication? Shoppers can leave notes for you at your crafting stall, and you can reply to their notes. There's a new NPC who keeps track of all the notes for customers, so even if your stall rental expires, the customer can still get your message -- and vice versa.

There's a cost associated with these messages -- a small one, but one that slowly grows if you send a lot of messages in a short time window. This helps to keep "spam" to a minimum and keeps communications focused on trading. (There will be other ways to communicate with offline players, such as carrier pigeons and telepathic message bursts... each with their own pros and cons. This particular communication method focuses on trade.)

Like most everything in Project: Gorgon, vendor stalls are associated with a skill, in this case a new skill called Retail Management. You will need level 25 in the Industry skill to unlock Retail Management and be able to hire vendors. As you raise the skill, you'll unlock perks like larger shop inventories, better shop logs, and discounts of various types.

There's lots more details and a few other little features, but that covers the gist of it. Once these basics are tested and we see how you like them, we'll add some more features to broaden vendors' abilities. I've been considering how to let vendors BUY stuff for you, as well as sell your items. I expect we'll eventually have a limited way for vendors to do just that.

When will this arrive? Well, I'm still debugging and optimizing things, and my fingers are crossed that it will be ready by this weekend, but the safe answer is "soon". The update also has the usual batch of bug fixes -- including aggro fixes -- and a smattering of new content -- including a new way to make fertilizer for gardeners. Stay tuned!

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The Website Got Broken Into!

For several hours tonight this website (but not the game) were offline. A hacker used a new Joomla exploit to get into the website's administration area. Fortunately we stopped them before they were able to do too much, but it took a while to be confident enough to put the site back up.

This isn't a huge freak-out moment for us because the website is very isolated from the game itself. It's just a website. Your forum passwords are salted and hashed, so there's nothing really juicy here. The bigger danger is that they could have added malware injection into the site, or found other ways to be dickish and destructive, but we spotted them before they could do anything.

If you've followed the blog in its various incarnations you know I've complained about this website's underlying Joomla software before. This bug didn't make me happier with Joomla, that's for sure.

We have the fix for today's exploit in place, but the exploit took advantage of a really dumb Joomla bug that should never have existed in the first place. So who knows if there's more of those waiting to be found in Joomla in the future?

So... anyway, this is basically the last straw. We're making a new website without Joomla!

New Website And Forums Coming!

We've actually been working on a new forum for a few weeks already, because the one we're using is very limited. The forums are the meat of this website, so we'll just remake the other parts (the info pages, the blog, etc.) around the new forums, rather than trying to integrate the new forums into this website.

Unfortunately we're unable to copy over the existing forum posts. This is very sad because there's a lot of good stuff in our current forums, but better to bite the bullet and switch now than wait any longer than necessary.

The existing forums will be open for another week or so while we get the new one ready, but after that these forums will become read-only. We'll keep the read-only version around for a few months so that you can find old posts or whatever else is needed.

We're working hard to make sure this next forum is the final forum, so we don't ever have to switch again. It has a lot of power, flexibility, and security, and hopefully it will be our permanent home for many years to come.

Password Resets Are Currently Offline

Actually, there is one place where this website talks to the game server, and that's when you create an account or change your password. The website talked to the game server to update your in-game data at the same time. I've decided to break this feature so that there's absolutely no communication between the website and the game server, just to be 100% safe.

That means that you can't change your in-game password right now, because there's no way to do it from within the game, and changing it here on the website will just change your forum password. If you really really need to change your in-game password, please email support@projectgorgon.com and we will change it manually for you!


I know that any kind of hacks can shake your confidence in us. But I believe being open and transparent is the best medicine we've got. This forum hack was really not a big deal. It was just irritating and time consuming.

Your game data is fine, and, again, the game data isn't stored anywhere near the website data. It's not even in the same half of the country. They're very distinct with very different security precautions.

We'll be adding more security "wrappers" around our next website so that it's harder for people to take advantage of any new exploits that show up. And I am a big fan of keeping data separated. The website and the game servers will never share the same database. (The computers can talk to each other via special channels, but their actual databases are separate.)

I have to admit that my main concern has been keeping the game data secure, and the forums have been a bit of an afterthought. We used normal precautions, of course, but we haven't really gone above and beyond to keep the forum safe. We'll do that in the future.

Game Update News

In unrelated news, there's a big game update coming that will change all kinds of game systems. My hope is that it will be ready by next weekend. Fingers crossed!

This next update lays a lot of the groundwork needed for Steam integration, among other things. We expect to have the game for sale in Steam Early Access some time in December.

That's about it for now. Happy Halloween!

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This post was going to be a forum response, but I decided it'd work better as a blog post. (I never remember this poor blog!)


Alpha Play Isn't The Same As Launch Play

For me one of the most stressful parts of Gorgon's development is that there are invested players already playing, and having fun, and I don't want to piss them off. Seeing people having fun is the motivation to keep doing this incredibly hard job!

So I have a mental block against doing things that will make players quit. But it's sometimes my job as a designer to push through that, because this is Alpha, and the game isn't well-designed enough yet. It needs major changes to the game mechanics. Let me give you some examples.


Example 1: Player DPS Must Come Down

At high level, player damage is so high that it's literally the only variable in combat. Players right now are only picking gear that makes their damage per second (DPS) go up.

This makes huge portions of the game irrelevant. For instance, tanking will always be irrelevant if you can kill a monster in a few seconds.

My first attempt to fix this was to make monsters tougher. But that actually made the problem much worse! It meant that you need fairly good DPS just to survive the fight. That means players don't have any room in their builds for stuff like tanking.

I need to make battles longer so that things like tanking, crowd control, rage management, aggro management, and Power management are more important.

If player DPS goes down, that will mean monsters get weaker too. Here's an important design rule of thumb: monster stats are reactive to players' ability, not the other way around. It's never the case that I go "well I can't nerf that ability or they won't be able to kill monsters." I just nerf the monsters instead. Monsters have no emotional response to being nerfed, buffed, or literally wiped out of existence, so they naturally bear the brunt of the most volatile changes.

But unfortunately I can't make everything work just by changing monsters.


Example 2: Power Meter Must Matter More

Recently I made a very small reduction to player Power, and got some unhappy reactions to it. But looking at it objectively, the changes were very small because they don't change how you build your character.

My goal is for Power to have an impact on how you set up your character: what abilities you use, what equipment you wear. I know that Power isn't a big factor in builds right now because players are stacking nearly every single high-damage skill in their build, regardless of Power cost. That shouldn't be possible unless you're in a group where somebody is feeding you constant Power. So Power isn't doing its job.

If Power doesn't affect player builds, then it's just a vestigial thing, a "nuisance factor" -- something that can go wrong in combat. "Oh crap, I'm out of power." We have enough nuisance factors already. Power has to do more than that.

In the short term, I suspect that increasing Power costs -- or otherwise changing how Power works -- can play a role in lowering high-level player's DPS, too.


Other examples of big changes are how Armor works and how loot is distributed. Those are other parts of the system that still need more work.


Impact on Alpha Testers

Some aspects of the game are in good enough shape that I take great pains to keep players from being impacted by them. If I change the XP curve, you always keep your old level in the skill. If I heavily rewrite a skill, I bend over backwards to make sure it doesn't dramatically impact players. (For instance, when I redid Fire Magic to require research, I sent all existing fire mages a bunch of free research components.)

But combat itself needs a lot more iteration, and I can't afford to go out of my way to keep the existing alpha-testers from being impacted. Some of the changes are too dramatic.

So the bottom line is that I will be nerfing characters a lot, and buffing them a lot, and changing them in pretty drastic ways.

Because I didn't copy an existing game design, I have no roadmap for the design. I have to experiment over and over and over, trying to find game mechanics that work well together. And we're getting closer -- if you were here a few years ago, you know what I mean. Things are falling into place. But the next six months will be a whirlwind of changes.


Don't Quit On Me!

Although I am constantly thinking of how to mitigate the impact of changes on players, I can't hold back big changes just to spare your existing builds. If I do that, the game will fail. Sometimes I MUST make drastic changes to combat, and you WILL hate them, as players, because players hate change. They hate not being able to do exactly what they could do before. They often quit. As a player I'm not immune to this. I quit when I get nerfed too. I'm not blaming you -- it's human nature!

Players quitting is incredibly hard on me. I hate it. Watching population counts go down is SERIOUSLY damaging to my morale. And seeing enthusiastic players quit in frustration is very depressing. But if the design isn't sustainable, I have to deal with the pain. And thus so do you.

Or quit -- that's your prerogative. But I hope I can convince you to look at changes objectively, to sometimes put aside your "game-player hat" and don your "game designer" hat instead, and help me figure out how to make the mechanics work better.

After the game ships, every single change will be weighed against how it impacts players. But right now? I can't always do that.


The Golden Time

If this sounds like a bad time to play the game, let me counter that: if you like having an impact on the design of a game, this is the best time to be here. I'm actively reading all your feedback and often making changes that are direct results of your ideas. In the next update I've made changes to the quality of crafted items based on your suggestions, and I'm working on how to get "non-lethal combat" into the schedule based on a forum post. This is the time where I can fit a lot of good ideas into the schedule.

That won't always be the case. Over time, things will start to get locked down. That has to happen so that new content can get implemented systematically. But right now... right now damned near anything can happen.

This is the best time to be involved. It's also sometimes going to be painful. But hopefully at the end we'll have a game we can all be proud of.

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Looks like I've neglected the blog again! I was originally planning to post the weekly patch notes here, but I don't think we need another place for those -- you can always find those in-game in the news box, and we periodically post them to the News forum, and volunteer scribes diligently copy them into the wiki. So that's pretty much covered! Instead, I'll try to use the blog to give people some general news about what's going on.


Day/Night Cycles

Yesterday's patch added day/night cycles! It's still a bit primitive, but this is just the first update -- it will get fancier in time. Right now, each day/night cycle lasts 90 minutes. I'm not quite sure what the best day duration is. I don't want the game-day to match the real-time day (that is, an in-game day lasting 24 real-time hours) because that'd mean people who can only play in the evenings would always be stuck playing in the dark. That's stupid! But if the virtual day is too short, it feels a little weird. And if it's too long, the night can drag on and the darkness can be annoying. So we'll probably try out a few different day lengths over the next months, and you can let us know what you like best.

Players have asked how much of the game will be choreographed with the day schedule. For instance, will townsfolk close up shop at night? Will mushrooms only spawn in the dark? Will deer frolic in the day and sleep at night?

For the most part, I want to avoid stuff that's super annoying. For that reason, most shops will be open around the clock. Unlike a single-player RPG, where you can speed up time, in an MMO it's really not fun to have to wait 30 minutes or more for your favorite shop to open! But aside from shopkeepers, other NPCs will soon be able to behave differently at night. Townsfolk that wander around town will go home at night. Some of them might head to the bar for a few hours first -- that sort of thing.

Monsters and item spawns will mostly be the same at day and at night, but there will be special things that spawn at special times. There were two special spawns added in this update. In the freezing Kur Mountains, a certain kind of flower only grows in the morning, and at night it freezes and dies out (if it hasn't been picked already). And similarly, in the Ilmari Desert there's a kind of flower that only blooms at dusk. The pounding sun wilts them out of existence pretty quickly.

We'll have more of that sort of thing over time, and we'll eventually have certain special monsters that only appear at night or day, too.


Level 60 Cap

We've been raising the level cap of skills from 50 to 60. (Each update will raise a few more skills until we get all of them done.)

The final game's level cap is 125, so the first 50 levels are actually the newbie levels. Those levels are pretty straightforward -- you learn the skill, then you use the skill to raise it all the way to 50. But to get from 51 to 60, you'll need to seek out another trainer who can help you. Each skill has a different trainer who can raise your level cap -- for a fee, and only if they like you enough! Each level range beyond 50 will have a similar requirement -- you'll need to complete a task to get from 61 to 70, 71 to 80, 81 to 90, and 91 to 100.

After level 100, you can still raise skills, but only indirectly. Each skill has "synergies" that give you free levels in other skills. By raising other skills, you can raise each skill all the way up to 125.

But that's still far down the road! Right now we're just focusing on levels 51 to 60. We're also still fixing some missing content spots earlier in the game -- for instance there's not enough monsters in the 40-45 level range.


That's about it for now! Oh, there's also some great discussions about high-level balance happening in the forums! If you're interested in the nuts and bolts of the game's advancement, loot, and crafting, you should definitely drop by and give your opinion.

Until next time!

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There was a big game update this week with a lot of complicated behind-the-scenes tech in it, and it didn't explode! Woohoo! Not all the intended features made it into the update, though, including some things I thought made it in, like most of my potion changes. (The patch notes say potions are buffed... but they aren't buffed.) So we'll do another update in a few days with some odds and ends and bug fixes.

The majority of my effort right now, though, is on "all the other stuff" that needs doing besides the in-game features. There are three main prongs:


Steam integration exploration: it's fairly straightforward to integrate a single-player game with Steam. It gets trickier for games that aren't written in C++, but it's still not too bad. But add in the complexities of an MMO and it gets trickier. Nothing insurmountable so far -- Steam has all the tricks and APIs I'll need -- but I'm still figuring out what's possible -- and what's going to be easy versus what will be hard. For instance, for a long time we've talked about doing a $5 monthly fee instead of focusing on a big cash shop monetization approach. Steam actually has a monthly fee system -- can I use it? Will it work like I want it to? Is that the best fit for the game? These sorts of questions take a while to figure out. But it's getting there.


New Launcher/Patcher: I'm also at work on another rewrite of the patcher. This will be the third rewrite, and hopefully third time's a charm. The first version used some built-in Unity engine features that turned out to not be very robust. It crashed a lot. The second (and current) patcher uses open-source libraries that are more robust, but not super efficient or error-resistant. For the next one, I'm writing some very specialized code that's tailored specifically to this game in order to dramatically reduce patch time. (Hopefully!)

I also want to add a bevy of new features, including: