Welcome to the Saga Developers Journal.

Silverlode Interactive has released the worlds first “Collectible MMORTS” game, SAGA. This developers' blog is here to give you a never-too-serious behind the scenes look at the company.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Life around the SAGA office

As promised on Wednesday, I'll be showing you all a little more in-depth what's coming in the next patch. But prior to that, I'd much rather talk about life. I'm tempted to place another disclaimer, but you get the picture. SAGA patch info is at the bottom of the post.

Busy Week
This week has been a very busy one around the office. I keep a whiteboard above my desk that I use to remind myself of the most important things that I need to get done any given day of the week.

A random sampling from today's board -
  • Write on the Dev Blog
  • Meet with Entropy to discuss the Ice Drake quest
  • Clear backlog in rankings database
  • Get the manual updated
  • Help QA start a full build test
  • SAGA Credits
  • Finalize content for next patch
  • File taxes!

  • Ballistas and Contests
    This week saw the start of a fabulous new promotion though Xfire. When Slava told me they were giving away a ballista as a prize, I gave him the 'what's so great about ballistas?' look. Then he showed me the Lithobolos. He meant a real ballista. Now everyone in the office wants one. Perhaps we can mount one on top of the office's roof to defend ourselves. (Funny context-giving memory #317: When I first started at SAGA, Slava mentioned plans to invest in a full-scale mini-gun for the roof. It would shoot blanks, of course.)

    Patch Delay
    You will all have noticed by now that the patch was delayed. Why the patch push-back? The decision to hold back the patch was two-fold. Firstly, the patch is not a trivial thing. It has a lot of changes that require an extra level of testing. We could have pushed up a patch this week, but we decided to hold it until after the Xfire promotion (second reason) had run its course, so that we didn't interfere with people trying to rack up hours, should something go wrong.

    New Newsletter
    Earlier this week, we sent out the latest SAGA newsletter. I always get a laugh at the zany nature of our writers' senses of humor (one in particular), and ability to create clever titles for articles. 'The Lion and the Unicode' literally made me laugh so hard I had to show Slava before continuing.

    Excel sheet from Hell
    This week, we finally took the time to re-do the card manual. In a previous life, I did a lot of graphic and layout work, and I normally quite enjoy helping out with projects like that. The card manual, on the other hand, is a demon.

    The manuals themselves are prepared in Adobe InDesign. However, InDesign isn't optimal for managing thousands of cells of data, and updating by hand would be more trouble than it's worth. We use Excel as an intermediary to automatically arrange all of the card data needed (one of the neat things that InDesign can do is pull data directly from an Excel file).

    After we finished updating the Excel file for new cards like the Rhyax this morning, I noticed that the Excel file is 4.6 Megs! That's pretty big for an Excel file. Mostly, the size is due to the fact that it requires several cells to correctly parse any given stat and organize them into something legible. Fortunately, it does its job well, and gives us the info needed for the manual with relative ease.

    Preliminary Patch Notes for 1.46.0 (tentative version number):
    These are the currently planned changes, but this list is subject to change.
    The upcoming patch will launch the second week of March.

    System Changes:
  • Preliminary Unicode support has been added (Extended Latin and Cyrillic character sets).
  • Particle effects have been added to more buildings including: flames for War and Magic, fountains for the Light university, smoke for Light and Machines, an eerie glow for Magic buildings, and fell flames for the Undead.
  • Building particles can now be toggled on and off.
  • The Guild screen has been updated to display more information and allow for easier communication (click to Private Message, Mail, etc).
  • Guild Masters can now pass leadership to another guild member.
  • Mail attachments now show icons for any resources or units received.
  • The Guides (Manuals) have been updated to reflect new cards and previous system changes, as well as being trimmed down by several pages.
  • Spells will now sell for gold in the 'Sell' tab of the Market.
  • Fixed a bug where bound troops could become unbound.
  • Fixed a bug where buildings could become double-stacked.

    Quest Changes:
  • The three Tutorial quests are receiving an update with expanded tactics.
  • We're adding Obsidian Warlord, a new level 28 Heroic quest.
  • We're adding Frostbite, a level 20 Once-only quest. This quest has the unique reward of an Ice Drake (formerly a promotional unit).
  • We're adding Blasted Lands, a new quest.
  • The map for Thermahill Pass will receive some alterations.
  • The usual variety of fixes and tweaks.

    Unit and Spell Changes:
  • Human Heavy Infantry
    AR - 19
    Damage - 8-18
    Speed - 6
  • Human Cleric
    Speed - 7
    Attack Speed - 0.75
    Special - "Healing Aura - Friendly troops in target radius (20m) heal 40-60 hit point per cleric in unit. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Dwarven Mechanists
    AR - 22
    DR - 27
    Hit Points - 450
  • Dwarven Crossbowmen
    Special - "Dwarven Chant - Friendly units in target radius (30m) gain +2 morale and heal 35-45 hitpoints per Crossbowman. Cooldown: 120 seconds."
  • Dark Elf Shamen
    Special - "Spirit Communion - Units in target radius (15m) heal 35-65 hit points per Shaman. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Elven Warrior
    Special - "Hardiness (passive) - +80% DR against ranged attacks."
  • Elven Druid
    "Refreshing Aura - Friendly troops in target radius (20m) heal 55-95 hit points and +2 morale per druid in unit. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Forsaken Warrior
    Hit Points - 325
    Special - "Regeneration - Each Forsaken Warrior gains 65 - 80 hit points. Cooldown: 60 seconds."
  • Diabolist
    Range - 35
  • Orc Boar Riders
    Special - "The Hunt - Nearby friendly units (20m) gain +5% AR per Boar Rider for 30 seconds. Cooldown: 90 seconds."
  • Orc Dog Soldier
    Special - "Healing Chant - Friendly troops in target radius (20m) heal 35-45 hit points and gain +2% DR per Dog Soldier for 30 seconds. Cooldown: 120 seconds."

  • There are a few things I'm specifically leaving out of the patch notes, so as not to ruin any surprises. And, as a disclaimer, the above notes are all subject to change.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Patch 1.45.7 preview

    HUMOROUS DISCLAIMER: Many Americans might find the bulk of this post boring. If at any point during this post you find yourself falling asleep, skip down to the section labeled "Other changes in Patch 1.45.7"

    So, a lot of people have asked what the SAGA staff has been up to as of late. Many have noticed that there wasn't a patch today. So what gives? In a word, awesomeness*.
    *I'm assuming awesomeness is indeed a commonly accepted/understood word and accurately conveys the intended levels of sheer awesometude**.
    **See preceding explanation.

    One of the larger projects undertaken over the last two months is adding Unicode support to SAGA. (Wait, it's not boring, I swear! Keep reading!)

    At first glance, that might not sound too exciting. But Unicode means that SAGA will soon see several new features.

    Unicode-Related New Features:

  • SAGA will support the extended Latin character set (so accented characters like à, é, and ñ are supported).
  • SAGA will also support the Cyrillic alphabet (Здравствуйте!).
  • Players will be able to use the above foreign characters in chat, nation names, guild names, pretty much everywhere you can type.

  • Ok, so that wasn't SUPER exciting***. But Unicode is only the beginning. The reason that we've added Unicode compliance is simple. SAGA is now ready to be translated into other languages!
    ***Except for our European and South American friends, of course, who probably become much more readily enthused over things like accents than the average American.
    Translation-Related New Features:

  • All game text is now centralized into a handful of master files, meaning that any existing English typos don't stand a chance against our interns' keen grasp of grammar!
  • Any lingering pirate speech written by our programmers will be eliminated once and for all! (Ahh, Raiding memories gone by...)
  • Translation will commence on SAGA in the not-too-distant future, though no specific announcements are being made at this time.
  • The translation process, once undertaken, should progress quickly. As an example, check out this half-translated login screen:
    My apologies to the French. This half-translated screen doesn't look super-impressive, but it only took me 45 seconds. ('Credits' should probably be Générique,but I'm not a real translator)
  • Other Changes in Patch 1.45.7:
    (For those who couldn't care less about lots of high-falutin' accents)
  • Mail received in the Pigeon Roost now shows icons for attachments.

    Pictures are worth a thousand words, and seeing a Great Dragon icon in your mail is probably worth a thousand other attachments.

  • The Guild Interface has been re-worked, presenting more information, and adding a few new options (whisper to selected guild member, change Guild Master, a few others)

    The New Guild Interface. Nice shiny buttons. Smaller text. More info. More options. More loneliness when the other testers won't join you guild.

  • The Tutorial quests have been re-done to more amply demonstrate advanced battle mechanics through the use of more images and less chance of dying. They cover more topics than before, such as garrisoning.
  • The background textures for various windows have been improved.
  • Particle effects have been added to more buildings (these can now be toggled on/off in settings).
  • Several systems are getting back-end patches that affect stability.

  • So what can you expect in upcoming patches after 1.45.7 is released? I've taken a look at the projects assigned around the office, and some of the first items on the list (in no particular order) are:

  • The new Orcs highlighted last week will be in patch 1.45.8.
  • Tournaments. The Unicode efforts have fixed a particular crash that Tournaments were getting. Next week, testing resumes in full on Tournaments, and if the QA lead is correct, we'll be able to launch them soon after giving them a final shake-down.
  • PvP Quests. The first four PvP scenarios have been chosen, and work has already begun on them. Entropy is excitedly working on Dragon Pong, while one of his minions is starting on a scenario similar to Capture the Flag.
  • Chat upgrades. Specifically, upgrades that will allow you to more readily see and interact with other players.
  • Well, I can't give away *too* much more just yet. As the Unicode efforts wind down and the next patch is released, I'll try to bring you more information on what's going on around the office.

    Coming next time: I (hopefully) get a hold of the player who wrote the War Guide mentioned last time and ask him some thought-provoking and meaningful questions and Elf bashing.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Orcs + Facelift = Forklift?

    Well, it's Friday afternoon here at the office, and it's been a long week. I thought I'd share some of what the Art Department has been up to. They've been busy working on the new expansion and the new units being added, but they've also been working on various other small side-projects. As of late, they've mostly been one and the same: War.

    Our Art Director has a personal vendetta against the War faction. He refuses to be satisfied until they look awesome. So, as a side note in the process of preparing for the expansion, the Orcs are getting a face-lift (similar to what happened with the Ogres a few months ago).

    The process of creating any new unit (or re-creating a unit in this case)starts with concept art. Here you'll see a quick sketch of one of the Orcs. This particular example is the front view of the new Boar Rider concept. This, along with a half dozen other sketches, will be given to a 3D modeler, who will generate a model based on the various views and details of the sketches.

    The model starts out looking rather like a gray blob. From there, the model is textured, sometimes by the same artist, sometimes by a separate artist. The Art Director makes sure that the look is consistent across the board, even when multiple artists are working on the various models and textures.

    Once the model is finished and textured, it's given to another artist to rig. Rigging is the basic process of adding a skeleton structure to the model, and creating bones that attach to specific parts of the model's geometry. Then, the rig is animated through a series of key frames. The image at right is a blend of the stages of modeling, texturing, and rigging.

    New Orcs sporting brass armor. And no, that isn't a boar.

    But it isn't just the units that're getting attention. The War faction is getting an architectural renovation, too. The buildings have been re-textured in spare time over the course of the last several months. We've been hinting at this one for a while now, and have posted a handful of pictures in past newsletters, etc.

    The new Farm

    The new House

    The new Stone Quarry

    The new Watch Tower

    I still need to ask the artists if the red splotches across the buildings are blood. If so, I wonder if the Orcs are in the habit of tossing corpses against the walls (a gruesome form of splatter painting, perhaps?)

    The new models and textures for the War faction will accompany the addition of (optional) particle effects being added to the buildings over the course of the next two patches. For the War faction, the particles consist mostly of bonfires and smoke, though other particles are coming for other factions, such as fountains.

    On a related note, I have it on good authority that one of our players has written an impressive guide to playing the War faction. Next week, I hope to be able to present you with the finished guide, and perhaps even a short interview with the author.

    Stay tuned for more on that next week, as well as an update on what some of the programming team has been working on for the last two months (which has been kept secret until now)...

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    New York!

    The New York Comic Con. Whew!

    When Slava asked me to accompany him to the convention, several thoughts ran through my head:

    "I've never been to New York, that might be fun. It'll be the largest convention I've ever been to, and I'd love to meet more of our players."

    What didn't go through my head:

    "30,000 people? Sure I can talk over that amount of noise for about 8 hours a day!"

    Needless to say, my throat is still a little hoarse. Luckily, typing requires no voice whatsoever, so here goes. The convention was awesome in ways that words can't describe. Hence, we bring you pictures!

    A view from our booth, about 30 minutes before the doors opened to the public.

    Less than an hour later as people started pouring in (and this was only the beginning!) Throughout the three-day convention, we saw some awesome costumes. Regrettably, we have no pictures of them, but it was fun to see the hordes of Inu Yashas, Chewbaccas, and even Captain Hammer. It was fun to explain SAGA to a 6-foot tall female Buck Rodgers.

    Some players were more than willing to get stamped with our SAGA stamp, thus acquiring the brand-new Rhyax. In fact, some were even willing to go the extra mile to gain a few more Rhyaxes for their guild mates. Here we have a player who got a few stamps, including a rather large one to the forehead (and he wasn't the only one)!

    On the whole, it was a great experience, though there were definitely a few highlights. Most of them edible.

    Slava is from the East Coast, originally. Myself, I grew up on the West Coast. Since we were there, he made it a point to show me things I've never seen before, and they were delicious.

    Dennis and Slava go to White Castle. No run-ins with Neil Patrick Harris, though.

    America's working class prefers Dunkin' Donuts to Starbucks 2:1 (if you believe the commercials). Now I know why. It's the Donuts.

    As we demonstrated the game on a projector screen, a lot of the convention goers were impressed with the game, and enjoyed learning more. We're already starting to see them in-game, and we're looking forward to getting to know them all better.

    To end this post, I'd like to present to you all the list of the best things I overheard at the convention:

    10) "Entrance for exhibitors... does that mean the people showing the exhibits or seeing the exhibits?" - a convention-goer trying to get in the shortest line possible.
    9) "The Rhyax looks kind of like a demon tick with plate armor. Except it's the size of a schoolbus."
    8) A woman came up to me, looked at the game, looked back towards me, got a quizzical look, and then paid attention to the game again. After a moment, she said, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you look a lot like a strange mix between David Boreanaz and Jessica Simpson's husband..." Not the first time I've been told either, but the first time I've gotten both at once. For this reason, one of our players refuses to call me Dennis anymore...
    7) "You mean Tournaments are done? When are they coming!!!"
    6) "If I can get the G4 chick over here, will you give me a Great Dragon?"
    5) Seen on a t-shirt "And then Buffy staked Edward... The End". (Joss Whedon vs. Stephanie Meyer)
    4) "Ben, oui. Je le connais très bien." "Il est ici, il fait des autographes à 30 mètres d'ici." I spoke with a French gentleman who works for a Gaming Magazine (I have a degree in French, believe it or not). We chatted briefly about the game, and exchanged information. He had just come from a booth where a childhood hero of mine was signing autographs. Slava covered for me for 5 minutes while I got to meet him and shake hands, and returned smiling like a 7-year-old schoolboy.
    3) "I'm looking for princess-type stuff for my nieces. Have you guys seen anything like that?" -Slava "Well, there's a Princess Leia in a metal bikini over there..."
    2) "Wow. Lycra should not be worn by certain people." "Yah, it's kinda like spandex, it's a privilege, not a right."
    1) "Sega? Like the Hedgehog guys?"

    Check back later this week, I'll be posting about upcoming features, Tournaments, and a groovy little thing called the Rhyax.