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10/25 Update - Iterative Design in Crowfall

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In today's update, Todd Coleman explains the process of exploration and iteration in the development of Crowfall. Feel free to discuss below.


Exploration and Iteration

Most of the ACE team is pushing hard to get the “Big World” milestone polished up and out the door, but a few of our more, uhh, intrepid team members are scouting ahead of the pack in an effort to detail “what comes next”.  


As I have said before, the process of game design is part Exploration and part Iteration.  


Exploration means discovery. This could mean discovery in design (‘Let’s try this idea out and see how it feels’) or technology (‘We believe this optimization will lead to much better performance, so let’s prototype it’) or, of course, art style (‘We think these artistic elements will come together to form a cohesive and compelling whole’).


Iteration means accepting that you are going to make mistakes. Creating something innovative involves a lot of trial and error…. So the best strategy is to make your mistakes as early as possible to give you as much time as possible to try again. By failing early, you maximize your number of attempts (iterations) to “get it right”.


To use a simple design analogy: 

  • Exploration is the decision to push your units into the Fog of War.  

  • Iteration is the process of adjusting your strategy based on what you find there.


Exploring the Divine Cathedral

As an example, let’s take the divine cathedral. When we originally discussed this building (back in the Kickstarter), we assumed that it would be a large gothic building and that the players would use it primarily for social reasons and maybe to store relics.  Not a super-efficient use of the asset, to be honest. Cosmetic buildings are cool, but functional buildings (that also look great!) are always better.


Once we reached the point where it was time to build the asset – i.e. where we are now – the first thing we had to ask was, “What is the purpose of this building? Has anything changed in our plan that might alter or affect that purpose? And, even if not, is the original plan still the BEST use of this building?”


The answer is that a lot has changed. We have functionality planned now that didn’t exist back then. We have a better idea of how importing and exporting will work. We have fleshed out the gods. We know where (and how) these cathedrals will be dropped into the world(s), and we have game systems that can use them now – some of which didn’t exist before (like Vessels).  

Is a cosmetic/social building still the best use of this resource? 


Probably not.  


We looked at the overall flow diagram and decided that the cathedral would work better as an open-air temple. We could still theme it to each of the gods and, by making it open air, we could include a massive statue in the middle of that makes the building MUCH more impressive and, as an added bonus, would provide a great visual indicator (above the tree line) of the temple’s location. 



We also saw this as an opportunity to reinforce narrative: could the Temple be used as a graveyard? It makes narrative sense since these are clearly intended to be sacred grounds. Pushing that idea, could we structure the building as if it was a model of the Crowfall universe? Ring it with the lords and ladies of Order, Balance and Chaos? Inscribe it with runes that tell the story of the Hunger?  Will players interact with this area in Crow form?  If so, how will that work?  What if we created a separate version – a pristine, divine version of the temple that can only be seen in spirit form?



Every idea, every asset, every feature begins with Exploration and ends with Iteration.  It starts with an idea that we turn into a concept to visualize it, to breathe life into it. Many ideas die in the concept phase. The ones that don’t are worked (and reworked) until everyone is happy: it covers the design need, reinforces the narrative, adds to our compelling visual style, and (of course) fits without our technical constraints.


For the divine temple, these images are just the beginning of that process. By the time it makes it into the game, hopefully we (and you!) will be happy with the result and walk away with a feeling that we made the right decision.

Now imagine the work that goes into a game like Crowfall. Repeat that process for every character, monster, item, spell, building, reagent…. well, for everything that goes into the game, actually.


Sometimes, a game will live or die based on a single decision… but most of the time, that isn’t the case.  An MMO is the sum total of thousands (and thousands!) of smaller decisions that have to be brought together to form a single, cohesive whole. And unless your goal is to just copy an existing title – which, in our case, is obviously not the case – you won’t know exactly what you are building until you've built it.


J. Todd Coleman

Creative Director/Co-Founder, ACE

Max Lancaster, ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc.

Follow us on Twitter @crowfallgame | Like us on Facebook

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That reads like the opening statement of an interesting presentation.  Where's the rest of the presentation? 


The "explore a concept, iterate on implementations of the concept" is a nice starting point.  The exemplar is a little weak (a building as opposed to a systems concept and iterations).   It would have been nice to see this segue into a discussion of the iterations of the combat system, for example.


Even as is, you could expand upon the uses - will we interact with this in crow form?  How?  Will it serve as a graveyard?  Factioned, neutral?  Etc.  You posed questions but don't provide any info on the discussions you had about them or the outcome of those discussions.



Edited by durenthal
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That ruined temple artwork looks so good that it's my new wallpaper. Good job Dave !

The dimensions aren't right. Did you crop it first? If so, it would be awesome if you'd share! (Others will want it as well.)

Edited by TragicNumberOne

Might I interest you in a low-interest mortgage?

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Loving the new open temple idea! Much better than the cathedral imo.

And like other have said already, great work from Dave again. I love the pristine temple concept image!


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interesting but a complete title tease for those of us waiting for exploration trees info dump!


Heh heh. Oops. I suppose that's a fair complaint.


Title changed! (... Now that you've already read it.  ;))

Max Lancaster, ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc.

Follow us on Twitter @crowfallgame | Like us on Facebook

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What i find interesting is that they took something that originally was just going to take up space and decided to actually make it something functional. 


Alot of games that are 'technically' behind would of just glossed over alot of stuff like this and even made things that originally had functionality and make them a prop to save time.


I think it shows their dedication to making a good game.


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i just resized it. I still have black strips ont the top and the bottom. But it looks great that way.



In the end, i did crop it ( well, resized it, then cropped it ) and... It looks great :








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I too felt like this was merely an intro to something larger and with more meat to it.


I appreciate the desire to update us on a timely schedule, but this feels like more fluff with no substance. I think its permissible to simply say "we don't have anything for you this week as we ramp up for the big world milestone tests".



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