Mar 112013

This marks the first of four posts covering a lengthy Q&A that recently occurred between myself and Turbine’s own Deep Owlbear, a.k.a Tolero, a.k.a. Amanda Grow, Senior Community Specialist.

I’m calling it a Q&A but all that happened is that I wrote down a pestery long bunch of questions. I was trying for the types of philosophical and general engineering questions that Turbine could actually answer, rather than attempts to find out in advance what will be in Update 18 or 19 or whatever, which obviously Turbine is never going to release.

Tolero spent a lot of time and effort on this, which is quite amazing considering that her audience in this case is so small. And now I in turn get to share those results with you. There are no big scoops in any of the articles. Naturally I hoped, but no such luck. But that does not detract from the value; you do get useful insight into topics that are not always addressed.

My comments are interspersed, but in italics so you can tell them apart from true Turbine text.

Breakfast with Turbine: Only on DDOGamer!

I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

In the past, I’ve asked various Turbinites about things and been reminded that DDO has an older game engine and it is difficult to make a business case for changes that require engine modification.

DDOGamer: How does one know whether a change is an engine change?

Turbine: This is sometimes difficult to discern. There are times when we’ll want to change or update something, try to accomplish it using the existing tools, then bump into a limitation. Or there could be a design that can be accomplished via engineering, but it could also be accomplished instead with a clever use of existing tools. We have to weigh the options on which avenue is the best bang for the buck.

DDOGamer: For instance, does a new race require engine changes? Or a new class?

Turbine: The player avatar is the most personal and detailed part of the game experience, and therefore we pay a special level of attention to it on our end. Engine changes are strongly dependant on what the class needs to do, and how we think we can best represent it in a way that feels cool and fun. Take Half-Orc for example… even though it was using new animations, new art, and new stats, the bulk of the work could be handled by our art or systems teams in a customary way. New looks applied to existing hooks, so to speak. The druid however required us to find a way to manipulate the avatar with shape changing, which required the engineers to figure out how to make it happen. Before that point the game had not been designed to switch back and forth between two different avatars (the humanoid vs the animal) with different locomotion etc. Any shape-change-like qualities before had been accomplished with cheaty usage of existing tools, which wouldn’t create a very satisfying experience as a full time combat avatar. It wouldn’t feel enough like “you” as it were.

I was interested to learn that the Half-Orc was a new skin, I had thought it was an all-new model. I know it had some specific animations as there were issues with some of them immediately after release. In the back of my mind though, I am thinking “Gnomes”. I wonder if they could be similarly skinned or would require new technology?

DDOGamer: What about a new weapon?

Turbine: We sometimes can implement a new weapon without much engineering support at all. Other weapons just don’t play out right when the avatar is not engineered in a way to use them properly. But it all comes down to: how does it “feel” when you try to fight with it? If it doesn’t feel right, we call in the engineers.

To the best of my knowledge, the only new weapon that Turbine has added to DDO was the scepter, which they defined as a sub-set of clubs rather than a separate weapon type. Maybe Tolero is talking about unusual individual weapons? Like the Greatclub of the Skrag or the sword Insanity?

DDOGamer: I read about the return of Asheron’s Call 2. Is it true that AC2 and DDO have the same engine?

Turbine: Think of them more as relatives. Over time, each of the games has various improvements added, but they’re not “the same” so to speak. This is particularly true in the case of AC2, where improvements have been made to DDO and LOTRO (Ed. note – Lord of the Rings Online, another Turbine MMO) over time, but were not necessarily back-ported into AC2 since it was dormant during that time. But if you ever try AC2, you will definitely recognize several elements that appear in DDO.

DDOGamer: Does the resurrection of AC2 make it more likely that a business case can be made for the kinds of engine changes that would otherwise be off the table?

Turbine: AC2 is the ancestor of our other games, so in most cases AC2 would be looking to obtain existing improvements that DDO and LOTRO already received. The AC2 team has already been reviewing various improvements to see which ones they can safely bring in.

So all three games _do_ share the same core. Except it is not a common code base, it is three separate copies. This would make it easier to add features that are unique to each game but much harder to add features that could be beneficial to them all.

DDOGamer: And as long as we are on the subject, why AC2? What is the upside?

Turbine: AC2 was a labor of love on behalf of several existing team members. It’s not often that an MMO gets a second chance, making AC2 unique among games of its age and genre.

So they brought it back just because they love it? That’s sweet, and sort of romantic in an online-technology kind of way. I remain curious about the business case that supported AC2’s reactivation and am also curious about how that business case might someday apply to DDO. But that will have to wait for another day.

Tomorrow: I out-clever myself in an article discussing game direction and MyDDO

🙂 😀 🙂

  8 Responses to “Breakfast with Turbine: Game Engines, DDO, and AC2”

Comments (8)
  1. Thanks for sharing that Geoff, interesting read.

    On the subject of new weapons the one that springs to my mind is the runearm. It’s radically different to anything else, not only in the variety of shot types and modes but in the way that changes the behaviour of the player model in charging, shooting or passive stance. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was one that required some fairly fundamental changes to the game.

    • True! And a good catch. Rune arms also necessitated the ability to fire crossbows with one hand, another weapon change albeit probably a lesser change.

  2. Nice article. Nothing earth shattering to be sure, but I always enjoy these little behind the scenes peeks into how the game works!

  3. Handwraps aren’t a weapon?

    • My understanding is that no, handwraps are not a weapon. They add attributes to the handwrap wearer who is then able to punch more effectively.

  4. This! Thank you, Geoff, for somehow managing to get the inside line with Turbine on their engineering. Understanding is key for two parties to have a mutual respect. Hopefully your series will shed some light on how Turbine does things, and detail some of their challenges. I openly applaud Turbine for making this effort to “open up” about their operations. Please… keep it up!

  5. So if all three games share the same general engine why can’t they bring in the much superior cosmetic systems including the far more advanced tools for customization during creation and the ability to have any piece of equipment appear visually whilst still having your best equipment equipped.

What do you think?

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