Patch 143 (Closed Beta) Status
Alright – so now we are getting closer to defining the final shape of the first Closed Beta build. When RTW closed up shop, there was already a build known as “build 142” in the works which further refined some of the balance-issues and dealt with a whole range of fixes. For closed beta we are now working toward defining an official “build 143” which will be the foundation of the game going forward. This closed beta candidate will clearly do some key initial things (like integrating G1 credits, create a framework for the premium accounts etc.), but very likely will not yet cover all the items we want to have before we truly go live. Therefore we are very likely to launch a closed beta version WITHOUT the original character data, and then wipe the databases at the end of Closed Beta after we have been able to determine the impact of the various game changes, and then look to restore some of the original character data for the Open Beta start.
Now this is all still hypothetical, since the balance changes and code changes we are performing may cause issues with the original character data and we are not yet sure the original data will actually fit with the final version of the game. However, much of it probably will, and if so we will clearly try to restore a lot of it as part of the Open Beta launch. The details of how this will be done are still TBD, but I will keep this blog updated on the progress, and will share a lot more details as we get closer to Closed Beta.
Download size matters
One other critical issue we are working to solve long-term is the issue of initial download size. Because the game uses Unreal 3, the way content and data is packaged is very monolithic. It’s a great engine, but it was never really built to be friendly to streaming partial content or to easily allow lower content levels that can later be dynamically updated since it presumes someone out there will just pop in a DVD and be done. Therefore the current game (ie the game at patch level 141) is just above 7GB in size. That’s clearly a problem. When we look at our other games’ download completion statistics, we see great completion rates at below 1GB (around 91%), so-so rates at 4GB (about 70%) and pretty lousy rates at 8GB (50%). It’s also very driven by market (for example the US and former West Germany markets don’t suffer the same download drop for 8GB clients, but for other parts of the world this is a huge issue, especially in countries that still have metered ISP tariffs).
The solutions we are working toward include researching procedural texture generation (which reduces initial download size pretty well, but makes install times much longer), removing a large chunk of the pre-downloaded music, creating a package of lower quality assets for a “starter” edition of the game without forking the game, and researching going the route of WoW which has an initial 50MB streaming client. Unfortunately some of these solutions will take a long time to perfect, and it’s very likely we will be going in to Closed Beta with a client that is only marginally smaller than the current version. However for Open Beta we aim to have a reasonable first installer size sorted out, with further improvements then coming down the line over the next 12 months. Chances are we will use combinations of all the techniques above, plus other things we have not yet considered.
Now to some quick comments, and some housekeeping items:
PC Gamer accidentally reports on my last post using a misleading headline?
It’s surprising how much “framing” or just putting a new headline on things can accidentally skew an issue (just read the comments on this blog and compare them with the wildly conspiratorial comments on the PC Gamer blog and you’ll see what I mean). Social psychologists tell us that once you have read a headline, you are going to read everything after it with a strong bias that aligns with the headline.
So what happened? Well – PC Gamer created this headline that made it sound (probably accidentally) as if we will charge for customizations. At least judging from the PC Gamer user comments, that’s what they took away from the PC Gamer headline. To be fair, when you parse the grammar (“[Reloaded] will charge for customisation options”) it could be argued that PC Gamer actually meant to say that charges only applies to “some” customizations (ie some options), but to any casual reader of the magazine that headline screams that you will now have to pay each time you customize anything. So let me clarify – NO that’s actually not what I said last week (nor is it really what PC Gamer probably meant, though their readers seem to have taken it that way).
As I am sure you have read in my last entry (Update Week 2) it clearly states that everyone will be able to customize FOR FREE (!). Now isn’t that a REALLY nice upgrade from what used to be the case – much different from how things were back when you had to pony up 50 bucks or 40 quid just to buy the APB box, and thus there were NO free customizations at all! - BUT (and of course there has to be a “but”) those devoted players in the Free2Play model that want to share COMPLEX customizations will now indeed have to have a premium account. Why? It would simply kill us if we tried giving everyone the ability to spam everyone else with complex stuff. Also – our presumption is actually that players will upgrade to Premium accounts, NOT primarily because of the customization expansions, but rather because of all the other goodies that Premium Account holders will get.
Now I should be the first to point out that I am really grateful that PC Gamer is ready to pick up the cause of APB and give it some coverage during its metamorphosis from Box to Free2Play (and we all should be happy for coverage since it will help bring more players in to what we believe will be a fantastic game). But it would be nice if they didn’t accidentally scare people in the process of doing so. Next week I expect PC Gamer to run a story that starts with “PC Gamer prints unclear headline, of course APB’s customization will be free for 80% of players, and will no longer cost anyone 50 bucks to get started.” I am just not counting on that particular headline appearing anytime soon.
Some people that have left comments have been complaining that their comments keep disappearing. That’s actually not intentional at all, but entirely a function of Blogger’s automatic anti-spam filter. Quite frankly it beats me exactly what triggers the blog-spam detection system since it has no settings or parameters, but presumably anything you write that has a lot of external links, or uses a lot of run-on sentences (bad grammar actually seems to trigger the spam filter), or creating several copies of the same comment as a response to several different blog entries, all of these activities make it more likely your entry ends up in the auto-spam-trap. This blog is actually technically “un-moderated” and your comments should pop up right away, but I do try to check the spam folder every day if it has caught something odd. And – for the love of God – please don’t create blog posts entirely in ALL-CAPS. If that happens again I WILL delete them. I am ok with capping things for emphasis. I do it all the time. But ALL-CAPPING is the same as SCREAMING. Don’t do it. I need mental earplugs when I read those entries.
Don’t go private on our asses, so we have to go tough on yours!
Having said the bit about spam – there appears to be some people who are trying to create a private APB server out there – and those "promos" and comments will in fact be removed as spam as soon as they are seen.
I will probably try to reach out to the folks engaged in this private server endeavor in the next few weeks as a goodwill measure to see if we can have a little chat about what they are doing. Technically given the layers of protection that are baked in to the code for the action district communications, any attempt in this direction falls squarely under DMCA and also violates our IP rights in a lot of different ways, and I would not recommend doing it.
But, being a good sport, I will at least start a dialogue with some of these enthusiastic coders. After all – we are always on the lookout for great developers, so potentially some of these enthusiasts would like to work on the real thing instead of doing something shady they probably should not be doing? Coincidentally here is a PR Release from Joe Rush from two months ago (our Director of Game Operations) titled “GamersFirst deploys task force against illegal private servers” highlighting our success in literally raiding datacenters. Pretty brutal stuff. Joe gets mean when he is mad, so I wouldn’t want to cross that guy. Then again, he is just protecting all the people in our company who are putting their livelihoods on the line to bring you these great games, so we are all clearly strongly supporting the effort to discourage private server creation.
Also on an interesting side-note, I am normally no fan of DMCA, but it turns out to be one of several effective weapons against private servers in various jurisdictions.
Right now I am en-route back to Dundee (via our offices in Bangalore of all places) to meet with even more folks in Scotland this week. We have not yet completely determined the next step, but we are now seriously considering setting up a permanent UK studio with full-time staff in 2011 to work with our teams in Southern California, Bangalore, Istanbul and Sao Paulo. We might still consider Hamburg for a European presence since that’s where a lot of our PR and marketing work is being done, but Scotland (or possibly some other UK locations) now certainly look like interesting alternatives for sure on the studio side.
Stay tuned and I will update as we progress through all this fun stuff.