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Development Update #21

Hello Citizens,
 
After 6 months, we meet again. This development update won’t contain new content, since we took a long break from development, but it has a lot of interesting insights, new design decisions, update on the new backend infrastructure, a pre-alpha postmortem, and what’s coming next, there are LOTS of walls of text without much pretty pictures in between, so make sure to get your reading glasses ready. Btw, this website is currently falling apart, it’s really laggy and adding any image takes a few minutes, that won’t be an issue once our new one comes through :).
 

//Pre-alpha postmortem

A quick backstory of MR

As most of you know and I’ve probably repeated myself multiple times, this project wasn’t really supposed to be what it is nowadays, this was originally a practice project used for learning animation blending after I stopped working on my first horror game, using FoM’s animation stances as references, from there it evolved into a combat simulator, which is when I started to make things public back in 2017, and once the fommunity found out, it slowly started becoming into a proper FoM spiritual successor. The idea of making a FoM game has been in my mind for many years, around 7 precisely, when I started tinkering around with UE4 and made this arena shooter test, also built MVA using BSP tools, which would’ve been cool to see, but sadly it’s lost in the depths of Nex’s forum database.

Quoting the video’s description:
Catchy title eh? It’s not a remake or emu, it’s more of a spiritual successor, the combat system will be identical to fom, even using actual numbers from the wiki page, which probably has the stats from the 2011 era. Besides that, it’s gonna be an online arena shooter with many  features which will be revealed soon.
The FoM community deserves better beef simulators:).
 

Who knew 3 years later I would actually pull through and do that lol. The idea of creating an MMO by yourself, with barely any knowledge of how the networking and other dependent services work, was probably one of the most retarded ideas I could’ve come up with and executed, pretty much going against the advice of any sane developer, and a piece of advice I’ll give out myself as well, but if I had to do it again, I would gladly repeat the same mistake. 

Because it was probably the most exciting and full-filling project I’ve worked on to date. And so on May 26, 2017, I officially revealed Mankind Reborn with a cringey, badly-rushed teaser, that I desperately got out before the 2017 PR Comic-Con, to get some local attention drawn into the project, which actually worked and got some interviews and a TV segment, but really didn’t matter as much, since the conversion rate was 0% haha, with the passing years I eventually figured out that most people really don’t give a shit about your project, and still don’t, especially if its a spiritual successor of an extremely, niche MMO game.

//Pre-Alpha

The prototype phase

Even before the pre-alpha, we did multiple playtests all the way till 2019. These were mainly combat tests, as that was the initial focus of the project, our first playtest took place during the summer of 2017, which had a huge surge of FoM players jumping into the project. This period was extremely fun, a bunch of FoM beef lords just beefing it out non-stop, lots of nostalgia, good fights, but man was it unstable as fuck. This was my first venture into a proper multiplayer project, I barely knew anything about networking until then,  but even with all the bugs and crashes, we still had a blast. Those who were part of it, will likely remember the nightmare of having multiple hamachi rooms filled with 5 people each, holy shit that was so bad lol.
Between 2017-2019, we had multiple private and public playtests, mainly after big milestones, it was until 2019 that things started becoming more cohesive, and the idea of finally doing a live environment test started to come to fruition.
Around April 2020, that’s when we started slowly integrating players into the pre-alpha, doing it by batches, so we could test things properly and fix them in time, before opening the flood gates. Even during this time, players were starting to take the game seriously and it was the first time we had the bare minimum iterating in a live environment. Surprised by the numbers, the surge of players coming in, and the surprising interest in the game, no matter how barebones and unstable, I had to make a decision regarding the pre-alpha.

The 24/7 decision

After carefully assessing all viable options during this period, we coincided on making the pre-alpha 24/7, this decision was essentially a double-edged blade, all the pros and cons were executed exactly as I predicted they would. The constant iteration loop would bring forth valuable data needed to improve the game, fix bugs, and re-design features, which is very attractive to game developers, having the best form of QA available 24/7, but this comes at a high cost, especially in a player-driven sandbox MMO. It was essentially dropping everyone into a wild-west barebones/scuffed version of FoM, completely disregarding the decades of beef/drama between players, and naively thinking everyone would comprehend that this was a playtest and that we would just do QA, with some FoM fun.
We gained all the valuable feedback needed to improve the game and move forward quickly, at the expense of burning out the majority of the player base, a necessary evil, that helped the game in many ways, and without it, we wouldn’t have reached this far, for that, I am very grateful of everyone who participated. I was quite naive in my thinking with all of this, but I would have done it all over again, except I would’ve doubled down on the messaging expressing what the playtest goals were, the guidelines/rules to follow, with clear punishments for those ruining the experience of others, and a quantifiable reward system for the players who did more extensive QA, with this in place, we would’ve mitigated most of the burnout, but hindsight is 20/20. Regardless, I can safely say the pre-alpha playtest was a success and a critical period for the game, without those risks, we wouldn’t have advanced in the development as quickly as we did, thanks again.
 

Pre-alpha drama and the great purge

Like I previously mentioned, I was naive in my thinking, regarding the attitude of players during the playtest. Since the inception of 24/7, the amount of visible drama was ridiculous, I was waking up to 20-30 DMs per day, player A was complaining about player B being toxic and ganking him constantly, faction drama was rampant, groups of players just excessively ganking anyone in sight, the wild-west nature of the pre-alpha, combined with sandbox gameplay, was essentially a breeding ground for toxicity, it was slowly chipping away at me and draining my sanity, since I had to balance the development of the game, the drama, my day job (which was ongoing a crunch period), and IRL. 

I was doxxed, threatened with legal action, publicly framed as a racist, people were looking me up on LinkedIN and contacting my professional contacts/clients to get them to fire me over false allegations, all of this stemming from in-game related drama in a pre-alpha playtest of a hobby MMO project, based on an obscure dead MMO that barely anyone knows. I don’t want to picture myself as a victim, as this shit happens frequently in this industry, and what happened to me is nothing compared to what FoM developers went through. 

Everything that happens in this project is due to my decisions, and as I mentioned before, these things could’ve been avoided, but when there’s too many things going on at the same time, it’s hard to think properly and take the necessary actions, we all make mistakes, be it pride, ego, lack of critical thinking, the times we currently live on, after all, we’re just a bunch of evolved apes in a giant spinning rock.
 

After carefully thinking it through, and going against the advice given to me, I will be unbanning everyone involved in this purge, it was because of me that you’re all reunited once again and re-experiencing this collective miasma, which predates way long before I got involved with FoM, and plays a huge part in your childhood nostalgia. My goal is to ensure we all get to experience this for years to come, to get that definitive version we all deserve and I personally don’t want people to miss out in being able to play a part in this, after all, I am just the person doing all the heavy lifting to ensure this collective miasma lives on after it’s initial death, the amount of friendships, adventures, enemies and experiences throughout the years, that still exist till this day, must continue, it is my duty, as the architect of this new iteration. 

The things that happen in this new iteration, are linked to me, and thus I take full ownership of what happens, even if I didn’t directly cause it. I won’t be entertaining any more discussions over these issues, nor hold any grudges against anyone. I have taken my time to analyze what happened, what went wrong, what could’ve been done better, and will be applying these learnings over time to ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future, or at least be better prepared for when they do happen and calibrate efficiently, I hope everyone else has done the same, let’s move on, the door will be left open, I won’t be standing there waiting, there’s way more fish in the sea, and all it takes is a few emails to open the flood gates, and we will be prepared to curb-stomp toxicity as soon as it happens.

 
Finally, for those that remember me back in FoM , you know how toxic and annoying I was, how many times I got banned (even permabanned), the amount of ganking I did, especially to newbies, the general dislike of the developers and where the game was headed, I come from the same place as all of you, we played together, beefed together, trolled together, liked/disliked each other, just because I’m leading this new iteration, it doesn’t change my roots, I’m still the same idiot in-game and I will continue to send you to cloning and feed off ragemail, for all I am is beef, and beef is me.
 

The pre-alpha shutdown

After a year of pre-alpha, we finally decided to shut down the servers. Gamesparks, our backend provider, has been deprecated for years and will be finally put to its coffin this year, during the last few months of the playtest, instability grew rampant, servers started crashing, massive lag and eventually culminating in a massive dupe exploit due to code that hasn’t changed in a year, strangely started failing due to platform-related issues, we weren’t the only Gamesparks project that had this issue, other developers expressed having the same problems during this period as well. 

We had a few dupes, but this one was what pretty much killed the pre-alpha, in terms of long-term play investment. The other big issue was player burnout, this is completely normal, it happens in every game, the initial hype slowly dies down and players stop logging in, between the pre-alpha aspect, the lack of content, and the drama, players slowly started phasing off and started lurking around, waiting for advancements in development, this started happening all the way back in 2017 after the first few playtests. 

I also explicitly told players to forget about the game, move on, and wait for new updates, to make this process much easier, which is why the general hype over the game has died down and the discord/forums are silent, don’t let this worry you, as people are simply hibernating, our analytics still show strong numbers, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, data doesn’t lie.

 

//The development burnout and a long sabbatical

After developing the game nonstop for 4 years and the huge toll the pre-alpha took on my sanity, plus day job stuff, I decided to take a long break from paid work and MR development, precisely around early September 2021. Since then, I just played games in my backlog, improved my skills in many areas, did a lot of critical thinking/design work on MR and its future, and started developing a horror game I did a year ago for a game jam, which has helped me a lot in de-stressing, exploring new things, improving my coding skills and other aspects that I will be porting to MR when the time is right. I’m highly excited to jump back into MR, and once I release a demo for my horror game, I will be back full-time on this. I also have a new day job gig, which is only a 4 day work week, and has a progressive culture (no crunch, etc), so that means I will have more time and money to invest into the game.
 

//Frontier backend updates

The backend has been live 24/7 since August 2020 and has already been integrated into the game, at least the bulk of it. But this still wasn’t enough, we had to completely overhaul our entire backend infrastructure, website, forums, support, analytics, and other tools. We had to take a look at our current infrastructure, and plan a better approach, what providers to use, how to host these instances, which instances/resources to use, and configure these to lower the costs as much as possible while providing the performance needed to support the game. 

As of recently, I am spearheading this new infrastructure, to ensure I know how everything works and be more involved in the backend process, since it’s a core aspect of the game, thus it must be treated with the same care and attention that I’ve given the Unreal Engine 4 portion of MR. I have hired another backend developer, so right now we have me, Fickey, Pety, and Toky, these 3 are experts in their field, and with my leadership, knowledge, and resources, we will ensure that our new backend infrastructure is as solid and efficient as it can be, which is the backbone of the entire game, and without it, this is just a regular Unreal Engine 4 dedicated server game.

 

//Design changes and overhauls

Territories 2.0

The territory system was undeniably one of the hardest mechanics to implement into the game, it took a lot of iterations to refine and fix the majority of the bugs, but still, it was rather scuffed. The pre-alpha gave us a lot of data, through the constant iteration, that showed us what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be improved. We will be moving forward with the territory system being the primary form of faction takeover gameplay, ditching the other planned colony control system (for now), or better yet, merging both, as territories allow more dynamic and fluid content, since a single world can host multiple territories, thus more emerging content opportunities. Here’s a few key improvements that will be done to territories:

  • – The takeover process will be multi-staged, similar to how colony takeover worked in FoM, also heavily inspired by New World’s territory system.
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  • – The territory control deployable will be removed and instead, these will be statically placed in each territory
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  • – The influence generation stage might be getting a revision because once faction goals, campaigns, missions, etc, come into play, other factors might be introduced and we’ll have to gauge if we want to keep them in, remove them, or have them work alongside the other new features.
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  • – Factions will be able to upgrade their territories, there will be different “skill trees” to choose from, each one specializing in different areas, depending on the territory type, this will be a mix of UC investment, time, territory use and resource investment done by players.
 

More cross-faction collaborative content

I had the pleasure of playing Death Stranding from start to finish, sinking over 60 hours in it, and apart from blowing me away as a gamer, it taught me a lot of good game design lessons and was quite insightful, mainly on player behavior with the asynchronous multiplayer mechanics. I will be exploring more collaborative faction mechanics, things like improving a world’s infrastructure by donating resources, PvE events, etc, because apart from the usual toxic PvP behavior found in sandbox games, deep down there’s also an inherent intrinsic motivation to help others. 

I spent countless hours building highways and figuring out ways to help out other players, which you never interact with directly, it became part of the experience itself. You didn’t get any rewards, except the acknowledgment of your good deeds in the form of likes, and I’m probably one of the most selfish/solo players out there. It was pretty cool logging in and seeing all the likes that I got due to going out of my way to build infrastructure and help out other players, plus starting pissing spots where other players urinated to create mushrooms that give health items (yes that’s a feature in the game lol..), I strongly believe these small collaborative things can be integrated into the game seamlessly, and with a bit of extrinsic motivation, it will prove to be a nice inclusion in the game which will provide many benefits, and also incentivize good player behavior.

 

Faction tools

Once all the backend shenanigans are sorted out, the primary focus will be on finally integrating proper faction tools, mainly a good streamlined framework for factions to self-administrate, organize and create content. From proper faction chat (lol), departments, administration tools, missions, goals, etc, we want to ensure these tools are available as soon as possible, since they’ve been requested for so long, and we haven’t been able to deliver these, due to the high-dependency of proper backend infrastructure needed to support them. We’ll likely just reverse engineer the FoM faction panel, based on all the videos and images that have been provided by the players, and once a strong foundation has been developed, we’ll further expand and improve the systems based on iteration and feedback.
 

Crime improvements

The crime system that’s been implemented has surpassed my expectations, we haven’t had the time to fully test it, but the little time we had, it proved to be quite successful and a huge improvement over FoM’s crime system, and even other MMO games. We will be doing some adjustments to it, such as:

  • – Reworking the illegal item system, mainly removing all armor and the majority of implants from the list. This is one of the things that sounds good on paper, but in execution, it’s atrocious and extremely abusable. We’ll start off with just drugs and a few equipments as illegal, and from there we’ll let the players and their roleplay dictate the new list, which will be controlled from the backend, we’ll be able to make items legal/illegal without requiring a new patch.
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  • – Penalty Point assignment will be increased drastically, especially for murder. PP and prison time is one of the huge game systems to combat ganking and PvP toxicity, we want to ensure that within CPC protected worlds, those who wish to carry out crimes keep in mind the harsh penalties that come with them and that the wrath of Ord is always omnipresent and ready to be unleashed.
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  • – Most areas on Earth will be protected by static crime watches, similar to static turrets, these will respawn after being destroyed.
  • Crime watches will also get a buff, similar to territory controllers, these will have a shield that will prevent damage, and likely will be able to be hacked or destroyed during certain periods, set by CPC, this will prevent the constant ninjaing that occurs during downtimes.
 
In other words, criminal penalties will be harsher and you’ll spend longer time in prison, but you can always have your buddies stage a prison breakout ;).
 

Weapon spread changes

Based on ongoing feedback, weapon spread will be getting toned down, mainly making the max cone of fire smaller. Spread will still affect most weapons and cause shot deviation, but it won’t be as extreme as before. At most it will make you miss a headshot at medium range on semi-autos, a good example of my goal with weapon spread is looking at how the sidekick, commando, and assault rifle work in Halo Infinite.
 

Removal of physical Union Credit item

In efforts to have complete control and visibility of the economy, physical UC will be removed and all transactions will be digital, which will go through the transaction system already in place, this will connect more deeply with the backend to log all UC transactions that occur in-game. This will provide helpful metrics to improve the economy, as well as keeping an eye on possible duping exploits and catch them before they spread fast. It is likely that another form of physical currency will be around, no news on that yet, but you can always barter with items.
 

Hacking improvements

The hacking system has been received quite positively and has been effective in its job. Initially, it was too easy with the 4 digits, a difficulty system was introduced, which increased the number of digits needed to solve, this made it a bit too stressful, at least to the majority of the players, as it either requires a strong memory to remember the string of digits or having a notebook next to you, which makes things a bit unintuitive. The difficulty system will be getting adjusted, and instead of more digits, it will be replaced with more batches/blocks of digits to solve. 

For example, in medium difficulty, you’ll have to solve 4 batches of 4 digit strings, such as: xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx, each batch will be handled individually, so you’re always figuring out 4 digits at a time, and once you accomplish that, you’ll have to solve the next batch of 4 digits. This will make hacking less stressful, while still retaining the difficulty increases, alongside a few other curveballs that will be thrown at you, similar to how alarm nodes worked in FoM’s hacking system. In regards to the overall hacking system, I’m pretty happy with the one we have, and we’ll keep this moving forward, but I do want to include another form of hacking in the future, FoM’s had the mastermind and node-based hacking, we’ll explore something different way later in the future.

 

Badges & Accolades

Alongside the new account dashboard, you’ll find a new section that will be essentially what we wanted to do with the service points, a form of extrinsic rewards given to players for good behavior, reporting bugs, and generally other helpful activities. This should’ve been prioritized before the pre-alpha went online, these rewards will be given to players and will show in your account, in-game, and forums. These rewards can be redeemed for unique cosmetics, cash shop currency, titles, and other benefits, that are only available through this method. Our goal with this is to incentivize good behavior and have a clear and quantifiable method to reward players who play nice and help out the game.
 

Improved PvE gameplay loops

PvE is one of those things in the fommunity that is shunned and discouraged, mainly due to how badly implemented it was in FoM’s, and most players viewing anything PvE related in MR through the lens of how it was before in FoM’s.  I want PvE to play a bigger part in this iteration and it has been one of the main goals since its inception. I can say the current implementation is rather decent when compared to FoM’s and other MMO games, but obviously, it’s lacking a lot to be worthwhile. The main thing I’ll be tackling is replacing the current AI framework (it uses a heavily modified marketplace asset) which is horrendous and you’ve already seen drones shooting through walls and other crazy stuff. 

That will be getting replaced with another, better-developed AI framework, which will allow better tools, faster development, fewer bugs, and more interesting AI behavior. I believe a strong AI foundation is essential for healthy player retention, especially for combat-oriented players, because sometimes we just want to log in and shoot some dumb stuff for a bit, also having interesting content to do that doesn’t rely on other players, will in fact, indirectly help other content that does rely on players, due to increased player retention. Some core changes will be:

  • – AI won’t be safe-spotted anymore, when it detects an unreachable path to the player, meaning it can’t move next to the player/s for x seconds, it will reset itself, similar to how other MMO games handle this, a good example of this in another game is trying to shoot down the zombies/ghouls in New World while standing on-top of a house, once they detect they can’t reach you, they’ll reset back to their original spot.
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  • – We will be removing UC drops from AI and instead moving that into contract payouts and loot drops, alien/drone parts that can be scrapped for UC or used in production, some rare parts will be exclusive materials used in certain PMODs, allowing combat-oriented players to participate in the economy supply.
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  • – PvE level design will change drastically, the main problem with the alien world is how big and plain it is, there are no interesting landmarks or “arenas” for combat, thus most of the combat just relies on zoning out the aliens or safe spotting them from close to max weapon range. Think of how Necars Field had clear landmark areas, each with its own layout and “strategies” for hunting aliens effectively (even if it was just safe spotting lol). We’ll either revamp Aurora, or finally create Getha, the alien world, and will focus on more intricate landmarks with space catered towards better combat engagements, alongside more interesting AI behavior outside of the usual run towards a player and hit them.
 

The new character creation system

One thing that has been driving me nuts for years, is how scuffed the characters look, alongside the shitty cloning jumpsuit, that’s not even PBR and looks like a matte condom. For the horror game that I’ve been working on, I’ve invested a lot of money into better tools and explored creating better-looking characters, currently, these characters are quite diverse and have AAA quality. I taught my girl how to use Character Creator 3, and she’s been going at it hard, creating a bunch of realistic-looking characters that perform quite well in-game, we have over 10 male/female templates and enough content to support a lot more, these will be making their way into MR sometime later this year, alongside an improved customization system. Instead of allowing players to adjust facial features, we’ll simply give you a lot of realistic pre-made faces, streamlining the process, while providing unique customization features that fully supports diversity. You’ll find some experimentation examples below:

Ditching Crypto/NFT integration

I love crypto, not into NFTs but I see their value in gaming and I believe there’s a big future in crypto gaming, but we’re still in its infancy. I had big plans with blockchain integration in MR and even had our community crypto expert help me draft a mock whitepaper, but after taking a look at all this metaverse, NFT crap that has been hitting the mainstream recently and getting boomers reeled in, plus all the coverage from content creators like Kira about Earth 2 and other crypto-focused projects. I’ll be canceling the plans I had and just focus strictly on building a great game with a fair monetization system that doesn’t integrate crypto, I’m all into crypto, but I don’t want the baggage that comes with crypto in the game.
 

//What’s next?

Like every dev blog, we reach this part and I mention a few things that most aren’t achieved or considered, something I have to own up and take more seriously. In the upcoming days, me and the backend team will be going hard on the new infrastructure and getting the new website online, but my active development time will be invested into my horror game for the time being, because I have to get a playable demo out asap. I have to finish what I started before jumping back full-time into MR, that horror game has unexpectedly blown up, a lot of big YouTubers played it, it has multiple videos with millions of views. 

I have multiple six-figure and above content creators anxiously waiting for the demo and even big name publishers have contacted me, interested about the game. It’s a rare opportunity I sadly have to execute because indirectly, it will help out MR in the long run. Once that demo releases and is in the hands of content creators, I will switch to MR and keep the war machine going. I estimate this might occur during late January, early/mid-February at most, but the backend will still be worked on regardless. In the event of the game magically blowing up and I start receiving offers, I will use that money to delegate the development of the horror game, as most of the core features are already built out and it just needs content, which means all my time will still be in MR, regardless if it it’s a success or failure.

 
When it comes to MR, here’s a rough plan I’ll be following:

Finalize backend in-game > Test > Faction tools > Test > Syndicate faction gameplay loop > Test…

That should be the focus for the upcoming months, from there on we’ll calibrate accordingly. I don’t have any ETAs, let me get back into the routine, feel that mojo flow in, and then I’ll be able to throw some rough estimates. 
 
As always, I appreciate everyone’s patience and looking forward to keep enhancing the fiction.