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Winter Wonderland & Developer Diary!
Posted on December 3rd, 2018 07:41 PM EST
Have you been Naughty or Nice this year? I've heard whispers from the elves and reindeer that a certain Mr. Claws may be dropping gifts for all of the good survivors this holiday season, and coal for the naughty ones too. ;)
We'll have more information on this in the coming weeks!
This weeks diary entry is brought to you by Lead Programmer, Chris Willoughby. This weeks dev diary is about Extinction-related game balance and also about the big fixing process of Extinction since it's initial release.
ARK, at its core, is successful because it offers the best and most diverse survival experience that it can to each player who plays it, and the many options that we provide allows that to happen. There are many, many players that play our game over multiple platforms and each of them has a different definition of what’s most important to them, what ARK does well, and what it should do better. Early on we made a decision to offer a vast array of options, modes, maps, servers, and mods to get as close as we could to being the best survival game for everyone. This creates a major challenge when it comes to development however, as each piece of content or change is used in a large number of different ways. The many play modes are likely to be at odds with each other and are competing for the same development resources, so we have to make a number of tough decisions and pick our priorities. This can result in mechanics that feel less than ideal for your setup or bugs that only appear in certain modes. I do believe it’s better than the primary alternative - not offering or supporting these options at all.
In this industry we need to develop and introduce new content and mechanics to keep our game interesting and relevant. When we set out to develop something with the size and scope of Extinction, we first sit down and figure out what new experiences we could bring to the table. We brainstorm far and wide, documenting and elaborating on ideas before scoring them. We try very hard to introduce features that either have broad reach and appeal across our play modes or add a high amount of depth to one. The things that resonate the most through this process are grouped together into creatures, items, or features that become the key features for the expansion. Generally when we do this we’re intentionally trying to shake up the meta to breathe new life into the game. Often times it’s hard to predict exactly how the new features will be used by players, and just how much they’ll shake things up.
On the other side of the coin, testing changes to a game like ARK is quite difficult. Stepping back, it’s really a numbers game. Let’s say, for example, that you have 10 QA testers, and they’re testing 50 hours a week, that’s 500 hours of testing per week. Next, let’s say that you have 3 months to fully test your changes. Multiply the 500 by 12, and you get 6,000 hours of serious, in-depth testing. That can seem like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the amount of time that players put in. ARK averaged ~50k users for November on PC. If you multiply that by 30 days and 24 hours, you end up with a rough estimate of 36,000,000 hours of ARK played in November. That’s 6,000 times as many hours as in the example above. There were approximately 1,200,000 hours of ARK played in the first day of Extinction. There were 50,000 hours played in the first hour after release. 10 minutes after Extinction released, players had already played 10,000 hours of Extinction, eclipsing the amount of testing done by the 10 testers above. Suffice it to say that when you experience problems when playing a game just after release this is a big reason why.
Obviously we don’t like it when our game has problems, so we focus much of our testing on critical areas and we test them over and over again and prioritize the issues we find. As you can imagine, this is a lot easier in a single player game with a fixed path through a scripted storyline. Once you start multiplying out all of the options and variables, however, it quickly becomes a monumental challenge. As illustrated above, it’s impossible to test every experience that a player is going to have in a game like ARK within a reasonable timeframe. Our volume of players means that players will always have for more time playing ARK than us. When you combine this with the fact that most of those players are playing competitively you realize that many of them are looking for a way to get a leg up on their competition. Very quickly they’re using things in ways that you didn’t intend or even think about, and it’s up to strong systems and well placed testing to make sure that they stay in a healthy place. Sometimes you experience breakdowns in one or two of the above and you have to turn around a fix as fast as possible.
When we built the Titans, for example, we balanced them against dinos, items, each other, and bases. We wanted each of them to feel different and wanted them to have roles almost like classes in a class-based shooter. We wanted them to be somewhat slow and predictable, and ultimately squishy when faced with organized and concentrated fire. We felt very early on that they should be able to do a lot of damage to an endgame base, if left unchecked. Beyond countering this strength, we wanted to limit how fast people could tame and transfer in Titans, and make it a difficult decision to make - so we went for cooldowns on transfer and starvation. Of course, players discovered a way around starvation (kibble?!?!?!), so that broke a big piece of their cost completely. Last week we released a patch that brought this back closer to where we envisioned it, but it’s unlikely that it’s the end of balance changes to the Titans.
Meks were built to counter Titans. Generally, the math that we used when developing the Titans and Meks was that approximately three Meks should be able to make short work of a Titan, and we set out to arm the Meks with abilities (like the rocket pack) that would allow them to take the Titans on. In this regard, our primary focus was on the defensive capabilities of the Mek. Unfortunately, in our efforts to nail the defensive-side of things we overlooked a few issues that could occur on the offensive side; especially related to base raiding. The reality is that this was a mistake. Players discovered within the first few days that they could be used to dismantle bases by bypassing most of their automated defenses. Once something like this is discovered we need to act quickly - we ask ourselves if we feel like the mechanic is overpowered. Then we ask if it fits with the design of the creature. We ask what the counter is and talk through the best way to balance it. Ideally, we’d have all of these discussions and make all of these decisions early in development. When faced with the numbers game above, however, you realize how likely it is that a few of these slip through the cracks to the final game. We work diligently to to step up and resolve the issue the best way that we can, as fast as we can.
If I were to step back and put on an Idealistic hat, I’d want to reshape ARK such that none of these bugs ever made it through to our players. I’d want to test and retest every interaction, every spot in every map, every scenario that a player could find themselves in. The reality, however, is that it would take a very large team, a very large amount of time to develop something as broad as ARK and deliver it flawlessly. Large enough on both fronts, that the likelihood of success drops dramatically. And even then, that game would have bugs. Yes, ARK is not perfect. However, we enjoy working on a game that delivers a broad, good experience to many players over one that offers a narrow but perfect experience to only a few or takes ten years to make. We strive to minimize the number of problems. We pride ourselves on recognizing and resolving them as fast as possible. As we continue to work on Extinction issues, long standing issues, previous promises, and whatever is next for ARK (stay tuned!), we’ll continue to approach it from that perspective. Our job is to provide the best experience we can to the highest number of players we can reach, as fast as we can. Sometimes there will be bumps in the road, but they’re a necessary part of making the things we make at the scale that we make them. We think it’s worth it.
Tomorrow at 10am PST there will be a PC patch. There will also be another post tomorrow here on the community forums going over some of the changes coming up and things currently being worked on by our development team.
Hello, fellow modders. You'll be happy to know we have a manual devkit update ready that includes all of the extinction content!
We also have a new tutorial ready for you, this time we're finally going to get started on some graphs for this mod. Specifically how to convert our tamed creatures into the sentry crystals that will be used elsewhere by the mod.
Be sure to check out todays Community Crunch post on our website for the full Crunch announcement post.