A glimpse into the closed beta
The Drakensang Online closed beta has been marching on since April 1. And throughout this time, we’ve experienced a series of nail-biting weeks and been exposed to completely new perspectives and knowledge. We’ve had our first nightshifts due to burnt-out servers, evaluated the first statistical feedback and tackled the task of sorting through mountains of regular player and forum feedback.
As you are aware, Drakensang Online is our first online game, and since it was “turned on”, – albeit “closed” and “privately”– it has been an incredibly exciting time for us.
Our lead programmer, Nico, sat in awe until the late hours of the night watching the number of active players explode. At the time there had been no press releases, no news, nothing informing the public. No one could have known that the system was online. At first we attributed it to a bug, until we realized that fans and newcomers alike from across the globe began to register as we watched. We were then officially live!
It is truly breathtaking to see how many players really play and HOW they play. This direct and concrete connection to the players is incredibly interesting.
Now we can see what you play and can read how you feel about it. We know that it isn’t a one-way road and that it’s just as important for us to tell you what’s been going on from our end. We’re also learning how to talk to talk to players directly.
Fortunately we’ve got our Community Manager Thomas onboard in Hamburg. Thomas already has a lot of experience and works with the team to watch the forums (http://en.board.bigpoint.com/drasaonline/) and writes the breaking news, release notes, Twitter info (http://www.twitter.com/drakensang/) and Facebook posts (http://www.facebook.com/drakensangonline/).
Is this information helpful to you? Is it too little info? Do you know what we’re up to? We don’t always get the information out perfectly because we sometimes only have a few minutes to produce them and then have them translated into at least five languages. We’re working hard to stay open and transparent in our communications to inform you about every step of development and any problems. We also want to inform you about new things that we’ll soon be releasing and provide you with a platform that isn’t just entertaining, but also a place that you want to come back to again and again.
What are we working on right now? Shall we take a look at the team?
We’re currently focusing on two main issues:
Now let’s move onto the production of features:
Here we see David Thamm – he’s currently programming the mini map, which is one of the most important features in the game that’s still missing. But unfortunately, I can’t show you a screenshot of it just yet because it will still take a few days before it’s completed. We hope to have it finished before the end of May. Why haven’t we had one until this point?
Releasing quickly was very important to us. It doesn’t make much sense for us to tinker in our workshop when we could be developing the game with real players in a real environment. We decided to postpone a large number of the features we came up with during the development process to ensure a swifter release – even if it meant starting with less features.
The mini map had seemed less important to us and was put on the list of backlogged features. The closed beta helped us to see that the mini map is the most important feature demanded by our features. One Facebook response stated: “loved this game but I won't play again till the mini map is implemented.” We’re working as fast as we can to implement the new system.
Further features currently being worked on include the new shop and the complete retooling of the essence and magic systems. Both systems were far too complicated and full of bugs and we’re working hard to correct them.
Patrick is currently drawing up the graphics for the new shop. Many of the functions that were improved have just been finished, meaning that only now can a graphics artist put the final touches on them. This also includes the icons.
When the programmers aren’t making final adjustments to the features, they spend their days working on improving the stability and performance of the servers. During the closed beta, we were able to manage the mass of players on our servers via the account activations. To see how the servers would handle registrations and gameplay simultaneously, we intentionally overloaded them by controlling the level of beta registrations per day. The graphic displays the current number of active players and you can see that the least number of players are online between 3–4 am in the morning but that’s still more than none!
Until now larger series of activations have led to bugs and performance bottlenecks and have kept us on our toes for days trying to resolve them. The closed beta testers notice this when the game becomes choppy; the servers can’t be reached or there are other similar problems. As developers, we get late-night warning e-mails on our cell phones, sit in front of our laptops watching the servers or adjust the settings ourselves. I, myself, can’t help but check my smartphone every five minutes to see how many players are currently active. A rapid drop in players usually means sever trouble or that something else isn’t working.
What’s on the horizon? Starting in June the closed beta will move into the open beta phase. Everyone will be able to register and play. The start of the open beta in June doesn’t mean that we’re done developing the game whatsoever – it just means we can really begin.
Gamestar summarized it well by saying: “Drakensang Online is … a seed, from which a great online-action RPG will grow, if it is nursed and lovingly tended.”
And that’s just what we plan to do! Each week we’ll have a regular update. These updates will include new features and improvements which will all be described in breaking news and release notes. Hot fixes and patches may on occasion be uploaded multiple times in a single day. All of this, of course, with your feedback in mind.
These weekly updates will help the game continuously grow. Among which will be the TEGANSWALL extension. This is the first major content update that should be appearing this summer – more about that to come in the next developer’s diary ...
I’d like to thank all of the closed-beta testers from the bottom of my heart for your feedback and patience!
About the author:
Bernd Beyreuther, Head of Development at Bigpoint Berlin
Cartoonist, CAD operator and programmer, completed his studies in animation at The Potsdam Babelsberg Film and Television University
Founder of Radon Labs, husband and father of three, Bernd Beyreuther has led Radon Labs to become one of Germany’s leading game developers in the last year with roughly 100 employees working in two different locations. Since Bigpoint’s takeover of Radon Labs in June 2010, Bernd has overseen development for the third installment of the Drakensang Saga: “Drakensang Online”.
Numerous distinctions of excellence include: International German Video Prize 1996, ECTS Best PC Game of the Show 2001, multiple German Developer Awards including: “Best RPG 2010”, BIU Sales Award in Gold 2008, German Computer Game Prize 2009.