Mar 172012

The slog continues, and I’ve designated the forthcoming companion update as v1.63. I still don’t have a release timeframe, but we’re getting close. Today’s preview should fill in most of the remaining blanks about how companions are going to work.

Reputation Ranks

One of the big new changes in v1.63 is the reputation system. Reputation is basically a new type of experience that is accrued by winning battles and completing quests in a region (regions generally meaning a town and its local area). As your numerical reputation increases, your “reputation rank” in a region levels up. There are a total of five ranks, each of which requires more reputation to achieve than the previous rank.

New daily quests with large reputation bonuses have been added to every region in the game. As of the initial release of v1.63, reputation will only be used for two major systems: seed slot boosting and companion recruiting. In the future it will likely factor into many other systems.

Recruiting Companions

Monsters aren’t captured Pokemon-style. Instead, every time that you fight a particular type of monster there is a chance that it will ask to join you. Whether or not you’re eligible to recruit a monster is based upon your regional reputation rank. Generally speaking, the stronger or rarer the monster the higher reputation rank that it takes to recruit it.

Almost any monster in the game can be recruited to become a companion, and every single species is unique. No matter what type of monster you recruit, they will always join you as a level 1 companion. Therefore, recruiting a monster from a higher level region does not necessarily give you a more powerful companion. An Ice Slime from the Arctic doesn’t have any statistical advantages over a Mage Slime from Bedoe; they’re just different.

The Companion Ranch

Every region in the game now has a Companion Ranch, the place where your extra companions are stored for safekeeping. Companions can be deposited or withdrawn anytime, and your stored companions are shared between all of your characters. However, only subscribers can actually withdraw companions stored by their other characters, and you can’t withdraw companions that are a higher level than your current character.

Every Companion Ranch features a regional Bestiary that shows which monsters are in the area and what reputation rank is required to recruit them. In order for a monster’s information to show up in the bestiary you first need to beat it in battle, otherwise its entry will contain minimal information. Like the ranch companion storage, the bestiary entries are also shared between all of your characters.

Seed Slot Boosting

In order to expand your Stat Seed slots in the current version of NEStalgia, you must to purchase expensive Seed Boosters from a late-game vendor. As of v1.63 those Seed Boosters are going the way of the dinosaur, although all existing Seed Boosters and/or their resulting extra seed slots will still function.

In v1.63 stat seed slots are automatically opened up by raising your reputation to “Honored” in a region (rank 3). Because reputation is not shared between characters, you’ll have to do this on each character separately (the grind up to Honored isn’t that time consuming and can generally be accomplished by completing most of the quests in the region). Although there are currently seven regions in the game, you’ll still only be able to open up a total of six extra slots.

Other Notes

Although I had previously talked about allowing solo players to have only one companion fighting alongside them in non-boss battles, I’ve changed things up and solo players will now be able to utilize both of their companions in all encounters. Partying up with other players will always make for a much stronger team, however, as companions are comparatively weak and don’t always make the best strategic decisions in big fights. Furthermore, any companion who is with you but not in your active party when you group with other players will give you a substantial “Reserve Bonus” in the form of a stat boost or some type of extra skill or ability.

If you have any additional questions about how this stuff works the please feel free to ask in the comments. We’re at the point where most of the implementation is finished, so I can now give plenty of details about what all of these changes entail.

I know that development is moving much slower than anyone had hoped (including myself), but please bear with us just a bit longer. The standalone installer is almost ready to go, meaning that we could theoretically be launching v1.63 alongside the standalone installer, which will mean a massive exposure boost for the game right as we turn our focus over to regular content expansions. Everything is falling into place in just the right way, and I’m very optimistic that all of this hard work and waiting is going to pay off in the near future.

Feb 262012

Both Spiff and I have been hard at work this month on different tasks. While Spiff has been tackling an automated PvP tournament system, the majority of my time has been devoted to Monster Companions.

The automated PvP tournament system will allow us to schedule regular weekly tournaments for both brackets (20s and 32s). The brackets are generated based upon the teams that sign up during the week (and show up on time), and then the tournament takes place without the need for Moderator supervision. Members of that week’s winning teams will be rewarded not only with Colosseum Badges, but with statues of themselves displayed inside the Colosseum (Spiff’s idea!).

The new tournament system has been in open testing all month long and is very close to completion. Yesterday we also hosted our very first closed beta test for Monster Companions, which went incredibly well. Everything is looking very solid, including the Companion battle A.I. (which let me tell you was no small task to create).

Although you won’t be able to directly control your companions, you will be able to set each companion’s battle tactics via the new Tactics menu in battle. The tactics themselves are fairly self-explanatory (Balanced, Offensive, Defensive, Conserve), and can be changed on the fly at anytime during battle.

In the overworld players have full control and will be able to cast their companion’s spells manually. Companions won’t be able to equip gear or carry items, but they do have slots for Stat Seeds and their own version of Skill Trees called “Milestone Boosts”. These boosts allow the player to choose between one of two skill options for the companion every 5 levels. What’s more, every companion has a unique set of Milestone Boosts specifically tailored to its breed.

You’ll notice that the companions either use MP, Will or Rage to power their abilities (Rage is identical to the Merchant Credit system). The type of resource a companion uses to power its moves has a big impact on how it handles itself in battle. The earliest healing companion in the game (Blue Slime) actually uses Rage to power its abilities, which makes for a decidedly different type of healer that can’t always burst heal but will never run out of MP.

As usual I’m not going to give out release projections for this stuff until it’s much closer to being finished. I’m very happy with where we’re at though, and I’m also getting excited to dive right into content expansion work as soon as companions are done. As testing continues over the course of the next couple weeks I’ll be sure to share many more details and screenshots

Feb 142012

Although our attacker was not successful in actually bringing down our servers or causing an interruption of service, he did succeed in scaring off our host who shut down our VPS without warning and didn’t respond to my emails/phone calls for about 36 hours. Our host had advertised protection against that type of thing, but they neglected to mention that it’s much more cost-effective for them to just terminate a client’s contract in the event of a sustained attack. Fun times!

The crazy thing is that our attacker isn’t even particularly sophisticated:  the attacks have been small and have always originated from a single IP. We’re dealing with a script kiddie who googled the term “DDoS”, and it’s baffling to me how even the most highly recommended VPS hosts aren’t equipped to deal with that sort of thing. Therefore, we’re done with Virtual Private Servers and graduating to a true Dedicated Server with a host who specializes in DDoS protection. Triple the cost, but well worth the increased reliability and peace of mind moving forward.

Anyway, I apologize for the downtime. If I had understood the flawed nature of all VPS hosts then I would have just switched over to a dedicated server a couple weeks ago during the first round of attacks. This is just one of those growing pain things that I’m thankful happened now rather than down the road when we’ve got a ton of servers to worry about. I’m sure that this won’t be our last encounter with these sorts of attacks, but we’re much better equipped to handle them now.

I really appreciate everyone in the community being so understanding and supportive in regards to this situation. Any amount of downtime for an online game like this is really frustrating, and I’m very thankful to have a community of players who dealt with it so well.

Algol:  byond://

Zenithia: byond://

Feb 012012

As we continue to plug away on the big Monster Companion update, more and more of the supporting changes are going to start to make appearances on the live servers. The next version bump won’t bring companions, but it will bring us one more important step closer.

Forthcoming v1.61 Changes

There won’t be any earth shattering changes packed into v1.61, but there will be many small ones. Changes include the addition of a “Level Lock” toggle which will prevent your character from earning experience and leveling up. Another tweak: the “Plus Exp” and “Plus Gold” stats are becoming “Extra Exp” and “Extra Gold”, as both stats will now be added as a direct bonus to the Experience and Gold earned from battles, rather than a percentage increase.

My favorite change so far is something that I’ve been meaning to implement for a long time. Per modern MMO standards, all “Quest Giver” NPCs will have quest indicator icons floating above their heads in v1.61:

Exclamation Points indicate that an NPC has quests available; Question Marks mean that you have a completed quest that needs to be turned in to that NPC. The indicators are yellow for regular quests and blue for dailies.

These indicators are one of those random things that was surprisingly challenging to implement, which is why I hadn’t done so before now. With the companion update looming, the quest indicators finally made it to the top of my to-do list because there will soon be many more daily/repeatable quests scattered all over the world related to the new reputation system.

I’ll continue to add items to the v1.61 update notes as I work. The patch should go live by this weekend.

When Will Companions Be Ready?

I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, and all that I’m willing to say is that we’re making great progress on the update and that it will be ready when it’s ready. As soon as I have a public release date set it will be posted here on the blog/Facebook/Twitter in big flashing letters – I promise that you won’t miss it.

Being able to dole out most of the big code changes incrementally on the live servers has really sped up development as compared to the Skill Tree update, which had to be released in one huge chunk. It should also dramatically reduce the amount of time that we need to private test stuff.

Other News

As most of you know, some random script kiddie managed to topple our servers with a DoS attack last week. Turns out that he/she/it did us a favor: I switched over to a faster host with proper DoS protection and so far the results have been great.

In stark contrast to the crappy side of humanity displayed by our attacker, we had several community members step up and make big financial contributions in the past week. “Ninja O” (key: AdamSetzler) made an incredibly generous donation by teaching me how to setup a recurring monthly PayPal donation system and then subscribing to it. For as long as he decides to contribute, his monthly donation will be covering our server costs in full every month. Booyah!

Lumino also made a massive contribution this week by purchasing a ton of gift subscriptions for other players. He has gone on these gift subscription sprees several times in the past, making him our largest financial benefactor. 🙂

So, thank you very much Ninja O and Lumino! Between community members who open their wallets, to those who have contributed incredible artwork, put in countless hours testing/posting bug reports, or even just those who provide lots of moral support, I feel very humbled and grateful.

I’m going to wrap up this beast of a blog post before it gets any longer, but be sure to check in this weekend for v1.61 and keep your eyes on the blog for many more news updates this month.

Jan 282012

Getting DCed in the middle of battle in any online game sucks, and NEStalgia has been no exception. Up until now we’ve had to count all battle disconnects as a death for the player, meaning that you’d lose half of your gold and be returned to the last town you visited.  Thankfully, however, the nature of NEStalgia’s turn-based battle system affords us a unique opportunity to take most of the sting out of battle disconnects in a seamless way. With today’s v1.60 update we’ve finally made good on that opportunity.

Battle disconnects are handled differently based upon the type of battle that a player is disconnected from. While the philosophy of how the system works is fairly simple, the devil is in the details:

  • Solo PvE
    • This is fairly simple. If you were disconnected during a solo battle with regular monsters, you’ll jump back into that battle as if you had never disconnected (the monsters will retain their HP, status effects, etc). However, if you were fighting a boss then you’ll automatically restart that boss battle from the beginning once you log back in.
  • Solo PvP
    • Solo Player vs. Player disconnects are the only type of battle that had to remain unchanged. The battle will still count as a loss, and your opponent will still take half of your gold.
  • Group PvE/PvP
    • If you are disconnected in the middle of a group PvE or PvP battle, your character will stay in the fight as a sort of dummy character that is still a part of the battle. Your allies can heal it, your opponents can target it, but the dummy will simply skip its turn every round. If you log back into the game while the battle is still in progress you will be reconnected to your character and be allowed to continue the battle normally. Note: if there are no other actual players left on your side of the battle when you disconnect, no dummy will be created and the battle will count as a loss.
    • Should you be disconnected and not log back into your character before the battle ends, the game will actually keep a record of the outcome of that battle and will only penalize you if your group was defeated. If your group was victorious in your absence, you’ll be returned to the overworld (or wherever you were when the battle started) as if nothing happened.

Never be afraid of a disconnect again!

There is an expiration timer of sorts on the disconnect saving, as whenever we update the game to a new version number it will reset your saved battles and count them as a loss. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea to only rely upon this system when you have to. A feature like this must be designed in anticipation of the ways that players will try to abuse it, and it was very important to ensure that logging out mid-battle could never give a player any sort of strategic advantage.

The v1.60 update has already gone live. It has (of course) been thoroughly tested, but if you do find any bugs in this new system then please report them right away.

Jan 192012

We’re probably going to start doing the NEStalgia podcasts bi-weekly until the standalone game clients and content expansions start to roll out. I know that it’s really only the more hardcore/active players who listen to the podcasts, so I’d like to balance things out with some regular blog posts for all of our dormant followers who just stop by occasionally to check in on NEStalgia.

Server Merges & Savefile Maintenance

This was a fairly busy week for us: we merged the two remaining PvE servers Algol and Sosaria into one giant super server (we kept the name Algol). The nice thing about this merge is that players with characters on both servers had their savefiles merged together, so the transition was fairly seamless. When we eventually have hundreds of veteran players returning to play the content expansions we’ll simply start up a couple new PvE servers and be good to go. We’re also exploring ways to allow individual servers to host more players.

In addition to the big merge, maintenance was performed on every single savefile on both Algol and Zenithia to prepare the game for Monster Companions. The only change that players will notice from this maintenance is that their character slots have been re-sorted, eliminating any empty gaps between files.

Version 1.58 Released

As you can see in the official update notes, v1.58 is a pretty small release in terms of updates visible to players. On the backend, however, there were lots of efficiency improvement and code changes related to Monster Companions. In fact, we can actually create working monster companions for testing purposes on the live servers right now. We’re still a ways off from the actual release of the companion update, but v1.58 was a big step forward.

In the Pipeline…

Spiff has been making good progress on his automated Colosseum tournament system. Having regular weekly tournaments is going to be a big deal for the community, and I can’t wait until we get there.

I’ve been tackling Monster Companions, and some of the fruits of my labor may be popping up on the live servers in the very near future. The long-promised battle disconnect saving system that will essentially eliminate the penalty for battle disconnects is next on my agenda.

Last but not least, don’t forget about the official PvP tournament on Zenithia this Sunday.

Jan 112012

With a standalone installer and the flash client on the way, 2012 is going to be a big year for NEStalgia. As we work to exponentially increase the NEStalgia’s player base this year, the game itself will continue to receive lots of awesome new updates and content expansions. The next big update in the works is the previously announced Monster Companion expansion that will enable players to recruit almost any monsters in the game to be their AI controlled allies. For this week’s podcast we did a Q&A about this new companion system based upon player submitted questions:

You can find this and previous podcasts on the NEStalgia Podcasts page and also on iTunes.

Although lots of progress is being made, I won’t be making any big preview blog posts about Monster Companions (or the automated PvP Tournaments that Spiff is working on) until there is something worth showing off. As soon as I have something solid to report, all of you will be the first to know about it.

Dec 232011

Unfortunately my grand plans for THE BEST HOLIDAY EVENT EVAR™ didn’t quite pan out this week. As I’ve talked about (and proven!) many times in the past, one of the pitfalls of a 2 man development team is that when unexpected interruptions pop up for me, everything grinds to a halt. I apologize for not being able to make this event happen in time for Christmas, but rest assured that none of this past week’s interruptions will slow our overall momentum on the much larger and more important Monster Companion/Content Expansion updates.

FYI: A very tiny update (v1.57) with a few fixes/tweaks just went live on all of the servers. It’s nothing to write home (or a blog post) about, but there it is.

I’ll be back after New Years with lots of cool new stuff to show, but until then I hope that all of you enjoy your holidays. Merry Christmas!

Dec 142011

NEStalgia received a mention in the latest issue of PC Gamer!

As most of you know, this past February when we publicly announced the release of NEStalgia we were not expecting to get even a fraction of the media coverage or hordes of players that we ended up receiving. Up until that moment both Spiff and I had always regarded NEStalgia as a fun hobby, but not a serious attempt at making a commercial independent game.

Needless to say, my idea of what NEStalgia was and what it could be changed significantly during the craziness of last Spring. The major changes that you’ve seen in the game since that time have all been part of our efforts to transition NEStalgia from being a hobbyist project into a full-fledged indie game. Although it took much longer than I expected, I’m really happy with where we’re sitting right now and I’m looking forward to what’s next.

AI Controlled Monster Companions

Gameplay-wise, NEStalgia’s last major issue is that partying with other players is sometimes necessary in order to progress through the game (not to mention the fact that solo grinding can be a bit of a drag). This was originally an intentional design decision, but as the game grows with future content expansions it will only exasperate the challenges for lonely solo players. We’ve already announced that the remedy to this issue will be a new AI controlled companion system, but up until now the details have been somewhat sparse.

So, here is an outline of how the companions will work:

  • Any monster that isn’t a boss can be recruited to become your companion.
    • Every monster is at least slightly different. Ex: Red Slimes will have different stats and abilities than Blue Slimes.
  • You can have up to two companions with you at a time when soloing, with some conditions:
    • Only one companion will join you for regular battles.
    • Both companions will join in for boss fights.
  • You can set the general tactics that your companions use, but cannot control them directly.
  • Monster companions will level up and feature their own limited skill trees. They do not have an inventory or equip gear.
  • When partying with other players, your companions will not be active participants in the battle but will instead bestow a variety of passive stat boosts and abilities to increase your power.
    • The passive boosts vary by monster, allowing you to customize your load out.
    • You will always be more powerful when grouping with other players than you are when soloing with your monster companions.
  • Your monster companions are shared between all of your characters, and can be accessed by any of your characters at any time.
    • You will not be able to use a monster that is a higher level than your character. No max level monsters for your fresh level 1 characters 😉

Those are the basics, and I’ll be revealing more details and screenshots in the coming weeks. Remember that the multiplayer aspect of NEStalgia will remain the core of the experience. The primary goal here is to make the game more fun and more accessible for all players without over-complicating things or diminishing the multiplayer focus. Being able to solo through an area when you can’t find human party members is going to make a huge difference for everyone, not to mention the Pokemon-esque fun to be had in recruiting and leveling different monsters.

Becoming a Standalone Game

BYOND is truly an incredible toolset, but it was originally designed around the concept of having all games created with BYOND live within that ecosystem. Although it was a great way for us to get started, in order for NEStalgia to continue growing it needs to shed the BYOND trappings and become a completely standalone game. Luckily for us, the developers of BYOND agree and will be helping us to make that transition in the coming months.

What does that mean? Nothing from a gameplay perspective: the BYOND foundation will still power NEStalgia and the game itself won’t see any drastic changes. What it will likely entail is a standalone installer for the game which drops things like the BYOND pager, and the potential for us to distribute NEStalgia on services such as Steam.

We’re still working out the details, but I can at least assuage fears about one sticking point: NEStalgia won’t be split into a BYOND version and a separate standalone version – all of our existing users will be making this transition with us.

The Flash Client

The Flash Client is still being developed, and so far it works really well. The idea with the flash client is to make the game super easy to access without having to install anything; the client acts as a browser-based portal to existing NEStalgia servers. When it’s ready early next year we’re hoping that it will expose the game to tons of new players, including our neglected but not forgotten Mac OS X brethren!

Content Expansions

Last but certainly not least, we will begin rolling out new content and level cap expansions on a regular basis following the monster companion update. I know that many NEStalgia oldbies are dying for content updates, and I’m hoping that you’ll bear with us just a little bit longer. I’m confident that the results will be worth the wait.

I don’t want to give release projections for any of this stuff yet, but all of you will be the first to know here on the blog when release dates are set. I’ll probably be a bit less visible until January rolls around, but we do have a really cool holiday event in the works that should go live next week.

Although I’m still having a hard time thinking of myself as a game developer or wrapping my head around the fact that NEStalgia has become a real project, I’m incredibly humbled to have such an enthusiastic player base supporting us. As great as 2011 was for NEStalgia, I have a good feeling that 2012 is going to be even better.

Dec 102011

Although I may have been MIA from the blog this week (no podcast again, sorry!), both Spiff and I have been really hard at work behind the scenes. I waded through balance tweaks while Spiff cranked out a ton of bug fixes which went live earlier in the week for a v1.55c update, and he also fixed even more bugs for today’s patch.

So what’s in today’s update? See the giant list of v1.56 changes on the wiki for full documentation, but here are the highlights:

Tons of Skill Tree tweaks

The branch length of many skills have been reduced for all classes, and in most cases this reduction has been coupled with an increase in power per skill point. This change gives players more skill points to play with, and a bit more bang for their buck for each point spent. Due to these tweaks all classes have had their skill points refunded (which is something I hope to not have to do again until the next content update/level cap increase).

Ninja revamp

As promised, Ninjas received the most attention with this patch. Their skill trees have been reworked to put less emphasis on the “+power when outnumbered” skills and more emphasis on being bad ass fighters that dodge attacks and relentlessly pummel their opponents. The most notable examples of this are a new pair of skill branches:

Double Punch (6): +2% chance to hit with a second half-damage blow when attacking

Retaliate(4): +25% chance to counter with a half-damage blow after dodging an attack

New Weapons/Armor throughout the world

We added more than 15 base types of weapons and armor throughout the world to fill in holes where certain classes didn’t have any decent slot upgrades for many levels. Many of these pieces are rare drops, meaning that there are lots of permutations of them available with different stats. As part of this change, several existing quests were also modified to give class-sensitive rewards.

Stat Seed power & availability

In v1.52 all stat seeds had their power reduced from +2 to +1. That change has been reversed, and new “Small” +1 seeds have been scattered around the world (from Ennar forward) as quest rewards and chest drops.

And more…

Did I mention that the v1.56 patch notes are monstrous?

Although I’m sure that there will be some additional minor balance or bug fix patches in the coming weeks, v1.56 is likely going to be the last round of major changes before the new AI Monster Companions and content expansion are released. We’ve also got a pretty sweet holiday event in the works for Christmas time that should sate your appetites for new content over the holidays. More details on all of those updates are forthcoming.

I’ve got a bit of free time this weekend, so I’ll be personally hosting an Official PvP Tournament on Algol tomorrow at 1:00 PM PST. Assemble your level 28-32 teams and sign up here.