CM diary #15 - 10/16/2021

Hello, hello!

Rather poor timing, this is. This will be the last diary before the 30th, so it’s too early for early patch notes – but, if all goes well, the patch will have just released by next time. Unless some unforeseen development truly calls for another one. But even then, diaries shouldn’t serve as emergency announcements, no?

So, I figured I’d use this entry as an actual diary, where I delve into a subject I feel is worth pondering. Then we’ll move to your own questions, of course, for there are a few recurring ones to go into.

But be warned, this one is quite long and reflects a part-time author’s sensibilities that many people may understandably find silly. Should you not much care for plots in an ARPG then, you may kindly skip to the confession chapter below.

Now then.

The Stonehenge that never was

Dear diary,

It was probably last weekend when, for the first time, out of sheer luck, I stumbled into a trove of old quest strings for… Stonehenge. A few different subjects overlap here, so let me first explain why this is important in itself.

For one, Stonehenge aside, we’ve been sitting on other unreleased FSS material for a good few years now. Mainly recorded lines, NPC names, what have you. These had left some of us wondering; what exactly was FSS intending to do storywise, after the Sydonai cliffhanger? We’ve analyzed and discussed these lines and clues manifold, trying to decipher them as we moved to expand the game’s world ourselves. You see, any proper continuation of established material needs to account for what came before, and storytelling calls for consistency; did it make sense for Broker to become a Truth in Global? For many it probably didn’t, because it both deviated from his original presentation and had him bypass the conventions all the other Truths abided by. That’s a subjective view, of course, but there’s an objective metric behind it. It explains why some players couldn’t suspend disbelief there, myself included.

In this case, then, we had remnants of incomplete conventions. Sometimes, standalone lines without full context. Let’s assume they’re recorded lines of Oarf, confessing to Arphaun’s murder. Here, lacking context, we need to examine the characters and figure out the possible plotline that leads to this event. We can certainly leave it alone and buried, as it never surfaced before, but wouldn’t that be a waste? Or, a step further, how could we use Oarf ourselves, still abiding by his established character as a foolish merchant but disregarding the plot points his writers had left behind for him to go through – ones we now knew are there to use? How could we use Arphaun, at that, knowing that FSS intended to kill him off this way?
…they didn’t, this is but a daftly stretched example.

For more grounded, clear-cut examples, let’s assume we’re indeed expanding the story ourselves (which we very slowly are); does Murmur appear or not? Do you fight him, at that, like Global opted for? What does the Broker say and do? Did Emerra live or die? Those are questions that, ideally, we’d rather have FSS answer than answer ourselves – or at least have our answers reasonably match theirs. Yet, if we decided to bring back Emerra, or reference the event, or even leave it unreferenced, we’d still be expanding on events that were not ours to expand on. These kinds of choices, many of us feel, are not our own liberties to take – at least not with deliberate, blatant disregard for the creators’ vision. FSS had taken tremendous care with this story, and altering it without at least trying to understand their own vision for the future would be a mistake. I know I personally objected to Global’s alterations of the story, for reasons best discussed another day, so I do not want to follow in their footsteps… except I already was, unwittingly, with the new Stonehenge quests.

That’s the second issue – we’ve been adding Stonehenge material of our own, as well as pondering your own feedback. Here, of course, the narrative meets the gameplay. Do Stonehenge-exclusive drops carry their weight? Does Wake Hallow stay or leave? Is the 5x5 farming method to stay or be fixed? Does Moloch warrant a buff or new drops? Is it logical that he serves as a Retrainer source? Considering these questions as we modestly tried our hand at populating the station was indeed a lengthy process, and it’s still not done. But it always relied on the truism that Stonehenge was a blank, standalone, headhunting canvas, and could only ever be that.

Well why the lengthy introduction, I hear you ask; what do the strings say anyway? Well, pretty much everything. You see…

breath

Stonehenge was to be a proper sequel.

Storywise, they answer the question of Emerra’s fate; they expand on Murmur’s plot; they explain what purpose Stonehenge serves, and map the player’s journey through it. As they do, they explain where many of our FSS leftover files were supposed to fit.

Gameplay-wise, they explain where Stonehenge fits into the game. You see, this odd mechanic of an entire storyless expansion being randomly, unceremoniously accessible from a portal in Templar Base, at level 15 at that, was always inexplicably there. Even in Global, where, to their credit, the expansions lined up into a coherent story, Stonehenge was left out, still with no NPC to tell one. Well, these explain the former oddity, by revealing there was an actual plan A that never came.

The gist of both is, Stonehenge was to be a proper sequel. It would immediately follow the events of the main storyline, and become the next frontier. There, the player was to face entire acts, not random unexplained headhunting nests, each with their own mechanics and relations to the overall plot. The story would conclude with Moloch, and then promise more humanity-saving, heroic deeds. A promise for a future after this future past.

So I’m left to wonder why. Presumably, FSS had stretched thin under a ticking clock. As they did, they scrapped their vision for the main campaign, perhaps faced with the implementation issues that follow. So, they released the barebones Stonehenge that they had, as a detour instead of a destination. They, understandably, opted for some immediate use of the assets at hand, implementation be damned. Skip to 2021, and that’s the version we’ve always known.

So what?

Now, why does all this even matter? It does, if we’re to do anything with it.

For me, this strikes a few personal chords. It confirms much of what I assumed those prior files meant, even if through including Stonehenge which I had never considered. It informs my writing for future content, and how I’ll suggest using any leftover files from now on. It puts my quests for the area to shame, frankly, as I now know how many NPCs and story threads were meant to be there, where my 3 goofball characters will now reside.

Still, never mind me. This is material left behind by the Architects, which we like to see unearthed. Some, if not many, players surely appreciate this discovery too. So, what can we do with it?

Very little, sadly. The plot aside, realizing this entire expansion would take gargantuan work, which we likely can’t afford. It includes mechanics which are barely there, and calls for events we can’t currently replicate. Even presentation-wise, we can’t produce cutscenes comparable to those legendary ones of old, so we wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

But, most curiously, even assuming we manage to produce it, we can’t quite implement it… because the game has already been live this way for years. Assume we place it after Sydonai, in Normal mode, at level 30, where it intended to be; what happens to lv15-20 players who are now parked there, and suddenly find themselves in an area they were not supposed to be in, after a story they haven’t concluded? For that matter, what happens to the level curve? If concluding this unlocks Nightmare, the player will have vastly outleveled half of Nightmare’ enemies by the time they’re done. What happens with its own Nightmare version, frankly, which the station now doesn’t have, when the existing St. Paul’s already pushes lv60 on lv50 players? To stall for (development) time, presumably, but regardless.

So, I pose this overarching question to you. What can be done with this material? I evidently don’t have the answers, but hopefully some of you brave survivors do.

Confess, confess!

Now, on to your questions then. That is, the questions I’ve been getting on Discord, and ones that pop up in some such form on public channels.
Consider this a mini Q&A, if you will, that might benefit those brave enough to have read this far. Or those cunning enough to have skimmed through and jumped to this section, I suppose.

Q: What about the skill planner?
A: This is a longstanding issue, which we can’t currently tackle ourselves. If you’re a coder, or know someone willing to work on it, kindly contact Omerta here or on the project’s Discord.

Q: What about X longstanding bug?
A: “Eventually” is the best I can do, I’m afraid. Hellgate’s innards make less than perfect sense, as we’ve all come to find over the years.

Q: Will there be early patch notes?
A: I really can’t say. Those of us available are spending every waking hour working on the patch, but we’re still not fully past its hurdles. So we can’t release patch notes early, unless we’re 100% done with what they include.

Q: How big is this patch anyway, and why has it taken so long?
A: We’re now on our 8th page, more or less. It’s taken so long because we ambitiously ventured forth into areas unknown, which offered new developmental beasts to slay.

Q: What’s going on with those other expansions?
A: Pretty much on hold, I’m afraid, due to time and manpower. They will see the light of day someday, but I can’t say when that will be.

Q: What about X request that hasn’t made it in this time?
A: Well, I’d normally promise that we’d get to work on what we’ve missed with this batch the next day after this one goes live. But this has been so draining I really can’t tell; we’ll definitely address any bugs, glitches, and what have you with a hotfix if need be, but we’ll also finally need a break. I know I will, at the very least.

Q: What about that midgame Retrainer?
A: Yes, the time has come. This patch brings a new journey, which calls for second chances. So yes, this popular request has been granted.

FIN

And now, having written an unsettlingly long textwall on a niche subject, I may return from whence I came. I sincerely hope you found this break from the established diary tone interesting, and I am looking forward to any and all discussions that may come from it.

Until next time, all the best :slight_smile:

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