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Missions and Escorts and Interface, Oh My!

First up, the continuing Escort Mission and other Deliverator-based developments. As anyone following the messageboard has read, the escort missions are now working fairly well on the Test server. All the bugs should be cleared up by this evening, hopefully.
The Pirate mission is coming along well and should also be working well by this evening (Michael hopes), and then there's some final work on the Hive. So, at present, we're aiming for a tentative goal of making the new Escort/Pirate/Hive stuff "production" (ie, implemented in the Release server) by later this week. That's entirely dependent on what other bugs may crop up and how quickly any issues get solved, but it's our tentative goal.
(Note, anyone who wants to participate in testing on the Test server need only prepend their game login name with "test:".. ie "test:incarnate" for me, sans quotes. The Test server uses an older snapshot of the user database, so it isn't always up to date with the latest subscribers, but we're going to synchronize it tonight).

Secondly, we're happy to report that a whole new framework for easy development of simple missions is in the works (has been for a few weeks) and is producing actual working missions on the Test server. People will no doubt remember the long process of creating the "Mission Editor", which eventually did produce something useful for making missions, but didn't quite work to our expectations and is a bit difficult to use. Work on the true Mission Editor will continue moving along (although right now Ray is primarily focused on the new UI), but as a separate-but-related project we're making a new web-based mission development system.

For a brief, general description, it's a website where you can select different objective types, set parameters, and fill in text. Like, for instance, the only objective we have right now is "kill N bots". So, you select that, specify how many bots and relevant text (in-game mission description), and submit it, and it goes "live" to the test server. This is a simplified description, there's a lot of other parameters for things like faction standing of the mission, what kind of bot you want to attack, so on and so forth. But basically, using this it's possible to create simple missions where you kill bots.

Objectives can also be chained together to create longer missions (Go here and kill X Bad Bots, then go here and kill Y Mean Bots) and so on. Accomplishments can be set based on met objectives, and used to trigger new mission availability, which then permits development of long trees of related missions (like say, an Epic type arc).

The types of missions that can be created within this system will always be somewhat limited by the types of objectives we create (obviously, we want more than "kill N bots", that's just all we have right now), but given the way objectives can be set up and longer missions could be chained.. a whole lot of different storyline "content" could actually be created using a relatively fixed set of mission objectives.

It is our intention to both use this internally for simple missions, as well as opening it up to our userbase on a limited basis (wider access than just Guides, but only paying users who have proven their involvement in the game and general trustworthiness.. there'll be some sort of application and approval process). As people go about creating missions, we hope to get feedback and use that input to build more objective types and add more functionality. We expect the development of the system to be evolutionary.. we'll start out simple, but get progressively more full-featured through the addition of options.

Really complex missions will still either need to be custom made by us, or built in a future version of the mission editor. But this new online mission builder will give us (and anyone else) an easy way to throw together simple missions and immediately try them out in the Test universe. Migration of missions from the Test universe to production will be done on a case-by-case basis (we'll have to come up with a submission/approval process for this too, including merits like storyline consistency, quality of writing and the like).

So, for those who have wanted to get more directly involved with the game, we're happy to say that it's coming.. and we're much more confident in this than with the past Mission Editor, which had the same intended goal.

On a final note, the UI development is going well, Luis has a bunch of new ships in the works for us, and I'm still in the process of improving the existing ships (looks, balance, game, and so on).. so this next Client Release (still no ETA) will be a doozy.. both in improvements and download size.