Cornered Rats

I’ve spent a lot of time ranting about defunct sections of code I have to deal with and something a friend said recently gave me pause.

WWII Online development began in 1999, 8 years ago. The team was based around a core of people who had left the WarBirds project when cornered by Wild Bill to move to North Carolina or find work elsewhere. Cornered Rats fight back.

After launch there were several hard-hitting layoff sweeps. These weren’t pre-emptive culls and so sometimes the baby lost an arm or a leg with the bathwater. There are folks who’ve been let go who’s loss has hurt the company or not benefited it: Mo, Snail, Bloo (thank god he’s back), Thunder…

Some of the early hires were either just not up to the job or insufficiently trained. I can’t tell you which it is, and it doesn’t matter. The mixture of elephant:expert did not allow the expertise the company had to shine and the product launched a shambles. 

Reading my blog and seeing me gripe about whole systems you might get the impression of a system that is utterly inoperable.

But its not like that. This application is a highly complex set of systems. There are naturally very few direct paths, especially in the early ways when the designs wanted so many open doors to future possibilities.

Some of the elephant code isn’t bad, it just does something in particular that isn’t neccessarily what it ought to be.

There are sections of code, data and APIs which are organized just so; in some way they encapsulate everything you could need to know about a system – but you might preclude the possibility of “users” deriving information about your system that is essential to them, either of which leads to duplication.

At the same time, because the code was written in C, they also like to occasionally surprize you with some sneaky API-bypassing backdoor they wrote just to avoid having to ask one of the experts how to get or do something.

This stuff is far from prevalent, though there was enough of this stuff at launch to hamstring the project, and the coders were granted the treatment as artistes rather than as deliverers of quantifiables.

Yet, despite all of that, the people I’m lucky enough to work with (and all of those who’ve worked here in my time) have managed to keep it more than just afloat. At launch, the elephant work might have accounted for 20% of the project and would, IMHO, have sunk any other team.

Now it might be around 5-10% of the project. It just happens to be strategically positioned for maximum inconvenience and getting it out can be a real pain in the ass.

It’s not the highroad on which the game is built, its more like the occasional un-guardrailed, crumbling hairpin of Death Road.

This is an excellent team; I’m honored to be working with these guys, even if the bad they have inherited earns more mention than their own work and the good stuff that ex-Rats contributed.

Martini, Rickb and Ramp are Grade-A programmers, our production team and artists may appear slow and lumbering, but if you factor in the toolset and production pipeline that was seriously elephanted … what they do is quite staggering.

Before I joined CRS, during the last months of beta, I’m on record as saying I didn’t think CRS could pull it off – and the predictions and extrapolations I made were valid, because my sphere of interest overlapped with elephant territory a lot. They didn’t quit pull it off, but they had a power-core in there that mean’t they also didn’t fail.

The elephants are long gone, although sadly some lions too. But you could build some damn fine gaming with these folks. I hope at some point we’ll get the chance to prove it.

12 Comments

Admit it Rafter. It gave you a chubby.

After getting a chance meeting all of you guys and getting to see the Rats “HQ”, I really got to agree with you. Given the ppl that you have and the accumulated talent you posses, it is not surprising that the game is still around. Take into account the things that happened in the past year, everyone there should get a well deserved pat on the back! Larger companies have failed trying to do the same and others have destroyed games after they acquired them.

As you guys weed the old code out, I am confident that this game will just get better and better!

S!

Rafter said emos in 1.27!!!1!

I always take everything you post here as a source of release from the old steam engine. If the original code base was so bad there wouldn’t be a game. It is a testament to the developers who came before, that huge chunks of code have remained relatively unchanged since the release.

After 6 years you have finally started to hit the wall. Improvements demanded by the game’s evolution are starting to demand huge rewrites. The rats just don’t have the deep pockets to put out version 2 like your sony backed EQ that you like to play.

The game is still around because it caters to a niche that noone else caters to. And if it dies it won’t be because of the quality of your code.

As MMOs go it lives as much on its community as it lives on the technology. And what is left of this ‘community’ will never get me to fund their hobby with my subscription again.

Good luck though. I still hope someone may buy out the company, shed it’s playerbase and start over with some of the tech salvaged.

Right now my concern about the future of the game is based on 2 things that have been staples of development since 2001:

1) “big ideas” related to gameplay that are in the 12 month pipeline
2) regular introduction of new weapon classes and weapons.

I’ve not heard about any new “big ideas” that really turn me on (things like mobile spawning, deployment, new capture system ect.)
I’m looking forward to mortars of course but I dont know what is up after that.

I suppose the next big thing might be a new theatre? There may be a way to do North Africa without all the bells and whistles, and STILL have a commerical success.

Trout

Mortars falls in your 2) section Trout.

I agree, what has been added in the last 12 months has generally been fluff, not that has gone in has been fluff, but in general there have been no major leaps in the game in the last 12 months if not longer.

Back when we where in directX mode the cry was to go to OpenGL, we did and where told that things would come thick and fast. As it happens it hasn’t, or rather it hasn’t come as thick and fast as we where led to believe.

My overall view is that the game has stagnated in recent months yet still has huge appeal. I’d be interested in seeing different end game situations. I think ToEs is going to be an interesting time for the Axis, their game style is a lot different to the Allies, specifically teams like KGW who rely on large quantities of overstocking to complete their operations.

I think end game is going to be interesting, the Axis ability to finish off the Allies is going to be increasingly difficult. Especially when multiple brigades get squeezed together on the coast.

The BEF will not be a push over towards the end of the campaign and you can also say goodbye to the invasion of England without a large invasion force delivering armour.

This is where Freighter MSP’s will be vastly important to take the game to the next level.

TOEs can be a big thing, but I think it’ll require CRS to put some active investment into making sure the two HCs use them (or pure luck that they both figure it out) – otherwise it’s the same old thing, but with longer to recuperate between attacks.

The biggest thing this game has going for it is the persistant map and the strategic element being tied to the FPS element. The biggest bottleneck in having that work is the two player-run HCs, so that’s where the maximum possible effort should be put to make things work the way they should. I understand the appeal of having the HCs be purely a by-the-players deal, but the best element of the game is being put at risk when that happens; a risk that may or may not pay off.
I’ve seen a corps level officer that didn’t know how brigade movements work, let alone possible strategies that can tie in with them. Most discussions on the strategic-level game consist of “Attack that”, and we wonder why the map stagnates for weeks on end. There’s really no reason the map shouldn’t move day-to-day with massive thrusts in focused areas, especially once TOEs are finally out, but I don’t see it happening with the current standards, and I think that takes away from the game itself.
I’m not saying CRS should blatently take over the HCs or anything; just require a little quality control and maybe a little more interaction to show that there’s an interest. Honestly, it’s the cheapest investment in game quality that’s available.

Meh, rant off. :)

We’ve been debating whether TOEs will remove AOs. We may want to see, first, whether spontaneous battles will begin to occur between towns without AOs. TOEs add actual value to fighting an enemy.

We certainly need something like AOs to help more casual players find a battle.

I’ve noticed an interesting trend between CRS and the general game industry. In the first few years of WWIIOL it seemed CRS had trouble getting their act together releasing major patches, which appeared to require several sub-patches to get just right and then get all mess up by the next major patch.

While the game industry (the major publishers UBI, EA…etc.) seemed to have their acts together release products, which were throughly tested for the most part and required minor tweak patches in a game market far, far away.

Now a days it the exact opposite as many major publishers seem to push game projects out the door to let the beta-buyers test products for them and then release major patches three-to-six months after release to fix half the issues and anomalies buyers report.

While CRS has gotten better at streamlining patch releases with improved quality control.

The Cornered Rats are pushing their way out from the corner once more after a series of setbacks, and I think they improving with each step to make both our & their game better.

Good Hunting! Drive2xs

TOEs will definitely be an interesting time. I’d hope that both HCs get to trial the tool-set before unleashing it on the unsuspecting customer, I can see a lot of teeth gnashing when entire brigades get routed.

I also foresee a lot of risks being taken, leaving a hole in the front to bolster a defence, the enemy pushing into that town.

Tactics like para fire squads will developer where a brigade will move to assist leaving a hole in the front, in turn paras will be flown into defend towns and push back armour until the brigade can return.

Or alternatively brigades being flipped out much to the annoyance of the player base so they can get more supply into town to defend and give the other brigade a break.

What would be interesting is some form of flow control, so you have 2 BDE and a HQ connected, you can adjust some meters like the gamma meters on the game settings tab that would allow you to increase resupply to 1 brigade while reducing it too another.

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