Patch 1.1.2 was scheduled for today – having gone pretty far down the rabbit-hole with 1.1.0 I want to get back into the habit of aiming for these more regularly. However, we had company today and I didn’t have the time to do the last few things needed. So, it’ll be on the somewhat unusual day of Tuesday instead. It’s largely ‘more of the same’ – balance fixes, general additions, and some more faction expansions. As of next week, I’m taking some well-earned[1] annual leave. I have a conference to go to in the middle of June, in which I will be talking about you guys[2], but aside from that I have much more time than I normally would to spend on things that aren’t ‘keep a roof over our head’ related.

I have other projects I’ll be looking to progress over the summer, but I’m hoping more than anything else to get the strong-holding system to the point where I feel confident in putting it into the game. I suspect there will be another patch before that, another ‘more of the same’ patch, but the one after that will bring with it, if all goes well, a substantial new element to Epitaph game-play.

If you look at the notes for patch 1.1.2, you’ll see it’s pretty meaty – there are no ‘wow’ additions in it, but there are a lot of really solid improvements[3] across the board. I have enjoyed the process of polishing Epitaph so much that the real reason that Strongholds won’t be the headline feature in 1.1.3 is that I just want to do more of this kind of thing. Plus, I’m a little leary of moving into 1.2 (which we will with the strong-holding system) so early after we moved on to 1.1. I suspect in the future that big feature changes will come when I have extended periods of time to sink into development. These polishing patches will come during the intervening months. That might mean moving up a ‘minor’ category every six months or so (that’s the second number), with ‘trivial’ increments every month.

That’s what our patch numbers mean, for those who weren’t aware before – it’s major.minor.trivial in our lib, and those numbers reflect the kind of enhancements we’ve been making. Trivial is perhaps an unfair word for what has characterised around two years of invested effort in Epitaph, but it just means that while there may be new game-play features and systems none of them are ‘this changes everything’ level. No amount of new game-play content will ever justify an increase in the minor level, because it’s not an accumulative thing.

The minor level is where we record significant changes in the way in which things work – Mercurial, Interactions and the Ambiance system are reflective of that. It doesn’t mean ‘everything has changed’, but only that we’ve just put in place a framework that we believe will offer us a difference in kind, more than just a difference in scale. Mercurial and the interaction system will expand and grow to fill that role more and more as we go on – already we’re discussing ways in which we can take advantage of this special new tool we’ve got. Expect to see ‘social interaction’ becoming as significant a game-play feature as combat and crafting as the months and years go on.

The major version – now that one is when we’ve done something earth-shattering. Something that isn’t just a difference in kind, but a difference in horizon. When that number changes, it means that the game is never going to be the same again. The only time in the future I see that number having the chance of changing is when the graphical client is put into production. At that point, we cease to be a purely text game, and also become a graphical game. That is going to, if all goes to plan, send shock-waves through Epitaph both in terms of reaching out beyond the diminishing and incestuous pool of existing text-gamers, and in changing the relationship most of us have with the game on a day to day basis.

In addition to that, the patch numbers also reflect our own internal sense of ‘where we are’. We stayed as 1.0.x software for a long, long time because I never felt like we’d progressed to 1.1. In many respects, what I said above is rationalising after the fact – if I had felt we were a 3.0 game, I would have bumped us up to that and worked out why later. Version numbers are often seen as arbitrary, and in many ways they are – they represent whatever abstract, inconsistent measure of progress that the developers wish. Once upon a time, I had a ‘roadmap’ for Epitaph which consisted of what each of the patches would be and how many would be required to get to 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, 3.0 and beyond. That roadmap fell by the wayside really as I found myself preferring a more agile form of development. Discarding the map meant that I also discarded the versioning regime I had been using.

The number that changes in a patch then reflects a certain sense of expectation, and that in turn focuses a certain amount of assumed pressure on developers. It doesn’t take much in the way of stress to tick over from 1.1.1 to 1.1.2. When you tick over 1.1.0 to 1.2.0 on the other hand, you’re making a more serious statement about just how important this new patch is. A certain degree of expectation management might come along with this. Ticking from 1.0.0 to 2.0.0 – well, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

Mostly though, while these are player-facing determinations, they’re for *our* benefit. They give us a record of what was done and when, and they show when *we* have had a shift in our available toolkit of game systems. The interaction system for example is 1.1 for *us* because it’s a new tool that dramatically expands our flexibility in handling social relationships. You might not see it yet, because it’s not all there and we haven’t leveraged it fully, but trust me – it and Mercurial are bangin’. I have a notepad full of thoughts about how we’re going to use it, from the very obvious (tying it in to responses) to obscure mechanical frameworks (Woe and I are discussing the concept of a ‘social combo’ for example – succeed in a certain combination of interactions against an NPC, and it opens up a powerful social ‘finisher’. For example, /soothe, /soothe, /placate, /soothe carried off in a set amount of time with a set amount of success might unlock the ‘calm’ command which turns an aggressive NPC into a non-aggressive NPC. You can imagine, I’m sure, just how much we could allow through this.

Anyway, sorry to those who might have been expecting the patch today, but the delay this time is only minor. You’ll see it very soon!

[1] In my view, anyway.
[2] As usual, I’ll publish a link to the paper when it’s available. This one is on accessibility
in text-environments, and Epitaph is the case study I use to discuss it.
[3] In my view, anyway. ;-P