We’re still a couple of months out from 1.0, but I wanted to make today’s post about what’s coming up in the next few months. Think of it as our 4 minute warning, except instead of four minutes it’s more like ten weeks. Instead of being vapourised by Russian ICBMs you are going to be dropped head first into a zombie apocalypse and left to fend for yourselves. The weeks ahead of us look very short indeed, but we’ve gone a very long way from what’s there on live to arrive at what we have now in development.
Epitaph 1.0 won’t be perfect by any stretch of the imagination – it will be full of typos, it will be full of bugs. I can’t definitively say it won’t cause cancer. Sterility is a real danger. Around 20% of the people who play may receive a sinister phone call during which a whispery voice will say ‘seven days’ and hang up. Basically, Epitaph 1.0 will be what the version suggests – ‘finished but not battle tested’. It’ll mark where we stop being a development MUD and start being a live MUD. It’ll mark where a continuing appreciation of player time and investment must begin. Epitaph 1.0 will see the last ever player wipe – after that, if we screw up we’ve got to fix it properly rather than just pouring bleach down the drain. From Epitaph 1.0, your characters will be safe. Your progress will be guaranteed, as best we can. The time you invest with us will be *valued* by us. But what you won’t get is a completely smooth experience. Epitaph 1.0 is launch day – when was the last time you saw a AAA game with a multi-million budget make a flawless dismount from the development bars? We have a much smaller team and an infinitely smaller budget – we’re going to stumble a bit when we dismount.
So, what do we have lined up for you in 1.0? Well, a gigantic amount of content really. Patch 0.5.2 was on September 1st, which wasn’t really all *that* long ago – but it’s crazy how much more stuff we have in 1.0. We’ve added in a pile of new areas, most of which are outside the city of Dunglen. We’ve got castles, arctic research bases, Scottish islands, far flung observatories and more. To stitch all this together we’ve got a new exploration system and a taxi system. Some of those areas will be available to everyone, some will be available only if you have the right factional allegiances. The major faction you choose to align yourself with takes on major importance in 1.0 – in many ways it defines what subset of the game is yours to play through. You’ll get quests related to that faction, as well as quests related to bringing down other factions. Joining up with a major faction opens up other factions too, each of which with skills to teach you.
I mentioned quests there – I should point out that Epitaph 1.0 brings a few more your way. How many more? Oh, I wouldn’t like us to brag but – ONE HUNDRED. ONE HUNDRED new quests. By the time we actually release, it might even be more. Bear in mind these aren’t WoW style grind quests either. There are games that have been open for years that don’t have anything close to the amount of quest content we have. I’m genuinely blown away by the work that has gone into this by myself and the other creators here. Not every quest will be available to every *character*, but they will be available to every player via alts in other factions. As I say, faction choice starts to make a difference here on in.
Much of the work over the past few months has been in smoothing out the playing experience and making sure advancement is fair and sustainable – that’s a huge part in being able to make the promise of ‘no more player wipes’. I think the advancement is roughly at the speed with which I’m happy now, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on it as we open. Few things are as vital to overall balance as the risk/effort/reward ratios.
Our new dynamic help system really supports the tractability of the game too – even now sometimes advice pops up and I think ‘huh, I’d forgotten that you could do that with that object’. There are hundreds of help entries that pop up contextually as you play through the game, and I think they do a great job in managing the complexity of the world. There’s a huge amount of very intricate content in Epitaph, and being able to navigate it is important. We could dump it all on you in the newbie area, but I much prefer to parcel it out a little more.
It’s not all just refinements and new areas though – we also have a few new game systems that you may enjoy. We’ve added a remote hacking system that I think is a lot of fun. We’ve got new commands – a good few of them in fact. We’ve got new kinds of items and new ways of managing the core activities of the game such as scavenging. We’ve got half price cracked ice and miles and miles of carpet tiles. Check out http://drakkos.co.uk/patches.c?type=details&id=0.9.5 and tell me it doesn’t look awesome. Go on, I’ll wait.
I have said many times in this blog in the past that 1.0 represents a start point rather than an end point. We’re already thinking about Epitaph 1.5 and what we’re likely to have in it. My expectation for the future is that you can expect minor patches on a monthly or weekly basis (bug-fixes, almost exclusively) with more moderate patches twice a year. Major patches (Epitaph 2.0) will come along less frequently – I’d like to say every year but I don’t want to commit to that just yet. 1.0 is also going to mark the start of the Epitaph Federation project. A big part of what we can do after releasing is actually look to see how difficult it is to make a ‘non Epitaph’ version of the Epiphany mudlib. We could have released a mudlib at any time of course, but I don’t believe a mudlib has much value unless it’s battle tested. If you can’t point to a successful MUD and say ‘that was built using this technology’, then as far as I’m concerned a lib just has speculative value. You discover so much of the strengths and weaknesses of a lib from building a game that it’s not even funny. Even now, in the last few months before we release, I’m continually tuning the mudlib to fix bugs, reduce code complexity and empower game features. I expect that work to intensify considerably come release.
What we *can* do once we release though is point to a full game and say ‘Made with Epiphany’. Having proven that a game, and a very rich and detailed game at that, can be developed using our engine we need to look at refactoring it internally. There’s a lot in the lib that assumes a certain kind of game. We assume in the lib that you’re working with zombies, for example. We assume your world is one in which hacking computers makes sense. We need to start abstracting that kind of thing – you might get the hacking mechanics as part of the lib but it should be trivial to ‘reskin’ it so that it looks like anything. You might go through the same basic pattern, but there’s no reason why the player shouldn’t think of it as ‘reading a pirate map’ or ‘dispelling hostile magic’. We’re not set up for that in the slightest at the moment. Many libs get around it by cutting out ‘game specific’ content. I don’t want to do that since my plans are somewhat different. I don’t want a general Epiphany mudlib people can download. I want a federation of MUDs all working on the exact same code-base so that the work we do on the lib is of benefit to everyone. That needs a different approach, and it’s one that we’ll start thinking about seriously after 1.0 is live.
Our plans for 1.5 aren’t especially firm yet, but we’ve been tossing around some plans and ideas and already it’s sounding pretty exciting. 1.5 will see the Epitaph instances (which we’re calling Narratives because we have a different philosophy in mind than the usual WoW slaughterfest). It’ll see us refine some of the systems we’re leaving out of 1.0 and bringing them back into the game in a more coherent way. It’ll likely see the introduction of some form of teaching system (although it won’t be like the DW system). Excitingly, it’s almost certainly going to include some mechanism for ‘crafting’ intellectual property. Being able to code runnable computer programs is almost certainly going to be a developed feature, but you might also see the ability to craft novels, textbooks, blog posts, social network interactions and so on.
That’s the kind of thing we’re hoping to be able to put together on a regular basis for Epitaph even as we’re working on the meatier content of the major updates. I hope this all sounds as exciting to you as it does to me. It’s time to start generating a bit of buzz around our opening to make sure that everyone knows we’ve navigated the treacherous waters of MUD development and actually made it to our destination. That fact alone marks us out as something extraordinary, which is something I’m sure the hundreds of people working on MUDs of their own can attest.
For a’ that and a’ that, it’s coming yet, for a’ that!
 Is that all? AaaaaAaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaa
 Assuming no slippage. It’ll be done when it’s done, but I still feel reasonably confident that we’ll be ready for the end of July. No later than the end of August. 2015 at an *absolute* maximum.
 We’re a volunteer MUD, don’t expect us to have a customer service department.