Announcements - 2005/02 - Infiltration

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Infiltration


posted on 04-Feb-2005

"Fellow warriors, aid me!"

Lord Kresovus woke immediately. Before he had a chance to register Captain K'rank's call to arms, he leapt from his stone bed and ripped his axe from the wall. The Mattekar Balor - Kresovus' companion these last several years - awoke with a start, scanning their small quarters with great intensity.

Kresovus hurried out of his door and looked down upon the chaos of Linvak Tukal.

For a moment, Kresovus could not make sense of the scene before him. His own people, dozens of them, slaughtered one another in the streets. Fully armored soldiers fought near-naked warriors, as though half of his people had descended on the other half in their sleep. Skulls were split and limbs were severed. The streets were stained with purple blood.

Kresovus studied the action closely. He realized that the reason for the lack of armor on many of the Lugians wasn't that they were surprised in their sleep. When each Lugian met his end, he was promptly resurrected at the lifestone in the corner of the city. Bereft of armor or weapon, that Lugian then leaped back into the fray and resumed his combat.

Was this some form of jest? Were his normally disciplined warriors engaging in mock battles in the streets? Just what was happening here?

One of the Lugians, a rather large one who still wore his armor, looked up at Kresovus. He hefted a massive boulder and threw it. Lord Kresovus dropped his axe and caught the rock, its velocity slamming him against the stone wall behind him. Without pausing to catch his breath, he stepped forward and flung the boulder back down at the offending Lugian. The warrior tried to duck out of the way, but Kresovus had anticipated that dodge, and led his target appropriately. The boulder crushed the Lugian's head. His body dropped to the ground.

Kresovus looked to the lifestone, waiting for the artifact to resurrect the fallen warrior. He waited several seconds, but nothing happened.

The Lugian was not resurrected.

Kresovus studied the battle again. This time he noticed that each time a naked Lugian fell, he was resurrected at the lifestone. But when an armored Lugian fell, he stayed down.

This was no mock battle. This was an assault.

Before he had time to process this fact, he heard footsteps pounding their way up the ramps that led to his quarters. Kresovus picked up his axe and readied himself for the attack. He looked to Balor. The Mattekar crouched low to the ground, ready to pounce at any who might attack his lord and master.

Kresovus tightened his grip on his axe, listening to the dozens of warriors who were now making their way upwards. Would they be friend or foe? And how would he know the difference?

He looked back down at the turmoil below. K'rank - if he could believe that truly was K'rank - swung his axe wildly about, slaughtering a ring of attackers that had descended upon him. Kresovus noted with some satisfaction that K'rank still wore a full suit of armor. No trips to the lifestone for that warrior.

The pounding footsteps were close now. The attackers were on the ramp below. Kresovus exhaled a long breath and prepared to kill.

The intruders rounded a bend and showed themselves. They appeared identical to his own Lugians in dress, form, and armament. But there was something about their eyes...

Kresovus's stomach lurched as he recognized the eyes of Shadow. He forced down the fear in his gut and launched forward. Before the infiltrators had time to react, Kresovus cleaved three of them in two, spilling their guts to the floor. A fourth tried to take him as he prepared another strike, but Balor intervened. The Mattekar leapt over his master and crashed into the attacker, sending him flying to the stone floor below.

Dozens more of the impostors raced upwards, brandishing their gleaming axes before them. Kresovus and Balor fought back their attacks, cleaving gray flesh and knocking warriors downward towards their doom. As hard and fast as the intruders pressed, they could not withstand the stalwart defense of the lord of Linvak Tukal.

When the last of the intruders was dead or gone, Kresovus allowed himself a moment to rest. He bore not one wound, just the aching muscles of battle. He was pleased to see that Balor had fared the same.

He caught movement on the edge of his vision. Kresovus whipped his head around. The hammer crashed into his face and he fell to the floor.

He lay on his back, tears in his eyes. He tried to peer up at his attacker, but his vision wavered too greatly. He heard Balor attack. Kresovus hoped that the Mattekar would be able to distract the attacker long enough for Kresovus to regain his footing. But such luck was not to be had. He heard Balor yelp in pain, then grow quiet. Kresovus' heart grew cold.

He blinked, his head throbbing in pain. He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked up through blurred vision. A gray hulking mass stepped into view.

Kresovus' breath caught in his throat. He looked up at the Lugian. He looked up at himself.

*****



Spring had come earlier than usual. The snows which had so recently appeared were gone just as quickly, though they left behind their frigid chill.

Elysa held her fur-lined robe tightly around her slight frame, bracing herself against the cold air which howled through the open window. Logs crackled and split in the fire behind her, but their heat was not enough to fill this large room.

She thought such large quarters a trifle ridiculous for a mere two people, especially when she thought of the thousands who were forced to cram their entire lives into small apartments and cottages in the world outside. But after the attack that nearly took her life the year before, Antius had asked her to move into the uppermost room of the castle's tallest tower, and refused to relent on his recommendation no matter how often she protested.

The thought of her lover brought a smile to her lips. Throughout all the trials of the previous year, he had been the most steadfast and supportive of all her advisors. He had his doubts about Nuhmudira - as did they all - but in the end he agreed with Elysa's decision and did as he we asked.

"My love, please. You will catch cold over there," he said from behind her. Elysa turned and looked at him. He stood at the other end of their quarters, resplendent in his gleaming Celdon armor. He held his helm in his hands. He was ready for his journey, and only waited for her command.

Elysa stepped forward. Even just a few paces from the window, the heat of the fire grew immensely. She felt her face flush. "Where will you start?" she asked him.

"Yaraq," he answered. "I could use the warmth."

She smiled, eager to travel to warmer climes herself. "How do you expect the people to help? If we can't get a word from him, I doubt they can."

He nodded in agreement. "No, I don't think Carlo will speak to them either. I plan to employ them in another manner." Antius nodded to the sheaf of papers on Elysa's desk. "That excerpt from his journal... there must be more than that. Doubtless, there are pages scattered all over Osteth. Either on the ground or in the clutches of the creatures who live there. If I can convince the people to work together, perhaps they will uncover something that will provide us with more information than what we have."

"A scavenger hunt," she grimaced.

"At this point, my Lady, I don't know what else to do," he replied. "We cannot travel to the northern islands, and Carlo won't speak any more than that gibberish he keeps muttering about 'eating' and 'escaping.' I fear that this plan, flawed though it may be, is our best chance."

She stepped forward and placed her hands on his chest. "I don't disagree with you, Antius. This is the best course of action. I just wish we had more options." She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close.

"My Lady," he chuckled. "I'm just going to Yaraq."

"Yes, I know. But still, I fear. These Lugians that assaulted our vaults, this Viamontian in Rithwic... it seems that no matter how much we fight, some new evil is always just around the corner to threaten our peace." Elysa relaxed her embrace and looked up at him. "If there are more Viamontians here - if they are in hiding - you must find them. I will not be taken by surprise."

Antius nodded. "I will find them. The people will help me find them."

Elysa smiled, though she had to force herself to do so. "Good. But don't promise them much. After that mess with the Burun, we have few pyreals left in our coffers."

Antius laughed, and Elysa's heart lightened. "I love to hear you laugh, Antius. It has been too long since you had cause to."

"Yes. These last few months... they have been hard."

Elysa stared up at Antius, letting her eyes take in the beauty of his face. Recent events had not allowed her much time to simply stare at him and admire his grace. She took these moments whenever she could, and when they were over, she felt renewed - ready once again to take on the trials of the world.

Suddenly, a terrible thought gripped her heart and pushed aside all feelings of peace and renewal. Though death on Dereth was not to be feared as it was on Ispar, Asheron had not completely defeated it. Her own brush with oblivion had proven that well enough. She knew that each time she sent Antius on one of these missions, he might not return. Such was the risk that all her soldiers took. But for some reason, that fear that she might lose him was much stronger now than usual. He was so precious to her, so much more important than her crown or castle. More important even than the people who swore their loyalty to her. If she were to lose him...

Antius seemed to sense her thoughts. He caressed her cheek with a gauntleted hand, then bent down to kiss her. She closed her eyes and let herself fall into that kiss, that kiss which always heralded days apart and nights of uncertainty. She drank in the taste of him and wrapped her fingers through his thick, brown hair. She kissed him as though she might never get the chance to do so again, and let him do the same.

When they parted, she stepped away from him and tightened her robe around herself once more. She had had her kiss. The time for passion was at an end. She was no longer lover to the man, but Queen to the warrior.

"Go," she commanded. "Go, and find out what evil threatens my realm."

"Yes," he bowed. "I will return soon, my Queen."

"See that you do," she replied.

Rollout Article

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Rollout Article


posted on 09-Feb-2005

Amaroth looked down at his flesh. The grey was fading, but the form remained. He noticed that the same was happening to his brothers. It seemed the Master's magics weren't as long-lasting as they had hoped.

Urleg kicked the wounded Mattekar into the cell, then slammed the iron gates. The beast roared and crashed its massive body into the bars, rocking them in their stone moorings. "We cannot keep it here," Urleg growled. "This cage cannot hold."

"I know," Amaroth agreed. "He will be here soon. The beast will be his problem then."

Urleg hefted a boulder, then looked to his brother. "Shoktok is in position?"

"Yes," answered Amaroth, taking up his own weapon. "As should we be. No doubt, Lord Kresovus is rallying the Isparians against us. They will be here soon."

Urleg smiled, clearly relishing the fight ahead. "Excellent."

Many of this month's changes have already been described in detail in the Letter to the Players. Here is an additional topic that we'd like to discuss in detail: Billing Migration

We have some news on the Billing Migration that we'd like to share

  • Forced Migration is scheduled to begin on February 15. At this point all Asheron's Call accounts will be eligible for migration and all accounts must migrate in order to successfully log in to the game.
  • Migration is scheduled to end on March 31.


We are still working on plans to ensure that accounts that cannot be migrated prior to March 31 (if the account owner is overseas or otherwise unable to log in, for example) are not lost. When we have more concrete information on how this process will work, it will be posted on the Asheron's Call website.

Release Notes

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Developer's Notes


posted on 09-Feb-2005

New Content and Functionality

  • Two new tiers of higher wield-req weapons can be found in loot.
  • New dungeons aimed at quick advancement and player combat, the Mausoleums of Hate, have opened on Darktide.


Miscellaneous Changes and Improvements

  • The buy cap on vendors in Holtburg, Shoushi and Yaraq has been raised to one million pyreals.
  • An early thaw has come to Dereth snow has melted and snowmen and scarecrows have left the landscape.
  • Outlying spawns in the Withered Atoll have been reduced in number.
  • Withered Tumeroks no longer spawn with shields.
  • We've fixed a bug that was causing spawn and item duplication in the Umbral Halls and Fortified Sewer Vaults.
  • The War Room portal, part of the Drudge Hot Air Balloon quest, is no longer tied to a quest flag.
  • Some creature spawns that were too close to player housing have been removed.
  • The upper level limits have been removed on the Royal Oil quest dungeons.
  • The Dark Idol can now be used on the new higher wield-req missile weapons.
  • Nen Ai's pet Drudge Skulker will no longer aggro on players who attack a Drudge nearby.


Minor Details

  • The Half-Moon Spear is now destroy-on-sell.
  • The Untamed Siraluun Claw Hairbrush now has the correct name.
  • A typo seen when using the Drudge Flying Machine has been corrected.
  • A typo in one of Leopold's tells has been corrected

Letter to the Players

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Letter to the Players


posted on 08-Feb-2005


Welcome to the February Letter to the Players! Last month in Dereth, unsolicited aid turned sinister. The Lugians who had aided Isparians by constructing Crafting Forges in Holtburg, Shoushi and Yaraq were seen leading monstrous assault troops in an attempt to steal an ancient magical relic. Who are these Lugians; why did they first aid us and then attack us? As Dereth begins to experience an unseasonable thaw, the scarecrows and snowmen no longer wander the landscape. In the new warmth, adventurers seek answers.

By now you've probably seen Executive Producer Jessica Mulligan's most recent Letter. (If not, go read it. We'll be here when you get back.) As she stated, the Asheron's Call team is dedicating all of its resources to making sure that the Asheron's Call: Throne of Destiny expansion pack is as awesome as we know it can be. Unfortunately, this means that February's event will be the last Live Monthly Event until after Throne of Destiny's launch in the second quarter of this year.

For this reason, there is no In-Development or In-Concept section in this Letter. All of our designers, artists and engineers are hard at work on Throne of Destiny. As the launch date approaches, we'll revisit our priorities and resources for the Live monthly events, and come back to you with our plans for the months ahead.

For right now, let's take a look at what's coming next week in the February event!

Coming Soon

(These are items that we plan to implement in the February event. Many of these items were mentioned in prior articles. These changes are in addition to the new quests, dungeons and items that we'll be introducing in the January event.)

Higher Wield-Req Weapons

Coming closely on the heels of last month's new higher wield-req weapons are two new tiers of weapons found in loot! These will include:

  • Melee weapons with wield requirements of 370 and 400.
  • Missile weapons with wield requirements of 335 and 360.
  • Casters with wield requirements of 330 and 355.


These weapons will be found in the highest tier of treasure; this is the treasure found on creatures found in the Valley of Death, Singularity Caul and Withered Atoll; as well as the most challenging creatures in the West Direlands and the Obsidian Plains. This treasure can also be found in other ways as well, including some new surprises we've got for you in this month's event!

The missile weapons and casters will have elemental bonuses rather than increased base damage, similar to the weapons introduced in January.

Each additional tier of weapons has an average damage-over-time increase of 5% when compared to the preceding tier. To clarify, this is a comparison of damage-over-time, not base damage. DOT calculations take into account multiple factors such as speed of attack and damage bonuses from base attributes and (in some cases) attack skill. In addition, the 5% is an average across all weapons – some weapon classes may have a greater or lesser improvement depending on their current DOT.

Mausoleums of Hate

As discussed in the In-Development section of the January Letter to the Players, in February we will be introducing a set of tiered dungeons specifically for the PvP world of Darktide. These dungeons will have multiple entrances scattered across Dereth, and deep within them one can find a means of very rapid character advancement. Those who want to quickly reach a more competitive level of PvP combat should seek out these Mausoleums; those who wish to prevent their foes from quickly advancing should also seek them out, if only to defend the Pillars and Effigies within from being used!

The initial tiers of these dungeons span a range of levels from 20 to 109. Based on player use and feedback, we are working on plans for higher tiers after the launch of Throne of Destiny.

As we have said in the past, these dungeons are intended to benefit the unique gameplay environment on Darktide. Those who seek to test their skills against other players are drawn to Darktide, and they want an opportunity to level the playing field so skill alone is the deciding factor in battle. The Mausoleums of Hate can assist those who can survive within.

Withered Atoll Revisions

Based on your feedback, we have made two changes to the Withered Atoll for February:

  • We've decreased the number of creatures in some of the outlying spawns. This is intended to help those players who are on the very edge of being able to fight effectively in the Atoll and are trying to pull one or two creatures away from the pack. The large camps have not been changed.
  • Tumeroks in the Atoll will no longer spawn with shields.


These are not the only changes that we would like to make to the Atoll; however further changes will need to wait until Live Events start up again after Throne of Destiny's launch.

Social Center Vendor Revisions

As part of our ongoing work on the three Social Center towns – Holtburg, Shoushi and Yaraq – we will be increasing the buy cap on all vendors in these towns. The vendors will now purchase items up to 1,000,000 pyreals. So when you're done hunting, swing by a social center to sell off your excess loot. Who knows what someone else might've sold just before you.

In-Concept

As we've said in the past, all topics previously listed as In-Concept are still on the table for discussion unless otherwise noted in a previous Letter. We've got a lot of plans for improvements to the game even in addition to the fantastic stuff coming in Throne of Destiny!

And there you have it, the changes coming in the February event. As I said, we'll be coming back to you with our plans for the next Live Event well in advance, and your feedback and suggestions are always valuable.

While you're exploring the new February content, be sure to take part in one of the regular Live Events being run by our new Live Event Operators, or +LEOs! Whether you're tasked to chase down a prison escapee or cook a particular type of cake, you never know what you might get as a reward.

See you in Dereth!

-- Ibn

Letter from the Team

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February Letter from the Team


posted on 08-Feb-2005

February, 2005

Ah, much to discuss this time around. Much news, as well as much that is new; this is going to be a long one covering a wide range of subjects. We had intended to post this a couple weeks ago, but several dates had to be firmed up and confirmed with our partners; we wanted to be confident talking about them. So, to paraphrase Bette Davis: "Buckle up, boys; it's going to be a bumpy ride."

DEVELOPMENT PROGRESS

About Throne of Destiny, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is: we have merged the two separate development trees, the User Interface/Graphics Upgrade tree and the Content and Game System tree, into one big honking tree and it works pretty well. Well, for the most part. This merged the new UI code and graphics engine work with the new quests and game systems and much of the new art, so we could debug more effectively.

It also gives us a chance to see just how the new content and systems will react to all that new UI code and graphics engine changes, which scared us a bunch every time we thought it. One of the larger risks of this project, if not the largest, is the sheer amount of old code we've had to touch to get an improvement in the graphics display and make the user interface easier to deal with. In the biz, we call this "legacy code."

Some of the legacy code we're working with is going on eight years old; that's enough to make any sane engineer mad as a loon. As an example, imagine you are an engineer and someone gives you the task of upgrading one of the top ten selling games from 1997, such as Dungeon Keeper or Diablo,* but because you don't have two years of development and six months of debugging to work with, you have to keep most of the underlying code. You need to make sure it works on today's machines, graphics cards and operating systems, which have changed a number of times in those eight years, and that it has a better graphics look to it, but you can't just toss is out and start from scratch, which is what you'd normally do.

And just to add to your joy, imagine some of the previous developers who wrote some of this the code, people long gone from the company, didn't provide frills such as documentation or commenting the code, so that those who followed after would know what those various bits of the code were supposed to do.

Can you imagine the conflicts you'd run into trying to do that? That old legacy code is going to be an issue every step of the way. It can be done; it just has its own set of unique issues with which you have to deal and you never know when something you didn't anticipate is going to rear up and bite you in the butt.

Which brings us to the bad news: We are running into some of those legacy code issues and it is slowing us down. We actually expected to be code complete by now and into nothing but bug fixes; however, because of some of those legacy issues and the need to get them scoped out and fixed right now, we're behind schedule. That's going to affect our release date; more on that below.

And because someone is certainly going to ask: Yeah, we did plan a lot of extra slack time into the engineering schedule long before we began coding, more than I've ever planned into a project before; I'm talking about a full man-year of padding just for legacy issues. We ended up being bit harder than we thought we would by those issues.

RETAIL DISTRIBUTION

First up, you've probably already heard about the distribution agreement with Sony Online Entertainment's Station Publishing. Throne of Destiny will be on the shelves of most, if not all, of the major retailers, not just GameStop and EB. There will be very strong retail support including pre-order boxes, posters, and even shelf and counter displays at key locations.

This is all to the good; it means wide distribution of the game and, we fervently hope, bunches of new players coming in the door for a look-see. To back up the launch, you'll also be seeing advertising in major game magazines and online sites. All this takes time to get in place; for example, advertising, box covers, compositions of the boxes, manuals, et al, takes time to design and approve, then to be duplicated and be ready to go for the gold master. For another, the major mags need everything in place 60-90 days ahead of the street date. All in all, though, this is coming together nicely.

We also have a price cap: We expect the Suggested Retail Price to be at or around $29.99. If the SRP is going to end up much different than that, we'll let you know immediately.

PRE-ORDERS

Right now, pre-orders of the retail package are scheduled to be available about a month before ACTD launches. You'll be able to pre-order at retail software stores and we're offering a couple incentives for doing so. All those who pre-order Throne of Destiny will receive both:

  • A new gem for each character when that characters logs into the Expansion for the first time. This gem is called Asheron's Benediction. It is an eternal, bonded and attuned gem that provides a 10% increase in health for 24 hours. It may be used as often as you wish. If you die, for example, you can reuse it immediately. The effect does not stack; for example, if you use it three times in a short period, you don't receive a 30% increase in health, only the 10% increase.
  • Blackmoor's Favor, a gem that increases Natural Armor by +50 for 24 hours. As with Asheron's Benediction, this gem is eternal, bonded and attuned and is 24 hours per use and may be reused immediately at any time. Again, the effect does not stack.


These items will automatically be dropped into the inventory of every character when they log in. If there is no inventory slot available, the game will just hold onto it until the character logs in with an open slot.

Since the gems are bonded and attuned, they won't be tradable; they'll only be useful to the character they were given to originally. Essentially, we're handing out perma-buffs, two of them if you pre-order, one if you just buy the expansion when it hits the shelves.

TESTING: CLOSED PLAYER BETA COMING UP

We're ready to start inviting more people into the testing. Beginning next week, we're going to start offering invitations to some players to be involved in the first round of closed Beta player testing. We've had plenty of requests to be involved and we thank you for those; later on, we're going to throw open the doors to more people for load testing. However, for the first round of player pounding, we're going to stick with a core group of about 300.

So, if you don't receive an invitation for this first round, don't worry, you may get a chance to preview it later on. There will be a pretty hefty download involved, around 400 MB; you've been warned. You'll also need an active account on the Turbine Billing system to be part of the test or preview. If you haven't yet migrated your account and want to be involved with the test or preview, now is the time, :D.

Right now, we're currently deep in internal testing. On the front lines, we now have a larger dedicated team assigned from QA exclusively to the Throne of Destiny project, including a couple senior testers with years of MMO testing experience that we stole made the move to Turbine from a competitor. We also have large external teams standing by to do hardware/software compatibility and performance testing on the CCC builds; the sheer number of hardware configurations among personal computers boggles the mind and we have to test as many as we can. For example, every test that is performed on a computer running Win XP with an Nvidia card has to be completely duplicated on a computer running Win98 with an Nvidia card, and then on a PC running Win98 with an ATI card... you get the picture. This takes literally thousands of hours.

As you might imagine from the Development section of this letter, we're spending quite a lot of time on graphics upgrade and UI issues. Sometimes, the bugs we see can actually be pretty funny. Check out the screenshot of a data bug from an older build. We wanted to check that the building texture redraws from our art outsourcer were lining up and degrading properly, so we put them in an old ACDM tree for a quick look. The buildings ended up looking like they were designed by crazed tuskers:

Letter to the Players 2005-02 1.jpg

Thankfully, this was one of those bugs that can be – and was – easily fixed, though it had us scared for a few minutes.

HARDWARE

The test hardware for the player betas is being set up and burned-in now. This will be a new world, matching the number of servers and the software set-up of our current worlds, so we can get an accurate measurement of how the server-side of this expansion is working. Testers will be accessing it from the Turbine launcher with a special build of the game.

While this isn't directly related to the expansion pack, I want to discuss hardware in general. As most of you know, when we bought the game back from Microsoft, we inherited the old equipment used to run the game – servers, routers, hard drive arrays, et al – as part of the deal. Some of those servers are seven years old and are starting to act funky; remember the SQL servers that died last year? Some of these funky-acting game servers are bound to start failing soon; hey, you'd keel over, too, if someone kept you working for seven years straight without a break.

We've been replacing hardware as it fails, but we're going to accelerate that process a bit. We can't replace everything all at once; my budget doesn't allow spending the millions needed to do that. Our current short-term plan is to replace the seven or eight machines that are showing signs of senility and all the machines on two worlds with fresh hardware. Then we'll take the old machines that still work adequately and distribute them among the other worlds to A) help increase performance and B) act as a safety net in case one or more machines on a world dies.

After tossing out the senile machines, this should result in at least two extra servers on every world still using the old hardware and, in most cases, three of them. If we can recover the senile machines without having to rebuild them (trying to find parts for seven-year-old quad processor servers is about as easy as finding a politician at an honesty contest), we'll add them in, too.

Our NetOps crew has much of the equipment in hand and we're hoping to get this done before the expansion launches (everyone send good vibes, please; those guys are so overworked that it isn't even funny). When we do make the replacements, the two worlds that are getting the fresh equipment will be down for most of a day while we transfer the databases; we'll give you plenty of advance notice on that.

Which worlds, you ask? This question scares me, because everyone is going to want the fresh machines for their main world and we can't please everyone. One world is an obvious choice: Darktide. The nature of the combat on that world is such that it makes sense to have it running on our best hardware, so Darktide will be getting one of the makeovers. As for the second world: we'll look over the logs and make a choice based on a number of metrics, including the number of active accounts and overall use. If two or three worlds are close on those metrics... I don't know, maybe we'll hold a raffle or take bribes, :D.

AND WHAT YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW...

So, one might ask, just when will the expansion pack ship? If you've read this far, then you know we're running behind where we wanted to be and that player testing is starting late. And we want to have a meaningful round of player tests, so that we can have multiple iterations of the test/debug/retest process and catch everything we can before the launch. It doesn't make much sense to do that until we've run our own tests internally and with third party compatibility and performance testers to fix the obvious bugs. On top of that, we need to turn out the master duplication disc (the "Gold Master" in game-dev jargon) at least one month earlier than the launch date, so the game can be pressed onto discs, slipped into boxes and trucked to the stores in time to hit the shelves.

To make a ship by the end of March, which would be in our original ship range of the first quarter, we would have to make that Gold Master sometime in the next two weeks. Folks, we're just not ready to do that. Based on that, we're pushing out our original ship range of "1st Quarter 2005" to May. Our target date is May 11 and we're basing all our testing, manufacturing, box distribution to retail, marketing and PR schedules on it (as some GameStop customers know from last Friday's posting at the GameStop web site). This is a six week push from the end of the 1st quarter, but we think it is absolutely critical that we have a chance to react to as much player feedback as we can before we launch.

So, please accept my apologies for the delay, but I hope that you understand– and believe that you do understand – the necessity of it. I think we'd all rather take the extra time than ship too early.

The really tough news here – certainly the toughest to talk about – is that the delay has other consequences. To have a reasonable chance of fixing the bugs that come up in testing and polishing the content based on tester comments, we need all hands looking at and reacting to bugs and comments between now and the Gold Master date in mid-April. On top of that, now that the development trees are merged and all testing is being done in the environment we're going to ship to retail, we can't complicate matters by adding more non-expansion pack content to the development; we're pushed for testing time as it is.

So if you haven't guessed it already, the tough news is this: For the first time in the five-plus year history of the game, after 52 free monthly episodes that make up the equivalent of eight or nine expansion packs you'd normally buy at retail, we're forced to skip not just one, but two of them. That means there will be no episodes for March or April. The expansion pack will launch in May with new content for all character levels and we'll resume our normal episode schedule in June.

Yeah, we don't like it any more than you do; we love doing the monthly episodes and feel it is part of the game's charm and appeal. We just don't see any other option if we're to ship the expansion pack in May with a reasonable chance of not having it blow up in our faces. To help pick up part of the slack, we're going to greatly increase the number of live events on all worlds throughout February, March and April, running multiple events during both the day and evening hours and for all character levels.

So there it is, all the news to date: the great and the good, the bad and the ugly. I apologize again that we weren't able to get all this out to you earlier, because some of it is truly great news, like the hardware replacements and pre-order gems. I hope you'll bear with us for that lapse and have patience with us as we prepare to ship this truly humongous effort of an expansion pack to the stores.

Jessica Mulligan

Executive Producer/Creative Director, Asheron's Call

* See http://www.csoon.com/top10097.htm for a list of the top 100 games of 1997.
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