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This article was written by the god Dentin, and posted on January 04, 2012.

2012 Was...

As the head admin of Alter Aeon, my year in review revolves around the things I did and saw as an admin. These are the things that I found important when I looked back over the past 12 months.

For 2012, the big things in my mind were:
  • DClient improvements, including a ton of audio and new sounds. This was way more work for me than it sounds.

  • Warrior finally getting a proper complement of combat skills.

  • Bug fixes. Oh so many bug fixes, and a similarly huge number of new player improvements.

  • Vast improvements for low and mid level players, including a ton of new spells and skills, reorganization of the islands, and new island areas.

  • Getting accounts and SSL support working. It's easy to toss together a crappy, insecure account system. Ours isn't that. I'm pretty proud of how it's put together and how it works.

  • Mush-Z updates and improvements. I didn't personally have much involvement in this other than to provide support to Kurek/Oriol, but what he did with that support is pretty amazing.

  • The addition of level 36, and a lot of new high end spells and skills to really help fill out the classes.

So many changes were made and so many new features added that it's almost impossible to list them all. You can get a detailed code changelog for the year from the mud webserver at the following link:

http://alteraeon.com:8080/changelog/1414-1632

Keep in mind that this only shows mortal visible changes! Even more stuff went on at the immortal level, primarily changes to global infrastructure to allow for levels above 36 and additional classes.

Now, for some question and answer from the players.

Player Questions About 2012

Q: What was the biggest bug/glitch of the year and how did you manage to get it fixed?

The biggest, most irritating bug wasn't mine. The main Alter Aeon server runs on a pretty beefy VPS, and at the start of the year we kept seeing lag spikes, sometimes over a minute long. After a lot of work and a lot of debugging time, I finally figured out what was going on: the VPS would sometimes just 'go out to lunch' on filesystem operations, and occasionally it took a very, very long lunch.

It turns out that there's at least one bug either in the Linux kernel or in the Xen hypervisor regarding file timestamps. If you do back-to-back read/write/read/write disk I/O, neither the kernel nor the hypervisor will cache the timestamps or data properly. As a result, you end up waiting on real, spinning physical magnetic media, and because you're going through two I/O schedulers, waiting on that media can take a long time. A really, really, abnormally, buggy kind of long time.

(As a side note, I've also seen conditions where the hypervisor I/O goes out to lunch and flat out does not return - ever. The only solution in that case is to hard kill the process, which quite probably orphans the I/O request somewhere in one of the two operating systems. There's also at least one I/O page duplication issue which may be symptomatic of the same kernel bugs.)

Since these are kernel/hypervisor bugs, there's basically nothing I can do about them other than try to avoid triggering them. And avoid we have: I put in a lot of time this year to split up saves and cache file data locally in the server instead of going to disk for it. Our lag times are down to reasonable values that happen infrequently enough as to not be a real problem.

We're going to be moving up to a new version of Xen and the Linux kernel some time this year which will hopefully take care of the issue permanently.

The second most irritating glitch of the year is one that as far as I know doesn't cause any major problems: the bogus 'ref count' orphaned character bug. I've been seeing this bug create notifies for over a decade, and in the last few months I added a ton of special debug and switched global reference counts to 16 bits wide. I haven't seen the bug since, but that doesn't mean it's fixed.


Q: What change were you most happy with this year?

I'm probably most happy with the warrior skill tree reorganization and improvement. I've always felt that warrior was skill anemic, but the last thing I wanted to do was just dump in a bunch of cookie-cutter combat skills that all did the same thing. With the additions that were made, we now have a warrior skill at every level except 31 and 34, and there's pretty close to one useful combat skill at every warrior level up to 11.

Given that warrior is by far the most popular class for new players to select, I'm glad that we've finally got interesting combat skills for newbie warriors to use.

My second most favorite change of the year has to be obscure spells. I love having a safe place to dump deprecated and less-than-useful spells and skills. I'm glad candle and crystal coat are back in the game, but safely out of the path of newbies who might actually spend practices trying to learn them.


Q: What change did you plan on implementing this year but either ditched or still have planned?

Paladin and/or druid classes. Going into the year, I was pretty well convinced that I could make a paladin class work, that I had enough material for it and that it wouldn't cross over into warrior. I had planned to get either paladin or druid running by the end of the year.

Instead, I got talked into fixing the warrior class first, and a decent chunk of the paladin material ended up in warrior. So, for now, paladin is off the table. Druid (shaman as Draak prefers to call it) will be the next class, and I think it's pretty reasonable to try for a 2013 target on it.


Q: What do you think is currently the pain-point for the classes?

I think this question is too general, and I don't really know how to answer it. About the only answer I can think of that might fit is that I feel thief is an abnormally difficult class to play compared to the other four classes.


Q: What do you think is currently the pain-point for new players?

There are two new-player pain points: learning to play in the first five minutes of the game, and bridging the gap from Vemarken to Indira. The first five minutes are always hard, and while we've made a lot of improvements this year, we've only seen small gains there.

The 'level 10' gap as I like to call it is a different problem. Prior to reaching Vemarken, and even through the False Temple, the quest line and areas are all pretty linear for new players. Once they hit Vemarken, multiple quest lines open simultaneously, and there are many different nearby locations to go to. The linear path the new players have been following suddenly becomes a flower with ten available forks.

I don't really have a good idea on how to handle this yet that doesn't involve doing major reconstructive surgery on Vemarken. Probably the best way to handle it would be to put some kind of quest forking in Pellam to make the transition from single quest to multi-quest less abrupt. Definitely just ideas at this point.


Q: What do you think is currently the pain-point for mid-high level players?

There are two pain points for mid and mid-high level players - the 'level 18' gap, and the 'level 25' gap. There's a real lack of transition zones between Kordan and Archais, where Kordan is largely too easy, and Archais is too difficult. We've been able to improve that quite a bit with the addition of Seaside and the archipelago, but there's still a noticeable gap, especially if you don't know where to go next.

The level 25 gap is actually two smaller subgaps, one at around level 23 and one around level 27. The short answer is that there's simply not enough areas to really do those levels justice. The only real fix is to continue adding areas to Archais to fill out those level ranges.


Q: What do you think is currently the pain-point for game in general?

New players. Newbies are the lifeblood of the game, and while I've been putting in a lot of features to help keep long-time players excited, the game can't grow with out new players coming in.


Q: Are you happy with where PvP is?

Pretty much. It gives no bonuses over regular play and players can't do permanent damage to each other. The arena and other temp pk options give a way for players to test themselves against each other, but not in a way that is so important that ego and the stupidity that comes with ego has to get involved.

I understand that some people want more. I understand that some people really only get their kicks from proper PvP, or PvP with risks and losses. I understand that some people want hardcore or PPK modes.

Alter Aeon is not for those people. Those people are welcome to play on some other game that is not Alter Aeon. I will not support them.


Q: What features would you implement right now if you had a hyperbolic code time chamber?

I would vastly improve the DClient and finish splitting the server and library code into reusable pieces I could use to construct multiple games.


Q: How do you feel about the current progress with the mud?

I was pretty unhappy with it from May to September, because it seemed like no matter what I did, we just kept losing players. But the last quarter has seen us come out of it, and I'm shocked at the success of December. I think I might actually sortof understand how PR and marketing work now.

So at this moment, near the turn of the year, I'm pretty happy with it. If we keep growing, or at least don't shrink, I'll continue to be happy.


Q: How long do you think Alter Aeon will be around for?

My current plans include maintaining AA for at least the next ten years, through 2025 or so. It may be obsolete or a museum by then, or perhaps it will have grown and changed into something else. If it's obsolete, maintenance on it will be pretty easy. If not obsolete, it will be because we have a lot of awesome people working to keep it together and up to date.


Q: What kind of major game changing improvements have you made to the mud in 2012?

Mostly filling out the skill trees for Warriors, adding level 36, and making tons of newbie fixes. The newbie and mid level fixes are really hard to point at and say "this is important", but a hundred minor things can sometimes be more powerful than single items which seem much bigger.


Q: Is the game now, as you thought it might be, when you began?

I didn't have any thought on what it might be at this point in time. I really only thought 2-5 years in advance when I started, along the lines of "I'll try this for a few years, and it will probably end up looking like Hidden Worlds." In my mind, it still looks like Hidden Worlds, only better in pretty much every conceivable way. (In reality, I know it's not even remotely similar to Hidden Worlds, but old memories die hard.)

I didn't expect that 2-5 years would become 20, but if I had been told I'd see Alter Aeon through it's 20th birthday, I wouldn't have been surprised.


Q: What is the one thing you most regret changing or implementing with or on the mud?

This would probably be the whole concept of magic resistance. There are a number of things I probably shouldn't have added at all, but this one is the worst, and has been the hardest to remove because a lot of mobs depend on it.

For 2012, there isn't really anything. If I find that new things aren't working out the way I want them to, I generally just change them or remove them before they become a big problem. It's hard to regret things you've fixed.


Q: Does your family know about alter? If so, do they support your endeavor?

Yes, I'm pretty sure that my whole family knows, and they seem to think it's pretty cool. I've never had a problem managing money or taking care of myself, so they don't worry that I'm wasting my time or forfeiting my future. It's also hard to be condescending when someone tells you that they run one of the largest blind and visually impaired MMO servers on the planet.

Player Questions About the Future in 2013

Q: How do you intend to expand the userbase in the near future?

Events, public relations, and possibly some advertising. Advertising is a very shitty way to get players, and it's damned ineffective, so I'm mostly going to stick with producing awesome code and public relations.


Q: Any plans for the introduction of a crafting in a real sense?

This is a hard question to answer. For crafting to really matter, it has to do something; on Alter Aeon, we pretty much already have the tools we need to do everything. I've been slowly working on more crafting related things, such as grenades and possibly crafting enchantments, but I don't know that we'll be able to do crafting in what I'd consider a proper way.


Q: In general what direction do you see the game going next year?

I'm going to shoot for a lot more custom events and point/feature releases instead of months of nothing but bugfixes and minor improvements. Ideally, we'll get a druid class by the end of the year.

I'm also splitting out the AA server code into reusable pieces so that I can quickly and easily set up servers for other types of games. I hope to get a first version of a space exploration game running by the end of the year as well.


Q: Do you intend to create an accessible MUD client for the iOS platform?

At this point in time, no. I have a lot of frying pans and not very many fires, and mobile clients aren't even on my short list, regardless of whether or not they are accessible.


Q: Where do you see the mud 5 years from now?

I see Alter Aeon as having 6, possibly 7 classes, with a max level higher than 36 and a playerbase at least as large as we have now. We might have a 60 player average, but we might also have a 600 player average; that's not really under my control, so I won't plan on it.

What we can expect to see is other games that aren't AA but still run by me. The AA server has a lot of really good code in it, and I plan to split that code out into libraries I can use to create other servers. I don't know that I'll try another D&D style game, because quite frankly AA is already awesome at that. I've wanted to make a space exploration game since I was 14, so that will probably be my first target.


Q: What do we have to look forward to for the various classes?

I can't really give an answer to this. The various classes are pretty full featured, and it's not clear to me that much more can be added to them without either duplicating other work, or breaking the rather nice balance that we have. I really think the way forward is the addition of druids, and making better use of what we've already got.

One possible expansion would be cross-class abilities to enchant and create more custom equipment. As I mentioned above, this is one area where I think crafting could really make sense, and it would be all the more interesting if each class had something to contribute to enchantments and creating or modifying equipment.

Areas Released in 2012

And here's a list of new and updated areas for the year:

Areas on the Island of Kordan:
  • Level 10 - The Grumditch and Kentwig copper mine
  • Level 11 - Gnomian Village, Kordan
  • Level 12 - Gnomian Village Mole Tunnels
Areas on the Island of Archais:
  • Level 20 - The Village of Seaside
  • Level 21 - The Archais Archipelago
  • Level 21 - Inner areas for Archais archipelago
  • Level 21 - Castle Kraftrager
Areas on the Outer Planar Fire World:
  • Level 25 - The Fire World of Khinzhai
  • Level 31 - Fire plane - lower levels
  • Level 34 - Fire plane - The untamed wilds
Additions to the Mainland:
  • Level 29 - A carnival on Avalon Hill
  • Level 30 - Town of Corinium
  • Level 31 - The Midlands
  • Level 31 - Avalon Hill
  • Level 31 - Elemental plane of darkness, forest
  • Level 32 - The Fields of Florin
  • Level 32 - Tomb under Nueva Granada
  • Level 32 - The City of Koralia's Heart
  • Level 32 - Rock Gnome Caves
  • Level 32 - The Great Trench
  • Level 32 - Opal mine under Ubar
  • Level 34 - The Dust Sea
  • Level 35 - Lufia's Folly
  • Level 35 - Village of Stoke-on-the-Mound
  • Level 35 - The Challenge of Elements
  • Level 36 - Plane of Chaos, dragon lair
  • Level 36 - The necropolis of Q'monmwer
  • Level 37 - Astral plane of air, white eternity
  • Level 40 - Elemental plane of darkness, echo

January - The Seventeenth Anniversary of AA

The highlight of January was the 17th anniversary event. The event ran for three days and had many parts - rather than lay out even half of the details, you can read about it at the 17th Anniversary Event page.

February through May - The Months of Bugfixes

From February through May, most of the server side work was bugfixes and other minor updates. There was cleanup in nearly every category, from pk arenas to web pages and potions. For a list of the public code changes, see:

Alter Aeon Changelog for February Through June

Here's a list of the highlights:

  • During February, we had a lot of problems with lag spikes and other machine issues. We started doing a lot of work on the server code to reduce filesystem reads and writes, as well as staggering saves and other operations. We also decided to upgrade the server, which helped a little bit.

  • Soulstone colors got reworked, with black and white soulstones being added at the extreme high end.

  • March saw a lot of minor updates to the web pages, incluing breaking up the brew potion web page into newbie potions and high level potions. This was part of a more general potions update that added submitting of brew poison and brew antidote recipes too.

  • March was also when initial DClient player accounts were added. This is the screen that displays your previously played characters when you start up your dclient. While this seems a small thing, it provided a lot of the basics for our account system later on.

  • In April we began the first of the global system time changes going from 3 game-minutes per tick to 5. This shortened the day/night cycle from almost four real-life hours to about two hours and 15 minutes. My goal was to get down to under an hour, so that areas didn't remain in darkness all the time.

  • We broke up the 'quest all' list into sections for the islands, planes, suboria, mainland and other sectors of the game. Many, many commands have since been converted over to display by region, and it has made the game a lot more navigable for everyone.

  • The 'automatic trainer limit' for spells and skills was raised from 25 to 29. This allowed level 26-29 skills to be learned on default trainers instead of requiring special trainers or spellbooks. I always found hunting for trainers to be extremely irritating - I just did a lot of hard work to gain a level, I shouldn't have to do even more hard work just to figure out how to learn my newly unlocked spells or skills.

  • In May, the day/night times were further updated, going from 5 game-minutes per tick to 10. This shortened the day from 2 hours and 15 minutes to a little over an hour of real time.

  • Code was added to give mobs up to a million hitpoints. This was more for amusement value than anything else.

  • The first new DClient release in quite a while also came out in May. DClient version 1.092 had basic support for autoupdate, as well as a lot of minor bugfixes and better support for audio. With Draak working on the sound files, the dclient made a lot of forward progress this year.

  • In June, we started on level 36+ infrastructure work. The most obvious result of this was changes to the object composite - in order to allow for level 36 and higher equipment, we had to completely rework the high end of the composite. This put a lot of items over composite in weird ways, and ended up making a lot of relic and antique items for people to collect.

  • The last day/night time shortening happened in June, going from 10 game-minutes per tick to 15, shortening the day from 67 minutes to 44. Looking back at this, 44 minutes for a full day/night cycle is probably too short, as it only gives about 15 minutes of true dark at night. Areas with a lot of sunlight-averse undead might not even repop before the sun comes up, so we'll probably be changing it back to 10 game-minutes per tick. With a 67 minute day, the duration of night time will be around 26 minutes, which is quite an increase over 15 minutes.

  • Walk-in instancing was added, so players no longer need to enter portals to enter instances.

June - Month of the Fighter

In June, we made a lot of updates and adjustments to warrior skills, as well as adding a couple new thief skills. A lot of these updates were made to try to improve newbie fighters, and give them more to do. Thief and warrior traditionally had the fewest skills compared to the spellcasting classes, and this update helped a lot with that.

Major additions:

  • Added a level 2 warrior skill, 'stomp'.

  • Added a level 4 warrior skill, 'lunge'.

  • Added a level 5 warrior skill, 'feint'.

  • Added a level 26 warrior skill, 'bloodquench'.

  • Added a level 24 thief skill, 'mechanical aptitude'.

  • Added a level 28 thief skill, 'salvage equipment'.

July - Warrior Skills and VI Support

July was a very busy month. In addition to getting five new low level warrior skills, there were two new areas and a lot of visually impaired support updates.

  • The player Oriol released a new version of Mush-Z, with new sounds, triggers, and other capabilities. We also added more kxwt triggers on the server side to get features like potion brew logging to work in the updated mush client.

  • We found and fixed a bunch of new Eloquence crash words. One of our less ethical players discovered some new ones, but we eventually got all off the offending patterns tracked down and killed.

  • The blind player map got some major updates.

  • The two new areas were both high level zones - one below the fire giants on the outer planar fire world, and the other an extension to the plane of darkness.

  • The new warrior skills were targeted at mid and low level players. We added 'riposte', 'charge', 'jab', 'rally', and 'pommel strike'. These and several other skills also allow you to hit ethereal creatures, if you're wearing equipment with an elemental damage type. For example, with flaming boots, you should now be able to kick a ghost.

August - The Moderator Controversy

The most important addition of August that actually affected gameplay was the new soulstone market, which allows players to buy and sell soulstones from a virtual market which adjusts prices based on supply and demand. But this useful addition was vastly overshadowed by the multi-week political flamewar over a different update.

In August, we split the role of player avatars in two, and a new class of administrative power was added: avatars were given power to deal with spammers and annoyance characters, while the new 'moderator' powers allowed moderation and control of channels.

As is typical, the flamewar largely revolved around how there would be terrible abuse and unfairness when using and policing the new powers. However, after a couple of weeks, it became clear that the new system was better than the old in terms of fairness, and the controversy abruptly died. Tempest in a teapot.

September - Thieves and Clans

In September, we had a 'thief update', which reorganized a number of low level thief skills, and added both 'dirt throwing' and 'fast waking'. Coupled with the warrior changes from July, this greatly improved the low level player experience for fighter classes. The high end was also improved, as we added new bane poisons for thieves to use against certain types of creatures.

Clans got a major rework, and now have clan member/elder/founder ranks as well as greatly improved roster commands. There are also activity statistics for clan members, to determine who is most or least active.

Two new articles were added to the web site, one on warrior battle cries, and one covering character alignment. You can find the articles at:

http://www.alteraeon.com/articles

October - The Halloween Event and Player Regen

November - Events and Spam Galore

November saw no less than three system events, including two death marches and the multi-day thanksgiving party. The death marches were the most interesting to me, because they allowed me to write code: we made a LOT of improvements to the spam filters for large groups. Some of the death march groups were so big and so spammy that even as a sighted person using full filtering, I couldn't keep up. With the new filters, I can handle much larger groups.

This month also saw the gambling command, and the first gambling game - the slot machine. This was a lot more popular than I was ever expecting.

December - Level 36

In December, we tried something we've never tried before: advent calendar gifts. This was really popular - every day you logged in and played, you would get a gift from the calendar. Between this and a host of other interesting changes, December worked out to be the biggest month ever in the history of AA.

Leaderboards were one of the more interesting updates, allowing people to see where they stand in a global ranking against other players. There are many different rankings, and I'm really itching to add a 'leader of the leaderboards' that shows the top players based on their rank in some of the boards.

We added a 'reforge' gambling game, to allow people to strip and reroll an item's stats. It's expensive, but you can make very powerful items with it.

We also added account binding equipment, in addition to individual player bound equipment. Now that we have verified player accounts, account bound items are usable by every player in your account, and can be shared between them.

One of the most awesome ideas of the year was that of 'obscure spells'. These are spells that are generally useless, or not as useful as other spells, and that aren't taught commonly. Obscure spells only show up on special trainers, and don't appear in any of the default spell or skill listings - they must be found by experiment or word of mouth or accident - but since they generally aren't useful, they don't cause balance or power problems.

The thing that makes obscure spells so awesome is that there's a lot of spells and skills that I really like, but they're useless or not appropriate for low level players to waste practices on. Making them obscure ensures that they can remain part of the game for high level players to use, without them confusing new players or consuming valuable practices.

Finally, the maximum level of players on the game was raised from 35 to 36. A number of new spells and skills were added for each class, adding around 60 extra practices worth of new material. Mages now have elemental minions, clerics got a massive update to curses, thieves got new grenades and better poisons, warriors got combat patterns and dragonslayer skills, and necromancers got the long awaited demonfire and a number of other upgrades.


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