The character ageing system Warhammer Online nearly had

And how Camelot Unchained will reinvent it.

Player characters in MMO Warhammer Online were originally going to age. The idea was for veteran players to be visible at a glance.

That was the plan as late as beta testing. But when studio boss Mark Jacobs enquired, on behalf of a fan, where the feature was, he was told by the game's leadership team "it had been killed".

Here Mark Jacobs explains to me what he intended, what actually happened, and how he plans reinvent the system for his new MMO Camelot Unchained.

"As to Warhammer, I thought it would be great if we could use visual clues to show not only how long a player had played the game but also to help enhance the silhouettes players saw from a distance," he said. "The former would help drive a player's feeling of both immersion but also a feeling of being rewarded for his ongoing play.

"In terms of the silhouettes, if you saw a very long and elaborate beard on a dwarf, you would know he's a veteran player. Similarly, a larger than average greenskin would also be experienced and probably a bit tougher. Looking at these differences, along with their gear, would be a great way to 'con' [consider] a player as you were quickly scanning the field of RVR [realm versus realm] players, trying to decide who you want to attack.

"Seeing the biggest greenskin in a pack makes the decision about who to target a whole lot easier and quicker"

Mark Jacobs

"While knowing the different armour and weapon-sets of enemy players can take some time in RVR, seeing the biggest greenskin in a pack makes the decision about who to target a whole lot easier and quicker."

That was the plan.

"Back when WAR as in pre-production I discussed the idea with the team's senior leadership. They signed off on it and I expected it would then be designed and implemented by our design team," he went on.

"During the production and testing phase of WAR, a beta-tester asked me about it. I then asked the same guys what the status was, and was told it had been killed. When I asked why, and also why I wasn't told, the answers were unsatisfactory. In essence, I was told it was too hard and that if I really wanted it, it would disrupt the schedule.

"I was not amused. But at that point I had little choice but to either delay the game for that feature or stick by the schedule we had with EA. Nobody was more embarrassed than me when I had to say that that feature of the game had to be removed."

Andrew Meggs, co-founder of Jacobs' new studio City State Entertainment, was a senior software engineer at Mythic and also worked on Warhammer Online. He had no idea ageing had been struck from the game like that.

"Why the hell didn't they ask me?" he responded when Jacobs told him the story. "Of course we could have done it."

But that was then, and Warhammer Online has since closed its doors forever. Camelot Unchained is now.

"We then talked about how it could function in our game, and after these discussions with him and our art team, we now have the core principles for such a system laid out."

There will be multiple stages of change throughout the game's lifespan, similar to Jacobs' old multi-user dungeon, Dragon's Gate. But the ageing process itself will be "quite slow", so "players won't be able to see themselves change in real-time".

"There will be some downside to ageing, but there will also be a greater amount of upsides"

"The first stage will be the quickest and each subsequent one will take progressively longer," Jacobs said.

"There will be some downside to ageing," he added, "but there will also be a greater amount of upsides, because we want it to be a net-positive experience for the player. However, players won't have to worry about getting old to the point of major gimping [becoming not as effective] of their characters, or worse, perma-death, as that would simply be no fun.

"The changes that take place due to ageing will be not only cosmetic but also meaningful in the world of Camelot Unchained."

Details will be shared with CU backers and be discussed in the official forums. "So far," said Jacobs, "the vast majority of our forum-goers have given it a thumbs up."

Mark Jacobs talked in more detail about his experience with EA and Warhammer Online in an interview with me last year. He suggested the project launched too early and that its potential for success was greatly exaggerated.

Jacobs is doing the opposite with Camelot Unchained. He's targeting what he believes to be a niche audience and budgeting accordingly - he's got over $5m to spend. And he built Dark Age of Camelot for half of that.

Camelot Unchained has an estimated release date of December 2015, so there's still a long way to go. Testing, however, should open to varying degrees this year.

Animation test from Camelot Unchained. Other videos can be found by following the link.

Title image is an old dwarf concept for Snow White and the Huntsmen by Jerad Marantz.

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