Trials of Ascension

Forged Chaos’ Don Danielson answers some questions regarding the Trials of Ascension budget, features, and the future of their game!

In last week’s What Can We Learn?, I spoke about MMO development costs and specifically spoke about Trials of Ascension, a sand-box MMO on Kickstarter by Forged Chaos. They were only requesting $750,000 to develop the entire game and I questioned whether that would be enough money. Forged Chaos then reached out to me, in both the comments and via email, with some clarification on the reasons behind their monetary evaluation. I asked if they wanted to take part in a short interview as a follow up and they agreed! Forged Chaos’ Don Danielson answered some of my questions about the budget, a few features I’m greatly looking forward to, and the game’s future! He even included a few exclusive screenshots in order to demonstrate one of his answers. Keep in mind, of course, that the game is still in pre-alpha, so the information provided may change throughout development.

First, let’s talk about your budget. You frequently mention the Hero Engine and refer to it as a means of drastically reducing development costs. Would you tell us a little about the Hero Engine? How will it reduce those costs? 

“First, many people seem to think the HeroEngine is just a graphics engine when in fact it is so much more!  It allows us access to just about every aspect of MMO infrastructure we would need, ranging from the network layer to letting us build our own database schema to building custom shaders and a ton more.

Hero allows us to work collaboratively from different locations and in real time. There is no overnight code compiling and seeing how things look the next day. It also allows us to view things in two different ways: Edit and Play. Edit means anything we do is permanent and Play means our changes are not saved, allowing us to try lots of different things while maintaining a baseline of progress that is safe from accidental overwrites.”

In curiosity of the engine, I decided to look up what games have been developed using the HeroEngine. Faxion Online, developed by UTV Ignition Entertainment, used the HeroEngine. The game was launched on May 26th, 2011 and shut down on August 24th of the same year. Although it was short lived, the game was apparently received in a positive light. Its shutdown was a result of the entire development and management team being laid off.

The other game developed with the HeroEngine was Star Wars: The Old Republic, by Bioware, which, aside from some annoying in-game pay-walls, seems to be doing quite well.

In my original editorial, I talk about zones and how they are a significant factor in development costs. You’ve convinced me that you’ll be able to make a relatively small area seem much larger than it really is, but I wonder what else will reduce costs on the zones themselves. Take us through an example of one of your zones. How will it appear looking down from above in comparison to how will it feel from behind your avatar?

“Our zones are made up of multiple sections called Areas. We create each area individually and attach them to one another to form the zone. In turn, we attach the zones to one another resulting in our world of TerVarus. We have become incredibly efficient at creating these areas thanks, again, to Hero.  We plan on demonstrating just how fast we can generate an area as one of our Kickstarter updates.

One zone we have is called Grizzleback. It’s a conifer forest and is made up of roughly six areas that will be filled with flora and fauna appropriate with what you would find in conifer forests. In addition to being able to generate terrain quickly, our flora and fauna will be generated dynamically, meaning we don’t place every tree, bush and plant. The server will handle that in accordance to how we’ve defined the biome. We will certainly build and place specific things in the zones to give them a custom feel such as waterfalls and rock formations.

With no mini-map or compass built in to the interface, our areas feel much larger than what they are. For example, in this first screenshot is the view you would expect while behind your character.

NOTE: This area is roughed in and has a lot of work left to do on it. It is far from finished!!”

These are pre-alpha images and are not necessarily indicative of the final project.



Default view from behind the character.



“In the second screenshot, we don’t move the camera or our character but we shut off all environmental shadowing, fogging, and other effects, giving you a small sense that the area is bigger than you thought.”



“In the third screenshot, keeping all lighting effects off, we zoom away from our character. You can barely make him out in the red circle at the bottom of the screenshot. The darkened areas at the top are separate areas that have other areas attached to them.

The kicker is that the large non-dark area is only 512 meters x 384 meters.  We currently have roughly 260 areas like this slated for launch. I hope this goes to show with decent foliage, properly sculpted terrain, truly dark nights, creatures that will challenge you, and no mini-map, TerVarus becomes a very large world very quickly.”

When I first saw these screenshots and thought about how it might feel to play as this character, I was immediately reminded of the very first MMO I played, Runescape. No, not Runescape as it exists now or even six years ago, but the game from eleven years ago. Classic Runescape, which had no minimap and didn’t make anything easy. I remember thinking the world was colossal and I even frequently got lost, but when I looked at the world map, I was surprised to see just how small the world was. Compared to a massive world like Azeroth, it was tiny, but it felt much larger than the current Azeroth simply because I didn’t always know where I was, I wasn’t able to fly over all of the zones, and I didn’t have a minimap. I really think Trials of Ascension can create a similar feeling.

At this point, I decided to start asking questions about some of the more interesting features of ToA and the future of the game.

Your game has a lot of bold features that have been used in few MMORPGs. Many of these features are almost unprecedented, so how do you plan to approach playtesting and balancing? 

“Early and often” is our approach to play-testing. Our Kickstarter states we will allow alpha testers in as early as nine months because we want people in as early as possible to both test and give feedback! The more eyes on a feature/system, the better!

Our testing, especially early on, will be very focused. Our testers will be be put to good use and asked to do specific tasks as we monitor the results and adjust the stability, game play, and balance accordingly.”

One of the comments on the original editorial stated that the website had some overly specific details for some of their features and mentioned that these minute details should be determined after playtesting. I was curious what Forged Chaos had planned for playtesting and it seems they’ve got a solid idea of how they’re going to go about it.

Would you be able to give us a little more insight about the Raknar as a playable race? Do you envision them as being organized and with a specific purpose or simply as catalysts of chaos?

“The Raknar is a hunter/killer that looks to do nothing else but build their own power so they can survive and hunt. The are the perfect outlet for someone who wants to PvP with no worries of items or skills. If they decide to organize and build a hive (much like the lore mentions they did in the recent past) or if they want to be a solo hunter, it is all up to them.

We wanted a REAL difference in the way you would play ToA compared to playing a human and considering the praise we’ve already received for making Raknar a playable race, I think we’ve nailed it.”

Innovations are very interesting. I don’t think I’ve seen a similar system in any game I’ve played and I’m excited to learn more about them. Aside from crafting, what will the innovation system play into? Can you give us an idea of how many innovations are planned for launch?

“The innovation system is a cornerstone to ToA. It allows us to organically introduce skills, techniques, processes, and items into the game that maximizes player uniqueness and possibilities, all without needing expansions. Furthermore, it means each server will be different since innovations aren’t unlocked across all servers at the same time. We might see one server that has discovered ocean-going ships while another has discovered a new metal alloy. The possibilities are incredible and we couldn’t be prouder!

Nearly every skill will have a list of innovations associated with it. That goes for the crafting skills, combat, and general. We won’t ever mention how many are available because that would ruin the anticipation!”

This is the most exciting feature for me. The idea that, when practicing a skill, my character may discover a new way to use it that would be unique to the server sounds super enticing. It’s also a system I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other MMO that I’ve played!

From the sounds of it, you plan to have the majority of settlements, kingdoms, and structures be player-made, a “true sand-box,” if you will. However, that would be very jarring for someone dropping into the world for the first time. So at release, will there be any pre-built city-like areas with NPC ruler-ship? What purposes will they serve if they are there?

“All settlements, even at launch, will be player owned and controlled.

We agree that new players could feel overwhelmed and lost being put into such a world. We’ve got a number of ideas we want to implement to help them out. For example, when you create your character, you will be able to select a settlement from a list of any settlements that have designated themselves available for new characters. Clicking a said settlement will give you some aggregate information on how lawful (or lawless!) the settlement is based on a variety of data such as number of citizens killed within its borders, items stolen, number of guards, quality of guards, and so on.”

This is quite bold. In some ways, it sounds quite exciting, but it also sounds like something players would be able to manipulate. I’m all for hardcore experiences, but having a place where new players consistently start off would make integration into the game much easier. On the other hand, this makes much more sense from an immersion standpoint and it could lead to some incredibly diverse (and hopefully in-conflict) servers!

This links well with my last question. How will you handle enemy NPCs? Will they be a factor that could rival an enemy player? 
“We plan on only having NPCs that the players can hire and command. Guards for settlement defense and merchants to sell and buy wares for their player employers. Guards can become better in combat as they experience combat and sparring. While no amount of AI can match a player’s wit, highly trained ToA guards should give most players a good challenge.”

So, let’s skip ahead. It’s a few months past launch and you have an established playerbase. How will you help new players adjust to the game? 

“The largest goal is giving them knowledge ahead of time. A player needs to know in detail how perma-death works, how there are no zones to accommodate your character’s level, and all the other differences of ToA compared to what they might be used to.

Beyond foreknowledge is to incentive settlements so they warmly welcome their new citizens and helping them to get new players up to speed. We’ve got a lot of ideas in how to achieve this but will be looking to our fan-base for lots of feedback as well.”

As I mentioned above, this game will likely be pretty daunting to new players, but if Forged Chaos can craft a good tutorial and prepare the player ahead of time, it could end up being a fantastic experience. On a side note, I know it’s not particularly popular, but perma-death is an awesome feature for this game. It gives weight to your decisions and makes you care about your character much more, in my opinion, and I’m super excited for it.

Finally, what other reveals can we expect from your kickstarter? Can you give us a hint of what you have planned?

“As stated earlier, we plan on showing how we create areas. There is some talk of showing how combat works as well but we like to leave people wanting more so….  😉

Thank you so much for your time and allowing us to explain some of the great ideas that is ToA!!”

So, there you have it. I will admit that I have a lot more confidence in their budget, even if some skepticism still remains. I’m super pumped to see the game as it progresses and I really want to get my hands on it and try out some of these more unique features! If you’d like to back Trials of Ascension, you can head over to the project page with this link. So, what do you think? Are you convinced with their budget? Are you excited for these features? What do you think of them? Will you be following the kickstarter for its duration? Let us know in the comments section below!