The Ashes of Creation community is gearing up for an early Christmas - at least some of them are, the lucky lads and lasses! Alpha Zero is less than a week away and many have been waiting what seems like an eternity since Ashes was unveiled to get a chance to experience the world of Verra in the early stages of development. Now there were those that got an preliminary taste with the highly successful showing at PAX West September this year but the larger community to the tune of around 1,200 people who have been awarded Alpha Zero keys have been waiting patiently to dive in this month. For those of you that are interested on what Alpha Zero really means, you've come to the right place. This article will cover what we know, what we can expect during the Alpha Zero process and what that means for the life cycle of our beloved MMO.
First and foremost, Alpha Zero is not a persistent world like many have experienced in other MMO tests dubbed as "alpha." The goal of the test is a technical demo and will likely entail testing of the basic components of the game. Using prior alpha experiences as a reference, I can tell you it initially focuses on testing core components such as leveling and questing systems. It would also provide an opportunity to have players server/zone load test (i.e. help the team understand how the world handles a lot of players in a single area or server). In prior livestreams the developers not only spoke about individual leveling mechanics being part of the test, but also node leveling ones. Nodes have been one of the primary feature points of the game from day one and for me one of the more intriguing aspects that have been discussed. During the course of Alpha Zero, players will be able to contribute to leveling a node through their adventures in the world. The plan for Alpha Zero includes three nodes but only one of those locations will be able to max out their development (at this point capped at the "village" stage). One pretty awesome feature of this is the fact that the race with the most contribution to node leveling will influence the style/architecture of the node as it develops (thanks to Aggelos and DCN for that tidbit of information!). It will be even more exciting to see is which of the four node types discussed will be present: military, economic, religious or scientific.
Other items to expect is the first look at character creation albeit limited in terms of customization. Testers will be able to chose one of two races (Kaelar and Empyrean), gender, one of 4 classes (tank, cleric, mage and ranger). Testers will be able to move in quite a large space (approximate 16 square kilometers) once they create their avatar and experience different story lines depending on which of the three nodes are leveled. The biomes revealed for players to explore are three in total: forest, floodplain and desert. The testing world is going to be 16 square kilometers, which is based on my limited research is around 63% the size of Skyrim in terms of game world breadth (there you go Steven!). Testers will be able to level their characters to 10 and also will be able to make some skill/ability selections. The experience itself has not be described as open play per se, but it will be "close." Characters will start with a base set of equipment and it will be the tester's task to find loot in the world which will vary based on what node has been leveled. Not only will the loot be influenced by node progression, the available monsters will also be dependent on the progression of particular nodes. There will also be three open world dungeons with instanced ones to come in later testing periods.
So now that we've covered an overview of what to expect in the test, what does it all mean? Well, as mentioned before, this is a technical demo. The developers will be watching how their core systems perform, how testers interact with the world and each other, gathering information to review and allow development of solutions to issues that will surely come to light in these initial stages. It's worth reiterating that this is a test and invariably things will break or be broken in the process. That, my dear readers, is the point. For those of you that are new to these types of cycles, don't expect to test a finished product that performs flawlessly. It is through these tests that developers uncover issues they haven't seen before because, frankly, this many people haven't been part of the Ashes testing process... until now. If you were lucky enough to be awarded a tester spot, take that opportunity with a sense of pride. Your voice has a chance to be heard so do your best to test well and provide feedback. The testing will be broken up in to smaller groups of 100 or so testers over 3 days with a 3-4 hour test window for each. There has also been some talk of a final event where a larger group activity will be organized with the goal to stress test the server - a server siege perhaps? *smiles* All in all, it will be a short but very important part of the process. There was also talk on one of the streams that testers that do well in their testing will be invited back to test again during the Alpha Zero cycle so make the most of it!
The Final Word
It's been the longest and shortest year of our lives in the Ashes community - the hype is more real than ever as the countdown to Alpha Zero begins. The developers have worked tirelessly to deliver their initial product to the eager Alpha Zero testers before the floodgates truly open in Alpha One. Just to give you all some context, the Alpha 1 stage has over 40,000 players who have purchased access through Kickstarter and Summer Crowdfunding campaigns versus the 1,200 that are part of the Alpha Zero experience this coming week, which is a only about 10% about the actual registered users on the Ashes site. Lots of interest, clearly! For those of you in the Alpha Zero, you have your work cut out for you. If I can say anything to influence you, let it be this: Be thorough, be thoughtful, be constructive. Let's get this MMO to the next stage of development in the best possible way!
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All information in this article regarding Alpha Zero details was taken from the September 15th Public Live Stream and November 17th Public Live Stream hosted by Intrepid Studios and a DCN interview with Steven Sharif.