1 Year of Early Access
As the year 2016 is drawing to a close, it‘s time to look back on what happened in the course of roughly one year of Catan Universe’s early access. Where are we now? And let’s have a look into the near future, too.
Back in January 2016, when we launched our servers and invited you to become part of the Catan Universe project, we already knew that it would be a long way for us to go. A long way that surely would not be mastered without one slip or another. But, in the end, a long way that would pay off.
In the course of this single year of the early access, really a lot has happened in Catan Universe. We received many suggestions from your side pointing out the way you want Catan Universe to be, and we succeeded in realizing many of those suggestions as well.
Providing Catan Universe to you so early in the development process as we did, was a step we took deliberately; however, it was a bit risky, too. We learned very quickly how much passion is stimulating the Catan community. We may have been surprised by this in the beginning, but we were convinced very soon that we – as well as Catan Universe itself – should take advantage of such passion to finally reach all our aims we had in mind.
When the early access was launched, Catan Universe did not include but barely a handful of scenarios that could be played. Today, players can select from 20+ scenarios – including the popular expansion sets Seafarers and Cities & Knights. Players from all over the world get to know these expansion sets and can play them online against either the AI or human players.
One more word on the AI: We have already been pretty successful with this issue, too. Today, you can select from various levels of difficulty for your AI opponents in order to adjust them to your gameplay level. The AI takes over from the players if they happen to lose the connection to the server, or if they pass the draw timer’s interval. We consider this function particularly important as it allows the remaining players in a game round to continue playing even if one player has left the round. Moreover, today it‘s already possible to play against the AI together with your friends – in a Custom Match. One year ago, all these options were not available at all. But: Are we already content with the AI as is? The answer is: No, not at all! In the course of this article, you will learn about our plans regarding the AI, and other things we are currently working on. But first let’s get back to the features that were brought ahead by us this year.
Do you still remember the initial trading system included in the early access at the time of its launch? Yes, we’re talking about that rudimentary trading system permanently displaying the trading board. The trading system is one of the game’s aspects that were developed by us deliberately in close co-operation with you – the users. To do so, we collected a lot of feedback, evaluated it, and realized what you suggested. I’m sure there‘s no need to recapitulate the details of the trading system one more time; a detailed article on this feature is already available: https://forum.catanuniverse.com/topic/1504/new-trade-and-further-improvements
The feedback received from our users was transferred to two more aspects which were developed by us with your aid. The first one is the Quick Build system introduced by us; it allows you to perform the major actions by simply clicking on the corresponding positions on the gameboard. Before this system was introduced, players only had the option to select the game pieces individually from the build menu, and to place them on the gameboard. Even if we were able to simulate the game feel of a true boardgame session, the option was too slow and too complicated for those of you who wanted to play a round in less than 30 minutes. Thanks to your feedback, and along with some other changes and optimizations of the UI, we succeeded in improving the game flow considerably.
However, a platform like Catan Universe not only demands for optimizations with respect to the playability itself; some social aspects are very important, too. Catan Universe‘s early access is free and accessible for everyone at no cost, and so it wasn’t long before some black sheeps creeped in. This was one of the reasons why we provided our users with the Report/Mute and Ban functions (introduced with the latest update). These functions will allow the users to report misconduct of other players. The system has been established very well in a short time, and our entire staff are working together in order to make Catan Universe a place where people from all over the world can meet and peacefully play a round of Catan.
In order to make playing together work still much better, our developers refined one more time the so-called matchmaking feature for the latest update. Based upon our findings gathered over the last few months, the developers were able to optimize the entire process and to make it much more reliable. Creating such a system for a game that is played all over the world is not a trivial task at all – however, the early access (and along with it, each single user of Catan Universe) helps us enormously detect error sources and fix them.
However, revelling in memories and patting our shoulders for what we have reached so far are surely not the only things we want you to read about in this article. Our Catan Universe senior project manager will explain to you hereafter where our journey will go and which steps will be taken next year in our project. We’re sure you’re already looking forward to getting some great news!
First of all we’d like to thank you very much for participating in the early access of Catan Universe. Thousands of players are already playing on this platform on a daily basis. This has helped us tremendously, as this high number of games helps us refine our systems and backend and, in the end, provide a better game experience for everyone.
As outlined by our Community Manager (see above), Catan Universe has already made some significant steps forward this year. However, not all of them have been included in the early access yet, as many of them require significant work “behind the scenes” before we can make them available publically.
So what’s currently in development, and what are the next steps? First and foremost we’re focusing on getting the game flow ready for release – that means improving the performance in general on all platforms, improving the AI players (regarding their speed as well as their proficiency), and tuning the matchmaking in regards to both Karma and ELO systems. This means we’re closely monitoring your feedback via the new reporting functions and making the necessary changes to the matchmaking. For example, we’ll further narrow down the Karma values that you’ll be matched with, and game results will modify the ELO of players who leave a game prematurely – this will hopefully encourage sportsman-like conduct.
Furthermore, we are currently revamping the menu and UI (in- and out-game) for a smoother flow and quicker navigation. At the same time, the new menu will reduce loading times in general. Currently, there are a few design topics that the team is about to implement; they include new avatars, additional customization options or the game view.
New main menu with selected base game:
New game setup for a singleplayer game:
The Rivals for Catan card game implementation is also progressing nicely, as you can see in the attached screenshots. We’ll start with a multiplayer implementation of the introductory game that will be free to play for everyone; in the next step, we’ll add the complete base game including computer opponents and more functionality. We’re currently planning to have content updates roughly every two months, adding special scenarios, expansion packs, etc. on a regular basis over 2017. Last but not least, we’ll add support for more languages after starting with English and German for release.
Catan Rivals development-build:
Of course we’d have liked to have the game ready for release sooner. But as they say, good things take time – there were some unexpected events, staffing changes at the dev team, as well as few other factors that delayed us more than we’d expected. However, we’re committed to the quality of the game, and so we’ll announce the official release when we have further progressed with the next huge update we’re currently working on. We’re glad to learn that many of you are looking forward to the release, and we expect to have some good news to share with you early next year.
Thank you very much for your participation in the early access and we wish you happy holidays.