GDC 2013: City of Steam demo showcases crafting and other streamlined features

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|04.05.13

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GDC 2013: City of Steam demo showcases crafting and other streamlined features
GDC 2013  City of Steam demo showcases crafting and  other streamlined features
It may seem like a while has passed since we last experienced City of Steam, the fantasy steampunk MMORPG that fits in your browser. That's because it has! The game's last closed beta testing round was back in December, and fans have been eagerly waiting to get back into the city-state of Nexus. Of course there has been some news to tide us over in the meantime while developers have been turning all of that beta feedback into fixes and updates, but that's not the same; people want to play. Luckily, it's GDC to the rescue!

While the rest of the world won't actually get to access City of Steam until it launches open beta (which is anticipated to be within the next two months!), I was able to dive in and explore the fruits of the devs' winter labors. And let me tell you, they've put their time to good use! I met with Communications Manager Gabriel Laforge and Operations Director Andrew Woodruff from Mechanist Games who showed off all the work that has gone into the game since the beta closed, from graphics to crafting to airships. They also highlighted the game's cash shop and revealed numerous rewards players can earn simply by playing the game.

City of Steam screenshot
Woodruff shared that although the initial thought was that only hardcore players would jump into City of Steam, a large number of casual players are now also a part of the playerbase. In fact, population-wise the game had 40,000 registered users during the earlier beta tests but jumped to double that number after the transition to R2 Games. What will all these new players see when they can finally get into the game?


A previous comment about City of Steam indicated that the game wouldn't win any beauty contests against AAA titles, but I respectfully disagree. The game is quite beautiful, even better than some of the AAA titles out there in my opinion.

You may be dubious about such a claim after your last testing experience, but I can attest that the graphics have been polished since that last beta -- quite literally. I entered a hall where the marble floor was so polished, you could see yourself in it. The marble tiles on the floors and walls reflected light and images with detail I would have never expected from most games, let alone a browser-based one. Some images, like the broker, were updated to better reflect the world and theme while all images were crisper. This, coupled with the added reflection of light off of many surfaces, means the Nexus has more dimension and depth than before.

Even the skies got an overhaul. Woodruff noted that he went with CEO Dave Lindsay through all of the dungeons -- there are over a hundred of them -- and changed all the environment settings of every single one. I got to experience a particularly gorgeous night while fighting aboard an airship (more on that later).

City of Steam screenshotStreamlining the experience

When Woodruff said, "We've done a lot since closed beta," he wasn't kidding. Feedback from the betas highlighted some areas that were not very intuitive, and the team reworked these areas for a more streamlined experience.

One issue that came up in testing was the ability tree. Folks who remember the ability tree from the closed betas will recall a pretty cool steam engine-type graphic with pipes as pathways leading to the next available skills on a path. However, that initial system was problematic. "People were getting confused," admitted Laforge. Woodruff added, "We found that people could easily make a build that just wouldn't work... so we needed to reinvent how people get skills."

Now, instead of a convoluted maze of skills, the ability tree is set up in the form of a grid. Types of skills are listed going down the left side, while the specific skills you can use are both in rows corresponding with type and in columns based based on tier. Let's use the Archanist as an example: The skill trees of fire, ice, and lightning are listed on the side. Then all fire skills are in a row moving right from lowest tier to highest; same for ice, then lightning. When choosing skills from each tier level, players can have only a maximum of two out of the three. For instance, choosing the fire and ice skill in the first tier will lock out the lightning skill. However, come the second tier players can opt for lightning and ice instead, locking out the fire choice.

Not only does this method give the player more freedom (they can choose to specialize in only one tree/row, or diversify), but the way the tiers and skills are organized will prevent the issue of creating characters with no power. Even a character with many healing spells can have access to enough DPS to be effective. Along those lines, Woodruff also explained that "even the DPS character can offer support, depending how you choose your tiers." Yes, even the sword-wielding Warder can give buffs in the form of dropped tomes.

Talents also received a once-over and are easier to understand. Players earn them every four levels and choose between three: two that focus on specializing and one that is a hybrid of the two.

Add to those features such as an isometric camera that people can switch to and many new tips to give hints on how things (like crafting) work, and the game becomes more accessible than its beta incarnation.

Speaking of crafting...

GDC 2013  City of Steam demo showcases crafting and other streamlined features

Yours truly got to check out the crafting system, including crafting, socketing, and smelting. All of these processes have an intuitive interface for easy use; the base components for each has also been streamline and condensed.

In a nutshell, crafting creates (and upgrades) base gear while smelting enhances weapons for particular fights. Woodruff explained that players can align a weapon to a certain damage type, such as adding ice damage when facing a fire boss. A weapon can be re-smelted as needed as long as the player has the materials.

Players can salvage items to get either metal, alloy, or even both out of them. They will also be happy to know that piles of various crafting materials will no longer clog up backpack space; all crafting materials have been condensed into two: metal for crafting and alloy for smelting. The modding system was streamlined as well; instead of tons of different mods (such as hilts) filling up inventory space, there are simply levels of mods.

To modify a weapon, players can then socket a mod to a set position on the weapon, unlocking the slot with a key. The mods will offer different stats defending on which level of mod and which slot it goes into. Want a higher-level mod? Lower-level mods can also be merged to create higher-level ones. Of course, mods have a special kind of math: In this case, 1+1+1= 2.

City of Steam screenshotAirships! (and more)

Woodruff noted that one question that came up time and time again was whether City of Steam had any airships. Well, now it does! Players will have the chance to fight aboard a number of different airships during their gameplay. In the first hub, devs have redone all the quests and one things players have to do is rebuild the airship dock. After that, they can board their first airships and fight high in the sky.

A lot more PvP stuff coming out as well. Much of the feedback was that the PvP was fun, but folks wanted more of it in the form of more maps. The dev team is also looking into a 30-person PvP zone where everyone is flagged and can engage in open PvP.

And Woodruff noted that there is one new feature that was put into game specifically because of Massively fans: jumping! That's right. You made it clear you wanted jumping in game, and the devs listened. Who says you don't have the power to change things? Also added are jetpacks (YAY! Although you can't fly over any obstacles), fun little pets (like a steampunk chest that sprouts legs like a crab), emotes (yes, you can dance Gangnam style), and daily goals with rewards.

In the future, City of Steam hopes to release a mobile companion app, but the game won't be fully adapted to tablets. The game needs a graphics card in order to run. Instead, folks may be able to check inventory or participate in minigames like card-based PvP based on their stats.

GDC 2013  City of Steam demo showcases crafting and other streamlined features
Clarifying the shop

One thing Laforge really wanted to make clear was how the cash shop will work; he explained that while there are items available there, players will also have plenty of in-game opportunities to acquire the same things. "We're not locking people out," he told me.

In City of Steam, both lockboxes and the means to open them (be they keys, electrum, or shillings) all drop in game as well as are offered on the cash shop. Players can open looted lockboxes with looted keys, buy a lockbox to use a looted key on, or buy a key to open a looted lockbox. If they really want to, players could purchase both lockbox and key from the cash shop as well. But special boxes filled with enticing goodies are not just a random acquisition.

GDC 2013  City of Steam demo showcases crafting and other streamlined features
People who prefer not to buy items from the cash shop (such as the buff for increased shilling drops) have other ways to earn these same rewards that have nothing to do with the cash shop. One system is the daily reward system: Each consecutive day that a player logs, he earns another reward box. This box has a 100% chance for a certain item as well as diminishing chances for numerous other items. Each consecutive day's box has even better and/or more rewards than the previous one, all the way up until seven consecutive days.

On top of this daily log-in reward, players also given daily goals each day they log in. Completing a certain percentage of these goals -- 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% -- results in various rewards as well. The daily tasks themselves are a random listing pulled from a master list. Some examples of these tasks are make a new friend, log in today, break 100 items, use 13 emotes, etc.

Players will also earn a new type of character-bound currency: the spiremark. These are earned by participating in events and also as rewards from daily quests and reward boxes.

Massively sent its ace reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! Whether it's EVE Online or Star Wars: The Old Republic or that shiny new toy you've got your eye on, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!
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