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After spending some time individually coming up ideas to reinvent clan gameplay, we scheduled a brainstorming session with the creative team. Our technical director, lead designer, project managers, community management director, writing team, and lead programmer got together came up with a few alternate methods for approaching clan warfare. Once we had narrowed down our favorite choices, we met again several times over the following weeks to further develop concepts, poke holes in designs, and check what we came up with against our analytics. Eventually we settled on our current system, in which users take on different roles within each clan to capture, develop, and defend points on a larger game map to exert political influence on a larger map scale.
After deciding upon a rough outline of what we wanted to do, the process continued after the "official" meetings with live chats with everyone involved in the project. Anyone could put in their two cents, everyone had a chance to raise a red flag, and if we found ourselves stuck we could always call in the rest of the studio for a vote. We do this for everything, from casting voice talent to picking out new content designs. Aside from helping us power through creative log-jams, the added mutual investment in the project helped to inspire the team to work to their highest potential, and move past pet ideas without bruising any egos.
Once felt we had discussed the feature from every possible angle, our project manager broke up the concept into departmental tasks and each team went into prototyping. Our lead designer came up with several different approaches to the look and feel of the Emitters, brought them back for approval, and then passed them on to his team for modeling.
Our designers added a "charging up" electric arc animation to the final upgrade level on the Emitter towers. This, in turn, led the writing team to call another meeting, rewrite their original backstory, and include a mysterious final purpose for the emitters in the game storyline.
The process went back for another loop and we integrated the feature with a much better-developed story and added new non-player characters (NPC) characters -- Morgana, Mutants, and a deep back history explaining the origins and eventual goal of the Emitters (we were still fairly early on in the game and still had the freedom to do this). This new concept was the basis for many of our in-game missions further down the line.
Here is a fully upgraded Emitter on the normal map scale.
After finalizing all storyline and design concepts, our programmers tried several different methods of sharing control and allocation of units and resources within Clans before settling on a "collective defense, individual offense" model.
Once the programming team had something workable, it went on to our QA testers on a closed server. After hammering out the inevitable bugs, we had the basic mechanics working well enough for gameplay. We followed up with a limited test release for some of our core users to check on feedback and get more user input. Sometimes a new feature is a hit, and sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board -- and for this feature we had to go back and forth a few times before we developed an interface they felt was intuitive enough to use.
Anyone whose done any development work knows how frustrating it can be when a feature gets a red light right before a release -- but it's much better than hearing it after we've gone live. Once we got the thumbs-up, we moved on to localizing and recording the content in all languages (we always try and release updates to various regions simultaneously), and added it to the main servers.