Since the last article, Olvand's number of trackers has been tripled, and I've read numerous very nice comments. Thank you all, this has made me both happy and inspired! This time, I'd like to explain a bit about two problems I expect when playtesting starts, and how I hope to solve these problems.
1. Setting up a connection requires knowledge about networks players may not have.
Setting up a connection, in particular setting up a working server others can connect to, requires knowledge, since a lot can go wrong. If you've ever tried to set up a Minecraft server, for example, you know what I'm talking about. Where to find your IP-addresses? When do you need your local IP, when your global IP? How to configure your firewall? How to forward your ports correctly? This isn't really a problem for Minecraft, because there is also a singleplayer mode people can fall in love with (after which they'll probably be more than happy to teach themselves this stuff), but it's a big problem for me: if I don't do something, people without this knowledge simply cannot play my game.
Therefore, the only thing I can do (besides running my own server, which is way too expensive for a poor student like me) is simply GIVE players the info they need. This is what you see when you click the 'Host' button in Olvand:
Connect information, and loooots of instructions. And in the manual will be even more detailed instructions. It's not ideal, but it's at least something. I really wonder if it's enough - but if you consider how many people have managed to set up a Minecraft or Terraria server without this, it probably is.
A second thing I do try to help players memorize server names by having some sort of Domain Name System. For local addresses, it works by replacing first two sections of local addresses (192.168.) with the word 'local', and by giving two words for the third and fourth part respectively. I've come up with a word to replace every number up to 255. So 192.168.1.10 for example is 'local crazy baboon', because 'crazy' stands for 1 and 'baboon' for 10. When you want to connect to your friend's server, you only have to look at which words his server window shows, and type those in your own client window. The game will look up the actual IP-address automatically. I really can't wait to hear people say 'Okay, let's all connect to crazy baboon' at LAN-parties!
Global addresses have something similar: on some server space I borrow from a friend, I keep a list of addresses and the names associated with them. Players will be able to add their own server to this list on olvand.com:
So when I type 'Nijmegen2', the game will look at this list, and translate 'Nijmegen2' into an IP-address. This feature also has some other advantages, as I will describe in the next section.
2. Finding people to play with is hard.
This is an even bigger problem - even Chris Hecker's SpyParty, which already has hundreds of playtesters, has this problem from time to time: sometimes you can't find good players to play with. I really hope I'm wrong, but my guess is that early playtesting will mostly be a lonely time. What I did to solve this a little bit is expanding the DNS I just described. When you register your server, you can also indicate if you're looking for new players on that server. If you are, and your server is online, it will be suggested to players looking for new friends to play with.
During playtesting, I would also love to have one dedicated server that is online 24 hours a day, and all playtesters know about. So if you, dear reader, have the possibility to run a such a server, please contact me! As thank you I'll name something really important in the game after you.
All of the features described above are working already, but I'm still finetuning them, as I want them to be as perfect as possible in the first test build: unbalanced gameplay is one thing, but not being able to play online or with others will probably make lots of testers give up instantly. But we'll see how it goes :).