It’s fair to say that, since their arrival on the grid, I’ve not been a great fan of breedable animals in SL. There’s no particular logic to my position, it’s simply that the idea hasn’t appealed to me.
At least until now. You see, my viewpoint might just be changing, because there’s a new game in town when it comes to breedables – and I use that word both figuratively and literally.
BattleBeast Breedables have been hitting the news of late with announcements appearing on several blogs earlier in the month. They are an interesting concept that combines three popular elements in SL – the aforementioned breedable creatures, combat and role-play.
The breedables in question are dragons – which is why I was initially drawn to the project; I’m a dragon junkie, and have been ever since my father first introduced me to Smaug by way of bedtime stories when I was about seven, through to my discovery of Anne McCaffrey’s wonderful books and beyond..
The BattleBeast website gives a wealth of information on the concept, as well as a well-written backstory. The dragons themselves follow a path that will be familiar to those who have owned breedables before: they are hatched, grow, eat, mate, and so on. They also look pretty cool as well.
But it is the added dimensions of combat and role-play that set BattleBeast Breedables apart from other systems. Not only can dragon owners breed and nurture their own dragons, they can challenge one another to duels and engage in tournaments that feature much that is familiar to the world of the dedicated combat gamer: experience points, stamina, health – and their dragons will gain experience and additional capabilities along the way. Just like real combatants, dragons will also need time to recover from their physical activities – and as an extension of the breedable element, dragons can be mated or paired to produce offspring that may demonstrate enhanced fighting characteristics.
Both combat and breeding also lead to further elements in the concept: those of role-play and affiliated activities. A lot of thought has gone into this, and it’s clear that the creative team behind the project very much hope that as it grows in popularity, the system will give rise to new and interesting communities, with people focusing on different aspects, be they breeding and selling dragons, developing affiliated products, or providing tournament venues, as well as seeing people own dragons themselves expressly for the purposes of combat.
With the public beta for the system now under way, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to meet with the team behind the project – Andi Canare, Wynter Sommer and BattleBeast Resident to talk a little more about the concept, the beta and dragons in general. I kicked things off by asking after progress with the beta itself.
Beta Battlers and Breeders
“It’s going great!” Andi said in reply to my question, “The response has been fun and enthusiastic [and] our group has experienced steady growth – so they are telling their friends! It’s been smooth sailing so far; we’ve been real happy with it.”
“Anyone in the main group can beta – which is about 200 people, I think,” BattleBeast – Battle to his friends – agreed. “People are setting up breeding areas and mating them, doing battles – we get a record of all the matings and battles on our server, so we can track how it’s coming along. Like any new project, there is a core group of the ‘hardcore’ beta testers, and we talk to them every day, and get suggestions, hear about bugs, etc. So far, I’d say we’re very pleased with beta, and very encouraged by the community response we’ve gotten.
“There are many aspects to the dragons,” he continued, “So beta is about confirming stability and adding features in all of them: the HUD, the animations, the flying controls, the mating and birthing, traits…” I asked if there had been any major problems arising from testing to date. “None that I’ve seen, no,” Battle replied, “We’re cautious but very optimistic. We’re in a very good place, in terms of lag, prim-count and manageability of them as breedables.”
When it comes to an end-date, the team are working to a schedule, and are eager to launch – but they’re also aware that it’s important to make sure capabilities and usability as they stand are nailed-down, and that users aren’t going to encounter anything that might upset their experience. As such, while they have earmarked an end-date for the beta, they’re taking the cautious route and not announcing it publicly for the time being – which is a wise path to tread.
Combat sits very much at the heart of the system, and is something the team plan to evolve. Currently, combat is controlled from the sidelines, so to speak – there is no requirement for people to be mounted on their dragons, although they can if they wish. However, there are plans to add a riding element to the combat in the future should there be a demand to do so. Fights are very strategic in nature, with each player selecting an attack or defence move, and the dragons acting and reacting to these, with scores being kept over a series of rounds – what some gamers might call the “rock-paper-scissors” model. The approach has some advantages in SL – such as reducing lag. It also allows the team to code the dragons with optional attack animations that combatants may choose to use.
However, more direct interaction, together with more tactical elements are already being considered by the team. “This is a foundation,” Battle explained, “And we’re listening carefully, and we’ll evolve it. We don’t pretend to know all about how people will use the dragons, but we want to be able to help them have choices to do so.”
A key aspect with tournaments is that they can be held anywhere where there is room and where basic rezzing permissions have been set – there is no need for any additional equipment or purchases, although the team are looking at producing a scoreboard, and one of the attractions with the dragons is the ability for others to produce additional equipment and other items through the system’s Affiliate Programme.
This freedom of venues means that users can establish themselves where they please – at home, on friends’ sims, and so on. It also helps open more of the role-play aspects of the system: rather than owning dragons themselves or running the more traditional breedable “farm/stores”, people can provide venues and facilities for owners to meet and trade, where auctions might be held and additional equipment and food purchased or dragons trained – and where tournaments can be held and/or challenges met. “We’re adding a tab on the HUD to let people find other combatants who are on-line to challenge,” Battle added as we talked, “[And] we have a capability in the dragons for a “team” association; so at some point we’ll publicise that, and help people organise teams, guilds, clans, and so on.”
As with other combat systems, levelling-up in BattleBeasts means unlocking new capabilities and traits in a dragon, enhancing its abilities. This also links back to the breedable aspect of the dragons – mating between dragons with enhanced fighting abilities will in turn produce offspring that have greater abilities. Thus, the breeding / combat elements can be seen as a cycle of nature and nurture, with an element of genetics mixed in as well – as the BattleBeast byline puts it: Better Breeding means Better Battle. Better Battle means Better Breeding.
Riding into Role-play
Role-play is seen as an equally important part of the system’s development as both combat and breeding and, as with those elements of the system, the team to receive feedback from their testers when it comes to role-play, as Battle explained, “Role-play is interesting, and an area where we expect our customers to nudge us into where they want the dragons to be. As we grow and our beasts evolve, our dragon owners will play a role in helping us.”
“’What do you need from us?’ will be heard within our group,” Andi added. “It’s all about the BattleBeast Experience.” As such, the team see the role-play opportunities not only linked directly with the combat and breeding elements, as with the examples mentioned above, but also something that might attract role-play groups quite unconnected, initially, with combat or breedable animals in the usual sense. “We’ve had some good pirate and Gorean inquiries already,” Battle informed me, underlining the point.
“We have lots of suggestions about interacting with the dragons, and most of those come from a role-play perspective,” Wynter adds, bringing quick agreement from Battle. “They will follow their owners in flight now… that seemed pretty common, across all RP visions, and we’ve determined that giving a dragon owner the ability to order a dragon to ‘go fly and perch at X’ is a good thing to have, or ‘walk this path’. These are very doable, and we’ll be building on them.” In fact, the team are already involved in LL’s pathfinding project, which may well offer significant additional capabilities for their dragons – or any other animals that may be added to the range in the future; as Battle hinted at as we chatted, “That’s why we’re BattleBeasts, not Battle Dragons!”
In talking to the team, one cannot escape the fact that they view BattleBeasts as very much a collaborative effort with their growing community as much as they view it as a personal project: they’ll take practical suggestions from the community and see what can be done to facilitate them.
“Very much so!” Battle agrees. “We are open to taking this where they [the users / dragon owners] want it to be.”
“We are having a lot of fun getting input and suggestions from our Beta group! Everything is logged and prioritised,” Wynter adds. “Nothing is just thrown out as silly or crazy!”
“And we have a principle of doing this, to enable people to participate in secondary market items,” Battle continues, elaborating on something we’d so far only touched upon. “So if someone wants to make an accessory and it makes sense, we’ll work with them to have the dragon interaction work with their items. We’ve had a great response to our Affiliate Program. From a functionality perspective, it’s hard to see what those things might be. This one here, the Purple Fancy,” he indicates the dragon standing next to us, “We let it out into beta, and people were so excited to see it! We’re eager to see all of the other things already done as hidden traits!”
Purple Fancy brings us to back to the dragons themselves. Currently developed using sculpts, an adult weighs-in with a Land Impact of 21 – which is not at all bad, considering the complexity of the models; plans are under way to introduce mesh into the equation as well. In terms of growth, it takes six days for a dragon to develop from a hatchling to adolescent, at which point it can start fighting, and it will reach its full adult size in around 15 days of hatching. Adults can fight for 250 days, and can breed for 180 days. Another additional element in the system that’s not available as a part of beta testing is an “auto-combat” mode, which essentially places a dragon under automated control, allowing it to be used to help train other dragons for combat and tournaments, enabling them to level-up and gain enhanced capabilities prior to entering the arena.
Dragons can be managed through a variety of means: they are fully scripted, so menus can be used to control them and enable various capabilities, etc; when being ridden, they respond to the normal WASD / keyboard movement/flight controls. Then there is the BattleBeast HUD. This has two primary modes – MANAGE and BATTLE, with buttons to switch between the two – and is, if I’m honest, somewhat on the large size when opened-out. However, clicking on the BattleBeast shield will tuck it neatly away into the top left corner of the screen.
One of the things I personally like in the HUD is the FOLLOW option – by which a dragon will follow you in flight – which can make for some dramatic looking-shots!
The care and attention paid to the project isn’t restricted to the in-world elements: the BattleBeast Breedables website is packed with information and very professionally presented. Like the rest of the project, it is also in a state of evolution; plans are currently in-hand to add a forum for users, as well as to provide front-desk support software and information updates on tournament results, trait discoveries and so on – all under Andi’s guiding hands.
Overall, BattleBeasts is a fascinating project; between them, Andi, Wynter and Battle have considerable exposure to, and experience in, the SL breedable markets, and it is clear this experience has been used to its fullest in developing BattleBeasts. Even so, bringing together breedable animals, combat and role-play in this way is a daring endeavour, the team’s clear and infectious enthusiasm notwithstanding. However, they’re not alone in such enthusiasm – it’s clear from the Group chats that all those involved in the current beta are similarly enthusiastic – dare I say enthralled – by the dragons, and I’ve little doubt that the system will have very wide appeal once officially launched. Plans for this are already in-hand, with a two-day celebration in the works that will feature battles, hunts, live music and festivities.
For my part, I have to say that after spending time flying around with my beta dragons and generally having fun with them, I’m close to being pretty hooked. I’ve wanted to be a Dragonrider since I was about 12 or 13. With BattleBeasts I may yet get the opportunity to be one – all I need to do is find a sim called “Pern” – after all, have dragon, will travel, as they say!
If you wish to try out the BattleBeast dragons for yourself and assist with the beta programme, sign-up to the BattleBeast Beedables group in-world. Beta packages are available via the Group Notices.