What IS Lamannia
Posted On: January 13th, 2010
Senior Community Specialist
Visitor Note: Even if you don't speak English, you are always welcome to post comments in your own language and I will make diligent efforts to understand you! If you like language, DMB may be for you.
With the advent of character copy for the preview server (and somedowntime that’s even MORE likely to have people playing on Lamannia waiting for the worlds to come back up), I’ve been getting more questions from users who are curious about what the “purpose” of the preview servers are. Questions like:
- What’s the difference between Mournlands and Lamannia?
- What are we supposed to “do” on Lamannia?
- What do the devs do with Lamannia?
Rather than bore you with the technical stuff (mostly), I thought it might be easier to understand the preview servers by looking at the journey of when game content is first created to the point when it is put on the live servers… but told in a lovely allegorical story that uses high tech animating tools like… a white board and some dry erase markers!! Presenting…
The Journey of Content
Staring: A cartoon drawing of a gold fish
Stage 1: The Fish Bowl (i.e. developer environment)
When a developer first creates content, it lives on their desks inside their personal work computer. Think of it as putting a fish inside a small fish bowl in your home. The ultimate goal is to get the fish (the game content) into the ocean (the live servers).
But you can’t just flop the fish directly into the ocean, that might kill it, or break the ocean ecosystem and stuff! You never know how that fish is going to react to things around it. So you start with the fish in the fishbowl. The same is true for game content. You start with the basic concept and you work your way gradually towards live release so that you don’t unintentionally break something in a huge way that you couldn’t forsee in the fishbowl. Initially only the people at “home” (the other devs) can see the fish. They watch it, monitor its behavior, and do a few things to generally test how it works in that small and very controlled space.
A fish (content) in a fish bowl (the dev-only servers)
When the devs feel that the fish isn’t going belly-up in the fish bowl, and they’re feeling good about how the fish works with its surroundings (getting rid of obvious bugs that manifested internally, seems to be doing what it’s supposed to at face value, etc) it’s time to move it to a bigger space in front of some player eyes to see their basic reactions. This is like moving the fish from the fish bowl in your home into an aquarium in your home. It’s still in your home so the outside world can’t see it, but the aquarium is a bigger space for the fish where more can go wrong. That aquarium is the Mournlands.
Stage 2: The home aquarium (Mournlands)
Sticking with our analogy still…
If you compare a fish bowl to a home aquarium, things get more complicated. You have to pay more attention to the chemistry of the water, there’s more equipment to maintain, it takes up more room, etc. How the fish acted in the fish bowl may be VERY different to how it behaves in a bigger more complex space. This is true for game content. (In case you can’t tell from my awesome and life-like depiction, that’s Couatl on the left and 404Error on the right.)
Even with the best planning and game design experience, how something worked for a dev on their machine and in front of their co-workers is not the same as how it acts when seen by players. Players see the world through different eyes, react to things uniquely, and don’t have preconceived notions about how something is supposed to behave the way a staff member does. It’s a good first step towards getting to the ocean… but it’s still not the ocean. The other thing is… it’s not public either. It’s more like inviting people to your house to come check out your cool aquarium… and no one sees it except the people you allow to see it.
In the aquarium phase, we observe the fish behavior and make sure it’s still not going belly up and still acting the way we would expect a fish to behave (measuring initial player reactions, sometimes catching more large-scale design issues and bugs, making quality of life improvements when possible etc).
Once we’ve determined that the fish is still alive and kicking and it didn’t destroy the fish tank it was in… it’s time to migrate it to something a little closer to the ocean, but that still isn’t the ocean just in case… the public preview server Lamannia.
Stage 3: Seaworld (aka Lamannia)
There’s other equipment and technical stuff that happens when “moving the fish” from one place to the next… but I’m not going to get into all the plastic bags and nets and stuff that the QA, Network Operations, and other teams wrangle to get the fish out of the home aquarium and into the big-time tank. Once it happens though, this is the first time that the fish (the game content) is really in a space that replicates closer to what the ocean (the general public on live servers) will be like.
It’s not 100% comparable to the ocean - again these are gradual steps. After all, your city aquarium doesn’t have a “tide” to worry about usually…there’s not a pirate whaling organization to worry about… or an oil tanker to crash and spew sludge everywhere… but there are some large scale concerns in the city aquarium compared to the small home aquarium. The same is true for Lamannia.
It’s the first time that the public gets to see the content in a more unbridled way. During this point, the icthyologists (people like myself, Tarrant, 404error, MadFloyd, etc) keep an eye on how the fish is behaving in a place that better resembles what life will be like out in the sea. It’s the last chance to see if anything is going to cause the fish to go belly up. At last, it’s time to turn the fish loose into the sea… the live servers.
Stage 4 and beyond: The Ocean (the live servers)
The content is finally put out for general public consumption. It starts in the harbor with the VIPs before going out to sea with the free players.
Now this isn’t to say that during this journey there still can’t be a problem with the fish when it finally hits the ocean. In fact, there are a lot of fish to watch, and at any point in the process, it could be that the one fish with some ick on it made it through and died in the sea. But many fish are rehabilitated in this process (many before they even get out of the fish bowl), and the fish that are having issues in the sea are caught and we make sushi out of them or something… okay sorry I was writing this around lunch time so had food on my mind.
Another interesting phenominon about private and public preview servers is sometimes you can catch a problem that is a bad problem… but not in time for the fix to go into the release. This isn’t the best way to explain it but: sometimes if you find a problem half-way through the fish’s journey to the sea… and the solution is to replace the water… you can’t just drain the aquarium, the fish will die! You have to figure out what the problem with the old water was; get the new water ready; if it needs sa lot of water, where it’s coming from; figure out how you’re going to get the old water out; where you’re going to put the fish in the meantime; etc. Sometimes you have to let the fish go to sea because the water problem is too big to tackle in a timely manner, but the fish will survive in the meantime, so you just have to let the fish swim around in the sea while you’re getting better water ready for it for next time (i.e. a patch, hotfix, etc).
The grand goal of Lamannia is not for players to be QA testers… it is for baby steps towards release so that we can try to catch problems before they blow up everyone’s characters on live. Sometimes catching problems is a bug report. Other times it’s qualitative feedback a user provides on the forums. And sometimes… it’s us noticing differences in the way the content behaved when there was only a smaller pool of people interacting with it vs the broader public audience. I hope my silly fish tales and crude drawings have helped to paint a better picture of the journey of content from dev desk to your desk at home.
And now for something completely different…
So Tarrant was helping me get shots of the white board images, and we started with him trying to add a decorative diving man to the fish bowl. This turned into a series of outtake images as he kept getting bigger and bigger. I’m not quite sure what the morale of Tarrant’s drawing is, other than I’ve decided the last image is “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!”