Bitcraft Hands-On Impressions and Interview

Bitcraft Hands-On Impressions and Interview

MMORPGs have offered the promise of player agency and being able to shape the world but those promises usually fall flat beyond the premise of having a stronghold in one part of the world or adjusting tax and trade ratios in another. Bitcraft: Age of Automata aims to break that concept down to the basic voxels by allowing players to literally shape the shared world as they see fit. With a single shared world to craft bit by bit, there’s something special in the works with Clockwork Labs, Inc.

My play session saw me along with one other developer showing me the experience from fresh eyes and learning the tricks of the trade in a guided experience. From the beginning, I got to see the basics of harvesting materials and crafting a basic tent while learning just how cumbersome it can be to try and transport a single log while at a low level. Given that Bitcraft will be a survival crafting MMORPG, there is a stronger emphasis on progression than players might see among other survival titles. As players grow in skills, they’ll slowly be able to craft more complex automation, drawing inspiration from the ancient past that encompasses the backstory to the world of Bitcraft. However, any chapters of the story going forward will be up to the players themselves to write.

Our claim in the world was just an insignificant speck on the world map and located in a forested biome that held wood and the occasional ore node for resources. We talked about the progression with gathering materials throughout the world and how the developers drew inspiration from Albion Online for some of these gathering systems and how different biomes would contain varying tiers of materials.

The developers who guided the session also spoke about the ongoing work in the backend with Spacetime DB, which can track and maintain every variable from the terrain to the players themselves. With so much of the crafting and terrain deformation running on timers, Clockwork Labs, Inc. talked up just how important the tool was to development while also allowing their smaller staff to be able to build out an entire MMORPG.

Part of making sure that Bitcraft is ready for a global release with stable servers are the performance tests that Clockwork Labs, Inc. has been running at a regular pace with closed pre-alpha tests since 2020. Last week, Bitcraft launched its first Closed Alpha test on April 4th with players not held to an NDA, so expect player impressions regarding the core systems to pop up over the coming weeks. While a release window hasn’t been as much as teased yet, players should look forward to updates throughout 2024 and beyond.

Can you tell us what Bitcraft is all about?

Essentially, it’s a survival crafting MMORPG. What that means in this case is that we’re going to take all the players and put them in a single, physical world which they can then edit.

You can change the terrain, the trees to build buildings, roads, whatever you want to cut them down, grow them, whatever it is. And then they’re gonna rebuild civilization from the ground up.

You start in the wilderness and then you build increasingly complex buildings and machinations. In this world, there’s also an ancient past. There’s a bit of a story that we’ve written. We write the story that has happened in the past and then players are going to write the story that happens after the game releases.

One particularly big difference between the normal sort of survival crafting genre games and Bitcraft is that we have MMO-scale character progression, which means much longer-term character progression. This is something more in the vein of Runescape.

Bitcraft is click to move. We did that for a very specific reason. We feel it’s a nice balance in terms of relaxing gameplay. You don’t have to give it your full attention at all times to be able to make progress in the game, and that’s kind of important.

Will you have options for direct camera control for controllers in the future of Bitcraft?

That’s a good question. We’re definitely cross-platform. We’re gonna be on PC and then mobile eventually and then we plan eventually to get to consoles and for that, we’ll have to have obviously controls that make more sense for gamepads. We actually have an experimental WASD movement. We do think that click-to-move makes the most sense for the gameplay.

Yeah, it’s for people who may want to play on portable devices such as the Steam Deck and Asus Rog Ally. Having controller support is a key pillar for them.

It is. We actually already met with the Steam Deck team earlier as well.

How does building work in Bitcraft?

This is an interesting little piece of UX that we’re going to be polishing up. The idea here is that you’re going to place a construction site. You can kind of see the placeholder construction site there. Then, you’re gonna add your materials and do work to it. In the beginning, this is a little quirky, but it’s really important towards the end of the gameplay, where you have the ability to take a lot of resources, and you can have other players actually help you out. I could come up to your building and help you do work on the building to build it up. It’s really important for collaboration.

The nice thing about this building method is that you can have one person laying out the town and deciding where things should go and have other people come through and help.

I’ll just explain the claims a little bit. When you’re building a sandbox world like this, there are people who like to kick down sandcastles and we need to give people a way to be able to have a place that’s safe for them to construct stuff. That’s the purpose of the claims.

It allows us to give people an area where it’s just their own and they’re the only ones who can control what happens inside. There’s a sophisticated permission system so they can give their friends access to it, or they can set up who can do what within the claim.

As long as one node is within the claim area, is that enough to protect the whole within the claim zone?

I believe we were talking about this yesterday. Right now it’s the whole thing, but it should probably be. The one thing is you can only actually have one claim, but you can expand it once you’ve placed it. You won’t be able to get very far with building a bunch of those or you won’t be able to activate the other ones once you’ve enabled the first one, but you could certainly expand it to cover all that stuff that you just put down.

There’s a lot of details with respect to the claims as well, because when somebody has a claim in the world, they’re taking up a resource in the world. We have sort of a no harm, no foul policy.

As long as somebody is not taking up that resource for other players and they’re off in their own place, that’s totally fine. We want that to be as easy as possible.

Can you remove buildings?

Yes, you can.

How do you maintain the claim?

You can put resources in to maintain the claim. We’re very generous with that. When there will be another claim near you, which is sort of encroaching on your space, if they’re ahead of you and they’re putting more resources in, then you may also have to put more resources in.

You want to pick a place where you’re out of the way or you’re not taking up a lot of space for other people and then it’s a little bit easier for you to build.

‘We’ve created a fairly complicated permission system that allows you to basically control exactly how you want to do it. It is similar to World of Warcraft guild’s role levels and permissions’.

Can you stake your own claim in the middle between two claims from the same player?

You certainly can. The more that they want it, the more they put work into it, the harder it is for you to maintain that. But really it’s incentivized to put more stuff into a single claim than to spread your stuff all around. It’s just harder to maintain that. If they were especially motivated, you might be in trouble,

You can expand the claims quite large as you advance them. Unless it’s like an outpost that’s in a distant area that you maybe want to have as a checkpoint or a place to stage resources or something, really, you would probably just want to make a contiguous claim because there’s a lot of tech tree upgrades that you make on the claim. It would be very wasteful to have two claims that are small right beside each other, because you’d basically have to buy all those upgrades again instead of just expanding it for one.

We really don’t want people to be anxious about it and be able to take like a week or more and just have it be fine. That’s not the idea here unless you’re perhaps in a bit of a contest with another large claim. You can recruit as well. You can actually add a new opening and this will allow me to join your claim. You can specify a qualification there. We’ve created a fairly complicated permission system that allows you to basically control exactly how you want to do it.

It is similar to World of Warcraft guild’s role levels and permissions. If you just put a recruitment for a random low-level player, you don’t want them to come in and clean out all your chests. They can come in and use your crafting tables as just the lowest-level members. They can pick and drop stuff off the ground, but they can’t access storage, build new buildings, or destroy buildings.

You can assign officers who can then also manage the permissions of other players and stuff like that.

What’s the maximum size as far as like region goes that you can essentially claim as your own in Bitcraft?

It depends on how much resources you wanna put into it. I think the way we have it tuned right now, a max-level claim for this coming Closed Alpha gets into the many thousands of tiles. You could imagine maybe not the entire map area that you’ve uncovered here, but a decent, maybe double-digit percentage of it could be entirely claimed by a single claim. Pretty much everything that you have in your render distance here could be a very large town or city.

[…] This is what we call cargo. It’s essentially like a big item. You can see it can be cut into logs. So, this is holding four logs within it. It’s sort of a compact way to transport resources.

If you put that down on the ground, what you can do is hold right-click on it and chop it up into smaller logs. This is another system that we have to allow you to transport goods more efficiently across the world and carts and boats and things can actually hold cargo.

There’s kind of two classes of cargo, there’s like raw cargo, which is generally when you gather a resource and it gives you this big unrefined thing. That’s part of the logistical challenge of, do you call that back to base or do you chop it up on the spot?

But then once you have more refined objects, say you have a whole bunch of planks or something that could easily fill up your entire inventory, you can basically bundle these together like a package. Then when you have a vehicle or a stockpile, you can stack many of these things that are the same type of cargo to put them in almost bulk-like cold storage or bulk transport. We find that it really adds a lot of interesting dynamics to the logistical aspect of Bitcraft.

Can you talk about the player’s interaction with the terrain?

As I mentioned, everything in Bitcraft is modifiable, including the terrain. The way this works is you can specify if you want to go down and you can click dig. Then we can begin to dig and I can actually help you dig. We’re both doing sort of damage if you will, this is particularly easy but to the train to kind of lower it or raise it, the more that it deviates from the natural state of where it was, the more expensive it becomes.

You need to get a group of people together if you want to make a big impact on the world. We’ve seen people build hot mega highways through mountains where they’ll cut a pass and go through or they build like a giant pyramid. We can see that the people who really want to make a change to the world will get together and collaborate.

Basically, every system in the game has the ability to collaborate with other people. You can work on the same building together, a dig site, chopping down a tree.

How many people can collaborate on a project at the same time as we’ve had?

In one of the Pre-Alphas we did last year, towards the end, we said: the server shuts down in one hour, everyone come to these coordinates. They all stood on that same tile and we had around 50 people digging. They were trying to build a pillar to the max height and I think they went a lot further than I thought you could at the time.

I think at the time, it was balanced a lot more. It didn’t scale up in difficulty quite as fast as it does now, so they were like up in the clouds, basically.

For those pillars, in some of these voxel-based games, even though people are up top, you can chop away at the bottom and knock that over. Is there a similar system at play in Bitcraft?

No. I would say the world is basically like a 2.5D world. You can raise and lower the terrain, but ultimately, it’s kind of like a plane. But there are a lot of people who have asked, can I dig underground or something like that? Currently, you can’t lower the terrain and get into a cave or something.

But we do have some enterable areas. If you played Valheim, for example, you can go into certain instanced caves, or whatever. We have similar stuff to that. You can find caves, you can find ruins and temples. These are kind of of dungeons that you can go into, taking you into subterranean maps. It’s sort of like Breath of the Wild shrines where there’s mini puzzles that we have in there. As you go through them, you can unlock more stuff.

But players won’t be able to craft those themselves, then?

That’s not necessarily the case. In Bitcraft, you can build enterable buildings that usually create these pocket dimensions. We just don’t have the content in the game right now for it. But we’ve definitely floated the idea of players being able to build a mine hole that takes you down to a subterranean layer that you could then go down and mine down there.

‘There isn’t any PvP. We’re not opposed to it, but the thing with PvP is it can get very adversary. If we were to have it, we’d do it in some way that would be in the spirit of Bitcraft, which is collaboration.’

One of the things you mentioned earlier was building a tunnel or highway through a mountain, so I was curious if that would be viable.

In that particular case, we had two large towns that were far apart and they wanted to be able to move more quickly between them and bring their carts. We had like a ridge and they had to flatten the valley.

One thing that we don’t have in this demo, but that is definitely in the game, is PvE combat. Right now, there’s not a lot of antagonistic things that will come and attack you. There’s more like animals that you can hunt, but that is also coming as well in the game.

There isn’t any PvP. We’re not opposed to it, but the thing with PvP is it can get very adversary. If we were to have it, we’d do it in some way that would be in the spirit of Bitcraft, which is collaboration. There’s a system in the game called Empires. Empires essentially allow you to capture territory on the map and then you have to supply the outpost. This is one area of competition within the game. I can essentially put an anti-claim on your outposts and claim your territory. So it’s really about just showing how much territory I can afford to maintain.

That’s one sort of PvP but not actual battling with players. But you can certainly imagine a system where an empire has set up a trade route to supply their outposts and we allow sort of piracy on the high seas.

Can you talk about the world of Bitcraft?

There are 10 different biomes in the game. They can get quite exotic, some of them at least. We also have these different traveler NPCs that move around in the world. This particular one is interested in knowledge and learning about the ancient world from which he has come.

So you can give him, like cloth packs, tailoring packs, things like this for him to do his work, and he’ll pay you for them and then you can get ancient artifacts from the past that he has here. There are many different types of travelers, some more rare than others, and they do different things in the world.

Also, we would love in the future to allow you to build a site within your town to attract them to your town, so they come to stay with you and maybe play music and offer you items and things within your own town.

One key thing is that all new players are starting in the wilderness, so we will find wilderness for them and there will always be wilderness for them, but even if you find a town, you can use their stuff, but you can’t necessarily cut through the game to get to the end of it because there’s level gating as well and that’s important for the game.

How do you know when you’re gated off something?

If you go to your profession stat, you can see if you click on the drop-down all of your levels for all of your different things, and then as you interact with things, it’ll tell you, hey, you need to be of level this to be able to do this particular thing, or you need tier two or tier four tools to be able to interact.

All of the stuff in the game is tiered, sort of like Albion Online, and all regions of the world have some tier of some kind, but they might not have the same resources. If you’re in the mountains, it might be easier to get ore. But obviously, if you’re near the water, it’s easier to get fish.

That’s how we set up supply and demand trade between places. Basically, there’s a demand for transporting things around the world. We’ve seen that happen. There was a guy who just liked to fish; he was the fishing guy, and he would provide fish. There is an interdependence between all the professions to advance to each new tier.

You need every single profession to come together in some way or another to allow for the entry into that next tier. That doesn’t mean you need to necessarily play with all those people and know all those people, but there needs to be some way somewhere that somebody is bringing together the effort of all those people.

How much will players be able to terraform the world of Bitcraft just out in the open?

As much as they are able to given the resource constraints of that.

Say I was in a rival guild and say this claim only has one entrance. Could I viably, as a player, just terraform all the way down to that?

Yeah. But I mean, there’s also a number of things that make it not that malicious. Number one is that terraforming it back to its natural state is gonna be much cheaper. You need drastically less manpower to just fix it than you need to mess it up, so they’re gonna be wasting a lot of time and resources compared to what you have to do to fix it.

‘We’ve actually developed a system called Spacetime DB, which is available on GitHub. it’s a database where all of this is running. All the player movement, all the trees, all the terrain, everything is 100% running inside the database.’

Is the water dynamic, or is it set to the tile?

Right now, it is not dynamic, but this is just a thing that we’re getting into. It’s really like a UX and kind of like an art challenge right now because we actually have the ability to do it with dev commands and it works. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to put that in the game instead of something very unnatural, like people raising a pillar of water in the middle of the lake. You can kind of think like Minecraft water.

I was kind of curious if people could like design boats in Bitcraft?

Absolutely. We want that to be possible in the future canals, too.

Build timers seem like they’re gonna be exponential depending on the tier of what you’re crafting. Is that right?

In Bitcraft, there’s not really timers as much as it’s labor. Most of the stuff in the game is done with your character actively doing work on it. Whether you’re building a building, cutting down a tree, crafting something. When you click on a crafting recipe, you’re basically starting to work on it. You’re actually gonna have to take a bit of time, depending on your tool and your skill level and all that, to complete crafting those things.

The only thing that’s really time-based right now is the claim research, researching the tech and the claim, and passive crafting. You’re correct enough: at the beginning of the game, those timers start small and as you go up, they get larger. But once you get later in the game, it’s not like you’re only crafting the endgame stuff. There’s a massive need for the early game resources as you get deeper in the game.

Also, just to give you a sense of what passive crafting is, it’s things like baking bread, or smelting ore. Say you’re a high level blacksmith. You’re like, let me throw in a tier six bar into the smelter. That’s gonna take quite a while. But at the same time, you may also need to be making 10 tier one bars because you’re gonna need those as well. When the bars come out of the oven, you need to hammer them to cool them off. You’re constantly juggling all this stuff even when you do have these long timers going on as well.

Do you have to be online for the timers to keep counting down?


Ok. The other thing that I was wondering about is if someone has a build timer and if there’s like scheduled maintenance where the server goes off temporarily and they log back in, do you have states to lock the timers as they were, or does it have to start over the timers to progress even if the server is down?

It’s on a case-by-case basis, technically. It really just comes down to the design. I would also just take a brief moment to say how this is built. It’s a challenge to build an MMORPG. It’s a particular challenge to build an MMORPG where everything is editable. To my knowledge, it hasn’t been done.

The way we’ve done this is we’ve actually developed a system called Spacetime DB, which is available on GitHub if you want to take a look at it. But it’s a database where all of this is running.

All the player movement, all the trees, all the terrain, everything is 100% running inside the database. That does two things for us. Number one, it greatly simplifies the development. My dream is that an indie team of like seven developers or even maybe like two can make an MMORPG. I think that’s completely tractable. It can’t be World of Warcraft in terms of the content, but it can be pretty good.

The other one is that we can take a much more principled approach to developing things to have a theoretical answer to the question of whether timers will continue when the server is down and answer that in the affirmative, yes or no, depending on how we want to implement it.

As far as character progression in Bitcraft goes, are there skills that every character needs to learn specific ones, like they have to have certain tiers of crafting to progress through?

Yes. It’s similar in a sense to Runescape or Final Fantasy XIV. As far as the professions that you saw on that list there, I would compare it to the job system in Final Fantasy XIV, where basically you can pick one of those and only do that.

But you can also at any point decide you want to try this other profession, and you can just go start from level one in that to pursue it. There will be other things outside of this list of specialized professions that have general utility to everyone.

One thing I will also say is you don’t need to switch professions or anything like that. The game happens to encourage you to go further down one specialization than to kind of be a jack of all trades. But if you wanted to do that, you certainly could. There’s no preventing that from happening.

Is there anything, like any gear or items, that would make it easier to level up a given profession?

Certainly. You can get higher-tier tools that will be able to cut things faster and give you more experience. The way that you gain experience and also generally get items from stuff is essentially based on the contribution of how much damage you do or how much effort you make in crafting something.

So, if you’ve got a better tool, that’s gonna be more XP per hit and that’s gonna be more items that you’re gonna be getting per hit. As you get more skilled, you’ll have a chance to crit as well.

Are there items or buildings that are not tradable between players?

No. By definition, if it is an item, it is tradable in Bitcraft. We have some things that are locked to your character. For example, anything in your vault. Some things in your vault can be converted into items and thus are tradable. Some things in here are just on your character.

They might be things that you have achieved or in general gotten through your gameplay. You can imagine a title here, which you would only get if you were a master craftsman of your kind.

Do you have to be a certain tier of something to be able to use a higher-tier cart?

So this is something that we’re not 100% certain. I think that what I can say I can say is there will be more advanced vehicles. There are definitely ways to obtain those that require you to deeply do stuff. How much of that will be convertible to other players versus you have to do it yourself is kind of something we’re deciding.

The mechanism by which we determine whether something should be traded or not is really whether it is something that is a product of proving how much work or something that you’ve done in a particular area. That should be on your account. Skilled experience, for example, will never be tradable.

There’s nothing in that that we want to be tradable because that is a measure of how much effort you put into the game. Something like items that you can use to build and create things but that you can acquire by sort of any means. Those will always be tradable and that’s why we’ve made that sort of distinction.

I was thinking about the methodology of mentoring a new player in Bitcraft, or, in simple terms, power leveling them, giving them a higher-rank backpack or cart early on so they don’t have to contend with some of those systems nearly as much.

Some of those things we will decide, look, we don’t want you to have a sort of a rich friend in the game and be able to skip through all the game content. We think this is meaningful content. We want people to play that.

However, combat is not actually progression-based. You can say, hey, throw on my old set of armor and off we’re gonna go fighting things. That way, we can have players who are many months apart in starting time actually just work together to fight things.

Do you have a release window roughly in mind for Bitcraft?

As soon as it’s ready, as soon as we possibly can. And the point of the Alpha is to really explore and find out how’s the reception to the game, what’s the scale of the things that we need to improve before we get to that level? There’s gonna be more and longer tests before the end of the year.

What platforms are you targeting for launch?

We’re targeting desktop PC first, but we’d also like to do mobile. Then, after launch, if we can and have the resources, we’d love to do consoles and things like Steam Deck and the Nintendo Switch.

Thank you for your time.

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