The Pentaquin MMORPG
The beginnings of our project
One of the logo concepts for the originally planned Pentaquin MMORPG
The original idea
As it is often the case with many projects, Pentaquin was initially driven by a dream. The dream of a small group of students to develop their own computer game. This dream was followed by action: The Pentaquin project was launched and continuously developed from this point on. As the team grew our requirements, knowledge and experience did as well allowing us to continuously expand the game concept.
Pentaquin was originally intended to be a so-called MMORPG. This abbreviation stands for “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game”. The player was meant to be able to explore the world together with hundreds of other players, experience adventures, trade and train the skills of his character – thus improving and developing it.
The name Pentaquin is composed of the Greek number five “Penta” and the root “Quin-” of the same number from Latin (“Quīnque”).
The number five was consciously chosen as the eponym, as it describes the structure of the Pentaquin universe . It consists of a planet orbited by five moons. These celestial bodies have a very special function: they significantly influence the planet and its inhabitants and therefore play a central role in the game. In addition the moons each embody one of the five magic circles dedicated to channeling the cosmic lunar energies. The players will encounter those moons frequently.
Due to the influence of this described moon magic the tides, daytimes, flora, fauna and many other properties change which is why the cardinal number five of us was determined by us as the pivotal point of world building. This way the name “Pentaquin” was born. Even beyond the MMORPG concept which has for now has been placed on hold the name is still incorporated in our current project: The 2D platformer Pentaquin: Deeds Of Twilight
As a player of the Pentaquin MMORPG you were meant to be able to explore the world together with hundreds of other players, experience adventures, trade and train the skills of your virtual game character and thus advance and develop it.
With no distinct character classes the decision of what to do with Pentaquin was entirely up to you. Pentaquin should be available to the largest possible target group and provide players with long-lasting fun.
Unique quests PvE and PvP battles should lead the player to ever new limits and challenges that had to be overcome. But even those who don’t like fighting should get their money’s worth at Pentaquin: The player was also meant to be able to carry out manual activities, such as forging weapons and armor, or explore the game world for special items.
The game world
“A world in constant change”
The universe of Pentaquin was meant to change dynamically and be influenced by the player’s actions. For example a forest could have been cleared, but also replanted. As a player you were to directly influence the game world with your interactions .
It was also planned for the eponymous five moons to have their own special effects on the vegetation and the population of the game world. As a player you should have used them wisely and to your advantage! In addition,the weather, the tides as well as flora and fauna were meant to behave dynamically. NPCs should not just walk around somewhere but also be able to tell their own stories and perform certain actions depending on their environment and time of day.
We were able to recycle large parts of the game world once designed for the Pentaquin MMORPG in partly slightly modified form for our follow-up project Pentaquin: Deeds Of Twilight . Since the 2D platformer basically tells the prequel to the MMORPG the storylines and core principles of the world build on each other.
A journey through the past
What the originally planned Pentaquin MMORPG looked like during development:
A dynamic environment: Where and when chopped down trees grew back was to depend on many factors, including the weather. Thus for example in a drought the growth rate of trees wouldn’t have been as high as in a rain shower. Also resources such as metal ores should not appear regularly and not in the same places forcing the player to be careful with his resources. Otherwise, he would’ve had to travel long distances to regain new raw materials.
Feature highlights of the Pentaquin MMORPG
Musical heritage of the Pentaquin MMORPG
During the development period of the Pentaquin MMORPG a whole series of beautiful compositions were created. They were intended to accompany the diverse landscapes of the Pentaquin universe. Among other things, the entire launch area – from the island of Kardor to the island of Tarin as well as the nearby shipwreck reef – were already set to music.
We have released the entire OST (Original Soundtrack) for the Pentaquin MMORPG on SoundCloud. You can still listen to it here today:
Challenges under the hood
2D MMORPG programming
The game client was based on our self-developed PentaCore Engine and the Network Engine specifically developed for the Pentaquin MMORPG. This is where everything regarding the game itself comes together – gameplay mechanics, story, game world, character design, graphics, sounds, etc.
For this reason, the Pentaquin MMORPG had 5 different types of servers to meet these requirements:
Custom map format and map synchronization
To create our maps we used the free map editor Tiled. We used this together with a self-written plugin to export the created maps for the game world into our very own PQM file format.
This format was specially adapted to the entity-component system of our PentaCore engine and the specific needs of the game. The maps were stored on the server and then synchronized with the game client.
A question of the right database
With an MMORPG the choice of the right database(s) is also crucial for the later access times and thus also the latencies. We chose the Pentaquin MMORPG especially for the NoSQL databases Hazelcast and Cassandra.
So we used a hybrid solution with Cassandra as persistent storage and Hazelcast for the performance needed for an MMORPG. This should not only provide Pentaquin with the necessary speed and guarantee absolute reliability and redundancy but also give programmers more freedom and flexibility.
Our self-developed 2D MMORPG engine
There is always some kind of “engine” under the hood of a computer game that drives the game to a certain extent: A so-called game engine, or in our case specifically a 2D MMORPG engine. For the Pentaquin MMORPG we developed such an engine ourselves to achieve full flexibility & dynamics, as well as high performance: The PentaCore MMORPG Engine. Among other things, it was responsible for the entity component system (in which all objects in the game are arranged), the GUI system (graphical user interface), the input system, as well as the sound system – all basic components that form the technical foundation of a game.
For the PentaCore Engine we mainly used the programming language Java as it not only runs on all common platforms and operating systems without major problems – but is also very well suited for (2D) games, contrary to the expectations of some non-Java programmers.
As OpenGL interface we used the LWJGL Library, an interface that gave us native access to OpenGL, OpenAL and OpenCL. Thanks to this direct control and the native memory provided by LWJGL and not managed by the Java Garbage Collector, we were able to achieve high performance for our MMORPG game client that could compete with native programs written in C or C++.
We had to pay a high price for this though – the development of such an engine can’t be done with a flick of the wrist and it cost us an immense amount of time. The advantage: Pentaquin should have its own 2D MMORPG engine, which would be optimally tailored to the requirements and peculiarities of the game.As a full-fledged game engine we were able to adapt PentaCore optimally to our needs.
Change of course
After working and sticking to our MMORPG concept for a long time we had become increasingly aware of how bleak the future prospects are for our project. An important point in our decision at that time was the departure of numerous developers of our hobby team due to time constraints. Especially in the backend programming team and the graphics department, which are indispensable for an MMORPG, we lacked important capacities.
Another reason for the change of course was the lack of investors or capital that would have been needed to finance the expensive server infrastructure. The entire project, including server infrastructure, hardware and software, had so far been financed entirely from personal financial resources of some of our members. Since our project doesn’t generate any revenue of its own it would have been very difficult or impossible to maintain the full server infrastructure at release based on this “financing model”. Since a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Game (MMORPG) unfortunately requires not only great man-power but also immense funds for the servers the odds for a further development of the previous MMORPG were against us in the end, especially after the aforementioned team exits.
The phoenix from the ashes
The follow-up project
Despite the painful abandonment of the MMORPG game concept one thing was certain: Pentaquin will not cease to exist. For the sake of our team morale however the game concept had to move towards a much simpler direction in order to become more realistic for our hobby project and to create a faster sense of achievement. Since most of the complexity of the Pentaquin MMORPG lay in the development of a GameServer architecture, which is indispensable for a multiplayer game, all multiplayer concepts were eliminated for us in the decision-making process.
We finally decided on a 2D platformer with certain role-playing elements which should be set in the same game world which would have been the home of the Pentaquin MMORPG as well. We also made a conscious decision to keep the name “Pentaquin” because it perfectly represents the game world with its five moons and everyone within the team identifies with the name Pentaquin. Another advantage: We were able to continue to use our logo, our domains including SEO ranking and all T-shirts, mugs, pens and other goodies related to the project.
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