Friday, August 19, 2011

A Valley Without Wind #14 - Beta Gameplay Footage Part Two (Crafting!)

This time the video is all narration, and covers just about everything I would have said in a blog post after this past week.  So very short post this time, and here's the video:

Video Notes
Gameplay footage after about 30 weeks of development.  No music this time, sorry, as the voiceover runs throughout and is already condensing a lot of info into these twelve minutes.  The volume on the voiceover is better this time; thanks for mentioning it last time!

The first half of this video runs through some tech unlocks, three crafting interfaces, and the inventory.  We know this is stuff people have been wanting to see in action for ages, so we're really excited to finally be able to share it.

The second half of this video shows a bit of the new worldbuilding stuff from the last week.  Specifically, it shows indoor lighting, a very few of the new interior room shapes, as well as showing what happens when you die.  I venture foolishly into a region 6 levels higher than myself, and get killed in one hit when a boss reaches me.

Side note: the very platformy nature of the wind shelter area where I find the lone NPC and put up the wind shelter is somewhat temporary.  The general structure is right, as it makes for efficient organization for settlements compared to what was shown in the first video, but the visuals need some work to make them more cohesive.

Also shown in this video are a number of new or revised spells.  The energy lance visual effeect I could never get looking the way that I wanted because something that moves that fast doesn't do well with a purely particle-based system.  So now we have the energy pulse instead; replacing the visuals but keeping the function.

The new circle of fire and ice cross are the first of new directional kinds of spells, and then the launch rock spell is the first of a new trajectory-based spell system.  Also shown is the heat suit, briefly; although since it was used in an ice age region it was a liability rather than a help.

Until Next Time!
More details and another video coming sometime in the next few weeks.  But definitely not weekly in general, because it cuts into actual development time too much.  But this was definitely a video that has been a long time coming, so we're really excited to share this one in particular.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Valley Without Wind #13 - Beta Gameplay Footage Part One (Video)

It's been just about two months since we last did a video of AVWW, and we've been very busy! This is the first true "gameplay video" that we've ever done, where it's all one long un-cut stretch of in-game footage rather than a trailer with chopped-up clips.

This is also the first time we've ever included actual game sound effects in one of the videos, so you can hear all the work Pablo's been doing on that front.  There's still dozens more sound effects he's working on prior to beta, but it's really sounding great already.

This video really speaks for itself a lot more than any that we've done before, so this accompanying blog post is going to be comparably brief.  Or rather, a lot of my commentary is embedded in the video as voice-over, this time.  And a lot of the rest of it has been on video-less blog posts stretched over the last few weeks (with more to come).  Keith does have an accompanying blog post that he's going to make related to this video, I believe, but I don't think that will be until next week.

So, here's the video in question, anyhow:

There are a couple of things I'd like to note in particular that the video itself doesn't yet note:

We do have bosses in the game, and you can actually see me kill a couple of them.  Look for the skelebots that I have to fire lots of fireballs into, and which have little names above themselves (or really, a serial number in the case of skelebots) instead of just saying "Skelebot" above their health bar popup.

That said, I don't want to give the impression that the bosses in this game will just be regular monsters with buffed stats.  We will be doing that for what I guess I would call "micro bosses," so in that sense the video is a good representation of how those will work. 

Micro Bosses
These micro bosses have buffed stats and are actually more unique in their stats in general compared to their non-boss kin.  They may have custom behaviors at some point, but probably not before beta if at all.  So in terms of bosses, these are really kind of underwhelming, right?  They're what I'd been referring to as "named monsters," and they are minor and common.

Why have micro bosses?  Well, bosses of some flavor need to be a fairly common occurrence in A Valley Without Wind for two reasons:

1. When you defeat a boss, micro or otherwise, a teleport portal spawns in their chunk that lets you fast-travel to and from any other portals in that region, including one that then appears at the region entrance.  As you will see later in the video, this is hugely important to general game flow.

2. Normal smaller monsters (aka, anything that isn't a boss) don't give you experience points when you fight them.  The only way to get EXP, therefore, is by either helping NPCs out (the whole hopes/needs thing), doing other civilization-improving tasks  (wind shelters, etc), following other side quests (like the memory crystals), or by killing bosses of whatever stripe.

Anyhow, micro-bosses use the same general underlying framework that the traditional mini-bosses and full bosses will also use.  The larger flavors of boss will actually be larger, of course, and will also not be something you can mistake for a regular monster that is unusually tough.  We're really excited about what we have planned for them, and Phil is working on art for the first full boss at the moment. 

The wind shelter you see in the video (as well as all the new icons on the world map) are Phil's handiwork as well, by the way.  As are the crafting workbenches, which we showed in past screenshots.

Why No EXP From Small Monsters?
I think I wrote about this in a past blog post months ago, but this bears repeating.

Exploration and killing small monsters used to grant EXP, but we found that encouraged OCD-like behavior in terms of exploring every little nook and cranny and killing every enemy in sight.  This is the exact opposite of what we want to encourage: as with AI War, what we want players to do is look at a massive world, filter out what isn't important, and then go for what is valuable.

Some of the individual buildings have upwards of 1000 rooms in them, and we don't expect anyone to go through all of that (though, technically, you can).  Instead, it's all about using your maps and scouting intel (the details of which are still being worked out) to plot an efficient course through buildings that gets you what you want and then gets you back out in one piece.  A little bit of that is shown in the video, and that actually applies to underground caverns, too.

The other reason that EXP isn't granted from small monsters is that it's incredibly easy to farm small monsters.  So that's why monsters don't give drops, either.  The things that you find in the world are a non-renewable resource.  Bosses, loot pickups, all that stuff: once you find it and claim it, you can't come back later and find it there again.  The world overall is infinite, of course, so it's not like you ever run out of things to find -- but you can't just stay in one region, or in low-level regions, forever.

About That Self-Chosen Difficulty
In the video, you'll notice that I start out playing in a level 1 region, while I am also level 1.  When I fight those skelebots there, it's pretty much one-hit kills and pretty straightforward.  They hit me as well, and I believe I had to heal once or twice, but I'm generally quite good at the game and so it was no big thing; fun, but not really a challenge.

So the first thing I did when I went to the world map, after requisitioning some health and magic potions, was to go a little further afield and go into a level 2 region.  You'll notice how much more challenging that was: even the bats took multiple shots to kill.  I had to heal several times, though I had an abundance of healing potions so that wasn't too bad a thing.

Why did I get so many potions before heading out, though?  Well, to be honest, this was actually my "second take" of the video.  The first take that I did went... poorly.  I was being gutsy and went all the way up to a level 4 region in that one, while still being civ level 1 myself.  I was actually able to get in and get crystals and things, but I wasn't able to get out alive; after about my fourth character had died in 15 minutes of video, I decided to scrap that and try again with a more reasonable difficulty (meaning, just shifting to playing in a lower-level region for a while).

You'll also notice that I was mostly heading east on the world map, which is sort of the wimpy direction to go in.  If I was feeling masochistic, I'd have gone east, where the difficulty ramps up sharply after just a short ways.

Final Note: The Early Game Balance Is Not Yet Fully There
Just so you know.  We were rushing to get it so that we could show you this video, and we haven't done as much playtesting yet with the starting experience as we'd like.  Keith and I tend to start with a testing loadout of spells and abilities, and play from there when we're testing.  It's very quick for us for testing, and in that sense is really useful, but it means that the start of the game has not yet been brought up to the same level of balance as later parts of the game are.

What do I mean by that, specifically?  Well, I only have a couple of abilities --fireball and fire touch -- and some wooden platforms.  That part is fine for just starting out, but what isn't fine is how long it was taking me to get the crafting materials and research unlocks (profession books) to get anything more.  What you were seeing was more the later-game pacing, when you already have a lot of interesting abilities and tools and the focus is on using them rather than getting new ones ever two minutes.  The early game in a new world needs to get you more interesting stuff, faster, and by the time we hit beta that will be balanced properly.

Worlds Are "Lazy Loaded," Which Is Awesome For You
The game balance stuff is actually going to be a huge focus for myself and Keith this next week, and when we do the next video you'll see the fruits of that work reflected in the very same world that we've started showing you in this video.  As with AI War savegames, worlds in AVWW can be loaded in newer versions of the game, which makes upgrading (but not downgrading) a snap.

With AI War, of course, the entire galaxy has to be created as soon as you enter it, though -- so that means that there's only so much of newer seeding logic that can be seen in older savegames brought forward, etc.  With AVWW, the world is literally infinite and so that means that there's no way to pre-generate everything.

In fact, we do precisely the opposite, and wait until the absolute last possible moment to create chunks and dungeons and regions and such.  This is just good sense in general, but it also means that this game is incredibly upgrade-friendly. 

The parts of the world that I specifically ventured into in this video have already been created, and they are what they are -- when we add furniture and new room shapes, etc, those rooms I already went into won't get upgraded. 

However, for any unexplored room that is in a building I was already in, those will suddenly have furniture in newer versions of the gane.  And for any outdoor chunks that I haven't yet been into, when I go there they will have any other new features that show up there.  Any new bosses I find will start leaving fast-travel portals for me as soon as that feature exists in the game.  The new minibosses and full bosses will start appearing as appropriate even in old worlds once those are coded in, as will any other new regular enemies.

And so on.  This is part of the power of the world-creation engine that we've made here.  This game is designed from the ground up to be continuously upgraded, while still maintaining your worlds.  Making it so that you can create one world and play it forever if you want, getting any and all additions we make to the game seeded right into that world as you continue to explore.  We're pretty proud of how that's working out!

Until Next Time!
More details and another video coming before too long.  Stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Character Concept Art For AVWW, And Time Period Details

The below images are not screenshots, but rather are un-processed original renders that then get scaled down to smaller size for actually being used in-game.  So, hence the label "concept art."

That said, this is basically how they look except smaller when it comes to the in-game running around graphics, while the in-game portraits are heavily stylized and more painterly.  It makes sense when you see it, and we'll show video and screens of that just as soon as we can get the video fully edited and then uploaded to youtube.  The footage is taken, but that's only half the battle!

Let me lastly note that all of the prior character art that you've seen for the game -- Dawn, Darrell, and the Skelebots -- has been removed.  Darrell and the Skelebots have all-new art as you can see below, but Dawn hasn't made it back into the game, yet.  There are numerous other female characters added, though.  And more to come before beta!

The Seven Time Periods With Humans
Overall in the game, there are actually 9 different time periods that we are featuring in the game.  Two of those are from time periods where humanity does not exist.  The other seven are where all the various NPCs are divided into, although I've done a lot more art in the ice age style since that's where you begin the game.

Through beta and after 1.0, it's highly likely that we'll also include some other minor time periods that do and don't include humans in them, but those will mostly be rarer and won't have nearly as much character art as the seven primary ones will.

All 9 Time Periods In Chronological Order
To avoid giving spoilers, mostly what I'm going to talk about here is how people are dressed in each period, and then share that period's name.

Unknown Ancient Century - The "Wild Garden" Age
This is the time period that the lava flats and ocean sections come from.  This is one of the two time periods that doesn't include any humans in it, and it's so far back in Environ's planetary history that it's an unknown date.  That's about all I'm willing to say about this, so far -- you'll find out the rest in-game!

4th Ancient Century - Bronze Age
This is the oldest time period with humans in it.  They are dressed more plainly, often in tunics or togas or similar.  Very cheap clothing by modern standards, and no armor at all.

3rd Ancient Century - Time of Magic
The clothing is a lot more mystical, very fantasy-themed, with still no armor at all.  Magic, magic, magic, here.

1st Ancient Century - Medieval
The clothing is best described as "oversized fantastical armor."  This is a time period where women and men alike are dressed in really bulky suits of armor.  But you can still see their faces and heads.

Full armor/snowsuits/etc that includes headgear is something that you can equip separately on any character, so characters from this time period never have headgear to make the difference clear.

4th Modern Century - Pre-Industrial

The clothing from here is the most cultured out of all the various periods.  Women don't wear dresses, but trend to pantsuits in a retro sort of style, and men wear suits and things like top hats, etc.  It's a very... soft... society in a lot of respects.  But still just as magically adept as all the other centuries.

5th Modern Century - Industrial Revolution

This makes a big stylistic jump, including the first (chronologically speaking) elements that are at all sci-fi.  This is a very adventure-movie-genre sort of time period, mixed with some bits of steam punk.  I really like this time period, personally.

6th Modern Century - Contemporary

This time period on Environ is the most equivalent to our modern times on Earth.  However, given the hugely different society of Environ, you no longer have characters that are just dressed in our ordinary sort of fashion that you'd see on the street (as Darrell and Dawn previously were).

The new style for "modern" in Environ is basically a sort of funky sci-fi blend.  With the very barest accents of sci-fi style armor in some parts, but that's mostly for fashion and not function in terms of this society.  This is the last and in many respects greatest of the human ages, before the ice age that sends everyone into hiding.

9th Modern Century - Ice Age

This is where you start the game, and consequently it's where I've focused the most effort on in terms of art.  For me, this time period -- character-design-wise -- is the least visually flexible, because everybody has to wear some sort of futuristic snowsuit to protect themselves from the cold.  It's still possible to see a lot of personality in the various suits, but this is by far the most one-note of all the time periods when it comes to that sort of thing, simply by necessity.

30th Modern Century - After People

Robots have inherited the earth.  This is the time the Neutral Skelebot character comes from, as well as all the unfriendly skelebots.

Incidentally, the Neutral skelebot is now about half a head taller than the regular skelebots, which are themselves about 9-10 feet tall.  This makes it rather difficult for the skelebot to get into tight spaces inside some buildings, etc -- and forget about trying to put on armor, snowsuits, etc.  Fortunately the skelebots are one of the few characters impervious to ambient heat and cold.

Last Note On Character Designs - About "Variants"
Previously, I was doing hue-shifts on the shirts or other clothing of the characters.  This caused a notable quality drop in the character graphics, especially when they were rotated.  And it didn't really look that different.

Therefore, I decided to take a different approach: drop the colorization, but instead do two versions of each character: their standard version and a variant.  Both can be encountered in the game, and so far as you can tell in most cases they are really different characters.  This tends to be color of clothing, sometimes style of clothing or accessories, often includes hairstyle details and facial features.

But in terms of the actual character assets being used to make them, it's the same base assets just with as-different-as-possible-while-still-looking-good variants applied to them.  The approach is working out really well in practice, as you'll see when we do the video.

On With The Art!

 Valeria - Bronze Age

Valeria 2 - Bronze Age

Lin - Medieval
Lin 2 - Medieval

Jack - Contemporary

Jack 2- Contemporary

Darrell - Ice Age

Darrell 2 - Ice Age
Dave - Ice Age

Dave 2 - Ice Age

Marie - Ice Age

Marie 2 - Ice Age

Richard - Ice Age

Richard 2 - Ice Age

Heat And Cold Matter Now
Not dressed for the ice age?  Well, depending on just how badly your character is dressed, they might be dead in anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds.  Or, don a snowsuit that covers your entire character head-to-toe.  Specifically, this:

It comes in male and female variants, but that's the female version.

Alternatively, not prepared for the intense, searing heat of the lava flats? Unless you have robotic skin, you're going to fry just as fast as you'd freeze in the ice age.  So better bring along a heatsuit, like the following:

That's the male version there, but there's also a female version.  When you craft a snowsuit or a heatsuit, it's just a generic "snowsuit."  But when a character puts it on, it takes on a male or female appearance depending on the gender of that character.

Incidentally, if you've transmogrified yourself into some other lifeform, such as a bat, you can't wear armor of any sort.  So that's one way in which the lava flats remains the platforming paradise, because you can't just fly around in there since you need a heat suit in order to stay alive at all!

Art Credits
As with all of the "commodity art" that we use in AVWW, we've got a huge credits list of which artists did what items, etc.  Since so much of the sprites you see above were pieced together (or wholesale) the work of others, in this case in particular I wanted to go ahead and share the credits even before the release of the game:

Character Elements: “Mark Hair”
Used by Character(s): Richard
Created By: SWAM, goldtassel

Character Elements: “Epsilon”
Used by Character(s): Richard
Created By: Lourdes

Character Elements: “Michael 4.2, Michael Morphs++, Michael Ethnic Morphs”
Used by Character(s): Jack, Richard, Darrell
Created By: DAZ3D

Character Elements: “Victoria 4.2, Victoria Morphs++, Victoria Ethnic Morphs”
Used by Character(s): Valeria, Lin, Marie
Created By: DAZ3D

Character Elements: “Beach Hair”
Used by Character(s): Jack
Created By: Valea

Character Elements: “Hardcore M4 (Uzilite Plus)”
Used by Character(s): Jack
Created By: Bobbie25

Character Elements: “Strike Ponytail”
Used by Character(s): Valeria
Created By: Val3Dart, Lesthat

Character Elements: “V4 Tunic”
Used by Character(s): Valeria
Created By: DAZ3D

Character Elements: “V4 Tunic”
Used by Character(s): Valeria
Created By: DAZ3D

Character Elements: “Moroccan Dreams”
Used by Character(s): Valeria
Created By: Ravenhair

Character Elements: “Lux Lucis”
Used by Character(s): Lin
Created By: ToxicAngel, Ravnheart

Character Elements: “MyLin V4”
Used by Character(s): Lin
Created By: Rebelmommy

Character Elements: “Digital Curlz Hairstyle”
Used by Character(s): Lin
Created By: Neftis3D

Character Elements: “Centurion A.D.”
Used by Character(s): Skelebots
Created By: The Antfarm

Character Elements: “Major Cache”
Used by Character(s): Darrell
Created By: Uzilite

Character Elements: “Major Upgrade 4.0”
Used by Character(s): Darrell
Created By: DzFire

Character Elements: “M4 Elite Texture: Rob”
Used by Character(s): Darrell
Created By: -Yannek-

Character Elements: “V4 Elite Texture:  Marie”
Used by Character(s): Marie
Created By: Sarsa, BTLProductions, -Yannek-

Character Elements: “Sedition Soldier for V4”
Used by Character(s): Marie, Snowsuit Female
Created By: midnight_stories, mighty_mestophales

Character Elements: “Diamond Hair”
Used by Character(s): Marie
Created By: Valea

Character Elements: “Sedition Soldier for M4”
Used by Character(s): Dave, Snowsuit Male
Created By: midnight_stories, mighty_mestophales

Character Elements: “WildMane Hair”
Used by Character(s): Dave
Created By: Neftis3D

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

WIP Screenshots of AVWW Crafting Workbenches

New WIP screenshots to share! These ones including some new art by the awesome Phil, who you might recall as the artist behind Tidalis, AI War 2.0, and The Zenith Remnant.

Phil has mostly been working on freelance work with other indies since Arcen hit financial difficulties last year when Tidalis got off to a rocky start financially (despite rave reviews).  We've long since clawed our way back out of the hole we'd found ourselves in a year ago, but a renewed sense of caution (as well as experience doing all the new art for AI War 4.0 and Light of the Spire) has meant that I'm doing the art for AVWW using my talents as well as various commodity art (a way outdated post on my pipeline here).

At any rate, when it comes to some really specialized things in AVWW -- like the workbenches and wind shelters -- I was really having trouble coming up with anything that would look special enough.  These are really tricky concepts to get across, since it's not like just showing a black smith's shop or a wizard's tent or whatever.  We have no less than 9 different kinds of crafting benches, and making them look distinct, interesting, clear, and in keeping with the theme of the game was really sending me in circles.

So I called on Phil -- and I think the results are pretty awesome.  Here's a peek at them, with screenshots I took out of the Unity 3D editor (so there's an extra bar at the top of the screens, and the bottom are cut off -- that's just because they're straight out of the editor, don't worry).

Left To Right: Disenchant, Socketing, Memory Archive

 Left To Right: Spellgem, Architect, Crestsmith

Left To Right: Scrollmaker, Spellshaping, Enchant

About The 9 Kinds Of Workbenches
Not all of these are actually crafting benches, I should clarify.

For instance, the memory archive is a place where you can deposit memory crystals to try to piece together various mysteries in the world.  Sometimes this could be the background of the local evil overlord, sometimes it's a piece of the world's backstory (which varies from game to game), etc.

And when it comes to the enchant/disenchant benches, those are for applying permanent affects to yourself, or taking them off if you want to replace them with new enchantments.  We'll explain more on that later, but it's something that's a bit more advanced and that you probably won't be doing until slightly later in the game (as with crests).

Then we have the socketing workbench, which is all about configuring what spellgems and spellshaping gems go in your crests.  It's not so much about crafting something new as it is about configuring something new with stuff you already crafted.

That leaves us with the five actual categories of crafting that we talked about in the previous diary.