Thursday, July 19, 2012

Graphical Preview Of The New AI War Starfields/Nebulae/Planets

It's traditional that when we do an expansion for AI War, we also wind up doing a lot of new content for the base game.  At this point we've been doing ongoing sporadic content for the base game for the last 18 months since the 5.0 version.  So the difference is already substantial between 5.0 and what will be 6.0.

However, one of the things I've been really unhappy with since I got a nicer higher-contrast monitor last year has been the nebulae backgrounds in AI War.  Some things that had looked smooth and nice on my old monitor suddenly looked dated and jagged.  So as my big graphical contribution to the 6.0 version of the base game, I've redone all that using the awesome assets from Eldon Harris again.  Plus a bunch of new algorithms to make it all actually work in a pleasing procedural fashion in the game, of course.

You don't have to wait all the way until 6.0 comes out to get this visual upgrade, fortunately -- with the next beta prerelease, 5.045, that will be included!  Also note that this huge upgrade to the visuals doesn't really come with much in the way of performance cost on most GPUs.  It does have some cost on moderate to older GPUs, but as always you can turn the nebulae off if you wish.  But on anything approaching a modern GPU, it pretty much laughs at the workload from this. :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Graphical Preview Of A Few Ships From AI War: Ancient Shadows

In case you haven't heard from our other blog, AI War is getting a new expansion this October.  Awesome!  I can't tell you what any of these ships do yet, but here's a preview of a few:

A mysterious human ship

A mysterious zenith ship

A mysterious neinzul ship

A mysterious human marauder ship

And that's all for now!  Just thought we'd share a little more than the logo and the teaser logo, anyhow, even though most details are still under wraps until we start the beta.  

I also wanted to mention a special thanks to Eldon Harris, who is currently doing a kickstarter for the very graphics components that were used to create these ships.  He's already way more than reached his goal, but given the high quality of the sprite work he's got going on, I figured more people would like to know that the indie graphics builder exists!

More A Valley Without Wind updates, and at least one AI War update (no, not the one with the expansion, sorry), to hit next week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Analyzing A Valley Without Wind's Further Transformation From 1.1 to 1.2

It really hasn't been all that long since my reflections on the changes from 1.0 to 1.1, and yet already we're to another major turning point for the game. Version 1.2 represents three huge steps forward for the game, despite the fact that the 1.2 release notes aren't as fantastically long as the prior ones were.

This time around we didn't add any new enemies.  No new missions -- we didn't even tweak any missions.  Not a single new spell or new enchantment.  In fact, all the stuff that made 1.1 such a huge step forward for the game is absent here -- and yet this new version is arguably a much more substantial evolution of the game.

This Whole Business With Tiers Vs Levels
Okay, so we changed the word "tiers" back to "levels."  That doesn't sound terribly impressive!  And if you're playing through a single continent of the game -- the first continent, anyway -- you would notice almost no difference between tiers and levels.  This, I would posit, is actually a good thing.  We tried to stay close to what we had that worked while still fundamentally reworking the bits that didn't work.

And one of the biggest bits that didn't work was the whole concept of secondary continents being like a "New Game+" mode for various RPGs.  The idea that on your second continent you had to take two steps back to take three steps forward was both counter-intuitive as well as kind of un-fun.

All the gory details are in the endnotes if you want them, but the big-picture change is that we're no longer making you take any steps back.  You just keep going forward as you get to further continents, and in all respects it feels a lot more like a traditional RPG progression.  This is actually something of a feat in terms of the math involved for a Metroidvania-style game balanced the way ours is.

This change sounds trivial, and if you were a casual player, it is.  But if you were playing enough to go through several continents, the frustration of starting over each time was definitely palpable.  I felt it, too.  It was a major sticking point for many, and now that sticking point is gone.

The Effects OF Procedural Spells On Balance
I said we didn't add any new spells this go-round, and that's technically true.  But the feel of the game is that it has exploded with new spells.  There are various modifiers that get randomly assigned to spells that you both craft and that you find as loot, and so a given copy of Fireball might have various ancillary bonuses or abilities that make it different from all the other Fireball spells you've seen.

This is nothing new -- Borderlands and Diablo and so forth have done procedural loot for years and years.  But it's new to this game (though we were dabbling in that area with our Enchants system, which was already procedural in this manner), and it makes a world of difference.

There are a lot of cool spell effects that players have wanted for a while, such as more powerful spells that only work in the day or the night, or things that damage you but damage enemies more and then give you some health back if you hit them, and so forth.

But the reason this is particularly exciting for AVWW is what it does to the balance of the game: it makes it an ever-shifting, always-interesting thing.  I've had players and reviewers comment on how they would find a favorite spell or spell combination, and -- combined with a specific enchant loadout -- they would get stuck in that rut forever, basically.

If we made some obviously-more-powerful spell then they would switch to that and get stuck in that rut.  What we really needed was spells that were circumstantially more powerful than others, and we had some success with that during our 1.1 timeframe by giving enemies shifting resistances and so forth.  But that only goes so far against a player who is bound and determined to use their favorite spell even when it's not completely advantageous.

The new system in AVWW encourages experimentation because you now find all sorts of cool spells that do things that you might never have seen before in the game; so your allegiance to a given spell or set of spells hopefully shifts as you progress through the game, and ultimately you experience more of the game's content rather than just a narrow subset of spells that originally appealed to you.

Put another way: we're now making better use of our existing content, rather than just heaping more content on top of the existing content.  If you were bound and determined to use Energy Slice all the time as your main weapon of choice, our addition of 40 new spells would just give you 40 more options to ignore.  Or one new option to choose and 39 more to ignore.

But instead we added 50-some different spell modifiers that get used in various combinations, and now the "coolest spell" is going to be changing itself up as you play.  Again, nothing new: Borderlands fans know this effect well, with an even smaller amount of base guns.  The concept fits so amazingly well with this sort of already-highly-procedural game that I'm not sure why we didn't think of it before.

Revising Crafting To Reward Exploration And Take Pressure Off Missions
Missions in this game tend to be fun.  However, there are only so many of them and if that's the only way to get key crafting ingredients then you're going to be doing a lot of missions.  What we heard, repeatedly, was that many people just wanted to explore the cool environments more -- and yet there weren't compelling enough rewards in most cases.

Our first thought was to make new rewards for people to find -- spell scrolls in particular -- and indeed that's something we'll be doing in future versions.  But more fundamentally, we decided to expand the scope of player choice in how they go about their business.

Previously you had to play missions if you wanted to advanced.  End of story.  Now you can completely ignore missions if you wish, and free exploration can provide all that you need in order to win.  You can't completely ignore free exploration and just do missions -- that was never the case and still isn't -- but you can still do very little free exploration if missions are your main thing.

How we did it was simple: we made it so that the "stash rooms" around the world now directly are what contain the arcane crafting ingredients.   The common crafting ingredients were already found by doing things like knocking down trees with your spells, anyhow.  On the flip side, missions now never grant crafting materials -- they instead grant you entire procedurally-generated spellgems as direct loot.

The linchpin is this: we introduced a rarity system, and the uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary spells can only be crafted, never found.  You find rarity orbs as another part of your free exploration, and you can choose what spells to imbue with extra power by using the rarity orb as part of the crafting process.  Thus if you do have a favorite spell that you want in your arsenal, you can still get a particularly cool version of it to use for a number of levels.

Or you can branch out and try something else: the choice is yours, but the numbers are no longer such that players can compile "ideal spell loadouts."  When players start doing that, you know you have a problem because they are trying to find the best rut to put themselves into!

Citybuilding Is Back With A Vengeance
So!  Back in beta we had a citybuilding component that was top-down, and it was pretty fun for a lot of people.  But it was really disconnected from the rest of the game, and it wasn't fun enough to justify splitting up the game the way that it was.  For 1.0, then, we really scaled that whole thing back and did a really mild form of "citybuilding" that could barely be called that, all from the side view.

Those folks who had dreams of us building the Actraiser spiritual sequel for 2012 had their dreams come crashing down, and were understandably upset.  Heck, it was a part of the game I had been really adamant about having from the start, but I was the one to cut it.  It wasn't working well enough at the time, and I was faced with a choice: focus on the parts of the game that were working well and do a few things well; or keep our attention divided and do a lot of things poorly.

That all changes with 1.2, to my great delight.  It's been another one of those random flashes of inspiration, but we finally have a citybuilding model that is integrated into the game all the way down: it plays out on the existing world map, it uses the NPCs you were rescuing anyhow, and it then enlists those NPCs to help ease tasks that you were undertaking anyway.  Awesome.

As a part of this, it also gives the individual NPCs more of a sense of personality than they once had.  That's relative, mind you, but it's a step in the right direction.  Additionally, it gives each continent more of an individual, personalized feel.  And lastly, it gives us a really powerful simulation framework to do more cool stuff with in the future; though personally I think that sending NPCs on dispatch missions to do your bidding and help take down the overlord peg by peg is pretty cool.

More Mysteries, More Ways To Find Mystery Clues
In the past, we had two mysteries in the game, with a total of 28 clues.  This new version adds a third mystery and 41 new clues -- it's basically like adding a whole new short story into the game, as the third mystery is very narrative in style.

Back at 1.0 in particular, mystery clues were really few and far between in general.  You could only find those in certain really large buildings that had puzzle rooms, and only rarely even then.  And puzzle rooms were particularly unpopular with a large number of players, to make matters worse.  So we've now removed puzzle rooms, and instead made it so that secret missions located anywhere in the world give you a mystery clue as an added bonus if you have a mystery unlocked.

Paired with that, we also made it so that some of the basic mysteries no longer have any unlock requirements; though that won't stop us from having really difficult unlock conditions for some of the deeper mysteries to come.

This lets players immediately start learning more about the game world, which is quite an unusual world.  Some critics have called the game world "nonsensical," but my answer to that is that the game world is actually considerably less strange than that of Super Mario Bros, and about on par with most of the classic SNES-era Final Fantasy games.

The problem is that most things weren't explained, or were only hinted at in the mysteries (which were way too hard to find) or in the tooltips for various buildings and objects that you might not find until late in the game.  Now more of those hints come earlier, and we're steadily building out more mysteries in general to flesh out the story of the world and what has happened to it.

The story is quite unique and compelling, I think.  But it very solidly puts you in the shoes of the character who is thrust into a broken world without knowing just what has happened around them, and then has to discover the truth for themselves.  Personally, I really prefer that to just being handed all the answers -- I think that's one of the interesting things that games can do that non-interactive forms of entertainment can never match in quite the same way.

Some folks might see the new mystery mechanics as doing just that -- handing out the answers for minimal effort.  But there's a difference between basic information, middle-secret information, and highly-secret information that should be hard to find.  Simply by setting (or not setting) the unlock conditions to mysteries themselves, we're able to gate access to those different levels of secret-ness. 

And hey, even for the basic mysteries you still have to actually complete a goodly number of secret missions before you have all the clues.  And then you have to "read between the lines" as you read the clues in order to really understand more what is going on with the world.  That's different from a lot of novels or movies where at the end they try to make everything abundantly clear even if you were only sort of paying attention earlier in the work.

The changes this time around were deep, but not wide.  We found a few key areas to focus on and really improve or expand, and so far the feedback seems to be that this is an even more exciting release for players than 1.1 was.  Though of course 1.1 was a necessary precursor to this.

Looking forward to what comes next, my biggest focus is going to be on making the world feel more alive and interactive.  Part of that means expanding the citybuilding system with things like graveyards (finally!) and new ways to use our newly-expanded NPCs.  Part of that means adding more procedural bits so that there are ever more rewards that are exciting to find as loot -- or foes to face, as the case may be.

I also hope to add in an events system where certain things might occur just naturally as you explore, like running across some major villain who you can fight or flee, etc.  That sense of "you never know what might happen next" is what makes playing a new game so fun, and it's one of the things that I feel like we can do with a procedural game: extend that feeling beyond just the first few hours of playtime so that the sense of discovery and exploration remains hours and hours in.

That's the goal, anyway!  Thanks for reading.

Endnotes: Details About The Math Behind Levels And Tiers
Much earlier in this piece, I said "The idea that on your second continent you had to take two steps back to take three steps forward was both counter-intuitive as well as kind of un-fun."

We've known this for a long time, but it was by far the best model we had until a flash of inspiration a few weeks ago.  Way back in early beta for the game we used to have levels and even EXP, and it was a mess: balance was impossible to maintain at the scale that we needed for the game without the game rapidly getting enemies with health in the tens or hundreds of millions.  And by level 200, your spells might be doing trillions damage.

Wait, what?  Well, the problem is that for purposes of this being a Metroidvania-style game, we really needed each level/tier to increase in difficulty by about 1.5x compared to the level/tier before it.  And of course that compounds -- so a monster with 10,000 health at level 1 has over 30 trillion health at level 100.

Why don't most RPGs have this problem?  Well, they use a system of really incremental boosts to various stats.  When you move to level 2 from level 1, you get something like +5 HP to your existing 70 HP, and maybe +1 to your Str stat, but not remotely every level would you get that.  They have a lot of complex incremental math, plus a very tightly designed roster of enemies to be level-appropriate at each point in the game, and so that's how they achieve their balance.

Adventure style games, on the other hand, are about skill more than a numbers game.  You get big jumps in power: and not very many jumps in said power.  You get your first energy tank in Metroid, and suddenly your health just doubled.  Whoa is that not sustainable in an "infinite" sense.  There's a reason you only get so many health tanks.

But what we have is an infinite Metroidvania, and so the only two ways that we could see this working was to either have the numbers get unworkably large (both for the computer and the players), or to have the levels periodically reset.  We renamed them to tiers rather than levels in hopes of distancing players from the concept so that the resets wouldn't feel so out of place since tiers already were ostensibly a "new" concept.

That worked... kind of well.  It was certainly the best thing we could think of until recently.  The key breakthrough was realizing that to linearize the game we had to blend the RPG and the Adventure mathematical models, and to do that involved two sets of numbers rather than one.  If you just have Attack Power and you try to scale that in an Adventure fashion, the numbers get unworkably huge; if you scale Attack Power on an RPG scale, then an overlord who is 5 levels higher than the players will be easily killable by any player of moderate skill as soon as they start the game.

So what we did is this: we increase your Attack Power on that RPG sort of scale, so you feel like you make a familiar small amount of progress in your stats (as do your enemies) as your levels go up.  But to make this work in a Metroidvania sense, we added two other stats: Penetration and Resistance.

These stats aren't "real," they aren't used in any numerical model, they are just a representation of the relative level of your level versus the enemy.  The higher the level of the attacker, the higher the Penetration.  The higher the level of the defender, the higher the Resistance.

And that's where the 1.5x scaling factor comes in.  Regardless of your Attack Power value, if the enemy is 1 level higher than you, then the Penetration and Resistance make it so that you actually deal considerably less damage to that enemy.  It feels much more natural and isn't something that most players need to study or even think about any more than most players think about how Str affects their attack damage when they are playing an RPG.

That's it.  It seems simple because it is.  And perhaps it should be obvious, but I'm not aware of any other game that uses this model, and it certainly wasn't obvious to myself or anybody who commented on the game.  We had intensive discussions with a lot of intelligent players about this very issue last November and on, and nobody brought this up.  So perhaps it's only obvious in retrospect: and usually that's the mark of a sound mechanic, I've found.  It feels familiar and right and obvious as soon as you see it.

This isn't a landmark breakthrough or anything all that profound, don't get me wrong; but it is a nice hybrid mathematical model that anybody making a game with similar goals would do well to at least experiment with.

Endnotes: Strategy Creeps Meekly Away
Back in alpha and beta we thought we were going to have both strategy and citybuilding components to the game.  Then neither worked out that well, and we wound up stripping down the citybuilding into something very tame, and taking out the strategic part all together.

I had been thinking that the strategic component was more likely to make a comeback in a strong form compared to the citybuilding, but I was wrong.  Strategic-style thinking can just mean long-form decision making versus short-term "tactical" decisions, and if that's the case then this game already has boatloads of strategic elements anyhow.

We don't need to further saddle it with an awkward strategy-game-style interface, which I've discussed at length before.  You can get all of the strategy-game-style thinking and choices with heavy opportunity costs in any genre if you structure it right, and that was something we were aiming to do here.

Even more of a problem with the concept of a heavy strategic component to this game, however, are two things: 1) in this genre, the player expects for their own actions to always set the tempo; and 2) in this genre, the player generally expects that if they are persistent enough they will eventually win.

I know that some games like Din's Curse (which I've not played, but my co-designer/programmer Keith raves about how good it is) mess with #1: they have things happening in the world on the game's tempo, and you the adventurer are having to complete things on the schedule of the world rather than in your own sweet time.

That can be done and work really well, but it's not what AVWW is about: AVWW is and always has been about the self-directed taking of power from a hostile world.  My favorite examples of that are the original Metroid and Silent Hill 2.  You start out weak, but gain the strength you need to overcome the obstacles that are insurmountable at first.  You can do it in a fearful, plodding fashion; or a curious, happy, exploratory fashion; or even in a rushed, excited, whiz-bang fashion.

But having the game set the tempo basically excludes the first two styles of play, among many others, and that's why having an active strategic opponent who can damage you while you're out adventuring was never possible for this game.  For many months we had a turn-based strategy game system in place to combat that, but then you're getting into two distinct systems of how the game keeps track of the passage of time, and that is intensely confusing as well as odd if you are a new player.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, it's just not a good idea to throw in the kitchen sink. ;)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Guide To Upgrading To A Valley Without Wind 1.2 From 1.0 Or 1.1

So!  You've played A Valley Without Wind before, but then you've been a way for a bit and we went and changed everything behind your back while you weren't looking.

And now there's all these shiny new features that you're excited about, but you feel like a newbie at the game and don't really know what part of your prior knowledge is valid anymore.  Learning and re-learning the same game in different ways could be tiresome.

The good news is, it's not as bad as all that.  Despite the enormity of the changes to the game in terms of feel and amount of content and even numbers of activities available to you, the core mechanics of the game -- the platforming and combat -- haven't changed one iota.  So you still know how to get around the world, how to fight, how to light your way or explore, etc.

What has particularly changed, aside from the aforementioned onslaught of new content (which I think anyone can get behind) is more of the "metagame" aspects.  Why you take this or that action; how you go about getting the spells you use; how a particular mission type functions, etc.

This guide is designed to give you the quick and dirty rundown from 1.0 to now about what has changed and why, so that you don't have to read tens of thousands of words of release notes to get that information.

And as for the content -- dozens of new monsters, hundreds of new room templates, lots of new buildings, an entire new region type, etc -- I'm not even going to touch on that sort of thing here, because the fun is in exploring and finding that stuff, anyway.  This guide is focused on helping you translate your knowledge of the old way the game worked into the new way the game works, and nothing more.

If you want the full release notes, they are here (and they are long):
Version 1.1 Release Notes
Version 1.2 Release Notes

Consciousness Shards And The Opal Guardian Store (Added In 1.1)
It used to be that there were 6 different colors of consciousness shards, and they were used for casting guardian powers.  Now guardian powers are used for free, and there is only one color of consciousness shard.

Also -- enemies drop consciousness shards in addition to health.  Hooray, loot drops from enemies!  That was something a lot of people didn't like not having in a game like this which vaguely resembles an RPG (even though it is not an RPG).

These consciousness shards, in turn, are something you spend on the Opal Guardian Store, which is new in the settlements.  So basically shards = currency.

The store lets you buy a wide variety of things, and you'd do well to look around in there and see what might interest you.  Some things are very expensive and only meant to be bought when "the random number generator hates you," i.e. when you can't find that thing via normal free-exploration.  A good example of this would be the wind shelter guardian power scrolls.

Procedural Spells! (New In 1.2)
It used to be that the 50-something spells all worked one way.  So you could find a favorite spell, combine it with some enchants on your body to pump it up even further, and then be stuck in that rut forevermore.  Where was the chance for experimentation?

Now each spellgem that you find in the world, or that you craft, has procedural bonus qualities to it.  So as you play, you'll find more and more powerful spellgems with various cool effects that weren't there before.  And the 50-something base spells suddenly have thousands of possible combinations.  So be prepared to experiment more, experience more of the game, and basically break out of any rut you may have found yourself in!

Paired with that, the base spell balance was vastly improved as part of 1.1 in general, as we developed a new mathematical model to better help us do our balance work.

Changes To World Map Missions (Changed In 1.2)
There are now only 8 missions per continent at most, and they all give only one kind of reward: a spellgem.  All the players who are in the mission area at the time of success get a copy of the spellgem.

No More CP (Civilization Progress; Changed In 1.1)
It used to be that the way that the world would progress was by CP going up and up.  And the way that CP went up was through your completion of world map missions.  This was bad on several levels, but mostly because it was punishing you for something that seemed to have no correlation to what you were being punished for.  And the game wasn't supposed to be punishing you in the first place, but that's how it wound up feeling.

Anyway, the moral of this story is that CP is gone, so you don't need to look for it -- there are also no hidden consequences for doing any mission, anywhere, that you see.  If you want to do it, then just do it and that's that!  No need to worry you're suddenly going to be underpowered compared to the rest of the continent.

So how exactly does the continent increase in tier (now level) in 1.2?  More on that in just a bit.

"Tiers" Have Become "Levels" (Changed In 1.2)
Functionally speaking, it's a lot more than a name change; but it doesn't affect you until you switch continents.  If you played more than one continent in the 1.0 or 1.1 versions of the game, then you know we were describing that kind of as a "New Game+" experience: you'd lose some things, like your spells, but keep other things, like your enchants and unlockables.

That was unpopular, and now we have a better way figured out to handle that.  Now there are simply "levels" instead of tiers, and that's a lot more like an RPG.  The balance is all basically the same as in 1.0 or 1.1, but the levels just go up and up as you go from one continent to the next.

So in other words, continent 1 is levels 1-5, continent 2 is level 6-10, etc.  That has a number of cool ramifications, such as your being able to keep your level 5/6 spells while still having something new to strive for.  It also makes it so that some of the unlockables that seem impossible if you are on continent 1 suddenly become feasible if you return from continent 2 to continent 1 after you've leveled up a bit more.

Lastly, it also means that if you unlock something like the Nightfall spell, that's it -- you have it forever.  It doesn't have levels (and never had tiers), so there's no need to re-learn it on every continent.  That was annoying.

Levels Go Up By Killing Lieutenants (Changed In 1.1)
Now each overlord has 4 lieutenants instead of 3.  Also, they no longer directly go to his aid in his throne room, but rather lend him 2 levels for each of them that is still alive.  The overlord thus starts out much higher-level than you could ever hope to take on, but as you kill lieutenants he drops lower and lower.

The lieutenant towers have also been streamlined and made smaller, so that they aren't a chore to go through.  And they have interesting traps and other things of that nature in them now, to mix it up some, too.

The very act of defeating a lieutenant (and you can take your pick as to which one) is a demonstration that you are ready for the next level.  So when the level goes up after you killed the lieutenant... this is okay, and you're prepared.  There's no "oops, now things are too hard for a while" moment there.  You can't "accidentally" kill off a lieutenant.

Changes To Spell Crafting (Changed In 1.2)
Since spells are now procedural, as mentioned above, that makes them unique.  And so the old model of "learn once, equip as many times as you want" doesn't make any sense anymore.  Now you can either get a spell as a mission reward, or you can choose to craft it at a certain level.

This means: once you have a spellgem, you'll want to hang onto it until it's too low level and you no longer need it.  Then you can drop it into the incinerator in town and get some consciousness shards for it.

It also means that the Equip section of the crafting menu is gone; in its place, you can now hold down alt and drag items in your inventory to make copies of a single item on multiple inventory rows.  This is enormously superior to the old Equip menu, because this even works on non-spell items like wood platforms -- which has been a major request from players for quite some time.

So where do you get ingredients now, anyway?  Common ingredients are all found in the same places they always were (and you can look in the materials reference if you don't remember).  But knock down a cherry tree and get a cherry, break a vase and get some clay, etc.

Arcane ingredients were previously solely granted by missions, but now missions never give them.  Instead you find these in stash rooms during your free exploration.  Something else you'll find from time to time are "rarity orbs" which let you craft especially powerful versions of spells that you want.

As part of all this, all the crafting costs for all the spells were redone, so that will be familiar and yet different at the same time; we kept to the original spirit of most of them, but had to change around the specifics since they no longer vary in cost by what level they are (since there are infinite levels as opposed to 5 tiers).

More Starting Arcane Ingredients, But Some Specific Spells Need Unlocking (Changed In 1.2)
So the idea is that many more of the arcane ingredients started out unlocked now.  Copper and iron ore, for instance, and clay and cherries.  Previously you could shoot yourself in the foot by over-exploring before unlocking those materials, and now you can't do that.

On the other hand, unlocking stuff is fun.  So now some of the more esoteric spells that were being gated by material-unlockables in the past are now directly gated by unlockables on themselves.  So for instance if you want all four kinds of shield spells, there are specific unlockables to look into.

More On Rarity Orbs (Added In 1.2)
I should mention that the old "Tier Orbs" went away, since they became pointless with the change to the level system.  So when you get a new spellgem or craft one, you get it at the current level of your world plus one.  Easy enough.

In their place, however, there are now rarity orbs.  Normally a spell that you get is considered Common.  But in stash rooms you can find Uncommon and Rare orbs.  Killing a lieutenant will sometimes give an Epic orb, and killing an overlord always gives a Legendary orb.

When you combine those with the regular crafting ingredients for a spell, you can make a more powerful version of that spell.  Not only do they get more procedural effects applied to themselves, but also those spells will automatically level up for a while.

A common spell of level 6 would have to be crafted or found again at level 7 (or you'd have to craft or find some other common spell).  But an uncommon spell of level 6 would automatically go up to level 7 when you leveled up.  A rare spell of level 6 would go all the way to level 8, and so on.

Elite Monsters (Added In 1.1)
This is bordering on being just new content, but I'm going to mention it anyhow.  As the level of a given continent goes up, the overlord now gets to spend some points internally on unlocking special "elite" versions of various monsters.

These elite versions of monsters look the same as their regular counterparts, but have different behaviors, stats, skills, and so forth.  So suddenly you find yourself facing Sonic Bats rather than regular bats once the level goes up on one continent.  Whereas on the next continent you might always face regular bats, but instead you're facing Skelebot Tre-Elementalists.

Etc.  I bring this up mainly so that you aren't surprised by the discrepancy between continents -- the fact that continents are unique compared to one another is actually really cool.

Enchant Acquisition Methods (Changed In 1.1, And Then Further In 1.2)
Wow this has changed a lot.  But most of it is just "of course it works better that way" sort of improvements, so going into it in detail is probably not the best use of your reading time.  Essentially:

- The quality of the enchants that you get now starts off higher.
- When you join a multiplayer game late, you now get catchup enchants immediately.
- Enchant quality doesn't improve by how many of that enchant you get, but rather increases as your world level goes up.

New "Upgrade" Enchant Slots, No More Upgrade Stones (Changed In 1.1)
Upgrade stones were neat in concept for customizing your character, but they were never able to be balanced properly.  If you were doing poorly or just starting, then they were annoyingly scarce.  If you had been playing for a while and were doing well, they were in pointless abundance.

So we took out upgrade stones and instead added three new enchant slots: Health, Attack, and Mana.  These basically work exactly the same as the upgrade stones did, except that you can switch around how many points are allocated into each slot at will in "safe zones" (whenever you are in a settlement, mission staging area, warp gate, or destroyed room).

This makes things a lot more flexible, lets you experiment with different builds, and doesn't punish you when your character dies.  Hooray!  Better all around, and quite simple to use.  You get the upgrade enchants for cheap at the opal guardian store.

New "Feet" Enchant Slot (Added In 1.1)
Previously, the jump-related enchants were all on your Legs slot; which meant that all the other enchants on your Legs slot got just about no use if you were like most players.  So we split it out so that now the jump-related stuff is all on the Feet slot, and the rest of the Legs stuff thus became viable to use alongside it.

And if you're averse to jump-related enchants (as some players noted they were), we added some "elven boots" for the feet enchant slot that give some minor bonuses of various sorts without being jump-related.  Most players will ignore the elven boots, and that's perfectly fine.

Loot Goals (aka Shopping Lists; Added In 1.1)
When you want to craft a specific spell, that takes a variety of ingredients to do so.  If you find that you need to go search out several of those at once, it might be a while.  The encyclopedia in-game has all the information to remind you of what you're searching for, but it can be tedious to go back to that repeatedly to try to remind yourself what you were looking for, especially if you're pursuing several spells at once.

Thus the "loot goals" feature was added.  It's just a button on the interface whenever you are looking at the crafting screen or encyclopedia screen for a spell, and it lets you basically add that spell to your shopping list.  Then anytime you hit the Escape key to bring up the in-game menu, you also will see your shopping list, and your progress towards your goals.  Much easier to keep track of, that way!

Heavily Revised Missions (Changed In 1.1)
Fix the Anachronism, Supply Depot Meteor Storm, Journey To Perfection, and Lava Escape missions have all been heavily redone based on player feedback.  To the point of almost being different missions compared to their 1.0 counterparts in a lot of cases.  There is also a more gradual ramp-up in difficulty on these and other missions that started out really hard right at the start.

If you tried one of these mission types in the 1.0 version and were really turned off by it, know that you stand a much better chance of enjoying them now.  Worth another look, anyway.

New Windstorm Mechanics (Changed In 1.1)
Windstorms previously used to buff up the strength of monsters.  Now, instead, monsters remain the same but your health constantly drains while you're in a windstorm.  The further into windstorm areas you go, the more pronounced this effect.  The windstorm won't kill you outright, but will take you all the way down to 1 health where the slightest tap from an enemy will kill you.

So the strategy for staying alive in windstorms is to kill monsters often enough that you outpace the health drain.  Or just avoid windstorms as much as you can by building wind shelters!

Revised Ocean Experience (Changed In 1.1, Then Further In 1.2)
At 1.0, the ocean tile experience was seriously lacking.  First of all, there were several bugs preventing much from seeding there of any interest.  Secondly, there was the annoying mechanic that when you jumped out of your canoe into the ocean, you'd wind up stranded in the middle of the ocean (unlike all the other regions).  And there were some super annoying bugs with tall walls at the edge of each ocean chunk, etc, requiring lots of vertical movement.

Now the oceans work more consistently with other regions, the bugs are fixed, and there are new goodies that seed there.  Plus there are now some mysterious floating underwater vessels that actually let you get stash rooms in the ocean, which is a new thing.  That makes oceans actually valid for exploring to a similar degree as other regions, whereas before they were basically deadlands that could block you on the world map but little more.

So don't overlook these just because of how they used to be!

Exploit Closed: Clamping The Ranges Of Player Spells (Changed In 1.1)
Most players don't even notice this.  But if you were one of the clever souls who figured out that with projectile speed increases you could just snipe bosses from way offscreen, then know that loophole has now been closed.  Where was the fun in that?

More Mystery Clues, New Ways To Find Them (Changed In 1.2)
The number of mystery clues in the game has more than doubled; which lets you at a lot more lore to help you figure out just what is going on with this strange and broken world.

However, at 1.0 in particular a lot of people didn't even find the mystery clues that were already there.  That was because the puzzle rooms that would grant you a clue were extremely rare, and were the only way to get said clues.  The mystery rooms were also really unpopular.  Now the mystery rooms are gone, and secret missions will grant you a mystery clue in addition to their regular reward if you've currently got a mystery unlocked and in-progress.

New Character Selection Process (Changed In 1.1)
In 1.0 you got a lengthy list of characters to choose from, but if you didn't like any of them you had to choose one, suicide them, and then try again.  Now the character select screen is more informative in general, only gives you four options at a time (so no scrolling), but gives you a Re-Roll option.  It also lets you filter by time period if you're looking for a specific time period.

Related to this there are now time-period-specific bonuses to characters that give them things like bonuses to scouting, or to melee protection, or whatever else.  And also there are new Glyph Retirement Scrolls added in 1.2 that let you peaceably retire one character (without suiciding them!) and choose a new character.

Oh, and as soon as you choose a new character you get to choose if you want to rename them or not.

Revised Mechanics For "The Deep" (Changed In 1.1)
In the past, we had The Deep using regular monsters but making them two levels higher.  That had various kinds of ramifications, few of them great.  Now The Deep has its own unique monsters (as so many regions do now), and the tier buff has been removed.

Those monsters from The Deep are really unusually tough, though -- as if they were two levels higher, even though they are not.  That means when they migrate out of the Deep (starting when two of the lieutenants are dead on the continent), their difficulty inherently spills over into nearby regions.  Watch out for that!

Multiplayer Improvements (Some In 1.1, More In 1.2)
There have been a number of new anti-griefing admin commands added in 1.1.  Also the ability to rename your actual profile name both before connecting to a server and anytime.

There have been other balance changes to encourage players to work together as well as to specialize more.  The inventory of crafting ingredients is no longer shared, but each player in a chunk gets a copy of the ingredient at once.  And when players play together, monsters do not get quite the same health multiplier that they used to; you can still adventure apart as much as you like, and with good success, but working together is now clearly much more favored.

A Whole New Citybuilding System (New In 1.2)
This is one of the biggest features of 1.2, along with the procedural spells and improvements to how levels/tiers work.  The long explanation is here: A Strategy Guide For Citybuilding In A Valley Without Wind 1.2

The short explanation is that, basically, you can now build a variety of structures on the world map.  These in turn help your NPCs, and you can also get a bunch of items that you find in stashes to help your NPCs.  Once your NPCs have a certain profession skill and positive mood, you can send them on Dispatch Missions to do things for you in return: find rare crafting ingredients, attack the overlord or ice pirates, and so on.

And That's Basically It!
There's a lot of new content, and things like infestations that show up in chunks and make things interesting with traps and whatnot.  Tons of new enemies of new sorts, and even new ways that bosses get elemental bonuses to encourage experimentation.

But the thing is, all of that is incidental to play -- it's all important and a big improvement compared to 1.0 or 1.1 as the case may be, but it's not something that requires any re-training on your part.  When you see it you'll "get it," and it will be just one of those interesting things that you find via exploration in a vast procedural world.

What this upgrade guide has been focused on is solely stuff that we thought might trip you up, or things that you might have overlooked based on them being particularly underwhelming (and off to the side) in prior versions of the game.

Hopefully this serves as a nice consolidated resource for anyone who played 1.0 but then saw those giant release notes and felt some trepidation at wading back into the game.  I felt like 1.1 was practically a different game compared to 1.1, and even though 1.2 is smaller in scope its changes are even more substantial in other ways -- it really does play like a different, much more fun game than even 1.1.  We hope you enjoy!

Strategy Guide For Citybuilding In A Valley Without Wind 1.2

Lots of new stuff with the citybuilding, so we thought we'd do a little guide for those who might be interested.

First Off, What's Gone If You Played Older Versions
Feel free to skip this section if you weren't already familiar with older versions of the game; it's only relevant if you're trying to reconcile the older model with the new.

All of the 7 basic buildings (6 for the professions, and then what was the "residential and storage tower") are no longer built in the settlement.  Instead, there are now 7 profession buildings (including the new "adventurer barracks") that you build directly on the world map like wind shelters or buoys.  The residential and storage tower is no more.

Additionally, NPCs are no longer involved in any way with the use of guardian power scrolls, which previously was their sole function.  They have a new function now: dispatch missions.  That means that the 51 guardian powers that were previously for "continent wide buffs" are now all removed from the game -- they were hugely unpopular, and the new procedural spells that are also part of the latest versions of the game fills that gap a lot better anyhow.

The "personality structures" are still in the game and are still built the same way, but they are now called "bonus structures."  More on that below.  And with the rest of the guardian powers, NPCs aren't involved with them but you instead just use them directly yourself.  No material costs, and professions don't matter.  Professions and NPC types are still in the game, but are once again related to dispatch missions rather than guardian powers.

In short, NPCs previously equaled access to guardian powers; but now NPCs equal access to dispatch missions, and the remaining guardian powers are the province of your direct character alone.

Secondly: This Is So Optional
We think that citybuilding is really fun, and it's something that has been part of the design goals for the game (indeed, it was only cut during late beta, right before 1.0, because our model at the time wasn't working).   That said, we understand that you might not agree -- and despite the examples of classic games like Actraiser, you might just want a sidescrolling adventure game.

If that's the case, no problem!  There's a Citybuilding Difficulty Level that you can set to Village, which pretty much alleviates the need to pay attention to any of this except for your wind shelter network (which has always been a core part of the game).  If you play on the Village difficulty level, you can still take advantage of some of the extras, like bonus structures and so forth, but there's no pressure involved.

On the other hand, if you're ultra-hardcore into this sort of thing, way more than average, there are five difficulty levels going all the way up to Empire, which really tests your ability to efficiently manage a pool of NPCs and to run a successful campaign of dispatch missions against the overlord before sending your lone hero in to finish the job.

As with the Combat and Platforming difficulties, the idea is to let you tailor the experience to your own preferences.  The Citybuilding difficulty dropdown has all the details about specifically what changes with each of the 5 difficulty levels.

Starting Simple: Bonus Structures
There are over 30 different bonus structures that you can build in the background of your settlement.  As you explore around the world, you'll find secret missions that sometimes reward you with a given bonus structure.  A watchtower, for instance, or a capitol building, or various other things.  A number of these get unlocked via unlockables as you get further into the game, such as the difficult-to-acquire Castles and Floating Citadels.

The purpose of these structures is simple: they give various continent-wide bonuses.  It says on each structure what they will do.  One might give all your allies a bonus in health or attack (helpful for battlefield missions or rescue missions or summoned monsters).  One might give you a bonus in white light elemental attacks.  And so forth.

Hence the term bonus structures.  These also serve to beautify your settlement's background a bit, making it visually look more built-up.  Note that you can only build one of each bonus structure per settlement.

And that's literally it for these kinds of structures, but they're one of only two kinds of structures now.

The Importance Of Wind Shelters And Buoys
The wind is one of the most hostile forces working against you in the game.   Hence part of the meaning behind the name of the game: "A Valley Without Wind" would be a pretty happy and safe place to be.  Too bad that's not where you and your settlement are.

The wind howls around the periphery of your settlement at the start of each new continent.  You can go out into the windy parts of the map, but your health will drain down to 1 the longer you stay in a windstorm-afflicted area.  The wind won't outright kill a glyphbearer (aka main character), but it will push you right to the brink of death until even the weakest monster might tip you over the edge.

The wind serves three other nefarious purposes, too:

1. It prevents you from getting into seafaring ships at any ports that are in a windstorm.  You can get out of a ship at any port, but you may then find yourself marooned -- use the Warp To Settlement button on the world map if you're stranded on an island on a new continent, for instance.

2. The wind also prevents you from building structures on the world map, and it prevents world map missions from being able to spawn where the wind is.  In other words, the wind is a very sharply defined boundary to your civilization.

3. The wind stirs up ocean areas into being turbulent water -- into which your canoe cannot travel.   This can create literal barriers to travel, so that you can't reach an overlord's keep or a lieutenant's outpost even if you are otherwise ready to tackle them.

For these reasons, pushing back the wind is a good priority to keep in mind as you're expanding your civilization.  The primary way that you do this is by building wind shelters on land, and building buoys on the ocean tiles.  These two types of world map structure form your "wind shelter network" and are the key to expanding your civilization -- as well as your opportunities for exploration and conquest,

How To Get Wind Shelters, Buoys, And Any Other World Map Building
To build any structure, you need the Guardian Power Scroll by the same name.  As you explore around the world, you'll come across secret missions that will sometimes have these as a reward.  If you're low on such scrolls, don't pass these missions up!

Alternatively, if you're not getting lucky and finding these sorts of secret missions, you can visit the Opal Guardian Store in your settlement and cash in some of your consciousness shards for the scrolls.  Consciousness shards are collected via exploration, killing monsters, and incinerating old spellgems that you no longer need using the settlement's incinerator.

That's basically it:

1. All buildings are constructed via guardian powers.

2. All guardian powers can be found via completing secret missions, but you have to get lucky to find the ones you specifically want.

3. If "the random number generator hates you," you can always purchase the key buildings from the Opal Guardian in the settlement using consciousness shards.

And ergo, by extension the following tips:

1. If you see a guardian power as a secret mission reward that gives you a building, that's a high-value reward and you should carefully consider whether you want to pass it up when you see it.

2. As you collect consciousness shards through normal exploration and incineration activities, it can be tempting to then spend those on enchants and so forth at the store.  But be careful with that!  Always keep a shard reserve if you think you might need to buy some buildings to further your citybuilding goals.

How To Build Your Wind Shelter Network (Wind Shelters And Buoys)
A wind shelter can only be built on a land tile that is either in a windstorm or directly adjacent to a windstorm.  If you build it outside the windstorm, the wind will actively expand onto that tile to try to thwart you.

To build a wind shelter, first you need the guardian power scroll, as described above.  Then walk to the tile on the world map where you wish to place the wind shelter, and click the Guardian Powers button at the bottom of your screen.

When you then use the Place Wind Shelter Mission button, a mission will be spawned and you'll have to complete that mission (which involves dodging past a bunch of monsters through a raging windstorm to reach the incomplete shelter at the end).  When the mission is complete, your wind shelter will spring up and you'll have a lot more land that is happily wind-free.

However, wind shelters won't project very far out into the water -- only one tile from the coast.  To get further out into the water, you need to take your canoe (simply by walking into the non-turbulent waters) into a non-turbulent square of water and put down a buoy.

Placing a buoy will immediately make all of the adjacent water tiles non-turbulent.  So to get across a channel of water, you'll need to plan a path of buoys rather carefully to make do with as few buoys as you can get away with.  On some continents you won't even need any buoys at all, if there's nothing important on any islands you can't get to.  It will really just vary from continent to continent.

Once you've made a path of buoys across a water channel, you can resume building wind shelters as part of your network on the other side.

Getting More NPCs
Let's take a break from talking about the world map for a minute.  Traversing the world map and getting past the wind and the turbulent water is important, but all that involves is you and your own guardian powers.  What about those NPCs in your settlement?

To start off with, each settlement contains three NPCs each with a random profession and temperament and mood.  More on those things later.  However, three is a very small number -- if you intend to send NPCs out on dispatch missions, which is vital even at the default citybuilding difficulty, you're going to need more than three NPCs to do so.

There are two ways to get more NPCs in your settlement:

1. Rescue them via special missions that you can find in large buildings and in caverns.  Don't bother looking in tiny little huts and houses for these sorts of buildings -- go for the large pyramids, the big military-industrial complexes, the multi-floor apartment buildings, etc.  Or just go for the caves.  If you complete a rescue mission, then you'll have a new NPC that will show up at your settlement.

2. As you explore throughout the world, you'll naturally be pilfering through a lot of "stash rooms."  These can appear in buildings of any shape or size, and of course are important for crafting ingredients and various other goodies that you Really Want To Have.  But one of the rarer things that you can find in any stash room is a Glyph Retirement Scroll.  These can only be used in a settlement, but when you do so your current character will "retire" and take up a new profession in the settlement.  Meanwhile, you get to choose a new character for yourself.

Side Note:  Glyph Transplant Scrolls can be found a lot more commonly and allow you to switch between your character and any of the NPCs in any settlement.  However, this doesn't add to your total pool of NPCs, it just changes who your active character is at the time.  Which is very useful in and of itself, but mainly for when you are adventuring, not building up your city.

How To Use Your NPCs (Dispatch Missions)
So you have some NPCs -- what to do with them?  Well, send them out on Dispatch Missions, of course!  Normally you're all on your own carrying the load of the whole civilization as you face the evils of the world and try to set things to rights.

Asking the NPCs to pitch in a little bit is only fair... even if there is a pretty good chance of their death.  After all, there's a pretty good chance of your own character's death, too (to put it mildly).

To send NPCs on a dispatch mission, it's really very straightforward.  Go to the big green jade guardian stone floating in your settlement, and talk to it.  It offers you a selection of missions that are available, and notes both their difficulty and their danger level.  It also shows you what profession gets a particular skill bonus at this type of mission.

At the moment, you can mainly use your NPCs for two things: attacking the enemy, or capturing arcane crafting ingredients that you're having trouble finding on your own expeditions.  Attacking the enemy consists of either attacking the ice pirate patrols that appear starting on continent 2 (to destroy them) or of attacking the overlord to knock him down a level (thus making it more feasible that you can go in on foot and finish the job).

Now, depending on the difficulty and danger levels of the mission in question, each of your NPCs is going to have a different chance of success and chance of survival if you were to send them on a given mission.

1. Their chance of success depends entirely on their skill at their profession (plus how compatible their profession is with the dispatch mission in question).

2. Their chance of survival depends entirely on their current mood.

More on both skill and mood below.  But basically, at any time you can click a dispatch mission and see the success and survival chance of each of your NPCs.  This is helpful for long-term planning, because you can then focus on improving the skill and/or mood of the NPC that has the best chance of completing the dispatch that interests you.

And as an added note: any NPC that has a lower than 20 percent chance of survival won't even agree to attempt a mission, regardless of their chance of success.  Mood matters!

Building Farms To Combat Hunger
The single factor that will affect the mood of your non-robotic NPCs the most is being hungry.  Fortunately, it's a conceptually straightforward thing to take care of: build a covered farm on the world map to support 6 more NPCs.  Or better, if you build the farm on a compatible terrain type, get enough food to support 8 NPCs.

There isn't any other complexity to the farms: they don't fallow, you don't have to periodically maintain them or any of that sort of un-fun stuff.  As long as you have enough farms to support your population, everything is happy.  If you don't have enough farms to support your population, then people get hungry, which lowers their mood quite a bit depending on just how hungry they are.  That's it!

Building Professional Structures To Improve Profession Skill
When you first encounter a new NPC, they have a profession skill usually ranging between 1 and 20 or so.  This is directly inverse to how happy/sad they are, which affects their overall mood.  Either way, these are very low profession skills, and are not going to give you much success at any missions.

The best way to quickly improve the skill of all NPCs that share a profession is to construct the last type of buildings on the world map: the 7 kinds of profession buildings, each corresponding to one of the 7 professions that NPCs can have.

The first such building generally gives a whopping 100 skill points -- or 150 if you build it on a compatible type of terrain.  The second gives half that amount, and the third gives half of that, and so forth.

One key point: the order of construction doesn't matter.  So if you build your first lumbermancy focal station outside of a forest and thus only get 100 skill points for your lumbermancers, you haven't lost anything permanent.  If your second focal station goes up in a forest, you'll get a total of 200 skill points for your lumbermancers (150 for the "second" focal station, and 50 for the "first" one).  If you then build a third focal station, also in a forest, you'd be up to 250 skill points for lumbermancers (150 for the "second" one still, now 75 for the "third" one, and down to 25 for that first one).  So all that makes things easier on you.

Once again, the higher an NPC's profession skill is, the better their chance of success when going on missions.  The nice thing about profession buildings is that they are global to all NPCs of a profession, rather than being specific to one NPC -- so if a given NPC dies, you haven't lost anything when it comes to that profession in general.

Profession Books To Further Improve Profession Skill
The downside of profession buildings, obviously, is that they give diminishing returns.  So past a certain point, it simply isn't cost-effective to try and drive up your NPC's skills via buildings.  That's where book-learning comes in!

Profession Books come in 7 flavors, once again corresponding to each of the profession types, and are another of the goodies that you can find in stashes through your normal free-roaming exploration of the world around you.  Or if you're just not finding what you need via exploration, you can buy these at the store in the settlement, too.

Each profession book can be given as a gift to only a single NPC, and will raise their profession skill by a flat 50 points.  You can give as many books as you want to a specific NPC without any diminishing returns, but there are two main factors that argue against doing this indiscriminately:

1. If that NPC should perish while on a dispatch mission, there goes the investment of all your books.

2. If that NPC is substantially more skilled than others in profession, that will negatively impact their mood on their return from each dispatch mission; they'll complain that others aren't pulling their own weight in their profession.  This is why the average skill is shown in the stats before you embark on missions; if their personal skill is too high, they'll be griping on their return!

Skill, as previously mentioned, directly correlates to the chance of success on missions.  As skill gets closer to the difficulty of a mission, there is literally an exponential increase in in the chance of success until it hits the maximum possible chance for that mission type (for instance 95% for capture-the-ingredient missions, or as low as 75% for attack-the-overlord missions).

Oh -- to gift a profession book to an NPC, simply go into your planning menu, open your list of NPCs, click on the NPC in question to see their details, and there's a "Give Gift To This Character" button.

Mood Gifts
The other kind of gift that you can give to NPCs are Mood Gifts that improve a characters' mood by 100.  These kinds of gifts also are found via exploring stash rooms out in the world, just like the profession books are. 

Or, once again, if you're just not finding what you need via exploration, you can buy these at the store in the settlement.  There's a lot competing for your consciousness shards!

Give a mood gift to an NPC just like you would a profession book, and that NPC gets happier, calmer, or whatever -- their mood improves, and thus their chances of survival on missions goes up.

About NPC Temperaments
Each NPC has a specific temperament -- grumpy, overly optimistic, etc.  Depending on their temperament, their starting mood will be better or worse.  Depending on what citybuilding difficulty level you select, NPCs that you find will have easier or more difficult temperaments to deal with.

About Time Period Bonuses For NPCs
Depending on the time period that your NPC is from, they will have one of the following built-in bonuses:
  • Medieval characters get a 10% bonus to chance of survival on Attack dispatch missions. (Lots of armor, plus being used to having big unpleasant things around, having survived in their harsh time period.)
  • Time of Magic characters get a 10% bonus to chance of success on Attack dispatch missions. (High magic means they have the heavy spells that can destroy important defenses easily.)
  • Bronze Age characters get a 10% bonus to chance of survival on Capture Arcane Ingredient dispatch missions. (Fast in, fast out.)
  • Pre-Industrial characters get 25% bonus mood from Mood Gifts (this is the most cushy and refined period, after all, and they like luxuries).
  • Industrial Revolution characters get a 10% bonus to chance of success on Capture Arcane Ingredient dispatch missions. (Ties into the scouting nature of the character.)
  • Contemporary characters get 25% bonus skill from Profession Books (this ties into the information-age ideals of eduction and learning).
  • Ice Age characters get 10% bonus skill from profession buildings (Ice Age characters are comfortable with large structures.)
  • Time After People characters don't consume food (robots don't eat).
  • Wild Garden Age characters are only 80% as affected in their mood by mission results (Draconites tend to be more interested in immediate concerns than past issues.) 
Dispatch Mission Results
When you send an NPC on a dispatch mission, the results of that mission immediately pop up -- no waiting.  There are two separate chances: the chance of success/failure, and the chance of survival/death.  The former is solely related to profession skill, while the latter is solely related to mood.

It's possible, therefore, to win a dispatch but die.  Or fail but live, and so on.  Presuming that your NPC dies, that's just the end of that NPC.

If they live, on the other hand, there are consequences to their mood.  They don't get any more or less skilled, but their mood will either go up or down depending on the circumstances of the mission.  The major situations are as follows:

1. If the NPC is lower-skilled than the average for his/her profession in the settlement, but succeeds anyhow, then that NPC's mood will go up.  Yay underdogs, and all that.  All the other mood consequences are negative, however.

2. In the most common case, their mood just goes down a moderate amount -- this is if their skill is about on par with the other NPCs in their profession in their settlement, and their number of dispatch missions is about on par or lower than other NPCs in their settlement in general.

3. If their skill is substantially higher than the average of the NPCs in the settlement that share their profession, then the returning NPC's mood will go down even further due to the fact that they feel like the others aren't taking their profession seriously enough.

4. If their number of successful dispatch missions is substantially higher than the average of the other NPCs in the settlement (regardless of profession), then the returning NPC's mood will go down even further due to the fact that they feel like the other NPCs aren't chipping in enough with the dangerous work of dispatch missions.

The above provides a full picture of the citybuilding elements as of version 1.2 of the game.  Balancing out the moods and skill levels of your NPCs is the main challenge of the dispatch mission system, and assuming that your citybuilding difficulty level is set high enough, you'll need to run some successful dispatch missions against the overlord in order for your own character to stand a chance when facing the overlord in person.

In future versions of the game you'll be building graveyards to honor the dead, as well as having new opportunities for different kinds of dispatch missions, as well as whatever we and the playerbase think up that fits with the new system and adds to the fun.

As it stands, you now get a much more personal relationship with NPCs (for however long they survive), and NPCs are a lot more unique as individuals compared to past versions of the game.  Additionally, you really make a much more visible mark on the continent as you bring civilization to the hostile wilds.

And lastly, the new system really ties in well with the adventuring components of the game at every level: your free-exploration of stashes and secret missions yields rewards that help your citybuilding efforts; and your citybuilding efforts can help with both your crafting work (finding rare ingredients) as well as directly with your most important task -- taking down the overlord.

This level of integration is something that was sorely lacking from the citybuilding model that we used during the alpha and beta of the game, and ultimately why that system was scrapped prior to 1.0.  The old system was also a lot more complex to use.  As long as this explanation of the new system is, it's the sort of system that you can largely just intuitively figure out as you play and explore and find new items (each with helpful tooltips).  You had to go out of your way to learn about the old system.

Despite all that, the old system was a lot of fun for a lot of players, and there was a definite sense of disappointment when we had to cut it -- both for us and for players, honestly.  Citybuilding was always something I considered central to the idea behind this game, and I'm really happy to see it return in such a fun and integrated form.  We look forward to doing more with it in 1.3 and beyond!