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A beautiful 2D sci-fi metroidvania about love, hope, and redemption. Gameplay influenced by Super Metroid and Dark Souls.
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Development Update: First new images

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New Development Update #1

This is the first of what will be monthly development updates from here on.

As some of you saw, in the previous update some months ago I described the difficult decision to rebuild the game in a new engine relatively late in the process. None of this was easy, and it wasn't something I took lightly. I'm acutely aware of the timeline and how many years it's been since this game was originally pitched, but I simply wasn't willing to accept the prospect of the game crossing the finish line as a technical mess, fraught with not only performance and stability issues but some design problems as well. The ship has sailed on being able to be proud of my production timeline, but I'm unwilling to compromise on the game qualitatively. That ship hasn't sailed. The game has to be something I'm proud of. 

Under the previous engine, the technical restrictions didn't only impact performance and stability, they were also creatively stifling and the engine itself served as a near impenetrable barrier to consoledom. As a console gamer, myself, this is no small problem.

Over the past few months I've been not only learning new skills and software (C#, Unity, and Spine 2D) but I've taken this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the game design itself. The general premise remains the same, but what specific systems weren't working well? In what ways have I evolved as a designer since the beginning of this process? What have I learned that I can apply now with this rebuild? 

The new build of the game is still really early and raw, but it's to the point where I can show you what it looks like and it will resemble a game and you'll understand what it is you're seeing. I wanted to post my first monthly update at the beginning of January, as seemed fitting, but it just wasn't the case yet that I had anything worth showing.

Here's a quick peak at the full game in motion. The reason this update is private is because the look and features of the game - While mostly dialed in - Aren't finalized yet, and I don't want to go fully public until it's a bit further along.

Link to gameplay clip

(if the clip shows up small, right click it and select "view image source" to see it better)

This is the new starter area of the game, marked by dead woods, dead people, dead machines, and all the dead things ever. It sets the table for what the game is about. I apologize that the clip isn't long, but there's a lot going on to discuss. I'll go over what's different and new point by point and then we'll look at a couple of other things.

The first thing you'll notice is the art style of the characters is a little different. This is because I've adopted new animating software which calculates animations in real time much like how 3D games do. Each character has a skeleton inside of it, and the artwork you see is comprised of individual sections of art that are assigned meshes and weighted to that skeleton. This provides extreme flexibility as aspects of the character can be changed at run time. I could change the character's skin, elements of her or his armor, make her or his visor glow different colors -- Since this isn't a sequence of prebaked drawings as seen in traditional animation, anything about the model can be changed at any time. Perhaps most importantly, though, the new software is much, much more convenient to use and create characters with. I'd wager that, on average, creating assets for a new animated character is 4 or 5 times faster now than it was the old way, because all I need to do is create a model and then tell it how to move. I don't have to manually create frame after frame after frame of animation the way I did before.

Another new thing you'll notice is that the environment is much more lively than it was in the past, particularly with respect to motion. This is because, using Unity's animation system, anything can be animated easily and with a low performance overhead. The swaying trees are collections of trunks and branches assembled and animated within Unity's editor. Note the trees appear to be three dimensional when the camera moves, and this is because the branches are all placed differently along the Z axis to give that illusion -- Which leads to my other point. Unity is a 3D engine. The level is essentially a virtual 3D room with a virtual camera inside of it. The images are all laid out to give the appearance of a side scrolling game, but it's still 3D, which grants many freedoms I didn't have under the old engine. I can, for example, move the camera in and out at will (and, in fact, in the game now you can click R3 to change the camera distance). Sounds are three dimensional, too, which means it will be easier to determine an audio source just by listening to it. This is something you might take for granted in some games, but it was basically impossible using my old engine. For me, this is an untold delight.

Now that we've discussed some of the presentation and technical differences, I'm going to describe some of the gameplay/control changes I've made now that the design has been completely evaluated and laid out. 

I'm presenting this as an overview and an entry point into discussion. I won't be going over the details of every game system in excruciating detail in this update, but if you have questions I'll absolutely answer them and we'll get more into nuts and bolts in future updates.

  • Survival horror/pace. One of the goals with the design update was to slow the game down a bit and add some weight to your moment to moment decisions and allow more interesting and meaningful counterplay. To this end, ammo is now more restricted than it was before (The goal is that ammo will feel a bit restrictive early in the game, and be less of an issue later) and there is no longer an auto ammo regeneration mechanic. Because of this, melee moves have been added to the game. They aren't (normally) intended to be a primary form of offense, but more of a "plan B".
  • Dashing changes. In the previous game, dashing was way too powerful. You got the move early in the game and it had iframes throughout its whole travel. It made it so easy to avoid damage that my enemy behavior designs became necessarily too limited because the number of ways to really threaten the player were few. Encounters kept feeling the same -- Flood the screen with bullets and fast moving things that leap at the player. That was really the only way to keep it challenging and I grew tired of it. In the new game, dashing will no longer be easy mode. Skill based counterplay now exists in the form of timing based parries. Melee and ranged attacks can all be parried.
  • XP changes. Changes in the sense that there is no longer XP -- At least, not in the same sense as before. The character's resources are health, ammo, and spirit. Character progression comes in the form of new weapons, new discrete powers, passive perks, and weapon augments. Incremental boosts come from increasing the upper limit of your resources. I'll discuss all of this in greater detail later.
  • Less restrictive map. It's still a Metroidvania, so there are still some power based locks on the map (e.g., you need a particular ability to reach an area) but they're less contrived and less numerous. The map is going to be opened up and populated with "soft locks" and be generally less linear. I'll describe the mechanisms that allow this in more detail in another update.
  • Analog movement. You can vary your movement speed by how much you push the analog stick. This is a pretty minor point, but I accidentally implemented it and decided to leave it because it felt nice.
  • Analog aiming. You can still aim in 45 degree increments as before, but if you stand still and hold down the LT button you can enter analog aim mode and fine tune your aiming. 
  • Fall damage. This decision came naturally when considering my priorities -- heavier survival horror feel, and having soft locks on the map (ie, you can survive longer falls if you have more maximum health). If this makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, I just ask you to keep an open mind. It won't be overly intrusive. You can still fall a pretty long way without taking damage. It's mainly to control how well you can survive really long falls.
Fine aiming control
Fine aiming control

 

Power Fist weapon
Power Fist weapon

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions. I understand how long all of this is taking and how it's still going to take longer, but the fact that I really feel a lot better about what I'm doing and that most of my qualitative and technical concerns have fallen away has given me new energy.

As I said above, I'll post a new update around the end/beginning of each month where I'll show and/or tell what I'm up to. I want to turn over a new leaf not only in the development of the game but in my communication with you. 

So, yeah! Another one of these suckers in a month. In the interim, I'm always here if you want to talk!

Thank you!

Matt@mattwhitedev

Matt White, Simon Wilmer, and 56 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Matt White Creator on

      In about an hour :)

    2. Missing avatar

      Greg Paletta on

      So, been a month now... next update? Not even anything super amazing or impressive, just screenshots or a doctor's note confirming you're not dead?

    3. Matt White Creator on

      @Shane what I'd say to that is the game was always aiming for this look, it was just harder to achieve -- but in some areas it was more or less already like this. I haven't even really made many new environment assets for the new build yet, the environment art is largely recycled from the past game. Here's an example of the past game with mostly the same assets (other than trees): https://i.imgur.com/q8njL74.gifv

    4. Missing avatar

      Shane on

      Can't say I'm a fan of the new 3D look. Sprites gave it a certain look that can't be (or hasn't been) duplicated with uh, faux 2D? It's hard to put into words. But, it sounds like it's for the overall betterment of the game, so good luck with it!

    5. zacH on

      @Matt: Obviously nothing I said was a dealbreaker for me, so no worries of course. Just to continue the discussion, based off your reply:
      - When I saw your original overworld it very much felt like a Metroid opening area. This obviously drew me in, but I totally get that it wouldn't totally line up with an abandoned civilization concept. Unless the idea was that the civilization was mainly built underground, with minimal but intriguing structures acting as a means go go below the surface.

      That said, if "abandoned civilization" is what you're going for, I might go for more abandoned/ruined structures and less forest. Or if you'd like both, maybe push some of that detail more into the background? Expand your horizon area (I think I'm using that phrase properly), show more land behind you so that truly large structures can erupt out of dense tree coverage... or go back to plains and have some structures and scattered trees/plants. I still feel like the more sparse you are at the beginning, the more you can build on environments as you go, but that is strictly opinion and you should obviously do what your gut tells you. :)

      - In terms of the main character, I do still think the helmet design looked better before. The horns were smaller and a bit further back, and the front of the design just looked a bit more subtle and less cartoony. Again, not a dealbreaker. Just my two cents. I liked the old cloak better because it felt like it had more weight to it, and was a bit less wispy. Not a huge deal, either.

      - In terms of limited ammo, I think that limiting POWERFUL ammo is a good idea, as I tried to stress. But I think this sort of game benefits from the equivalent of a pistol in FPS games, or, naturally, Metroid. One of the neat things about Super Metroid is that there are some enemies that simply aren't hurt by your normal beam; if you shoot them with it they just stand there and guard. I think that areas can definitely still make you feel powerless even while you have a limitless projectile, and tougher enemies can act as gatekeepers this way, which is neat. Unless you just dash through them, I suppose. ;)

    6. Matt White Creator on

      @zach that's all valid criticism. What I'd say to it is that the surface is meant to be kind of busy to provide a contrast to the caverns below. It's, conceptually, supposed to be a world where people once lived, and no longer do -- Dead trees and junkyards seems more in theme with that than just rocks.

      With respect to the character model, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, but regardless of particles about the look, the new system is far more flexible (as I outlined in the update). Really, anything is possible. In theory I could remove, add, or change the cloak that you don't like while leaving everything else intact.

      Limited ammo is something that will require testing. It's just the frame of mind I'm in right now, but, in any case, I mainly want the ammo to feel somewhat strangled in the early parts of the game. Later on you'll feel more powerful.

    7. zacH on

      As a big fan of both Metroid and Dark Souls, I'm still a bit less enthused about some of the new stuff here. Not all doom and gloom, though.

      Some general thoughts:
      - I miss the "space" feel and desolation of the original area you showed off. This is very busy feeling, and less of that Metroid vastness that drew me in initially in your open areas and caverns. I also miss how blue-tinted things were in the previous builds.
      - I think the character model does not look as good as before. The cloak isn't as cool looking, and the helmet looks kinda goofy. :( The canon also looks less like a weapon, more of a stump.
      - limiting all ammo sounds like a bad move. I think that it would be beneficial to have a projectile with unlimited ammo at all times, albeit not your strongest projectile. Metroid is good at limiting your missiles while letting you fall back on your normal beam if you need it, and over the course of the game upgrades that beam to keep it feeling like a useful fallback, while still keeping your focus on stashing your ammo for big fights. Really hope you will consider this.
      - I'm totally on board with your ideas for changing character progression, and on nerfing the dashing. I think these ideas will help keep the game from getting repetitive, and keep players on their toes. Fall damage is a cool idea as well.

      At the end of the day, it looks like you're making some good progress, and I'm glad you're happy with how the new build is going. I hope you'll take my thoughts into consideration, but it's your baby. I backed because this looked like a kickass Metroid-style game viewed through a Souls-style lens of hopelessness, which the NPC interactions and limited music really brought to the forefront... hopefully that shows in the things I've said.

      Best of luck, as always. Interested to see what next month brings.

    8. Scott S. on

      Please be careful with ammo amounts, there's enough Dark-Souls-of games out there now to the point of the mechanic and balance feeling more annoying than interesting.

    9. Matt White Creator on

      who said it's wind >:)

    10. Martin O
      Superbacker
      on

      This looks better than ever and I'm sure the new engine will make a lot of stuff easier/possible!

      I have to agree with E. A. Bartholomew with not overdoing the animations just because you can :-)
      Thick tree stumps (especially old, dead gnarled ones) shouldn't sway in the wind like blades of grass.

    11. Missing avatar

      Greg Paletta on

      Glad to see that it's still chugging along. I was getting worried there when your Twitter went quiet for a few weeks. Not sure how I feel about the ammo changes, but as long as you don't overdo it and provide plenty of ways to replenish the reserves, I think it'll work just fine. Having played the demo you put out a while back I've got plenty of faith in your ability to make a good game.

      I do wish you'd post more stuff to Twitter, though. Not necessarily anything impressive or out there, just a screenshot or a GIF of something once a week or so to let us know you're alive. Better than ending up like Lunar Software. There's no evidence either way whether ROUTINE is still in development.

      Please keep us posted on how the new demo is progressing, by the way. Everything about the old demo was fantastic. The controls were tight, the combat was challenging, and the presentation was top notch. Can't wait to try out the new one.

    12. Jonathan Robertson
      Superbacker
      on

      I think it’s great that you’re taking the time to really consider gameplay design decisions that maybe been chosen out of necessity (game engine) or perhaps some amount of inexperience. Looking forward to what you come up with as development continues — thank you for the update!! :D

    13. Matt White Creator on

      "Haunted by Bubsy" :D The reason for the fall damage is soft gating (which is a concept I'm focusing on a lot in the new game) and it was initially inspired by one of my favorite things in Dark Souls 2. In that game, early on, in the initial hub area, you'll observe a big hole in the ground -- With walkways and items visible far below, teasing you. If you fall down without any way to mitigate the fall damage (or enough health level ups), you will die. This really sparked my imagination.

      @Webster that's fair, but what I'll say in response is that what I'm doing now is what I always wanted the previous game to be, only it was much more difficult to produce the same look using a 2D engine. In its finest moments it alllmost looked like what I'm doing now in Unity.

    14. Missing avatar

      Webster Massingham on

      Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of the 3D world style. I liked the classic feel of the old one. :(

      I'm sure it'll be a great game either way, though!

    15. Darmin Hadzic on

      Thank you for the update! Very interesting stuff.

      I'm not sure how I feel about limited ammo.
      Based on my frugal nature when it comes to in-game resources, either I stick to the most damage:shot option (in the case of shared ammo) which would make the other shot types worthless, or I severely limit my exploration to avoid unnecessary expenditure of ammo, limiting my play experience until a couple playthroughs in.
      I may be in the minority in this mindset, though.

      I'm haunted by Bubsy with regards to fall damage in a platformer, but I assume there aren't many times when straight up death will come into play. Will there be tools to lower or even negate fall damage at any point, or is it mainly increasing your health?

      I'm glad you're finding success in the new engine, and I'm eager to play this game!

    16. Matt White Creator on

      @E. A. Bartholomew: It'll generally be possible to get out of the way rather than parry, or just tank the damage and bruise it out if your stats are high enough. The point to parrying is to offer a skill based option to get through things more directly or at a lower power level. For instance, there will be a bounty hunter to the left near the start of the game that'll likely kill you at your current power level as a newbie unless you know how to parry.
      @Joshua: That's noted, and some of this stuff may change as the game comes together, but remember that ammo was limited in the demo and in the previous build as well. It's not a new concept, it's just going to be a bit more limited this time.
      @Buraindo: Making a game is all about compromise. Nothing can ever be perfect and as a designer you can't have everything. The compromises were just too great in this case so I had to reboot it
      @Mark Shaun Rushow: Going back to the very beginning the intention was always that the game would be challenging and, most of all, "indifferent". I've always been stubborn about not handholding or hovering over the player and I don't think that's going to change. That said, I don't want the game to be characterized by extreme difficulty, either. That's also not the point. It's something I always think about a lot and it's the kind of thing that fluxuates most over the course of development
      @Thomas Happ thank you :) Spine has been absolutely amazing, and you can manually change attachment art on the timeline to mix aspects of traditional animation with the procedural animation. For example, my character has 16 different drawings of its head that can be change out on the timeline to make the head appear to rotate. A lot is possible by switching out the art on the timeline, but it really depends on specifically what you want to do.
      @James Nealy balance is always ongoing, all I can really have at this early point is a goal. The beautiful thing is since ammo is just numbers it can easily be changed if there are balance problems. The goal isn't to leave you powerless (not with any frequency, at least) but to give you something to be concerned about and make your actions feel important

    17. Missing avatar

      James Nealy on

      Looks great! I did see your comment that you haven't played Metroid: Samus Returns, but like everyone else, my brain jumped there as soon as I read that you were introducing countering. I think that ammo management and fall damage can work just fine, so long as they don't discourage exploration and experimentation, which are the real backbone of the genre. I'd hate to be deep in a Metroidvania area, my health is fine, and I'm exploring a new area, when I suddenly run out of ammo, leaving me surrounded by rooms with enemies I know I can't defeat without my weapons and unknowns everywhere else. Unless there are very carefully placed safe zones/paths that players can find, or things to easily farm/refill ammo with when making a deep dive. So I would just hope you keep the priorities of the genre in mind and not go for difficulty or survival horror over exploration and freedom to try new paths or techniques.

      One other thing: are you going to go with (a) mirrored sprites, like in the clip? Not a huge deal, either way, I just noticed the main character was mirrored when they turned around in the clip you had.

    18. Thomas Happ on

      Hey Matt! Looks awesome. Are you using Spine for your new animation? I'm looking for a new system myself. It needs to handle both skeletons and animated sprites.

      I know it's been a slog but you will be SO GLAD you can port to consoles. The Switch in particular is great for games like this.

      My only advice is to still reuse as much as you can and not feel like you have to remake everything. You can save some ideas for sequels / other games in the future.

    19. Scott Hernandez on

      Looking great, Matt. Thanks for the detailed update. I’m so glad Unity is working out for you. I wasn’t expecting to see this much progress since the decision to rebuild. My excitement level doubled, especially at the prospect of getting a copy on console (PS4 or Switch would be so awesome). Keep it up!!

    20. Marty Hanlon on

      Glad you're feeling good about the new systems in place and the progress you're making! I truly hope you aren't too self-conscious about the timelines. I honestly tend forget that this project is still going until you send out new updates, so every email is a pleasant surprise.

      All the best!

    21. Mark Shaun Rushow on

      One thought I had while reading was that being the everything for the game you are getting really good at playing it. What may seem boring and easy to you may be challenging for first time players. Not sure what kind of difficulty you are aiming for but if it isn't Dark Souls difficulty be careful you don't do that by accident. It is too bad I can't enjoy playing those games because of their difficulty and masochistic punishment. Hollow Knight general gameplay was right on the edge but some of the boss fights were just too demanding and I never finished it though it was a great game besides that. This is why I'm a strong believer in difficulty settings. Though having people that can play test the game for you that are newcomers and veterans and have a range of skills is worthwhile.

      On another note I wonder if you had the opportunity to play Samus Returns and if so how you felt about it?

      Going back to Ghost Song the new engine is looking good. I really appreciate animated backgrounds and even for grounds. I always think back to Sonic and how some of the flora would dance and the main would have idle animations. More recently Ori and the Blind Forest that also introduced using the foreground it very creative and immersive ways.

    22. Missing avatar

      Buraindo on

      Nice, i think the fall damage is a nice idea for a game like this, and upping the standards is fine as time passes, but it sure needs to hit a balance or it'll never stop (though i'm not in a rush or anything, trust me, i still have a ton of stuff to play, and i really prioritize interesting stuff like this when it comes out)

    23. Missing avatar

      Tristan McDonald on

      Still looks beautiful and on point. Can't wait to play it.

    24. squareking on

      I'm a fan of resource/ammo management in this genre. It helps extend the feeling of dreadful weight in your actions and encounters — when done correctly. Thankfully many designers use that mechanic respectfully, and I think we're in good hands here. :)

    25. Joshua on

      Not a fan of limited ammo in this type of game at ALL....especially given how similar to Metroid the pitch was. "Slowing the game down" to me sounds more like "making it more boring, annoying, and 'you better git gud you filthy casual'". But maybe that's just me.

    26. Mark Reick on

      This looks beautiful, and it sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun. The world needs more Metroidvania's. I can't wait to play this.

      Don't worry about the time frame; I think any reasonable person would rather have a great delayed game, than a crappy rushed game. Or worse, no game.

    27. E. A. Bartholomew on

      You can parry almost any attack in Samus Returns, too, outside of boss fights. The main problem I had with SR is how the parry was the only fast way to defeat most enemies. It really changed the pace of the game. You didn't mention that parrying induces vulnerability, but if it does, I think a lot of people who played SR wouldn't want to see it be the only way to one-hit-kill any enemy or to clear a path through the level.

      The background movement looks great aside from the fact that those thick tree trunks are swaying. Sometimes stillness produces a stronger effect than movement, but I'm sure you know that.

    28. Chris Skuller
      Superbacker
      on

      Damn... every time I see this game in motion I get more and more excited.

    29. mabec on

      That fistful of fist is the best

    30. Matt White Creator on

      @Simon I haven't actually played Samus Returns so I can't say if it feels the same, but from video footage I'd say my parrying works more like how it does in Souls. It requires a lot of precision but it can be used against almost any attack.

    31. Simon Wilmer on

      Interesting. The left trigger free aim and parrying sound similar to Samus Returns. I did find the parrying in SR a bit annoying at times, as it stopped me from just traversing the map, I frequently had to stop and wait for the enemy do their parry-able attack before I could kill them and progress.