Home Sweet Home
The building is now standing. Nine Inch Nails played the first concert in it and we, meanwhile, tripled in number and desperately needed more space, so today we are sitting in brand new offices on one of the floors of their building.
We looked forward to it as a mercy. Our old offices were lovely, but there were now 40 people sitting in spaces designed for 20 people at most and it was impossible to move around. Nearly 20 more graphic designers and concept designers therefore had to sit for several months in the neighboring building and that raised lots of issues with communication and mutual cooperation.
But not even such a conventional and relatively predictable thing as the construction of a building went without the hitch that is so common with games – delays. We had been promised the offices several months earlier, but it dragged on. We joked that maybe NIN would play their concert on the car park opposite, but in the end it worked out and finally we, too, are sitting here. It’s true that for the first couple of days we were without internet and lights in the bathrooms, while construction workers milled around us, painting walls, launching the air conditioning and hanging doors, and even some of the programmers and animators installed the kitchen units, because the workers told them they were too costly for such a thing as installing a sink.
Our new spaces are very nice, but after two years of cohabitation in a big, architecturally elegant space, the new office seems a bit quiet and boring to me. Suddenly it is silent in the corridors, everyone sits at his own computer and has no reason to be interested in the others, unlike before, when everyone knew about every quarrel over some complicated feature and could freely join in without even leaving his desk.
Divinity: Original Sin
Before we get to the usual news update and development progress, I’d like to mention an RPG from our friends at Larian Studios. Just like us, Swen Vincke, who heads Larian, has been trying to break free from the chains of the existing distribution models and publish his games himself. He has also been blogging about this very openly for some time (www.lar.net) and has been a great inspiration for me in realizing there are alternatives. I had the pleasure of meeting him and we occasionally write to each other and try to give each other mutual support. So I’m very happy to say that Swen and Larian have succeeded in completing and publishing a game that, like ours, was on Kickstarter – Divinity: Original Sin. I’m delighted that it is one of the best-selling games on Steam and especially happy that I can recommend it without hesitation, because it’s a great game.
At this moment I've clocked something over 20 hours on it and I’m enjoying it immensely, to the great chagrin of my wife, who is a little annoyed that I sit all evening at the computer, go to sleep at three in the morning and get up late for work. Original Sin is a nice old-school RPG with cool turn-based combat, a little silly in Larian style, a good RPG system and an incredible number of ways of interacting with the world. It is not by a long shot as fanatically realistic a game as ours, but fans of games like Ultima, Fallout or simply old isometric RPGs will enjoy it. I highly recommended it!
And what else is new here apart from the move? It seems we have finally reworked the plan as we decided last month and began applying agile development and combined teams of people from various areas, who are working on one thing at the same time. The first major task was the implementation of an alchemistic "mini game", which isn't mini at all, but a relatively massive game in its own right. One of our new designers, Jakub, is in charge of it. When we were dealing together with the alchemy on paper, we came across a whole range of problems, as well as the fact that he didn't know which of our ideas were feasible and which weren't.
Now he has at hand two programmers, an animator and several graphic designers and they deal with the whole thing as a team. They were a little surprised at the outset that no one was strictly dictating to them how it was supposed to be and, on the contrary, that they should sort out the issues together and figure out what was possible, but it seems they are starting to get the hang of it. It’s something of a trial by fire. In the course of it, Jakub discovered much more quickly what was possible and what was not, and in a week they should be delivering a functioning alpha version of the mini game. To be honest, I am very curious whether it will be good and this approach proves itself, or whether it will be not so good and we will have to go back to the drawing board.
I finally got round to designing and for almost a whole month I was drawing up according to the plan the principles of functioning of the missing game mechanisms, which I enjoyed and which hopefully went well. In the end, then, I compiled the functioning of fast travel and the healing GUI, tidied up the whole system of levels, skills and perks and designed the interface for how it will function. We thought up a relatively innovative system for how books and reading them will work, healing, rules for Bard skill and the related mini game, hunting, questlog, skip time, poisoning and consumption of food and alcohol. Apart from that, we dealt with how herbs will be gathered and what kind they will be, which is linked to the alchemy. We also began dealing with all the stuff that will be in the alpha version, which we anticipate in September.
The graphic designers are now waiting for us to do some stuff for the map of the world, so they can get on with creating the whole landscape. I have to read all the designs for random events and activities for the player from the rest of the designers. In addition, I have work lined up with the programmer on the design of the GUI and the functions of our internal quest-writing tool, which needs to be significantly improved before we start writing the final script. And then maybe we can finally start writing quests, for which we will have about seven months and seven people, so if everyone writes one a month, we should be able to manage 50.
In the meantime the programmers are changing the whole path-finding, programming the movement of vehicles and working on the combat AI. The scripting department is preparing the daily NPC cycles. This means that the first lot of occupations will at last get their almost definitive appearance of what they will do in the world. And since the NPCs need tools for their activities, the graphic designers are creating them, as well as wagons and carts, new, much more beautiful horses, trees and even pots and pans. As well as that, work is in progress on creating house templates that we will use to create all the locations and will allow us to create a huge quantity of building combinations.
This time things are maybe more optimistic than last month :-] It still applies, though, that many of the aforementioned things may not ultimately appear in the game and we will have to take care not to overdo things. Which is not easy. Take for example a story about alcoholism...
Just as in almost all RPGs, we too will have the option of drinking alcohol in the game, and since it will be there, we want it to lead somewhere. So it will influence the stats of the player’s character in some way. That’s normal too. Only we said to ourselves that we didn't want it just to add a bit of health and then have a fuzzy picture. We want the lightened mood to raise charisma, speech and stats, allowing the player, for example, to persuade an NPC more easily. We want it to raise his self-confidence, while advanced drunkenness would, on the contrary, lower his stats.
That's all still easy enough, only we also want differences between various types of alcohol - for bad quality booze to make the character more ill than quality booze, which would show in a longer lasting hangover, and maybe that bad beer would make him throw up sooner (there will be puking, of course).
Well, then, we add to that a quality that most items have anyway. Only what will be the difference between beer, wine and spirits, when they are all of the same quality? Well, a person has to drink a lot more beer than spirits to get drunk and it fills him up a lot more. So, since we have overeating, the beer will behave like food and it will be possible to get overfull before one gets drunk, or get poisoned if it’s bad booze, and then we might easily have a number of different beers of various quality and other parameters. But, since moderate indulgence in alcohol increases the player's positive stats, he could exploit it by maintaining a permanent state of tipsiness and we have to somehow pre-empt that.
If the player boozes too much, he becomes an alcoholic. But how do we define “boozing too much”? How does the player get cured of alcoholism? How will all that look outwardly? Well, what can I say? I thought I’d have it written in one day and in the end I was writing it for three days, it has four pages of descriptions and when the programmers heard us, you could see the cloud descending on them and in the end they asked “And when are you going to stop thinking up BS and get on with the game?”
It might seem like we are getting a bit carried away, only the problem is that if we didn't deal with these "details", then this mechanism would break down the rest. What's more, in this case it is still about a simple game of numbers that can be relatively easily implemented and there aren't too many extra assets required for it. So in my opinion it is worth thinking it through properly and then it doesn't have to be patched after it’s implemented in the game and doesn't work. Obviously, finding a balance between what is extreme and “doing it properly” is quite hard. So it’s quite possible that when it is implemented, in the end the alcohol will increase your strength for a while and the picture will go fuzzy. Next time we should have some video update, so you have something to look forward to.
Dan Vávra, creative director