Exanima 0.6 Released
BEYOND THE PORTAL
Beneath the surface of our apparently fairly typical medieval setting there is something else. Now we begin to unveil it. It has always been our goal to create a special brand of fantasy, one that is familiar yet different, where the wondrous and fantastical hold up to pragmatic scrutiny. Function rules over form, plot and player convenience never get in the way of believable fiction.
We tell the story through many things and encourage the player to investigate. Every detail, no matter how apparently small or insignificant, must make sense and support it. This creating something fantastical, original and realistic at once has proven quite challenging, it took a lot of iterating and rejecting to be able to create this unique setting and make every small part of it fit.
We know some of you have been waiting for something more wondrous and visually impressive, crossing the portal in Exanima should satisfy that desire. Be warned, you'll meet some nasty things down there and surviving will be harder than ever. This is a mostly temporary situation though, a nice (and spectacular) challenge for now, but its role will change significantly as some new mechanics and many new maps are added.
ANIMATION AND CONTROL
Mixing physics with even simple animations is a difficult problem, nevermind those of a functional lifelike human. Throw in a player who demands precise and responsive control and you're really asking for a lot. This problem has been eating up most of our development time since we started experimenting with it almost 4 years ago. It has been a huge and often fruitless struggle. We've learned a lot though and our animation system has really evolved, now when we try to improve things our success rate is pretty good.
Every once in a while we take our patchwork of improvements and things we've learned and rebuild them into something better. With this update we've really turned things around.
It would be easier to make a list of what we haven't improved, and that would be a short list. We've rebuilt our IK system, improved footwork, added dynamic stance adjustments, rebuilt virtually all our "animations", made turning twice as fast, all movement snappier and more decisive, walking and running are much more reponsive, we introduced more fine grained control over upper body movement, improved articulation physics, fixed many combat mechanic and input bugs and made all sorts of other improvements and tweaks.
Not to blow our own trumpet, but the results are great. We think we've finally developed this into something not just fun and somewhat quirky, but just exceptionally good. Sure, there are still things to add and there is always room for improvement, but this is the core of it. We have actually gone out of our way to keep the fundamental gameplay essentially unchanged, so don't expect it to be completely different. All movement is still all about momentum and not just simple inputs, actually more so than before. This is central to the gameplay and will always require a lot of finesse (and practice) with the controls.
NEW A.I. BEHAVIOUR SYSTEM
One of the things we've been focusing on recently is getting our A.I. system to a more complete state. When we talk about A.I. we mean it in the literal sense, Artificial Intelligence, not scripted behaviours with complete lack of circumstantial awareness. Our goals for A.I. are very broad in scope but at the core of all of it there's a sort of artificial brain that behaves in quite an organic way. Getting very dynamic and yet and natural behaviours is quite tricky and we try get these things right in the foundations.
A.I. characters establish individual and group relationships, they have moods, emotions and react to a great many things happening around them. They remember events, characters and features of the environments that they discover. Players and other NPCs are indistinguishable and treated in the same exact way. You will notice much more detailed and realistic behaviour in general.
We've also started adding much more detailed low level behaviour. You will see NPCs flee from combat, set up ambushes, wait for opportunities, fight eachother and more. These are not prescripted behaviours with simple triggers, but things naturally arising from circumstance and a very detailed simulation.
This is a complex system with many moving parts that we still plan to expand on greatly. It will no doubt take some time to tweak the countless fluctuating parameters to a point where they're behaving as well as they should. While this is part of a much broader system that we're working on, already in this form it creates some very dynamic and amusing situations.
Note that your actions are now more important in determining the outcome of an encounter. As an example if you run straight towards someone they may feel threatened and respond, if you stop and fight you will confirm their suspicions, but if you just run past they're unlikely to give chase, and next time you meet they may not consider you a threat. There's no fixed rule though, some may see you running as a weakness and an opportunity. Making enemies can be very dangerous, whereas friendly NPCs may even help you in a fight.
Our standards of quality have been consistently improving throughout development, which inevitably leads to a certain disparity between things developed later and ealier. Recently we've been revising many of our older assets, bringing them to up to par with the rest. We're also introducing circumstantially increased zoom levels and in game zoom has been increased for higher aspect ratio displays. Many core assets have been greatly improved and we've hugely increased the zoom in characters views. These improvements don't only concern graphics, we've also revamped many sound effects and how they interact with physics.
With the new permanent save point for the portal added and some build diversity becoming possible, it was important to allow you to create multiple characters at once. You can now start many new games and go back to any one of them when you like.
The Continue option now brings you a new screen where you can review all your characters and choose which one to play. You can view each character, look through their inventory, their skills and read their personal journal.
This is also where you can manage new global experience earned since you last played the character. Newly available global experience will be displayed and automatically invested in any skill techniques you were training, any remaining experience can be invested in new techniques of your choosing.
We've done everything we can to allow you to keep your current save games, but there have been extensive changes to content and formats so there will be some issues.
Armor is finally no longer a matter of more is better, but presents a tradeoff and an investment as well as having a new layer of meaningful diversity. Heavier and more rigid armours are now more cumbersome which will affect your character's movement in many subtle but still important ways. Your character doesn't just move slower but differently, in ways that are realistic and convey added weight and stiffness. You can be effective even when heavily encumbered, but in some situations you will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage, with the correct training however this can be avoided.
We've introduced the first armour skills, those that are most meaningful for the current state of the game. There are 3 ranks of Manoeuvering in Armour which allow you to overcome the encumbrance effects of increasingly heavy armours. Deflection allows you to take better advantage of your armour, it effectively increases how much of your body your armour is able to protect and reduces vulnerability in gaps and weaker areas of armour.
Items now come in various qualities and conditions. We've introduced over 50 specific quality modifiers with various effects which improve gear diversity and randomisation. This gives many items that were previously just better or worse new roles, particularly with the introduction of the encumbrance system. The quality of items is not only reflected in their properties but also their appearance.
Item quality does not currently apply to weapons, this will be part of a larger upgrade to weapons with a procedural system for much greater weapon variety and meaningful effects. With this we will also introduce many new weapons and types.
Many completely new items have also been added throughout the game.
You should of course be able to fight with no weapon equipped and we've now introduced basic unarmed fighting. You can punch with your left and right, do uppercuts and either straight punches or hooks depending on how you move the cursor. This turned into some very fun boxing combat, which does require a new level of finesse and precision with the controls. With the introduction of the new arena mode we will include unarmed fights which we're sure will make for hours of solid entertainment.
A long overdue graphical overhaul of the user interface is finally here. We've added support for nicer, proportional fonts and upgraded all shading and textures. It's a fairly superficial change, but one that was quite labour intensive, we do think it adds a lot to the game's overall presentation and atmosphere.
Each character now has a journal, currently accessed with 'J'. You can write notes on your progress, what you've pieced together of the story or anything you like. We're considering generating entries from your character's perspective as you discover various things, but some players have mixed feelings about this. Let us know what you think.
There have been countless improvements and fixes to almost every part of the game since the last major release. Here's a list of some specific fixes for well known bugs or things that weren't broadly covered in the above wall of text:
- Cursor locks to full screen windows
- Added a checkpoint earlier in the game
- Improved locational damage mechanics
- Improved loot randomisation
- Fixed characters being unable to step in certain places
- Improved camera obstacle avoidance behaviour
- Improved pathfinding
- New shading and material effects
- Fixed "exorcist" bug
- Fixed strongbox bugs
WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?
This update was supposed to be about getting some more content in, and it was supposed to happen a lot sooner. The level of care we're putting into every aspect of the game has grown a lot, at some point we thought that with how much everything has improved, the more fantasy aspects of the game also needed some more love. A decision was made to expand on our underworld assets and create something more unique, that differentiated itself better from the rest. This also made sense from a longer term productivity and workflow point of view at the time.
Unfortunately we ran into some problems. One of our team members who was core to developing the new assets found themselves in a position of being unable to work much. We initially responded by working on bringing other aspects of the game forward, but the situation got worse and we just found ourselves with a lot more work on our plates.
We got through this little crisis in the end, things are back to normal now, the update has shaped up very well and we've made great progress on many fronts. We've got a lot more content lined up for Exanima, but the assets for this were mostly completed before even its first public release. Delays like this one should not happen again.
We will continue to complete and add features and content at an always faster pace, and at this point I think we can safely say that the days of improving things are almost entirely behind us. The list of features and things we need to do to support them is rapidly shrinking, from something rather daunting to something that looks much more manageable.
The arena mode, which was born as just a combat test, has proved extremely popular amongst players and in the next update we will expand on its features. Fights will be randomised, you will bid into fights and earn money to invest in better gear or even mercenaries to fight by your side. There will be skill progression similar to the story mode and some other features besides. These are great additions and quite simple to make. The arena mode is also a great way to introduce and test multiplayer features which we hope to add soon.
It has been a long and ardous journey so far, especially if you consider that we built everything from the ground up and taken on board every bit of advice and feedback. We don't know how much credit you take as backers and supporters of this project, but you should really take plenty. You made this happen and it's fantastic!