Greetings, mages, magesses, and familiars! We hope that the Fire Mages have been putting in overtime for you if you’re in the northern hemisphere. Between some major illnesses and housing troubles among team members that transpired over the last few months, this update has been incredibly delayed and we’re sorry about that. However, you’ll be pleased to find out we’re quite on track with the game! Behold:
General Progress Report
There's nothing scientific about these figures. They're our best estimates on where we currently stand in the grand game development scheme. Nevertheless, when one knows that the light at the end of a tunnel is rapidly approaching, one finds it far easier to gauge how close said light really is. So while these figures contain not a shred of scientific analysis (not even from a magical measurement spell) it's safe to say they are accurate guesstimates:
Writing & Design: 99%
Background Artwork & Animations: 95%
Character Animations: 93%
Sound Effects: 15%
Adventure Game Programming: 90%
Combat System Programming: 95%
RPG/Stats/Equipment Programming: 85%
And for the RPG fans who are so hardcore, they need stats about stat-raising game, here are the latest AGS engine assets being used.
AGS Game Engine Assets & Stats
Total sprites: 17203 / 30000
Sprite folders: 789
Total views: 745
Total GUIs: 68
Inventory Items: 300 / 300 (our custom inventory system is dynamic, we have over 300 items)
Dialog topics: 402 / 500
(Yes, some of these figures went backwards from our last update. This is due to us deleting unused assets and/or the streamlining process of refining certain scenes and removing any wordy or clunky sections that didn't work well to convey the story.)
At this rate, we will be aiming for a May or June beta sans voice acting!
January 2015 Summit Meeting in Oz
Early in January 2015, Daniel and Chris met up for the annual Himalaya Studios summer summit meeting (yes, it took place in Australia). We used this opportunity to carefully map out the remaining work to be done on Mage's Initiation, so that we can see it to a (hopefully relatively speedy) conclusion. As is usually the case, much was accomplished during this in-person developer meeting. It was really quite motivating to bounce ideas off each other, and quickly enhance segments of the design and puzzles in real-time. There's this peculiar phenomenon in game development where things tend to get taken care of faster and much more efficiently in real life. Or maybe it's just that sitting in cramped quarters for full 40c degree days, with just a small metal fan shared between two, swarms of flies to keep you company, and the prospect of a walk around the block the only reward for a hard day's work, were motivation enough to get our work done quickly.
The first order of business was to conduct a full playtest of the game from beginning to end. This was fairly entertaining to watch, because Daniel had not actually played any of our internal demos for some months and thus was able to approach this playthrough through the eyes of a "fresh" gamer. So, naturally, he was designated the test pilot for this play-test session. He started a new game as a Fire Mage (since that's our most solid class at the moment) and we were off to the races! This method worked out well, too, because through playing, we quickly located problem areas which needed extra attention and we were able address them as we played. For example, there were times when Daniel got stuck and didn't have any direction on what to do next. He would say "If I were an unaccustomed player and I were playing this part right now, I wouldn't know where to go." Such epiphanies where very, very handy in helping us to decide where we needed to insert new NPC barks, "hint" thought bubbles for D'arc, and sometimes subtle visual, graphical indicators to ensure that the sense of progression never completely faded out on the player experience. At the same time, we didn't want to make it to hand-holdy. So, while you may still need to pause for thought every so often, as you contemplate how to solve a head-scratching puzzle, you'll always have your next goal clearly defined, and won't be stuck wandering around for lack of something to do.
As Daniel discovered issues and areas to improve, Chris was busy addressing them in the AGS engine and cracking out bug-free code. Another painstaking task that Daniel commenced during the summit was going through every… single… line... of dialog in the game, and condensing the text where necessary. Rewriting lines if they no longer fit the context of the scene or the overall game narrative (some of this dialog was written years ago and the game's design has evolved significantly in that time!).
While the dialogue clunkiness was being... declunked, we brainstormed several ideas for spell-casting opportunities using the player's existing "adventure" spells. (Each Mage class gets 5 "adventure quest" spells and 6 "combat" spells, for a grand total of 11 spells per Mage class!) We wanted to put more of these "adventure" spells to use and thought of some alternate puzzle solutions for the varied Mage castes. A few sections of the game were trimmed down and fine-tuned. Some unnecessary art and animation assets (that were yet to be made) were scrapped in the interests of consolidating specific scenes and shortening the production time. We felt particularly good about getting rid of these assets from the pipeline, as they were weighing the project down and didn't really add anything to the story couldn't be told without. The benefit was that important scenes became faster-paced, snappier; like they should be, rather than getting weighed down by overbloated dialog and overreliance on animations. In some cases, clever wording of a character line could give the same impression without the need to visually show a character's action on-screen.
As the playthrough reached the final Act, we redesigned the slightly outdated ending scenes to make them fit into the events of the scene better, and reworked the final adventure puzzle there so that things feel more intuitive and the right emotions are being conveyed.
By the time Daniel departed into the sunset (actually, he left at 4am) and was on his merry way back home, we felt that (aside from creating a monstrous to-do list) we had succeeded in planning exactly what needs to be done in order to transition things smoothly towards alpha testing and eventual beta testing. Make no mistake, there's still PLENTY of work remaining, and our noses will be to the grindstone for the next several months while attempting to complete everything for a prospective mid-year beta launch. Fingers crossed, and we'll keep you posted!
Second Rule of Mage Club: Talk About Fightin'
Since the last update, the Mage's Initiation combat system has transformed from a rather simple affair, with just a handful of opponents and a majority of missing spells, into a spell-casting, battle-blasting, gem-crafting, spectacle. Morgan, our fantastic combat programmer has been devoting much time, of late, toward getting the entire system completed and his hard work is paying off in spades! The battle system is now almost feature complete. All of D'arc's stats are in the process of being hooked in, with the appropriate buffs and debuffs attributed to equipable gems being applied in real-time.
As mentioned above, each Mage class (of which there are four: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water) has 6 different combat spells - each one unique to that class. That equates to a grand total of 24 combat spells in the game! These have all been fully-programmed now, and we're almost ready to start bug-fixing all the known issues pertaining to them. Completing all of the combat spell programming, including the backer-created ones, was a huge milestone and we think you guys will have a lot of fun laying waste to the beasts of Iginor with this magical arsenal.
As of writing this, we have just 3 boss battles left to program. (All the regular enemies are already done) One of these 'bosses' is the backer battles, which we've just started working on, to be programmed in the coming weeks. For their generous pledge, these two lucky fellas not only get to be D'arc's spellcasting test-target during the tutorial, they'll also be endowed with magical gifts and get to duke it out with him mano e mano in real-time.
We're expecting the combat system to finish up soon. Very soon. This will go a long way in moving the project toward beta on schedule. The general RPG/Stats system is still lagging behind a bit, but because the combat system now necessitates its inclusion, it's likely to play catch-up very quickly!
Check Out Mage’s Initiation at These Upcoming Events!
If we have anyone reading in the New York area, please check out Playcrafting’s Winter Expo! Over 50 games will be on display including Mage’s Initiation. There’s free pizza and all kinds of games: what’s not to like?
If you’ll be in New York next week, Rachel will also be at Gamedev Hacker if you want to say hi.
She'll also be representing Himalaya for the first time at GDC 2015 in San Francisco, which we’re extremely psyched about! If you’re going to be there, feel free to stop by and give some feedback on what you’ve seen so far... and tell her where the adventure game party will be at!
RIP Astrid PolloDiablo
We received the sad news that one of our backers lost her battle with cancer recently. She was an integral part of the adventure game community and our hearts go out to her loved ones.
This concludes our broadcasting schedule. Please remember to wipe-off your combat Conductors, unequip your gems, and keep your tunics crinkle-free while you wait for our next action-packed update, which is sure to level-up on even this one!