The Magic of May
Welcome, welcome, once again, young Initiates! Please gather in the Reading Hall and calmly take your seats while we recount to you the latest happenings in the land of Iginor.
Update on Alpha/Beta Status
A.L.F. is the Alpha Alien Life Form, eating Alfalfa while driving his Alfa Romeo. What does this have to do with Mage's Initiation? Nothing at all! But it sort of rhymes with the topic of today's discussion (and also fills in some extra space which doesn't hurt).
So, what's the news? Well, we've been working feverishly on prepping the game for its alpha release! And while we had anticipated being able to release said alpha build this month (and have made incredible progress to that end), Himalaya's involvement at GDC set things back just a tad, and we still have some loose ends to tie up before it can be deemed 100% fit for backer consumption. In other words: we're *almost* there, but there are a few trouble-spots remaining that we still need to clear up: stubborn bugs, some textual dialog that needs tweaking, a handful of graphical placeholders in need of updating, and some missing functionality that we'd prefer to get in-place, so that everyone has an optimal game-play experience. Our aim is to get the alpha looking as close as possible to a preliminary beta, prior to release. For the past fortnight, Chris and Daniel have been playing through the game, sequentially, with each class and noting down all the adjustments/fixes to be made and then hitting all of the entries on these very long-lists until they're all checked off. These play-tests are typically day (and nearly) night-long processes, but it's a great feeling to finish each one, knowing that every time, the game is that little bit more refined and closer to completion!
Normally, the aforementioned things may not prevent an alpha release (people expect there to be rough edges in an alpha build, after all), but due to the way the AGS engine easily invalidates player save-games if certain types of changes are made after mass release (i.e. when patching/updating the game) -- usually anything related to adding new graphics, animations, sounds/music -- we really need to take some time to be forward-thinking, in an attempt to preserve player's alpha save-games for as long as possible. Because once we release the build, there'll be no going back! Or rather, there will, but it will break everyone's save-games and force them to start over. Due to this consideration, we need to take measures to preempt such issues, by adding reserved 'placeholder' assets into the game's source, which can be overwritten at a later stage, if needs be, without breaking anything. We just don't want to rush this out the door, without having considered all the possibilities where the game could break save-games, post-alpha release. We also want to fix all of the outstanding bugs that are already known to the dev team. We fear that releasing an alpha with known bugs to hundreds of players will only result in these same bugs being re-reported many times over, cluttering our pipeline, which would then take even more resources to sort through to weed out all the duplicates. This is not optimal, as it would actually prolong the final release of the game. By getting the game as bug-free as possible prior to releasing the alpha, it will allow us to start with a clean slate with a bunch of fresh eyes, which will be far more conducive to a streamlined release, instead of bogging the process down.
Additionally, we are currently refining character dialog, fixing bugs, and adjusting game puzzles while we wait for AGS version 3.3.5 to be merged into 3.4.0, and for the new build to be released publicly. This yet-to-be-released AGS build will have many additional benefits over the current release, such as allowing players to adjust mouse sensitivity to their personal preference, and providing better support for various screen resolutions, ensuring that the game can be played as intended (visually) on a larger number of systems and screens.
With all that said, we know you wonderfully fine and exceptionally patient people are chomping at the bit to play our creation, and we're just as eager to get it into your keen little hands! Please believe us when we say that we're taking measures that will result in a speedier release of the final product (truth!), and that the wait should not be too much longer!
We've had some feedback regarding the combat system from the video shown in our previous update. Many people were very enthusiastic about it and thought that it looked like a lot of fun, while others had concerns that it might be overwhelming and that there could be too much going on at once, or that there may be too many simultaneous enemies to focus on, which would place a greater emphasis on "kiting" (AKA, leading the enemy around the screen like they're attached to an invisible kite string, and being forced to attack them with ranged shots). We wanted to address a few of these observations.
The beauty of the Mages combat system is that every aspect of it is very easily adjustable by changing a few lines of code! From the number of enemies on-screen, to the number of simultaneous attackers, to the behaviour of each individual enemy on the battlefield (i.e. whether they aggressively pursue and attack or actively avoid the player if you walk close them). For the most part, we've been heavily focusing on fixing bugs in the combat system for many months, and hadn't paid a lot of attention to balancing various aspect of the monster encounters yet. Now that our list of combat-related bugs is growing very small, we'll be paying extra attention to adjusting monster encounters to make them both fun, and not too overwhelming. Here are some measures we've already taken, based on feedback we've received and seen floating around the web (such feedback is always invaluable, especially in the development stage):
Kiting: Some people have suggested that we add a melee weapon for close-range combat to counter kiting. In the initial version of the game, we did actually have a unique melee weapon for each Mage class, but decided to remove them to better fit with the established plot. Instead, each Mage class has what we call a "Primary Nuke" projectile spell. For example, a Fireball for the Fire Mage. This spell can be cast even with 0 Mana Points (albeit only doing 1/4 damage in that case), and will injure and push-back an enemy who's standing toe-to-toe, trading blows with the player. While it's still possible to get surrounded, this feature helps a lot to reduce kiting, by allowing you to stand your ground against 1 or 2 close-range enemies. Secondly, each class has a 'protective' spell that either shields the player for a time, or shields them AND causes damage to nearby enemies. In both cases, the enemies will flee the player while shielded, but the player can still attack them.
Overcrowding (or being bum-rushed by monsters): A common concern is that there are a lot of assailants on-screen at any given time, which might make combat more stressful than fun. The first measure we've taken to mitigate this is that the game offers 3 combat difficulty settings; all adjustable in real-time. On "Easy" mode, enemies have very low HP, will do low attack damage, and there will only ever be 1 simultaneous attacker, regardless of how many opponents are on-screen. This setting is ideal for casual players who prefer story over arcade. On "Medium" (the default setting) there can be 2 simultaneous attackers (only one of them can be a "strong" enemy), and enemies are scaled up slightly in HP and attack damage. On "Hard", there can be 3 simultaneous attackers (2 of them can be "strong" enemies), and enemy HP/attack damage are high. Also, the way we pan things out (in "Easy" and "Medium" modes), is by having only the strongest enemy on-screen aggressively pursue the player. If you walk near other weaker enemies at this stage, they'll actively avoid you and run to a different area of the screen. Sometimes they may try to do a hit-and-run if you corner them, but they'll always wait their turn in the hierarchy, and step in only when their strongest ally has been killed. Monsters that you injure greatly will also flee the screen and clear the area. Plus, you can always run into an adjacent screen as a tactical advantage to get all the monsters to enter from one side and then pummel them as they line up for you.
Overall: It's possible to win the game by completely avoiding/escaping from regular combat and focusing only on the adventure portion of the game. There are 4 "boss" encounters that are mandatory, but due to the way the game is structured, it ensures you're always at the appropriate level you need to be and are always strong enough to defeat each boss (particularly on the "Easy" setting).
We also intend to further adjust the combat system during alpha and beta testing, based on the feedback we receive from players. So, by the time the game is ready for its final release, we should have a nicely polished battle system that's entertaining to play, and has received the official player/backer 'stamp of approval'!
Latest AGS Game Assets & Stats
Total sprites: 19485 / 30000
Sprite folders: 874
Total views: 801
Total GUIs: 76
Inventory Items: 300 / 300 (Uses a dynamic inventory system, we have over 300 inventory items)
Dialog topics: 396 / 500
Available on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/439310
So, that raps up this update! Thanks for tuning in and hopefully those wooden benches in the Reading Hall haven't been too uncomfy. We'll keep you all posted on the impending alpha. Fingers crossed that the new AGS build will be released soon, too!
The Himalaya Team