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A rich, diverse Tactical RPG, envisioned by the master of the genre Yasumi Matsuno, Playdek, and you, the fans!
A rich, diverse Tactical RPG, envisioned by the master of the genre Yasumi Matsuno and you, the fans!
A rich, diverse Tactical RPG, envisioned by the master of the genre Yasumi Matsuno and you, the fans!
15,824 backers pledged $660,126 to help bring this project to life.

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Design Update #1

120 likes

Dear backers,

Today I would like to talk a bit about design.

Before I jump in, if you're interested in Unsung Story's narrative, you can read the other half of this update on our Little Orbit Story forum. We would have posted everything to Kickstarter, but some backers expressed concern over spoiling the narrative, so those updates will be on our site from here on out.

I mentioned in an earlier update that we have gone back to the roots of this project, untangling what was original to Matsuno’s design, identifying what was introduced by Playdek, and isolating what was useful (or not) from both. I am going to walk you through that process so that you can have a better idea of where we are right now and how we plan to move forward regarding game mechanics and progression.

Inherited Design

I don’t feel comfortable sharing the actual initial design without Matsuno’s permission, but I think it is important to understand the main focus, because that has formed an important starting point for us. The key note is that his first design was for a mobile game. So many of his decisions were based on simplicity to match that platform. It wasn’t until the Kickstarter that Playdek massively increased the scope of the game to the spiritual successor of Final Fantasy Tactics. At that point, we see lots of changes that attempt to retrofit the original ideas into a larger framework.

Here is an overview of Matusno’s original design goals:

  • A traditional epic fantasy theme 
  • Original notes talk about a war with an invading “demonic” force 
  • The story is focused through Story Characters and Chapters 
  • The player controls “Unsung Heroes” who are the true heroes but lost to history
  • Instead of using a main map or any concept of linear time, the player chooses to play key battles during the war that they could replay at any time 
  • Unsung units have classes like Knight, Archer, Priest, Wizard, and Pioneer 
  • More classes for the Unsung units unlock based on leveling up that give new abilities and slightly modify power or speed
  • Players can switch classes from the base class to new classes as they unlock
  • Use group-based skill points to level up or improve skills
  • Height and incline affect movement speed and attack
  • No complicated stats

We agreed internally that we needed to focus on a couple goals to help focus Unsung Story:

  • Preserve most of Matsuno’s original design and narrative 
  • Combine those ideas with the scope of what backer’s paid for in Kickstarter
  • Combine those ideas with the extra features added by Playdek if possible

With this base, we spent some time analyzing how to meet these goals.

Here are some of our initial observations:

1. PLAYDEK’S WORLD LACKS MANY OF MATSUNO’S IDEAS

Although there is mention of dragons, giants, and “monsters” in Matsuno’s world design notes, there is very little mention of these elements in Playdek’s design. It appears they wanted a more historical or less fantastic world. This seems like a lost opportunity.

2. PLAYDEK’S LINEAGE, CLASS, AND PROFESSION SYSTEM IS OVERLY COMPLEX

We have spent quite a bit of time deciphering Playdek’s ideas about how classes can specialize or change during the game. There is very little if any actual design around classes, abilities, or progression. Personally, I find that if you need this kind of diagram below to explain things, you're probably not doing something right.

 3. MAGIC IS NOT DESIGNED

References to magic across the various docs are contradictory and incomplete.

Matsuno’s narrative and high-level design mention basic spells and classes, but it appears the work was never completed, because he used placeholder names, and there is no explanation of actual spell mechanics.

Playdek’s proposed magic system is unbelievably complex and deep, which is completely at odds with Matsuno’s high-level design goals.

Example:  

Playdek has a completed spell design for the Priest class, which is 1 of 30 proposed classes. This design proposes 48 spells across 6 levels for the Priest class. We compared this with the White Mage from Final Fantasy Tactics who gets 9 unique spells with several upgrades for a total of 16 spells. No other work beyond the Priest was ever completed, and none of the spells were ever incorporated into the narrative of the game.

Unsung Story’s magic system will need a full, new design to meet Matsuno’s goals, but it also needs to differentiate itself enough that it doesn’t come across as a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics.

4. PROBLEMATIC PROGRESSION FOR UNITS

In Final Fantasy Tactics the player gets to keep their units through the entire game so they can level them up to meet them to their specific needs.

We love the idea of Story Characters and switching perspectives every Chapter, but this creates a significant gameplay problem preventing the player from keeping the same units between Chapters. Since the Chapters are told out of order and follow different story characters on both sides of the conflict, it appears that the player must “start over” with an entirely new group of units at the start of every chapter or battle.

Example:  

In Chapter 1, a player will collect 6-7 characters that are at his disposal for battles. They all gain experience. When Chapter 2 starts, there is a time gap and the player might switch “sides” to fight beside a new Story Character. We can’t really see a way to satisfactorily fix the progression problem, which we feel will be a frustrating experience for players.

Design Changes

Given this starting point, we felt some changes needed to be made. Here are the following systems changes proposed for classes and magic.

1. DEFINE THE MAGIC SYSTEM BETTER

I teased this in an earlier update, but buried in a World Overview design document there is a short description of how spells are cast. According to this section spells are more than just words, regents, or movement. A caster must “use a special intonation” to harness true magic by moving tone up and down through energy points in the body like octaves on a musical scale.

Simply put: Spells are sung rather than spoken.

That’s a good start. Songs shape the affect of the spells. But where does the power come from?

To answer that question, we found references in other design documents to “Schools”. I’m not sure if they ever shared these with backers, but they divided classes up amongst 5 Schools: War, Nature, Divine, Man, and Arcane

The lines were pretty blurry on what these schools taught or what the differences were, so we streamlined them down to 1 External force and 4 Schools that focus on different forms of power.

In our world, we started with Chaos. It’s an external force the strives to constantly reshape reality and wreak havoc. It’s the RNG of the universe. From our perspective, the earliest citizens brought Order to Chaos by harnessing the following 4 powers through spells and sound.

  • Nature – The energy from the Heart. Life/death, earth, seasons, Mother Nature and all its creatures. 
  • Divine – The energy from the Soul. Cosmic/celestial forces, but with no differentiation of “good” and “evil”. 
  • Mana – The energy of the Body. Essence of self, vitality, yin-yang. Technology – The energy from the Mind. 
  • Technology/science, mathematics, engineering, logic.

So putting that all together, Unsung Story takes place in a world that can be reshaped with magic. That’s a powerful statement that implies all sorts of things, and one that we've fully incorporated into the story.

2. SIMPLIFY THE CLASSES

Playdek announced 5 Class Types: Attackers, Defenders, Mage, Healer, and Tamer. This was an extension of what we found in Matsuno’s design where he focused on 3 roles: Attackers, Defenders, and Support.

We like his simpler approach, so we’re moving forward with that. Think of these as classic roles within a party (Damage, Tank, Buff). Each class will be a variation on one of these 3 roles.

Unsung Story will have a total of 24 unique classes. Some of those classes will be available for units at the beginning of the game and the others will unlock as the player levels up units during the game.

Classes will be distributed evenly between the 4 Magical Schools. Each school will have 6 classes total, which means we can create a couple variations of each role for diversity.

Looking back at our first art concept, you can now see how he fits into the game. We showed a “Divine Defender” which is our version of Matsuno’s Knight in his original design.

Hopefully you enjoyed this first look at the design process. Please make sure to let us know what you think in the comment section. We kept story developments out of this post, but if you want to see these system changes in context by looking at how Unsung Story’s narrative will evolve, you can read more on our forums.

Thank you for your continued patience and support.  

Sincerely, Matthew Scott

November General Update

Posted by Nathan Revere
60 likes

Dear Backers,  

Today is going to be a bit of a “general update,” by which I mean we will be covering some announcements and the nuts and bolts of our update plan moving forward. We have some fun game design stuff coming soon, but for today we need to get some important logistical stuff out of the way.

ONGOING UPDATE SCHEDULE

We are committing to a once a month update schedule. Every month, on the 1st, you will hear from us here regarding general information and game progress. We may not always have something super splashy to show, but we will make sure you always know when we do. I am making this promise to you because I believe that regular and open communication is the best way to get you guys as excited about this project as I am.

Now, to be clear, you will often hear from us more than once a month. We will have regular story, design, and art updates which will appear on our forums. I encourage anyone who is interested to "subscribe" to their favorite forums on https://littleorbit.com so they will get notified when we post. Story updates are accessible for everyone who isn’t afraid of spoilers. Design and Art updates will be posted first for consultants and premium backers to review. Then, once they have had some time to comment, we will post these on Kickstarter for everyone to enjoy (in fact, we have Story and Design updates coming in just a few days). 

However, I am only going to promise monthly general updates because preparing these takes a great deal of work, and I only want to commit to something that I know we can always deliver.

FORUM SIGNUPS

Speaking of the forums, we had more than 8,000 users sign up on the Little Orbit site since 10/1. About 500 of those got caught in our site outage right at the beginning of the rush when new BackerKit surveys went out. For those users, their activation email never got sent out, so if this happened to you, please try coming back and re-signing up to gain forum access.

Of those who have signed up successfully, over half of our registered users have now been assigned their Forum Badge and backer access to the forums based on their reward tier. We're still working on the others. There are a lot of accounts to go through, so please be patient. If you don't see your badge or have access to the forums, please message us at support@littleorbit.com. We will get you straightened out.

NOTE: We also added SSL to the site to make sure we are properly protecting the information of anyone who signs up.

FORUM ACCESS & WAIVERS

Thank you for all the feedback from our Art and Design Consultants on the forums!

We have taken many of your comments to heart and are moving forward with your feedback in mind. As part of this process, some of you have reached out to us with concerns that too many ideas were being thrown out from Design and Art consultants, and were worried there could be possible legal problems for the project down the road. To that end (and for everyone’s peace of mind), we have added a special waiver to the Story, Design, and Art forums. Backers who have access to those forums can still read everything they want without signing anything. But, in order to post or comment to these special forums, backers must first agree to the waiver.

BACKERKIT

We sent out 16,200 BackerKit surveys, but have so far only received 12,700 responses. This means that we have nearly 3,500 people who haven’t responded yet. We realize that it's now well over 3.5 years since the original Kickstarter campaign ended. We need as many of you as possible to fill out those surveys so we can get you taken care of. If you know someone who backed the project but has stopped checking Unsung Story updates, it would be incredibly helpful if you can let them know that things are moving forward once again. We don’t want anyone who backed to fall through the cracks, so be sure to let everyone know to fill out those surveys!

DRM-FREE

Speaking of BackerKit, we are excited to announce that we have worked out all the details and can now offer a DRM-Free version of the game. We have added DRM-Free versions for Windows, OSX, and Linux to your surveys. If you would like one of those, please make sure to change your selection accordingly.

Thank you for your continued patience and support.  

Sincerely, Matthew Scott

Divine Defender Concept Art

140 likes

Dear Backers,

Today we are going to share the first piece of new concept art with you, but I don’t want to over hype this. Before we get washed away in a flood of comments and critiques, just remember this is just one piece of art from pre-production. I happen to like it for a number of reasons, but we’re still a long way from locking in the overall art style.  

With that out of the way, I would like to take a moment and talk about the art process, pre-production, and our decision to stay with a 3D art style.

PRE-PRODUCTION

Right now there is a lot going on in the art department, but it is important to let you know we are not in full production yet. As I mentioned in our August Update, Little Orbit is starting from scratch to bring Matsuno’s design to life. This means we are in the experimental stages of pre-production, which is where we create a number of Design Documents including the Art Design Document.

The Art Design Document will eventually form the roadmap for each visual component of the game. It will spell out in great detail the techniques we need to use to create our heroes, monsters, environments, and items. It will also map out the User Interface style guide and visual elements we will use to convey information to the players. Some of this document will be technical in nature with definitions for texture sizes and polygon counts, and other parts will contain the initial length of time it took to create each type of asset, so that we can build estimates of how long it will take to complete all of the artwork we need.

The fun part of pre-production is where we bring in various external artists to submit creative ideas – concept art.

We started by reviewing all of the existing Playdek concept art, and then exploring what we liked and what we didn’t.

I want to go on record saying that there are many beautiful pieces of art that Playdek shared with the community. However, everyone on the art team shared two central problems with what was produced:

1) The pieces were overly gritty and realistic.

For myself, I kept looking back at earlier Matsuno games, and they all have a much brighter color palette with more visual fantasy elements. And while a number of the Playdek pieces are lovingly painted and hauntingly epic, they mostly portray neutral to muddy color scenes with realistic characters that could have walked right out of medieval Europe. This isn’t the vision I had at all when I first started thinking about what the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre might look like. A quick glance at a tumblr of Akihiko Yoshida’s work (he was the character designer on many of the original tactics games) will show you what I mean.

2) The pieces weren’t from the perspective of the game.

Many of the Playdek pieces show external views of distant locations. Again there is nothing wrong with the art itself. But none of these scenes are rendered from the proper angle or distance of a tactics game. None of them help an artist visualize battle fields or location elements that the player might interact with.

We felt it was important to stick with concept art that will help us flesh out the look and feel of the game before we dive into true production.


FULL 3D OR NOT

Given that we needed to build out our own concept art, we next had to answer a major art question: Did we want to do full 3D art, or did we want to try and stick with something closer to Final Fantasy Tactics with 2D sprites against 3D environments?

I have mentioned before that we have engaged a couple members of the Final Fantasy Tactics modding community, and two of them are pixel artists who spent time exploring the 2D approach. We had a couple renders done for each direction, but we ultimately decided for a number of reasons to stick with full 3D like Playdek originally promised.

So how do we capture the feel of a game like Final Fantasy Tactics in full 3D?

In my opinion, the goal of the Unsung Story art is to honor the games that have come before while still creating something unique and fun in its own right. We spent time analyzing the hand drawn 2D art, the pixel art, and then sketching out ideas for how that might translate into full 3D. We also reviewed the work of many classic tactics artists as well as sought contemporary inspiration.

Alongside this entire effort, our design team has been redefining each aspect of the game by going back to Matsuno’s original ideas and narrative. We felt it was important to have a fairly locked down story line, game play mechanics, and class progression before we got too far commissioning concept art.

DIVINE DEFENDER

With some of these important decisions settled, we could now start commissioning concept art. When we commission these pieces, we want them to help us visualize the following things:

  • How to translate the feel of a 2D sprite into a full 3D character model  
  • How to create distinction without too much detail that will be lost at the size and angle this character will be on screen  
  • How to capture the thematic feel of the School this class / armor set comes from  
  • How to bring Matsuno’s original fantasy themed Unsung Story ideas to life

Here is my favorite so far that comes closest to addressing each of those issues:

Divine Defender Concept Art
Divine Defender Concept Art

The artist who submitted this piece is Tyler James, my incredibly talented Art Director on HEX: Shards of Fate. You can see more of his work on his website http://www.artofty.com/. I also want to thank iijyanaika for his feedback on the design. Iijyanaika is one of the early Art Consultant backers who signed up on the forums for access to our Art Discussion forum on the little orbit website.

Hopefully you enjoyed the sneak peek and this gives you some insight into our process moving forward. We are looking forward to showing you more as pre-production continues.

Thank you for your continued patience and support.

Sincerely, Matthew Scott

No BackerKit sales will be charged till we are ready to ship rewards

119 likes

Dear backers,

Several messages have come in accusing us of using the price increase on Switch as a possible way for Little Orbit to scam money from the backers.

You have no idea how much this saddens me to hear that our exciting announcement of adding console support to Unsung Story has been skewed and taken so badly by backers.

I publicly stated we would allow all backers to choose any platform of their choice – including the new console editions we have added. However Nintendo charges us a fee for every digital code we request from them for Nintendo Switch. Since we did not get any of the Kickstarter funding, that means we would lose money on each and every copy of Unsung Story for Switch chosen by backers. This is why we had to add the surcharge.

For the Extra Copies Add-on we spent a lot of time trying to figure out a fair way to handle the new console versions. Playdek originally decided to sell these at $15, which is incredibly cheap for a game of this size.

In the spirit of supporting this project as much as possible, we have left that pricing alone. No one has to worry that their previous Extra Copy for Windows is now more expensive.

However we did raise the price of the new XB1 and PS4 Extra Copies Add-on to an appropriate value. At $20 they are still considerably less expensive than our $49.99 console launch price. Since we had already raised the Switch price to accommodate Nintendo's fee, we opted not to raise it further in order to make that Add-on as affordable as possible to the backers.

Our only reason for wiping surveys was to reconcile all the reward / add-on changes.

Just so I've said it clearly:

Each and every backer can hold me accountable that Little Orbit will not charge anyone for their BackerKit orders till we are ready to ship the rewards.

Thank you for your continued patience and support.

Sincerely, Matthew Scott

BackerKit clarifications and website update

31 likes

Dear backers,

WEBSITE IS LIVE

The website is live again. We apologize for the inconvenience. Those of you who were unable to create Forum accounts to answer the survey questions, can now go to this URL and register:

http://www.littleorbit.com/register/

NOTE: This survey question is just to help us award your Forum Badge reward. If you don't plan on using the forums, then you don't need to register, and for the survey question you can enter N/A.

TIERS & 4 EXTRA CHARACTER CLASSES

Unfortunately this is somewhat confusing and we had to go back through all the Playdek comments and BackerKit to decipher what they setup for each tier. We have adjusted the $80 tier description on BackerKit to be more accurate.

Here is what we found:

  • All pledges below $80 do not come with any extra Character Classes.
  • All pledges from $80 - $165 include the 4 Character Classes.
  • All pledges higher than $165 include the 4 Elite Character Classes (special skin & 2 special weapons with stats).

MORE ADD-ONS LATER IN THE PROJECT

We have had several requests to offer new Add-ons including an "All Access" package that includes everything.

We will continue to discuss this, but for now we want to just focus on the project. A couple months before launch, we can work through any additional Add-ons for backers.

EXTRA COST FOR SWITCH

The difference in cost for Switch is directly related to Nintendo. Microsoft and Sony allow us to distribute codes to their games, but Nintendo charges an extra fee per code.  

DON'T WORRY - YOU WILL HAVE TIME TO CHANGE YOUR SURVEYS

If you don't see your exact options up there, let us know and give us some time. We are still in pre-production, and even though we have not announced a release date for Unsung Story, we don't plan on locking the BackerKit surveys for quite a while.

SHIPPING CHARGES

We have gotten a number of messages related to the $24 shipping charges in BackerKit.

First, we apologize for this situation. Clearly Playdek did not investigate shipping options very well. We researched the least expensive international shipping option available, and this was the best we could come up with:

https://www.usps.com/international/priority-mail-international.htm

Second, for those of you at the $80 tier and below, we never collected a shipping address. When you add a Physical Add-on, you will notice the $24 shipping charge appears. However later in the process, once you enter a US address, the shipping charge will go away.

NO DRM-FREE OPTION YET

This is something we are still working on. Currently Little Orbit is not setup to distribute DRM-free copies. Right now the digital PC editions are all being distributed through Steam. However we are investigating this issue, and we will come back with more information when we have it. Once that happens backers will be able to change their selections in the surveys.

OTHER PROBLEMS?

Feel free to contact support@littleorbit.com with any other issues.

Thank you,

Little Orbit Support