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Story, Tactics, and Art. A modern re-imagining of the classic 16-bit RPG.
2,918 backers pledged $81,458 to help bring this project to life.

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Update - 06/12/16

Posted by John Rhee (Creator)
53 likes

Hello backers,

Time for the next big update! 

Character and Animation Revamp

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve been working on one last big unplanned change: revamping our process for creating characters and animation. 

To recap, way back when our campaign ended, we upgraded to using 3D characters in the game. These characters have three main components:

Since we don't have a big team of artists and animators to churn out variations for all the playable characters, enemies, and NPCs we'll need, the plan was to create a handful of base meshes and simply re-texture them as needed. 

This was limiting for a number of reasons: 

  • Not enough variation overall
  • Limited control over individual character shapes and silhouettes
  • Lots of overhead for downstream work like animation
  • Character appearance can't change dynamically (i.e. equipment changes)
  • Characters look terrible up close! 

After stumbling on some amazing new tools, I decided to redo our character creation process to address these issues. The new system allows us to create characters in a modular way that’s more efficient and delivers better results. 

Here's a quick video before I get into details:

Bodies, Faces, and Animation

Now, all characters in the game are created from a single, universal mesh, rig, and animation set. This new base forms the foundation of our entire character creation pipeline: 

Universal base mesh & rig
Universal base mesh & rig

The new system allows us to deform our universal base mesh in-engine by changing a series of variables. The system proportionally scales our character mesh to fit target attributes:

To save time on tasks like level editing and crowd generation, I've grouped different body types into easily selectable presets: 

Since all characters are derived from a common base, animations can be reused across very different body types with no manual rework: 

In addition to body type, facial structure can be edited in engine as well: 

Hair was tricky. I experimented with a modular system to generate hair assets, but in the end the best results came from creating them manually, one at a time. Here's a time-lapse of one of the assets you'll be seeing lots of in the game: 

Making the dozens of hair, facial hair, and even eyebrow variations to cover the game's population took a while! 

Eye and hair color, skin tone, age, and other details can all be adjusted in engine, reducing both manual texturing work and memory overhead: 

Together these changes mean we can create an unlimited range of faces and body types with no extra art effort required for individual characters! 

Wearable items

With the problem of creating different faces and body types solved, the next issue we need to tackle is wearable items. As mentioned above, previously we were simply re-texturing a handful of generic base meshes to "fake" the appearance of clothing and armor. The new system allows us to use swappable meshes instead, which takes some more work but gives much better results overall:

Getting wearable assets to automatically deform to fit different body types was a challenge, but will be a huge time saver in the long run: 

Using swappable meshes frees us up to create characters with much more distinct silhouettes. For example, we can now create items like loose tunics, robes, and dresses without having to multiply the effort required by gender and body type. 

More importantly, it means character appearance will update dynamically to reflect gameplay. For example, equipment changes will now be visible. 

Additionally, for non-primary characters, faction and level progression will be visible on a surcoat worn over armor, and unit class will be reflected in headgear. Below is an example showing how a unit's key combat attributes (class, level, faction, weapon and armor) are all made visible on his in game avatar. This will be useful for surveying groups of enemies during battles without having to rely on UI. 

The system allows these rules to be overridden where needed. With important characters for example, headgear can be excluded and accessories customized to ensure they maintain a distinct appearance. 

Facial Animation 

Since our characters stand up better to closer inspection, I've implemented a facial animation system. Changing expressions, blinking and eye tracking immediately made characters feel more lifelike in game.

 

Updating the character management UI 

I've also been updating the character management UI I shared over a year ago to better showcase the new characters and visible changes based on gameplay progression. Here's a quick peek at the WIP:  

Hopefully you all find this upgrade interesting! Putting finishing touches on these changes took longer than expected, but I think the results are worth it, and we'll get some of that time back as we use the new process to populate the game world. As I mentioned earlier, this will be the last big detour since we're well past the point where we can keep adding unplanned features to the project's scope! 

Other Stuff

A lot of other things have been going on between the day to day work. 

Whenever possible, I've been continuing to do various shows and events. Way back around February, we were selected for the Indie Showcase at MagFest. Since then I've been keeping busy showing the game at various events like IndieCade East, Playcrafting, Sheep's Meow and GDC. For anyone near Philly, I'll be at Too Many Games toward the end of June- come say hi! 

In the last update I shared the vertical slice demo to all of you. The demo had a few hundred downloads and so far the feedback's all been very positive. I’ll leave it up for another day or two in case anyone who hasn’t had a chance wants to give it a spin. 

Between the character work, I’ve been chipping away at playable content. The next alpha build's been pending for a while now, but I don't want to waste anyone's time by releasing something unstable with big changes still happening. Soon! 

Lastly, here’s a piece from Aakaash featuring some live trumpet instrumentation: 

Thanks as always! 

- John 

Quick Check-in & Demo - 03/31/16

Posted by John Rhee (Creator)
34 Comments
35 likes

For backers only. If you're a backer of this project, please log in to read this post.

Update - 12/31/15

Posted by John Rhee (Creator)
38 likes

Happy Holidays everyone!

It's been another bumpy stretch, with lots of progress along the way. Sorry for the wall of text; I'll be getting pretty deep into the details of the design challenges I've been wrestling with since that's where my head's been. 

A Tough Choice

First some bad news: In the last update, I showed the changes I was making to have enemy turns happen along with the player's. After a lot of deliberation I've decided not to keep these changes and return to keeping player and enemy turns separate. 

Actions are still executed simultaneously, but are separated by faction. The problem came up as I started working on larger encounters, where too much was happening at once and players weren't able to keep track of it all. I eventually decided that I was fixating on getting convincing real-time execution at the expense of clarity. Clearly this is a big issue for a tactical RPG, and it's especially problematic for us given how easily units can die in the game.

I spent a lot of time trying different ideas to make it work: an on-screen combat log, more overlay UI in general, bullet time, zooming and panning the camera dynamically to focus on important events, etc. but simply separating turns again seemed like the best solution.

The choice came down to keeping two way real-time turns or having larger encounters and more complex interactions. It was a hard choice to make, especially given how good the changes felt at smaller scales (not to mention the amount of work that went into them!), but hopefully you'll all agree it was the right one. In the end, the decision came up because the mechanics and the scenarios are getting deeper and more interesting, which brings me to the next topic:

Progress

My main focus is still on completing the class system and building out a series of main encounters around their progression. As I showed last update, there's almost 100 abilities in the game now, and I've been plugging away at implementing, testing, and balancing them. There was a ton to do here since many abilities require different animations for both the user and target, and some require additional variations depending on the user's equipped weapon, target's reactive ability, direction of attack, damage dealt, etc. 

At a higher level, I wanted to mention three big changes that came up during this process: 

1. Line of sight 

Most attacks now require line of sight to an enemy, and cover now plays an important role in the game. In most cases, attacks can no longer go through other units. This was trickier than I expected to get working, since the game world doesn't exist in true 3D space. Players can aim attacks manually, which opens up some interesting gameplay possibilities: 

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2. Joint Attacks and Damage Multipliers 

Until recently I was committed to keeping the core combat system as simple as possible by separating the more complex mechanics into special abilities. I've loosened up a bit on this approach, so certain mechanics now apply across the board. The big two I want to mention are attack direction (flanking and back attack) and joint attack bonuses. Note the target info panel on the top right in the video: 

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In this simple example, Aidan's attack is parried but forces the enemy to face him. This exposes the enemy to Matthias' follow-up, which can't be blocked and is boosted by back and joint attack bonuses. 

Executing joint attacks, controlling enemies' reactions and field of view, and optimizing attack multipliers have really become the core of the combat system. These mechanics become much more interesting later in the class progression, and luckily it plays well into the simultaneous execution we've invested so much time in. 

3. UI

With all the new mechanics, there's a lot more information that needs to be tracked by the player now, which has meant even more UI changes. I'm still trying to keep things as clean as possible, but as you can see I've had to allow for more UI elements than in previous videos I've shared.

Since things have been getting more complex, where possible I've been trying to reduce the number of "selectable" abilities by implementing them as passives or upgrades to base abilities. Quick example: 

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Here, instead of having a separate basic attack and "Lunge" ability, Lunge now works as an upgrade that's applied automatically depending on the target's range. Overall these types of changes have done a lot to streamline the game's flow. 

2015 and Next Steps

2015 was an interesting year. Simultaneous execution was really tricky to get right from both a technical and game design perspective. While clearly it's set our schedule back quite a bit, I think it's become one of the game's most compelling aspects. Over the course of the year, the game's combat and unit management overall has grown from the original design into something better than I could've imagined. 

The combat system was by far the most complex aspect of the game's development. Now that it's almost complete, we can finally start tying together the various standalone encounters I've been designing around the class progression into a continuous main quest. After over a year of grinding away almost exclusively on combat stuff, I'm really looking forward to switching my focus back to story, art, and world building. 

I'm racing to get the next build out for our alpha testers and to open up the beta soon afterwards. More on this and some new footage to follow in January; just wanted to give you all an update on what's been going on before the year was up. 

See you all in 2016! 

Update - 09/28/15

Posted by John Rhee (Creator)
43 likes

Hi everyone, it's been another long stretch... here goes. 

Taking simultaneous execution a bit further

Towards the start of the year I introduced simultaneous execution to the combat system. I've done a ton of playtesting in the months since, and the feedback's been very positive. 

Since the last update, I've been working one last big change to take it a step further: Before, each faction moved separately, so your units would move, then the enemy's, back and forth. Now, all units execute their turns simultaneously. 

To be clear, mechanically the game isn't affected! These changes only affect the presentation of how actions are executed. All the planning and decision making is still completely turn based. 

Here's a quick video demoing how the new system plays: 

To make this work, I created an algorithm that processes the player and AI's queued actions at the end of the planning phase, identifies dependencies between them, then figures out who's "allowed" to move when during execution while respecting the player's input. This was a pretty tricky programming challenge and I came close to scrapping the whole thing at least a few times, but I'm glad I stuck with it.   

I still need to spend some more time polishing up the algorithm and animations, but hopefully you're all as excited by this last change as I am! To those of you who were looking specifically for an old school experience, I'm planning on putting in an option in to support it (this will be closer to what I showed in the first alpha video way back, but with all the new features and other goodness we've built up since then). 

Classes, Abilities, and Unit Progression 

Apart from the changes to make the turn execution phase completely real-time, I've been working on implementing and balancing the game's classes and abilities. If you can remember all the way back to the campaign, the original plan for the combat system was something "chess-like" in its simplicity. There were only 10 classes in a simple, mostly linear progression path, and each class had just one corresponding ability. 

While this was interesting in prototyping, early in development it became clear that we'd need to increase the scope of the class and abilities system significantly to keep things engaging for three full releases. Here's the WIP class hierarchy I shared around that time for reference. 

Since then I've been iterating through lots of different possibilities, and in the last few months I've been closing in on the final progression. For the first release there are now 18 playable classes, and each class has five unlockable upgrades. Here's what the current class/ability tree looks like (click for hi-res, note the ability icons are missing since they're not finalized): 

 As you can see, things have grown quite a bit! 

Originally, the plan was to let players create "hybrid" units by leveling multiple paths simultaneously. After some testing, I decided against this, since it made advancement feel unfocused and balancing basically impossible. Now, units need to specialize down a path, but can choose which classes to unlock along the way. Additionally, within each class, players can choose three of five advancements. 

These changes result in units feeling more purpose built and makes party balancing more interesting. I'm trying my best to have give each ability a unique behavior with at least one counteracting ability, as opposed to just having lots of ways to deal different amounts of damage. 

Events, Playtesting, and an Award!

As mentioned above, I've been doing lots of playtesting at local indie game events at Playcrafting, The Sheep's Meow, Babycastles, and the NYU Game Center. The ongoing playtesting has been really helpful for figuring out what's working, what's not, what's confusing, etc. plus I've already gotten to meet a bunch of you in person which is always great. If you're in the NY/NJ area, come say hi! 

Earlier this month, we were also one of about sixty games selected for the Digital Games Showcase at the Boston Festival of Indie Games. Here's a little interview I did there. We got tons of great feedback, and even won the award for best art! 

Coming Up

The final vertical cut build will be up later this week for our alpha backers with the above changes, the auto-save system enabled, and lots of other tweaks/polish. The following build will be up in October and will have additional content past the vertical cut unlocked (finally). 

I'll be in the LA area from 10/21-10/24 for IndieCade. If you're around there and want to take the latest build for a spin, drop me a line! 

Once again, you've all been really patient, so thank you. There are times when I get pretty burned out and feel tempted to just wrap things up as quickly as I can, but I really think the extra time we're taking for all these changes will be what takes the final product from good to great. 

Lastly, here's a couple more tracks to share :)

- John

Update - 06/28/14 - v0.2.0

Posted by John Rhee (Creator)
3 likes

Hi all, quick update: The latest alpha build containing the revamped vertical cut with the new combat system and lots of other changes has been uploaded to Steam and the direct download address. Please post any issues or feedback at www.codagames.com/forum. Release notes along with the remaining known issues can be found here

Thanks! 

- John