A Giant Progress Update
Welcome to the latest Wildfire Kickstarter update! This is well overdue and we apologise for leaving it so long. These take a deceptively long time to compile, and there’s rarely a good time to show a huge amount of progress since we’re working on all aspects of the game at once. Given that, we do encourage you to follow either @WildfireGame or @dhindes on Twitter for more incremental progress updates. For now though, here’s a look at everything we’ve been chipping away at so far.
New movement ability: Underhang
One of the key complaints we’ve had (and seen in live playtests) is that players don’t have enough stealth-focused abilities in early levels that aren’t tied to elemental usage. To address this, we’ve added a new “underhang” movement state that allows you to hang under bridges or stone ledges and monkey-bars your way across, while avoiding detection from enemies that are walking above you. We’re conscious not to make any one single ability too powerful, and so its limitations to certain passable ledges (which, if it’s a bridge you burn away, means you can no longer do this on them!) fits with the current mechanics of hiding in grass, or using smoke to block line of sight. There are still some bugs and edge cases to work out, with regards to how enemies who have already detected you react to you entering this underhang state, but it’s a sneaky, cheeky new ability that we hope addresses the core issue we set out to solve.
Ice power redesign
Ice powers are unlocked part-way through the water elemental upgrade tree. We’ve taken a holistic look at how they were used previously, and made some key changes just so that the power overall makes more sense, and is more useful. Previously, embracing water and then toggling it into its ice mode (much the same way you turn a fireball into a smokebomb before throwing it) would allow you to freeze enemies directly by throwing it at them; create slippery ice sheets when thrown at the ground; or create solid blocks of ice when thrown at water. With this redesign, we’ve made it so that only solid blocks of ice are created, regardless of where the ice is thrown. You can use this to create horizontal or vertical platforms of ice when thrown at solid terrain (which can be used to block line of sight, or cut off pursuing enemies); and you can still freeze enemies and water as usual. These ice blocks will melt away after a short time (which itself can be upgraded so they remain longer), preventing you from accidentally trapping yourself in the level, or from completely freezing all threats. Additionally, we’ve put a ton of work into visualising where the ice blocks will appear when aiming your throw, and into the audiovisual effects of the ice forming and later melting away.
"Grapple" is now "Parachute"
One of the earth abilities that we have replaced with something else entirely is the Grapple. Previously, this allowed you to shoot a “grappling vine” into certain surfaces, with which you could swing from that point – much like a classic Ninja Rope from the Worms series. Unfortunately, the power was rarely used in playtests – mostly because its traversal advantages were made redundant by the existing ability to grow vines which remained in place and could be re-used. To that end, we’ve changed the Grapple ability into a new Earth Parachute ability, which is activated by double-jumping while holding earth. Where the Fire Jump ability was loud and allowed you to gain vertical height, the Earth Parachute is silent and allows you to gently glide along a greater horizontal distance, landing softly without disturbing nearby enemies. Its advantages are much clearer and more unique, and its controls are easier to understand, and it no longer feels like a redundant system of traversal. Keep in mind we don’t have art for this ability yet, so the gameplay GIF is simply demonstrating how its glide affects movement.
- Enemy diversity
We have implemented a new palette swap shader that allows us to randomise the hair and skin colour of enemy sprites (including bobcats!). This is a small step that helps to create some visual diversity, but it’s also a system that we are re-using for the co-op mode’s Player 2 character in a much more efficient way that previously loading an entirely new set of hard-coloured sprites. Not only that, but these shaders now allow us to fully implement colour blind options for the enemy’s red clothing against green grass – and that option is now working within the Video Options menu.
- New water effects
We have completely redone the sprites and animations for bodies of water, as well as waterfalls. Those sprites are now reactive, increasing the ripple speed and intensity when disturbed by solid objects, or when the player uses them to embrace water. The previous water sprites were some of the oldest remaining temporary programmer art, so we’re excited to give this element as much love as the fire and earth effects now have!
- Menu graphics
While we considered keeping the simplistic black and white menu boxes, we felt they not only lacked character, but more importantly created readability issues in complex menu screens such as the ability upgrades screen. We’ve re-worked them with a new parchment-like effect, while the upgrades screen has received a complete do-over to better communicate which buttons are available, highlighted, partially upgraded, and more.
- Darkness silhouettes
We continue to tweak the visual effects that communicate when you’re hidden and when you’re visible while in levels with the “darkness” environmental modifier. Previously, the player sprite was simply darkened slightly, and we found that did not adequately communicate the difference between both states. We experimented with a number of options and settled on an artificial hard silhouette when hidden, giving way to the full sprite when visible.
- Chicken improvements
While the chicken NPC was intended to remain in the tutorial area to teach the player about throwing and carrying objects, we’ve experimented with inserting some chickens into “actual” levels to see how they expand your options for interacting with enemies and traversing levels. We’re surprised by the amount of depth that some of our early testers have found, as seen below, and by how much fun the ability to slow your fall while holding the chicken – originally a tutorial-focused nod to the Legend of Zelda series – actually complements your core stealth abilities.
- New Snow Backgrounds
Wildfire’s mountainous snow environments have received a makeover, with new parallax layers and an updated palette, along with a new transitional version that moves from the mountainside down toward some of the final areas of the game.
New voice work has been implemented. Those who have played some of the earlier versions of Wildfire may remember that we used some temporary audio files from the classic Thief games to build the system around firing those audio lines, and to check how much voice is too much. All of those files have been removed and replaced with original work that will actually be in the final release. This means that the character of the guards, which was communicated through tone of voice, will be different for those alpha backers returning to this latest update. We’re keen to hear feedback on how you think it sounds!
- Accessibility controls
Wildfire’s accessibility controls have reached a near-final state. This mode allows you to play with just one hand while using a gamepad. We now allow you to use either the left or right side of the gamepad, and have implemented the correct button prompts into the tutorial if this mode is active when beginning a new game. We know this is a niche consideration, but we’re proud to be able to support more accessible control options where possible.
- Health and Temperature Changes
One of the least clear gameplay mechanics in Wildfire up until now was the relationship between the player’s health and their temperature. Previously, health was a pool of hearts that were only reduced when the player took damage after being attacked by an enemy, and temperature increased to the point of lighting the player on fire. After they were on fire, an invisible timer counted down, giving the player time to extinguish themselves in water. If the timer reached zero, the player would die. That timer was only communicated by the game screen gradually becoming more and more desaturated.
Now, we’ve made some key changes to make the relationship between health and temperature more logical and clearer. Being attacked depletes health as normal, but when you do get hot enough to catch on fire, your health pool will now start to gradually decrease, one heart at a time, until you either extinguish yourself, or die after losing all your hearts. This creates a much clearer visual indicator of how long you can remain on fire for; creates longer-term consequences for setting yourself on fire by leaving you on lower health; and allows you to extend the time you can remain on fire by upgrading your hearts with Spirit points. Read this twitter thread for more detailed information about this change.
- Enemy alertness changes
Previously, enemies in Wildfire could only be sent into an alert state when they visually detected you. Now, we’ve implemented a new system that gradually increases an enemy’s suspicious state into a full alert if they hear a series of audio disturbances in quick succession. This prevents the player from endlessly leading guards around by whistling, and allows guards to interpret a series of sprinting footfalls as the player’s location, rather than as a set of disconnected sounds with no context or meaning. Overall, this means sound now plays a greater role in stealth than it did before.
Wildfire got a live symphony concert!
In a bit of a surprise event, Wildfire recently had some of its music performed by a live symphony at the UnderScore event in Melbourne this weekend. A number of Australian games, including Hollow Knight, Rumu, Earthlight, and more, were selected to have their music translated and performed live – and the result was fantastic. Our composer, Meghann, attended the event, and while we don’t yet have any photos or recordings of our own, we hope some will be made available soon. In the meantime, here are some shots sourced from other developers and audience members in attendance.
Music Remix Update
We’ll now throw over to Meghann to give an update on Wildfire’s in-game music production:
"Wildfire has undergone a full music remix and the files are now loaded into the game for you to hear. I spent a good bit of time at Current Sound in Adelaide over summer because the complexity of Wildfire’s mixing needs was way over my head, as (primarily) a composer. Sound Engineer, Tom Watson, gave me some lessons in mixing and worked his magic on almost every track in the game.
It’s subtle, but you may notice details like how all the lower strings in the game (depicting guard proximity) are now more consistently panned, levelled and EQed across the game. I’d highly recommend Tom’s extensive knowledge, expertise and attention to detail, if you have the budget for audio engineering on your indie game project. He was great to work with.
Given Wildfire’s 11 stem system for delivering music, we also had to be super careful with how the files could be combined in game to avoid clipping, also considering other aspects of sound design which will work with the music. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m very proud of how the music sounds in game at the moment.
The remix has also been an opportunity to work on the game’s soundtrack and I’ll show you an example of how level music is different to the soundtrack pieces.
I wrote Wildfire’s score music maybe two years ago. Dan wanted a track that underlined the player’s achievement, was uplifting and would “peter out” musically, in case the player skipped over it. In game, you’ll hear the following version.
The bulk of the musical content occurs up front, with the flute referencing the forest melody and the percussion stems entering immediately. A second, less engaging melody is then heard while a repetitious, two-note backdrop in the strings disengages the listener’s attention. In context, this piece works how Dan wanted it to work. As a “piece of music” for the soundtrack, it’s a bit weird, so I figured this would be an opportunity to rearrange it.
Bearing in mind that I wrote this piece ages ago, I noticed the cellos had quite an exciting, moving part that could be used in isolation, so I repurposed it as an introduction. I then re-added some trumpet parts Dan had asked me to remove from the level music because he figured the tone colour was too bright. They were supposed to harmonise the flute melody, but they actually do a good job of hinting at the forest content before the more explicit flute melody.
Using the content canonically between instruments, instead of all in a big block, allows for it to continue to develop upwards in pitch. It’s now a longer, and better structured, piece of music for a non-game context. This is the soundtrack version. (You may like to count along and notice the unusual meter for this piece. It sounded “quite videogamey” so I tried to bring it into an “art music” space.)
All of the soundtrack pieces have undergone this kind of development, to a greater or lesser extent. Also, I’ve tried to make the soundtrack feel like a journey through Wildfire. The tracks are organised into the rough order in which you will experience them in game, including with a couple of versions of the map music as you progress and some bonus material.
We’ve also been trying to name the tracks based on little phrases from the game’s poetry, like Heated Exchange, Somewhat Less Fish and, my personal favourite, Mislaid Until Morning (for the cheerful village track). The soundtrack is currently unreleased, in case we end up adding more music to the game, but it’s largely finalised. I’m looking forward to you hearing it."
Thanks Meghann! For an example of how this remaster has improved the in-game tracks, listen to these before and after samples, below:
Press and Awards
- Wildfire in PC Gamer
We were thrilled to participate in a column in PC Gamer magazine about the development of emergent gameplay systems! Those who have the World of Warcraft cover issue will find us inside talking about how the development of Wildfire’s elemental powers was directly affected by early testers discovering things they could do with them that we didn’t know were possible – and how we modified those powers to better support what those testers discovered. Give it a read!
- Wildfire on ARGCast
We sat down with the folks behind the ARGCast for an episode on classic stealth games, and how Wildfire is inspired by some of the genre’s greats. Give it a listen at the link right there!
- Freeplay 2018 Honourable Mention Award
Earlier this year, we were humbled to receive an Honourable Mention award at the Freeplay Independent Games Festival, held in Melbourne. The company we were alongside in the award nominees and winners showcases some of the amazing talent coming out of Australia, and we’re honoured to be recognised amongst them!
That’s all for this update!
Thanks for taking the time to read. We still do not have a projected release date, but you’ll be the first to hear once we do. For more frequent progress updates, again be sure to follow either @WildfireGame or @dhindes on Twitter. We hope alpha backers enjoy the most recent build, and we look forward to hearing all your feedback with the above changes now live and ready for testing.