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Chasm is a 2D Fantasy ARPG Platformer featuring procedurally generated Metroid-like dungeons and authentic pixel art.
Chasm is a 2D Platform Adventure featuring procedurally generated Metroid-like dungeons and authentic pixel art.
Chasm is a 2D Platform Adventure featuring procedurally generated Metroid-like dungeons and authentic pixel art.
6,938 backers pledged $191,897 to help bring this project to life.

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Kickstarter Anniversary, Chasm Hits Alpha, Shows and Travel

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It’s been a busy couple of months since the last update - and we’ve got some good news!  

Happy Kickstarter Anniversary!  

It’s now been 4 years since we launched our Kickstarter. By that point, I had already quit my day job and put in about 6-7 months of work to create a workable prototype and proof-of-concept of our dream game. That early build came together so easily and effortlessly that we naively assumed turning it into a full game would be just as easy! Since Kickstarter makes you put in an expected release date, we put down May 2014. Well, it turns out that we missed that date by a little bit, but we’ve stayed committed to the original vision and quality bar that we set out to hit from the beginning. I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t overstate the appreciation we have for everyone’s continued support and patience. And with that, I’m incredibly excited to announce...

We’ve Hit Alpha!  

The big announcement is that we’ve officially reached Alpha! Alpha means the world, story, characters, powerups, enemies, bosses, and major set pieces are all complete. The game is playable from the beginning to the credits and has all the required features. Our plan is to send out the Alpha build to a few trusted friends in the industry (mostly other game developers) to kick the tires and make sure there aren’t any major flaws that we’ve just overlooked since we’re too close to the game at this point.  

 

 

The next step is Beta. That’s the version we’ll be sending out to all of the Early Access-tier backers from Kickstarter. To reach that stage, we’re working on adding all the extras like more content, items, FX, and lots of polish. Luckily the hardest part, creating an entire replayable world, is over, and now we get to focus on the details that will keep everyone playing for a long time to come. As much as we want to get the game in everyone’s hands already, we also don't want to rush things now that we’re so close to the end. I’m hoping that in the next newsletter, I’ll be able to give you a good ETA on when we expect to hit Beta. Once we reach that milestone, we’ll gather feedback from the backers, fix what needs to be fixed, and get ready to launch. There’s light at the end of this tunnel!

Shows and Travel

After setting up the booth on Thursday
After setting up the booth on Thursday

Staring at the same screen all day and tweaking and retweaking rooms and enemies for months on end can feel a little isolating. Progress is never as fast as you want it to be, and there are a million little details to get right. So going to a gaming show every now and then can be a huge shot in the arm.  

The Armory from the Outpost intro area
The Armory from the Outpost intro area

Last month I went to Boston for PAX East. As always, PAX was a fantastic experience. I got to talk to a lot of people who have been following Chasm for years, and others who had never heard of it. However, the the most exciting aspect was probably that we were able to show off the opening scenes of the game for the first time ever. It really gives the game a more cinematic experience and makes it feel like a real game. The opening scene gives a lot of the context for why you’re in these mines fighting monsters and how all of that came to be

All demo stations filled!
All demo stations filled!

The feedback from PAX East was truly fantastic and extremely reinvigorating. When you work on the same game for so long, you tend to notice all of the flaws, and for most of the last year, I was working on all of the technical plumbing and infrastructure that was super important but not fun in and of itself. It’s super gratifying to see people loving the game and totally getting your vision for it.

Kuwait? Kuwait!  

The showfloor (Chasm banner visible in far back center)
The showfloor (Chasm banner visible in far back center)

A couple weeks before PAX East, we were contacted by a group of gamers from Kuwait, of all places. They invited us to the small gaming convention they hold every year and told us that even though most people don’t realize it, there are a ton of passionate gamers in the Middle East. We took them up on their offer, and Dan spent a week out there.

It was definitely different from what we expected. In some ways, it was very similar to an American or European show. People were super knowledgeable about games, and Dan had lots of conversations about the games that inspired Chasm, including Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. There were cosplay contests and a fighting game tournament - with world-class players. Even the male:female ratio was comparable to what you’d see at PAX. A lot of stereotypes about the Middle East were challenged, to say the least!  

The huge Chasm banner, some gamers playing Chasm, Axiom Verge, and Mages of Mystraila
The huge Chasm banner, some gamers playing Chasm, Axiom Verge, and Mages of Mystraila

In other ways, it was very different. Unlike Western shows, this event started at 5pm and went until midnight. There is no alcohol in Kuwait, so there were no after parties like you’d see at PAX. And for the fighting tournament, they had to get special permission to play DOA, since the scantily clad female characters are not officially allowed in Kuwait. Overall though, there is much more that unites us than divides us. We’re all hoping that the common language of videogames will serve as a bridge of understanding for our and future generations.

Development Update

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Hello again! I know we've been extra quiet lately, but I promise it's for good reason. We've been working our hardest to make it to Pre-beta (a true Alpha build of the full game) for several months now. In the last update I said I was hoping to finish it by the end of 2016, but as they say the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

New features have been added like scripted animations to liven things up.
New features have been added like scripted animations to liven things up.

We're finally closing in on the "point of no return" where the base of the game is being locked down, so I decided to use this time to revisit things one last time and work out some final kinks in both design and storytelling. In addition to creating new content, we've also been focused on getting rid of old baggage that isn't needed anymore (the boss jewels for example), and improving the narrative since it wasn't quite as strong as it could be. It's been a difficult balance trying to have an interesting and well-paced story, while not taking the focus away from the gameplay. We want this to feel like a classic experience, so it's taken a lot of refining to find the right amount of each ingredient.

The Keep area was improved in December with bigger enemies and revised rooms.
The Keep area was improved in December with bigger enemies and revised rooms.

 

Experimenting with some new puzzle elements.
Experimenting with some new puzzle elements.

I can't stress enough how grateful we are for your patience. It's proven to be a massive challenge designing a game that can hold up to our influences, but each day I'm surprised at just how well it's coming together. We anticipate to be done with the remaining Pre-beta tasks in the next few weeks, so we'll keep you up to date as we close in on our next milestone.

Conferences

In other news, it’s show season again, and we’re also getting ready to show off Chasm at a bunch of different press and industry events. The next ones on the docket are Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) where our marketing guy, Dan Adelman, will be showing the game in the Intel booth, and then PAX East. I haven’t had a chance to leave my dev workstation in months, so I’m really looking forward to show Chasm off to PAX East attendees. Every time someone picks up the controller and has a great time with the game, my batteries get a nice recharge, and that energy will fuel me and the rest of the team as we keep polishing away!

Bloodstained Community Podcast

We also did an interview with the Bloodstained Community podcast, and talked about Chasm at length with them. Both Dan and I had a great time doing it, so give it a listen!

PSX 2016, Dev Update

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Happy December, everyone! We’ve been hard at work on reaching our next milestone, but we thought we’d come up for air with a quick final update for 2016.

PlayStation Experience!  

Playstation Experience 2016
Playstation Experience 2016

Jimi (our composer) and Dan (our marketing/biz guy) are heading over to Anaheim for the PlayStation Experience event hosted by Sony! It will run over the weekend, and attendees will be able to check out the game. Even though it feels like we’ve been talking about Chasm forever (and you may feel like you’ve been hearing about Chasm forever!) every time we go to a show, for the majority of attendees, it’s the first they’ve heard of the game. And the reactions we get always give us that morale boost to keep the wheels turning and pushing us closer to the finish line! If you’re going to be at PSX, please come say hi to Dan and Jimi at booth B1028!

Dev Status Update  

In the last update we talked about the development roadmap, and how our next goal was reaching “Pre-Beta” – a complete beginning to end experience with no placeholders (but missing all the fun side stuff, polish, and various bells and whistles). We’re still making great progress towards that goal, and pushing our hardest to reach it by the end of the year.

The Outpost Courtyard with completed backdrop.
The Outpost Courtyard with completed backdrop.

Over the past month we’ve been tightening up the boss battles, revising areas, fixing lots of bugs, finishing placeholder art, and starting to add some polish to the game. We’ve also spent a lot of time on optimizing the engine. This work isn’t glamorous, but it’s hugely important to making sure the game runs smoothly on a variety of machines and that loading times will be suitably short.

A more epic view of the Ladorian Mountains for Karthas.
A more epic view of the Ladorian Mountains for Karthas.

While there’s still a lot of small tasks to tackle, our primary focus is now on adding all the townsfolk to rescue and the end sequence of the game. We’re very excited to finally get to all the fun polish tasks and extras, but we have just a few more major tasks to finish up first!

Wrap Up

Happy Holidays!
Happy Holidays!

 Now it's time for us to get back to work! We hope everyone has a great holiday and a happy new year. Thank you for your continued support, and we'll see you in 2017!

Roadmap & Dev Update, PAX West 2016

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I try to put out an update at the beginning of every month, but we’ve been so busy, I just didn’t have time to write up everything we were doing! My apologies for sending this out so late.

ROADMAP UPDATE

At the beginning of summer we announced that Chasm was finally playable from beginning to end in a build we called the "Rough Cut". During development, all the pieces of the game were more or less created in isolation from each other: story, areas, challenges, enemies, bosses, etc. The Rough Cut was the first attempt at connecting everything together into one continuous experience. It was indeed rough - completely unbalanced, lots of placeholders, missing content, crashes, etc. but for the first time it almost felt like a real game! 

 In the months since, we've been fully focused on turning the Rough Cut into a cohesive and fun experience. Having the game together as a whole has really given us a new perspective to say the least. Everything from game mechanics to story, music, and level design has been analyzed and refined as we've started to figure out what works and what doesn't, as well as how it all fits together best.

 We're now down to just a few major items to finish until the game's core content will be considered complete - a milestone we're internally calling "Pre-Beta". The remaining tasks for Pre-Beta include things like programming the NPCs, sidequests, and scripted scenes (primarily the ending) and also getting the rest of the placeholder art finished. Once the Pre-Beta milestone is achieved, we will be in the final stretch to "Beta", a near finished product ready for all the $25+ backers to play. 

So what lies between Pre-Beta and Beta? Our first priority will be to give the Pre-Beta to some close friends and colleagues outside the team to play for the very first time. This will not only serve as a good sanity check, but also help ensure we didn't miss anything fundamental. We can then begin adding all of the cool bells and whistles, secrets, extra content, and surprises that are going to make Chasm go from being just another pretty good game to one that we hope people will be obsessing over for months or even years. 

We definitely don't want to rush ourselves at the very end, so we don't have any firm dates set just yet. That said, we feel confident that Pre-Beta will be reached by the end of the year, and Beta won't be too long after that. Thanks to everyone's patience and support, Chasm has developed into an experience way beyond what we ever anticipated. We still have a little further to go, but the end is nearly in sight!

 DEV UPDATES 

 As noted above, there's been many changes going on lately for our internal builds. A lot is boring technical stuff like updating to the latest FNA library, or very spoilery, but here's just a few of the things we've been working on: 

The player using a savepoint.
The player using a savepoint.

Replaced Campfires with Watcher Statues – This may seem like a purely cosmetic change, but it was changed for a couple reasons. The first is that sleeping just slows things down. We're on an adventure, we don't have time to take a nap! More importantly, we decided it would be more consistent with the lore of the world to be able to be healed by a Watcher Statue. Kind of like the mythology in shows like Game of Thrones, we want the mythology of Chasm to feel like they play a role in the game’s world. There are a bunch of things like this, where we created some assets in isolation, but now that we have a full game, we can see how they can all fit together and feel like a cohesive world. 

A look at the prototype Rod and Spear weapon types.
A look at the prototype Rod and Spear weapon types.

New Weapon Prototypes - In the Alpha build we included Fists, Knives, Swords, Great Weapons (large ones that you swing overhead), and Whips as melee weapon types. We've been tweaking some weapons like the Knife with improved animations and hit areas, but we've also been working on prototypes for a couple completely new weapon types like Rods and Spears. Both were a challenge to implement for various reasons. For instance, the Rod should feel heavier and swing much slower than a Sword, but must still feel responsive to the player. There's a lot of push and pull with frame count and playback speed, but I think we found a happy medium. We're not sure which weapons will make it in the final build yet, but I thought you'd enjoy a peek behind the scenes!

Catacombs boss improvements (Alpha version on left, Pre-beta on right)
Catacombs boss improvements (Alpha version on left, Pre-beta on right)

Boss Revisions - We've had some time now to analyze the boss prototypes and figure out what was working and what could be improved before finishing them up. Designing a good boss battle is truly an artform in itself! To be fun it must be challenging and fast paced, but also fair. We've even taken some tips from the masters themselves, like Symphony of the Night creator Iga who said in a GDC talk that the developer should be able to beat the boss without taking a single hit. In addition to behavior improvements, some bosses like the Catacombs boss above have also gotten visual overhauls and improved animations.

PAX WEST 2016

In early September, Jimi, Dan, and I headed to Seattle for PAX West – formerly known as PAX Prime. Once again, we were in the Indie Megabooth where we were fortunate enough to get an allocation of 10x15 feet. (The typical booth size is a 10x10.) That extra 5’ made a surprising amount of difference!  

The booth after wrapping up setup the night before the show.
The booth after wrapping up setup the night before the show.

We were able to fit in 5 stations in our space this time. It was actually kind of surprising. In prior shows, we often only had 2 stations. They were both usually taken, but during quiet periods, there might be no one playing for as long as 5-10 minutes. I was a bit worried that if we had 5 stations, it could look strange if we had a bunch of open ones. It turns out my concerns were totally baseless! With 5 stations, people knew that if they were interested in playing, they could just wait and at least one of the stations would be opening up soon, so we got a much bigger crowd, and far fewer quiet periods. In fact, I don’t think we had any stations open for more than a minute or two!

Composer James Stevulak pitching the game to some attendees.
Composer James Stevulak pitching the game to some attendees.

The critical response was also very encouraging. Destructoid loved it, Hardcore Gamer was "incredibly impressed with Chasm", and I did a fun interview with RPGamer. 

These shows are such a shot in the arm. After slaving away on the game for months and months, it’s so reinvigorating to watch people play the game with big smiles on their faces and know that you’re heading in the right direction!

Production Update

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Hello again everyone! While everyone has hopefully been out and enjoying the sun, we've been hard at work shaping Chasm into a fun and challenging experience. We still have a lot to do before we hit Beta, but we're getting closer every day! Here's an update on just a few of the things that we've been focused on lately.

DUNGEON GENERATOR IMPROVEMENTS

The Overworld tool that let's us set up dungeons and connect them together.
The Overworld tool that let's us set up dungeons and connect them together.

The dungeon generator is the secret sauce of the game, but we really haven't touched it too much since the Alpha. It's been working great, but, as with most things, it was still ripe for improvement and optimization. A wishlist of additional features and improvements had been building for the past year, and back in June we decided it was finally time to start working away on the last major revisions to it. Some of the changes were very straight-forward, like having the generator favor long horizontal hallways (where all the action happens) over the tall vertical rooms (meant more for connecting paths together).

Other changes, however, took quite a bit more effort. One of the things we've wanted to do for a long time is to save your world layout so it won't have to be re-generated every time you boot up the game. It sounds like a simple enough addition at first glance, but it was anything but trivial. The rooms are populated with items and enemies after generation, so new loading and saving routines had to be written to handle all the dynamic elements of the game. In addition to much quicker load times, this change also fixes a big problem a lot of Alpha testers ran into: getting your save games trashed when we pushed out an update to the dungeon generator.

An in-game example of the dungeons shown above in the editor.
An in-game example of the dungeons shown above in the editor.

One other noteworthy improvement is the new and improved dungeon branching. We realized we made a big mistake cutting the branches outright during the Alpha phase. They were kind of a pain then since they were too long, and usually lead to an unsatisfying conclusion like passages you couldn't traverse yet. After more experimentation, we realized they're still needed occasionally to make the dungeons feel less linear, but they should be shorter, and should always lead to a great reward like an item or gold stash. With all these changes completed the dungeons are feeling better than ever!  

BALANCING FIRST PASS  

Comparison between June and July - note that the Levels and Enemies killed no longer hit large plateaus
Comparison between June and July - note that the Levels and Enemies killed no longer hit large plateaus

Another of our top priorities once we got everything together was doing a first pass on the balancing for the full game. This primarily comes down to adjusting item and monster stats, but also includes other things like dungeon lengths, drop rates, trap and hazard damage, and much more. 

Enemies, however, are where the bulk of the work has been so far. In the Rough Cut build we announced back in June, the enemies were all essentially Level 1 (making it a pretty easy playthrough!). This is because we develop enemies in an isolated test room, and numbers are the last thing on our minds then. Our focus at that point is on the AI behaviors, visual design, and fun factor. (if you'd like to know more about the enemy creation process in the future, please let us know in the comments!). 

An example of the master enemy CSV that contains all their stat data.
An example of the master enemy CSV that contains all their stat data.

This meant we had roughly 80 enemies in the game to go through and figure out stats for like Level, XP, HP, and Attack damage. I also used this opportunity to tweak enemy attributes like movement speed, attack tell timings, animation playback speeds, as well as just generally polishing them up a bit. This first balancing pass is still far from perfect, but it's a big first step towards getting things to where they need to be.

SOUNDTRACK MASTERING  

You may remember that we announced last fall that production on the soundtrack had wrapped. We decided then to hold off on doing the final masters since we weren't sure if we'd need any more tracks or want to change anything once we had the full experience together. Now that we're finally there, we've had the opportunity to finally see first hand how the soundtrack fits together over the course of the entire game, and figure out any unaccounted for situations we might need music for. 

Having time to digest things and let them sit for a while has been a huge benefit. We're now able to come back to it fresh ears and figure out any possible improvements or final tweaks that could be made. Jimi also took the opportunity to add even more instrumentation to the tracks and significantly improve the mixing. A couple of the 20 tracks we just weren't happy with though, and we decided to go back to the drawing board for them. We're in the process of wrapping those new tracks up now, while simultaneously working through the final masters for everything else. We're really excited for you to experience the full soundtrack, but in the meantime, check out the final mastered track for the Mines area!  

WHATS NEXT?

Even with all the progress that's been made over the past two months, we still have quite a bit of work left until we hit Beta. Some of the things next moving into our focus are:  

  • Core Map Revisions: Last month a second pass was completed for the maps in the first half of the game, but the second half of the game still needs some attention.
  • Boss Revisions: We've had some time to play the boss fights over and over and figure out what we like and don't. Powerups have also been shuffled around leaving some bosses expecting you to have abilities you don't. A big list of changes has been made, we just need to start working through it.
  • Improve spawning system: We're not totally satisfied with how enemies are placed in maps, and would like to possibly improve things and add some additional features like definable groups of enemies that work well together.
  • NPCs and Side-quests: We still have a little design work left nailing down the final list of town NPCs you will rescue, as well as their side-quests. Once that is complete we can start programming them.
  • Cut-scenes: There's only a handful in the game, but we are in the process of planning out the scenes and figuring out what new assets we need before they're scripted in-game.

And one last update: for those of you going to PAX Prime in Seattle next month, please be sure to come by and say hi!

I know I say this every monthly update, but I wanted again to express my gratitude to all the backers and fans who have been patiently looking forward to playing Chasm. Everything’s coming together far better than I ever had any right to hope for. Thanks again for helping us make this happen!