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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.

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!

Rough Cut Update, Trade Show Season

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Last month Dan announced that we hit a major milestone. Rough cut 1 is complete! What that means is that Chasm is fully playable from beginning to end. That might not seem like much, but it’s a huge milestone for us and one definitely worth celebrating!

Chasm is a bit of a weird game. On the one hand, there’s a storyline to it – a storyline we’ve kept pretty quiet about. On the other, because of the procedurally generated world maps, each player’s playthrough can be quite different from anyone else’s. The entire team has spent the last month playing from beginning to end and identifying what needs to be fixed. The good news is that, aside from quirks here and there, the game is performing as expected. No one is getting to a point where they’re blocked from moving forward, and everyone is able to get to the end. In addition, we've began analyzing the mechanics, enemies, area layouts, dungeon generation, music, and much more to figure out what is working and what still needs to be improved.

Example player data from the first two areas of the game.
Example player data from the first two areas of the game.

We've also begun the hard task of tuning of the game, which consists of setting enemy stat data (like Level, XP, HP, attack ratings, etc), dungeon lengths and difficulty, player leveling rate, amount of gold and items received, amount of enemy spawns, and much more. In order to facilitate this difficult and time consuming work, Tim has been developing a metrics component for the game that records player data and uploads it to our server for analysis. Using custom data views, we can easily spot trouble areas and then correct them. For example, the graph above shows some play data from the first couple areas of the game. You can see that the Level line flattens out around the 1 hour mark, so we know at that part of the game the enemy data needs fixed. It won't be a quick process to get things perfectly tuned, but we're already making great progress towards it.

Creating a custom path for Basden to follow in our editor Apparatus.
Creating a custom path for Basden to follow in our editor Apparatus.

 

Basden following the path in-game.
Basden following the path in-game.

 We've also been working on a lot of the secondary systems, as well as advanced scripting tools. We'll have some more updates next month on some changes for the play systems, but today we'd like to show you one of the newer features we've added that allows NPCs to navigate difficult terrain. The example above shows one of our tests rooms with a path we drew out for Basden to reach the top block. The path functionality makes it possible for us to create scripted sequences that require NPCs to do more complex tasks than just run in a straight line.

A prototype of a secret nook. Crates aren't too exciting, but chests will be!
A prototype of a secret nook. Crates aren't too exciting, but chests will be!

We’ve also got the fun task ahead of us of putting in lots of secrets throughout the game. Above you can see a prototype we created for what we call secret nooks. These secret areas are hand placed into the rooms by us, and when a new game is started it's randomized which ones are used and which are blocked off. The curious player may find extra treasure chests, elixirs or even unlockables like extra profile icons in these secret areas.

On a broader level, right now pretty much every room is required to get to the end, but my favorite aspect of Metroidvania’s is the reward for exploring and finding the hidden stuff. The team is sick of me talking about the example of the Holy Glasses in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. If you explore and find the gold ring and the silver ring (neither of which are required, but require even more items to obtain), you can get the Holy Glasses. When you fight the “final” boss (Richter) while wearing the Holy Glasses, it turns out that he’s just being possessed. Discovering that secret reveals an entirely new mode to the game. Now that the core of the game is done, albeit in need of some more testing and balancing, we’re all talking about ideas of what kind of special things we can add to encourage that additional level of exploration. After all, the whole point of Chasm is for the biggest fans to be able to play an entirely new world every time they start up a new game, so we want to make sure there’s lots of good reasons to explore!

Trade Show Season

Basically March through September is trade show season. Starting with GDC in March, followed by PAX East, the season continues with shows like E3, PAX Prime, and dozens more. Fortunately, Dan’s been jetting around the country attending many of these shows on the team’s behalf, so we’re able to maintain a presence without taking too much time away from development. At E3, Devolver and the Indie Megabooth folks were kind enough to include us in the Indie Megatrailer:

The Indie Megatrailer
The Indie Megatrailer

We were able to block off some time and invite press to come by and check out the demo. Dan also did a video stream, but due to technical difficulties, it’s not entirely clear whether anyone saw it! Dan assures us he was brilliant. 

 In a couple months we’ll be at PAX in Seattle again. Because PAX is all about the fans, I think it’s important that not only Dan, but Tim and I also go out there. We’ll have more details next month about where exactly to find us, but if you’re a backer (or even if you’re reading this and you’re not a backer) we’d love if you stopped by and said hi. Your support is what’s keeping all of us going!

First Rough Cut Complete, Why do Indie Games Take So Long To Make?, PAX East 2016

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James Petruzzi is busy getting us closer to the next milestone (see below!), so I’m filling in for him to write this month’s update. My name is Dan Adelman, and I do the biz dev and marketing for Chasm. If my name sounds familiar (and I’d honestly be surprised if it did to more than a handful of those reading this), it’s because I’m also the guy doing biz dev and marketing for Axiom Verge. Also, if you’re a Nintendo fan, I used to run the indie business there for about 9 years. But enough about me.

First Rough Cut Complete!

The Keep's belltower, high above the clouds.
The Keep's belltower, high above the clouds.

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to announce that Chasm is now a game. It’s playable from beginning to end. So what exactly does this mean, and what’s still left to do? Here’s what “rough cut” means in our minds. It includes:

  • Main narrative 
  • Finalized World Layout & Powerups 
  • Fully-functional Procedural Area Generator 
  • Playable (but rough) Bosses & Minibosses 
  • Core enemy set (over 70!) 
  • Core room set (over 400!) 
  • Completed Area Tilesets 
  • Completed Soundtrack 
  • Completed In-game HUD and UI 

We still have more work to do before we hit Beta though. Our number one focus right now is for the team to finally play the game from beginning to end, analyze what we have, and see what needs improved before we move on. On top of that, there are a number of things we already know we still need to do like: 

  • Locking down secondary systems like the spells and item drops
  • Design Puzzle/challenge rooms
  • Improve the enemy spawning system
  • Script complex events and cinematic sequences like the ending / epilogue
  • Create the rest of the NPCs, and how the town will change as you restore it 
  • Finish up the boss battles 
  • Custom backgrounds (ie. bossrooms & other unique backdrops) 
  • Extra content like more rooms, items, enemies, and sidequests 
  • Sound effects 
  • Secrets
  • Balancing & Polish 

 So as you can see, we still have a lot to work on, but getting to the point where Chasm is playable from beginning to end is a huge milestone! It was no easy feat designing a procedurally-generated Metroidvania, but we feel like we were able to crack the code. With the core of the game now completed, we’re excited to finally focus all our efforts on the details (admittedly the most fun part of the project!) that really make the experience.

“Why do indie games take so long to make?”

At PAX East last month, I was chatting with a games journalist who asked what I considered to be a very surprising question. He wanted to know why some games come out 6 months after they’re announced, but many indie games can take years. I was surprised by the question, because I thought the answer was well-understood and obvious. But in case it isn’t, I thought it might be a good idea to explain some of the key reasons for this perception.

Development on many games starts with something called a Game Design Doc (GDD). Before any coders, artists, animators, musicians, etc. get to work, everything in the game is planned and written out, so everyone can be super efficient in building the game to spec. More and more, though, developers are moving away from using GDDs, because the plans tend to get abandoned pretty early on. It happens so often that what sounded like a great idea on paper turned out to be not as much fun in practice. Also, during development new ideas come up that weren’t obvious in the beginning. So now, instead of writing up a highly detailed GDD, it’s becoming more common for people to write up an outline – the pillars of what the game will be, some key guiding principles, and then adjusting the game over time. Unfortunately, it still doesn't make game development schedules any less unpredictable. Games that everyone thought would take a year wind up taking 3, 4, or even 5. For example, Fez took 5 years, as did Axiom Verge.

But normally people don’t even notice the delays. Take Civ 6 for example. Even though I’m usually not a strategy game fan myself, I’m a huge Civ fan. They recently posted the trailer for the next game in the series, and it’s coming out on October 21. The first time they even announced the game, they were able to tell the world exactly when it will release. All of the Civ fans around the world are able to remain blissfully ignorant of all of the internal delays, work that hit the cutting room floor, and changes in creative direction. Firaxis was able to wait until they knew the game was more or less done before they even started talking about it.

We announced Chasm several years ago. Why did it make sense for us to talk about Chasm long before we knew when we would launch when Firaxis was able to hold off until they were essentially done with production? I’d argue there are two primary reasons: building an audience and getting the funds to make the game. A franchise like Civilization has a dedicated following, earned by decades of high quality sequels and add-ons. Many people, myself included, will buy it day one from strength of the brand alone. Chasm, on the other hand, started unknown. And even though we’ve been talking about it for 3 years, going to events like PAX, GDC, IndieCade, and E3, we’ve still got a tall hill to climb. It’s gratifying to see that people have taken notice – Sony put us in their retail kiosks, we’ve been featured on all of the major gaming websites, but we are still one of hundreds of indie games out there, and continuing to push for visibility is critical. The biggest downside of course is that the people who found out about and started supporting us earliest – our Kickstarter backers – feel like they’ve been waiting the longest.

Funding was another reason we had to announce Chasm so early in development. There are a few different ways developers approach Kickstarter. (All reasonable and legitimate, by the way. I don’t want to come off as judgmental about which is better than which.) For some, it’s essentially like a pre-order campaign. They don’t really need the money for development, since it’s fully funded and almost complete. By announcing it on Kickstarter, they start to book early sales and also get a community going. For others, it’s about getting partial funding, and proving to a publisher that there’s a potential audience out there so they can get the funding they really need. For Chasm, it was really about getting the funds necessary to produce the game. When the Kickstarter campaign was put together, Chasm was in the early prototype stage. James and Tim had taken it as far as they could in their spare time, but to take it into full production would require funding. So instead of coming toward the end of the development process at around the time the final release date could be predicted within a narrow range, Chasm really got started with the Kickstarter. Even when production started in earnest, almost everything in the duct-taped together prototype had to be redone, so the team essentially started back from ground zero.

All of our backers have been incredibly supportive, and I wanted to thank you for that. As Miyamoto famously said, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” We are focused on making Chasm as good as we know it can be.

PAX East Recap

In addition to all of the development we’ve been focused on, James Petruzzi, Tim Dodd, and I went to Boston for PAX East! Because I’m personally involved in both Axiom Verge and Chasm, we decided to do a larger booth with a unified theme:

The Wall 'O Metroidvania
The Wall 'O Metroidvania

 

Dan, James, and Tim before the show.
Dan, James, and Tim before the show.

We had incredible traffic. Our four stations were all occupied pretty much from the time the doors opened until they closed. 

Fans checking out the demo.
Fans checking out the demo.

A bunch of press came by, and our friends from Kinda Funny also stopped to say hi:

Kinda Funny, Tom Happ (Axiom Verge), and the Chasm team.
Kinda Funny, Tom Happ (Axiom Verge), and the Chasm team.

Last but not least, Chasm won several awards at the show including "Best Indie Game" from DM21!

Thanks again for your patience and passion for Chasm. Next month we’ll give a full rundown of how our testing of the rough cut went and how we’re marching forward to the full beta. Stay tuned!

Character Reveal, Company Name Change, New Promo Art, PAX East 2016, GDC Recap

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Hello again everyone! We have quite a few updates for you this month. We were hoping to do a full-on production update for April, but we're still hard at work completing a few final tasks before reaching our next major milestone. It seemed only fitting then to hold off just a few more weeks for our upcoming Kickstarter anniversary.

Your first encounter with Professor Basden.
Your first encounter with Professor Basden.

In the meantime, here's a first look at a new NPC! If you played the closed Alpha last year you may remember reading notes left by an archaeologist named Basden that was studying ancient cave paintings deep in the Mines below Karthas. In the Alpha he met an untimely death long before you ever arrived, but we realized he could play a much more important role in the game and gave him a second chance at life. Meet the new Basden, professor of ancient history!

Discord Games Is Now Bit Kid

 

We'd like to officially announce that we have changed our company name from "Discord Games, Inc." to "Bit Kid, Inc." Discord has been great to us ever since our formative XBLIG years, but we're ready to move onto something a little more meaningful to us before we launch Chasm. The name is meant to describe all of us that spent countless hours in front of our old CRT TVs as kids completely absorbed in 8, 16 and even 32-bit games. Those are some of our fondest memories (and the reason we're here now), and we felt like the company should be representing that. Please remember to update your bookmarks to bitkidgames.com!

New Promo Art

While the box art Gilang Andrian did a couple years ago has served us very well, it's been difficult to use in different marketing situations due to its portrait layout. We decided to get a new piece done for those situations, and there was only one artist we could think of for the job: Gilang! He was very excited to work on a new piece for Chasm, and we think it turned out amazing. This piece is more focused on the Gardens and Keep, and he included a bunch of the dangerous enemies awaiting you. Also be sure to check out the high-res version!

PAX East 2016

We'll be showing off Chasm this year again at PAX East from April 22-24! We decided to skip the convention in 2015, but now we're ready to get back to Boston. We'll be right next to Axiom Verge and Mages of Mystralia at Booth #5217. We hope to see you there!

GDC 2016 Recap

Chasm at the MIX event at Patreon Headquarters
Chasm at the MIX event at Patreon Headquarters

The two Dan's of the team (biz guru Dan Adelman and background artist Dan Fessler) were kind enough to demo the game at several events for us at GDC this year. They showed off the game at two MIX events (one at the Patreon headquarters!) and also on the Kinda Funny livestream. Here's the Kinda Funny interview with Dan Adelman:

Development Process and Tools

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Revised HUD elements.
Revised HUD elements.

After our last big production update several backers asked us about our development process and what kind of tools we use to facilitate it, so I thought this month we could give you a little peak behind the scenes. I've also included some unrelated screenshots showing off the latest User Interface revisions we've been working on to keep things exciting!

There are two major schools of thought when it comes to software development: Waterfall and Agile. In the classic Waterfall method, you write out your design document detailing the entire game from beginning to end, break it up for the team to work on, and get to work making just that. At the end you take a look back at what you have, and hope everything worked out how you thought it would! The more modern Agile methodology breaks things down into components or pieces, and you go piece by piece with a rough idea what you want to accomplish, while continually testing and improving it. When you start to implement a component in Agile, there's flexibility for experimentation and seeing if it is fun and gels with your game's design. If it doesn't, you can figure out what's necessary to make it right and then move on when you're happy. We decided to embrace the creative nature of game development early on and adopted the Agile methodology for Chasm. 

Cleaned up Pause menu with new background texture and palette.
Cleaned up Pause menu with new background texture and palette.

 As with most things in life, there are downsides to both methodologies. Waterfall can lead to making a lot content that just isn't fun, while Agile can cause you to get bogged down in details perfecting things and not just moving on. Early on in Chasm's development we spent a lot of time in the first area trying to figure out the best gameplay mechanics, area structures, combat, dungeon generation methods, etc. Sometimes ideas just come slowly, and you end up spinning your wheels for a bit trying to figure things out. Pressure builds in those times, and it can become depressing not seeing constant visible progress. Thankfully, we stuck to our gameplay first philosophy, and seeing how things turned out I have no doubt now we made the right decision.

Unified panel design used everywhere including message prompts.
Unified panel design used everywhere including message prompts.

When it comes down to it, making games is an art and not a science. There's no one methodology or process that will work for every team or game. One thing is for certain though: communication is key, especially for projects that are remote and over long periods of time. Since our team is so small, there is only one person handling each major area of expertise (design, programming, music/sfx, animations, and backgrounds) and no middle-management is necessary. If needed I can easily keep up with everyone on a daily basis. If we began trying to add more people to the project, things would begin to breakdown as communication channels exponentially increase (Brooks' Law), and managing would become even more time consuming. But perhaps five is the perfect team size after all?

Improved shop screen.
Improved shop screen.

Even with me acting as the hub and keeping in constant contact with team members, they're still not necessarily in contact with each other on a regular basis. It's easy to feel isolated and lose motivation on a long project like this, so we've found it important to keep everyone in regular contact. Towards the end of the first year of the project we started a weekly Scrum call where each person can talk about what they did the previous week, what they're doing the coming week, and if anything is blocking them from getting work done. We use a simple shared checklist (Workflowy) that we can all follow to see what's on our plates, and don't really worry about sprints, velocity, burn-down and all the extra annoyances that come with the Scrum methodology.

Last but not least is the software we use to tie everything together. We've tried many different project management platforms, file sharing apps, etc. but this is what we've found to work best for us: 

  • SVN: for managing project code betweeen team members 
  • Skype: for group voice calls, chatting, quick file sharing, etc. 
  • Workflowy: for task lists, goals and notes 
  • Dropbox: for sharing assets like art and music 
  • Google Docs: for sharing documents like design docs, spreadsheets, etc. 
Cleaned up Item Detail view in the shops.
Cleaned up Item Detail view in the shops.

 We're also commonly asked what software or tools we use for each of our individual jobs: 

 James & Tim (Development) 

  • Visual Studio 2012 
  • Apparatus (our custom editor)
  • Photoshop
  • Sound Forge
  • Fraps 

 Glauber Kotaki (Animations)

  • Photoshop
  • GIF Movie Gear
  • Wacom Tablet 

 Dan Fessler (Background Art)

  • Photoshop
  • GraphicsGale
  • Wacom Tablet 

 James Stevulak (Music/SFX) 

  • Cakewalk Sonar
  • Sound Forge
  • Midi Keyboard and drum pads
  • Real Instruments (guitar, hand drums, etc) 
  • Condenser Mic
  • Focusrite Saffire Audio Interface

Wrap Up

 I hope this has been of some use or interest to you! If you have any questions please let us know in the comments. Next month we'll be doing another big production update, so stay tuned!