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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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 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.
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
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!).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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!
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:
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 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
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:
We had incredible traffic. Our four stations were all occupied pretty much from the time the doors opened until they closed.
A bunch of press came by, and our friends from Kinda Funny also stopped to say hi:
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!