Get Back to Work!
I hope you all enjoyed your holidays and got time to relax and spend time with the people you care about. I know we here appreciated the break and have returned with our batteries charged; attacking our to do lists with vigor.
Wasteland 2 has been in beta for around a month now, and it’s been a hectic but great time. The initial beta feedback from our backers has been amazing, not just in that many people are loving what they’re seeing so far, but also in that you guys have been terrific in giving feedback: we have around 8000 suggestions/bugs/comments (with many redundancies as you can imagine) reported directly through the CenterCode bug feedback site, and over 500 new discussion threads on our official forums. All the suggestions and bugs from CenterCode have been processed generating approximately 1800 tasks for our team, of which roughly 500 have already been resolved in the first two weeks of work on this backer beta (in the current internal build).
One of the things that makes this process unique is having an open beta for a narrative driven RPG. Typically we find that beta programs of this size focus on multi-player aspects of games so that the developer can hone in balance, server capacity and features related to multiple people playing a game. In our case we are looking at ways to improve the reactivity of a story driven game in material ways. It is a key tenet to an RPG of this style so expect to see continued changes and additions to areas you have already visited. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly and materially things evolve. We continue to learn from your feedback and apply these lessons to both the beta areas and the ones we haven’t released yet. The final version of Wasteland 2 will be a game that could not have been created in a vacuum.
If you can’t tell, we have been really happy with how well this process is going. There has been a lot of great criticism on how to make the game better, and we’ve been very excited to see the majority of this criticism agrees with our internal evaluations of what we need to improve on and focus on, such as amount and depth of reactivity, or complexity of combat. In other words, we’re in agreement on the direction this game is heading in!
As I said blocker bugs are our first priority but we have a long list of various smaller and larger changes we want to make, many of which were on our lists and were reaffirmed by our community and directly inspired by backer feedback. For example, we’re working on significant improvements to combat. Destructible cover was part of this last update as a first pass with more fine-tuning to come; we will likely add a crouching stance with a variety of tactical applications; we’re going over a lot of the encounter design to more carefully detail tactics-changing factors like ladders or destructible cover; and we’re in the first testing stages to explore adding a special attack system that’ll allow you to invest AP to make specific kinds of attacks based on your weapon types and the skill levels you’ve achieved in those weapons…things like spread shots or steady shots. Keep in mind the combat you see in the beta is only the earliest levels in the game, where enemies are more straightforward and do not have the wide variety of special moves, AoE attacks and more advanced AI of later-game enemies. The enemy AI is quite varied as you get into the later stages, once you’ve sufficiently learned the base controls and rules of the experience.
Additionally, let me give you a peek at some of the things we’ll focus on as we continue production: improving the messaging of the game’s interface and systems significantly; doing several balance passes on everything in the world from economy to combat to the whole character system; overhauling the minimap; fixing font issues; working on the field stripping and weapon modding functionalities; tweaking shotguns so they properly provide spread shots rather than work just as rifles; improving the barter, inventory and character system UIs; fixing pathing; improving the balance and functionality of energy weapons; adding additional satisfying death animations; implementing outfit functionality; adding touches and small scenes to make towns and the world feel more alive and much more. That is just a short list of what is in reality a much longer to-do list, so don’t worry if you don’t see your own suggestion in there: everything our backers put into CenterCode is read by multiple developers so nothing is lost.
One last major thing I wanted to talk about has to do with reactivity and town connectivity. Let me reiterate from our last update, this is our greatest area of focus when we look at videos of people playing the game or read their game impressions on forums or CenterCode. We are constantly adding smaller touches in map passes but also have plans for significant increases in reactivity, both for our existing maps and for the rest of the game. This is another place where backer feedback shines, as we get feedback from people playing through the game and wondering why this one event isn’t a more complex mission or why we don’t add more choices to another. With your help, the game is constantly improving in this field.
As this process goes forward, we are constantly tweaking features, or adding and removing them, but that does not necessarily mean any of those changes are permanent. The “healing over time” mechanic is a good example of this: We initially put it in primarily as a counter-balance to a lack of reliability of healing items from the random loot tables and an unbalanced economy meaning not enough merchants to buy those items from, and it would have caused an unnecessary delay to implement this before beta release. When we put out our first major update the loot system became more balanced, and we pulled healing over time to see how that impacted the experience of our backers. That is the quintessential beta iteration experience, you never quite know how a feature change works out until you have people playing it. Many like the extra challenge it added and the thoughtful use of healing items it now necessitates, but others were unhappy with the way this impacted game balance or felt healing over time was needed because it is a Wasteland 1 feature. We’ll be curious to see how this is impacted by the upcoming overhaul on field medic and surgeon (yes, we know surgeon is confusing as hell) as well as putting in more friendly doctors and merchants for healing supplies. The game is one of scarcity and the mechanics should support that. We will continue to monitor the discussions on these elements and course correct along the way as necessary.
These next few paragraphs will be primarily of interest to our existing beta backers: we want to thank you for your detailed descriptions of your problems, along with the error logs, save files, and information on what PC specs are running into problems, as they are invaluable resources at this stage, so thank you all so much for your contributions. If you haven't joined us yet on our bug reporting site see this thread, which also contains information on what kind of files to attach (and, as a general request, to please not .zip or .rar them up).
With the help of all this information we have been doing some major work on our game, and in a short timeframe put out a big update to the backer beta on Steam. You can read the (lengthy) full patch notes over on our tumblr, but be warned there will be a few spoilers at the end of those. Since coming back from our holidays we updated the beta again with a smaller update, primarily to improve performance for specific video cards, patch notes here.
We will continue to update the beta build, first focusing on blocker bugs (crashes, problems with savegames, etc) in the coming few weeks, and then working our way through to major and minor bugs. The blocker bugs have highest priority and as I mentioned have been sorted out to our programmers. We won’t have an exact update schedule here but we should have word on the next update soon, and hope to address the majority of remaining blocker issues. We will continue to focus on optimization for specific hardware setups, and again your reports have been invaluable information for us to work from.
Expect an update to the early beta code in the not too distant future with an additional area and many reactivity changes. This version will NOT be compatible with current save games, so we’ll give due warning when it’s coming. However, there will be plenty of reasons to play the game from the start, as there will be significant changes to existing areas, and tie-ins between all the beta areas that are worth exploring. New content is not just a matter of pasting a new area to the end of the beta, when we unlock that area we also unlock the tie-ins and NPCs and locations it is tied to.
Also we were able to get an OSX version of Wasteland 2 up and running fairly smoothly and it is currently in QA. Creating an OSX port of the game is easy thanks to Unity, but such ports do need to go through testing and as we collectively have much more experience with Windows we are being more careful in our approach to the OSX and Linux versions, and are engaging an external testing group to help us get them right. This unfortunately does mean these versions will take a bit longer to release than we anticipated, but on the plus side this experience is invaluable for when we approach the final release. Once the Mac version is up we'll let you know, we will turn our attention toward the Linux version.
Jumping on board
We’ve heard from a lot of our current lower tier backers who still want to jump into the beta, as it was not a part of every tier during the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter or for late backers. We offered a Wasteland 2 beta add-on in our store but closed it as the beta launched, and eligible backers have been able to play this beta for a month now. However, we want to give our existing backers one last chance to jump into the beta, so AROUND THE END OF THIS MONTH we’re going to offer a limited-time add-on option only through the Ranger Center backer store; for $10 you will be able to add-on beta access to your existing pledge, getting your Steam beta key as soon as the add-on is registered by us. Please note this add-on will only provide access to the Wasteland 2 beta, it will not include the digital extras of the earlier add-on or the $60 Steam Early Access version. This deal will also be available for Torment: Tides of Numenera backers who are due Wasteland 2 from their tier, when it launches and if you have Wasteland 2 in your tier you'll be able to get it through Torment's pledge management system. We will let you know exactly when it’s up.
The first of our Wasteland 2 novellas is getting close to completion, and will be arriving to backers within the next few weeks. All Bad Things is a novella that previews one of the cults you can find in Wasteland 2, written by the excellent Stephen Blackmoore. Here is a look at a candidate for the novella’s cover:
We do need to make a change to our novella roll out plan as it relates to Michael Stackpole as we have not been able to finalize his story. We will continue to work with Michael to deliver his novellas, but we can’t promise if that will happen.
Because of the uncertain status of Stackpole’s novellas, we engaged Stephen to write this novella for us, which will serve as a replacement for the "episodic novella (part 1)", so it will go to all backers of tiers $50 and above. I think you will be very pleased with Stephen’s work and he does a wonderful job of setting up the backstory for one of the powerful LA cults.
As for the promised third novella, Nathan Long is offering his services. Nathan Long is one of the main writers on Wasteland 2 and his work on our game has been nothing short of excellent, and he is one of the writers on Torment: Tides of Numenera. Nathan also has a long list of books to his name, having written a large number of Warhammer tie-in novels as well as his own "Waar" series. With his experience and knowhow of the game I have no doubt he'll deliver a top-notch novella for our backers.
Chris Avellone has been working on his novella, but he’s gotten a little carried away. He’s been so happy with how the tale has been unfolding that he asked us if he could take more time and revise and expand it to be a FULL BLOWN NOVEL. We excitedly agreed and are thrilled to do something extra for our backers by delivering a much longer story, though this means it will likely still take a few months to complete. It will be worth it when we get it to you.
We’ll shout out on social media when Stephen’s novella is ready. It will be downloaded automatically as an update for anyone who has Wasteland 2 installed on Steam, but we will also be offering redemption keys via your Ranger Center account.
Coverage & Shout-out
We’ve had fun watching twitch streams and YouTube videos of the backer beta. If you’re not averse to a few (mostly mild) spoilers and want some first impressions of the game, there are many let’s play videos available on YouTube, for instance the impressions videos of Force, MaskedGamer, or TGN, the twitch streams from Theadrain or Dansgaming, or the multi-part let’s player series from sloshworks, CulveyHouse, TheApocalypticStudio, or HDPLAY Gaming Channel. The videogaming press is also starting to weigh in, we round up their previews under the beta preview tag on our blog, including sites such as GameBanshee, Eurogamer, Strategy Informer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
Speaking of Twitch TV, we will be joining djWHEAT on Friday the 17th at 12:00PM PST for a live broadcast of us playing the game. It should be a lot of fun and insightful for people that want to know more.
And finally, we wanted to give a shout-out to RETRO Magazine, a Kickstarter-funded print and digital magazine that focuses on classic games and systems as well as newer games, so well worth a look to many of our backers. Wasteland 2 will be featured in a future issue!
Leader in Exile