Beyond the Current Boundaries
Chris here to give you a snapshot on our current progress. First off, the next beta update is being wrapped up! It’s been in testing for the past few weeks and we’re putting the final touches on it as I write this. You can expect it to go live next week.
This beta update will include the first release of the Linux build, new merchant UI elements, the Missile Silo map, the Darwin Village map, an updated leadership skill, a few new enemies with unique AI (I dare you to get in combat with the suicide monks…), many additional balance tweaks, tutorial, lots of optimization and oh-so-much more. As always, we will put full patch notes up on our tumblr when the patch goes live.
One thing we were excited to look into were stats showing how long people were playing the game. It can be hard for a developer to estimate exactly how long a game takes because even when playing through fully, we're still too familiar with it to not go through it fast. But now that we've had people playing it and based on how long they've been taking on the live content, we can estimate the full game will likely take the average new player around 50 hours on a normal playthrough. Though it'll take quite a bit longer if you're looking to fully explore every location and mission.
Now let's talk development: at this stage we are working not just on beta builds and polishing those areas, but on tweaking the game's systems and taking lessons learned from beta feedback and applying them throughout the game. Every day our level designers are adding new touches and various levels of reactivity to the game. For example, in this next update you'll find major areas are now open to you right from the moment you leave Ranger Citadel, rather than being plot-gated.
As we're finishing up more Arizona areas we are intensifying our work on Los Angeles, and for the entire game we are making great progress. Much of the team is on California right now, adding layer after layer of depth into the current design.
There's a few points I’d like to talk about a bit more in-depth…
Systems & communications
One easy-to-forget but very important point going forward for us has been the way the game communicates on its systems. What I mean by that is how much the game informs the player of its underlying systems, how clear and easily available this info is, and to what extent the game helps and guides along the player. At the heart of these kind of cRPGs lies a sense of discovery and figuring things out by yourself. We consider it one of Wasteland 2's strengths that you can often try something new and then have a mission proceed differently because of a different approach you tried out.
That said, when it comes to interface and understanding systems there is no harm in showing off much of the details necessary to make informed tactical choices (assuming it’s done in a non-intrusive way), starting with the simple tutorial tooltips we put in. The game will ship with a sweet old-school manual and reading it before you start will give you a good head start, but we've also added a number of "tutorial" tips in the game. These pop-up on the right side of your screen when specific triggered events happen, and give a quick explanation of the way things like combat, dialog and levelling up work. We focused on making them clear, short and non-intrusive, and experienced players or those who just don't like tutorials can switch them off with a single click.
The other big thing in systems communication is how much and how clearly the game details its under-the-hood system formulas. This was not something we spent a lot of time on prior to the beta launch, in part because it is relatively low-priority, in part because many of the systems are still fluid and up for tweak and balance patches. The new character and skills screen was a step forward in this as it enables players to see how stat increases or equipment switches influence their key stats. For those interested in learning more details in this code update, the tooltips in character creation (for derived stats) give a deeper breakdown. Check those out on your next playthrough!
Wasteland 2 as it stands has not had many balance passes done, and that influences how balanced the attribute and skill system may seem. In the currently live builds, you might feel like you’re leveling up more often than you should or you have too many skill points. This is intentional as part of the goal is to have you try out the various options and give us feedback.
One very significant system we have not yet put in is the tying together of attributes and skills, where the skills are either capped or heavily influenced by a specific attribute. This is an important balancing factor in a party-based cRPG like ours, because you are likely to have a total of seven party members not far into the game and will have a large pool of skill points to use. It continues to tie into one of our pillars of having to make difficult choices that will affect gameplay. Early on in the final game, this heavy feel of a multi-talented group will remain, but once we start putting our caps and ties system in, you will need to be more careful in your skill choices when you progress further into the game. Of course, by this point, you will have tried a variety of skills and become more informed about what you wish to focus on and how to spread your skills among various characters.
In general, we pride ourselves in our flexibility to adapt our systems based on feedback and internal and external discussion, a good example of which would be our Ranger Corner thread where we asked for feedback on charisma, with my reply and thoughts here. Charisma was the attribute most in need of updates to make it more viable, and we are constantly evaluating and modifying the way our attributes work.
When we launched the new inventory screen in the last beta update we had not yet started working on the new barter screen. This was also a good opportunity to do a Ranger Corner thread talking about the barter screen, and you can find my reply on the topic here.
As with the inventory screen, it was key for us to significantly improve functionality as well as the look of the screen. In the new barter screen, it is much easier to compare items you're buying to what you have equipped, as well as sell and manage multiple stacks of junk, view full stats of items before purchasing, and sell from your entire party inventory rather than going character-by-character. Here's a look at the screen:
One thing we've long since avoided talking about is LA. And we're still pretty wary of spoilers, so the following text will be spoiler-light, but if you want to avoid them completely you may want to skip.
In the near future, we will have almost all of Arizona in the hands of our beta backers (after this upcoming update the beta will include all but one major area and the final small maps), we can't resist the temptation to talk more about the second half of the game…the Los Angeles area. I specifically say "Los Angeles area" as it includes some locations that are in the Los Angeles metro area, rather than just "the city proper".
Los Angeles is a separate world map from Arizona. A lot of Arizona has a feeling of familiarity for the Wasteland 1 fans, as it sees the return of quite a number of Wasteland 1 locations and factions. This familiarity was important for us to keep, as there's a long gap in time between the release of WL1 and the upcoming release of WL2, and strong narrative ties help bridge that long gap.
On the other hand, Los Angeles allows us to get back to some of the wildness the Wasteland setting allows, by opening up a fresh new area with weird possibilities. Los Angeles as it stands now is a sprawling city-scape, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world, with recognizable landmarks such as Hollywood and the L.A. Coliseum. The current L.A. with its nearly four million inhabitant’s needs water imported and thus may seem like a naturally semi-arid climate, but this is primarily due to human influence. With most of the human presence wiped out by the war, the creation of small and mostly toxic lakes of water by the post-war storms, and the shifting of air and water currents, the Los Angeles of Wasteland 2 is a lush area. Nature has reclaimed much of the ruined cityscape.
In L.A., we decided to make many of its recognizable landmarks key locations, including the aforementioned LA Coliseum and Hollywood, but also such spots as the Watts Towers and the Griffith Observatory. Our design process started with, “What would be the most bad-ass areas in L.A. for the player to visit”? We then sprinkled these areas with weird cults and weirder creatures. One example is the Pistol Packing Priests faction (conceived by our lead writer Nathan Long), which were previewed in the first Wasteland 2 novella. This burgeoning religious cult believes the apocalypse was God's justice brought to man, but the task is left unfinished, and it is up to them to sweep the last vestiges of sinfulness off the earth, by word and by bullet. Mostly bullet…or hammer…or any other blunt/sharp/shooty object.
With these areas dominated by strong factions that have no familiarity with the Desert Rangers, this opens up great new possibilities for us to challenge and offer diverse choices for you. One faction may have an internal conflict, a splinter group with beliefs that differ from dogma, giving the opportunity to choose one side or play them out against each other, or re-unify them. But another may have an external enemy with no chance of reconciliation, a conflict the player might decide is best to avoid entirely, but one which they can also use to their advantage to help one side gain dominance and wipe the other side out.
Many L.A. areas are in a state of equilibrium as you arrive at them (though not all are, some may require immediate action), giving you more time to explore the "towns" of various shapes and size, and get familiar with the people and the faction's beliefs, trade, resolve smaller missions, or even progress without ever triggering any conflict at all. Los Angeles shines in a strong variety of locations. That variety evincing itself not just in visuals and flavor of the location, but also in how open or guided an area is, how conflict or hub-oriented it is, etc. etc.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at one of our LA levels in the Unity editor. This town – built around the Watts Towers – is between the stages of Wild West and civilized, the arrival of the Rangers may well determine which way it goes…
Since such a high-level view may seem a bit obscure, here is a closer level render (but with the camera still further out than it would be in-game). Each building can be entered, making Watts the kind of open hub that you could find around the halfway point of Wasteland 1.
We wanted to give another shout-out to a smaller, promising Kickstarter: The Red Solstice, a squad based strategy RPG. It set on Mars in a distant future, with all the science fiction trappings you could hope for. The game has tactical 8 player co-op focused on hardcore survival, class-based character advancement and advanced tactics. Aside from the 8 player co-op campaign, they're also going to offer a narrative-heavy single player campaign.
The campaign is over halfway there, with $27K funded of a $50K goal with 10 days to go, so let's give 'em a boost in the final stretch! They're also part of Kicking It Forward, pledging to spend 5% of their eventual profits into funding new Kickstarter projects.
And lastly, we are posting portrait art and quotes every week, you can check them all out on our tumblr.