December General Update
G'Day from Australia!
Last month was largely dominated by pre-production again, and we've had a number of exciting work streams making excellent progress. I'll be posting Design Update #2 and one other update in a couple days, but over the last couple weeks it became increasingly clear that a face-to-face with the entire team would be hugely beneficial.
So November ended with a trip to visit our developer, Torus Games, in the beautiful city of Melbourne, Australia. Several team members from Torus have already introduced themselves on our forums and answered some questions. For those that don't know, Torus in based in Bayswater just outside of Melbourne, which is 19 hours ahead of Orange County where Little Orbit is based. I flew out of LAX over the holiday on November 22nd and arrived on November 24th. I planned for a couple days of jetlag recovery over the weekend before jumping into meetings, and I'm still here till Monday, December 4th.
Before you rush off to google Torus, like Little Orbit they have worked on a lot of licensed based games with tight timeframes and small budgets. It's a studio of ~30 developers, and like Little Orbit they are looking forward to showing backers and future fans the amazing work they can do on Unsung Story.
The major goal of the trip was to sync up with all the teams on their various milestones so far and to get to an agreed scope and timeline - which we now have.
Make sure to read to the bottom of this update for the release date of the game.
Over the next couple weeks, we'll be sharing some specifics and interviews with key staff, but in the meantime I thought I would structure this update around the general topics and areas we focused on for the trip so far.
TEAM MEETING DAY 1 - NOVEMBER 28TH
Story. Story. Story. This is a major part of the game, and we felt it was the best way to jump in there. The game was originally envisioned with 5 distinct chapters that each followed a different "Story Character" and bounced around in history. We are sticking to that formula, and last month on our littleorbit.com Story forums, we posted our first Story update to discuss some of the challenges presented by the unfinished work. If you aren't afraid of spoilers and want to read it, you have to login first, but can see it here: https://littleorbit.com/forums/topic/unsung-story-narrative-introduction/
The non-spoiler summary is:
"Unsung Story takes place in a medieval fantasy world where spells are cast as songs, and magic can reshape reality. With the threat of such power, the original shapers created a way to stabilize the world. Since the beginning of time, History has been sung and recorded in magical schools around the world. The game opens at the end of a 77-Year War. We follows a squad of aging heroes as they are given a covert mission: to infiltrate the archive of a nearby school and cast a legendary spell that may turn the tide of the conflict."
We spent all day in two separate workshops with a combination of lead producers, designers, artists, and developers. We covered the drafts of Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4 that we feel are faithful to Matsuno's vision but still fit the new structure of our game (there is a major change in how our story is told). We are also halfway through drafts of Chapter 1 and some of Chapter 5, but these chapters will go much slower because they are a bit more complicated. Each chapter identifies the Story Character(s), themes, major encounters, candidate missions, locations, and some dialogue.
TEAM MEETING DAY 2 - NOVEMBER 29TH
Day #2 was split between Art and Programming.
In the first half of Wednesday, we spent time reviewing inspirations for characters, weapons, armor, environments, UIs, animations, and VFX. Honestly I felt we were pretty well nailed down on the art design and approach, but the dev team came up with lots of good questions involving how render swappable inventory, playable races, monsters and other areas. We've got a number of new pre-production deliverables now to help us flesh those out, and we're looking forward to sharing progress soon.
I can definitely share that one focus of the new UI is to try and get away from Tactics' menu-based approach. The team is working up several different ideas on how we can keep the classic feel without the depth of menus that slowed down gameplay.
The second half of the day was focused on technology and progress building the Tactics game engine itself. Lots of less interesting discussions about data formats, system editors, grid/movement management, AI, and more.
The approach for these two teams couldn’t be more opposite. Art is trying out lots of experimental ideas and concepts to fully explore the world of the game, but Programming is laser focused on getting the basic Tactics gameplay up and running as quickly as possible.
TEAM MEETING DAY 3 - NOVEMBER 30TH
Day #3 focused on Game Mechanics and Sound.
We spent the better part of the day going through the initial candidate list of 20 classes (not including the Elite classes) spread across our 4 different schools - Mana, Nature, Divine, and Technology. This game rests squarely on the classes, abilities, and spells, and it's an area I want to nail down early, so we have the maximum amount of time to integrate the game mechanics into each chapter.
I was pleasantly surprised with how far the team has come in a fairly short time, but I want to warn backers now that we did take a complete step back and start from scratch when conceptualizing the classes for Unsung Story. That means we may or may not use the original proposed names and concepts that Playdek announced like Ballast Knight or Orb Guard.
Here are the design pillars we are using to help guide our approach to classes:
- Players can mix-and-match classes to make their own Primary and Secondary combinations. That means each individual class should have a single, clear mechanical focus. However, their focus can’t be too niche to be realistically useful.
- Classes should a single clear, tight thematic within our world.
- Classes should have a simple and memorable name.
- Classes should mix-and-match in the player's party with different units in interesting ways.
- No class should feel irrelevant. However, classes shouldn’t necessarily be perfectly balanced. It’s okay for some combinations of classes to be extremely powerful compared to others. As players explore the class system, they should be rewarded with extremely powerful combinations. This shouldn’t be immediately obvious or too easy to come by.
- Classes should utilize physical space (tiles) in a more interesting way than previous tactics games, however, they shouldn’t all focus on this mechanic.
- Musical terms/motifs should be used very lightly They’re a subtle touch, not a defining feature.
We spent some time working through the first two classes that are unlocked at the beginning of the game, and how those classes can act as a tutorial by helping players engage in core game play mechanics. I look forward to sharing some of these classes and their core game play soon.
The audio workshop ranged from music to sfx, dialog, and voice over. Largely we are still hoping to deliver a musical score from Sakimoto, but we aren't in a position to announce any details yet. My favorite part was a fun brainstorm on the many types of sound that could be used to generate magical effects in the game.
TEAM MEETING DAY 4 - DECEMBER 1ST
This was our final full day of meetings for the week, and the focus was entirely on attempting to nail down a release date that we could stand behind.
The day started with going through each month and identifying all of the game's components, and we spent time going through notes from the previous days adjusting the milestone schedule.
When are we releasing Unsung Story?
This has been the #1 question asked by backers, and in light of this project's history, I felt we needed to spend a fair amount of time going through the game's scope, timeline, and deliverables, before we made any formal announcement. We are going to continue refining the project timeline through the end of the year, but at this time we will be simultaneously releasing all platforms in Q4 2019.
That's it for now.
Thank you for your continued patience and support.
Sincerely, Matthew Scott