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A rich, diverse Tactical RPG, envisioned by the master of the genre Yasumi Matsuno and you, the fans!
A rich, diverse Tactical RPG, envisioned by the master of the genre Yasumi Matsuno and you, the fans!
15,824 backers pledged $660,126 to help bring this project to life.

December Update - Revisiting the Grid

Posted by Little Orbit (Creator)
92 likes

Dear backers,

This month we're going to take a break from showing off art, and instead I'm going to walk through a fairly large change we are making to the design of Unsung Story.

We're not going to be moving forward with the Triangle Grid.

Changing gears this late in the project is very difficult. It's a particularly hard decision because I've already made and reversed this decision once before. But more painfully, it invalidates a bunch of work the team as done.

However, I'm going to spend our December update discussing why this needs to happen.

For those that want the context around the grid system discussions, I had originally posted an update in December 2017 saying that based on extensive analysis, the Triangle Grid didn't work. You can read it here

My conclusion back then was: The Triangle Grid system added complexity without really adding value. It's harder to estimate distance or directional facing – the two core elements any good tactics game needs to help communicate.

Then during my visit to Tokyo in January earlier this year, I met with Matsuno, and he adamantly insisted that the Triangle Grid did work, and he challenged us to avoid cutting it. So my team spent a couple weeks working on the issues, and we came up with what we felt was a nice solution. I showed off an early prototype in my March update. You can read it here.

In that update, even though we had found a way to make the system work, I acknowledged: I'm taking a risk in one of the biggest gameplay systems in Unsung Story - a risk that introduces a million new ways to fail. Hopefully it will be worth it.

Since then, you've seen some of the progress on our Visual Target mission, the 20 classes and 240 abilities, and the 50 white box missions for the rest of the game.

However around the 1 year anniversary in August, issues started popping up with the mission designs. 

Early testing on some of the levels showed that while they were functionally complete, they just weren't fun to play. We started back tracking over the issues and making adjustments, but the issues we encountered didn't change. Ultimately we have come to the conclusion the majority of the problems in the levels rest with the Triangle Grid.

To be clear, the Triangle Grid does technically work. That was my initial problem back in December. We solved that, and I'm even a big fan of how we implemented it. 

But now we've hit a new problem - the Triangle Grid doesn't work for a tactics-style game which needs to focuses on the following:

  • Precise movement options & scale
  • Emphasis on verticality
  • Balancing melee and ranged combat

For the next couple examples, I'm going to refer to the mission design for Chapter 5 Mission 5. You can see both the Triangle Grid and Square Grid white boxes for this mission.

Chapter 5 Mission 5 White boxes
Chapter 5 Mission 5 White boxes

NOTE: We started using hexes in our Triangle-based white boxes. This was done just to approximate the geometry and to lock down movement areas. After that we went back and smoothed over the hexes and swapped everything to triangles. From my perspective the main benefit of the Triangle Grid (as opposed to traditional hex grids) was to get organic looking levels that didn't require have hex-shaped art everywhere.

Now onto the issues:

Problem #1 - Precise movement options & scale

First, you'll notice that the Triangle-based white box is much larger than the Square-based white box. This is because with six directions you can't turn as fast, which means that you have to move farther to engage things. Each move feels less precise or meaningful. In a tactics game, I would argue every move should feel important.

You can see how large we had to make our Visual Target level in our July update here.

Problem #2 - Emphasis on verticality

After playing a couple different levels with the Triangle Grid, we've noticed that you can't get a lot of verticality. You can see this above. The bulk of the main movement area in the top white box is flat. This is because you can't easily model stairs or smaller roof areas in the Triangle Grid.

In the bottom white box, we see all kinds of vertical options with stairs, accessible rooftops, etc.

Problem #3 - Balancing melee and ranged combat

Looking at the top map, you can see that it might work great for a ranged combat game in the style of XCOM. Since the scale is larger, melee abilities are limited and become problematic.

For Unsung to truly work in a Triangle Grid, we would need to re-work about 50% of the classes and abilities to focus more on ranged abilities. We would need line-of-sight rules, cover points, and mostly flat levels. But then that would be an entirely different game...

So where do we go from here?

Honestly, there's a lot to re-work. Over the next couple months we'll be going through each mission's white box to convert it to the Square Grid and building out new UIs for how spells and ability ranges are rendered.

This month, I'm going to show off some of our progress converting a specific mission to the Square Grid so you can see how this plays.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: You're about to see some very rough work-in-progress. This features "Heroic" characters without any of the changes for the "Classic" look, and there are a LOT of placeholders. The Plagueweaver unit on my team is meant to be an Elementalist. The Disciple is a Physician, and the Sharpshooters are supposed to be Archers. UIs, grid indicators, and damage VFX are all temporary.

You'll also notice a lot of the UIs have been removed because we're working on re-implementing them with the final UI style guide. Don't worry, those will be back soon.

Chapter 5 Mission 5 Overview

Welcome to Branholme! You and your band of mercenaries have just arrived upon this floating City of Wonder at the behest of your latest client. They weren’t very forthcoming with the details; but the pay was well above expectations so any questions from your side were minimal. Get in, protect an important figure from any unsavory types, and get paid. You’ve done this a hundred times over in a hundred different ways. How could this be any different?

Here is the write up from one of our designers explaining how we got to this mission:

When players first find themselves at Branholme, they are tasked with locating and protecting a very important figure within the world of Unsung Story. Unbeknownst to you and your party, a rival faction covertly sent units into the city just days before, and their mission isn’t as helpful as yours… Almost as soon as you locate your target, the enemy springs into action, and you are suddenly face-to-face with an overwhelming force right in Branholme’s town center! Fight through the town, keep your end of the bargain, and try to get out alive.

In this first sequence, we had already started work on re-organizing how a player's turn works before we changed the grid. The goal is to allow players to preview movement and attack ranges before they commit to their turn. Many tactics games punish new players by not allowing them to undo a mistake. In this sequence, I'm moving my Archer (represented by the Sharpshooter) and I'm trying to see how far her range is so I can hit the enemy's Archer with my Toxic Arrow ability.

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Next, I use my Physician to heal another unit.

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Then I massively underestimate the enemy's ability to gang up on me. My Mercenary doesn't last long. The black ball over a unit's head is a placeholder for units that are unconscious.

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And finally here is a shot of my Elementalist leveraging how close those enemies are together so I can use my Flameburst ability to hit more than one unit.

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Ultimately I felt like this version of the game is much closer to the feel we want. Each movement felt important. The scale felt good. And ranged felt balanced with melee. We'll be back next month with more progress to show.

But before I go, here's an animated overview of the unit we featured in this month's gameplay footage.

The Automatank

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Thank you for your continued patience and support. 

Sincerely, Matthew Scott

Matthew J. Boone, Jason Joyce, and 90 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Unco Lober on

      > I think the game will feel a lot more like FFT now

      This statement is so hideously misguiding and misguided that I want to swear at you, Little Orbit PR person. FFS, let's drop the pathetic pretense that this generic mobile kusoge has anything whatever to do with FFT or any other Matsuno game at this point, especially now that the last remnant of Matsuno's input is officially out of the project.

    2. Riccardo Quagliarini on

      I'm not following closely this project anymore, and I feel really untitled to comment on your hard work guys.
      Still, must be an internet sickness, I must express my disappointment.
      It really feels Yet Another Square Based tactical RPG now.
      The initial pitch of the project, was showcasing something pretty brave: the current artstyle is so bombastic and colored, like much of the nowadays MOBAs, a far cry from what initially showed.
      And the triangle based was a really strong magnet for backers.

      These two elements are gone, and now it's really hard to make this project stand out. Good luck!

      One more little comment.
      It's too late probably, but the evolution that X-COM had on the modern warfare tactic games, still has to be seen in anything fantasy.
      Most fantasy game with tactical combat play SOOO slow. There's the whole Infinity Engine way, and other than that playing fantasy tactical combat usually means 40 minutes for encounter. Maybe you can get around this :D

      sorry for the negativity, hope it contributes to something anyhow. ciao!

    3. Missing avatar

      Michael on

      To be honest guys I wasn't even sure why you wanted to go with the triangle grid in the first place. The square grid system has lived on through games like FFT, FE, D&D, etc for so many years for a reason: it works so well. I'm pretty happy to see the return to the tried and true system.

      I'm also very happy to see you guys focusing on verticality. This was always one of the favourite parts of FFT. Allow units the ability to move different through jumping (or flying) add a whole new dimension (yes I said it) of tactical play. While I love games like Fire Emblem, they missed this aspect and suffer for it.

      Keep up the good work lads

    4. Venron
      Superbacker
      on

      I think I have backed too many projects, is this Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, Legend of Aria, or Universim?
      And now, for something completely different...
      As long as this doesn't do a Sui Generis, I will be happy :-)

    5. Missing avatar

      Everton Agner Ramos on

      The triangle grid, along with the vibe of being a spiritual successor to FFT, were the reasons I backed this project. With the grid gone, if the game does not provide a serious, mature job system and story, it will become a complete disappointment for me.

    6. Little Orbit Creator on

      Thanks to everyone for the positive vibes. This was a hard decision, because we invested a lot into the Triangle Grid. The major upside with this shift, is that I think the game will feel a lot more like FFT now.

      @Jorge - Thanks :)

      @Ian - You've made a very valid criticism. We just launched the Unsung site again on Gamersfirst.com. We need to migrate all the user/backer accounts, and then re-open those forums so we can re-engage the Design backers. I hope to finish that soon.

      @Alexei - Yes. You can mix and match classes like FFT.

    7. Nathan A Newsad on

      gg guys, keep moving ahead we <3 ya!

    8. Missing avatar

      RoyalKnight on

      Thank you for always communicating with us your major decisions, process, ups, downs, and everything in-between. I'm sorta' sad that you couldn't get the Triangle Grid to work, but as other people mentioned, it definitely seems more than reasonable that you are not going with it.

      That said, the overall city-planning look of the Triangle/Hex version of the map looks visually better than the more tactically-interesting Square version, so I hope that maybe some inspiration/rework can be done.

      Please keep up the great work! Still looking forward to all of these updates.

    9. Missing avatar

      Marius Michel on

      I am cool with this decision as we are one step closer to a true FFT successor now. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel, just make a good game, with a great story. Look at the disaster of the System Shock remake, they tried to go to far away from the source material, burned themselfs while doing that and are now back to what was initally promised.

    10. Crix on

      I've never heard of the triangle thing before, and honestly it sounds completely silly. I like both hex and grid based strategy games, so a triangle just kind of confuses me.

    11. Jorge Desormeaux on

      You've got the best communication practices of any Kickstarter I've ever been a part of. Thanks for the thorough explanation.

    12. David Beevers on

      While I'm disappointed to see the triangle grid go, I don't think it's absolutely crucial. However, it would be great if you would consider making diagonal movement cost 1.5 steps (I know that's more than the actual 1.414x distance). I've always been annoyed with both games that show diagonal movement for a cost of one step, and those that don't allow it, requiring two steps to move one step diagonally.

    13. Adrian Tai on

      thanks for the update and explanation. looks fine to me. please continue to do the great job you guys are doing so far.

    14. Missing avatar

      Vale Nagle on

      I've been catching up on all of the updates since summer and it's exciting to see what you're doing. I like the races, classes, and worlds. While monster design is still happening, something I always liked about Matsuno's games was the inclusion of gryphons and opinicuses. Just in case you were looking for a winged fantasy creature to include.

      In terms of the triangle versus square debate, I think with Matsuno's prompting it was the right decision to give it another look and see how viable it was. It always seemed like a long shot. Since it's impacting the enjoyability, switching back to the traditional square grid is fine by me. Your team seems to be making smart choices. I'm looking forward to the game's release and future updates.

    15. Francis on

      I Never cared at all about the triangle grid.
      Whatever makes your strides move forward and not backwards is good.

      I backed it for 400$, then later expecting it to never come out, so to see progress is great.

      Keep it up, make something you feel proud over! <3

    16. Missing avatar

      Joshua Lindquist on

      I am definitely disappointed that the triangle grid did not work out, but your reasoning is sound. You tried to make it work, and I appreciate that.

      Thank you for the regular updates!

    17. Missing avatar

      Phil on

      Interesting read, thanks for all the detail and work.

      I always thought the triangle grid was a gimmick that would be one of the first things to be cut, it really doesn’t seem to add much and there is obviously a reason it’s not done.

    18. Kevin Felker on

      I backed Star Citizen. :)

    19. Missing avatar

      Aiddon on

      The triangle (or hex grid) could probably work, but not with the scale you're working at. It would require such an overhaul of how melee classes work, like maybe they're able to cover more ground or have bonuses to resisting projectiles, maybe even having abilities that make them unable to be targeted by projectiles, but again you're basically playing X-COM there, so what's the point? I think the hex grid is going to have to wait for another day because it feels like there's a trick to it that hasn't been solved. Anyway, thank you for your transparency and hope this is the big hump you get over

    20. Shane (CoffeeGnerd)
      Superbacker
      on

      Congratulations! This game now looks like EVERY OTHER TACTICAL RPG IN HISTORY with no unique hook. 👍

    21. Missing avatar

      Shachihoko on

      It kind of sucks to hear that the triangle grid won't be in the final product, but you gave it a good considered look and try, which is all anyone can ask. And if you feel that the square grid is the best option for gameplay - well, there's a reason why it's basically the standard for so many other games.

      Hopefully Matsuno is as understanding, given his advocacy for the triangle grid.

    22. Missing avatar

      Divreus on

      I'm sad you couldn't make it work, but at the same time glad because I've been iffy about the triangle grid since Playdek first showed it off.

    23. Missing avatar

      Kletian999 on

      FFT isn't Xcom. I'm glad you are doing what works even if it isn't as fancy. You are doing the right thing.

    24. MannyLaMancha on

      Thanks for the hard work!

    25. Missing avatar

      Michael K
      Superbacker
      on

      On one hand, it’s great that so much thought and care is being put into things, and that development is moving forward.

      On the other, one of the main draws of this project for me were the triangle grid, and art style that indicated innovation+spiritual successor to a game we know and love.

      So while I’m thankful we’ll eventually receive a game (and likely quite a good one!) it unfortunately won’t match the vision of the project that we initially backed.

      All in all - a fair trade to get something delivered though.

    26. Missing avatar

      Alu on

      I'm liking it so far. Opinions from backers are good, but don't get too distracted by them. Stay focused.

    27. Michaeljack on

      I just don't see even the ghost of FF:T in this game anymore

    28. PK on

      What you call Triangle Grid is actually just a more complex Hexagram Grid, just like the ones used in Battle For Wesnoth. If anyone wants to play a game with a Triangle Grid, juts go play BFW. The only difference is the shape that is presented and, while you could use a triangle and not an hexagram, that only makes things unnecessarily complex to achieve the same result with less efficiency.

      What you guys argued can be seen in BFW. Verticality isn't an option. What is done is the same that Civilization has done since ever, you give different buffs and debuffs for each tile so when a character is standing on it, the buffs and debuffs are applied. This is used to simumlate different terrain and different height, but not visually. Mountains, water and holes are possible, but not visually. Thus the games turns out to be a lot more technical in nature and overall less fun to the casual player.

    29. Missing avatar

      Richard Mader on

      Im a big believer in its nice to innovate and create something new... if it provides something to the gameplay and experience. Sometimes I feel like innovation is there for innovations sake and it does not add to gameplay. I know its not a tactics game but this is how I felt about FF12. The gambit system created a bunch of if this, it was a new way to do combat and shiny because it was new and it was very revolutionary... and ultimately not a fun gameplay experience (in my opinion) which ruined the game from a technical aspect.

      Make the best game possible, period. If that means dumping the triangle system im all for it. Great update, keep up the good work.

    30. Brandon R on

      I'm sorry to hear about the time spent being lost, but I'm glad that you were able to make the decision to make a better game rather than just sticking to the choice no matter what. It's looking very cool. Thank you for the update!

    31. Sailor for you on

      I'm really excited about this update... The triangle grid just didn't seem like it would work to me, so I'm happy that this change is being made, even if it takes longer. I honestly wasn't happy with the art direction, but seeing the animations makes it work better than I expected. I'm back to being optimistic about this project!

    32. Matt Lohkamp on

      I’m not gonna lie, I was excited to see the triangle grid fielded - so I’m disappointed to hear that it wasn’t working out for you. That said, you’re the game dev studio, and I trust your direction - you gave it the old college try, it didn’t pay off, and that’s okay. Hopefully lessons learned will further inform your implementation of the more traditional square grid. This doesn’t change my enthusiasm to see this game in action. Keep up the good work!

    33. Missing avatar

      Ian Cooper on

      Seems like a very reasonable update. Definitely a shame so much time was spent on a system that ultimately didn't pan out, but it does make way more sense to keep the game fun than creating a battle system that isn't actually fun. Thanks for the update!

    34. Missing avatar

      fret on

      I know first hand why PlayDek abandoned the triangle grid system and these issues were precisely why. While PlayDek fully failed in their ability to follow through, they took a lot of slack for this initial decision. To see it second guessed, and so much time and resources spent... again, I just have to laugh. There were some that were trying very hard to make it all work. Matsuno is only a visionary. Other then the novel but completely impractical triangle grid suggestion, there was ZERO compelling about the story, concepts, or play mechanics put forth. The story was messy and boring. Hopefully the Matsuno name gets you the mileage you are looking for. Good luck.

    35. Missing avatar

      Alexei Blackman on

      willing to wait as long as needed for u guys to put out a game you can be proud of. quick question that i cant remember if its been covered but will we be able to mix and match classes like it tactics?

    36. Missing avatar

      Ben Richardson on

      That must have been a really tough decision to make, but it's really important to recognize where the fun is and isn't in a game like this. There's no point in making a technically viable game that isn't fun. Thanks for the updates!

    37. Timothy Hames on

      Sweet an update. Thanks for the honesty looking forward to this game :-)

    38. Shannon Potter on

      I hope I can get used to this Blizzard-esque character art style. 😬

    39. Ian Berridge (kliqIMB) on

      @LittleOrbit / Matthew
      Scott This is an interesting decision, as I feel we continuously pivot away from certain unique aspects of what this game, in theory, should have been. I'm curious though, did you ever consider utilizing the 187 Design Backers to see if the Diagonal system actually did work? I'm sure you have internal testers, and I would presume some form of a QA department, but I know Little Orbit is relatively small and when you make a claim that early testing showed "they weren't fun to play", I'd be curious how fully the people making the game could extricate themselves from testing. This come from personal experience in having designed levels for my own games and changing something and making it "fun" for myself and those on the dev team, then handing it off to outside testers and them telling certain things weren't fun and we shouldn't have changed them.

      Now, of course, the end result could've been the same. Maybe it truly wasn't fun. But as the project continues to move forward, I would 1) Like for the Design Backers to be more included in things in general (as I'm personally excited to proffer input) & 2) Don't want the project to lose anymore more uniqueness.

    40. Missing avatar

      Eric Boehle on

      I'm a little disappointed it didn't work out, but you gave it your best try, and that's all I can ask for. I can't expect you to go with a system that isn't working. Keep up the good work!

    41. Griffinman01 on

      I know that in the post you referenced from last December you mentioned that the only real con with the square grid is with difficulty on the diagonals. Have you considered allowing diagonals but with some sort of penalty to the action to balance the slight advantage in distance. For instance, if you had a melee unit, you could allow them to attack on the diagonals with a reduced attack power (unless they had a long reach weapon like a spear or whip). Likewise you can have characters move on diagonals, but doing so reduces their evade (basically implying they're more worried about speed/distance than moving cautiously) and archers/mages can take the shot, but with reduced accuracy due to overextending the range limitations.

      I liked the idea of the triangle system due to the increased number of options (the hex system has been used in tabletop RPGs extensively for that reason) but I agree with all of the points you made above. That being said, I think there are possible ways to bridge some of that to the square grid as I outlined above.

      In any case, like many others have mentioned, whatever you choose I'm more than happy with your progress. This went from a dead project to being a reality and I applaud you for that!

    42. Denis Mattos
      Superbacker
      on

      Producers curbing some of the creative input in favor of practical aspects of production is a common thing.
      In this case it may have been lost in this long process of the initial Kickstarter turning up to be a Playdek scam and Little Orbit taking over, but it seems to me it's exactly what's happening.

      Being one of the early backers, I'm honestly long past feeling let down. Anything Little Orbit launches is better than the Playdek shitshow.
      Here's hoping the game's good and launched soon.

    43. Pat Kawula on

      I absolutely understand the change. I just wish you would have stuck with your gut originally. Matsuno is an amazing idea person but you and your team are the ones that needed to execute this and without Matsuno's direct input on how he planned to execute the triangle grid you should have respectfully disagreed with his synopsis. Little Orbit has done an amazing job of progressing a game we all thought dead and buried. However now you have basically wasted an entire year of development.

      I'm sure this was not undertaken lightly but I am starting to feel like I did with Playdek. That you have no idea how to execute this game we all backed. And once again we are not going to get the game we all backed.

      Once again I appreciate your work on this and still want to see how this turns out but it looks like that will be in 2021 at the earliest now when I was thinking we might finally see this in late 2019...

    44. Grayson Wendell on

      Out of curiosity, how will diagonal distances be calculated? Is a single diagonal 1, ~1.41, or 2 units? I've always considered this an advantage of hex grids.

    45. Missing avatar

      Erick Mastick on

      Thank you so much for the increased level of communication and sticking with it. I thought this was going to be a dead project, but these updates make me think otherwise!

    46. Zenon Berg
      Superbacker
      on

      Rock and a hard place. You made the call and run with it. I feel it would've been a unique part of the experience and I looked forward to the triangle system changing some of the square prejudice. I can't fault you for your feelings on the game though, and it is your game ;-)

      Keep moving and I look forward to the day I can experience what you've worked so hard and long on!

    47. Missing avatar

      Tinye on

      I like the square transition personally. It must have been a hard decision to make and I really hope it works out for everyone