It’s been a while, so let’s have a look at what we’re been cooking for our future builds.
On the matter of communication
Before we get started properly, I thought I’d rant on communication a bit. If you’re following us on Twitter you’ll be quite well versed on what to expect from our next build, but for the rest of you, it’s been two months since our last post and that’s not exactly ideal. I’ve been meaning to write a new post a bit sooner that this, but sometimes it can be really tough to pull yourself away from actual development and this brought to mind a very apt comparison. I’ve read several headlines about Pokemon Go -players complaining (rightly so) about developer Niantic’s almost total lack of communication and when they finally responded, their answer basically was: “We’re busy working on the game, sorry”.
As ridiculous as it might sound, for a small team like ours, it really hits home. As much as I enjoy writing this blog, a post can take a couple of days to get done and if I’d be using that much time several times a month away from development (like I used to in the past), it would really hurt us in the long run now that I’m 50% of our programming workforce. So understandably we’re going to keep these blogs relatively infrequent, which in practice should come down to monthly or bimonthly posts. If you want more frequent, smaller updates, Teemu is keeping our Twitter busy, so get over there!
During these past two months we’ve been lucky enough to get two bigger instances of excellent feedback, which we’ve pored through intensively. The first batch came from a “playtest-party” we held over at our offices shortly after releasing our previous build. Though our plans for a “big” event were thwarted by Juhannus (Midsummer Day, #JustFinnishThings), we had a good time and got some very usable feedback out of the event, even if it was on a smaller scale.
The other big “event” caught us by surprise (in a positive way): Teemu managed to get a Youtuber/streamer by the name of Highsight to play our latest build over at Twitch (video here). We’ve been covered by a few people before in the past and sadly have rarely gotten much in the way of feedback out of the experiences, but Highsight blew us away. His video had a ton of great commentary and his audience joined the conversation too, which landed us a figurative gold mine of great feedback. This really invigorated us so we’ve been slaving away on implementing as much of it as we could to the next build. If you’re an indie dev yourself, I highly recommend getting in touch with him if you want great feedback.
Upcoming Beta 1.4
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of things. Our plans outlined in our previous blog post partly got kicked in the head by all the feedback we received, so let’s have a look at what we’ve been working on:
What began as a simple-ish visual upgrade got a bit more meat on its bones as things went on. For a while now we’ve been planning to change our FoW from boring black to something a bit more interesting, so we finally gave it a proper texture and livened it up a bit by making it move. However, the bigger change is actually something we debated internally waaaay back when we first introduced the FoW (anyone remember pre-alpha builds?): the FoW now hides enemies.
We have plans to add audio cues for attacking enemies so you won’t be completely blind-sighted all the time, but that probably won’t make it into the next build yet. The system is actually more or less done code-wise, but the audio assets… not so much.
Risto has been working on a massive revamp of our perk system and by extension, the perks too. You will no longer have to choose between 5 random perks every time and the perks themselves have been arranged into a tree like structure. The UI is still the same (excluding a few minor changes), but we’ve talked about possibly redesigning it to more represent our new “perk trees”. However, we don’t have any definite plans for that right now, so don’t go expecting it any time soon.
So far we’ve only updated the Commando’s perk tree and while there will probably be a few changes to it between now and the next build, the Magnus is next up on the table. His perk selection has always been sub-par compared to the Commando, but hopefully we’ll be able to change that with this update.
Throughout development we’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the Commando’s pistol, which isn’t surprising since it’s pretty much the first thing players use and they also use it a whole lot. We’ve given it a rather big rework, but rather than being super wordy about it, I’ll let pictures do the talking:
The Machinegun-perk has also gone through a more or less total rework, but I’ll leave the details of that for later. As a sidenote, we’ve been thinking about rebranding the Commando’s pistol to a rifle to make the perk progression a bit more “sensible”, but we’ll see when that comes to fruition.
In addition to revamping the Perk system, Risto has also spent a lot of time on improving our Tutorial, adding some things we’ve talked about in the past and some totally new things too. Though there’s no massive additions or changes, I think the improved Tutorial is leaps and bounds easier to follow than previously.
We got a lot of criticism from Highsight on the feel of our combat, so we decided to “juice it up” by adding screenshake here and there. It’s sometimes interesting how such simple additions can make a big difference. If for some reason you feel you don’t want it in the game though, we’ve also added an option to disable it in the Options.
One of the biggest focus points of our “playtest-party” was co-op. We were aware there was room for improvement here and there, but sometimes you have to get outside opinions to see if you’re focusing on the right stuff. One of the biggest points of criticism was character visibility: especially in a 4-player game, people seemed to lose track of their character all the time. To fix the issue, we’ve added colored outlines to player characters and adjusted our dynamic zoom (mentioned briefly in the previous post).
We’ve also done a ton of co-op specific balance work and other minor improvements, but more on those next time.
Not surprisingly we’ve also done a lot of balance work outside of co-op. Something we gathered from the feedback of our “playtest-party” was that the first level of the game was far too unforgiving for new players (though honestly we’ve kind of known that for a while). In any case, we’ve finally done several changes that should make the game a bit more beginner friendly, but I’ll spare you the boring details for now. We’ll get down to the nitty-gritty next time.
We haven’t been exactly happy with how our Monuments (and our new secret activatable) worked in terms of player reward, so we decided to try out something new. There are now 3 kinds of Orbs in the game: Stat, Experience and Perk Orbs, each of which should be pretty self explanatory. We feel the Orbs make rewards like experience and stat increases a bit more tangible and easier to notice: Instead of getting the reward directly, you have to pick up the Orb to get it.
To adjust game balance, we’ve also added one free Perk Orb to the beginning of each game on Easy and Normal to give players a boost on kicking ass. The execution is a bit crude, but it serves its purpose for now. No pictures yet, as the Orbs are still “work-in-progress”.
Long term stuff
During these few months we’ve had quite a few large scale discussions about a plethora of things, some inspired by the feedback, some by other stuff. There are two big topics I wanted to bring up specifically.
Our item system has for a long time been a somewhat fickle mistress – we like it, but it’s never felt all that rewarding. Plus we got a lot of feedback that people don’t really pay that much attention to the items at any point. Clearly we had to improve the system. Our first idea was pretty simple: shops and chests would function more closely to our Perk menu, pausing the action, giving players more time to make meaningful choices and weigh their options. Not long after that though, Risto took the idea even further: what if we replaced the shops and chests with different kinds “Forges”, each specialized in different kinds of upgrades players could purchase. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s more or less the way player progress works in Hammerwatch.
Needless to say, making such a drastic change to one of our core mechanics will take a ton of work, which is why we’re not even trying to cram it in Beta 1.4. But Beta 1.5… That’s what we’re going to aim for.
I believe I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but we’ve been in talks about redoing our HUD/in-game UI. This has been mostly driven by the comments and criticisms of our artist Sampo and it’s mostly been very appropriate: The level name and objective texts in the upper right corner of the screen aren’t things the player needs to see constantly, the player panels need to be redesigned (again) for clarity… Basically when we rounded all our ideas and criticisms together, the best course of action seemed to be to remake the whole thing from scratch.
Like with the Forges, our current plan is to have this ready for Beta 1.5, but we’ll see how it ends up going.
In addition to all these improvements, we’ve also had time to work on some new content too (for the full game that is). I’ve been slaving away on the World 2 boss fight for what feels like forever now, but my work is finally bearing fruit. The fight is now fully playable, but there’s still balance work and other refinements to be done. Risto has also gotten World 3’s level generation to a pretty good spot. Just remember, World 1 is the only playable world in the free demo.
When you work on a game for several years, you need outside opinions from time to time to keep yourself from going blind to all its faults. Though we’re risking getting stuck in the “iteration loop” with these constant improvements, we’re planning on putting a feature lock after the Forges and new HUD, so we can finally start focusing on finishing the rest of the worlds.
A very special thanks to everyone who provided feedback: Highsight, yokcos700, bpoutlaws_jeff, mattvalroxpf, ferretter, newbruce, minecraft9752
Till next time folks!