Developer's Blog

Building and Lighting the Battlefields

Posted on October 31, 2017 by Shibusuke

Happy Halloween! We may not be a spooky game, but I wanted to pass out some treats regardless!  

First, now that asset building is complete (yay!), we’re currently building out and polishing all of the levels for Chapter 1, then putting together their lighting and post-processing effects - all the nice bloom lighting and fancy camera features that make a game “pop.” This means laying out the tiles, then filling the maps with the buildings and props that’ve been building over the last year or so based on the setting for the battle that takes place there. Once that’s finished, we go in with lights and effects to make everything look especially nice.  

You may recall that we upgraded to Unity 5.5 a while back, giving us access to some nice effects as well as 4k resolution support, which the game takes to very well. To get a sense of how much things have changed, check out the evolution of one of our Docks maps (Azura’s turf) from when we did the Rezzed build compared to now:


Now (Click the images for the 4k version):  

The UI is turned off so you can see more of the surroundings

The UI is turned off so you can see more of the surroundings.

Bit of a difference, right?   

Of course, if we’re going to talk about Azura the Merchant Queen’s area, a dinky wooden pier with a fishing boat won’t suffice. The docks where the merchants operate need to be something a little more serious:  

We also have areas that are set to different times of day, including the late afternoon, where twilight creates a soft glow as the lights begin to switch on across the city.  

Additionally, we’re wrapping up our sound effect creation, so everything in the game is popping, smacking, and exploding in a big, satisfying way. It’s hard to show how much of a difference it makes, so I hope you’ll give it a try once we’re able to get a new version of the game into your hands. We still have a few bugs to iron out, but the next update will sound more alive than ever!

We have more we could show in terms of levels, artwork, etc., but at this point, I’m hoping to hold back so that there’s plenty to surprise you when the game releases. It’s a difficult balance, but since we’re an RPG, I’d like to err on the side of not revealing too much! That said, there is something major that we’ve wanted to get out to you for quite some time, but that will have to wait for an upcoming update… muahaha...   

All The Best, 
Keaton & The Abyssal Arts Team

Finalizing Our Team Menu UI

Posted on September 26, 2017 by Shibusuke

We’ve been hard at work getting City of the Shroud’s UI hooked up and looking good. There is still some polishing to be done, but we’re really proud of the results!  

First, here is our new team menu UI in action:  

I’ll go into more detail below, but before that, I’d like to show you our new-and-improved City Map:  

What’s new here? First, the structure of the map means that it is far more screen ratio independent than it was before, so those of you with 16:10 screens (i.e., Mac laptops) will see improvements on that front.  

The more obvious difference is that big old chart on the right: the Balance of Power. As you play through each chapter of CotS, the balance of power between factions will change, and that chart will show you the state of affairs at any given moment.  

You’ll be able to see who you’re allied with as well as how powerful each faction is relative to the others for the current chapter (I put the Hat Merchant in the affiliated leader slot because I think he’s hilarious - not an option in the final game!).  

As people play through the live chapter, those bars will fluctuate based on players’ choices until we lock the chapter’s balance of power in order to start writing the next one. Once the balance of power for a chapter is locked, the bars will show the final balance of power for that chapter until the next chapter is released. Once you start the next chapter, they’ll be moving again until we lock that one to write the next one, and so on. If you get your influence in early, who knows - your impact may end up influencing other players :)  

We’ve also streamlined the experience by stripping out what we had originally called the “Main Menu” because we decided that the City Map could act as your hub - it’s how you interface with Iskendrun in the campaign, and by moving some functionality around, you can now go from the “Start” menu straight to the campaign screen with no features or accessibility lost. 

The other UI element we’ve been working on is the team management menu - the screen where you’ll set up your party, equip your Link Gems, configure your stats, and even equip different skins/mod items. 

You saw it in GIF form above, so let’s break it down here, screen-by-screen: 

The Overview panel shows your current team setup - the class, visual appearance, equipped Link Gems, name, and movement and attack ranges of each of your units.

Clicking on a character takes you to their Moves panel: 

Here, you can review and equip the Link Gems you’ve acquired, read their descriptions, and try out how the Link Gems you’ve chosen string together using the Try! Button. There are shortcuts for the other panels, as well as the option to switch the currently selected character (and even their class) too. 

Next up is the Stats screen: 

On this screen, you can see your full Stat Gem inventory, as well as the grid where you equip those gems for the selected unit’s current class. Descriptions of each stat are found below the grid, and the box in between the two explains either the selected gem or stat, depending on which you have highlighted. 

Stat Gems that are granting your unit a Perfect Fit Bonus glow with a thin, blue line around the edges - notice that the yellow Square is not glowing, as it’s sitting on a non-square-shaped slot (also, the thick, white glow shows which gem you have selected). 

If you put a Stat Gem into a slot it isn’t meant for, you gain the ordinary bonus but not the Perfect Fit Bonus. So if you want just have to have an extra HP bonus in exchange for losing a Perfect Fit Bonus, you can make it happen! Customize your unit to fit your playstyle - want a high-HP Mage that can take a few smacks from a Brute? The choice is yours! 

Finally, we have the Appearance menu: 

This menu lets you equip any skins or mods you’ve acquired. Simply cycle through, and you can view all the available options for a given slot. If you like what you see, you’re done! Just leave the settings as-is and you’re all set. The next time you use that unit in battle, they’ll appear just as they do here. 

It’s a pretty big upgrade from the old menus, so let us know what you think! 

So what’s next? We’ve got a bit more polishing to do on the menus before they’re totally final, but now that we’ve got this major UI update in, we’re turning our attention to the next big event: implementing Chapter 1.

The main content for Chapter 1 is written, all the environment assets are complete, and all of the components necessary to bring it to life are more or less ready and hooked up. So what goes into implementation? Mainly, that means getting the game text into our quest database and connecting them all together (clear Quest X >> unlock Quest Y). We’ll be putting together our battle maps for Chapter 1 as we go along too. 

Stay tuned! 

Making Art Assets

Posted on September 26, 2017 by Shibusuke

Over the last few months, we had a few production hiccups that I wanted to share and thought might be illuminating for those of you interested in game production. Since we’re making most of the artwork by working with people external to the main team, there’s always a risk of delays or problems, and although we’ve had great luck thus far, this time around there were a few stumbling blocks.  

City of the Shroud uses a “hand-painted” style, which means that making the textures (the 2D images that get stretched over the 3D models) for the game generally requires artists to manually paint them, usually in Photoshop (it’s fairly uncommon to find teams procedurally generating a hand-painted style, but we’re helping pioneer that too!). Generally, this hasn’t been an issue - the people we’ve had the good fortune of working with have handled the style deftly.  

If you zoom in our assets, you can see how cleanly the textures are painted. This can be more time-consuming and stylistically demanding than procedural generation/scanned textures, but it has a distinct feel and looks great.

If you zoom in our assets, you can see how cleanly the textures are painted. This can be more time-consuming and stylistically demanding than procedural generation/scanned textures, but it has a distinct feel and looks great.

Early in the spring, though, we ended up needing to work with a team of artists we hadn’t worked with before for some of our assets due to scheduling conflicts. Everything started out smoothly, but the style of the game quickly became difficult for them to achieve at scale (it’s one thing to paint a single asset; it’s another to paint dozens), and this slowed production down considerably. In AAA, this is when a company would throw money and bodies at an issue to resolve it (I’ve been on the front lines of that process a few times), but we have neither spare cash or people to do this, and besides, we wanted to be patient and work through everything until we could all achieve something we were happy with.    

Thankfully, we were able to do just that - we have all of the assets we wanted, and they look really nice. It was also a good learning experience for the other team as well, since it was a new artistic style for them to take on. Here are a couple example screenshots of their work I took today in the engine:

Here is an example of what we were able to achieve with patience and perseverance.

Here is an example of what we were able to achieve with patience and perseverance.


And another example.

And another example.

While it was slower than we planned (and we’re adjusting for that), we’re happy with the results and are continuing to plug away diligently at our to-dos. We’ve got a few things up our sleeve for you, and I’m excited to get them out and into your hands to try. Stay tuned!    

Introducing the Defender, EGX Rezzed 2017, and Updated UI

Posted on March 09, 2017 by Shibusuke

First, we're  excited to announce that we're going to Rezzed 2017 at the Tobacco Docks in London from March 30 - April 1! Chris and I will be showing the latest demo of CotS (with some help from our friends), so be sure to swing by, say hello, and check it out!

The demo will have a bunch of updates:

  • New playable class - the Defender!

  • A preview of a boss battle (in a new environment!) from the main campaign!

  • Updated visual and sound effects!

  • Enhanced visuals and an updated UI!

Of course, if you’re not able to go to Rezzed, never fear - we’ll be sending the Rezzed demo out to our backers and pre-orders via Steam so that you can check it out first!

So, what does all this look like? Well, allow me to explain:

Introducing the Defender

This is from one of the new environments in the game. Can you guess the setting?

The Defender is big, intimidating, and tough. Wielding her twin shields, she fights up-close and in the thick of it using a combination of physical power and magic. She can heal her allies (yes, we added healing mechanics!), set up barriers to keep enemies away from her allies, and deal punishing damage with the help of a little Corruption. She is a formidable opponent, and a valuable component for any team!

Here are a couple of her moves (and see some of the visual effects we’re working on):

Wave of Corruption

Input: Up > Left > Down > Left

The Defender sends out a wave of magic 3 tiles wide that travels to the edge of the map, dealing low damage and adding 3 stacks of corruption to any character it touches (look out for allies!).


Input: Down > Left

Consumes all Corruption stacks on every character within 1 space of the Defender (including the Defender and her allies) to heal the lowest health ally within 3 spaces. The amount of health restored goes up with each Corruption stack the Defender consumes.

Shield Bash

Input: Right > Down

The Defender smashes the target in the face, dealing damage and stunning them. The ability deals bonus damage and stuns the target for each Block, Dodge, and Disrupt effect they have active.

The Defender has plenty more tricks up her sleeve, but hopefully this gives you a taste of how to utilize her talents in combat.

Updated UI

We’ve also updated the combat UI to its final iteration - we’re really happy with how it’s come together. Check it out:

I hope you’re excited to test out the Defender and all the other enhancements we’ve made to the game! Once we roll out the demo, we’d love to get your feedback.

And if you’re coming to Rezzed, be sure to come by our booth and say hi!

All The Best,
Keaton & The Abyssal Arts Team

Amigurumi, Pizza Party, and "Doing It Right"

Posted on January 27, 2017 by Shibusuke

Happy New Year! The CotS team had a productive pre-holiday season, and we’ve been hard at work since we got back. What have we been up to? Read on to find out!

First, over the holidays I hand-delivered the amigurumi backer rewards to our “Patron” backers - we’re all so, so thrilled with how these turned out. A huge shout-out to Liz at The Yarn Mouse for her awesome work making our characters. 

Liz also did a fantastic write-up over on her blog of how she made them, including all those hats, full of concept art we made for her and and in-progress photos. Click the link to read! 

I couldn’t resist, so here are a few photos of my own of the final result (Liz’s photos are much better): 



Also over the holidays, we held our Omega Backer Pizza Party! From around the globe we gathered and feasted on fancy pizza in honor of our glorious supporters. I showed off the latest updates to the game, including our in-progress visual updates and attack effects, and we chatted about what’s coming next in the production pipeline (between bites and everyone talking about their Final Fantasy XIV characters - turns out almost all of us play). 

I’m not a good photographer, but the pizza more or less looked like this: 

The motto we’re taking with this game is, “Anything we do, we’re gonna do it right,” and that holds true for pizza as well as development. 

As for game development, we ended the year on several high notes: 

  • We updated to Unity 5.5, netting a performance boost and the ability to use a shader that instantly upped our visual quality (feedback has been great, though there are some weird lighting issues to work out) 
  • We got about 20% of our visual effects into the game (and more since then) 
  • All the classes in the game are fully playable (we don’t have all the VFX/SFX in yet, though, so we're not quite ready to roll them out) 
  • We got our third environment set completed 
  • We got Steam Workshop support functioning for mods 

And so on. We were pretty pumped! 

Of course, that’s exactly the moment when everything is likely to shift under your feet, and shift it did! Coming into January, I suddenly had to scramble to figure out a new source for a big chunk of our environments, as well as contend with a few elements going over budget. Welcome to 2017! 

Thankfully, some very talented friends of ours who had already done work on the game were available and willing to help, so after a brief tense period, environments are more or less back on track. The budget stuff is also doable, so while it may have been stressful, it’s nothing we can’t handle. (It’s almost like our Risks and Challenges section predicted what was coming!) 

When I was working in AAA, I learned how having access to large coffers lets you buy an element of stability, or how possible it is to use industry clout to “make” things happen (usually resulting in overtime for many people). Obviously, that’s not possible as a small, independent developer, and I’m not willing to push overtime on someone due to our schedule issues. Instead, we’re dashing from task to task, trying to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. 

Ultimately, there are a few ways to go about developing a game like ours, but they really boil down to trying to get the game done as fast as possible while using as little money as possible, or taking the time and raising/spending the money needed to “do it well.” I’ve chosen to do it “well,” since, as Miyamoto once said, “"A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.” 

The other night, I met someone who’s been working in independent book publishing for several decades, and we started talking about this very topic. As soon as I mentioned having a choice between making the game “fast” or “doing it right,” he stopped me, pointed at my chest, and said, “You’re doing it right, right?” 

I take that as a good sign.