Developer's Blog

Development Update, November 23

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Shibusuke

We’ve been working the last few weeks on some features that we’ve wanted for a long time now - character customization support (i.e., appearance modding) and tiles that grant effects.

It’s still early, so we’re using some hastily assembled programmer art and a testing-purposes-only user interface. That is still enough for me to create horrifically ugly characters, which is my specialty:

Right now, these are just palette swap models but our ideal setup would allow full replacement of each 3D component model, preferably with color masks for the different pieces of each asset plus color sliders to really allow people to go nuts. I will of course use that to create horrifying monstrosities of art, but there is the potential for goodness buried in there too.

We’re also experimenting with a different way of showing tiles on the map - having a semi-transparent overlay was not the most efficient display method and meant that our map had a grey hue over it. Instead, we’re seeing what using markers in the corners of the tiles looks like:

It’s still early (lots of little visual bugs) and will need a beauty pass, but it seems like a better direction to go in. We’ll have to update the movement and attack range displays soon as well (they’re doing the previous iteration’s ‘cover the tile’ thing).

Also in there are some placeholder, sparkly particle effects showing where are our latest gameplay tweak is: tiles that grant bonuses. In the map right now, these just grant +4 Action Points to whoever gets there first, but we can easily add all sorts of options; we’ve currently got damage bonuses, defense bonuses, AP regen bonuses, healing, and Falling To Your Death. The tech is also expandable to AOE abilities and more.

                 

Here’s what that looks like in action:

In introducing these effects, we want to address the ‘first-mover disadvantage’ where the best strategy was to stay back and wait. We also wanted to incentivize players to take quick and decisive action and to make the start of battles faster, giving a bit more tension to getting out and ahead of your opponent.

So far, they feel pretty good. It’s simple, but it gives players an immediate goal beyond waiting to see what your opponent does. With time and tuning, hopefully they’ll prove to be a fun and engaging mechanic.

Relinquishing Control: Creating a Player-Driven Narrative

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Moira

I was recently lucky enough to have one of my books, Shadowborn, reach the top of the charts in both Fantasy and Young Adult on Amazon. Keaton asked me to reflect on some of the differences between writing for video games and novels, and I wanted to give a hearty thank you to the video game industry for helping me learn to approach stories differently! Read on :)

-M

*******

Every once in a while, one author will remind another that no matter how many drafts, edits, beta reading cycles, cover alterations, and formatting runs, a book is not finished until someone has picked it up and read it. That’s the nature of the medium. The book, in many senses, does not even exist until it’s gone out into the world to be interpreted and commented on, and no matter how infuriating an author might find it to have their work (by their standards) misinterpreted, the finishing of the book is something that can only be done by readers.

Video game writers might well say the same things to one another, but I also wonder whether or not they need to. One of the most astonishing things to me about the industry is how open it is to user feedback. While a writer might have 1-2 rounds of beta reading, and perhaps 3 in editing, it is not out of the question for a game to have significantly more rounds of testing.

And then the creators make changes. It’s incredible. It’s miles away from the assertions that the author is alone in their creation. It’s refreshing. And it has made a huge difference in how I approach my writing.

Before we go any farther, let me state that there is a huge variation in how authors take or do not take feedback, and in how much feedback they seek. Authors are not a monolithic group any more than video game companies are, and I have no doubt that there are outliers in both cases: authors who do 10-12 rounds of beta reading, video game companies that refuse to change the smallest thing, etc. The general ethos, however, seems different across industries: for authors, the sense of the inviolability of vision; for video game companies, the belief that games can and should be adapted to user feedback.

So where does this difference come from? One of the first major drivers, I think, lies not in the consumers, but in the teams themselves. If there’s a video game with a story component that hasn’t been made with a team, I have yet to find it. There is, necessarily, more than one voice. There are other writers. There are other people collaborating in your vision. It is inevitable that they will give feedback, and that the writers will be faced with an almost-daily choice of whether or not to incorporate it. Authors, on the other hand, largely work alone. The vision is theirs alone up until the first readers get their hands on the manuscript. The authors, for better or worse, have not been subjected to the consistent, somewhat unsettling experience of having their work critiqued, and they aren’t used to it.

A second difference: the player’s interaction with a game can in many ways be more visceral than a book. Books elicit emotion, that is undeniable, but any psychologist will tell you that there is a difference between watching a movie or reading a book, and taking an action yourself. Video games force you into ownership of media in a way that books do not—and the creators, almost all of them avid players, seem to understand this on a very basic level, therefore giving players more ownership of the story from the early stages of development.

Another difference, however, goes all the way back to before the great depression, when a rather astonishing concept began to rear its head in American media: that good books, great books, the quintessential Great American Novel, should be difficult to read. That good books…should not be enjoyed. The concept burrowed deep, and spread. You may think I’m insane as you read this, but consider the derision faced by blockbuster movies, romance novels, even books like the Hunger Games. Of course it’s popular. Of course everyone’s reading it. Most people don’t like the really good books.

In some senses, this drive to elitism can be remarkably viable. Art, quite often, is about confronting the broken, the ugly, the dishonorable. Many fantastic books drag us to places of despair, and humans are hard-wired to try to avoid pain. Transcendently amazing art can be difficult to consume.

But, and I say this as not only an author, but an avid reader of both literature and genre fiction, in writing above all, this concept of difficult art has been turned on its head. The perceived causality has begun to run backwards, stating not that good art can be difficult and even unpleasant, but instead giving authors a sort of pleasure when their book is disliked or misunderstood: of course. Of course you don’t get it. It’s high concept. It’s beyond most readers. I’ll never be appreciated in my own time. The idea of changing the plot, the characters, the wording so that readers can understand or enjoy is considered no less than a compromise of the author’s core self, a betrayal of Art.

It is for this reason that I find the video game industry refreshing. Here, more than in any other branch of media, I find the question: but if the consumers don’t enjoy it and don’t understand it, why are we making it? Video games do not shy from asking big questions on the nature of humanity, love, honor, and sacrifice, but neither does the industry as a whole revile games that make jokes, that tailor their story to extensive player feedback, that allow themselves to be fun.

It’s a valuable lesson.

City of the Shroud Prototype 0.0.3 Now Up for Download!

Posted on November 08, 2015 by Shibusuke

We’re happy to announce version 0.0.3 of City of the Shroud is now available for download! Grab it here:

Do… do you hear that? Is that an… overture? Like, a theme song? For the game?  … ??

Yes, indeed it is! Feast your ears on City of the Shroud’s Overture, as created by the ever-talented Chris J. Nairn - try not to get this song stuck in your head!

Also in this latest build, we’ve done a complete overhaul of the UI for inputting attacks, and we’re really happy with how it’s turn out. Hopefully, you will be too!

We knew that overlapping icons and unclear relations between input and activating special abilities was causing confusion for players, and we wanted to do something about it. Witness the latest iteration of the Combo Wheel:

Now, icons will never overlap, and you can see the exact order in which you started activating them, from out to in. Icons will clearly show you where they want to go, and you can compare all of the options for your combo at a glance.

Of course, you can move faster than the wheel’s animations if you know what you want to do as soon as you open it up!

There are a bunch more under-the-hood changes, including fixes to a bug that prevented the Combo Wheel from opening in the tutorial, but I’ll let the patch notes summarize all of that for you:

0.0.3 Patch Notes

  • City of the Shroud Overture now plays on the title screen!

  • Overhauled the Combo Wheel UI

  • Added outlines and highlights to a bunch of the UI to make it more apparent on-screen

  • Player names will no longer overflow out of their box

  • Fixed bug where the Combo Wheel wouldn’t open in the Tutorial (we hope!)

  • Updated the language in the tutorial and other places in the UI to make it a bit more clear what everything means/does

  • Updated our bug reporting system - fingers crossed this solves the issue with holding down click to type…

It’s a short but impactful list! Try out the latest version of the game and let us know what you think - you can reach us from inside the game itself (magic!), @AbyssalArts on Twitter, through our Facebook page, and on our forums!

Download Version 0.0.2 Now!

Posted on October 22, 2015 by Shibusuke

Hi Everyone,

We’ve just released version 0.0.2 of City of the Shroud with a bunch of UI, readability, and gameplay tweaks! Grab the latest version from itch.io or GameJolt and let us know what you think on the forums!

0.0.2 Patch Notes

  • Updated the AI based on player feedback

  • Switched to tile-based selection - instead of clicking the character model to attack, players click the tile on which the opponent is standing

  • Tab key now cycles the selected character

  • Moving the cursor over an enemy tile that’s in-range animates and highlights that tile

  • Moving the cursor over an ally’s tile animates and highlights that tile

  • Added a (text) reminder that characters move instantly using Right-Click - we’ll, uh, make it pretty later

  • Battle pop-up text is now easier to read, performs better; still placeholder as all get-out

  • Magnetic Mines now show the team color of the character who placed it

  • Magnetic Mines now appear on the porch instead of hidden inside of it

  • Changed Void’s tile Corruption effect so that it no longer stacks

  • Updated tutorial text in the hopes of making the link gems easier to understand

  • Changed combo queue UI to be more noticeable and consistent with the character AP gauges

  • If player tries to make input when they don’t have enough AP, the currently-filling block will flash red and a sound effect will play

  • Characters now flash more prominently - white when attacked, yellow when AP is full, red when low on health

  • The white destination bubble for link gem icons now shows a faint, pulsing version of the icon

  • Updated the test combo wheel in the Details menu to be the same as the new in-battle version

  • Added an outline to AP cost number for special attacks in the combo wheel

  • The team UI for the player is now on the left instead of the right

  • Added numbers next to characters in the team UI that correspond to their keyboard selection shortcut

  • Added outlines to the individual AP chunks in characters’ AP bars

  • Added outlines to each character’s HP bars

  • Changed color of AP bars to be less brown

  • Other minor UI tweaks
     

Phew! That… that’s a lot of adjustments. And we’ve got something extra big planned for 0.0.3, so stay tuned!

Cheers,
Shibusuke

Connecting with Gamers at PlayExpo

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Shibusuke

I’ve attended a lot of conventions, not just as a consumer but also to demo AAA games I’d worked on. I went to PAX and Tokyo Game Show, and while those were incredible experiences, I admit that I always felt a bit disconnected - attendees were there for content I had limited influence over.

PlayExpo was the first event I have attended to show off a game that we’re making ourselves, which dramatically altered the experience.

Earlier in the year, I also attended EGX Rezzed to help a friend with their booth, which was a great deal of fun and a valuable experience in guerrilla marketing an indie game. It is dramatically harder to get attention for a small game on its first show appearance with no publisher, and I’m glad I was exposed to just how difficult it can be before attempting it on our own. It tempered our expectations.

Our humble booth!

That said, I was blown away by how well PlayExpo went. The booth was full, with 2 PCs running, nearly the entire time. We handed out nearly 600 stickers - which people put on stuff (they are pretty slick). Almost everyone who played it not only liked it, but had insightful feedback about why they liked it and what they thought would make it better. Several players came back for multiple games in an attempt to defeat our oops-made-it-too-hard AI or to show their friends the game over online multiplayer.

Of course, there were players for whom it didn’t click, but that’s to be expected - City of the Shroud was always going to be a bit of a niche title, and we seem to be appealing to exactly the audience we’re targeting - those of us who like tactics games, action games, RPGs, JPRG-inspired music, and stylish graphics. It’s a great feeling to see something you’ve created resonate with so many people.

The highlight of the show, on a personal level, was seeing so many young players pick up the game and really get into it. While we figured that the graphics would appeal to younger players (I’m old now, sigh), I never considered what it would mean to have younger players trying out City of the Shroud, but pretty much anyone ~12 and up who tried it not only figured out how to play (yay!), but got way into it.

Our first fan!

Our first player ever, of course, happened to be a 4 year old girl who came over with her dad before the show started. We sat down to an online match, where she proceeded to not only figure out our still-imperfect UI, but to intelligently lay down Magnetic Mines because she thought they were hilarious. There was a lot of running going on in that battle - and she obviously won. It was also the cutest thing I’ve ever experienced, and she came back to play more at the end of the day. I still have a hard time processing how awesome that feeling is.

When it came to older kids, watching kids trash talk each other (in a nice way), play multiple games against the AI, and bring their friends over to play multiplayer was just awesome. One younger player said, “This game is better than League of Legends.” I think my heart burst in my chest a little. (Because you can control the entire team!)

We’re still a small company with a game that's just starting out, so the reaction from players was extremely heartening - there are people who like what we’ve made, what could be better than that?

We did learn some valuable lessons while we were showing the game, too. On Saturday, the venue’s Internet connection went down for several hours. City of the Shroud relies on an Internet connection for multiplayer and to start the game. We had assumed that the connection would be stable, but we were wrong - we also foolishly left the “Exit Game” button enabled.

This meant that as soon as players clicked that button, which inevitably happens, we can’t get back into the game because it checks for a connection at boot-up. In a fit of desperation/ingenuity (you know the quote), we rigged up a temporary solution using my laptop, an iPhone, and some emergency software downloads to enable the game to log in before disconnecting it. Then we just made sure to beg players not to exit the game, and we were (mostly) back in business.

So next time: no exit button, a complete offline version of the game, and all potentially necessary drives ready to go on a USB stick. Always be prepared. Now we know.

panel.jpg

I also had the opportunity to sit on a panel put on by Aardvark Swift with some of the other awesome indie folks at the show. Our audience, it turned out, was comprised mostly of middle school aged students, and to our astonishment, everyone seemed to be paying close attention. We had really good questions from the students (one was about dealing with harsh criticism for a personal work!), and their parents/teachers had a hard time getting them to leave the panel as we ran a bit over their schedule. Worth it!

Making games can sometimes be a bit of a lonely process, especially when working remotely. Anyone playing your game is probably far away, off in the wilds of the Internet, and it’s hard to know if they’re even out there to begin with. To get such a positive response from so many people is a precious gift, and is a huge morale boost.

To me, that is worth the struggle for attention and the incredibly high stakes of developing our own title. It’s harder to get attention, but any you do get is genuine - the value of which I’ve touched on before. Having to many players play our game and like it is an awesome feeling, and I can happily call our time at PlayExpo a resounding success.

Questions? Comments? Give us a shout on the forums!