Monday, June 23, 2014

This blog has moved!

ArcenGames.com has been overhauled, and as part of that we've pulled both of our blogs (our News blog and our Games By Design blog) into the main site itself.

Please update your bookmarks, or your RSS feeds (although RSS subscribers from Games By Design should already find themselves repointed thanks to feedburner).

The new blog itself is on the main ArcenGames.com website, and combines the content from both prior blogs.  The RSS feeds are a bit better set up now, too:

If you want to get absolutely EVERYTHING (the equivalent of previously subscribing to both blogs), then here's your link for that RSS: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ArcenGames.  That's a new url, so if you want that you'll need to subscribe to it fresh.

If you want just the main newsworthy stuff, not all the smaller product updates and minor sales and such, then the following is the RSS for you: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ArcenGamesNewsworthy.

Note that all previous subscribers to the Games By Design blog automatically are now getting the equivalent of the http://feeds.feedburner.com/ArcenGamesNewsworthy feed, but under the name http://feeds.feedburner.com/ChristopherMPark-Blog, since that's what that particular RSS feed has been called since 2007.  You can either switch to the ArcenGamesNewsworthy feed or stay on ChristopherMPark-Blog, they are both the same and will both remain live.

Also, another cool feature!  If you want to subscribe to a particular category -- any category you see on our site -- you can now do so.  For instance:

- For this category: http://arcengames.com/category/aiwar/
-- There is this feed: http://arcengames.com/category/aiwar/feed/

- And this category: http://arcengames.com/category/gamedesign/
-- Has this feed: http://arcengames.com/category/gamedesign/feed/

And so on.  Pretty handy!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Summer 2014

The next chapter in The Last Federation's saga.  If you're familiar with the expansion model for AI War: Fleet Command, you know the general idea here, although we also have some cool new tricks up our sleeve this time around.

Free updates to the base game have been thick on the ground since TLF's release a month ago, and we're going to continue with updates to the base game for a long time to come (not always at the breakneck pace we've had so far, but that's been true of AI War over the last 5 years, too).  As with AI War's expansion, TLF's expansions will always be completely optional and just for the fans who want more of what they already love in an expanded universe.  We never charge for bugfixes, balance updates, usability improvements, or so on -- that would be ludicrous.

Anyway, we're really excited about both where the base game is heading on its own, and about what this new expansion will bring to the table on top of that.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

TLF Q&A: If Empires "Rise And Fall," Can You Describe How That Happens?

From the creators of AI War: Fleet Command comes an all-new grand strategy title with turn-based tactical combat, set in a deep simulation of an entire solar system and its billions of inhabitants. You are the last of a murdered race, determined to unify or destroy the 8 others.  But you must work from the shadows, using superior technology -- bring your cape and cowl. 
The Last Federation is now available on SteamGOG.comHumble Store, and GamersGate!  Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game

Awesome question from Uncle Ruckus on the Steam forums for the game.

First Question: Can only 5 races exist at a time?

No, all 8 races are in every game.  However, only 5 races can be involved in a single combat (with you in it) at once.  All 8 could be involved in a wider conflict at a planet, however.  Sorry for any confusion there with the marketing copy.

Second Question: It said watch nations fall and rise. So new nations can rise up?  Could you describe how one could comeback?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "fall." It works in either sense, so I'll describe both:

A. If by a race "falling," we mean that they get kicked to the _edge_ of oblivion and look likely to crumble, then there are a whole lot of things you can do to help them rebound. Or sometimes they will do it on their own.

One example from simply Observer mode was given to me by a player who saw something cool happen. I think it was the Acutians who had taken over 7 planets and were slamming on the last planet. I'm not sure which race it was who was the one holdout. In that particular case, the race was on the verge of extinction, but then they researched one of the Ultimate technologies (either God Mote or Time Travel), and started making a strong comeback.

So you could call that rising and falling.

B. If by a race "falling" you mean losing all their planets and being marked as "dead" on the solar map, then that also works. Specifically, there can be minority populations of races on various planets (hostile or neutral or friendly). These minorities might be labeled as Expatriates, Refugees, Prisoners Of War, or even Resistance fighters. You might also have one or more pirate bases that belong to a race that died.

I should note that these things will NOT appear fresh off of races that have died. Aka, if there were no pirate bases of that race prior to the race dying, that's just it. And same for the minority populations. A race doesn't just come back from nothing. And it's also possible that a minority population will die in captivity (POWs) or in fighting (Resistance Fighters) or suffer from a birth rate lower than a death rate (Expatriates or Refugees). In any of those cases, or in the case that their pirate base gets destroyed by another race or you yourself, that race may be completely obliterated beyond all traces even after their governments and larger populations are all gone.

By "rising" from one of these situations where there are pirate bases or other minority classes, what that means is that the race recaptures a planet after holding no planets. That always comes about via Resistance Fighters taking over a planet, and that's typically only feasible for a short window while the invader race has not yet really mastered the new world.

How does this happen?
1. It may (unlikely, though) happen on its own, via Resistance Fighters that simply escaped the main fighting.
2. It may happen as a result of you breaking the POWs out of prison.
3. It may happen as a result of you smuggling the pirates from their base onto the planet to become resistance fighters.
4. It may happen as a result of either the oppressed minority population rebelling on its own and turning into resistance fighters (somewhat unlikely), or you stirring them up directly.


C. Oh, I'll go on and add one more case, relating to "rising" in a different sense. There are something like half a dozen kinds of alliances that can happen between multiple governments, and these are hostile to the federation. The Solar Axis Pact, the Union of Independent States, The Betrayed, Smuggler Empires, etc. If those things happen, that's kind of a super-government that rises above the governments that are comprising it. In the same sense that your own federation is a super-government above its races.

When the conditions are met that cause these other alliances to form (they are not random, it's specific criteria), then that's one way of saying a nation is "rising." Or a coalition, if you prefer. It's kind of like NATO or Anti-NATO, depending on your political views. I am fine with it either way you want to look at it, I'm not trying to make a political statement. ;)

Anyway, in order for your federation to survive, all those competing alliances must be stamped out. That could be in the form simply killing them all, or in causing them to be dissolved via other criteria (usually having only one member remaining alive). That could then be looked on as one form of a (super)nation falling.

So, there's a variety of interpretations there, but I think they're all interesting. :)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TLF Video - Lead Dev Chris Repeatedly Gets Smashed By Hard Mode

From the creators of AI War: Fleet Command comes an all-new grand strategy title with turn-based tactical combat, set in a deep simulation of an entire solar system and its billions of inhabitants. You are the last of a murdered race, determined to unify or destroy the 8 others.  But you must work from the shadows, using superior technology -- bring your cape and cowl. 
Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.  Arriving tomorrow, April 18th!


Okay, more than a little hubris in this video.  "Hey, I'll do a video to show people how to play!"  "Why don't I put it on hard strategic mode, and why don't I play on 'Upper Normal' combat difficulty when usually I play on 'Lower Difficulty?'"  That all seems like a smart idea!

So, you get to see me die five or six times, and ultimately it ends in a failure.  I could have pressed on, and probably could have done a decent enough job with that campaign if given time (and generous "save scumming," so to speak -- I wasn't playing on ironman mode, thank goodness!

But the video was already going on long enough, and seeing me floundering around for another few tries attempting to save the Peltians from the Acutians would have to wait for another day.  The video is still pretty instructive, though, because actually it's a good look at how to evaluate a moderately bad situation and try to salvage it.  Hence my uploading it rather than just re-recording it.  I will do another video of myself playing on a more reasonable (for me) difficulty level, though.

Enjoy!




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Launch Trailer #2 For TLF!

From the creators of AI War: Fleet Command comes an all-new grand strategy title with turn-based tactical combat, set in a deep simulation of an entire solar system and its billions of inhabitants. You are the last of a murdered race, determined to unify or destroy the 8 others.  But you must work from the shadows, using superior technology -- bring your cape and cowl. 
Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.
It's funny how divided opinions can be, isn't it?  With our last trailer that I posted yesterday, I got a lot of "looks awesome!" to "pretty good" to "this is the worst trailer you guys have ever done" (which was later amended to "second worst," at least).

Realizing that not all trailer styles are going to appeal to all people, I've renamed the prior trailer to be the "Grognard Trailer," as that's the target audience it is aimed squarely at.  And then now we have this shorter, more general-purpose trailer to go alongside it.

Enjoy!




Grognard Trailer for TLF! And Ruminations On The Throughline From All Our Past Games.

From the creators of AI War: Fleet Command comes an all-new grand strategy title with turn-based tactical combat, set in a deep simulation of an entire solar system and its billions of inhabitants. You are the last of a murdered race, determined to unify or destroy the 8 others.  But you must work from the shadows, using superior technology -- bring your cape and cowl. 

Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.
The Last Federation really is a milestone for me as a designer.  This isn't something that I designed all by myself by any stretch.  Josh Knapp was instrumental, and Keith LaMothe also helped enormously along the way.  And of course there's been tons of feedback from our many, many alpha testers (up to 160 as of tonight), all of which helps to shape the game.  With a game the scope of TLF, it really does "take a village," to use the cliche, and it's not any one person's sole accomplishment.

That caveat out of the way, for me personally this game really does bring together pretty much everything I've been trying to do as a game designer since I started working on "Alden Ridge" in 2008 (which later became the 2013 release Shattered Haven).  How's that, exactly?  Well:

1. With Shattered Haven, I really wanted to create a sense of story and atmosphere and place.  I wanted there to be some emotional connection to what was going on.  That game was by far our most successful at emotional storytelling (particularly if you play all the way through the game), but TLF also gets at that same sort of itch for me.  There's a lot of personality to the various races and characters here (a lot of that written by Erik Johnson, and a lot by me), and that really gives me the sense of living characters more than any titles of ours beyond Shattered Haven and Tidalis.

2. With AI War, I've remarked in the past that originally that started out as a turn-based game in space.  Kind of like what TLF morphed into, actually, except that I couldn't figure out how to make it work back in 2009.  So AI War became realtime, and for the sake of that game, I'm glad it did.  But there were a lot of ideas that I tried and then shed with AI War, including the concept of true "squadrons" of ships, of mobile flagships that deployed said squadrons, and so on.  TLF, interestingly, picks up pretty much all of those ideas, plus a ton more, and (in my opinion) executes on them really well.

AI War and TLF are kind of two sides of a coin to me; they each do things that the other does not, and in fact TLF does a lot of the things that the AI War engine specifically cannot handle because of the nature of its design.  As an example, having politics and multiple true factions just doesn't work in AI War, but it's a cornerstone of TLF.  For another, having more realistic physics for the ships and shots just doesn't work with a game with the insane unit counts that AI War has.  TLF has more modest unit counts during each battle, although they are still very sizeable.

3. Tidalis wasn't a game I was lead designer on (that was my friend Lars Bull), so I don't count that one here.

4. A Valley Without Wind originally was something where I wanted to create a procedurally-generated world where you could be kind of a Link-like (from The Legend of Zelda) character running around and doing things.  I wanted to have procedural stories develop, and really get a sense of meaningful places out of procedural code.  AI War accomplished the latter already, so I thought I could do that.

We succeeded in a lot of things with Valley 1, but the procedural storytelling was not one of them.  But with TLF, that is something that I really get the sense of very strongly.  And with added quests in TLF -- another mechanic I wanted in Valley 1, but never could get to work a way I was happy with -- the game goes even further in that direction.

5. Also with Valley 1, it was essentially a SHMUP mixed with a sidescrolling platformer.  TLF went through a phase where its combat was pure SHMUP (its combat went through phases where it was a lot of things, to be frank), but even though that is no longer the case, the influences carry forward into the turn-based combat that did result.in TLF.  Each combat iteration that TLF went through actually left a permanent mark on the game, and I don't think we would have the current (awesome) combat model had we not gone through all the intervening steps.

Anyhow, by having some SHMUP-like elements in a turn-based combat model, TLF finally achieves another thing that I tried for years to do with AI War, but never could: create proper "terrain" in outer space.  Having to navigate through the shifting mazes of bullets in TLF is endlessly entertaining for me, and really has a lot of tactical though to it what with having to manage your power levels, choose whether or not to use special abilities on a given turn, and decide whether to get into ideal firing position or ideal don't-hurt-me position.

I tried a whole ton of things with AI War in an attempt to create that sort of feeling, and in TLF I found that feeling completely by accident!  Who knew that making a turn-based tactical SHMUP would be the answer to that problem.  It would not have occurred to me, but that sort of revelation is one of the many things I love about iterative design: you arrive somewhere awesome that you wanted to get to, but didn't know the precise address of to begin with.

6. Valley 2 was really a refinement of Valley 1 in a lot of respects, although it did switch away from being a SHMUP to instead being a Contra-like.  But a big (and perhaps overlooked) thing that we really experimented with in that game was a heavy blend of both procedural and hand-crafted content.  The result of that was something that I really loved, although it was something that I felt like we had only scratched the surface of.

With TLF, we take those concepts to an extreme.  There is procedural and emergent behavior all over the place -- ideas going all the way back to AI War and then carrying forward into most of our games -- but at the same time, all of the races have extremely distinct personalities that are hand-crafted, and we have a lot of hand-crafted actions, political deals, quests, and so on.  The mix is something that I feel is super compelling, and it's so incredibly flexible that I feel like we could spend another 5 years on TLF (as we have with AI War since its launch) and still not remotely run out of things to do.

7. Skyward Collapse was kind of a "solitaire" strategy game, if you will.  You play as yourself (kind of a god-figure), and oversee two bloody-minded factions, their gods, and so forth.  The control you have over them is pretty indirect, and basically the game is a matter of managing chaos and kind of trying to herd cats in an indirect fashion.  It's a really cool concept and really fun, but after one expansion and a bunch of free post-release support, I realized that basically there was nothing too exciting more to do with the concept.  Unlike AI War, this wasn't a game that had the legs to just be expanded and expanded and expanded.  It is what it is, and it's really cool, but it's not going to keep growing.

Anyway, the main point I was trying to make is that Skyward was all about indirect actions and controlling a strategy game basically by being a "bystander."  Unlike in AI War, you aren't a major participant, you are instead trying to "handle" the major participants, if that makes sense.  Well, with TLF, that is precisely what you are doing as well, except it's not as chaotic as in Skyward.  In Skyward there was a lot of humor value in having there be a ton of random chaos, and games are short enough in that that that's okay.

But with TLF, everything is based in some fashion on the underlying simulation, so when something happens, it isn't just completely out of the blue random -- which is what Skyward was.  So in TLF, that means that you get an awesome feedback loop, where you have to deal with what the simulation gives you (as in Skyward, or actually to some extent AI War as well), but then you also heavily alter the simulation through your own actions, thus really affecting what sort of things the simulation gives you in the future (to a degree that none of our other games remotely come close to).

8. Bionic Dues was about a lot of things, but two main things stand out to me in relation to TLF.  First of all, it was the first game where we really made a huge effort in the accessibility department, and where I think we succeeded.  Bionic also has a duality between a light strategic layer and then a quick-moving tactical layer.

TLF, of course, has an immensely heavy strategic layer, but then also has a quick-moving tactical layer.  I really like that combination, and they are very complementary.  The shift to turn-based combat for TLF was really perfect, because it made the tempo and thoughtfulness of the macro and micro levels match -- which was also the case with AI War and Bionic, but not the case with the Valley games (which caused friction with players who liked one style or the other).

At any rate, TLF also has been something that we've striven for accessibility with, and to make it something that could be exceedingly complex (ala SimCity) without being something that you can't hop into and do something with (again ala SimCity).  We started that sort of process with Bionic, and I think we were successful, although it is a far simpler game.  We carried what we learned there forward into TLF.  For that matter, that also goes for the art that Blue and Cath were doing -- so much of what was learned in Bionic was carried forward into TLF, even though TLF was a huge new challenge.

Anyway, long writeup, I know.  But when I say that The Last Federation is the culmination of what I've been trying to achieve in my career so far... well, the above is what I mean.  There have been many things that I've tried over the years, with varying degrees of success (though I am proud of every game we have ever made, even if the market and/or press didn't always love each one).  And I feel like TLF takes all the right lessons from all of those.

I really hope that this is going to be our new flagship title, so that we can take it on the same path that AI War has been on (and still is on) re: expansions and free updates.  I guess we'll find out soon enough!  Thanks for reading.



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New TLF Screenshots!

The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game.  Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.

Screenshots for you!  The launch of the game is less than two weeks away, so these are the launch screenshots -- these particular screens aren't going to be changing much in terms of how they look between now and then, although some others are still very much in the process of being polished.





















Enjoy!



Friday, April 4, 2014

Video - 0.818 Alpha Update - TLF Combat Refinements

The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game.  Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.


This update shows off the further-refined turn-based combat of the game, with better physics and balance, refined HUD elements, and more.

There's actually quite a bit that I had to gloss over, like weapons selection and target resistances and so forth, and I only showed a couple of mission types that both were delivery-style. And both on an abnormally high difficulty.

Still, it's a pretty good view of what things are like now. I wanted to show the pilot escape pods and the waypointing system, but didn't manage to fit that in, either. I'll have to do another video next week.
Enjoy!



Friday, March 28, 2014

Video - 0.813 Alpha Update - TLF Combat Becomes WeGo Turn-Based

The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game.  Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.

This update shows off the next evolution of our combat model for the last federation. The basic gist is that we took what we had, which was something of a twitch-based SHMUP, and we refined it into a thoughtful turn-based tactics model.

You'd be surprised how little we had to remove and add to make that transition -- or, at least, we were. This is something we were kind of naturally building towards as we've gone through our four major combat modes.

The SHMUP version of combat was really quite fun -- it just didn't fit with this game. Twitch action in one mode and deep contemplation in the other made it a bit schizophrenic. With the shift to turn-based combat here, it's grand strategy on the large scale, and tactics on the small scale, which is what we originally wanted anyhow.

But! Since the SHMUP version was so fun, we're going to split that off into its own game later this year, built up around those mechanics specifically. Essentially this game has split into two much more cohesive pieces. And boy... this turn-based combat is the most fun version we've had yet.
If you want to read about the behind the scenes of the combat iterations in the game, here's a cool article about it: Behind The Scenes: Iterative Combat Design In TLF.

Enjoy!



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Behind The Scenes: Iterative Combat Design In TLF

The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game.  Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.

One concern I've seen lobbed our way every so often at Arcen in general is that some folks don't like the idea that we "crowdsource" our design ideas.  Aka, that we listen to player feedback, really.  The common way this is phrased is that we should step up and "be the designers" properly, with a singular vision that we won't compromise for anyone.

That's... all well and good, I suppose.  If you have a singular vision for a game, go right ahead and do that.  And if it's perfect on your first try, that's amazing.

But the thing is, we're not "crowdsourcing" our design ideas at all.  We get feedback.  It's the same thing that authors of novels do when they show their rough drafts to their spouses, to their reading group, to their test readers.  They aren't trying to pander, they aren't trying to get other people to help write the book themselves, or anything like that.  They want more sources of data from which to consider their creations from alternate points of view.

To the specific matter at hand, the changes in TLF's combat system from the earliest RTS-like versions to the current system have all come squarely from me, in the end.  Players were enjoying the RTS-like stuff in alpha, sort of, and were giving lots of feedback on things that were annoying them or that needed to be refined to make it better.  There was a sense that "something is really missing here," but the feedback was all really in the vein of "how can we fill in the missing links with what is here."

 The old RTS-style combat model with ship deployments, from earliest alpha with player involvement and our first public video of the game.

I looked at all that feedback and felt something else.  Familiarity.  It was getting too similar to AI War, and to solve the problems we were having here, we'd have to move increasingly in the direction of AI War.  Which is all well and good -- I still love AI War -- but the battles here were supposed to be a lot shorter than that, and not always against an entrenched enemy, etc.

One player in particular, I believe it was Cyborg, had noted (to paraphrase from memory) "the combat has this really different feel from the main game, where you are a little guy doing things in a wider solar system; the combat is more about clashes of equal forces."

So I took a step back, and said.  "Okay, we're supposed to be 'Batman in space' here, so that's clearly a problem."  We were in territory that was familiar in a way that I didn't want to get into again (there's more we will do with AI War, but I don't want to try to do that in this game as well).  And any solutions I thought of with the combat as an RTS would make the individual battles take longer, be more complex in terms of controls and keybinds, and in general be way more divorced from the solar map sections.

Originally this game had 1v1 ship combat from a side view, and it was more of a minigame.  This was before we had any players testing it at all, it was just us.  We were excited about the ideas, but eventually we ran into problems I felt were intractable, so we had shifted to the RTS model.  I really loved what the RTS model had brought to the table... except I really wanted to get back to having just a single player ship.

 A very early prototype screen from when the game was still side-view 1v1 ship combat.  This is the first time we've ever actually shown screenshots from this version of the game at all!

So that's what we did!  And players had also noted that they wanted to see multi-sided battles, which has been something I've always loved, too.  That was one of those "why didn't I think of that?" sort of moments.  So we made that a big focus, too -- again it made the combat more like the solar map in terms of the overall feel of you being the little guy caught in larger scuffles.

We spent about a month working privately on this, without giving any new builds to our alpha players.  I wasn't happy with it enough yet to bother getting feedback, because they would just be telling me things I already knew.  If I didn't enjoy it yet, then nobody else would, either.  That's one of our mantras, is that somebody on the staff has to enjoy the game or else we're really doing it wrong.  Almost always, that person is me.  The exceptions are when I'm not the lead designer, which has only been on Tidalis (which I did quite enjoy) and the aborted Exodus of the Machine project.

Anyway, we got the multi-faction stuff working, the combat scenarios, the single-ship stuff, etc.  All of that was my design, it wasn't "crowdsourced" or even discussed with players.  Though Josh Knapp (former staff member) and I did discuss it quite a lot during the first week or so, and he was instrumental at that period.  But it evolved from there.

We got all that working... but still it just felt "off" to me.  It was doing everything that I wanted, but I found that without the need to order squadrons of ships around, there wasn't enough for me-the-player to do.  I was setting courses for my ship, and watching it auto-fire, and so forth.  It was... boring.  The overall tactics of the battle were there, and working perfectly, but the moment-to-moment stuff was dull as dull could be.

The solution quickly came to me, really -- based on our past work with things like the A Valley Without Wind games, it sprang readily to mind.  I needed a gun that I could point and shoot myself.  That sort of rotational shoot-anywhere gun from Valley 1 is just super fun.  So we put that in, and suddenly I was having a blast.  It took more balancing and tweaking, but after another week or so we finally released that version to our alpha testers (and let in a new batch of alpha testers) after a month of being incognito.

This is how the combat looked around that time.  We already had the special abilities in place, but note that there are only 5 of them, and none of them are equip-able weapons.

So this is the point when I created the hour-long gameplay footage video of the game, which showed off not only the new combat, but also showed off the solar map stuff for the first time.  Alpha players were by and large loving the new combat just as much as I was, and much happiness was had.

But.  There were still two issues, both of which were niggling at me personally, and also which some players picked up on and commented on. 

Firstly, the combat felt a bit shallow in the moment to moment bits.  The tactical aspects were still there, but since you could only have one gun at a time, your solution to any incoming ship was "shoot it a lot."  That is fun in a bubble-wrap-popping sort of way, but it's not something that is sustainably interesting.  And it cuts out some of the moment to moment tactics.  Yes you had 5 special abilities to pop off here and there, but your main gun was in general so effective (and had to be) that this was only of some real use.

The solution to that did come from a player, not from me, and it was another of those head-smacking "why the heck didn't I think of that?" moments.  Histidine pointed out that having only one gun, and not being able to switch guns, was limiting.  Durr.  In that short space of time, he was the only one to comment on it, and I didn't see it yet.  I'm sure I and the other alpha testers would have figured it out before too long, but he saw it immediately. 

So within two days I put together a new build that had a bunch more guns, rebalanced combat around specializations, and six overall "abilities" on your bar, although 3 of them were just guns that you could switch through (reducing the former trigger-style abilities from 5 slots to 3, in other words).  I put in a bunch of other things to differentiate the flagships from one another, and really beefed up the uniqueness of all the classes. 

This was over a weekend, and I was working alone, incognito, away from players and staff during that period.  I'm not saying that to brag -- great ideas come from all sorts of sources, and often those sources are not me.  But to someone who thinks that we're "crowdsourcing" our games, I feel like it's important that they actually understand what's going on.  This is how you want game developers to work.  You want them to listen to you, and you want them to then use their feedback to fuel their own vision, rather than just blindly following what you say, or sitting you down in a conference room to have a design-by-committee.

This is a screenshot I took 5 minutes ago, of combat with the new weapon-switching at the bottom and the various other enhancements.

So here we are.  The combat is really fun in the moment-to-moment bits, and it's also much more mentally-involving in terms of making sure you not only use the battlefield properly, but also use the right weapons for the right enemies.  You can adjust the play speed to whatever you want, so it doesn't have to be a twitch game if you need time to aim.  Me, I like it fast and twitchy, and play on a more moderate difficulty level to compensate.  Play as suits you.

This brings us to the second problem that I mentioned (a while back) above, and which is as-yet unresolved, but next on my to-do list: identity crisis for the game.  Is this a thoughtful 4X, or is this a SHMUP-like?  Valley 1 and 2 both struggled with this exact same identity crisis.  You could love one part and loathe the other, and that would make for a challenging time.  Personally I loved both in both, but limiting our audience to the intersection of two rather disparate genres would be... well, stupid.  That's a good way to go out of business. 

It was worrying me from the start, and players all immediately brought it up, too.  In all their cases except for one (Cyborg, as it turns out), they were loving both sides, but were worried others would not.  Cyborg tried to like the new combat, but just ultimately can't stand it.  And I understand that -- I loved the Total War titles, for instance, but I loathed their realtime parts.  So I just used auto-resolve and played it as a 4x and had a great time.  For everyone else who liked the realtime parts, they were free to play that, and that's great.

But it comes down to even more than that.  Much as I love the action-oriented combat here in TLF, sometimes I just want to get on with it.  That's another thing with Total War: by auto-resolving all the battles, I could just play one continuous, fluid strategy game.  I wasn't constantly interrupted by 5 or 10 minute battles where I would then have to go "now what was I doing again?" when I finished them.  If I clearly had the superior force for a battle, I also didn't just have to go through the motions, either, it's worth noting.

So that's currently my thing: making an alternate combat mode that is a little more involved than your traditional Total-War-style auto-resolve, but at the same time quick and fluid and cerebral-only.  In other words, keeping it a pure 4x if you use that instead of going into the action bits.  And you know what?  Much as I love the action bits, I plan on using that feature quite a bit myself.  Sometimes I just want to get on with things, as noted above.  And this way I can play the action-y combat exactly as much as I want, without ever having to weary of it.  Which is important.

The solar map portion of this game is a big, beautiful 4x simulation that is way more involved and interesting than anything Arcen has ever done before, in my opinion.  I would hate to exclude the very type of audience that most appreciates that simply because they hate SHMUPs.  And I also don't want every game I play to take me 12 hours because I'm in combat for half the time.  I want to play it the way I want to play it, when I want to play it, based on how I'm feeling at that moment.  That's what's coming.

And that's how we listen to our players.





Thursday, March 20, 2014

TLF - Ending Credits Music "Lay Down Your Arms"

The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game.  Check out its game page for details, or swing by the forums for the game.  This is Arcen's largest title ever, and we're really excited to share it with folks.

Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is currently in progress, and we will be adding more players throughout the coming weeks leading up to release.  If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post.

This quickie video for The Last Federation shows off the first half of Pablo Vega's latest vocal track, featuring Hunter Vega and Corinne Tabor.  Unlike vocal tracks for our recent games, this one is actually for the end credits of the game (if you win), as opposed to the title track.  Accompanying the music is some various in-game footage from various pre-release alpha versions ranging from 0.805 to 0.809.

Enjoy!