Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Valley Without Wind #13 - Beta Gameplay Footage Part One (Video)

It's been just about two months since we last did a video of AVWW, and we've been very busy! This is the first true "gameplay video" that we've ever done, where it's all one long un-cut stretch of in-game footage rather than a trailer with chopped-up clips.

This is also the first time we've ever included actual game sound effects in one of the videos, so you can hear all the work Pablo's been doing on that front.  There's still dozens more sound effects he's working on prior to beta, but it's really sounding great already.

This video really speaks for itself a lot more than any that we've done before, so this accompanying blog post is going to be comparably brief.  Or rather, a lot of my commentary is embedded in the video as voice-over, this time.  And a lot of the rest of it has been on video-less blog posts stretched over the last few weeks (with more to come).  Keith does have an accompanying blog post that he's going to make related to this video, I believe, but I don't think that will be until next week.

So, here's the video in question, anyhow:

There are a couple of things I'd like to note in particular that the video itself doesn't yet note:

We do have bosses in the game, and you can actually see me kill a couple of them.  Look for the skelebots that I have to fire lots of fireballs into, and which have little names above themselves (or really, a serial number in the case of skelebots) instead of just saying "Skelebot" above their health bar popup.

That said, I don't want to give the impression that the bosses in this game will just be regular monsters with buffed stats.  We will be doing that for what I guess I would call "micro bosses," so in that sense the video is a good representation of how those will work. 

Micro Bosses
These micro bosses have buffed stats and are actually more unique in their stats in general compared to their non-boss kin.  They may have custom behaviors at some point, but probably not before beta if at all.  So in terms of bosses, these are really kind of underwhelming, right?  They're what I'd been referring to as "named monsters," and they are minor and common.

Why have micro bosses?  Well, bosses of some flavor need to be a fairly common occurrence in A Valley Without Wind for two reasons:

1. When you defeat a boss, micro or otherwise, a teleport portal spawns in their chunk that lets you fast-travel to and from any other portals in that region, including one that then appears at the region entrance.  As you will see later in the video, this is hugely important to general game flow.

2. Normal smaller monsters (aka, anything that isn't a boss) don't give you experience points when you fight them.  The only way to get EXP, therefore, is by either helping NPCs out (the whole hopes/needs thing), doing other civilization-improving tasks  (wind shelters, etc), following other side quests (like the memory crystals), or by killing bosses of whatever stripe.

Anyhow, micro-bosses use the same general underlying framework that the traditional mini-bosses and full bosses will also use.  The larger flavors of boss will actually be larger, of course, and will also not be something you can mistake for a regular monster that is unusually tough.  We're really excited about what we have planned for them, and Phil is working on art for the first full boss at the moment. 

The wind shelter you see in the video (as well as all the new icons on the world map) are Phil's handiwork as well, by the way.  As are the crafting workbenches, which we showed in past screenshots.

Why No EXP From Small Monsters?
I think I wrote about this in a past blog post months ago, but this bears repeating.

Exploration and killing small monsters used to grant EXP, but we found that encouraged OCD-like behavior in terms of exploring every little nook and cranny and killing every enemy in sight.  This is the exact opposite of what we want to encourage: as with AI War, what we want players to do is look at a massive world, filter out what isn't important, and then go for what is valuable.

Some of the individual buildings have upwards of 1000 rooms in them, and we don't expect anyone to go through all of that (though, technically, you can).  Instead, it's all about using your maps and scouting intel (the details of which are still being worked out) to plot an efficient course through buildings that gets you what you want and then gets you back out in one piece.  A little bit of that is shown in the video, and that actually applies to underground caverns, too.

The other reason that EXP isn't granted from small monsters is that it's incredibly easy to farm small monsters.  So that's why monsters don't give drops, either.  The things that you find in the world are a non-renewable resource.  Bosses, loot pickups, all that stuff: once you find it and claim it, you can't come back later and find it there again.  The world overall is infinite, of course, so it's not like you ever run out of things to find -- but you can't just stay in one region, or in low-level regions, forever.

About That Self-Chosen Difficulty
In the video, you'll notice that I start out playing in a level 1 region, while I am also level 1.  When I fight those skelebots there, it's pretty much one-hit kills and pretty straightforward.  They hit me as well, and I believe I had to heal once or twice, but I'm generally quite good at the game and so it was no big thing; fun, but not really a challenge.

So the first thing I did when I went to the world map, after requisitioning some health and magic potions, was to go a little further afield and go into a level 2 region.  You'll notice how much more challenging that was: even the bats took multiple shots to kill.  I had to heal several times, though I had an abundance of healing potions so that wasn't too bad a thing.

Why did I get so many potions before heading out, though?  Well, to be honest, this was actually my "second take" of the video.  The first take that I did went... poorly.  I was being gutsy and went all the way up to a level 4 region in that one, while still being civ level 1 myself.  I was actually able to get in and get crystals and things, but I wasn't able to get out alive; after about my fourth character had died in 15 minutes of video, I decided to scrap that and try again with a more reasonable difficulty (meaning, just shifting to playing in a lower-level region for a while).

You'll also notice that I was mostly heading east on the world map, which is sort of the wimpy direction to go in.  If I was feeling masochistic, I'd have gone east, where the difficulty ramps up sharply after just a short ways.

Final Note: The Early Game Balance Is Not Yet Fully There
Just so you know.  We were rushing to get it so that we could show you this video, and we haven't done as much playtesting yet with the starting experience as we'd like.  Keith and I tend to start with a testing loadout of spells and abilities, and play from there when we're testing.  It's very quick for us for testing, and in that sense is really useful, but it means that the start of the game has not yet been brought up to the same level of balance as later parts of the game are.

What do I mean by that, specifically?  Well, I only have a couple of abilities --fireball and fire touch -- and some wooden platforms.  That part is fine for just starting out, but what isn't fine is how long it was taking me to get the crafting materials and research unlocks (profession books) to get anything more.  What you were seeing was more the later-game pacing, when you already have a lot of interesting abilities and tools and the focus is on using them rather than getting new ones ever two minutes.  The early game in a new world needs to get you more interesting stuff, faster, and by the time we hit beta that will be balanced properly.

Worlds Are "Lazy Loaded," Which Is Awesome For You
The game balance stuff is actually going to be a huge focus for myself and Keith this next week, and when we do the next video you'll see the fruits of that work reflected in the very same world that we've started showing you in this video.  As with AI War savegames, worlds in AVWW can be loaded in newer versions of the game, which makes upgrading (but not downgrading) a snap.

With AI War, of course, the entire galaxy has to be created as soon as you enter it, though -- so that means that there's only so much of newer seeding logic that can be seen in older savegames brought forward, etc.  With AVWW, the world is literally infinite and so that means that there's no way to pre-generate everything.

In fact, we do precisely the opposite, and wait until the absolute last possible moment to create chunks and dungeons and regions and such.  This is just good sense in general, but it also means that this game is incredibly upgrade-friendly. 

The parts of the world that I specifically ventured into in this video have already been created, and they are what they are -- when we add furniture and new room shapes, etc, those rooms I already went into won't get upgraded. 

However, for any unexplored room that is in a building I was already in, those will suddenly have furniture in newer versions of the gane.  And for any outdoor chunks that I haven't yet been into, when I go there they will have any other new features that show up there.  Any new bosses I find will start leaving fast-travel portals for me as soon as that feature exists in the game.  The new minibosses and full bosses will start appearing as appropriate even in old worlds once those are coded in, as will any other new regular enemies.

And so on.  This is part of the power of the world-creation engine that we've made here.  This game is designed from the ground up to be continuously upgraded, while still maintaining your worlds.  Making it so that you can create one world and play it forever if you want, getting any and all additions we make to the game seeded right into that world as you continue to explore.  We're pretty proud of how that's working out!

Until Next Time!
More details and another video coming before too long.  Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

It looks nice but I found two things in the presentation that bug me:

1. Things have a brighter outline than main body, that just seems odd and doesn't give them much volume and gives them a bit of a paper cutout feel. If it's necessary to highlight objects then maybe it should be limited to objects that are interactive or important, it seemed to be on every decoration object.

There don't seem to be any shadows on your main character at all which looks very odd, like there's no light source, just random highlighting (if you wonder about how to add dynamic shadows to sprites, I think you could use a normalmap generated from the 3D model and feed that into lighting calculations, should allow you to properly shade a sprite with dynamic light source positions).

2. Projectiles look like they're only particle trails, gives them a kind of non-solid feel. I think adding a big sprite at the current location of the fireball with the trail de-emphasized would make it clearer which bit of that particle shower is the dangerous part. The lightning particles shot by those white ball enemies also look pretty detached, a line trail through them might make that look more consistent.

I know you don't like complaints about the graphics but I think these are fairly minor tweaks. Appearance is pretty important, there are too many shallow gamers out there who look at a screenshot and go "ugly, next!".

Still, I'm looking forward to this game. The best parts of Terraria are when you explore an area without having to dig and this is finally a game that doesn't throw that boring digging stuff at you when all you want is to explore dangerous caverns and stuff.

mlaskus said...

The new characters and animations look great, the difference from last video is very noticeable and positive. I know you were tired of hearing about those, but it was definitely worth the effort.

I hadn't noticed this before but previous commenter is right about particle effects. They look good but it's not clear where is the harmful bit.

Will enemies always spawn so close to the player? It could be quite frustrating to have them constantly pop out of nowhere.

Also, bats look just as irritating as they did in the old perspective. :P

Any estimates on when will you start taking preorders? I would gladly pay for it already if only you'd let me. :)

Christopher M. Park said...

In terms of the bright outline, that's an artifact that sometimes pops in to some of the sprites as I post-process them. I have a quick Photoshop method for removing them when I find them, but most things don't have them. In a lot of cases, also, I think it works well visually. But where it doesn't I remove it (though I've not caught all cases; mushrooms underground in particular need it, I think).

In terms of the dynamic lighting on the characters, I don't plan on doing that anytime soon. It's a potential area for improvement sometime, but for now I'm happy with the (very weak and ambient) light source that is on the characters, and plan to leave it like that.

In terms of the projectiles, when there is actually a projectile we definitely have one and show it. In the case of most of these effects shown here, such as the fireball for instance, there isn't a literal projectile like a rock or anything -- rather, it's a big mass of fire. Others that are more about shooting a meteor or similar will actually show the meteor with then a trail.

Glad you like the animations, and the exploration bits. I agree about not wanting to have digging be a thing here. :)

In terms of enemy spawns, they come out of literal monster nests, so if you stand near a nest then they'll come out near you. But you can get a feel for the timing, and you can jump over the nest to avoid them, too. The nest graphics are placeholder at the moment, by the way, but you can see them all through the video.

In terms of preorders, we'll be taking those as soon as we have a beta and beta demo to share with you. Ideally, by the middle of September. We look actually on track to hit that estimate, finally. ;)

Anonymous said...

The fireball seems to have a definite collision shape, that part should be visible. A prominent trail like that is justified if the trail particles have a clear gameplay impact but just having them pop out of nowhere like that looks plain weird. I mean, it's a fire BALL. That ball is the dangerous part, right? That's why it should be visible. Keeping the trail more coherent (applying air drag or something to the particles) would also help to make it look less like a flaming icicle. After all the flames are supposed to be moving towards the enemy, not burst out of the background along a path.

Anonymous said...

Hm, is there any chance that dungeons will stop being trees design-wise? It looks pretty odd how rooms only ever branch out, never join up again.

Christopher M. Park said...

In terms of fireballs, I can't really argue semantics there -- this is what I've chosen to do, and I'm happy with it. There originally was a central ball of visible fire, but I didn't feel that played as well or looked as nice, so I took it out. Other spells will vary in their makeup, but that spell is definitely long since done.

In terms of the dungeons, good eye that these are trees. There are actually two things going on there to make them not fully trees, but that's not visually represented in the maps yet:

1. There are side passages (holes in the wall underground, ventilation ducts in most interiors) that let you get around in a non-tree fashion.

2. For some buildings, there's actually multiple entrances, too.

Beyond that I'm sure we'll do more things at some stage, but for now that's how we're setting up the layouts.

Anonymous said...

It's just... The effect reminds me of early Evolution RTS (Spring Engine mod) effects which just looked wrong.

Anyway, other than that I'd say you should make the acceleration and deceleration rates on the character movement match (currently you accelerate slowly but stop very quickly which again looks odd, kinda sticky) and it's good.

Christopher M. Park said...

Yeah, from comments elsewhere I'm going to increase the characters' acceleration rate when starting out (because it's annoying otherwise), and then add a slide effect when they stop.

Anonymous said...

I gotta agree that the start-stop needs work, and I'm happy you're listening to the feedback. :D

It's be awesome if the sliding stop, after reaching near max or max speed was accompanied by a matching animation, though.

I know your manpower is very limited, but people are going to stare at their characters for hours. Making them as snazzy as time constraints permit is probably a worthy goal. (That can probably be put off until after release, but it'd be nifty.)

Look at an old game like Castlevania SotN as example. The monster animations (bosses excluded) are extremely simplistic, but the main character's animations are rather impressively detailed. That makes things decidedly more pleasant when you spend hours with him at the center of your screen.

On another note: Did Terraria play any role in the decision to change perspectives? Part of that underground, and the wooden platforms, do sorta remind me of that a lot. :o

Christopher M. Park said...

The start/stop work is already done, and will be ready for the next video. Haven't done a slide animation as part of the stopping yet, but will at some point most likely. Probably in beta or after.

One of the things about older games (or even newer ones, for that matter) with regard to sprite animations on the main character is that they typically only have one or two main characters. So they CAN lushly animate them because it's just one character and hey why not. In our case, we've got so many distinct characters -- any NPC can be a player character -- that this means we've got to put in vastly more artwork to make that sort of thing happen. That's the main reason why the difference here, anyhow.

Terraria wasn't really a factor with the initial idea to switch to side view, because I didn't know Terraria existed when I originally floated the idea with Keith back in December. He promptly brought up Terraria in response, though. Much later, when we came back to that impulse to move to side view, seeing the fact that people were okay with that perspective in Terraria certainly didn't hurt matters. Keith played it and really liked it, but I still haven't had time to play it yet. The wood platforms were an idea that came about independently, but it's kind of an obvious idea so I guess that's not surprising. ;)

Tankor Smash said...

Christopher, this is looking better and better. Animations look a lot more natural.

You and your team are doing great things here.