Friday, September 23, 2011

A Valley Without Wind: Locales And Enemies

As you journey through your own unique world of Environ, you'll primarily be splitting your time between exterior landscapes, building interiors, and underground caverns.  Not only that, but you'll be traversing shards of nine different time periods, ranging from the prehistoric, to medieval, to modern, to far-future.  Each has a very different feel, often different enemies, and often unique rewards.

While the game is in beta, of course, the all of the full content from all these areas of the game is not remotely yet in place.  However, that said:
  • You can visit all nine of the time periods already.
  • There are at least four different character models for NPCs in each of the seven human-inhabited time periods.
  • There are already a number of unique bits specific to each time period's shards.
Enough enumeration -- a lot of the fun of a game like this comes from simply exploring it and seeing what cool things you can find.  So we won't provide an exhaustive spoiler-laden list here, or attempt to show everything.  Suffice it to say, we've had some alpha testers that put more than two dozen hours into the game, and they didn't even see everything that the game contained at that stage of alpha.  Right from the start of beta, this is a respectably varied world, and it's only going to get more vast as beta continues.

Here's a few specific snapshots to give you an idea of what you might encounter on your journey.  All of these are full-resolution (no downscaling, no JPEG or video compression, etc), just cropped down to make them fit in to 600px wide:

Fighting A Blue Amoeba In An Underground Cavern
As you gain civ levels, you'll actually start running into the even-more-deadly red amoebas, so watch out!  This is also a relatively close-to-the-surface underground dungeon; as you delve further underground, the number of wooden platforms decreases, the monsters become tougher, and eventually you'll find yourself in a heated lava climate. 

Charging A Rhino
The grasslands surface areas (and sometimes interiors!) commonly have rhinos running about them.  Rhinos move pretty fast, and stop for nothing short of a brick wall.  This character is casting the Forest Rage spell at the rhino, but unfortunately it looks like not only did she miss, but the rhino is closing in.

Creeping Death Inside Pyramid
This character is casting the creeping death spell on some desert burrowers inside a pyramid hallway.  Creeping death is a particularly nasty entropy-based spell (there are six colors/elements in all), and is one of the few that presently can harm your allies or NPCs.  The doors you see behind the spell lead further into the pyramid (she's about halfway up at the moment), into massive maze-rooms filled with enemies.

Decrepit Modern Building
This is a building from the modern time period, and the character is casting Ice Cross to the far side of the image, which is what is providing the paltry light here.  The Emit Light spell would be a far more effective choice, but as it stands this old building looks more like something out of a horror movie.  Buildings don't yet have furniture in them -- that's one of the things coming throughout beta -- but the walls, floorplans, and room designs are heavily varied already.

Desert Hut
Thus far, all of the images have depicted characters who were actually from the time period of the region shards they were journeying in.  However, this is a character from the medieval time period (which you won't be finding until much later in the game), and he's traversing a bronze age desert exterior.  This is perfectly normal -- you'll start out with only futuristic ice age characters to choose from, complete with sci-fi snowsuits, and as you journey you'll eventually unlock characters from all the time periods as playable options.

Destroyed Room
This is an example of a destroyed room in a modern building.  There is never, ever, anything interesting in these; and they are marked with a bomb symbol on their doors so that you can see to ignore them.  Why have bombed-out rooms?  Because players -- including us -- hate doors that your all-powerful magical character mysteriously can't open.  It's like the chain-link fence kryptonite joke.  At any rate, in the wake of the cataclysm, buildings are in varying states of destruction -- some are all but impassible, others are pristine.  You can go into any room in any of the buildings, but the bombed-out ones are items you can easily (and happily) mark off your exploration list.  The spell shown is Douse Monster Nest, by the way.

Settlement Management (Citybuilding) Interface
This is one of two screenshots that we're actually not going to crop down, so you'll have to click through to see the entire screen resolution on this one.  This is where you can create homes and jobs for your NPCs, assign them places to live and work, and provide them with amenities like wells, grave plots, upgraded homes, and so on.

Avoiding Death With Auto-Applied Potions
This character is exploring next to a pyramid in a region far above his civ level of 6.  As such, the lightning esper bolt that you see piercing him has brought his health to zero -- but since he was carrying healing items with him, one of them was auto-applied to save him from death.  The recharge time when a healing item is auto-applied is extra long, though, so he won't be able to heal himself again (automatically or otherwise) for another 20 seconds.  If the esper (or another monster) lands another killing blow within that span of time, the character will be permanently dead and the player will have to choose another to continue with.  Those spear-skulls the character is jumping over are monster spawners, incidentally.

Terrence Crow's Grave
What's the name of that character above? ...Oh.  Looks like the espers did him in, after all.  Each settlement starts out with 100 grave plots forming a graveyard.  Every time your current character dies, or an NPC associated with that settlement dies, one of the grave plots will get filled with their actual grave.  It also depresses the local NPCs for ten macro-game turns, making them less effective.  If you play for long enough, you'll have to put down more grave plots to prevent your graves from spilling out into the rest of your settlement where you don't want them.

Forest Battle With Bats
This character is from the pre-industrial time period, and she's using the Circle of Fire spell to strike back at some bats that are following her through a daytime forest.  Circle of Fire is great to use against bats because often they'll swarm around you, and one use of this spell can hit a lot of targets if you're careful about it.  It's also hitting the background trees and stumps and such; ice cross and fire touch also do this, as does energy pulse, but most offensive spells don't impact the background.

Launch Meteor
Personally, this is one of my favorite spells at the moment.  Launch Rock is a spell that you can craft right from the start of the game, and it's pretty neat -- it does pretty much what it says on the tin.  Launch Meteor is a spellgem recipe that you have to unlock through profession books, and it uses magma -- one of those rare commodities that you have to climb a boss-ridden tower to find a single unit of.  Magma will ultimately be useful for more than just the launch meteor spell, but it will have to be something pretty cool to keep me from using it over launch meteor, which crashes through multiple enemies in a wicked, flaming arc.

Moon Rising
Even Environ's moon didn't escape the carnage of the cataclysm, as you can see.  Every 10 minutes of game time is a day/night cycle, although you can accelerate to morning or evening using the Sunrise and Nightfall spells (if you can get your hands on some of the rare sunstone or moonstone, that is).  At present the day/night cycle doesn't have an impact on gameplay, but during beta we'll be introducing spells and enemies that are affected by the time of day.  Also please note that the global passage of time is counted in macro-game turns, which are considered more equivalent to weeks and which you can advance via the strategy or settlement-management screens.

The World Map
Here's a small slice of the world map.  This is how you get between the various regions.  As you can see, the cataclysm has thrown the time-shards together in a somewhat haphazard fashion.  You can tell roughly how difficult a given region is going to be based on the region level it has -- if the region level is higher than your current civilization level, then be careful there!  Of course, some region types -- the ocean, the lava flats, and the deep spring to mind -- are always exceptionally dangerous. 

Strategic Map
And now we've come to the second of the two full screenshots that I'm not going to crop down -- you'll want to click this to see it at full resolution, for sure.  This is the strategic map, which lets you order your NPCs around to do things outside of the settlement in which they live.  At the moment it's pretty much three things that they can do: they can scout regions for you (removing that crosshatch fog that you see below on many of the regions); they can build wind shelters (and the attendant roads) for you; and they can invite new NPCs to join their settlement (you have to have located the target NPCs first on your own).  This is a part of the game that is still in relatively early stages, like the citybuilding sections, but it's a part of the game that we're very excited about.  These :macro-game: bits are turn-based, like a very light 4X strategy game.

Wind Shelter
Here's a wind shelter -- this is one that I constructed directly, by hand.  You don't have to use NPCs to do this, but it is often faster to do so.  Until this wind shelter went up, this region and all the regions near it were covered by a terrible snowstorm.  Any regions too far away from a wind shelter, settlement, or road are covered in fierce windstorms that buff all the monsters and reduce your visibility.  This wind is part of where the name of the game comes from ("a valley without wind" would represent a safe place to the people faced with these winds), and it also has a mysterious connection to the cataclysm.  You'll be able to learn more about these and other mysteries through talking to NPCs and collecting memory crystals on your journey.

The type of weather the windstorms manifest as, as you might guess, is based on the climate of the region in question.  In temperate climates it tends to be rain more often than not.  In the desert it's sandstorms.  In the lava flats it's a firestorm (lots of blowing ash, etc).  And so on.

Ocean Cavern
If you have enough healing potions, you can actually go exploring in the acid oceans that dot the planet.  It's a slow and dangerous road, but there are even completely submerged caverns such as this one.  In future beta updates there will be fish and whales (instead of just amoebas), and you'll be able to transmogrify yourself into a fish as well for faster, safer travel.  Did we mention that you can already transmogrify yourself into a bat?  Yeah, that's another favorite of mine.

Sapphire Gem Vein In Ice Cavern
The undergrounds vary by the region they are in, of course.  Here in the ice age, even the underground caverns are so cold that you'll freeze to death in under a minute if you don't bring along a heavy snowsuit.  Here you can see a couple of Icicle Leaper enemies guarding a sapphire vein -- split that open, and you'll get not only a sapphire raw gem, but also two units of sapphire dust.  Gems and dust are the backbone of almost all crafting (everything except the Outfitter goods use them). 

Robo Brawl Here you can see my neutral skelebot character (left) fighting some other skelebots in a futuristic junkyard's surface tunnel.  That's a quartz outcrop I'm after, behind them.  You might notice that my character here is also named Terrence Crow (as was a woman from the medieval period in the underwater cavern).  This isn't normally something you'd see in a game, it's just a function of how I was transforming my character to move quickly around the world and take these screenshots.  There are tens of thousands of first and last names included in the game, and millions of possible character names -- the likelihood of your ever seeing two characters with the same name for as long as you play is pretty low.  And unlike with AI War, these are all real names that you can pronounce (well, except some of the monster names, but those are still way more prounounce-able despite not being real names).

Giant Skelebot
While we're on the subject of skelebots, here's one of the minibosses from the game: the giant skelebot.  He hits you with his spear if you get too close, and he shoots fireballs at you when you're further away.  The giant skelebots, believe it or not, are actually by far the tamest of the minibosses in the game.  When you hit level 12 and start seeing the crippled dragons, whose fire breath actively chases you around the room... yeah, the giant skelebot is nothing compared to that.  

But he's still killed me quite a plenty times; and depending on the boss room layout and what regular enemies are spawning to help out, even a weaker miniboss type can give you quite a fight.  This is a case where we're starting to see some combinatorial emergence in the same fashion that we see with AI War battlefields, and that's something that was really a surprise to me personally to find.  The AI itself isn't emergent here, not like AI War's swarm intelligence, but the way that the environment and various enemy types combine to make emergent challenges is very much in the same style as AI War.

The very last locale I'll leave you with is the my favorite grasslands windmill, with rolling clouds behind it.  In-game, all those clouds are dynamically animated in realtime on your GPU thanks to Unisky (on modern GPUs -- older or underpowered GPUs can use a much-lighter static skies option that still has the day/night transitions, etc).  That's a lightning esper waiting down below, peacefully gliding along until you come within range -- and then zap.  Bring a weapon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh the tease!
It's been a long time since I've looked forward to a Monday