Wednesday, February 29, 2012

AVWW - Locales And Enemies Version 2

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.

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. We've already had players who have sunk dozens or even a hundred hours into the game, and they still haven't even seen everything that the game contains. A big part of that is because the game is always evolving through ongoing updates that add more content, new features, and more polish.

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 progress, 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.

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 really decrepit-looking 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 just have a few clocks knocked off the walls. 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.

Clockwork Probes
The industrial age in general follows a very steampunk style, and that's where these hail from.  Seen here in the rural grasslands, these probes will take a real beating before going down. And they hit back hard.

Meteor Shower
Some of the spells you can learn are completely devastating. Meteor Shower launches four meteors into the sky that come back down, crushing your enemies. Be mindful of the powerful spells, though -- they can be a severe drain on your mana.

Desert Battlefield
There are a lot of forces at work against you, and though you normally fight alone, there are times that you'll need some minions to help you. In this picture is a shot of the player taking part in a battle in the desert. The skelebots shown are actually minions of the player, helping to push back the enemies.

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).  Every ninety days, the season changes between Dewbloom, Solswell, Ashfall, and Frostmoon.  Solswell has the longest daylight hours, while Frostmoon has the shortest.

Modern Ruins
Here the player is standing in front of a Modern Ruins building, which can be found in abandoned towns. These buildings tend to have labyrinthine interiors with a lot of good stuff that you will need on your journey. But, with all the rooms, that means there are a lot of enemies to be found as well...

Ice Pirates
Ice pirates are actually classed as an "environmental threat," and don't start appearing until your second continent. The pirates are actually visible on the world map, and they will indiscriminately rain down destruction from above on any region in range of them.  Rumor has it that the guardian Ilari are working on a way to get you inside their massive ship so that you can put a stop to their terror...

The World Map
Here's a small slice of the world map, an overhead view that is how you get between the various regions. As you can see, the cataclysm has thrown the time-shards together in a haphazard fashion. The entire continent is roughly the same difficulty -- unless you delve into very deep caverns or approach the overlord or his lieutenants -- and that difficulty increases up as you complete missions. Eventually, you will have to face the overlord directly.  If you are victorious, then another oppressed continent will become available to you, with even more new things to discover.

Sapphire Gem Vein In Ice Cavern
 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.  A couple of Icicle Leaper enemies are guarding a sapphire vein -- split that open, and you'll get a pair of raw sapphire gems.  Gems of all six colors are very central crafting ingredients.

Giant Skelebot
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.

But 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. The way that the environment and various enemy types combine to make emergent challenges is quite interesting!

The Above Was Just A Taste!
There are tons of locales, enemies, crafting ingredients, missions, building types, and obstacles for you to discover in Environ.  To give away too much in advance would be doing you a disservice -- try out the demo, and if you like what you see, you can keep playing your demo world after you upgrade to the full version!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt

Like many others, I recently read the news that Terraria is no longer going to be actively developed

First, A Few Thoughts About Terraria (Full Disclosure: Which I Still Have Yet To Play)

1. It's sad news for the fans of the game, but ultimately they more than got their money's worth.  The game is complete in and of itself and well worth $10, and is worth having even if it could have grown more than it did (this is true of our game Tidalis as well, which is the only game of ours which has had development halted).  Having untapped potential left in a game concept largely just means that it was an awesome concept.

2. It's unfortunate that there won't be ongoing bugfix support, and that's something that I would handle differently (and in fact we do, for our game Tidalis).  Hopefully they will reconsider their position on that at least for bugs of substantial importance.  But either way it's none of my business, and they seem to have done right by their players so far, so I have faith they'll do whatever winds up being best.

3. Also unfortunate is the fact that more wasn't communicated in advance about their intentions with the game.  I'm sure that they themselves didn't know, but having a grace period where they said "we're ending support for this in 6 months, so let's get in the last things we can between now and then" might have done more to appease fans.  We didn't do that with Tidalis, for the record, but that's because Tidalis financially bombed.  Terraria made such excellent money that they shouldn't have had that concern.

4. I think that embarking on a new project, after so long spent on Terraria, is probably a healthy thing.  Having a break to work on Tidalis was an enormous help for reinvigorating us to work on AI War versions 4.0 and 5.0.  Maybe the same will be true for the Terraria devs.  Or maybe their next project is actually going to be the successor to Terraria.

5. My own strategy with AI War has been to release paid expansions periodically, which both earn us more money directly, as well as making the base game sales spike, earning us more money indirectly.  Both of those are how we pay the bills and keep the lights on, but that's but one of two paths.  The other path is the traditional sequel/succesor-game path, and it sounds like the Terraria devs are going that route.  It's not what I would do with my own games, purely for matters of personal taste, but it's an enormously valid choice to make.

TLDR: I don't think that the Terraria devs acted in bad faith with anybody, but a little more forewarning would have smoothed things over better with their fanbase.  Either way, they still seem like really standup folks to me.  And the reason I've not played their game yet is that I'm worried I'll get hooked and spend too much time doing that rather than coding my own games!

Now, How Our History With AI War Compares
The big thing that worries me about Terraria halting game development, as a game developer, is that this will create a perception that "you never know when developers will just randomly close up shop on a game."  Minecraft is still sort of being developed, but really slowly, and that was a game I played a lot of -- I remember when the update frequency suddenly plummeted, and it was jarring.  My worry is that players will be mistrustful of post-release support from indie developers for this reason.

For AI War, we have an incredibly lengthy history of post-release support spanning since May 2009 up until the present (and still going).  You may notice that there are two big gaps, though:

1. During the time we were developing Tidalis, AI War development really scaled back for about six months, and all but disappeared for two.

2. During the time we've been developing AVWW, AI War development scaled back even further, and daily releases became weekly, then monthly, and only recently have resumed being weekly again.

What's different about both of these cases from Terraria or Minecraft is that we gave at least three months of warning before these events happened.  There was lots of "hey guys, we're pushing out an enormous number of features here for 5.0 in preparation of taking a while off after 5.0/Light of the Spire releases, just so you know!"

The break turned out to be substantially longer than we had expected (5 quarters instead of 2-3), but sometimes that's how it goes.  And the game has still managed to grow and get better polished during that time... just at a much slower rate.

We've also made it clear that we plan at least two more expansions for AI War.  This is still true, despite the fact that we've had to push back the release dates because AVWW development has run over-long.  It's those sorts of expansions that really keep the game growing in leaps and bounds, and which make for one really large experience rather than a string of similarly-sized sequels.

That's why I like expansions instead of sequels, as a player and a developer: you get to keep all the content from the first game, as well as get all the new content from the second game.  If Left 4 Dead 2 had been a $50 expansion pack to the first game, with the same content it had plus the ability to keep the characters and maps from the first game if I had the first game also, that would have been awesome.  I still bought both games anyhow, and both were worth it, but it would be better if I could put them together rather than having them as two isolated experiences.  As it is, I pretty much only play L4D2 now, never L4D1.

How This All Relates To Our Plans For AVWW
Sometimes these things just need to be explicitly stated: again, otherwise you're leaving players wondering.  I keep talking about how we are approaching 1.0, and about various things that we'd "like to be able to do" after 1.0.  But what's really going to happen after 1.0?

Our plan is to take the AI War route, and release tons of free DLC as well to do at least a couple of paid expansions.  Hopefully in 2-3 years, we're still developing both AI War and AVWW -- that is the ideal scenario for me personally.

Really, the only way I could see that not coming to pass is if AVWW financially bombs like Tidalis did.  Tidalis was simply too niche, and I personally still have lost about $50,000.00 out of that entire endeavor of making that game.  I'm glad that we did make that game, and I think it's a great game, but we spent way too much money making it and it never made that money back.  Developing more content for that game would be simply a fool's errand for us at this point.

If we somehow have that happen with AVWW as well, then... well, a lot of my plans for post-1.0 work probably won't materialize.  But we'll give it three months at least, and pack in a lot of free DLC during that time, to make sure that we give it a fair shot at succeeding if it has any chance of doing so.

But all of that is really very negative speculation: signs are excellent that AVWW is going to be our biggest hit yet, and absolutely blow AI War out of the water in terms of the audience it reaches.  And if it does that, great -- we'll proceed as planned, and AVWW is going to go from massive to incredibly massive, same as AI War did between it's 1.0 and 5.0 versions (all of which were free upgrades, by the way, released alongside the paid expansions).

On the other end of the spectrum, what if AVWW goes viral and gets super incredibly popular?  AI War's income will seem paltry and sparse at that point, right?  And wouldn't it be better just to let that game quietly die and focus on the big moneymaker at that stage?

Well, no -- that's how a "suit" thinks, isn't it?  I'm not a suit.  If AVWW goes sky-high popular then that will certainly put more demands on our time because we'll have a lot more fans to please all of a sudden.  But that's not going to mean we're going to give up on AI War, or that we're going to do lesser expansions for that game because of it.  It just means we'll have to work harder to divide our time effectively between the two, which I believe is something that Keith and I are equipped to do (especially with Erik handling PR and Josh helping so much with QA and support).

The Bottom Line
For Arcen, communication is really a key part of how we do business.  Having an open development process has been a blessing and a curse -- early on with AVWW, a lot of people thought we were crazy, but now it's all coming together in a really positive way and there's this great public record of how the game has evolved.

As we move forward toward AVWW's 1.0 and beyond, that communication is going to be something we maintain.  We'll try to give you as accurate of updates as we can on the timing and plans for AI War's expansions, and for the free DLC and paid expansions for AVWW.

You won't ever wake up some day and hear "oh, by the way, the last-ever patch for AI War or AVWW was today."  You might someday hear "unless something changes to make this financially viable for us to continue, we've got three months left to work on patches for this or that game before we have to stop indefinitely with that title."

If there's anyone who was feeling doubtful in the wake of recent events, hopefully that helps to set some minds at ease.  With regard to Arcen titles, at least!

As typically happens, the discussion about this has continued on our forums.  Feel free to drop by to read or comment!

AVWW - Learning The Game, FAQ, and Wiki Updated

Environ is a hostile place, but the game itself endeavors to teach you everything you need to know as you get started.  However, if you wish to know more about how the game works before playing, or if you're the sort of person who simply prefers external manuals, then these are the links for you!

A Valley Without Wind Wiki: Learning The Game

Getting Started Guide

What Are All These Maps For?

Frequently Asked Questions

Multiplayer Co-Op: Differences From Solo Play, And Other Notes

We'll continue to update the wiki as our centralized resource for this sort of thing from now on, rather than having it spread throughout our blogs, the forums, the main website, and so on.  Big thanks to Josh Knapp for getting the vast majority of these updates in place!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Before And After Screenshots Of AVWW With The Recent Visual Improvements

Since the game has gone through so many graphical improvements in the last few weeks -- first GUI, then the skies, and now the HUD -- I thought I'd post some before and after screenshots.

Here's the first pair:

This one I managed to get pretty close between the two versions:  both in grasslands areas, although the top shot is actually grasslands with groves; and both even show the same spell in use and the sun in a similar position, and the same building on the screen.

Note how much more colorful and vibrant the skies are since we moved away from the old style of "dynamic and static" split skies and into one unified animated sky system.  Also note how crazy much better the HUD looks, if I do say so myself.  All in all these screens do a really good job of showing how much more cohesive the art style has become as we move toward 1.0.

Now the next (and last) pair of screens to show you:

These two versions of the main menu obviously aren't as close as the first screenshots were.  But since we already had a pair of shots of the grasslands above, I didn't just want to repeat that here. 

So now you see the desert -- and again, note how much more vibrant and personal the sky is compared to before.  All the skies before tended to look very similar, just with some color variations between areas.  Here the clouds and everything actually look different, and the animations are really different in each one.

Also of note is the awesome new GUI that Phil did fo the game a while back, and which finally made it into the game a month or so ago.  And then this also really shows off the difference between the older style Unity text and our newer sprite text, as well: we're able to do colors and borders with ease, and everything looks more polished and easier to read in the new fashion. 

Even the logo has been updated to look more stylized!

Anyway, we're hitting the home stretch now as we moved toward a version 1.0 hopefully hitting in March, and I wanted to do a post that showed off just how much has changed graphically about the game.