Ash of Gods is а multi-genre project that features most of the typical elements of a visual novel, tactical turn-based role-playing game and card strategy. This is a story intending to show all the complexity and ambiguity of moral choice. Good people often become rascals while inhumans behave more human-like than humans. This is the story of “angels” who after being given free will turned the life of humans into hell in the absence of a god. This is a novel that shows you that no conflict has a right or a wrong side because even your enemies have mothers and children.
We can characterize the past month as a month of difficult UI solutions. We began preparations for our Kickstarter campaign, worked very hard on different UX scenarios, made a flop of our first bash at the multiplayer option, and developed the first draft of the AI, a lot of story tools and other things related to the animation, FX and cinematics. Also, we finished the first draft of the balancing of one of the key mechanics of the game, namely the world map.
The Dialog UI
I think Julia Zhokhova (aka LeksoTiger) is quietly cursing me because she’s drawn a thousand UI options over the past month and a half. At the moment she’s hard at work on the combat interface, after which she’ll take on the main menu and worldmap. I’m planning to finish every single interface by the end of April.
This is the dialog window for displaying almost every in-game event. I’m not sure this is the final result, but it’s a good start.
In our Facebook and Vk pages we got cool advice—to use different umbilicals (the rounded handles of the scroll’s rod) depending on the type of event or active protagonist. It is a neat idea, and we’re totally doing it.
We began to make the skills trees for characters, together with the balance. The current vision means that the characters don’t have a free upgrade system, but stats, perks, skills or their upgrades are improved from the skills tree.
This is Krieger, a swordsman. I’ll use his example to explain how I see the different “builds” of this class working. Here we see a lot of health, low energy and a relatively weak attack, he can strike hard, there’s a counterattack, and ordinary attacks bring a small permanent increase in attack value.
This class has two styles:
The World Map and Difficulty Level
Since the world map is a core-loop mechanic, a player will spend several hours using it. Time is a valuable thing for our story, therefore the map will help you to make timely decisions due to the fact you will see the Frisian army on the march on the world map, as well as roads and passages that have already been blocked.
You’ll also be able to understand what kind of terrain surrounds you and which path to choose—whether to go on the open path, expecting to meet a merchant and buy something useful from him (or to kill him and take it all by force), or to choose a mountain road where no one usually walks, and untangle one of the mysteries of Terminus.
During some of the quests, you can find clues about any interesting items or events that may occur. But to understand exactly where and how to get to them is one of the tasks the player has to solve.
A couple of people have asked me about the game’s difficulty and if there’s a mode for people ‘who’d like to follow the story only’. The truth is I don’t think such a mode would be possible for our game. Let me explain. We have 10 difficulty levels ‘under the hood’ where 1 is easy and 10 is ‘the absolute pits’ in full swing. The higher the current level, the more difficult every particular incident on the road you are facing. If you see a corpse on the road, instead of a purse of money on him, you might encounter a poisonous snake, and it might bite to death whoever examines the body. Some parts of the roads may become inaccessible or dangerous, the mountain pass could have collapsed, and instead of a road leading you through the swap, there might only be a deep quagmire.
Everything depends on the actions of our protagonist Hopper Rouley and some of the actions of two of the other heroes, and this will constantly affect the nature of the difficulty level for better or worse.
The difficulty level affects the cost of the path, the complexity of the AI and the availability of options for the behavior of the characters Thorn and Lo Pheng when their parties run out of vital resources. For example, at maximum difficulty level you can no longer share strixes. Thus, you will need to choose which of your party members will lose them for the benefit of others.
Rotoscoping and Animation
Once again we went to the studio to finish shooting some of the characters and to try to record a few animals and monsters. Everyone says it’s very difficult to animate non-humanoids, and we decided to do a test shoot. Here’s the attack of ‘the scorpion’:
It was also important to reshoot the walking cycles from the previous footage. The walking cycles were too short (4 steps only) and because of this the gait looked as if the character got a kick in the kidneys and started to limp. So we recorded a full cycle of walking without start and finish to accommodate as many steps in the frame as possible.
This time we did the animations for a couple of the tough guys such as the tall ‘Viking’ Ruor, the lumberjack Dume and some evil guys like Gellians, Frisians and Reapers. Dmitry Krivoshchapov proved to be excellent at this, because after 5 minutes of training and showing him what we’d already done, we recorded the Gellian animation almost completely in the first take and in the space of only 20 minutes.
We still have 11 female characters to do. We can’t find an actress of average height to handle all of them. I guess we’ll have to spend some money to hold a casting. If you know someone who can help us please let me know.
This is the first FX draft of blood on the battlefield. We would like to create a couple of different samples for different types and directions of blows such as piercing, cutting and crushing, and whether it’s applied to the body or head of the enemy. We can then use different blood patterns, depending on who does what, where and to whom.
Well, if you’re looking for the recipe for success, it’s unlikely I can say anything new. I’ll only be able to write condescending articles on the subject with a snobbish hipster-look (I already have glasses and a beard) once we’ve gotten the required amount of money and reached a few additional goals. But until that happens, my attitude needs to be all about kicking problems in the butt left, right and center and charging forward like a locomotive:
And that’s a hell of a job. I know you’ll say “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” with an intelligent look, because everyone’s talking about it. But that’s the way things are—you don’t know how deep the pit really is until you start digging for yourself.
We’re working hard on the physical prizes: we’re going to mold a six-inch figure of Dorpkhal, plus we plan to make cool bracelets (an important artifact in the game’s plot) and make a hard-cover A4 art book of at least 30 pages and a comic that’s worthy of a Comic Con.
It’s a pity there’s no magic place where you can just pay for everything you need. You need to look for a large number of helpers, individuals and companies that will work on the individual lots and all the trivia.
Lo Pheng’s full storyline is one of the goals of our Kickstarter campaign— we won’t be able to pull it off with our current resources.
The process of searching is by itself a big, complicated and stressful job, especially if you don’t have money to waste. Here’s the result of one of such “triviality” – our animated studio logo for the teaser, game and videos:
Kickstarter is a new experience for me. Since September 2016, I’ve talked to a bunch of individual consultants and consultancies in the former Soviet Union and the United States. The know-it-all professionals will tell you all and do it for your money, right? I’m sure that the sooner you throw this idea out of your head, the better. I want to say that the advice of real studios is a lot more interesting and allows you to look at the issues from a completely different angle.
Many thanks to you, Anatoly Hajduk (Insomnia) and Eric Neigher (Obsidian). Your answers to our sometimes stupid and naive questions have been invaluable.
Generally, we think that what should be done before the beginning of the campaign, is to try and get on the Square Enix Collection or a similar program from Nvidia or HumbleBundle. I believe this is important, because the hysteria around Steam’s cancellation of Greenlight is in my opinion gaining momentum, and the amount of crap that has appeared in Greenlight has grown significantly since the announcement of the news.
So when can we play it?
We’ve integrated the first three characters—Ramlin, Ark and Krieger—into the combat system. By the end of the month we’ll add another seven. Overall, the plan is to have the combat pre-alpha ready by the end of March so that we can invite players to play with us not only in the web prototype, but also in the actual game build.
Please, share your thoughts: several times a month somebody asks us to put the source of the web prototype on github. After reading the readme file it should usually only take about 5 minutes to start it up on your PC without any previous programming experience. The only thing that needs to be done is to translate all the instructions into English and somehow describe the internal structure. I’m not sure whether I should spend time on this? Will someone really use it?
We finished the first version of the close combat AI, wrote the abstractions and implementation for the management of the combat characters – both for the single-player campaign, the AI module and the multiplayer game, when all the data comes together and is calculated on the server. Right now we’re working on the UI for multiplayer team management:
This is a very rough draft (with a couple of placeholder icons) and we’ll find out what the end result is in April. We’re working hard on making the system of rounds, cards and statuses extremely clear and simple.
If you work in a cool UI lab, we’ll gladly accept your criticism or help in working on the UI / UX to make it as convenient and simple as possible. And we’ll sing your praises on every street corner!
A brief overview of our struggle with Photon Server looks like this—it’s very cool, and we’re dumb. We started from the wrong end, and began by writing stuff that wasn’t needed. But by the middle of March we’ll be able to complete the team authorization, registration and management. Next will be the start of the combat—the placement, synchronization of statuses, timers, and the actual combat itself. We’ve already written the combat section as a separate library. It will be used by the single player AI version of the game and the multiplayer option.
A short summary
A kind person on Facebook asked: “Why aren’t you inviting everybody to subscribe to your mailing list at every opportunity? Wrong, wrong, wrong!” So please subscribe and show us your support. We’re not sending anything out right now, but when the time comes for Kickstarter, expect a heartfelt letter from me and exclusive gifts in the multiplayer version to everyone who believed in us at this stage.
I think that the main fail of the month is the multiplayer part. We already figured where we screwed up and are actively working on fixing the mistakes. In March, we’ll hold some rudimentary matches so we can play a rough, but actual game in Unity. And that’s our main goal right now.
Since the last diary we drew 4 characters and 5 combat miniatures, animated 8 personal characters, prepared key frames for the rotoscope of another 5 characters, including a very complex one—the Ense swordsman:
We finished the battle scene and the journey through the “Ash Wasteland”. Malitsky completed the novel and wrote a short story about Thorn and the beginning of his confrontation with Bran Vichti that happened 18 years before the game (we are working on a cool comic based on it). Sergei and Dmitry moved 5 chapters of the Thorn and Blance’s storyline to Articy, and now we plan to finish 6 more chapters in the next month.
January is over and it's time to sum it up in the second installment of our developer diaries. Music, animation, video. All the joy and pain of game development...
This article describes a new approach we took to implement the turn-based combat in an RPG with some twists to the traditional rules.
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