Can you believe it's been 4 years since we started development on NeuroSlicers!
We set out to create a game that would truly shake up the RTS genre, offer players a new way of playing, unbridled by the traditional micro / APM centric gameplay of other games in the genre.
Offer new challenges to overcome by having cool global objectives to fight over and which change up how matches play out in super interesting ways.
Have new forms of tactical play by moving away from the traditional Race / Faction based systems with fixed Unit and Building selections and offer the ability for players to truly customise their loadout while offering a highly competitive and balanced experience with our Script and Node systems.
Finally, give players a fresh, deep narrative experience that moves away from the Real-world, Fantasy or Sci-Fi settings of other popular RTS games and makes the player the centre of the story where their journey to become the ultimate Slicer in the neon drenched world of Nexus city and The NeuroNet, is fraught with choice and consequence.
This is NeuroSlicers, this is the future of RTS, this has been our journey in 2018.....
A YEAR IN REVIEW
It's always a blast looking back at how NeuroSlicers has evolved each year, both visually and mechanically. Its easy to forget that the original prototype for the game was in 2D using vector art where players could only place and remove square tiles to effect the Unit pathfinding in an attempt to destroy the enemy team.
Great game ideas often stem from the simplest of solutions and with this basic mechanic we quickly realised we were onto something special.
It was only later that we started to really try to flesh out the experience into something that would offer RTS fans something fresh, challenging and new while also having the potential to bring on-board a whole new generation of players, proven by our growing community and their diversity, a community made up of both the hardcore competitive gamers as well as well as those more inclined to narrative driven experiences.
NeuroSlicers combines both worlds in an attempt to create an experience that's somewhat like an RTS blended with the online, narrative activity based play of Destiny. We have plans for a wide variety of things for you to do across solo, co-op and pvp which all feed back into the meta game systems, narrative and the goal of you becoming the Ultimate and most powerful Slicer in the Network.
This year has mainly been focused on getting the core gameplay experience right, having enough choice and player consequence during matches and creating exciting interactions based on risk/reward gameplay as well as solving / mitigating the dreaded snowballing effect that's often found in RTS games and giving plenty of opportunities for players to come back from defeat.
This year has been a whirlwind of events, new game features, the Pre-Alpha, new team members and more. Here are some of the highlights.
- In February we managed to secure some investment from our Korean partners Global Top Round. This allowed us to continue working full time on NeuroSlicers and work towards the Pre-Alpha.
- In April we launched the Pre-Alpha to 400 players. The Pre-Alpha ran over 8 weekends and the team managed to add new features and content each week doing crazy 4 day development sprints. The Pre-Alpha was an amazing success with some great feedback and overwhelming sense that we are onto something special with NeuroSlicers
- In June we attended the Intel Buzz event in London and managed to win Best Visuals at their awards.
- In August we secured another small round of investment from Global Top Round allowing us to continue to push the gameplay in new and exciting ways, giving birth to the Node and Stack systems.
- In November we finaly got the last of the 3 Node paths in game and suddenly the game took on a whole new layer of tactical play, it was a eureka moment that managed to fulfil exactly what we were looking for in terms of risk/reward gameplay and a deeper set of interactions and choices for players to make use of.
- In December Milcho managed to get the first implementation of controller support up and running.
The core gameplay is now in a state that we're really happy with; there's still a need to do a proper balance pass, tweak and redesign / rework some of the Node abilities, upgrades and Scripts all in the name of getting them to feel and look as epic as possible; but we could, in reality, launch the game intro early access at this point.
However, we made a commitment when we started developing NeuroSlicers that we would only launch once we had the full experience done, polished and to the standard that we strive for at Dream Harvest.
So what's next?
Well, over the coming months in the lead up to the Alpha we'll be revealing more about the progression systems, contracts / mission systems, customisation and some of the cool activities you'll be playing across Solo, Co-Operative and PVP play.
We promise you one thing, NeuroSlicers is and will be unlike anything you've played before and we can't wait to share everything we have planned for it with you, our amazing community.
For the time being, read on to learn about some of the things the team have been working on over the past month.
THE THIRD PATH - THE RESEARCH NODE
Welcome to another edition of me talking about things of all natures. Today we’re delving into the serious topic of politics… ahem… I mean game design.
But before we start, this section wouldn’t be complete without me complaining about something, and this time it’s my bed.
You see, I am currently on Holiday (and if you’re wondering, Justin is blackmailing me to write this) and my sleeping arrangement is not ideal. Every time I make the smallest movement while in bed, a sound so disruptive splits the air that the nearby military base thinks they are under attack.
Now, did I slightly exaggerate there? Potentially, but the important thing is that you can now begin to imagine my pain. It’s a difficult life I live, I know.
With that out of the way, let’s talk Game Design. In the past I’ve talked about this Path system that we’ve been doing. Well, for the last month or so we’ve been doing the last of the 3 paths – the Research path. This path is all about making your STUFF more powerful with the power of UPGRADES. The gist of it is that you build Research Centres that recruit Researchers to work on your Projects. Each project (such as an upgrade for a unit or the Access Node) requires up to 6 researchers to complete. Now that I’ve done this info dump, let’s talk about specific upgrades.
The Access Node (your base) has 5 levels of upgrades. Each time you finish an upgrade you get a certain benefit (e.g. “Your nodes have 50% discount”) and then you can begin your next one as long as you have some Researchers that are not engaged in other projects. Let me show you how the upgrades look right now:
The interesting thing about these upgrades is not only that your things become stronger, but also that they can alter your play-style. For instance, by getting an upgrade for cost reduction of your basic node, you might expand much more aggressively because it doesn’t cost as much, leading to asymmetrical gameplay compared to your opponent. Similarly, there is an upgrade where my Resource producing entities (called Data Pods) produce more in exchange of them being weaker. This might change my play-style to be more defensive.
Another factor is upgraded synergy where upgrades influence each other. For instance, I can reduce the cost of my nodes first and then that can influence me picking another upgrade which benefits from having more nodes on the map (Weapon X has +1 damage for each friendly Node).
In general, this path not only gives the player a sense of empowerment but also introduces some variety due to different play-style shifts.
Even though I’ve only showed example of Access Node upgrades, all of your scripts can be upgraded as well. The logic there is very similar – your things (combat related in this instance) become stronger. The result is the same – you might want to shift your gameplay style. For instance, the Binary has an upgrade which allows them to shoot an AOE grenade as their first shot, making them an excellent unit in aggressive and sustained fights. Or an upgrade to the Firewall, which makes it immune while spawning – this upgrade lets the Firewall be spawned forward and more aggressively than before.
I think I’ll end it here, because I am sensing a yawn. Expect more in the future
Lead Design / Gameplay Programming
NODE ART OVERLOAD & THE ALPHA BRIDGE SECTOR
If you’ve seen videos or played the game you probably have This month has been very rich in new 3d models, which allowed me to get the ball rolling with this new 3dCoat based pipeline, a 3d software that allows to merge concept art approach to design, with the rest of the production pipeline, meaning creating the low polygons version of the models and painting physically based materials on them, before exporting to the Unity game engine.
So the most urgent need was to design and produce models for the new gameplay system called Paths, where we have these nodes that the player places on his territory, before upgrading them into 3 different path. for each path there is a base node that carries the specific passive function of that path, and a number of new buildings specific to that path. For example the data Path will start generating pods around it, and can then be evolved into a building that can use these pods as fuel to instantly create resources or duplicate your troops.
So the logic is that from the base node, an addon is overlayed to feedback the path it evolves in, and then a central, bigger part, is added to feedback which building it finally evolved in.
There's been a few iteration before coming to these designs, mainly to simplify them enough to be perfectly readable in game, meaning in a situation where you have no time to look at each of them, so they have to be identifiable from your peripheral vision, thanks to shape, colour, FXs, and animation.
Now that we have the first 2 Paths mostly covered in terms of models, I started applying the same production techniques to a new environment, so with a much bigger scale, with parts that can be seen from closer as they are massive, and parts that will be further in the distance, so needs to be more suggestive and less noisy of details.
Here is a paint over concept done to research ideas, so it mixes preliminary models from 3DCoat with the current gameplay in Unity, and with lots of things added in Photoshop:
So from this paintover, I identified elements I can now produce in 3d, the mechanical arms, and to do so I take a modular approach, meaning I build a small bank of models that can be used like Lego to form a variety of mechanical arms.
So starting from 2d shapes easily designed in photoshop:
To an extrusion and then proper 3d models:
Once all these assets are ready I will be able to build a number of mechanical arms type to dress the environment with, this is just a quick test mid-design to check how the pieces work together:
CREATING AN INTRO CINEMATIC
It's too long. It's confusing. It's all style and no substance. The dialogue is stilted, the voice over is distracting and who even are these people anyway? It looks like a million other games.
These are criticisms I've frequently levelled at the opening cinematics of plenty of games, and now that we're working on creating the same thing, they're the words I'm terrified of anyone thinking when they watch ours.
It's entirely possible that other cinematic designers just go for all out cool, and for some games that will work. Others – especially more narrative focused games – can get away with a real slow burn, heavy exposition and plenty of mystery.
Crafting an opening cinematic for a game like Neuroslicers however, is a pretty tricky tightrope to walk. We're a multiplayer game – but with a story. You – the player – are part of it, but maybe at the beginning you're not the most important part. We've got to introduce you to the world, its factions, the interplay between them, and give you an idea of how you can begin to enact change within that. All in under a minute or so – because there's nothing worse than zoning out, skipping it, or not getting to the end if you watch it as a video outside of the game.
Of course, even more subtle than the overall structure and the beat-by-beat is the tone of voice (ToV). ToV affects more than just the voice over of course – it's the guidling light by which we measure the whole, overall effect. It's subtle, elusive, and very easy to argue over! Ultimately it has to feel like Neuroslicers – that means cyberpunk, but innovative too, inspired by and moving beyond our beloved inspirations – and we have to make that come across to someone like you, who hasn't spent years immersed in the lore and construction of the universe.
So we're working hard on finding the balance. We don't want to give too much away at this stage but here's a glimpse of our working methodology.
We started by trying to figure out what our main goals were. When you're faced with that blank page, it's tempted to just want to show EVERYTHING, introduce every character, tell a linear narrative, explore the city, etc etc. So, we narrowed it down to what we saw as the essentials. That basically boiled down to the factions – whose rivalry and power struggle both define the city and essentially the player journey – and the scope, context and ramifications of the city-wide AR and VR network known as Neuronet.
In practical terms, this meant figuring out how to include a character the player can see themselves as in three separate scenes that show off our main factions, and to tie them all together somehow, both visually and narratively. As you may imagine, this led to plenty of brainstorming, plenty of idea-conflict, and a huge pile of iterations. Each time we tried to refine the tone of voice and the main flow of the trailer into something cohesive, compelling, and that wasn't bewildering or overlong.
What we have right now isn't totally finished, but it's ambitious, it's snappy, and it's very 'us'. We'll be revealing more soon, and we hope you enjoy it when we do.
CALL FOR FOCUS TESTERS: THE OPENING CINEMATIC / NARRATIVE TRAILER
Hey, so you know how we mentioned we're making a new Cinematic trailer.....well we need some help. We want to make sure it's as cool and epic as possible and really hits the mark in getting the dark cyberpunk story across.
With that in mind, we're looking for a small number of people to help us out. You'll get a chance to see a very early version of the trailer and then rate 10 short questions on a scale of 1-10, easy peasy and you'll be doing us a massive favour.
If you want to help us out, all you need to do is click the button below to register your interest.
That's it for this year!
Thanks again for sticking around and following our progress and being a part of the community. Here's to another year of development and continuing to work with all of you to create NeuroSlicers.
Justin & The Dream Harvest Team