Winterfall is a sandbox RPG influenced, gameplay-wise, by experiences as diverse as Mount and Blade, Mass Effect, DayZ, The Sims, the Elder Scrolls games and, of course, the latter Ultima games (7, 8 and Online), set in a fictional late antiquity/early dark ages setting. Contrary to most RPGs where the player is in control of a single hero character from beginning to end, the focus of Winterfall is on a House, or Household, which is grown and developed through deeds performed by the player's successive characters.
Every character the player creates will ultimately die, within terms decided by the player: will the character fall in battle or adventure? Will he/she be retired to age and fall away? Will he/she be given up as a war asset in one of the conflicts of the age? Will he/she simply grow weary of the world and run out of drive? In every case, anything that has been unlocked or obtained with the character will remain available as part of the House or Household's legacy.
The kind of life the character had prior to his/her end will impact how much of his/her legacy is conserved: did he/she marry and have children? Did he/she live a life of violence and barbarity? Did he/she leave behind a strong mark on the world or people? Or did he/she attain a high level of personal development? Such things will contribute to a kind of rating that will determine how much of the character's achievements and acquisitions becomes legacy, and so will the way the character's days are chosen to end.
If a character survives his/her journey within its chosen vocation, it may embark on another one in another vocation or in the same, or be retired or seek to attain a "memorable ending", attempting to maximize his legacy through a gameplay ordeal.
The game is predominantly a single-player experience but is meant to allow for various degrees of multiplayer play.
Most of what the player will do in Winterfall involves things such as:
At singular thresholds of global player achievement, the game will receive updates to bring closer the Winterfall itself. As time goes on and the Winterfall approaches, the game will get harder, the world more desperate, conflicts more numerous and strident.
When I finally decided to follow my call, which was to make the game I've always wanted to play and that nobody was making, I had no idea where I was going or what it would take. All I really knew was that the time had come and the game I needed to make was of a certain type with certain features: vast open world, deep character/personality simulations, high interaction and intense exploration and fun combat.
This sums up well how much foresight I had when I started!
I had none of the knowledge or supplies or means to secure the enterprise and I just basically improvised everything. I jumped naked into the water and the whole idea was, "I'll figure out how to swim through that once I get there". Not to mention, I was smack dab in a context of personal tragedy and hardship centered on family and home. The funny thing though is to realize that had I not been struck by disaster, I would probably not have found the drive to jump into this whole Winterfall adventure.
And sometimes it felt like being right there... at night... naked.
Now let me tell you this. I should have failed. I have contemplated failure many times right in the eye. Sometimes it's your team that dissolves, sometimes it's the funds that dry up, sometimes you suffer a system crash and lose tons of data, sometimes your gear fries, sometimes you burn out. And yet, to me, the whole strategy to compensate for my lack of skills, knowledge, resources and means, was to make the successful development of this game a matter of life-and-death. The idea was, it must be so that I am obligated to succeed. No way out. It's this or I have to pack my bags to wherever the fuck, losing everything.
So I eliminated all that was not, in some way, relevant or pertinent to the successful development of Winterfall. I abandoned comfort, social life, sentimental life and all concerns that were not immediate enough to count. Of course, when you go down a path of total commitment, life throws stuff at you to test you. And all your unresolved come home to try you as well. All the unfinished business, all the contentious areas that you've left unmanaged, will erupt at one time or another.
A few times I wanted to quit because I was washed out. But ultimately there were four things that mattered more: 1°) I had left myself no other way out than up 2°) I had a lot of naysayers (real or imagined) to prove wrong 3°) I somehow could never stay down more than a few hours 4°) I wanted to write a life story that could inspire others.
The first two years (2013-2015), all the work on Winterfall was all about learning and experimenting. I made a ton of mistakes and tried a ton of things. But through the process (and also while going through hell), it allowed to define not only exactly what I wanted to make but also how I might ultimately succeed at the task.
Ever since 2016 when the final team core has been active, it's been about building the actual game in its finite form, at least as close to finite as possible. This means a lot of mechanics and systems that haven't really been done elsewhere: we have personality simulation and emotion management, we have personality for the environment, we have campsite clearing and building, we have progressive weather, both with precipitation and cloud formation... all kinds of funny things.
A lot of it is work that goes unseen. When you make a combat system, or a platformer game or whatever, your development is pretty much transparent: what you put in the code, you'll generally see directly in some way. With Winterfall, a lot of work is systems that run behind the scenes, that show up rather discretely. I'll admit that the hardest part of navigating dev for something like Winterfall, especially as a first game dev project (and of such scope), has been exactly that: working for so long on things that are not "game", that are not "fun", but that are still key, bottom-line support structures that give meaning and context to the game itself.
And then you get to the "simpler" stuff, the "game" stuff. How an inventory system allows you to pick stuff up and equip it. How you can lift an object up from the ground, move it around and drop it someplace else. How you can get to a campsite and build it up. Gameplay. At last! It sounds stupid but after literally years experimenting, iterating and working with deep or complex or esoteric stuff, those things mean the world.
It's been a tremendous thing taking Winterfall all this distance and as ever with something like this, it's also taken me a long way to and through places I never imagined I'd get to. And the lessons learned, the ordeals overcome along the way, have made life so beautiful.
Because every setback, every letdown, every failure along the way carries lessons that you have to be eager to learn, lest you get destroyed by bitterness, by resentment, by sorrow... And if you do learn those lessons, you find out within you a strength you never imagined was at hand, and every problem, every trouble, every unfortunate possibility looks small.
Back in 2013, my girlfriend at the time asked me (not long before she left!) "What will you do if the project fails?". And back then I said "The project cannot fail, because the project is me". What I meant was that the true project was developing the game, the true project was developing me. I do believe to this day that approaching the work in that particular way, always remembering that I needed to focus on my own development, is what allowed me to go so far along this journey: had it been all about the game, the game, the game, I'd have missed some obvious lessons, I'd have taken some wrong turns and I'd have shut off some future potential for this undertaking.
But even as life rained shit down on me and I felt everything to be really bad, it was secretly smiling at the things it was keeping in store for me.
Finally the right opportunities show up. The right people show up. Finally everything seems to say "you have done well, here is encouragement, here is support, here is interest to aid you on in your journey".
I'm the tired guy sitting next to the lady. She's Doria Ousset doing voice & singing; Paul Turchi-Duriani (in black) co-writing; Frédéric Antonpietri (standing), fixer & facilitator
There is still a lot of work to do, but it's no longer about years, about sacrifices and about insane circumstances. It's just about driving this thing home now, making sure the delivery is good. It's about new challenges and experiences. It's the Home Run: in less time, a lot more has to be done, so that we can bring this game to you and make it a game you'll love.
Thank you so much for your interest in Winterfall.
Winterfall is an open-world RPG set in the awe-inspiring ancient wilds of Anor, the Old Kingdom. Uncover lost knowledge, defend your sanctuary and build a lasting legacy. Coming Early 2019 to PC (other platforms TBA)
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