Wow getting this major build ready has been much more work than I had originally anticipated, but we're finally rounding the corner and checking off the majority of tasks for this milestone. Over the last month it seemed like there were a billion and one changes happening at exactly the same time, and it's all over the place... art, UX, code, design, writing, you name it... so at times it was quite frustrating to say the least!
It's a pretty important build for us, as it not only brings everything together, but it's our first time showcasing our polished art and UX/design decisions. We've wanted to cut a trailer and gameplay videos for quite a long time, but we just couldn't afford to make such a major time investment until we were truly happy with the game and what we were showing. We're finally in a place where we've locked down our UX, aesthetics, and design and so we just recently started production on our trailer, turning storyboards into visuals, so I'm really excited about that.
So here are a few of the major changes we implemented over the last few months:
When we first started on Darktide I personally designed the HUD that is used in all the gameplay scenes. It has changed and morphed over time but for the most part it has always kept it's original design. The major problem here is that I'm not a UX/design person, and it was actually quite bad... I just didn't realize how bad until I sat in on a few UX/UI talks at GDC this year. I honestly have no idea why I continued on with that design for so long, especially considering we have an in-house UX/graphic designer who really wanted to spend the time to properly design and fix the problems, but we finally worked out the kinks and made it pretty.
The old design displayed a lot of data and flavour text, but wasn't very good at conveying the actual information you wanted at a given time. It was also spread out across the entire screen, which is great for building strong neck muscles, but not exactly the most usable interface for this type of game.
To remedy this we condensed the important information and collapsed the HUD into a single component, so now you only have to look in one place to get all the information you want. We also cleaned up the design by killing off the large text box we used for describing the currently selected ability and replaced it with a mouse hover. Not only does it look a million times better but now you can actually see what each ability does without having to click and make it your active selection!
Another thing that was cleaned up is our "hex grid" and selection graphics, which have actually never had any "real" assets as we were always using temporary "this will be replaced later" art. The smaller circles show the actual range of the ability, some being a radius (such as the example above), others only straight lines, etc... and the larger circles obviously being the characters you can affect. The large white selection circle, which is your currently selected unit, slowly rotates making it stand out from the others.
Lesson learned. Let your interface be designed by the people that actually specialize in UX and graphic design. Also a huge thank you to Derek Sakamoto (@figluster) for the amazing Hearthstone interface talk this year at GDC, I owe you a beer next year if you see this.
As you may or may not have noticed in the prior screen, our artist Jove actually went over the entirety of the game art and ramped up the detail level so everything looks much nicer at higher resolutions. Some characters had pretty massive changes, such as the Dvergar changing their outfits and proportions while the Caelum were actually rebuilt from scratch.
During this process we also realized that there was somewhat of a gender imbalance, which for whatever reason hadn't been noticed in the past, and so we wanted to correct it at this stage. While it meant that Jove had to go back to the drawing board and completely rework some characters, we've now evened things out more, and while doing so it actually influenced some of our lore and story arcs in an extremely positive way. Below is an example, as the Inquisitor is one of the units who has had their sex changed.
We're now environment and character complete other than a few outstanding bugs and polishing issues, with the bulk of the remaining work in interface and campaign art. I may be a little biased but I am extremely happy with how the game's aesthetics have turned out, Jove has done a seriously killer job on everything.
Major Campaign Updates
In Darktide you can play through the campaign as either faction, basically giving you a totally different viewpoint while you play through the story. People seemed to really like this concept, and once we had the dynamic campaign system at least half working we started getting even more positive feedback.
When playing through the campaign there can be any number of objectives active on the war map at a given time. These are dynamic events that will either be triggered by a specific action, or based on a chain of events that has already occurred during the course of the campaign. These events will notbe available indefinitely, so you'll have to make tough choices on where to bring your squadron.
Your reputation with the various races and leaders will not only be affected by the choices you make, but on the outcome of battles, therefore changing the story based on your actions. So if you made the choice to help the Dvergar defend the auralite mines from the attacking Lithos, the Aduro may be questioning why you did not help them push the raiding Az'modai war party back into the desert.
We also finalized the design of the campaign screens, which I now absolutely love the look of, especially since we haven't had it included in previous builds and were only using a temporary text box. As a player you just feel so much more connected to the actual story and characters by presenting it this way.
The campaign screens number in the hundreds and work is constantly ongoing with them, but hey at least we've nailed the aesthetics!
There are still some kinks to work out in the build, but right now we are laser focused on getting our trailer cut so that we can get it out to the public and launch our Greenlight campaign. We've also been looking into some areas such as joining the Square Enix Collective to promote our game, as well as running a Kickstarter campaign allowing us to build things out to completion and get more direct player feedback and involvement. The major risks have been killed off with our game design, aesthetics, and UX nailed down... so at this point I have zero worries in regards to project completion and I'd like to get some backer involvement allowing us to move forward at a quicker pace and including some things from our "nice to have" list.
Another job we've been tackling is updating both the company and game websites to be static, rather than running on wordpress. For content such as blogs we're now preprocessing everything using Jekyll so that we can serve static pages straight from Amazon S3 / Cloudfront CDN. So we'll be infinitely scalable and they actually load 10-30 times faster now. The company site conversion was just finished the other day and I'm hoping to get it moved to Amazon over the weekend, and the Darktide site has a bit more work due to the dynamic bits such as forums that run on the ephemeral EC2 instances, but it's slowly coming along and should be ready quite soon.
Well I think I've touched on nearly every major point, other than the horrible pain of not having proper tools for our artist and how we've started to correct that, but that's an entire post on it's own at some point in the future. Needless to say things could have gone a lot smoother if we had invested in building more and better tools up front.