Dev Blog #17 – The Lore Building Process

We’ve been getting some questions from Discord about Last Regiment and game development in general, so we’ll take the time to answer those today.

A Quick Overview on Game Licensing
Are we interested in having people write about our games and publish novels related to our content?

This is not the first time we got asked if books can be made within the license material of our game, or if we could hire someone to write a story for us.  We wanted to quickly walk through the business of that. There are basically two frameworks by which that happens.

  1. An author says, “I bet I can sell more books if I attach game content from license X to the story.” He/she then pays a license fee, and the license holder gets rights to look at the book before it gets published.
  2. A license holder says, “We want to have books about our game, profit from them, and have complete creative control, but we don’t have an in-house writer who can do it.” They would then hire a writer (full time or by contract), pay a fixed fee, and work with him/her them directly.

Having said that, the Last Regiment license is not yet worth enough to charge a license fee for, and we don’t have the resources to do it ourselves or pay anyone else to write for us. So unfortunately, no Last Regiment books to look forward to in the near future. Speaking of stories…

Creating the Story and Lore
What is Last Regiment all about?

We’ve always said that we were going to take the lore building and story seriously. It’s an easy thing to say, but before we delve further on that, we’d like to share another fun fact.

Not many people know that 99% of game designers are frustrated authors, and sometimes it shows in the games they make. One of the real challenges in writing a video game is to take that author part of you, the one who wants to tell a story, and shove him down. You need to stop yourself from writing that story, because in games, the players want to make their own stories.

In books, the characters do precisely what the author tells them to do, think, and say. You can’t do that in games. There’s this other person who wants to do their own thing and make their decisions meaningful. The game writer must fight the urge to say “You’re not supposed to do that! You’re supposed to go here and do this!” For example, players would have a choice if they want to go here or there, so a designer has to make both of these places interesting.

This brings us to writing the lore of Last Regiment. Before you can write a specific story, you must first create the world where it takes place in. Months ago we started putting together a skeleton outline on the basic ideas about the universe, and gradually adding notes on how the world is, who the characters are, and what the history is. Since we were looking at it from a wider angle, there was some confusion on what would actually be happening in the game.

What is going on? Why do we have these characters?

As we build the art for the game, we started getting questions on why we have a variety of characters with very diverse themes. For some it didn’t make sense, and that was problematic. Then we continued to flesh out the ancient history of the world to show how all the factions and units came to be, and conveyed this to the team.

The next story dump included more details on the period called The Reconquest, when people from the old world started to go back to a continent that they had tried to colonize in the past. This is where the story takes place, after several years of apocalyptic wars between the races where they used both magic and machinery. This was inspired by the modern age of the Enlightenment Era, and we looked at the colonial histories in Europe instead of the usual medieval setting of fantasy games.

Should we share the lore with our community?

This is where we are a bit torn. We want to keep people involved, but we also don’t want to spoil the game. We want players to have a sense of discovery and exploration when they play it. At the same time, we’d still like to have the freedom to change it.

Where are our characters in this lore we are writing?

If you look at the heroes and units in the game, none of them appear in the history. When you’re putting together a world, the first step is the large history of that world. The second step is detailing the facets of that world such as the technology, magic, transportation, weaponry, money, language, races, and a bunch more data that needs to be compiled. After these two are done, the final step is the actual story of the characters in the game: where are they going, what do they need,  how do they meet, etc.

Doing the first two steps is important before you start anything because you need something that could lend something before you get to the end. But even when you reach the final step, you should be aware that sometimes the world and some of its faces might change because of the new things you are adding to the game.

What is the scale of your story?

Again, we take a look at Legends of Callasia, which has an epic scope. You’re a general taking over chunks of kingdoms and saving the world. Last Regiment does not have an epic scope. By design, we want to keep everything much smaller. Yes, there is a huge thing happening, which is the Reconquest, but you are only a part of it. Your choices are probably not going to change the entire world history of the game, but it’s about the characters going through a journey within this environment. They are not captains or lieutenants. As the title implies, you are controlling a regiment, not a huge army. It’s a much personal story and we want our players to care about these characters.

What We’ve Changed So Far

Back to the game, we had a big conversation about the dialog system and scripting the single player missions. The work is underway, but it’s not going to be done in a few weeks. Developing scripting engines is an iterative process that would take several months.

Right now we are trying out a variety of mission types and determining different variations of environments, failure goals, and other things that can be considered fun.

We’ve also made some changes to the user interface! Now you can preview the units in each regiment without going to the Choose Your Regiment screen.

Starting a skirmish or multiplayer game also looks better now, although still WIP.

There’s another screen we’re currently updating, but we have to stop and think about it mathematically.

The Cost of Adding New Features
Can we please change X to this? Why can’t you do this?

Every time we consider adding a new feature to the game, it has to be a cash-positive decision. Let’s take for instance the Choose Your Regiment screen.

A couple of weeks ago, we had the idea of having different background art per faction. Each background would take an artist  at least 3 days to make. With 14 backgrounds in total, it would take 42 working days. Since the team gets paid a monthly salary, we need to look at the cost of making it and how many more copies we need to sell – and it’s a bigger number than what most people would expect.

If we look at new game features, you would have to consider the time it takes the coder to implement it, and for QA to test it. Everyone of those ideas needs to put into this math, and this is why sometimes the seemingly simple things don’t make it into the game.  For the moment, we’re happy with keeping the Choose Your Regiment screen as it is with a black background and customized emblems per faction.

This doesn’t mean we don’t welcome any new suggestions. Keep your comments and questions coming, and we’ll see you in the next dev update.

Dev Blog #16 – Designing Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Last week during an interview, we were talking about livestreaming and the reasons why we’re doing it.  For us, the biggest threat to game development is not making the game happen. Making a game is not a huge challenge, and we’re relatively confident that we can make a reasonably good game. But can we make a great game? Like we’ve always said, the even harder part is getting people to know that it exists and get them to play it when there are so many great games and other things they can do out there.

Being Real in the World of Entertainment

Let’s look at the grand scheme of what people can be doing. Before, the main sources of entertainment were books, television, and radio. Then computers happened. There is now a vast source of content thanks to the internet to keep people entertained for billions of hours. On Twitch, there are literally thousands of people broadcasting something. In terms of games, there are also so many options available on Steam and all other game platforms.

And here we are, a small independent studio, saying “Hey don’t look at any of that, come play our game. We want you to look at this!” It’s a very difficult argument to make and we can’t really directly talk to people to convince them to do that. We have to go around the corner a bit and ask people, “Why don’t you come and watch our dev stream?” then maybe the game is something interesting to them, that they would eventually play it.

How do we get them to watch? We post on Facebook, Discord, Twitter, Reddit, 9GAG, and everywhere else. We need to start a discussion on another platform. Essentially, we are making marketing for our marketing for our marketing for our marketing, to get them to play a game that doesn’t even exist yet.

But another thing we find of value on Twitch is that it’s all real. This is the actual team doing actual development of the game. There are no scripts or press releases. When we look at all the time and energy we spent marketing our game and building our brand, we hope that the one thing that we have shown our supporters is honesty. When you come to our streams, we are exposing what real game development looks like and the life of building creative content: figuring out how all of this works.

We think that in a world where there are unlimited options, what people find valuable is to be treated like humans – and that is what we’re doing. We hope you appreciate all the time and energy we are putting into this as we share our real experiences and real lives of making games. Just like how earlier this week we had some extra livestreams of working on MS Excel to design the scripting system for the single player aspect of the game.

Developing AI for Single Player Games

There was an article about writing wherein the author talks about how the biggest problem is sorting out the commas when the story isn’t done yet. In terms of game development, it’s something that we’re also very guilty of. We’ve been going through balancing issues and fixing the user interface when we still haven’t made the main game yet. We needed to step back and decide what’s really missing from the game that we should have been doing.

One of the things we promised is the map editor. It’s easy to make the editor and it’s already there, because we need it to make the game, but we haven’t finalized yet how it all works on the side of the player. There are a lot of issues we have to resolve such as how they are uploaded, filtered, moderated, displayed, and so on.

The other thing we said was that we were going to make this primarily a single player game. Though a lot of players are interested in multiplayer, we learned from Legends of Callasia that some players don’t want to be pressured by the turns and time limits. We need this bulk number of users to build up the player base in order to make multiplayer a great experience.

But you can’t just make a single player game. You have to figure out several things, and it’s not really the most obvious stuff like the story. For instance, how do you make the AI actually do stuff? How do you give missions to the player? How do you tell the AI and the players what to do? What kind of missions do we have? How do we script those missions? As we dig deeper, we realize that there is a huge chunk of design that we haven’t done yet. We need to go build the scripting system, which is then up to the coder to integrate to the game. This is only the first step.

The next step is the AI, and not yet the actual missions. If you make a single player game, there is no other human to make intelligent decisions. People think making multiplayer is harder because of the obvious server and connection issues, but it’s actually easier when there’s another human playing with you. Instead, single player has algorithms that predict behavior.

In a simpler game, there are simpler AI and limited rulesets, so it’s quicker to do forward thinking and predict what’s going to happen in the game. In a game like Last Regiment that has so many hexes, units, and powers, the brute force approach in letting the game forward-project all the possible things that could happen in any given turn is extremely difficult, if not impossible. We have to look at AI in a different way and pretend that he’s human. We give it a series of goals and look at threat levels to determine what happens next. We can’t give it limitless power and classify smart or dumb AI. We assign them behaviors, whether they are aggressive, defensive, cowardly, and so on.

We then have to relate it to all the other aspects of the game and create rulesets such as when AI can use certain spells or which units to bring in certain situations. It gets really big real fast, and we haven’t even made the missions yet.

The other thing we can do is to “cheat” by granting the AI an advantage by having better tactical situations than the player. This can come in the form of increased reinforcements or territories, but as a human player, you should be able to think and come up with better strategies.

As a small indie studio, improving the AI is a challenging promise to fulfill. At this moment, a lot of the mechanics are still changing as we keep on rebalancing the game, so for now, we need to make sure that the AI is adaptable to various rulesets.

Most of the work we’ve done are still in the backend, so there’s not much progress to show right now. Next week we will be building more maps and hopefully there’s something more visual we can present.

Some of you might have noticed that we play some baroque music at the beginning of our livestreams. Part of the reason why is that Chris personally enjoys them, but at the same time, it goes back to the setting of our game, which is a more modern time period than the usual medieval fantasy tropes.  It’s the same reason why we’ve incorporated rococo elements in our UI, which we mentioned last time.

As we continue to work on the lore and the story of the game, we’ve been thinking a lot about how we can introduce more elements from the baroque period. But what is baroque, anyway?

Making the Reality of the World Better

The term baroque comes from the Portuguese term barroco, which means “oddly shaped pearl”. This art style is overly ornamented or exaggerated, compared to the naturalist movement in the periods that came after which were more simplistic. Thus it seemed that the baroque style was not speaking to the true spirit of the world.  Baroque was very involved in capturing the beauty and wonder of the world even if it’s an ugly and terrible place. The idea is that art should be something you create to rise up and lift you above the mundane.

As we build out Last Regiment, work on the userface, and determine how it looks and feels, it makes more sense to follow this baroque ideal that we don’t want to show what the word is, but what the world could be. We want to make the reality of the world better, and not produce art that reflects how bad the world is.

Dev Blog #15 – Marketing Struggles, Closed Beta Info, and Single Player Plans

Before we get started, we want to talk about some industry stuff: Kickstarter has launched its own competitor to Patreon called Drip. As a game developer, this is interesting news to us.

Struggles in Marketing

We’ve had two unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns for Legends of Callasia and the major thing is that if you’re not able to fund the project in a certain number of days, you get no money at all. Despite that, we made the game anyway. Afterwards, we gained some users and had another Kickstarter for the DLC, which went through. But honestly, we’ve set our bar of success really low. Technically, we haven’t been able to fully fund a project yet.

We believe there are three scenarios to make Kickstarter work.

  1. You’re already really famous.
  2. You have a famous IP.
  3. You have something so marketable and memorable that can break into the mainstream media.

The first two are not options for us, and the third one is very rare, so Kickstarter has been problematic in our case. Patreon is a different thing. It’s very straightforward in how you have a service or product, and people can support you. This is good for those who consistently produce content, such as comic strips or write-ups, and Patreon is a way to help those people keep on producing that content.

And this is the same subscription tool that Kickstarter is now doing.  According to the website,  “Drip is a tool for people to fund and build community around their ongoing creative practice”.

This is obviously a big thing but we’re not sure yet how it works with games. There are already subscription options and other existing ways to do it that don’t involve going outside the game to another thing.  As of now, we don’t know yet if we want to do it with Last Regiment. It’s definitely useful in the creative world, but we’re not sure yet about the game world.

There is also the question about discovery. The one thing Kickstarter does have is 14 million people who are  willing to throw money at things, largely on  games. But why did Legends of Callasia not become a huge financial success? There are certainly problems about the game, but even so, people never knew it existed. We think there are a lot of people out  there who would love to play but never heard of it. That problem is something Kickstarter might be able to do something with, but it has a narrow focus wherein you need this money *right now*.  We are curious to see how Drip would address this issue.

Obviously there are other services like this but the problem has always been: how big is your network? That’s where platforms like Kickstarter and Steam makes its money in. They already have a huge group of gamers and they’re giving you the ability to be able to talk to those gamers through their system.

Aside from the question of how big is their userbase, the next thing we need to ask is: How many products are they offering? This is a problem with Kickstarter: they do have the people, but there are also at least 200 new games in a week. Other services have few people but few games, so there is a bigger chance for people to actually see you. There is a trade-off, and an argument has to be made about whether or not it’s worth it.

The other thing we’ve been doing to get our game noticed is attending game conventions, and we are actually working on our Indie Megabooth submission right now! We’re trying to be part of it in PAX East. It’s a great show, as well as PAX South, but the value of going to same show with same game degenerates over time.

During the first show, it becomes a big deal because nobody has seen it before. On the second show, it becomes less so since they’ve already seen it, and you’d just get looked over a bit. So right now the plan is if we get accepted to the Indie Megabooth, we’ll be going to PAX East. If not, we’re not going to buy a regular booth because the return on investment is not worth it.

Another thing is that we’re not really a fancy game and can’t have a big screen showing a huge fight. We’re a strategy game, which is slower and quieter, and when showing it by ourselves, it is difficult to get people to come to our booth. Again we go into the rabbit hole of how do we market our marketing?

From the perspective of the press, streamers, and other influencers, they would have a list of what they want to see at the show. Nobody comes to PAX to see what Boomzap’s up to. Getting them to come to our booth is actually a struggle. We have to reach out to them early on and make an argument for them to come.

If you’re in the Indie Megabooth, everyone in the press would check that out.  It’s on their list. They would come by,  but you still need to try to get them to play, though at least you get some eyeballs. Like Kickstarter and Steam’s user base, the Indie Megabooth is a big thing that people know and would come to.

Another option is to sign up with a boutique publisher that has a PR agency that makes everything happen for you. That’s great but we don’t want to have a publisher. So we’re trying to find a place where we can be on a “to do list” that doesn’t involve a publisher because we are trying to be independent.

More about “Earlier Access” aka Closed Beta

We’ve also started to receive more questions about Earlier Access. The hope is that we get around 20 to 30 people in the beta list, and we’re expecting them to be those who are already interested in the game now.

There is no definite date yet on when it would begin, but the plan is sometime in January or February.  There is the question of how far along do we want to be in the game before we start.  We can give it to you relatively early with broken stuff that would likely change and be entirely different from the final version, and we’re hoping that the people who are in the closed beta would be cool with it.

It’s likely that we’ll do the beta through Steam, so that it won’t get pirated as much. We’ll probably do a weekly build where we can turnaround balance decisions like altered stats and address other feedback we receive. Internally we can do daily builds but putting it over on Steam would be a real task, though if we have something new to add, we can go do that.

It won’t be a full game. The game modes such as single player campaigns and other content won’t be complete. It’s something that we’ll gradually work on as we get closer to release. But that is the point of beta – you’ll get to see it earlier than anyone else, before a lot of it is done.

Plans for Single Player

Given our schedule for Earlier Access, we need to start thinking about how the single player modes would work.

The length for single player campaigns depend on the number of missions and hours of gameplay. There’s still a lot of testing before  we know how long missions take. If they take longer, we’ll make fewer missions. If they are shorter, we make more. What we might actually do is build a series of missions that have variety in length, with around 20 hours of total gameplay.

We also want to make skirmishes more interesting by having goals that aren’t always exactly the same, such as capture the flag, king of the hill, etc. A lot of discussion still needs to takes place to sort out how the game works. It’s time to start thinking about the lore and story and how we do the single player missions.  We need to  look at other games and listen to feedback from players to see what they want.

How much would single player impact multiplayer? It comes from our experience in Legends of Callasia where we had a user complain why everything is not yet unlocked, so what we did was when you bought the game all the factions and units were available in multiplayer. The players then asked “Why am I even playing single player?”

That was a mistake we made and for Last Regiment, we want to make sure that single player has meaning and what you’re doing has value. We have not figured it out completely yet, but the plan is to have players unlock factions through the campaigns, starting with Olivia and the Ruma faction. While going through story, you meet new people, interact with different characters, then unlock them as playable factions.

We also want to make sure that players learn how to play the game before trying out multiplayer.  The plan is to integrate the tutorial into the story, and have Multiplayer mode unlockable by playing. By the time you show up in multiplayer, you should know what you’re doing when playing against other players and know what’s happening.

Cool New Stuff

As always, we’ve made several adjustments to the game, but for this blog we want to focus on the UI revamp, because that is what players would immediately see. Aside from adding more rococo elements, it is important that the UI is able to communicate how the game works.

In-Game Screen

  • The Regiment bar now shows a max army limit of 11, with only two heroes (which are substantially bigger so that you clearly understood who they are)
  • We still have the nice control mechanic where you can click and hold units and powers
  • The look and feel for the next unit toggle and timer was changed to resemble clockwork and machinery
  • Some of the UI panels now match the regiment color you’ve selected
  • An indicator on top shows which phase you are in during resolution

Regiment Selection

We were looking at the old way of choosing regiments, and we didn’t really like it. It was difficult to select a hero and find out what it does or what value it brings to me. And so we looked at how you built decks in other games where you can see all the cards in one glance.

It’s still placeholder, but we’ve made the framing better. We also wanted to fill the screen with pretty art and make sure you saw them. We’ve added a player language wherein grayed out units can’t be selected, and you can only choose the colored ones. We’ve made it easier to click on a unit to view its description and abilities.

In the future, we want these panels more themed to the factions. Right now it just looks like a set of cards. We want this to be a place where we could express some of the history and lore of the game. It sounds trivial, but later on when we add new factions or release DLCs, there is a sense of discovery and excitement.

Other Changes

  • Update to support segregated hero slots in game screen
  • Update to support new design change: minions can only be summoned if hero is in play
  • Updates to select army UI: manual army sorting works again; power lists work now
  • Update to victory moves to support multiple stages
  • Prototyped unit adjacency traits (increased ATT is highlighted in green)
  • Fix to editor object selection: minions show up now; mouse scroll works properly now
  • Change power targetting recticule to use video asset