All posts by lastregiment

Dev Blog #18 – Changing our Decision Making and Refocusing our Marketing Efforts

After last week’s update, we looked at some feedback on what the community thinks of Last Regiment, and we began to wonder if the project is worth continuing. We ask some critical questions.

The Funnel of Decision Making

When you think about selling the game, imagine a great big funnel. It starts wide and gets narrow each step.

1. Audience. Are there enough people out there interested in games like this to make a game like this worth making?

2. Awareness. How do we let those people know we are here, and get them interested in our game, and have them come check us out?

3. Curb Appeal (to download). When they get to the Steam page – is this game obviously good enough, quality enough, pretty enough, and obviously what they want enough that they will actually make the download, and open the game and give us a chance?

4. Accessibility. They downloaded it. They started playing. Is it intuitive and easy enough to learn – and interesting enough to keep them amused long enough to play enough to understand, enjoy, and appreciate the core mechanics of the game? Are they going to stick around long enough to ACTUALLY play the game?

5. Conversion. Will they buy it after the demo? Is there enough clear, obvious value in buying the game that they will put the money down to buy? How much? What is that price point? How do we clearly convey the value to them of a full purchase?

6. Retention. They bought the game. Is it sticky/interesting enough to keep them playing? Is it good enough to keep them from the game’s competitors? Will they come back and play the whole campaign? Will they participate in multiplayer? Will they keep playing? Will they bring friends?

If we fail at any of these steps, all of the following steps are not even worth discussing. We take a look at two examples from the games we’ve made: a success story, which is the Awakening series, and where we failed, Legends of Callasia.

What Legends of Callasia looks like.

We apply this to Last Regiment, which is a niche game. So the main question we’re asking now is: who is our audience? We have to know what their interests are and where we can find them.

We realized that most strategy gamers are not on Twitch, so what is livestreaming for us? It is no longer a marketing vehicle, but a testing vehicle. It’s good for driving people to our Discord, get them interested in the development, and talk to them about what they like and don’t like. Getting feedback is extremely valuable and it’s a more realistic expectation of how Twitch can help us.

Rethinking PAX and Refocusing our Marketing

Next month we’re going to PAX South and instead of focusing on getting all of the media to check out our game when it’s not yet complete, we’re considering doing a bigger version of what we did at ESGS – to have people try out the game and get feedback. We learned this from a lecture during GCAP 2017. They also talked about how trailers are very critical in getting people to know the game, which makes us think how we should refocus our marketing efforts.

Big Changes in the Game

We’re also testing out a lot of new ideas in the game. For reference, this is how it currently looks like, and it’s going to have some major changes.

Some of the issues we’re addressing now:

  • Improving the fog of war – make them lighter or replace with tiles
  • Revising the  user interface (UI) so they don’t cover too much of the screen
  • Rethinking the way we show powers to the players
  • Improving the overall look and feel of how we show hexes, how we aim things, and combat animations
  • Redesigning  how factions are handled
  • Reorganizing  some of the powers to better theme the heroes
  • Looking at the way we are building and summoning things

With all these stuff that we’re doing, the game is deeply broken right now. We’re still checking which ones actually work. Some of them could be bad ideas, but we hope we’ll have something to show by next week.


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.