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Dev Blog # 6 – Addressing Game Ideas That Suck

To begin this week’s dev blog, we’ll share something that not only applies to Last Regiment, but to game development in general: how does the theory of all our ideas actually play out?

This is a really hard part of game development. Game ideas start out as really cool on paper. But when you start to implement it, you begin to realize that there are things you forgot or didn’t think about, and it ends up not being like what you thought it would be. This is the point where some new developers fail: they say to themselves, “This sucks, I give up.” But that is something you cannot avoid in game development. The real task is getting from that point to another.

To quote from Adventure Time: Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.

Before you can be good, first you have to suck. It’s easy to get real disheartened that you’re not good at this.  Instead of giving up on idea and just changing it to something else, you have to be able to critically look at it and figure out: Why does it suck?

So you’ll notice in our updates that we’ll continue to try out ideas and keep switching them up. For example, as we talked about before, the concept of steamrolling or snowballing has been a common problem in strategy games. As you become more powerful and acquire more resources or units, you eventually reach a tipping point where you’ve guaranteed your victory and there’s nothing else anyone can do. Of course, most players would like that, but if it happens too early, people would feel disenfranchised for their game. If in the first five turns it becomes impossible for anyone to go any further, that’s when strategy games fall down. The challenge for us developers is to find that balance. In Legends of Callasia, we have the card mechanic that enables you to make turnarounds in battle. These are the types of solutions we want.

For Last Regiment , we’re currently looking at two ways to handle resources:

  1. Hoarding resources. This is the basic Civilization model. For every turn, I get more gold.  My pile gets bigger and bigger. I keep hoarding so I can go form armies, build structures, etc.
  2. Limited resources. In Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering, you get a certain number of resources which you can use for each turn. At the end of the turn, it replenishes.

If you remember, we moved to limit-based model precisely because we wanted to prevent steamrolling. We played it like that in the past weeks, but it wasn’t fun.

Why was it not fun? It reaches a point wherein I’m over at your castle, trying to finish the game and get you out. But because both of us have the same amount of resources every turn, you would just keep on spawning more units to fight me off. At the same time, if the game continually refills your resources (example: 10), we need to make sure that nothing costs 11 resources. Getting the same amount of resources creates a mechanic with fast turnaround, which works really well in Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering. But in a map-based strategy game where you want the units to move around, last longer, and do things, it’s not such a great mechanic.

So we switched back Gold and Mana into hoarding resources.

We still have the concept of control points, which is a limited resource. Like the population limit in LOC, you only have so much control but you can increase it by getting more buildings. Now the number of units I can make and control becomes limited by how much you can hoard. This is something we haven’t balanced yet. What happens when my hoard gets really big? We’re still figuring it out.

Meanwhile, we’ve also been working on a bunch of core technology to make sure multiplayer is functioning properly. We’ve also added stuff like new effects and new art. We are also playing with idea of having some neutral units and the concept of healing.

Another big change is the camera movement. When we were playing, things would happen on a different part of a map, but I would be looking at something else. That was hurting the game: people thought it was broken because you didn’t see or know what happened. So we changed the way you visualize the game. Theoretically,  the camera would be dragged around to show you things as they occur.

In terms of ideal game length, we’re still struggling with that. For Legends of Callasia it was about right: 30 minutes for 2-player games, while bigger games can be from one to two hours. It’s a nice spot for players to be drawn in and get involved. But some want it shorter, some longer; others want more options or less options. This is always an issue in game development: getting everyone to agree on something. Since different things such as more players or bigger maps can affect game length, we’ll continue to play around with that during the course of the development cycle.

But the bigger questions are always: What it is that we ought to be doing?  Who are the players we are targeting? You never really know if you’re building the right game, especially at this early stage.

For example, we’ve been getting some feedback on how we’re writing the fantasy or the lore of this game. People have certain expectations  about what things should or shouldn’t be, which is a challenge as we create a unique lore for this game.

We also did a multiplayer playtest during our stream (full, unedited video here) and these are the things that we learned today:

  1. Movement is a lot of fun. The camera movement is really good.
  2. The attack/damage values of the heroes are within the range we expect. They’re not perfect and would still need more balancing, but overall, they’re pretty good.
  3. The economy is still wonky. You’re consistently getting your Gold and Mana, but there aren’t many places you can spend them on. After a couple of turns, it gets to a point where the resources don’t matter because you already have everything you want. You keep hoarding and continue spawning, which makes the game basically endless.

In general, we are pleased with the progress we’ve been making and the feedback we’ve been receiving. We’ll be looking at various solutions to address the current issues. Hopefully by next week we have figured something out.


Dev Blog #5 – Choose Your Regiment + Multiplayer

Two weeks after our previous update, we went live for the first time with a multiplayer game of Last Regiment! It’s still far from done, with a bunch of placeholder art and broken things that we already know about.

We also realized that we haven’t done an intro about the team yet. Some of us also worked on Legends of Callasia. We have:

  • Chris, designer and Creative Director from Japan
  • Adrian, also known as “Tentaklor”, our coder in Malaysia
  • Ben, animator and artist from Malaysia
  • Artists Edwin, Erwin, and Jun from the Philippines (plus Karen who occasionally helps out with the UI)

That’s the core team, but we also have back-end support from Allan (Technical Director), JD (coder), and Monika (Marketing).

We also share a brand new screen – “Choose Your Regiment”.  One of the big parts of the game is all about building some sort of deck or regiment. This is still a first cut of this screen which still used black squares with text for their internal names, which we’ll replace with pretty art sooner of later.

When you build a regiment, you can choose units from up to three factions (Note: The limit is not yet working in the game, so you’ll see us choose factions from multiple factions in the video.) There are various factions to choose from:

  • Redkeep – A massive fortress city set on the edge of Kothia where the local Highborne (elves) and Portellian colonial powers (humans) work together to begin their reclamation of the ancient land.
  • Ivoria – A wizarding city deep in the jungle where mages and beasts (such as the monkey warriors), are led by dark, powerful sorcerers
  • Silverwood – An overgrown wilderness which was once the home of the ancient Highborne kingdom, now filled with Woodspawn spirits summoned by the vengeful Moonpriests
  • Darktalon – A deep, dark forest inhabited by ferocious, magic-hating Goblins.
  • Polliva – A large and powerful fleet coming from a great capital across the sea
  • Ruma – A rough port of sailors, traders, swashbucklers, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of the Portellian Empire

These are the first six factions, and we’ll add more later on as we build the game and get it working.  Each faction comes with heroes, which are super powerful, heavy-duty units. Each faction is limited to one hero (for now – maybe later we’ll add a special faction with more than one hero?)

Once you’ve created your regiment, you can just save and exit. When you go to the Multiplayer screen, you can choose which regiment you want to use then host/join a multiplayer game.

Watch the video below for our multiplayer playtest with Ben, and also do a bit of Q&A with our viewers. (Warning: Lots of placeholder art and bugs.)


Dev Blog #4 – Q&A Session and Bigger Hex Tiles

In the past week we’ve started getting more questions about how Last Regiment is going and what plans we have for the game, so for today’s stream we first did a little Q&A session. We even answered questions not specific to this game such as “Why do game developers do stupid things?”

Then we showed some of the new art we made for the maps, such as bigger and more interesting tiles for the blocker features (non-walkable tiles), instead of adding several small tiles.

That way the hex shapes are not too obvious when you look at the map on a whole.

It may not look like huge progress, but it’s really a process we need to spend much time on. We want to make sure we create some pretty looking maps, because screenshots are the first things that people are going to see at the download page. We want to make sure that we make a beautiful game from the very beginning.

We actually also made some progress for multiplayer mode. We tried it yesterday, and had wanted to stream it today, but it’s still not ready. We’ll continue working on that and hopefully we can show that next week. We’ll also keep answering questions, so just keep on asking by leaving a comment here or on Discord. Better yet, drop by the stream when we’re live.


Dev Blog #3 – Making tiles, designing UI, and more game info

How do we make a game from nothing to something? We use a bunch of editors we build ourselves, and other tools that are generally available.

Our Hex-Editing Tools

Believe it or not, one of the biggest tools we use is Microsoft Excel. It’s a great management tool to put a bunch of data in one place and do automatic computations. We also use SVN, a repository system that allows us to control file revisions and easily revert to previous versions if needed. We use it is to keep the most up-to-date files without worrying about getting overwritten.

In this week’s stream, we shared how we made the individual hex tiles used in creating the maps in the game. The artists make different base terrain tiles and decals using Photoshop, then they have to be tagged properly on Excel. Each tile has to look different to make sure there is no ugly tiling. It takes a lot of work to make different kinds of tiles and decals, but this also makes it easier for the player to make their own maps, and also faster for us to rebalance levels and release more content. (Watch in dev blog video #3.1.)

As mentioned in the video, we also follow strict naming conventions to make it easier to localize into different languages later on.

In-Game User Interface

This week, we also made a mock-up of the in-game screen, which we’ll start to implement soon. (Discussed in dev blog video #3.2)

On the top left: regimental colors, player info, chat menu, scoreboard, hex grid toggle, settings menu

On the top right: number of units without assigned moves, resources, turn counter, end turn button (which turns green after all moves are assigned)

On the bottom left: active unit, HP and ATT stats, number of moves, powers and costs, buffs and debuffs

On the bottom right: the regiment bar – select 10 units that you can summon on the map at the start of the game from up to 3 factions, which you can save as a regiment and assign its regimental colors

How to Win

There are different game objectives depending on the mode and game settings. (Starts at 4:08 in dev blog video #3.2)

Campaign mode: Has specific victory conditions depending on story or lore such as to take over a particular building, survive in X number of turns, defeat a certain unit, build X units, collect X amount of gold, etc.

Multiplayer mode: Let players set up victory conditions at the start of the game ad create different gameplay modes. By default, you have to defeat all your enemies and take all their structures so that they can’t summon any more units.

Structures

So far we have built prototypes for different kinds of structures and the powers that they have, then one of our next tasks is to put it in the game and test to see if it’s fun or not.  (Starts at 5:38 in dev blog video #3.2)

Units can take over structures and take on the structure’s properties. We also use these structures to give the maps a sense of place and have them tied to the lore and the culture of the different races in the game. Similar to the weaponry, fashion, and technology we’re using in this game, we have slightly modern structures based on the 1700s.

Lore: The Infection

The Orcs are responsible for the Infection, which is a deep part of the lore. (Starts at 11:34 in dev blog video #3.2) They were losing in the great war many years ago, and they prayed to the God of Death to help them destroy their enemies – and so they were given the power to infect the dead with fungus and spores, which eventually took over the lands, driving away the other races.

A different faction of Orcs went to the Sun God and banded with other races to form a community that is simple and peaceful. This is an example of how not all creatures from the same race are the same – so we made factions that aren’t racially based.

Factions

We’ve divided factions from races, to make sure that players have different options instead of strictly playing a certain race. (Starts at 15:20 in dev blog video #3.2) Each faction, such as Redkeep, has its own lore and may have a mix of elves, humans, constructs, and other summonable units. Meanwhile, Ivoria is a huge jungle area with wizards of different races who have powers over animals and beasts. Tirezia also has its own beast units, but in a farmland area. Adding these different faction choices gives the feeling of being involved into the lore and history of the game, and also allows players to mix and max different units.

Monetization

How are we going to monetize this game? (Starts at 17:56 in dev blog video #3.2) It will NOT be free-to-play – everyone should have reasonable chance to play this game without putting in a lot of money to buy packs for a chance to get better units. We haven’t set a price point yet, but we are discussing whether to price it differently on the various platforms.

What we can tell you is there will be an initial purchase where you get the full game, and unlock the factions through the campaign. We received various feedback from people who want everything immediately available, but we felt that it cheapens the experience. We want players to have a sense of success and completion in unlocking new units, so when they player multiplayer, you know which people have played the game. And again, they also become more involved in the lore and story.

 


Happy Birthday to Me! Let’s Make an Editor!

So – now that we’re dev-blogging, I thought I’d do short updates every now and then to let people know what we’re doing on a day to day basis, and what the actual process of development looks like.

Today, which happens to be my birthday,  was spent working with 2 coders, and a bunch of artists on improving our editor.  Specifically the editor that allows us to build the hexes that go into the game.

Because we’re hoping to ship with an editor, we have sort of broken building maps into 2 steps:

  1. Build the building blocks the game is made of – such as the Hexes in the map, the Structures you put on it, and the Units that move around. This is done with a combination of “ugly but functional” internal editors, and some big ass excel spreadsheets that churn out .lua files that define a lot of the game.
  2. Put all of these together in a more user friendly, consumer-facing editor, that allows you to build maps w/o having to ever switch programs and makes sure you are working with building blocks that dont (easily) break the game.

Today’s journey (and last night’s) was to pound the “Hex-Editor” – the one that allows us to build hexes – into something that we can use properly, since it has been a bit neglected, and there was a lot of ‘build as you go”-ness to it that needed to be standardized.

It’s unsexy work, but it has to be done.

Of course, making the tool is just the first part. The *really* hard part? Making all of the data once the tool is done. But that work gets compounded terribly if the tool is not optimized – and even a step that takes 1 minute can quickly become HOURS or DAYS after you use the tol long enough – and since game development is all about iterative building, you have to expect you are building allof your maps/levels multiple times. Having a tool that does not let you do that quickly… well, the time is well spent to get it right.

Today’s development working soundtrack?
The Bar-Kays “Holy Ghost” 


Dev Blog #2 – Revamping Some Stuff

Game dev is a process of continuous iteration, so we have been revamping some of the stuff you saw last week.

Here are the highlights from today’s stream!

We talk about the limiting factors such as gold, mana, control points (and unit cooldowns) to prevent the problem of steamrolling in strategy games.

We also have a brand new main screen! Still being made, but what do you think of it so far?

The banner and description would change depending on the menu selected. We’ve also added a section below to announce updates, livestreams, and other news. This section will be replacing the annoying pop-up notifications that we had in Legends of Callasia. We’ve also added icons linking to some of our social media pages on the upper right corner, while the full list would be available in the Community menu.

So that’s it. Things will continue to change, and we’ll continue to share them. Til next week’s stream, only on the Ninesquirrels Twitch channel!


Dev Blog #1 – A Postmortem and a Game Introduction

Hey blog readers! We had our first dev stream for this game and it means a lot to us that many came out to watch and support us (even after a really rough start).

Aside from the video update every week on the Ninesquirrels channel, we will also be updating this blog to monitor our progress and hopefully share some helpful insights with our fellow devs.

But more importantly, we are doing this because of the experience we had during our Early Access for our first strategy game, Legends of Callasia. We had so many great responses from our early adopters, so we want to replicate that and get everyone involved early on in Last Regiment.

So as we start this blog, we’d like to do a little post-mortem on LOC to explain why we are making this new game.

What we learned from Legends of Callasia

Let’s start with what people loved about Legends of Callasia. It’s a turn-based game that can be played in a reasonable amount of time, largely because of the simultaneous gameplay. You can play multiplayer on a desktop or a tablet with your friends in an hour and a half – it doesn’t take forever!

But as with any game, there are bunch of things we thought we had to improve or wished we could have done.

  1. No level editor. The whole game is structured in a way that creating a map starts from a hand drawing, transformed into several layers of Photoshop, then an Excel file. It was frustrating every time someone asked if they can make their own maps – it was a cool idea that we would have liked to have done but only possible if we start over from scratch.
  2. The learning curve. Though people enjoyed the game, many didn’t understand how things worked when they first played it. They got confused about the combat system: how armies work, what do the unit stats mean, how much is the actual damage, who gets attacked first, etc. The game had a system but we weren’t able to explain it very well. The battle screen felt like a game of its own which players couldn’t understand. It became a huge barrier for getting first-time players to become interested in the game, and though we had people in the community helping out the newbies, we would very much prefer if the mechanics can be easily grasped when you hopped into the game.
  3. The story / lore. Admittedly, the story was not something we had focused on in LOC. We had assumed our players would only want to move their armies around and not deeply care about the story – we were wrong. We went for classic fantasy characters such as humans, elves, dwarves, and the undead. People were asking us about the lore, and as we went along we tried to add story.  This is another big change we plan to do in Last Regiment – to create a real world, write meaningful stories with original characters that stray a bit from the obvious fantasy tropes.
  4. Faction and unit structures. With each faction having only 6 units each, there were limited unit combinations or synergies that a player can come up with. You cannot use units from different factions. Once players have figured out the best way to play each faction, it shortened the lifespan of the game, even if we released new updates. There was no challenge to find new synergies that no one else has figured out.

Now these were the things we wanted to change, but unfortunately were not possible at the stage Legends of Callasia is in. Thus, the idea for Last Regiment was to take the things that people loved in LOC and address all the issues we had to make a much more improved strategy game.

The Game Reveal

Last Regiment will also be a fantasy-themed game like LOC, with story-driven single-player campaigns, and maps to play in skirmish or multiplayer with AI or human players. It would also have its built-in map editor, which is made possible now that we’re using hex-based maps.

Main Menu

We are also working on an improved UI for the main menu, with a dedicated space for news and announcements, instead of the notification pop-ups in LOC which players found annoying. Note that the images in the screenshot are mostly placeholder.

Gameplay

Unlike in LOC, there won’t be any lands or kingdoms to conquer, which usually takes a few turns before any action happens. We go straight to the fighting and let you control units from your pre-formed regiment and capture specific structures. Aside from the hexes, we are also implementing fog of war and will be introducing mana, which will allow you to summon new units on the map. You can have units from different factions and go into battle without going into another screen. You can watch Chris playtest the game in the video (#1.2) to get a clearer idea on how movement and combat work.

Built-in Map Editor

We’re making the map editor as easy to use as possible and adding different terrains, structures, and decals in order to have that same fantasy map feel from LOC. The buildings you’ll have are based on the lore and the different factions in the game. Some will also have special abilities and features – more on that in the video (#1.3).

Story and Characters

The idea for the story begins with an old, European-style world who colonized a brand new continent called Kothia, leading to incredible colonial wars. Humans from the old world brought constructs made of magic and machinery, and these encouraged the natives to fight back.

 

The Highborne, one of the original inhabitants of Kothia, needed magic to fight this with and so they summoned spirits of the forest, currently known as the Woodspawn. Meanwhile, the Orcs summoned the spirits of death and brought forth fungal growths that infected people and rotted out their brains. The new world becomes a desolated wasteland.

The humans went back to the old world to develop better tools and technology, which we based on modern, 1750s technology such as cannons and galleons. With these new powers, they returned to Kothia and the Reconquest began.

 

But back in Kothia, the people who had retreated created stronger magical factions to fight the chaos happening in their world. New units such as apes and vampiric lemurs had spawned.

The game now takes place in a world controlled by little armies and mercenary kings fighting each other. There will be units based on different factions, races, and technology. You, as the player, will be constantly putting together mercenary armies based on these warring factions.

Olivia

 

We introduced Olivia in our previous post, but this time we show you her full portrait. She was previously in one of the early colonial armies during the Reconquest, but after some events, she ends up being a pirate at the seaport of Saltia Ruma. The story begins with Olivia returning to Kothia and forming her own mercenary army. Yes she is a one-armed female pirate, and we’re excited to tell you about her journey.

Other Questions

We also answered some of other questions from the viewers during the stream such as:

  • Will there be non-unit stuff from each faction that you can take?
    Answer: Yes, there will be powers and abilities, but instead of putting them in the regiment bar, we gave those to the units who can only use in specific ranges at certain positions in the map.
  • Can any creature activate the different buildings on the map?
    Answer: We like the level of humor where ridiculous creatures can do ridiculous stuff, so yes. Also, we don’t want to give any very specialized characteristics for the units, because when you implement those kinds of rules, it complicates the gameplay and it has to be explained in the game really, really well.
  • Will the story be on a level that I can stream during my story playthrough time and enthrall my audience?
    Answer: Definitely. We’re still aiming for missions that take 30 minutes to two hours, similar to LOC. The story will be made up of number of maps and it won’t just be about conquering territories. It will be about moving through different hexes and telling stories based on places and characters on map.

The answers are explained in detail in the video (#1.4), so go check that out for more info. So there you have it – this is what you can expect from Last Regiment. If you have questions, just leave a comment or visit our Discord. Or you can drop by our stream next week to ask us directly.

Thanks for reading this to the very end. And we’ll continue updating this blog for all things Last Regiment.


Weekly development stream starts April 19 10PM EST

After sharing exclusive info to our Discord community, throwing out some hints, and showing it to some of our fans during PAX East, we’re happy to officially announce the title for our new project!

Last Regiment is a fantasy-themed strategy game with single-player campaigns and simultaneous turn-based multiplayer, which we are currently developing on PC, and hopefully on Mac and mobile as well. It takes the best parts of Legends of Callasia, makes a bunch of neat changes for a faster, deeper, and more strategic game, and allows player to design their own levels through its built-in map editor. (More here: Developer Blog #1)

The game is still in its alpha stage, but we are opening its development progress and livestreaming it on Twitch! The weekly dev stream by Boomzap Creative Director Christopher Natsuume starts on April 19 10PM EST at twitch.tv/ninesquirrels!

As another sneak preview, here’s a headshot of our lead character, Olivia.

This character is (obviously) based on Olivia from Legends of Callasia. We thought she was such an awesome character there, that we wanted her lead in our new game. So we have redone her, given her a new story, background, and costume, and brought her in as the leading lady for our new game.

In more fun behind-the-scenes fun: she is originally based on Chris’ niece. She is a beautiful girl now celebrating her 3rd birthday, and became part of their family back when we were making Legends of Callasia.

For more details, visit the following links: