Tag Archives: strategy games

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

Dev Blog #14 – What we learned from ESGS (and how to join our beta)

Two weeks ago, we went to two conferences in Manila! First was Gamefest, a game development summit with speakers from both the local and international gaming industry, and E-Sports and Gaming Summit (ESGS), one of the biggest consumer conventions in the Philippines.

LINK: More ESGS  photos up on Facebook

What We Learned From  ESGS

We usually don’t bring our games in the state Last Regiment is currently in: it’s an early build without a tutorial and lot of placeholder stuff. But since we’re blogging and streaming it, people have already seen it anyway. At the same time, whenever we want to do something big, we want to always do it first in the Philippines, the studio’s spiritual home.

On a practical note, not showing the game before we attend PAX South next year would have been bad idea. ESGS provided an opportunity for us to watch people play and see what we need to do to bring our A game to PAX.

One of the problems we had during Legends of Callasia was that nobody knew we existed. Although people in the industry knew Boomzap, the vast majority of gamers in the Philippines play AAA games and e-sports titles. As an indie strategy game in a world of huge production value games, how do we survive?

We were surrounded by huge companies at ESGS, and some people just took a quick look at out booth and walked on by. But it’s fine, they probably weren’t our audience. However, there must be a niche strategy gaming audience somewhere. Where do we find them? How do we get them to know we exist? We do all sorts of marketing efforts such as streaming, but how do we get people to know about the stream? How do we do marketing for the marketing?

At the convention, most of the major exhibitors had “booth babes”, but it’s something we’ve sworn not to do (aside from the fact that we can’t afford them). Last year, we had Callasia fans volunteer to man our booth at PAX – people who are able to share their love for the game.  During ESGS, it’s the actual development team who was there to explain how the game works. We know this is more effective in attracting people who are actually into the game, rather than those only interested in getting pictures with pretty girls at a booth.

We also had a second booth at the ESGS Indie Arena, where all the other indies are. When people went to this area, they are actually there to play and talk to the developers about their games. This is our goal for the next conventions we’re attending. By next week we’re submitting to Indie Prize USA and Indie Megabooth at PAX East – hopefully we get chosen! The important thing we need to do now is get the game ready.

What We Changed In the Game

1. We revamped  our UI art assets! During ESGS, the game trailer showed endlessly on the big screen, and we realized that the UI is old and dated. Thus we looked at the time setting of the game and asked ourselves what the visual design was of that time. The answer: rococo and filigree!

2. We’re adding two kinds of structures: Destructible and Permanent. While we were working on the map editor, we started to talk about what single player would look like and got to thinking about buildings. Does it make sense that you can build a village and have a large building tree within the lore of the game and still present a tactical feel? What if we separated it out: things that can be built and things that can only be placed via the editor. Thus, these permanent structures would become an object in the story.

3. In-game notifications have some improvements. Now you get more info as to what is actually happening on the game in the next few turns, including player resource upkeep. During ESGS, the most common question we had was which happens first? The game needed a clear language to explain the order of actions, and for now we added indicators on top of the screen during the resolution phases.

4. We’ve updated the movement arrows and the way they behave. We observed that players often made errors when dragging and moving heroes, and end up selecting additional hexes, so this hopefully fixes that issue.

5. As requested by the people on stream, we’ve added player emblems from Legends of Callasia!

6. We’ve added a new goblin faction called Darktalon led by Captain Hollythorn. They are masters of the environment who are against magic.

7. We noticed that there are too many heroes in the game. They are so powerful, and you basically end up with a screen full of heroes, which made them a bit unspecial. We decided that we wanted to have fewer heroes available to players available during the game. We want to make faction choice more critical, and now we’re experimenting limiting them to up to two factions per regiment.

8. Other things we’re working on are updates and reorganization to the minion powers framework, addition of cool new powers, and VFX improvements. We’re also still working on optimizing the game since as people noticed the low framerate it plays on.

LINK: Last Regiment Dev Stream #14 (FULL) on Youtube

“Earlier Access”

So now people are asking: all these people at the convention got to try out Last Regiment, when do we get to play it? We’re planning  to launch as an Early Access title on Steam in 2018, but before that, we’ll do a closed beta with some special people.

Instead of the usual signups, we’re choosing our betatesters from our most active Twitch viewers and Discord chatters.

  • Watch our dev streams on Twitch and earn 2000 boombux. (Click here for the leaderboard.)
  • Be an active member of our Discord and reach Level 15 by chatting. (Click here for the leaderboard.)

We’ll also invite press, content creators, and our betatesters from Legends of Callasia into the closed beta.

For now there is no estimated date on when beta would be available. We’re currently focused on making a solid demo build for PAX South in January. So in the meantime, stay tuned to earn those points for beta and watch out for our updates.