Category: Travelogue

I was sort of in a weird haze the last two days when it comes to Travelogue. The game is done. Thats what the fact that my list has zero entries left on it should say, right? But I knew that there’d be a lot of little things that needed to get done before I could actually put the game up on the store and start to sell it, and I was having difficulties seeing that path forward and knowing exactly what I should be doing with the short time left before release.

This is new ground for me. Finishing up a game to something that ‘has everything I had planned for it to have’ is one thing. But figuring out what to do after that point is an undiscovered country.

Clearly if I can make the game look better on first impression, that will directly correlate to how well it does, whether people are willing to review it, etc. There’s also the whole marketing side of things – am I ready for when I’m going to have to be promoting the game? Are there more things I could do pre-release to build interest? Then there’s all the little fiddly things that I’d like to pretend don’t exist: should I make a Nullsoft installer for the Windows players, or just package everything in a zip that includes a linux and windows executable and let people run it from wherever? Should I try to have an in-game update mechanism (advice from others is mixed here – evidently first-time indies tend to botch making auto-updaters secure and there’s a whole mess of liability issues there).

So it sounds like its time for a new list for a new period of development:

  • Make a couple of banner ads and show them around, see which people like more (and plan to test their performance post-release)
  • Press kit, press releases, etc.
  • Make a better gameplay video, 1-2 minutes long, with lots of cuts to interesting bits of the game.
  • Actually set up the Node-Webkit package that people will eventually be downloading. Make sure it has stuff for Windows, Linux, Mac; 32bit and 64bit. Find someone with a Mac to test it for me.
  • Make sure that you can actually get the game when you buy it!
  • Make the Fastspring store page look like this site
  • Set up Desura and itch.io accounts and see if I can host the game there too.
  • Make the ‘landing page’ for Travelogue ads look compelling and have a good ‘call to action’. Maybe make a few landing pages to see which works best.
  • Play Travelogue straight through and see if that makes me want to change stuff.
  • Set up a new home-page for this site that specifically showcases Travelogue and has the blog elements below or following a link.

 

Left: Low karma visual effect, Right: Effects off.

Someone’s been naughty in Rownshackle

So I’ve mostly spent this weekend working on various bits of polish for Travelogue. Different attacks and different types of weapons have different sound effects in combat now, and there’s a difference between a hit and a critical hit in some cases. I also put in some flashing lights and a few extra animations to generally break up combat a bit and give more cues as to what is actually going on. One of the attacks that the mercenary-quest endboss has involved something like 120 1/64th notes on a distorted guitar with a taiko drum as backup, and a reverb filter with the wet level turned all the way up and the dry level turned all the way down. I was not sure if it was going to sound like anything or just like a cat walking on a keyboard, but it does actually sound pretty good in-game. The other thing along these lines is that I added a mild shading effect to the worldmap that slowly changes based on the karma of the region. Things are a little darker in low-karma places and a little brighter in high-karma places. I’m thinking about adding stuff like little graveyards/battlefields/etc that show up at different values as well, but I’m not sure I should focus on that more than just adding more events that are dependent on the current karma/unrest/wealth levels. Note the sharp line in the above image is for comparison – it doesn’t appear in game. Oh, and there are forums now. Enjoy!

travelogue_glitch

Now that the content I’m directly responsible for is done, its time to turn towards fixing things up a bit (by the way, I completely neglected to do that today and instead wrote up three new event cards…). I expect to be getting a number of bug reports from testers this weekend, but until then I’ve found one of my own. The screenshot to the right is Travelogue running on Node-Webkit right after an event card has finished. Notice the directional arrows? Somehow its getting stuck into the ‘darken’ render-mode for all the HUD elements. This also extends to the red (now black) lines that indicate the path you’re trying to take.

Mercifully, this seems to be the only major bug so far on Node-Webkit, which is really a quite gentle porting experience compared to porting a C program from Linux to Windows or something.

portrait1 Code bugs aren’t the only thing to fix though. This portrait is the replacement for the first portrait I drew – when I started, I was doing everything basically straight from my head, the result of which was the silly-looking portrait you can see on the character screen image a few posts back. After that I realized I could get much higher quality using reference photos and trying to stay faithful to actual anatomy. So the followup portraits are much better. The problem with reference photos is when you neglect to make sure to correct for size. This guy in particular looks like a giant compared to the other portraits, in which the heads are about half the size. Just more little things to take care of.

The other kind of fixing-up is editing work. Our resident writer and historian, Dangerwaffle, went over and rewrote the text for all of the ‘wandering encounter’-style event cards last weekend, which is an incredible feat considering that a) half of it is Javascript code and not text, and b) its somewhere between 50k and 80k words. I’m incredibly grateful that I did not have to be the one to do that, and you guys would be too if you’d seen my writing before that.

 

Whew, that took way too long! The Merchant Quest was one of the three remaining things necessary to do before Travelogue is in a releasable state, and it was about as long as the entire rest of the list. The final event card is 1300 lines long (a lot of those lines are ‘{‘ or ‘}’ though), which is nearly twice as long as the next-longest card. I’ve also had some time to add a few perks for rich merchants, since there wasn’t much to buy that cost more than 1000 mils or so, and you’re supposed to make 30k mils to win the game as a Merchant. You can now invest in towns to get better prices for your goods there (up to a 5k investment for +20% to the sell prices), buy a ship for 5k, or get some nice clothes for 1k that improve your skills in social situations.

I’ve also been hankering to do more content for my Ludum Dare entry Rebound Recon, though I can’t actually change the submitted entry. Following some of the advice in the comments, I’m adding some levels to space out the introduction of new objects (I’m up to 9 new levels so far) and I’ve made a demobilized version that has a better interface for PC users – right clicking to delete nodes, mouse-wheel zoom on the level maps, viewport scaling to fit the browser window, that kind of thing. If I have time I’d also like to add air pumps where you can refuel, turrets that fire another entity at you when you get close, laser grids that ‘cycle off’ for two frames each second so you have to rush through at high speed, things like that.

New UI Graphics

Character screen for Travelogue with tiny buttons and text

The old…

New character screen for travelogue with big text, bar-display stats

The new!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were several elements of the user interface, particularly the character screen, which were going to be problematic for when we eventually want to port Travelogue to mobile platforms. Also, it just didn’t look very good. So I went and tried to spruce up the interface a bit, made the control elements and text bigger, etc. I was going for that hand-drawn look, which I’m not quite sure I achieved, but it definitely looks a bit more like a character sheet and less like a table

The home stretch

Travelogue screenshot with cloud shadows

I’ve read that the last 10% of the game takes as much time as the first 90%. Hopefully that won’t be true here! I’ve made a list of all the things that demand attention before we can release Travelogue as a finished game. There’s stuff I want to do on top of that, but this is the critical stuff.

  • Ending theme
  • Add character sprites to match the various portraits
  • Make a sprite for sailing on the ocean
  • Fix the art of the first portrait I did, which looks really bad compared to the followup ones
  • Make something happen after a year passes and the player hasn’t won
  • Separate background graphic for the hidden ending
  • Alternate ending for the merchant
  • Ability to import/export saves to disk, since right now they’re stuck in localStorage and would be a pain to transfer between computers
  • Create a demo version of the full game

And thats it on my end! I think thats not too bad a set of things that must get done over the next two weeks. There’s also going to be testing, rebalancing, etc of course. There’s also a few more things that Dangerwaffle and Whiskeyninja are working on: the Nomad quest, the Roc’s Nest, and a merchant house quest for the town of Omen.

If I have time, there are a few things I’d like to do on top of this list though. Given the expanded size of the display and the fact that the inventory was moved to a separate screen, I’ve got the space to make the skill/stat interface look a bit more snazzy. Right now its tiny little buttons and text, which isn’t really ideal when we do the mobile port, so that could stand a revision. I’d also like to put more ‘Hermit’-style events in the game – things that respond to what other players are doing in various regions. Right now there’s only five or ten such events and a few mechanical things besides that (places that are very popular amongst players will have easier access to skill trainers, for example). If I can get that number up to around 20 or 30 then it becomes a bigger part of the game rather than kind of a gimmick on the side.

Content!

Greetings! I’ve been rolling around not posting here for too long! The Hermit will be solitary no more! Exclamation points!

I’ve been working on additional content for event cards alongsie The Hermit and Dangerwaffle, and I wanted to pop in and let you know that we also have a subreddit if you’re interested in subscribing and asking questions/posting content in anticipation of release!

Check it out here

This week I’ve been helping Dangerwaffle finalize a Nomad quest, and work on the second level of our dungeon. Which involves birds, which is awesome.

More to come!


Good news – at this point, we have crossed the line of our original projections of how many events will be in Travelogue. As of this post, we have 110 event cards including town events, quests, dungeons, and things that just happen to you while you wander around. The 110th card happens to be a dungeon event involving a salt circle in the middle of a burnt-out shell of a town on approach to the Scarhold Ruins.

Of course in another way this isn’t great news, since we finished the number we thought we’d need and I’m still working on one more dungeon as well two or three more quests, not to mention what the rest of the team has queued up. But since we have about a month to release, hitting that initial deadline we set back when we first started the project feels pretty good. It means that in under three months we’ve gone from an idea to what is basically a feature-complete and content-complete game – everything we do from here on is a bonus thanks to having time to spare. As part of this, I took the opportunity to make some music for traveling in different terrain types. The track attacked to this entry is what you’ll hear when you’re in the hills and mountains.

This also means though that its time to start worrying about things like testing, polish, packaging the game and figuring out the details of selling it. What we’re doing here is probably considered a bit strange – normally for an HTML5 game like Travelogue you’d release it and then make money based on advertising or in-game shops or licensing it to portal sites or things of that sort. Our plan is to package it in Node-Webkit for PC, and Phonegap for mobile, and sell it like you would a normal desktop game. Thanks to using the wrapper, the experience should be consistent across platforms so no annoying issue of buying a game and then finding out that your browser runs it as slow as tar or even not at all.

Now, there’s risk in this. We can obfuscate things a little and minify the Javascript, but there’s very little stopping someone from grabbing even minified javascript and hosting it for free on a portal site – its too difficult and expensive for us to try to constantly police that. We also don’t want to do some kind of ‘always online’ gimmick where the real game is stored on our server and you’re just downloading a wrapper – its poor form and it hurts our customers for no real reason. So we’re just not going to worry about it too much and just trust our customers to support us if they like our game.

As an aside, we sadly did not win the FiMaRu contest last weekend, but as this is a weekly contest there’s always next time!

Art day

A bar scene at night, no patrons.Today was an art day, doing ending screens for the various classes and some of the hidden endings. I’d include a screenshot of those but I do kind of want the endings to be a bit of a reward, so instead I’ve put up a background that didn’t end up getting used in the game. I’m not nearly as comfortable doing art as I am coding, but we’re a small studio so we need to be flexible and pick up skills as they’re needed. Thankfully I obtained a Wacom tablet from a colleague who ended up buying it but never using it, which helps immensely in doing the art.

The thing that has always impressed me in professional art is the sharpness of detail combined with the smoothness of shading. This is something that I’ve just never been able to get quite right in my own art, giving it a bit more of a sketch-like feel rather than something airbrushed and perfected. This particular graphic is a bit older, when I tended to use heavier black lines for laying out geometry in scenes where perspective lines are important. I’m trying to reduce that now since I think thats part of what makes it look ‘sketchy’. Masking seems like the right answer for sharp features, but I always have problems with the shading right around the end of the mask, getting the curvature of the object to appear to follow its outline right to the sharp edge.

There’s also an efficiency of brush strokes that I’m trying to learn – when you look very closely at good concept art, you can see the individual brush strokes, and the shape of the strokes are used to give definition to the smallest features (like drawing a tree trunk with a single movement). I find I have to paint over things again and again to slowly push the details and shading towards looking right, which then destroys the details of the brushwork.

Though trying for a more realistic style is helping me improve, I think there’s wisdom in trying to make games that best match the art style I have, unless we want to hire a dedicated artist for a particular project. Its one of those things to think of if you’re coming up with ideas of games to make, how to nudge the game concept to better fit the abilities of your team instead of sticking too much to the initial idea.

In other news, I got a bunch of ocean event cards from our other two authors, so there’s now stuff to do on the high seas. There’s only something like 4 ocean routes in the game, but they’re faster than land travel and don’t have issues of having to provide your own food (though you do have to pay passage).

I think the best games lie about what they are.

What I mean by that is, as you play the game, it changes from one game to another, often one that is quite different in feel from the original. It makes the game feel much deeper, and when the player first encounters this it becomes a memorable surprise. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just enough to let the player know that they are in a different stage of play, that the goals are different. X-Com (new or old, take your pick) kind of did this when you first get access to psionics for your soldiers for example. Its just one new ability, but it marks the point where the game changes from feeling like you’re scrambling to make a defense against an unknown foe to feeling like you can take the fight to the enemy now.

Sometimes this is a new subsystem opening up, or some combo that makes new things possible, or even a change in the way that character progression works (like a transition from solo play to raid play in an MMO). Post-game content is just another form of this, the idea of goals that require playing the game in a whole new way in order to achieve them.

Ideally I think a game should probably have two or such points, and I really like it when those transition points emerge naturally from changes in strategy and need in the game rather than the player being handed a new subsystem by force. For example, 4X games and things like Civilization tend to naturally transition between a ‘building up/development’ phase to a ‘fight your neighbors’ phase when there’s no longer anywhere to expand to. The game doesn’t have to explicitly say ‘okay, now you have the War option’.

So this week is going to be about trying to make that happen in Travelogue. The game is winnable now, so its got a start and end; so now I want to fill in the stages in the middle. The Merchant has a little bit of this already but I think its too short – their funds grow exponentially with trade until they cannot carry as much as they can buy, at which point they need to start seeking out better trade routes or save up for a Horse and Wagon. I can extend that change by making cards that trigger off of the player having a Wagon, but its a small thing.

A more interesting thing to do would be to start opening up the possibility of investments into different cities. Quests and the like that change the price of goods on the market or even provide an income stream independent of the Merchant’s individual trades. I already have an event where you can develop a small town into a trading hub, so more of this would be good.

And the Mercenary has a bit of a natural transition from wanderer to dungeon-hopper, but I don’t think its really so clear in game. You can handle some of the dungeons with a starting character after all. The Scout is the real problem here – their quest is just ‘go everywhere’.

So instead of poking at each class right now, which is a little inefficient, I think I’m going to spend this week making events that are timed. Winter has its blizzards already, but why not have stuff that just tends to happen as the months go on? Its not a sea change in how the game plays, but it keeps that feeling of progression, that if you play just one more month you might discover something new.