ISSUE #43                         THE VALE, QUILL                         1 MARCH 2019                         ONE BRASS

The Short Report

Hi there, it's us again. Now that our whole team is back we've been able to resume our usual work tempo, which means we can finally get back to releasing these written updates more regularly! Though for this one, we're kicking off a new section called The Short Report, which we're going to begin putting at the top of every issue. This new section is specifically for sharing recent game progress only. So for those of you who don't want to wade through us waxing poetic about making games just to find the development updates, you can now get them right here at the top every time. So let's dive in!

Yesterday we did one of our standard team playtest sessions. In this most recent one, Neal took us through the progress he's made on blacksmith ownership. Running a business will be something the player can do for many different shop types, so the systems that Neal's adding are ones that'll help provide the skeletal frame for other businesses too. These systems include such things as customers approaching the counter, opening and closing your shop, managing your business in the ledger, accruing your reputation, and so on.

Though something we have to consider is all the different ways a player might interact within these systems. For example, if they open the shop and then leave the region with the shop still open, what happens? Or how the open/close sign is off-screen when inside the shop, so is there an easy way to visually indicate open/close status without having to run outside to check? If the player can set their shop's hours in the ledger, what happens if the shop opens while the player is somewhere else?

Those are just a few scenarios we've had to work ourselves through this last week. Here's how we answered some of them (though bear in mind anything is subject to change right now): If the player leaves the region while the shop's open, it'll auto-close on region exit. Since the open/close sign is usually off-screen, another visual cue to indicate open/close status will be the large ledger book on the shop counter - if the shop is open then the book is open, and vise versa. Lastly, the shop hours the player can set in their ledger will only apply to hired help, not the player. (Though hiring employees won't be added until some other future update.) This'll help give the player autonomy to choose when to run their business. Plus, it'll also give players a compelling incentive to hire help once that feature gets added.

Neal will be spending the next few days doing additional work on blacksmith ownership, but come Monday he'll be switching gears and spending this next week working on the non-blacksmith areas of the update, some of which we listed in the last issue of The Post. We'll check back in and let you know how it goes in the next issue's Short Report. Then a mere week after that, we'll be prepping the update for release!

No Place Like Gnome

Last week I was away with the fairies, literally. I had ventured into the Fae realm of Tir Na Nog and was laying it out and prettying it, with the amazing assets our very own Matthew Weekes provided.

Tir Na Nog is a land of pink waterfalls, strange glowing flora, weird symbols on the ground, and clusters of Gnome and Fairy homes. I tried to go for a mix of places to explore; the main village with its stacked homes, Tinker's shop, and the Goods Store. Then we have a deep exotic forest inspired by Avatar the movie and an area of mysterious symbols based on the amazing Nazca Lines in Peru.

I often had to stop and gaze at the beauty that the assets provide and I've really enjoyed detailing even the tiniest sections. Combined with the music, this is a strikingly different region with beautiful songs and plenty for the eye. I could pretty this region until my brain said Gnome ore.

The Nazca Lines are enormous geoglyphs found in the ground of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. They were created sometime between 500 BCE and 500 CE. So yeah, a loooong time ago.

Code of Invisibility

This past week I've mostly been working on blacksmith updates. It's been kind of surprising how much work has to go into something that visibly hasn't changed very much. I'm about 60 points of feedback/work in but couldn't really show where most of that is. I've been trying to fit in some bits around the edges of anything that helps with the presentation, though that will undoubtedly need another pass.

We've also been chatting through the roadmap and how it all fits together. Although it may seem to double up work, our intention is to try and get in a first pass version of all the remaining features before we truly go in and polish everything up in a second/third/fourth pass. The reason for this is primarily that until all the pieces are there it's really hard to be sure how it fits into the whole game. The time gap also helps lead to fresher impressions to see issues and solutions that were blind to us without a different perspective.

Next up I've still got maybe another 50 points of feedback/work to go (with another team playthrough as well). Hopefully the majority will come together in the next few days which will free up the next week for more visible update work!

Variations on a Theme

Last issue, I talked about writing themes for a bunch of new regions and making all those themes come together in the town center. This week it's time to put that into practice. A handful of days ago I completed music for a market in this area, which was the last of the surrounding regions of this town. That market's track has its own theme in it, but the track also references a theme I established in the Candlewych fairground's music. The idea being that this shared theme is for markets in general, whereas this new market's theme is for just that specific area.

Another way in which this fairground's music differentiates itself from other fairgrounds is the instrumentation I use, which is a combination of instruments that I've been using all over this area's regions. Its main ingredients are the banjo, ukulele, marimba, and violin. (It's not the same violin heard in the Vale either.) I really hope these little details help sell the idea that the people that live in one area are of a different culture from the people who live in another.

The piece I'm currently working on is for this area's main village, and I decided to start entirely from scratch rather than try to modify one of my older tracks that I'd already written for it. I felt that the vibe of this area had evolved so much since I created those old versions that I needed to make a new track altogether - one that better reflects what that vibe had evolved into.

This means a lot more work for me, but you have to embrace that. Don't settle for less if more can be done within the limits that have been set for you.

The Rambling Cartographer

This last week has been all about getting back into our usual routines and preparing for the next stretch of development. The team's not only been working on the blacksmith update but we've also been assembling our full roadmap.

There's a certain balancing act required with roadmaps I've found. For one, there are many features that will need to be spread out over multiple updates - things that are simply too large in scope for a single incremental update. However, it's equally important to balance the need for new features with the need for new content. In this case, 'content' refers to things like new regions, additional characters, minigames, new creatures, additional Fairweather items, and so on. So the question becomes: when do you focus on features and when do you focus on content? If one gets too far ahead of the other, bottlenecks happen.

The trick is to find an even pace between the two, frequently alternating between each. In a couple of days we'll be having another team chat in which the focus of discussion will be on mapping out that balance. By the end of the call, we'll have a proper draft that I can mold into our final roadmap - the one that I'll be sharing with all of you! In fact, you can look forward to seeing that get posted this upcoming week.

In other news, now that our programmer is back from his few weeks away, our team is fully assembled once more. It certainly feels good to be back to my usual work rhythm. I start to get a bit restless if I go too long without having work tasks to tend to - I'm very momentum-dependent. If I keep working at a healthy pace, it's easier for me to keep that energy going indefinitely. But if I slow down for even a little bit, it becomes all the harder to build back up to that momentum. Which is why it can be difficult to convince myself to slow down now and then.

So it was no doubt a good thing that our programmer being away forced some of us to catch a bit of breath, to take stock of our progress, and to think on our goals for the year ahead. It was also a good opportunity for us to dabble with some of the more fun and relaxing areas of game work - areas that can sometimes be hard to find time for during our normal work weeks.

I think with Charlie that tends to be making new regions. In recent weeks he's become completely absorbed in making the new Tir Na Nog region and from what he's shown me it looks like some of his best work yet. Despite all the different areas of the game that he works on, I imagine that level design will always have special significance to him. His passion is undeniably in building worlds.

All that to say, it was nice to restore our energy from our breakneck pace of the last couple years. We're very enthusiastic about this game, so it can often be hard to pry our fingers from the keyboards. Kynseed, for all of us, is definitely a passion project.

In fact, just last week Tice and I were having a meeting via voice chat when the topic of passion projects came up. We found ourselves discussing how we've both been waiting for an opportunity like this for many years - over a decade, even. Making games is an aspiration shared by many people these days, perhaps even by some of you reading this, and that includes both Tice and I. We've spent many a year trying to carve out a little spot for ourselves in this industry. For myself, that journey began long ago in the early Lionhead community and, in some ways, I'm still on that journey even now. In fact, it led to me working on this. As we talked, Tice and I were sure of one thing: that this is our chance to work on a dream game and we'd be damn fools if we didn't give it our all. We know enough to know that passion projects like this don't come around often.

I guess what I'm saying, if indeed I'm saying anything, is that we're all in on this game. As much as we may love the journey of Early Access, it's a journey with a clear destination in mind. Don't get me wrong, the industry's approach to Early Access can be a bit of a dumpster fire at times. So I totally get why folks might get antsy if it's been a few weeks since a game update or new issue of The Post. We get antsy about it too. But Kynseed isn't just some regular ol' game job to us. It's a passion project. It's dream fulfillment.

We've got a good deal of development left to go, of course. A game like ours is going to take more than a handful of months to complete and because it's a sandbox game we'll be relying on a ton of player feedback. It's why we're doing the whole Early Access thing. That, and we were inspired by some of our other favorite Early Access games like Factorio and Prison Architect - the sorta games that took time to properly develop, all while working closely with their communities each step of the way. Though thankfully we don't have to rely on determination alone, because this group of yahoos I call teammates have a staggering amount of experience with this sorta thing - such as with Charlie building RPG worlds, Neal coding vast game tools, Tice writing multiple hours of music, and our artists working their pixel magic. Not to mention, we have you lot to help us steer the way. We've got so many powers combined we might as well start summoning Captain Planet up in here.

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