ISSUE #48                         THE VALE, QUILL                         19 APRIL 2019                         ONE BRASS

The Short Report

Game development is like going to a buffet. You arrive hungry, with a cornucopia of delicious food laid out for the taking, but you realize all too soon there's no way you're making room for everything you want to eat.*

As we continue down our roadmap journey, we've found we have to be mindful of that very thing. For the upcoming "Gnome Pun Intended" update, we kept going to Neal (Kynseed's sole programmer) with small little ideas we wanted to squeeze into the update. But the thing with small little ideas is that if you string enough of them together you'll find yourself with a large collection of ideas.

So originally we planned to push the update out a few days ago, but all those little ideas take time to implement and test, so instead we'll be pushing this new update out in the middle of this upcoming week. Though we do have an early version up on the 'latestupdate' branch for anyone interested in taking an early spin.

Overall, progress is going along nicely though. All major parts are working as intended and a few of those unplanned ideas are pretty much complete as well. One such example are new lighting system changes which now gives us the ability to hand place light sources rather than relying exclusively on in-world sources (such as candles and lamp posts). In fact, Charlie has recently done a pass over the entire game's regions placing new light sources around. He chats a bit about this in his update below. We'll have much more to share on all that next week when we push the update out, so be sure to pop back in soon.

* Games are also like metaphors. There's too many of them and most aren't that good.

Feeling Bulbous

As mentioned in his post below, Neal kindly provided me with placeable lights.

This seems like a small thing, but to someone with a history of lighting fetishism on Fable II and Fable III, I was very happy to get back to placing them down after years in the darkness.

Lighting a level is definitely trickier in a 2d game, but no less rewarding. I found the best effect comes from placing a subtle blueish light in patches to look like midnight moonlight in Cuckoo Wood and Tir Na Nog. During the day you canít see them, but come night and they add a bit of visual aid and also a chunk of atmosphere.

Lighting is best used to highlight things like cave entrances/doorways/paths, but it can also be used to add some nice ambient colour, such as from colourful strange plants and pools. The brief for Tir Na Nog was basically ĎAvatar the movie but with Faeriesí. This gives ripe opportunity for glowing foliage and strange colours.

I'm not a lighting artist (nowhere near), but there is something satisfying about bringing a bit of light and colour to the world. It was the same in Albion, and now it is the same in Quill. You can make a home feel cosy from a warm glowing fire. Make a henge stone seem cold and mysterious. Tempt a player lost in darkness, or be their guide.

Now, back to a little light work.

The Speed of Lights

Since last time, I've sorted out the lighting to allow light placement. So far I've kept it very basic without even going in for different shaped lights (though the source rectangle area can be stretched which helps achieve reasonable results for now).

It did take a few days to hook up everything correctly as it meant recreating the systems that game objects use for lights. In the end I went for the path of least resistance by recreating instead of rewriting/refactoring to accommodate for both. It's a choice which could mean later pain but felt like the safer option in the circumstances than finding out I've broken something!

Thinking back on it now, I do wonder on the wisdom in that or if it's even possible to have a 'best' solution except in retrospect. In some programming books I've read they talk about skill or mastery as being a process where experts instinctively know which way to go from having the experience to know the best approach that avoids pitfalls. I feel like my instinct mostly leads to muddling through still, because I don't have enough experience of the specific situations to know the right one. I probably just need to not get hung up on it too much (and practice more)!

I've been working on revisiting Fairweather along with more polish to the minigame and setting up the extra details that come with a new level/items/fish/audio. It feels like a good next step to be iterating through these things and making improvements along the way. It has taken a bit longer than intended though, where we were hoping to have the update done this week but it'll likely be middle of next week instead.

Once that is done, we'll be working on the first optimisation update since Early Access which I'm looking forward to. It won't necessarily be easy to show what has changed from it but it will really help to get into some of the deeper issues of an ever-evolving design and codebase of 3 years.

It's funny writing my update this time, as the last few weeks have been honestly a bit hard work without feeling like there's much to show but talking about it I'm starting to feel excited about it all again so I best head off and use that energy!

Howls & Owls

This week a lot more sound effects were made. I went back to the Fairweather meetup and added in a magical sound for when he presents you with the items he wishes to trade. Then there's the sound for selecting which item you want.

I also adjusted some existing effects, such as a little less volume on some water here, a gentler start to a minigame tune there, little touches that make something turn from gradually annoying to a detail you won't even consciously notice. Then there's a celebratory sound I had to make for a minigame where you hear confetti pop and party blowers, and also the sound of bubbles coming up from thick gloopy water.

I also noticed that crickets still sound when you enter Fairweather's domain. Now I'm fairly certain that crickets don't stand a chance in a realm of ice and gotta fix that. There's also some incorrect ambient noise in some places that I still need to tend to - or Neal does, as he codes what sound goes where after all.

But my personal favourite thing I've worked on this week must have been the sound of a singing plant. Yes, I kid you not.

The tricky part: I don't want to use human vocal sounds in the game, so I had to look for other sources of a biologically produced tone. After some searching I found some dog howling sounds that I then heavily processed. The end result hopefully sounds nothing like a dog, but everything like a magical singing plant. (I mean, everyone knows what those sound like of course...).

It doesn't stop there though. This plant can be plucked. And if you do, it screeches! The screech I ended up using came from a baby owl - it was just perfect! I really hope you'll love these sounds when you encounter them. Time will tell...

I'm With the Bandwidth

One of the side effects of working on a game, especially within a small team where a myriad of responsibilities are shared, is that it's easy for one's thoughts to consist only of the game. Now that we're past the early backer builds and the initial Early Access launch, we're now in the part of the project where it's a long stretch of sustained content development - all the way to game completion.

Because of that I've found that my mental bandwidth has had room for very little else. I wake up thinking about the game, I spend my entire day working on the game, and then I go to bed thinking about the game. I generally try to give myself at least one day off a week, but even on a day off I've found my mind keeps wandering back to the game and all the things I need to get done and want to get done.

After a few weeks (or months) of this, it's easy to see how the mind could use a refresh of sorts. I suppose I talk a little about that in last week's Post, in regards to how it's always nice having new fresh content to work on. That can certainly help to a degree, but even still it doesn't solve the problem of mental bandwidth being maxed out by thoughts of the project.

For times such as that, we've found that relying on each other as teammates and as friends can be the best thing. Whenever we find ourselves dragging our feet during the long hauls of development, we're always quick to pump each other back up and recalibrate our mentality. Sometimes all it takes is a team call. Other times all it takes is a team member saying "turn off your bloody phone and take a day off". Not that I'd ever be guilty of needing such advice...



In completely unrelated news, I somehow managed to get my hands on a working Steam key for Fable III. To provide a bit of context: in 2011 Fable III was ported to PC (a year after its release on Xbox 360) on Games for Windows Live and simultaneously for Steam. However, a couple of years later Microsoft closed the Games for Windows Live store and with it the Steam version was pulled as well. All that to say, Steam keys for Fable III are hard to come by and for some reason I never managed to get myself a copy (despite already owning a half dozen copies for Xbox).

So I was rather excited when I found a working key and now my Steam library can proudly include Fable III among its ranks. There's even a community hub for it still lurking in the shadows of Steam's website. I also managed to do a bit of fiddling with my graphics card and the game's files to increase texture quality, to smooth transparent items (like grass), and to run at a perfectly smooth 4k 60fps. This may well be the first time anyone has ever seen the game running at these graphics settings, and it looks pretty good.

Now if only somebody could get to work on a Fable II PC port.

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