ISSUE #60                              THE VALE, QUILL                              29 JULY, 2019                              ONE BRASS

The (Not So) Short Report

This last week the team pushed out the latest "Song of Price and Hire" update to all channels! Contained within is the Goods Store as a new ownable business, managing hired staff, and the initial framework of the shop Reputation system.

This proved to be one of the more complex builds we've done, as it contained lots of 'moving parts' on the engine level. For those following along with development, you'll also recall that we had to rework how NPC-owned shops behaved, mainly to ensure there was some consistency between how customers and inventory worked across the world. It's an update that took a bit of extra time to do right, but all that work will help pave the way for future business updates and make it all that much smoother when it comes time to add the Apothecary and Tavern business.

We won't bother getting into the finer details of the update here though, as the official announcement is the best place to go for that. Be sure to give it a read for a fuller look at everything packed into the update.

We'll continue to take in feedback and bugs this week, but otherwise now that the update is out we're moving on to the next one ahead: "Growing Up & Going Out". This is an update that a fair number of you have told us you're keenly looking forward to and we're pretty excited to begin work on it ourselves. Its main highlights are progressing to the adult phase and pursuing romantic relationships. Bear in mind this won't include the full generation aging loop, but rather just the next age phase. Our tireless character artist, Gary, has been meticulously recreating every player sprite and animation, but as adult versions instead. In fact, he has to do it all twice to account for both playable siblings!

Something else we're wanting to tackle in the next update is taking a look at what's known as 'player onboarding'. This essentially refers to how players are introduced and taught the game's concepts and mechanics, oftentimes extending beyond just tutorials. Now that we're a handful of updates in, we've felt that the onboarding process has been getting a little left behind. So we're going to start spending a bit of this next update looking for what we refer to as 'cheap' wins, which is basically game dev talk for adding an improvement that doesn't take much time to do and doesn't necessarily require brand new bespoke assets to be made (which can often slow up development).

We're actually still hammering out a lot of those details, as this upcoming week will be a bit of a transitional one in which we tie off loose ends from the last update while nailing down the exact specifics of the next. Plus, on top of that, we're also going to plan out the next batch of updates to be put on our roadmap, which you'll note only goes so far as the "Growing Up & Going Out" update currently. You can expect that next batch to get revealed in a couple of weeks.

There's definitely a sense of excitement here on the team, as it feels like development is really starting to hit a stride. We're happy to be able to mark many of our initial updates as complete and are looking forward to kicking things off with a whole slew of new ones - many of which will begin to take individual game components and connect them together into a more cohesive gameplay loop. No doubt the adult phase and romantic relationships will be a big step towards that and will help to really tie things together, not unlike Lebowski's rug.

Unfair Weather

Lots of appalling weather this week...stupidly hot one minute, constant downpours the rest of the time. Been getting into some design work otherwise - looking at shop specialisations, tutorial stuff, map stuff, noticeboard requests, and special character bios.

Lately it's been great to play the new Fire Emblem game as well, as it has many things that we're also doing so it is nice to see how they approach it. They have a wonderful UI and there's much to learn from it. Of course, we'll never match their resources, but there are still cheap wins we can utilise.

Was also good to finally get the Goods Store update out and it has given us food for thought. Mr Weekes had an idea to do with the currency, and we got some great feedback from the community. We love getting ideas, so keep them coming!

In my other spare time, I entertained myself by attempting to design a Kynseed board game. Maybe we should take it to Kickstarter and make 10 million pounds like all the other board games seem to do!

Crash Course

The Goods Store update is finally out! It ended up taking a few more days to get through some polish and deal with one last minute problem. In this case, the night before, I'd made a change to avoid a crash I'd seen in a cheat debug state where I owned the Tavern. All seemed well for a few hours and then Charlie started noticing customers huddling outside the Goods Store and not going in. It took a bit of investigating to put two and two together with the previous change, as I couldn't immediately get the issue.

The cause I eventually found out is being out of the level and time passing enough that NPC's in other levels were going shopping and, without the shop data around, were creating blank versions of it with the wrong info. This didn't result in a crash, but it meant when you actually went to the shop in the level, they were looking at the completely wrong shop data to choose where to go. The fix was just to remove the small change from the night before, but then it actually revealed that without the fix it would actually crash the game in the same situation where it went wrong!

Thankfully that was easier to deal with and the build went out after a bit more testing. I guess the moral of that tale is don't fix cheat debug state bugs on the night before an update (and there would have been a high likelihood the out of level crash was spotted and diagnosed/fixed a lot quicker).

With the update out, it's been a chance to reflect a little on the progress of the game and catch up on our next steps while eagerly eyeing to see any feedback or bugs lurking around. Just round the corner is the relationship update and with it comes a large focus on NPC's, where I'm looking to improve my debug capabilities. I've started compiling a list of 'nice to haves' for this and have already begun implementing a special view where you can zoom out and follow all the sim activity in the map.

Here's a very early look at the sim activity map, a handy debug tool which will allow us to track what any sims are up to at any given time throughout the day. (Click image to enlarge.)

Though what we've started to realise with this update is how focused we've been to sticking to the roadmap ever since it came out and how it has led to the player experience being a little quirky or clunky (depending on how polite you want to be) outside the chosen area for the update. With the relationships update on the way, which seems a big draw for many, we're feeling like we need to level up the player experience a bit first. There'll likely be a little crossover between the two as say, improving the process of relationships will help for when the player can get married, but it probably will mean the relationship update takes a little longer while we make those changes. We're hoping to provide these player experience updates in much smaller chunks as soon as possible, so although the relationship update may be a while away, there'll still be improvements in the meantime!

I'm quite excited about it as it'll feel good to actually address the known issues that we've seen or heard about and then unwrap the next layer of fresh impressions based on the changes made.

A Pixel Count's Studio

I'm so happy with the reactions I've seen to the new update! I've watched some streams of people playing it and they seem really excited with what the team's put out.

In other news, I get to experience my home studio slowly taking shape. It's a wild ride, and a far bigger project than I had ever thought. I do start feeling guilty though. The studio project has been taking up so much time that I hardly got to compose throughout it all. That's tough for me, as I always want to be well ahead of schedule if I can help it. However, the psychological effect of being in a cleaner, more spacious, and prettier studio is undeniable. It had to be done sooner or later.

Meanwhile, I get to look forward to the next update, which I've already written some music for. Charlie tells me that he's been listening to it on repeat, even though it's a relatively short tune that was very tongue-in-cheek. I can't wait to see the full sequence it was written for. I also still haven't finished the ambient track for the dangerous swamp areas you'll encounter much later in the game, which is adding to my sense of guilt for lack of progress. But come Monday (which I'm guessing is when this text is published), I hope to be back to a sense of 'normalcy', as far as that exists!

Onboard Games

Phew, what a busy last week! As you've no doubt seen us banging our drum about above, we released the Goods Store update! Though in the midst of juggling its release, we've also started work in earnest on figuring out some very important next steps for development - ranging from preparing the next update ahead as well as charting out the next phase of our roadmap.

This next update, which we (I) chat about in more detail in The Short Report, is going to be a fairly important one. It'll feature the next aging phase (adult) and the pursuit of romantic relationships (courting, marriage, and moving in), which will be an exciting step forward in fleshing out the sandbox and role-play experience. Granted, it's still just a step, but it's one we've been rather looking forward to.

As also mentioned in The Short Report, we've recently been having a think on player onboarding and how we can tighten it up a bit. This next "Growing Up & Going Out" update is probably going to bring in an influx of not just brand new players but also some returning players who've been letting the game accrue updates before diving back in again. So revisiting the early portions of the game experience and seeing how we can better communicate the game's core concepts and goals is certainly on our minds.

I suppose that's the catch-22 of getting an influx of new and returning players. Obviously it's a good thing, but it can also bring with it a feeling of urgency to make sure the game is adequately prepared for it. Oftentimes, I feel it's akin to being halfway through the first draft of a novel and letting everyone read your writing as you go. It can be a little scary letting so many people look behind the curtain while things are so work-in-progress, but in the end, that can be half the fun of it if you let it be.

All that to say, we've decided to expand our next update to also include some time for looking at that whole onboarding experience. This might result in this update taking a slight detour on our roadmap and will no doubt impact how long it takes, but something that's always been important to us is making use of the freedom that being an indie team allows by staying agile and making these small course adjustments as we go. We also have an 'optimization update' planned after this next one, but perhaps it'll just be a matter of borrowing a bit of time from that one to give to this one. It's all still an ongoing team discussion for now though, with more solidified plans to be shared in the weeks ahead.

We've also found watching streams of the game to be indispensable in helping us learn what points players begin to feel a bit aimless with which goals they should be working towards in the game. We tend to have a habit of randomly popping up in stream chats as well, ever-anxious to take notes and learn from different play styles. If you do end up streaming the game, feel free to mention it to us on Twitter or drop a stream link in our 'Community Videos' channel on Discord, as we'd love to pop in.

The tricky thing with all of this is that for a game like Kynseed, we've got to strike a certain balance for how we approach onboarding (and tutorialising in general). We don't want to handhold to the point that we override player autonomy or restrict the sense of freedom in what is essentially an open world sandbox. Yet at the same time, open world games can sometimes suffer from having too little guidance and can result in the open world feeling daunting if not aimless. A GDC talk I recently found myself checking out on this topic is The Freedom Fallacy, which I recommend to anyone interested in taking a deep dive into the concept of open world player autonomy.

(As an aside, another GDC video I've recently been soaking in is Chris King's talk on Early Access, which I found myself emphatically nodding my head to throughout.)

By the by, if this type of game dev chatter is something you find interesting (or if you're even pursuing games as a career), I'd recommend popping by our Discord, as we pretty much spend our entire workdays there and are known to frequently chat about this sorta stuff. Though speaking of workdays, it's probably time I get back to mine! Definitely be sure to check back soon for more details on the upcoming "Growing Up & Going Out" update.

Random thought: I'm half tempted to name the eventual Tavern running update "Throwing Up & Flowing Stout." Let's hope more sensible minds prevail by then...

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Copyright 2019 by PixelCount Studios (Limited).ᅠᅠAll rights reserved.ᅠᅠEdited and assembled by Matt Allen.