📰 The PixelCount Post - Issue #74
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    📰 The PixelCount Post - Issue #74

     





    ISSUE #74                              THE VALE, QUILL                              15 JANUARY, 2020                              ONE BRASS





    The Short Report
     

     
    Hello there! It's a brand new year here at PixelCount and, presumably, for everyone else on the planet. Recently our team did some holiday coming and going as we each took turns taking a week or so off, something we seem to manage only about once a year (typically due to it being hard to pry the team's fingers from their computers). Though by tomorrow as of this writing, our team will be nestled back in their respective chairs ready to clutch their computers once more.

    Some of you readers may be joining us for the very first time, perhaps having arrived during the recent Steam Winter Sale in which we dabbled for the first time with putting a wee discount on the game. In which case, thank you! Or perhaps you've just arrived because, rather miraculously, your cat happened to walk on your keyboard in just the right way so as to purchase a random game you've otherwise had no interest in until now. In which case, thank your cat! But whatever your reason for joining us, welcome!

    In fact, we figured we'd use this issue of our dev log as an opportunity to give a few of you new folks a rundown of who we are and how we're approaching Early Access. (Or for you old-time readers, this can serve as a handy refresher.) And don't worry, these dev logs of ours aren't usually this long, even with Matt launching into his random soapbox tangents. That said, we're kicking off 2020 with our longest issue yet of The PixelCount Post! So grab yourself a hot cocoa and read on for our welcome message to new players, followed right after by our usual updates from the Kynseed team.


    OUR TEAM
    We're PixelCount Studios, an indie team founded by veteran devs of the Fable series from British developer Lionhead Studios which shut its doors a few years ago, may it rest in peace. Of course the original Fable team was quite large in its day and we're a much smaller team by comparison, but a few of us here each have about 10+ years experience making those Lionhead games of yesteryear.

    That's merely a small snapshot of who we are though, if only to assure you that we haven't just wandered in off the streets of the internet. Never heard of Fable or Lionhead? No worries at all. Not only will we not hold it against you, we also think you'll still get on just fine with Kynseed, so long as you enjoy whimsical sandbox RPG's with a quirky sense of British humor. Ahem...humour.


    OUR EARLY ACCESS JOURNEY
    One of the things that we found most appealing about the idea of doing The Indie Early Access Thing™ was having complete freedom to be as open and transparent with players as we wanted to be. We've never been fans of studios that put some sort of wall up between themselves and their players. Our approach is to be a laid-back accessible team who keeps things candid, honest, and who're never more than a message away if you want to get in touch. These days it's become a pretty standard part of our workday to hang out in our community where we chat with players, give progress reports, and sometimes even go on rambling game-related tangents - as many of our forum and Discord members can probably attest to.

    We view Early Access as an opportunity to help demystify the game development process, from beginning to end. To us, it's always felt like the game industry was this overly secretive and closed off place. But that's not really our style. Game dev can be a twisting turning journey and, like any journey worth going on, it has its ups and downs. Our hope is to candidly chronicle that whole experience. This Early Access is a journey we want players to go on with us.


    THE PIXELCOUNT POST
    Something that helps us chronicle that experience is this very thing you're reading right now: The PixelCount Post. That's essentially what we call our dev logs, which we usually release a handful of times a month (though a bit less in December). In fact, we've been chronicling our development journey with these dev logs since long before the game was even out on Early Access. (This here happens to be Issue #74!)

    Each issue starts with what we call "The Short Report" where we give a brief overview of our recent progress. As the name implies, these are usually short and to the point, though this issue's is obviously a fair bit longer due to catching any of you new readers up to speed. Right below each issue's Short Report, you'll then find individual updates personally written by members of the team. In these we'll talk about what we worked on that week, or what challenges we're experiencing, or sometimes just our thoughts about game dev and the industry in general. It tends to vary from dev to dev and week to week, but the overall aim is always the same: to give an ongoing account of this game dev adventure we're all on.

    Here are the names you'll typically see in a given issue:

    Charlie, who does much of the game's design, writing, and level/world creating. Neal, our sole programmer who's created our game's entire engine and editor from scratch (using the excellent MonoGame framework). Tice, who has been composing the game's amazing (and massive) soundtrack as well as creating all sound effects. And Matt (that's me!), who aside from occasionally having to talk in the third person also juggles all the other areas of work that a small team like ours can't possibly cover - things like the game's graphic design, video editing, community management, sound production, making/running our websites, writing/editing all community updates, and other such production-related things. We'll also have other team members chime in now and then, such as our artists when they're not otherwise absorbed in their pixels.


    UPDATES TO THE GAME
    Of course, all these dev logs are a bit pointless if there aren't frequent game updates to go alongside them! To that end, you can expect us to release at least one sizable game update a month (usually with some smaller polish and/or bug fix updates in-between). Here's a quick overview of how it all works:

    There's three different 'types' of updates that we release. Going from smallest to largest, these are Development Updates>Monthly Updates>Milestone Updates. The smallest of these are the Development Updates, which we release about every 2 weeks only to players who have opted-in to get our absolute latest (but less stable/tested) updates. The next step up are the Monthly Updates, which are more cohesive stable updates that we send out to all players each month alongside a written progress report to the community. The final and largest type are the Milestone Updates, which represent a significant step forward in development and are released every 2-4 months alongside a large written progress report.

    With this approach, smaller update types get combined to create larger update types. Or to put it another way: we release biweekly Development Updates, which we combine together to release as stable Monthly Updates, which are themselves combined together to release as large Milestone Updates.

    To help keep track of it all, we have the Kynseed Roadmap which we add to and update regularly. The roadmap is divided into two sections: completed/upcoming Milestone Updates at the top and an Entire Journey section at the bottom, which offers a more granular look at where development is. We're certainly not shy about the fact that there's still a ways left to go on this Early Access journey of ours, but you can at least rest assured that we'll be keeping the community and the game frequently updated the whole way.


    IN A NUTSHELL
    We always figure it's better to barrage players with more info than they need rather than not enough. So consider yourself thoroughly barraged. Our next issue of The Post will no doubt be back down to its normal size, so check back soon for those of you who enjoy this sort of development minutiae. Though for those of you more keen on just the bigger updates, we've actually got a Monthly Update planned to drop in about a week!

    Until then, our normal batch of individually written team updates can be found further down below. (They might read a bit disjointed this issue, as each one was written a week or so apart due to holiday schedules disrupting our team's usual flow of things.)

    Lastly, a big thanks to all of you just joining us on this journey as well as those of you who've already been here (and have had to withstand us repeating some of this stuff a few times now!). There's also some handy links down below that any new players might find useful. There's far more corners to our community than just those links of course, but they're good places to start with for now. A hearty welcome to everyone once more, and we'll see you all again soon in the upcoming Monthly Update!

    Discord - Our Discord tends to be the central hub of our community and is where we can often be found during our workdays.

    Roadmap - Here's an overview of our development plans which includes a look at completed and upcoming Milestone Updates as well as a broader section detailing our progress overall.

    Twitter - Give us a follow if Twitter is more your thing, as we're known to post dev screenshots and GIF's there frequently.

    FAQ - We have a pretty robust FAQ to help cover most Frequently Asked Questions, in addition to a completely unnecessary SAQ section for Seldomly Asked Questions.



    Strolling Down Paper Trails
     



     
    It's been a little while since the last issue of The Post. Since then, I've mainly been occupied with wrapping up the build's Monthly Update followed by working on a further mini-update in preparation of the winter sale. After some downtime around festivities, I'll be picking up on the feedback and turning attention to what comes next in terms of refining the player experience.

    December tends to be a trickier time for development work with a natural feeling of the end of year closing and the need to take a breath before the rush of the new year begins. The quick pace of doing Monthly Updates have meant mostly keeping to smaller targets of work that can be finished within several hours spread over a few days. I've also been trying to pace it a bit better to make safer changes and keep the stability of the game high.

    With a small bit of extra time, I've been starting to play the game and make more exhaustive notes on exactly what needs improving to take the game to the next level. So far, from about an hour of play, I've got a list of 5 A4 pages worth of notes and am still scratching the surface in some ways. Some of these I have actually already started working on, but it's really getting difficult to know which parts are worthwhile right now - especially combined with all the info in our Trello, Discord, assorted documents, and past lists combining into new lists resulting in thousands of items.

    To counter that glut of information, I've been setting up project tracking using something called Hansoft (which is seemingly free to trial for 5 users, similar to Perforce). Currently I've shifted over some 380 items for the backlog and about 80 bugs, but am sure those will get substantially higher by the time most of the info is accounted for. My hope in doing this is that the possibilities of properly organising this data will allow for some better decision making on exactly what filters out to the top of the work remaining. It already feels better to have that structure in place by seeing where the data can be broken up into milestones and then organised by priority and progress.

    Perhaps it is tempting fate to say, but it does seem like we are finally hitting upon a decent stride to be able to make consistent progress. This past year has felt like an extended learning experience in some ways, where different approaches have come and gone without really feeling like there's a sustainable or satisfactory way of proceeding other than to keep trying until some other way presents itself. Now though, there feels a more steady path to follow where only refinements are needed to the process and that it'll be easier to carry things through as development matures towards a conclusion. It still feels like a long way from that conclusion, but the path itself is where we are aiming to grow the content and refinement of the game experience towards that elusive goal somewhere ahead. Wishing everyone a happy New Year and all the best for the future!


    For the first week of January, I've recently been sorting out some bugs that still seem to be creeping around the game. There were a few mistakes I'd made recently when some changes turned out to be more impactful to gameplay than I'd intended. I've mentioned before about the balance of trying to ensure that all testing has been accounted for, but it can be easy to develop blindspots - especially perhaps when one feels a rush to get something released and is unaware of the effect a change might have. I've got a short trip planned 'til mid-January, so I'll be using that as a chance to work on paper to come up with some ideas for handling it better next time.

    Over the Christmas period, I got the chance to look back over some old notes I'd made as a kid and on various older games and it surprised me to see how much I wrote down back then! Nowadays most of it goes straight on the computer, which undoubtedly has its benefits for organisation, but there is something about written notes that makes it easier to be more relaxed and to perhaps set off different parts of the mind than a keyboard where every letter feels pretty much the same to type. Tune in next time to find out the results of that experiment!



    The Wicker Fan
     



     
    "Last year, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away."

    True words from an ancient songwriter of the 20th century. He actually gave his internal organs away apparently.

    In Quill, the nature of sacrifice permeates everyday life. Whether it is putting some bread in a Brounie bowl, proffering some apples to Druida at a Goddess statue, or burning your loved ones in a giant Woodfellow in Spring...sacrifice is part and parcel of existing in such a land.

    With the new year upon us, there are many exciting things to add to the game and we hope that your sacrifice of a few pounds/dollars/whatever-local-currency will be worth it and reward you with the blessing of gaming pleasure and many hours lost to distraction amongst the cheery NPC's, swaying trees, and books filled with references and terrible puns.

    We wouldn't be here without the support of our initial backers and then the goodwill of those that jumped onboard after. We also would not be here without the amazing talent of our team. Each of them an absolute treasure and pleasure to work with.

    So as we head into 2020, we are thankful of sacrifice. The sacrifice of the time and efforts of our wonderful community and the time and efforts of our wonderful team. Just don't go climbing in any tall wooden humanoid constructs or rip out your kidneys.



    Digging Into the New Year
     



     
    This month over in my country of the Netherlands, it's Sinterklaas time. That means juggling family events with work. Luckily the sound effects I'm doing are nice little bite-size chunks of work I can usually fit in-between other things. Lately, I've been doing a few sound effects for a minigame that involves digging.

    It seemed pretty straightforward on the surface, but it's still a pretty precise thing creating a sound that's 'just the thing' we're looking for. A sound of tapping the ground could be just that: some light taps on ground. However, it also needs to be layered with a crunchy sound for when dirt is parted by the shovel. Plus, there's the sound of digging in the wrong spot. This needed to sound like 'failure', so initially I was asked to try layering in the sound of clay pots breaking. That sound can turn out in many different ways though. So it's always a bit of a search at first, followed by then layering multiple things to get the specific sound you need.

    I still don't think it's exactly right, but you never know if you'll run into a better sound to layer into the whole that makes it just a bit better. In the end, the sound of digging in the right spot was a shovel hitting dirt layered with an acoustic guitar doing harmonics. Hopefully that'll be just the right combination to make you think, "Oh, whatever just happened must be a good thing."

    Beyond that, at the time of writing this it's nearing Christmas time, and Kynseed just went on sale on Steam! I'm looking forward to seeing people play it for the first time over the holidays.


    Fast forward a bit from my update above, and the new year is off to a good start! I handed in a new draft for an upcoming region of the game and we also determined a good placement location for some music I did a while back. The swampy areas I've been working on feel very different from the music I've done for the game so far. It's a lot scarier and much more moody. For me, it's a breath of fresh air.

    With the new year I've also made myself a challenge to compose something every day this year, no exceptions. This means that if I'm unable to get to a computer one day, I'll have to compose by other means. I could write on paper, or record my voice into my phone for instance. What the challenge is meant to do is to create habit.

    Previously, I hadn't paid much attention to strict scheduling for creativity. My general stance was that you can't force art. I still reckon that's true, but making a habit of daily composing is still useful for body and mind. Anything you do often, whether inspired or not, your body and mind get better at. Maybe you didn't create that inspired masterpiece on a day you weren't feeling it, but you did hone skills in orchestration, mixing, modulation, sound design, or a great many other things.

    On top of that, the mind 'gets ready' for what it expects to be doing. This is why if you always eat at a certain time of day, your body will work up an appetite during that time. Your body is designed to adapt to habits to maximize efficiency. This also means I have to tackle the demon that's been forever my friend: irregular sleep cycles. At the moment I'm not all that confident in my ability to maintain a steady sleep cycle, but we'll see...



    Keeping Musical Score
     



     
    I always forget how disruptive the holiday season is to any semblance of a normal schedule. Not only is there the standard onslaught of society's near 3-month long holiday-induced mania, but there's also the added complexity of an entire year concluding followed immediately by the start of a brand new one. This probably makes me sound a bit Scrooge-ish about it all, but I actually don't really mind the holidays in theory. Rather, it all just makes me realize how much I appreciate and prefer the mundanity of the other months and how much easier it is to juggle work and life without all the added craziness.

    I suppose it also doesn't help that I'm one of those people that ends up putting a fair bit of personal importance on the start of a new year. Yes yes, time is a human construct and all that, but I do think it's helpful (and healthy) to have a time in which a person can take pause and think back on one's actions, progress, or growth. So for me, these few handful of weeks tend to involve me trying to leave my year in a decent state so as to pave way for the new year and any aspirations I have in mind for it.

    All that to say, I'm very much looking forward to things getting back to our usual flow in the next few days. In danger of making myself sound work-obsessed, I do sometimes prefer just being able to dive into my work distraction-free for weeks on end.

    Though as it turns out, I did manage to convince myself to take a short bit of time away during the holidays. Part of my intention with that time off was to also take a break from screens a bit, as it does sometimes occur to me that I spend a staggering amount of my time behind them. However, this goal quickly fell apart when I realized that I could instead spend my time off finally finishing Red Dead Redemption 2, a behemoth of a game that my schedule has only allowed me to slowly chip away at since its original release in October 2018. (I'm sure my deeply incurable completionist tendencies didn't help either.)

    It often seems that sleep is the one thing I frequently give up, either in the pursuit of game development or game playing. Doing the latter did make for a nice change of pace though, and I am happy to report that my save file is now finally reporting that magical triple digit number of 100%. I am missing a few compendium entries still, but for those of you familiar with the game you'll probably know that filling that compendium would test the dedication of even the most ardent completionists. So for the moment at least, I am at peace with my save file.

    The main reason I bring it up though, aside from seemingly trying to humble-brag about a video game save file, is that I've often found AAA open world games to be a surprising wealth of ideas and inspiration for working on Kynseed. It's sometimes surprising to me how even these huge massively budgeted games with gigantic teams (nearly 2,000 people for RDR2!) still manage to have basic ideas and design principles that translate just as well to small indie titles as they do to these mammoth titles.

    Though I suppose 'small indie' is subjective depending on the game. Sometimes it's easy for me to forget that Kynseed is functionally an open world game, particularly as we continue to add more and more regions and locations to the world. (There's many more still to come in that regard!) So while RDR2 is by all accounts a vastly different kind of game, I still found playing it would set off creative sparks for me when working on Kynseed.

    Some of those 'sparks' were things like how you could take RDR2's treasure map concept and apply it to almost any open world game with unique and diverse enough environments. I could very easily see the player finding a crude map consisting of just a series of sketched environmental landmarks which, much like in RDR2, the player then keeps in the back of their mind as they go about exploring the world. Though to throw a quick asterisks on it: this is just me talking out loud as it were, not necessarily a confirmation (or even intention) of that getting added into Kynseed. Mainly, it's just an example of how much overlap there can often be with simple design ideas regardless of a game's size and scope.

    Perhaps one of the more basic (and likely to be implemented) ideas that my time with RDR2 spurred was a newfound appreciation for the power of ambient music. RDR2 has a stellar soundtrack full of some amazingly memorable tracks, yet oddly I found that some of the game's most impactful musical moments were when the game was allowing its music to take a distant back seat with just simple mood pieces. These ambient tracks were all region-based too, so they'd differ greatly depending on where you were in the world.

    In Kynseed however, with few exceptions the music itself is usually either playing a full-fledged thematic song for a region or it's not playing at all. (We don't always repeat the same region song per region load so as to avoid it getting too repetitive and, in many cases, we'll even have two thematic songs to alternate between for large or frequently visited regions.) Yet one thing we haven't done much of is merely having simple little background pieces purely for the sake of providing some mild flavouring.

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's important for an open world game (or any game for that matter) to know when not to have music. Sometimes its those quiet moments in a game that can be the most pleasing. That said, I'm sure we could find some opportunities to sprinkle a few ambient tracks into the world, possibly even having them play persistently between region loads so long as it's in the same 'hub' of the world. Currently our music only starts or stops upon region loading. (Though in saying this, I can't help but wonder if something as seemingly simple as persistent cross-region audio tracks would actually end up causing Neal quite a bit of work with how our engine handles loading and caching audio! It's sometimes hard to predict whether a seemingly 'simple idea' might actually be fairly complex on a code level.)

    Granted, I'm just talking a couple of flavour tracks here and there, and only if time allows between other higher priority tracks that still need to get made. RDR2 on the other hand consists of hours of just ambient music alone. Speaking of, I can't help but be reminded of how that's something I found very bizarre about RDR2's soundtrack. There's literal hours upon hours of recorded soundtrack in the game (much of it made by the amazing Woody Jackson), yet the officially released 'Original Soundtrack' is only 42 minutes long and the other officially released 'Original Score' is just a smidge over 1 hour. However, if one were to extract the game's raw music files, it apparently all adds up to a whopping 7+ hours!

    I could understand wanting to keep the official soundtrack releases limited to just the more prominent tracks of the game's otherwise huge track list, but it's crazy to me that there's still a whole 5 hours of recorded and mastered music that's never been officially released. I say just do a third official soundtrack release titled 'Original Ambient Score', which seems a perfectly viable solution to me. All I know is that if I'd worked on a soundtrack that boasted over 7 hours of music, you can bet I'd want to make it all available somehow. I'd even want to put it up in FLAC - to hell with file sizes.

    I suppose it's possible there's some behind the scenes component to all this that I'm simply not aware of, or maybe there's some strange licensing restrictions at play here. The music industry can be finicky like that sometimes. Still, it's a shame that around 70% (no exaggeration) of that game's stellar soundtrack isn't being released or shared in any official capacity.

    Of course, all that pales in comparison to how much unused music Woody Jackson made during the entirety of the game's 5 year-long development. Apparently it's over 60 hours!

    Anyway, I suppose that's enough soapboxing from me for one day. In the meantime, we'll keep tending to our own humble soundtrack, which the ever-talented Tice has been steadfastly working on for some while now. I'm not quite sure what our current soundtrack time count is at (2-ish hours I think?), but I can say that it'll definitely be longer than Red Dead Redemption 2's officially released soundtracks, heh heh. Perhaps Tice can comment down below with the latest count.

    Speaking of, Tice recently popped in on video game soundtrack podcast The Sound Test and chatted a bit about making Kynseed's music. For anyone interested in giving it a listen, you can tune in to that specific snippet from the show here or check out the full episode of it here. Though for now, I'll pack my soapbox up and get back to work, no doubt with some game soundtrack or other in the background serenading me through my headphones...



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    Hey Matt, our little game soundtrack has by now reached over 3 hours And with the amount of regions yet to come, I'm sure it'll be a heck of a lot more than that by the end...

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    Matt's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tice View Post
    Hey Matt, our little game soundtrack has by now reached over 3 hours And with the amount of regions yet to come, I'm sure it'll be a heck of a lot more than that by the end...
    Woah, really? Every time I brag to folks about the soundtrack I always say it's "over 2 hours of music!", but sounds like it's time I update my bragging! Had no idea we'd hit that milestone. Well done!

    Can't help but wonder how long it'll end up being by the time it's all finished. 😅
    Everything in moderation, including moderation.

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    That really does make it a humble brag...

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