ISSUE #75                              THE VALE, QUILL                              29 JANUARY, 2020                              ONE BRASS

The Short Report

In stark contrast to our previous gargantuan New Year's issue, we're keeping things shorter and snappier this week, mainly for your sanity and also ours. So once we were done waxing poetic about the last year, we put our swimming trunks on and dove right back into the deep end of game development.

On the design side of things, we've been organizing and refining our ever-growing list of inventory items in a huge design document. We've also redesigned some of the functionality for Goddess Statues. Charlie gives more details on all that down below. As for the code side of things, a new changelog just went live of some small but important additions to how noticeboards work (along with some other small fixes). Neal shares more info on that in his usual spot further down.

Aside from those small additions, we've also got some bigger additions planned as we resume our regular schedule and drop the next monthly update on February 6th! As usual, we'll also be posting one of our monthly written progress reports alongside it where we discuss how development is going and how we're getting ever-closer to finishing that relationship milestone on our roadmap! (It's fast becoming our most packed milestone we've done yet.)

In the meantime, feel free to dive below for our usual stream of team member dev logs and we'll see you again next week with the monthly update!

How to Refine Divine Shrine Design

Sometimes you design something and while the thought behind it is sound, in practice it maybe doesn't work as well as envisioned. This is the case with the Goddess Statue worshipping.

The idea was that players would get used to a daily routine of offerings and that this would strengthen their ties with the world and the lore. However, it was too easy to forget and was too easy to accumulate negative points. So this past week we've looked at how it can be improved, without straying too far from the original idea.

What we decided is that all worship and offerings will take place on Goddess Day, at the Festival Green region, using a dedicated statue. You will give offerings to a Goddess, but at the cost of getting negative points from 'adjacent' Goddesses. So you can keep giving to one Goddess to get a Blessing, but this will impact you more with the others, leading to Jinxes and Curses. You can also give to two different Goddesses and try to balance it out, but it all comes down to what you are needing from their boons and how far you're prepared to go.

Doing this also moves offerings away from the normal statues which were getting a bit crowded with those will now just be used for travel and viewing your standing with the Goddesses.

Also this week, we have been sorting out our "Master Items" document and assigning every item new Proverbs, plus detailing out the Star Rating system. With Star Ratings, there will be various ways to add Star quality to each kind of item. We need these systems in fairly soon so that players have a reason to grow and collect, to improve things, and to have uses and rewards for the higher quality levels. It's an exciting time as we can get things like Recipes to now have a proper use and can give players more structure to what they are doing.

Tune in next week for more ramblings!

Notice-Bored to Notice-Reward

During the break two weeks back, I did indeed manage to get some thoughts down on writing. I started off with more about the challenges and overview of what remained, then started breaking down a little SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats). These mostly still felt like things that had been circling in my mind already so while it was useful to get them down on paper (and especially good to be clearer about the strengths, which perhaps get pushed to the side by worries at times), it was only the next page where I started to go beyond the surface level to think about what to change and to actually daydream about 'what if' type scenarios of what would really make a big difference to how we go about things. That led to some good thoughts which really opened my eyes back up to possibilities and how fixated I'd become on just the surface level of what gets noticed on a daily basis. I feel like I'm probably repeating myself again here - these realisations come and go because I haven't properly got them locked into my habits or fundamental feelings, but it feels like they are cycling 'round quicker and with more purpose lately which is hopefully a good sign.

Something I've been working on this month (mostly in the first five days of the year but also a bit since, along with bug fixing and improvements) is a system for creating noticeboard triggers. So in the game currently we have these noticeboard tasks; the way they operate is each day a random assortment of tasks get generated based on some very broad unchanging criteria. This means that the task you get the first time you look is just as likely to be the same and/or more difficult than one you see the tenth time you look. It doesn't really stretch the player to challenge them, so it's very easy to notice the repetition and lack of progression...

With this new system, it's using a more comprehensive data based system where there's conditions (timing based, item count based, player activity based, etc.) that lead to a specific type of task with a more flexible reward at the end. I've combined this system with actually challenging myself a bit more on the code so that it uses reflection quite heavily to lower the quantity of boilerplate editing code that I often write. After the initial difficulties of this, it's really proving a remarkable improvement where now I can add whole new conditions/details/rewards within minutes and have them instantly editable. Some details/rewards might take a bit more effort to actually make use of in-game, but that's a big improvement from before. It's a process I'm hoping to expand out with future efforts and retrofitting to other systems to bring them more under control with reusable code that continues to make these big differences in the speed of additions and iteration.

So we get back to this past week which has been about fixing more bugs, testing out this noticeboard trigger system which just went live in a small way (with a bigger way coming in the Feb 6th update), plus filling in some improvements while taking the chance to look at where we are and what's next. Regarding what's next, we have a few shows that we're going to in February and then there's plenty of update work circulating around with both the relationship features themselves along with the supporting systems to work on. We're nailing down a schedule to the days, which will bring a bit more order to the chaos of our work. In short, there's a lot to be getting on with which I should be getting back to! Wishing everyone all the best.

Wear & Tear Repair

Well, after a whole host of problems slowly stacked up, it's finally time to send my PC off for repair. My DIY PC repair just won't cut it anymore. That means having to use my laptop for a few days.

The last time I had to work on my laptop was when I was in Los Angeles visiting Matt, where I made a little bit of guitar music that was uploaded to the Dev Pub on our forums. Perhaps this time something similar might happen as my laptop's far lesser capabilities force me to compose small. Restriction is often the impetus of creativity though...

Attesting to Testing

Something we've been discussing in our recent team calls is the importance of not just playtest feedback but making sure we effectively communicate that feedback. The benefits of playtesting one's game are no doubt obvious and likely need no explanation here, but it is curious how the feedback gleaned from playtests can sometimes fall through the cracks. Oftentimes I think this stems from the fact that the game is still so heavily in-development. There's such a large quantity of things that still need adding or fixing and it'd be a bit silly to incessantly list it all out every week. In this way, it becomes easy to assume that such problems will simply get addressed over time and need no mentioning. However, every team member is different and, thus, will each notice different problems when playtesting. So if each person notices different problems, but each person assumes certain problems are obvious and not worth mentioning, you can see how this could lead to certain areas of feedback blindness.

We often have to remind ourselves that the key to playtesting is to document and communicate feedback, even when some of that feedback may seem obvious or repetitive. That way, we can better weed out our blind spots as individuals and compare our notes with the team as a whole. Of course, that's only just one layer of it all, as there's also player feedback to be continually going through and taking on. (I was tempted to say that internal team feedback is as equally useful as external player feedback, but I'd wager that the latter will always reign supreme at the end of the day. Particularly for small single-digit teams such as ourselves!)

So playtesting has certainly been on my mind recently and I've been getting an over-growing sense that it's perhaps time for a deep dive mid-development playthrough. One where I put my phone on Do Not Disturb, route the PC to my living room TV, put a controller in my hands, and play the latest version of the game as thoroughly as possible with the available content - no dev mode or debug cheats. The idea is to play the game in the same way I would as if it were any other game I was excited about; aka, plopped on my couch and playing multiple hours in a sitting (and even overflowing into the following day depending). All with a laptop next to me so I can chronicle my playthrough and take notes as I go.

I'm rather looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. I'll probably also see if I can twist a few other team member arms into doing a similar deep dive playthrough of their own in the next week or two, as it's that sort of combined feedback that is ultimately the most useful. Though as helpful as these kinds of playtests are, they do inevitably take up quite a bit of time between not just the playthrough itself but also the organizing and collating of all the feedback. Still, it's definitely something worth doing at various intervals of development. Which is to say, it certainly feels like an apt time for one, what with it being a new year and having such a large roadmap milestone on the near horizon!

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