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The Starting Line

Icon for Counsel LimberFriends,

We've been asked a lot about when alpha testing will start over the last year, and our answer has consistently been "this year". Sadly, a few days ago it became apparent that this not might be the case, for the unglamorous reason that I caught a cold.

Instead, we'll be starting on 16th January 2019.

The focus of this testing will be to:

  • Resolve any basic issues with the installer, patcher, and client.
  • Gather feedback on "game feel" and how the netcode performs.
  • Make sure we're able to deploy servers and new updates efficiently.
  • Test the new laning mechanics, as we're moving away from last-hits and trying some new ideas.

The initial invites will be a small group, and we will expand that group and the focus of our testing as we go.

It feels strange to be going "back to square one" again, because last time I did that (in 2007 when transitioning from Dota Outland), I remember it being a hard slog before we had enough heroes and balance tuning for the game to be enjoyable again. Since then, standards have skyrocketed and we've become responsible for a lot more of our own infrastructure, so I don't anticipate this time being any easier.

But hey, that's what we signed up for. Thanks in advance to the testers who will be sharing this journey with us! RoW wouldn't be anywhere near where it is today without the feedback of its players, and that will hold true in 2019 and beyond as well.

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Dublin Games Festival

Dublin Games Festival Stylised LogoHey everyone,

Last Saturday, we brought Rise of Winterchill to Dublin Games Festival for its first ever public showcase. This is the first time I've exhibited at an event, and it turned out to be a lot of fun!

 

 

Kybolt's stand at DGF

Most of my day was spent talking about the game and its mechanics. It is nice to see that (at least on the surface) there is plenty of appetite for solving toxicity, and some of the solutions we're proposing held up to scrutiny – from people who were asking good questions.

Having a zoomed-out view of the map on a big screen was super helpful for explaining how the game worked in a very visual way. I would definitely do this again!

Kybolt's stand at DGF

I was surprised to see younger kids rush over to engage with the game. Some of them hadn't previous experience with the genre, so their way of interacting with it was interesting to observe. In its alpha state there isn't much "violence", but I think we'd want to be more conscious of alerting parents to the game's rating in future.

One of the best things about having an event deadline like this was it really helped us focus on playability, and we made huge progress in that area. It makes December alpha feel that much more realistic (though I emphasise: it is going to be small batches at a time getting in).

Kybolt's stand at DGF

There are some things I would do differently next time: such as spawning heroes next to a lane, being generous with resources/cooldowns, and simplifying the abilities. We tried having a hero with some more nuanced abilities to show off the engine, but the UI to support those inputs wasn't polished so people got confused. Letting players get straight to the lanes and experience success hitting things deserved higher priority.

For those of you who have been following along, yes the map on display is Merrilane, and the second lane was added to provide more depth in 3v3. It will continue to evolve over the coming weeks.

It was great to meet and see many other Irish indie devs there as well; hopefully there'll be more encounters at future shows both here and abroad!

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Merrilane and Rosarian

Icon for Shared GlimpseHi all,

The journey of getting Rise of Winterchill into alpha continues! Yes, we're still on track to let people play this year, though it'll be small batches getting in at a time.

We're currently working on a 3v3 map as a tech demo, which I'm merrily calling Merrilane. Being a tech demo, the goal is to demonstrate that the "game feel" is good, multiplayer is smooth, and our scripting works. Once we have that, we'll experiment with heroes and kits, before expanding into 5v5.

Making a 5v5 map was my original plan, but a few things got in the way:

  • Firstly 5v5 maps are large and take a lot of time to populate with trees and terrain.
  • Secondly, I care a lot about aesthetics, so I want to make everything look good even when that's not a high priority right now >_<. (In fact, we've switched to sci-fi assets on a temporary basis, which has helped stop me trying to tweak things!)
  • A third point would be that larger maps means more running to and fro when trying to test, which slows things down.

Merrilane is nothing fancy: a single lane cuts its way through some trees, with creep camps surrounding and a single map objective. There's space for a "boss pit", though intuitively I don't think we're doing bosses. I won't rule it out though: we're doing alpha to discover "what kind of boss would work best in RoW?", and then decide whether that "best boss" is worth including somewhere. Remember: RoW has a different combat rhythm so we can't make assumptions about what will or won't work in practice.

Much of the daily work has been hero scripting and map objectives. Pretty much every hero I design has some complicated thing that needs special scripting, so I've kept DarnYak busy! Also, if you haven't seen some of the live-game-design work, three of the heroes we introduced there are Emperor, Rasputin, and Rosarian. I'll do a video at some point about how Rosarian came about, she was something of a surprise even to me...

Finally, we'll be at the Dublin Games Festival in November; feel free to drop by for a chat and poke around with the alpha with us!

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Time Flies like a Yak

DarnYak's avatar, in paddy modeJune was the busiest month I've had in recent memory.

It kicked off with Kybolt co-founder DarnYak hopping on a plane from San Francisco to come visit Ireland! Long-term we want to set up an office here and transfer him over on a more permanent basis (right now we work remotely), so this was a nice trip for scoping out a few cities (yes, he got the tour) and generally hanging out. A well-deserved break given that we've been at this for over four years now...

Chattin' mobas at Sandymount Strand, Dublin.

That weekend, I headed to Estonia/Finland to catching up with some friends, before getting home and diving straight into character design. As the art guidelines might suggest, a lot of thinking has gone into visuals and we really want our characters to be memorable. The process didn't go as smoothly as I'd like; we have a great artist on board but it's taking a lot more research than expected to get satisfactory results.

The following two weeks were filled with character design explorations, and welcoming a variety of friends as they visited Dublin (including long-time RoW player Gahn!). I managed to squeeze in some networking as well, including speaking at the Irish Game-based Learning Conference.

Days later, I learned to condense this entire project into a 10-minute business pitch, and delivered that to a panel from Enterprise Ireland's New Frontiers programme. (This comes after many long nights of preparing and passing a written application.)  We didn't manage to snag the funding+supports this time, but it was a valuable learning experience and sets the groundwork for approaching publishers and other sources of funding in the future.

Yesterday we started a new community-involvement initiative called live game development, where we'll figure out actual design issues in a public channel on our discord. Walk right into the conversation (our current topic is character design), or grab some popcorn and watch us go from the sidelines!

In short: we're working hard: sorting out residual issues with Lumberyard so we can finally put all our tech to use, getting better at the business side of things, and hopefully doing an okay job of keeping people in the loop. If you got questions, comments, or other stuff in your pocket: reach out anytime.

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Art Guidelines

Paintbrush painting ink in the Kybolt brand colour

One of the tasks that I've been working on is art direction. Not being an "art person", it doesn't come naturally to me to describe what I want, so I've spent a heck of a lot of time trawling through artstation over the last two years trying to figure out what I want, and then finding the words to communicate it.

Gradually my reference folder grew, and as I came to better understand the game's lore, needs/tensions, and how the heroes are constructed: there was finally enough material to assemble some art guidelines for the game.

As any of you who hang out in the discord would know, we were recently in the market for a character artist, and several of the artists we contacted remarked that they liked the guidelines, and appreciated seeing so much detail upfront. So we thought; okay, why not share that with the community?

Here they are: the Art Guidelines from May 2018.

Our internal version of these guidelines is still evolving, but the above is a pretty massive info-dump on what we've been up to as far as art direction goes! Hopefully some of you find it interesting, and maybe you have a favourite illustrator that might be a good match for the style? If so, let us know!

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Hero Planning: Tension and Needs

A platter of hamBack in 2003 when I started on my first moba (Dota Outland), hero design really was a case of "anything goes". At the time my heroes had six abilities: the six coolest things I could come up with, or find graphics for, that fit the character model. That led to some funny heroes, but there wasn't much synergy or elegance.

Since then, my hero design theory has come a long way. I attribute that to spending seven years working on RoW1 with complete freedom to try out whatever ideas I wanted, and being incredibly fortunate to have players who gave responsive, detailed feedback about what was working, and (more often) what wasn't.


At this point, I'm comfortable with the general "structure" I want for heroes in RoW2. Structure is important: the hero is a player's way of interacting with the rest of the mechanics in the game, so a "good hero" should always be built mindfully of the game it's featuring in.

I also know a lot of the ideas I'd like to include, both mechanical and thematic. Some of those are based on RoW1 material, others are new.

The challenging part will be slotting the ideas into the structure to assemble complete and compelling heroes. I need to do an exceptionally good job of that, for 30+ heroes at a minimum. I don't think there's any excuse for less; not in 2018 when everyone has had enough time to think about how kits should be constructed, and the competition is of such a high standard.

Thus: Hero Planning! How do you plan a cast of 30+ heroes, without spending the time to crunch through them all? And how do you ensure heroes will be compelling and fascinating, rather than just good?

Many of my Dota Outland and RoW1 heroes had abilities that could do stuff, but you didn't play the heroes differently to any others. Show up, use your skills, build items, end the game. My better designs have tension: a potent strength, coupled with a serious weakness. The player has to contort themselves to leverage the strength and mitigate the weakness, which produces new kinds of play that are exciting and fresh.

With this in mind we can plan out 30+ tensions, and then work on any subset of those without knowing specifics for the rest of the cast. Neat!


So how do we produce a list of 30+ tensions that a player might find engaging? One option is to look at game mechanics, but today I want to talk about modelling tensions from human needs.

Human needs are familiar to everybody: they're the natural tensions of being alive. If you have unmet needs (and almost everybody has at least some), you won't feel great about them. There's pressure to change, or to create change.

The proposition I am working with is that "giving heroes a distinctive strength and weakness" can be evolved into something more compelling by having the weakness negate a human need, while the strength pinpoints and satisfies a human need.

To give an example, one of RoW's heroes is Rasputin. He is unconditionally visible to the enemy team at all times. That negates the human need for space: he's not going to get any alone-time, is easily ganked, and is constantly responsible for any information his positioning leaks.

At the same time he satisfies a need for presence: the enemy team will be constantly aware of him, and he has a moderately large threat radius. You can bet some players would have a lot of fun with that! With the right supporting abilities, this tension produces a compelling hero.

So: that's what I'm exploring right now. You can check out this needs inventory for a full list of human needs. I won't necessarily work with all of them, but I think this approach is promising because it's rooted in humanity and psychology in a way that working from game mechanics isn't. I hope the resulting heroes might be experiences that will resonate with players.

Feel free to leave thoughts, comments, or tell me I'm crazy!

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