Updates at least monthly.

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!


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.


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!


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!


Vision and Advisors

Icon from one of the Advisor counselsHi all,

It's been a while since we had a meaty blog post, so let's discuss some things.

Yak and I have spent a lot of time recently poring over our plans for 2018/2019: making sure we're comfortable with how we're allocating our budget and giving ourselves enough time to get key features in. Not our favourite area of work, but projects have to be managed.

In the midst of that, I put together a formal set of design documents for Rise of Winterchill. (Not for public viewing I'm afraid! :P)

The reason: I tend to throw out ideas a lot, and over time that can get confusing for whoever is listening. It's not always easy to know which ideas I'm serious about for RoW, and which ones I'm just enthusiastic about because I find them interesting. Having a centralised set of "latest" documents helps!

There are also ideas and features that I've thought about, but I am acutely aware that I don't know everything about them, or how they'll play out. That's what iteration is for! Those are now comprehensively listed.

A related note: While I believe RoW will appeal to a lot of people, it factually won't appeal to everyone, and I can't get trapped trying to make a game for everyone. That never works.

There may be hard decisions and compromises during the testing process, and I think the best remedy for that is full transparency on what the game is about.

In brief, RoW's design goals are to:

  1. Bring out the Best in Teamwork and Leadership
    You should not only expect other players to be receptive to playing a team game: you should get used to it.
  2. Promote Community Health
    We welcome everyone, but negativity must be left at the door. You should feel empowered as part of our community, both when encountering negative and positive players.
  3. Give People Control
    You should have a strong ability to influence the outcome, and a sense of personal control over the match. You should never be stuck thinking "I can't win...".
  4. Respect Users' Time
    The game should be easy to understand, easy to spectate, and easy to get back into (even years of patches later). Matches should last no longer than they need to, and 100% of every match should be peak gameplay.
  5. Facilitate Expression
    The game should strive to be a medium for personal and creative expression: play, build, lead, discover, and share the game in your own way.

In short: the vision is clear. You'll be hearing more about these headings in future Design Articles, once I can set aside some time to write. The headings might change over time, depending on how well they work as a communication tool, and in reaction to dialogue with players (because we are the listening sort, after all).

In any case, I am going to find a place to put them where they can reliably found, discussed, pointed at whenever we're not delivering on them.

I'll also write a little about the system formerly known as "Ghost Talents". It's mentioned on the front page, and is RoW's equivalent to items/talents as seen in other games.

This is now known as the Advisor System.

I won't drop many details here, but it's a major component of the goal to Facilitate Expression above. You should be able to play heroes your way, build them your way, and do teamwork your way.

In some games you might be willing to listen to Shepherd, whose advice would help you establish and control territory, and protect your sheep. (No, I didn't just call your team sheep...) In another match, maybe you decide to listen to Psycho. Psycho has great ideas about what to do, usually involving more damage. Or perhaps take a stroll with Nomad?

They are a helpful bunch, and let you play the same character in multiple ways depending on whose advice you heed in each match. (If you have suggestions for Advisor names, feel free to tweet them at me!)

Finally, I want to let you know that if you're interested in game and moba development, and like what we're doing, do get in touch! Getting a moba off the ground isn't easy, and we're going to need extra hands in many areas over the coming months.

If you're not already hanging out in our discord, it is a good place to catch the latest from us!

Until next time,

Survey Insights

Blue eye scanning with a rayLast month, we put up a survey to get a glimpse of what was on people's minds when it comes to mobas. The link was shared largely among our immediate friends and people who are already interested in mobas, so this data has some obvious biases which must be taken into account.

Just under 200 people took the time to complete the whole thing - not bad at all considering there were 40+ questions. I think we'll make future surveys more digestible.

The respondents were 95% male, and the age graph looks like this:


That matches up pretty well with our numbers for when people first started playing mobas: over 30% of our respondents started in 2003-2005.

My personal favourite question was early in the survey:


The answer I was hoping to see ("Being on a team where someone shot-calls and keeps up morale") came dead last! People don't seem to value that highly, at least not when they're answering surveys.

One explanation is that other moments are more common themes in people's play, so it is easier to come up with those as answers. Another is that playing with friends captures the shot-calling and morale category for our respondents, who are generally an older demographic and have had time to solidify friendships.

That showed up again in the game modes question. We knew unranked would be popular, but "with friends" (in stripes) was slightly more dominant.


The significance of playing with friends was the most important survey insight. A lot of RoW's theory assumes solo-queue players as a baseline. We're reminded here that queuing as a group is common, and the game needs to ensure playing in and beside stacks is a positive experience.

In the next chart, we see that most roles are equivalently popular, except "I like to provide the team's frontline damage", which gets only half the "Hell yeah!"s of other roles!


On teammates, the following question yielded no surprises:


I enjoyed how the distributions lined up so neatly. Getting close to two normal distributions suggests that this scale I experimented with ("every match" to "every 50 matches") is a useful one for helping people to express frequency. In any case, there is clearly work to be done in having positive teammates show up more often!

For some final stats, 78% of respondents watch at least some esports, while 9% use linux for gaming. The average yearly spend is around $82 (or $22 if you eliminate the >$100/year spenders). Non-spenders made up only 26% of this survey's responses; these numbers probably wouldn't be so high for a more general audience.

We had a lot of great thoughts from you in the "Write what you want to see in a new moba" field. Opinions certainly vary, but we are taking that feedback into account.

Huge thanks to all who participated, and best wishes for the new year!