Monday, 4 May 2015

Folk Tale Dev Blog 34


Folk Tale milestone Alpha 20 (Patch 0.3.0)

A New Release Cycle


This weekend we bid fair well to release cycle 0.2.x and welcomed in 0.3.x. Having massively expanded the scope of the 0.2.x cycle last year to make it by far the largest of all the cycles, we've had 17 monthly releases since. Many aspects of the game have matured including village building, economy, and the editor, which we use to design and deliver playable content. With the addition of Workbench - our visual modding tool - we're primed to deliver RPG content and gameplay in coming patches.

What can players expect in Alpha 20? As with any major milestone release, we have headline features to share, but also bug fixes which have an equally important role to play in improving gameplay.

Building Upgrade Tiers


Tier 1 buildings can now be upgraded to Tier 2 and Tier 3. Each tier delivers benefits, including support for more workers; 8 workers at Tier 2, and 12 at Tier 3. Each upgrade will expand a building's boundary bringing more resources into reach for workers. In later patches we'll introduce a pseudo tech tree with new research being unlocked at each tier; more complex production options that deliver additional benefit; and staggered crafting recipes bound to building tiers.

Tier 1 Buildings

Tier 2 Buildings

Tier 3 Buildings






Workbench


With a limited feature preview of Workbench included in the last patch, in Alpha 20 we've more than doubled the node count, introducing 35 new node types. We'll be updating the Workbench Guide on the website to demonstrate how the new nodes can be used to deliver engaging gameplay and storyline. We'll add more great features to Workbench throughout the 0.3.x release cycle targeting RPG gameplay including quest rewards and faction standing.

Workbench



Sandbox Tutorial


New players, and those returning to check progress can feel a little overwhelmed when experiencing sandbox for the first time. Using Workbench, we're adding a voice acted step-by-step tutorial to walk inexperienced players through early game mechanics. As the list of mechanics continues to grow, we'll continue to expand the new tutorial.



New Content For Level Designers


With each new patch we aim to add new kits and/or pieces so community level designers have something to play with. This release is no exception, with numerous additions. We have Mordrich's Factory kit, rusty pipework we'll be using to make his underground magic sandal factory; and the Grassland Caves kit for spider and dragon layers.

We've linked monster movement speed to their scale, so it's now possible to have giant skeletons and spiders that move naturally. Players can observe this in the spider lair added to the Crypts Level 1 map, which makes use of the Grassland Caves kit.

The Systems kit receives three new pieces:

  • A new Point piece for marking locations where you want the command NPC's to go using Workbench. You can grab the position and rotation for exact placement;
  • Sphere and box triggers for triggering scripts such as NPC interactions, monster ambushes, and in time traps;

Previously missing pieces make a return in the now separate Water FX, Bones and Spider kits.

Environment lights located in the Lighting kit are now scalable, adjusting the light range. A word of caution though - large lights can get expensive.

Grasslands Cave Kit



Bug Fixes


We strive to fix bugs and gameplay niggles in each patch release. Small changes such as eradicating the delay when commanding peasants to clear resources and making them run instead of walk instantly feels more responsive.

Building research is working once again, including the Tailor who wasn't progressing research at all. We've also modified the Building Dialog production tab to separate our worker happiness (and it's effect on production) from bonuses provided by research and epic items to give a clearer picture of what's going on.

The Monastery Of The Mangy Wolf has all of it's navigation and chest issues addressed, including being able to cross the bridge that connects the Tall Tower to the main Monastery. The map has been updated to add additional resources in key locations, so you don't always have to start in the same location.

Many loot items that were previously cluttering inventory now stack properly.

What's In Production?


During game development it's usual to have lots of parallel tasks each month. Some of those are highly visible and make their way into the Dev Hangouts, while some do not. For months our character artist Allan and animator Tom have been working diligently behind the scenes on bosses, heroes, behemoths, and creeps. They are now ready to debut in-game, and we'll be adding them during this release cycle. So far we have fleshed out the Gladefolk, Withering Dead, Goblin Traders, and Toadkin factions.

The script writing for the Gladefolk and Withering Dead faction storyline is progressing well, and we'll soon be sitting with the recently cast actors to record the voice acting. Devin, our texture artist, has the task of producing the 3d weapons that can be equipped, and there's a small mound waiting to be added. Jen, our Illustrator is alternating between loot icons and NPC portraits that will appear during quest conversations.


Rich and Hayden recently finished adding the 34 building upgrade tiers, and have moved on to the lava zone. While the snow zone is my current favourite, the lava zone is a contender to take that crown.

Aron continues to be omnipotent. We've been eyeballing an upgrade to Unity 5.x for a while, and now seems like a good time. Then it's on to implementing heroes and all the RPG goodness.

As for myself, well I'm just here to make the coffee.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Player Satisfaction Survey Spring 2015

Each Spring we ask our community how they feel the development of Folk Tale is going. We listen to their feedback, and where possible set new targets to improve the Early Access experience. This is our second such survey, so we're able to look at what you told us last year, the steps we took, and measure their impact against your feedback this year.

This year we received an impressive 1352 survey submissions - more than double last year's count - with participation skewed towards those who purchased when we first launched in Early Access. The average player drops by occasionally to either the community forums or the dev blogs, rather than being an active community member. This year's audience is a broader reflection of the player base than in the prior year.



Key Messages From Our Community
 
Last year (2014) you told us:
  • Hurry up!;
  • You're doing a great job in keeping us updated and being transparent;
  • Patch more often;
  • We want village building and RPG adventuring almost in equal measure;
  • Most of us want sandbox, but there's a strong interest in campaign-style storyline;
  • Half of us are interested in both playing and creating content;
  • Folk Tale has loads of potential, and we have confidence that you'll deliver;
  • Blog more than once a month, but don't compromise quality for quantity;
  • Overall we're satisfied, but there are areas needing improvement;

And here's how we were able to respond in the 12 months that followed:

  • Patch more often We committed to at least one major patch per month, and have hit that target consistently;
  • Most of us want sandbox, but there's a strong interest in campaign-style storyline We focused our efforts on getting sandbox village building and economy into a playable state rather than spreading ourselves too thinly. We then committed to delivering faction-based storyline and a campaign-like experience within sandbox. With the addition of Workbench - our visual modding tool within the editor - everything is starting to fall into place to deliver a campaign-like RPG experience.
  • Blog more than once a month, but don't compromise quality for quantity Our content-rich blogs are time consuming to produce, so it wasn't going to be possible to blog more than one a month. Instead, we began streaming Dev Hangouts at twitch.tv/gamesfoundry, where the community could join us while we looked at the latest internal build, shared level design tips, and discussed ideas and changes.
  • Hurry up! Unfortunately there's not much we could do about this without a magic tree that grows money. I'm not prepared to sacrifice quality for speed, and with no significant budget changes, we can't expand the team beyond it's current size to deliver more quickly. It appears the majority are supportive of this approach, which we'll discover later.

Did these actions work? This year we took a more structured approach, hoping to gauge general feeling as well as to capture personalized feedback. We offered a range of positive and negative statements to choose from.

68% said - Don't rush, better to make it a great game;
58% said - I appreciate how open and transparent you are as a dev team;
55% said - I'm pleased with how the game is shaping up, keep it up;
21% said - Patch more often;
19% said - Oh my god, hurry up already and finish the darn game;
2% said - You guys suck, your game sucks, and I'm leaving;

Being the first year of asking the structured response, we can't deduce too much from these figures without having a benchmark year to compare them to. I was however surprised at the majority sentiment of don't rush, make it a great game. We've always been of this opinion, and it's nice to feel that most of you support us in that approach.

For unstructured feedback, we read every answer to the final free-form question where players could send personalized feedback. In the end, 54% of survey participants left us a message, the general themes of which were:

  • Load/save needed to be implemented

    This was by far the most common theme, and when load/save was added half way through the survey period, unsurprisingly feedback trailed off;

  • Give us campaign as well as sandbox

    The release of Workbench, our visual modding tool, is the first step to delivering a campaign experience within sandbox. Not only will Workbench empower community level designers to create their own RPG adventures, it will extend the replayability of Folk Tale, something that would not have happened had we continued developing the game solely as a campaign based experience;

  • Great communication

    We continued being active, open, and transparent, and you guys really appreciate that, which makes it all worth while. Then we went one step further with the Dev Hangout streams;

  • We need a tutorial in sandbox

    And we should have one in Patch 0.3 due the first week of May thanks to Workbench;

  • Focus on a core set of mechanics, balance them, and grow from there

    In Feb and March we did just that, and the game is all the better for it. We'll try our best to follow this approach going forward;

  • Ability to train more military

    In early May we should have building tiers enabled, with Tier 2 Barracks supporting 8 military, and Tier 3 supporting 12. If that isn't enough, we will increase it;

  • Fix bugs more quickly

    During development it's a trade off between keeping momentum going, and fixing bugs. In recent months we've been doing a lot to fix bugs and gameplay issues, and we'll be trying to fix reported bugs sooner following this feedback;

  • Development is slow

    With hindsight we launched in Early Access far too early. With a relatively fixed budget to work with, the team size that supports, and the quality we are striving to achieve, there's not much more we can do to make things go quicker. The majority (7 out of 10) seem supportive of doing the job well, not rushing, and releasing a quality game that lives up to the game's potential, and that continues to be our approach. 


Which element of gameplay do you expect to find the most appealing?




Village Building: 46.9% (previous : 39%) +7.9%
Economy Management: 13.1% (previous : 15%) -1.9%
RPG: 30.1% (previous : 36%) -5.9%
RTS: 9.8% (previous : 10%) -0.2%

While the results somewhat echo previous feedback of wanting city building and RPG, there was an interesting surprise in how few prioritized economy. The relatively weak showing for RTS came as no surprise. We've long said that we aren't creating a Total War style game, or a pure RTS zerg-fest like Starcraft 2. Folk Tale is more of a personal experience where you become attached to the individuals within your village, rather than spamming out units in a mad rush to defeat an opponent.

The weak score for economy however did raise an eyebrow, and is perhaps worth discussing further in the forums. When considering all the scores, it suggests players aren't wanting to get bogged down in statistics and tweaking production. Instead, most players want to build up their village and support their heroes so they can go off adventuring, amassing riches, which in turn can be used to make their town and heroes even better. Which is great, because that is exactly where we're headed!


How satisfied are you with the gameplay available at this point in development?

Being a new question, we don't have a prior year benchmark to compare the results to. 71% expressed a positive satisfaction level with gameplay. With us only just starting work on the RPG side of the game, the mean somewhat satisfied result comes as no big surprise. Players are only playing a portion of a complete game, and as we add more mechanics and content gameplay should become more satisfying. Longer term, I wonder what role player fatigue will start to play.


How satisfied are you with the frequency of patch updates?





Very Satisfied: 14.2% (previous : 8%) +6.2%
Satisfied: 30.3% (previous: 29%) +1.3%
Somewhat Satisfied: 31.1% (previous: 30%) +1.1%
Somewhat Unsatisfied: 13.8% (previous: 16%) -2.2%
Unsatisfied: 6.4% (previous: 9%) -2.6%
Very Unsatisfied: 4.2% (previous: 8%) -3.8%

76% of survey participants were positive about the frequency of patches compared to 67% last year, which I'm relieved to see after making regular patches our number one priority. There's always room for improvement, but it's a positive move in the right direction, and one we'll continue to focus on.

How often do you watch one of the weekly Dev Hangout streams?



No surprises here. In-stream viewing and archived viewing figures from our YouTube channel support these results. With time generally a scarce commodity for a lot of players, few join the actual stream, while a significant number catch the occasional video after being posted on YouTube.

For us, the Dev Hangouts provide an opportunity for some playtesting, while connecting with our most active community members. The greater value lies in providing the broader community with a very recent overview of development progress; something to fill the gaps between the monthly dev blogs.


How satisfied are you with the current dev blogs?





Blogging continues to be one area where you rate our performance, with 90% of participants positive compared to 87% last year. Overall, blog readership has declined, with players now reading occasionally rather than regularly.









How satisfied are you with our level of community engagement and communication?




The daily forum posts, one-to-one technical support, high quality video blogs, and Dev Hangouts continue to reap dividends, with 91% of survey participants having a positive response. The figures remain consistent with the previous year, reflecting our continued high levels of community engagement.

How satisfied are you that Folk Tale will live up to the potential?




With 83% expressing a positive opinion that we’ll deliver on the game’s potential (no change from last year), we have retained community confidence and backing.

Would you recommend Folk Tale to your friends?




7 out of 10 would recommend Folk Tale (no change on last year). As we continue to add mechanics and content, I'm hoping to build on this.

As an Early Access title, how do we fair when compared with other Early Access games?




With Early Access now another year old, it's likely players own more Early Access titles in their collection, allowing them to make a better judgement (7% now have no opinion compared to 11% last year). 43% now consider Folk Tale to be a better Early Access experience than other such titles, up from 31% in the previous year. That's a sizeable jump that I can only attribute to our commitment to transparency and community engagement.


Have you left a review on the Steam Store Page?




86% of participants haven't left an Early Access review. There's nothing to read into this, other than being an interesting statistic.


How satisfied are you with the overall development of Folk Tale?




With 79% of participants (78% last year) expressing a positive opinion, community support for Folk Tale remains strong, for which we are really appreciative. Your support and participation is helping shape what we all hope will be a fantastic game.


Thank you.

I’d like to thank every one of you who took the time to complete the survey. Yet again you have provided us with a clear picture of where we need to direct our efforts, and where we’ve been doing a good job.




Thursday, 19 March 2015

Folk Tale Dev Blog 33


Workbench, the node-based visual scripting environment in Folk Tale promising to democratize modding.

Campaign Feel, But In Sandbox


With the village building, economy and RTS controls maturing into a very playable state, and Load/Save added a few patches ago, team effort is firmly focused on delivering assets and systems to support the RPG side of Folk Tale. That means storyline, questing, heroes and factions. It's the juicy campaign goodness often missing from sandbox that provides context, purpose and flavor.

Campaign and sandbox are not mutually exclusive; campaign can sit comfortably within a sandbox framework and players can dip in and out of both as they please. Having developed the sandbox framework to drive world mechanics, I'm pleased to be revealing Workbench, our visual modding tool for Folk Tale. We've removed the need for writing lines of complex programming code, democratizing modding by lowering the barriers to entry.

Workbench, the visual modding tool for Folk Tale

Workbench is a node-based visual scripting environment similar to those found in game development engines as an alternative to programming. It's an easy to grasp visual environment that's great for level designers who don't have technical skills, but whom still require fine control and power over their environment.

Nodes provide access to objects, events, and commands within the game. For example, you might want the player to meet an NPC, fire off a branching quest dialogue, remove ingredients from the player's inventory, walk to a crafting anvil and forge an epic weapon, before returning to give the player their reward. Or perhaps a helpless traveller needing an escort through bandit territory to safety? That's all possible with just a few clicks, no programming required.

By investing heavily in framework and editor tools, we're building in replayability, longevity and value from the ground up. Had Folk Tale development continued as a linear campaign game, players would have played through the game a couple of times, before relegating it to the virtual shelf to collect dust. By empowering players to create worlds, the community can enjoy new experiences by downloading new maps and worlds.

I'm genuinely stoked about the possibilities Workbench brings to Folk Tale. It's the modern day equivalent of sitting down as a Dungeon Master with a pencil and graph paper, planning out environments and encounters for players to enjoy.

Workbench will be available in a patch update at the end of April.


RPG Content: Factions


Of course, we need content to deliver a superb RPG experience. So today we're also taking a first look at factions. In Folk Tale, each biome (grassland, swamp, snow etc.) has two opposing factions, each with fleshed out storyline, quests and heroes for players to unlock and add to their adventuring party. We're working on the first two factions that reside in and around the grassland biome, namely the Withering Dead, and the Gladefolk.

Spoiler alert. You may not want to read beyond this point if you want some of the storyline to remain a surprise. Please note that storyline may be subject to change.


Withering Dead

The Withering Dead are a necromantic faction residing in the dank, dark recesses of the world where the dead are laid to rest. Mordich, gatekeeper to the Plane Of Shadows, is raising a legion of undead to work in his cheap sandals factory in an attempt to pay the bills. With people living longer following the publication of the bestselling Tome Of Healthy Living, times have become hard, and moonlighting from his regular job of reaping seems like a great option.



After suffering the loss of her husband Brom at the hands of bandits, Lilith sealed a deal with Mordich that saw her summon him to the Physical Plane. In return Mordich would teach her the ways of Necromancy so that she could summon Brom's spirit and return him to life. As months turned to years, the shadow magic corrupted Lilith's soul, and her good natured spirit was replaced by something much more sinister.



Having arrived in the Physical Plane, Mordich summoned the spirit of Bonefinger, an ancient dragon from the Plane Of Shadows, binding it to the corpse of a recently dead and rotting dragon. From the primeval era, Bonefinger is a truly grueomsome behemoth capable of spewing acid breath, causing terror with it's roar, and slaming down opponents en masse with its powerful wings.



While Mordich's sandal factory is filled with an army of animated skeleton workers, Mordich also controls zombie harvesting gangs that raid the Gladefolk's Everbloom Pastures in search of the magic flowers that contain the energy he needs to power his factory.



Gladefolk

Over in the Glade, Nara, Earth Mother, is enraged by Mordich's raids, and is pushing back against the rot and decay that the zombie harvesting gangs leave in their wake.



With the help of her daughter, Willow, Nara plots to put Mordich out of business and banish him back to the Plane Of Shadows.



Summoning the behemoth Mossclaw to defend the Everbloom Pastures, Nara sends Willow on an epic journey into the underworld, where she'll resist the corruption of her soul and discover the Bone Phylactery that channels Mordich's life force between planes.



It's up to players to choose their moral stand point and help whichever side they please. Help the Withering Dead, and Mordich will lavish players with otherworldly items of immense power while corrupting the natural world. Help the Gladefolk, and you'll have Nara's thanks and Willow's restorative magic. It's never black and white in Folk Tale.

Neutrals

Not all heroes the players meet will be aligned to a faction. Some pursue their own agenda, and players can unlock them by helping neutral heroes on quests. Ser Gregory, a heavily armored tank, will be the first hero to be added to the game.



Thursday, 12 March 2015

Folk Tale Dev Blog 32


Folk Tale Patch 0.2.14 and 0.2.15 add Sandbox Load/Save, sickness, balancing, bug fixes, and a host of improvements.

Load/Save

By far the most frequently requested feature in recent months has been Load/Save. We've had a working save system in the console for some time for testing, which we're now happy its in a stable state. When you're in a game, simply press escape and hit save. When save is successful you'll hear a bright sparkle sound, and an error dialog will show if there was a fault. In time we'll add a text confirmation to the screen as well. Having saved a game, next time you start Folk Tale, the continue menu option will be enabled in white.

Start Screen

Speaking of the continue button, an overhaul of the start screen was long overdue. The new background is a place holder and in time we hope to replace it with a living village scene. Hopefully the refresh brings much needed modernization. We've yet to add background music, which I'll come onto next. We also took the opportunity to add a quit to desktop option, which had been missing for quite a while. No more forced quitting!



Retiring The Old Tutorial

The old tutorial has long become tired and irrelevant, having deliberately not been updated since launch. Sandbox village building, economy and RTS controls passed it a long time ago. It was only the storyline campaign feel that differed. Now that the team is moving across to develop the RPG side of the game - the main delivery mechanism for storyline and questing - it's time to look to the future.

For months the Tutorial has been a dead weight on our shoulders. Firstly, early buyers of the game would often boot into the game, and fire up the old tutorial only to discover nothing had changed, since all the work was going into sandbox of which there was little awareness. It no doubt contributed to negative reviews. Secondly, every time we prepared a release candidate, the tutorial would require a complete play through to make sure we hadn't broken anything. That added several hours to each release cycle, and my threshold finally broke in February. Finally, we've had to write a lot of duplicated classes with similar names so as not to break the Tutorial. From a project structure point of view, it was getting silly. Retiring the old tutorial will enable us to clean up the project, and streamline some of the scene loading process.

For players still wanting to play the old tutorial, it remains available via an opt-in build on Steam.

Sickness

Sickness provides another layer of depth to village life. Sickness can arise because of poor hygiene or diet, and depending on the rate of infection, can rapidly spread through your village. There are 3 types of sickness identified by mild sneezing, coughing, and projectile vomiting. Each type can be cured respectively by producing lesser medicine, medicine, and greater medicine manufactured at a Herbalists.



UI Improvements

In the Workers tab of the building options, previously there was no feedback when you selected a Peasant for training. Now their portrait get added to the vacancy slot in the left column, and in the right column 'on his/her way' gets added until they arrive to take up their new profession. In time I think we'll remove assigned Peasants from the right column altogether, but for now it's a welcomed improvement.



Throughout the UI we've added more tooltips with helpful advice on how things work, and this work will continue in future patches.

Watching community YouTube videos and streams, and from our own play testing, we noticed it was too easy to accidentally destroy buildings. To address this we've added a Yes/No confirmation dialog to prevent this from happening.

For players on retina and 5K monitors, and laptop players on small screens, the addition of UI scaling should be a useful addition. Being careful with finances, I went into an Apple Store and persuaded them to let me run the game on a 5K iMac (thank you Apple store staff!). Needless to say the fixed-size UI was minuscule, so later that week we implemented it without having to shell out thousands of dollars. Still, it's a beautiful piece of kit and in a few years when they give the GPU more power, I'd love to get my hands on one.

Over in the settings menu, we'd had community reports of frustration in the carousel behaviour of some settings - for example the UI scaling - whereby players would be wanting to max out the scale, but repeated clicking would cause the setting to loop back around so the UI would snap between maximum and minimum scale. On a 5K monitor, that's incredibly small, making it a little more difficult to recover back to the setting you wanted. So now options are clamped at their min/max and don't wrap around.

General Improvements

On OSX we'd received numerous reports of problems, and I'm pleased that we now have a fix for the crashing that was preventing some Mac players from enjoying the game.

A widely requested feature has been a way to find Peasants, usually when your village is larger and Peasants are a minority. We've always intended this to be available via the Civics dialog, but as an interim step the 'F' key shortcut now cycles the camera between Peasants. We've made it more functional than that however, and if you have a profession such as a Woodcutter selected, pressing F will cycle you to the next Woodcutter. Pressing SHIFT+F will expand your current selection to also select the next profession.

Characters are now easier to see at night and in dungeons, as we added in day/night emissive values to the Ambience system. This allows us to adjust the emissive values of characters per biome. In bright outdoor locations, we can pull this right back, whereas in dark dungeons we can ramp it up.

Anyone with a gaming PC constrained by their CPU (aka CPU bound) should experience an improvement in frame rate of up to 18% in Patch 0.2.15 after we moved the distance culling code to it's own thread.

The Tavern can now sell Mead, clearing the way for enabling the need for Entertainment. Several members of the community had reported issues of being inundated with moaning peasants, and finding it difficult to get past that stage. To improve pacing, we've tied several events to your village's culture value. For example, the need for Basic Clothing now kicks in when culture passes 150. Sneezing sickness doesn't start until 200, with more serious sickness at 300 and 400. This provides for great pacing as new players can learn the ropes and won't get overrun too early, while experienced players can rapidly expand and hit the challenges far sooner.

Balancing

As we all know, Firewood was a borked in earlier builds. Peasants would burn through piles of the stuff like crazed pyromaniacs. It also made crafting at the Blacksmith very very difficult, since Firewood was needed as a crafting ingredient to fuel the furnace. So we've eased back on things and regained control so it's not quite so rampant. There's still some more work to do, especially when a village gets to 40+ inhabitants, but we're getting there. Not wanting to make things too easy on you, we've increased the rate of firewood consumption in colder climates, namely the hard map.

With the clearing of resources came the new problem of desolating the environment and having nothing left to burn. We've added a lot more trees and doubled their yield as an interim solution, while working on giving Woodcutters the ability to plant sapling that will grow into trees.

Bread baking was also fubar, but is now fixed. We're noticing players are placing Windmills but failing to complete the economy chain with a Bakery, so we need think more about how to raise awareness.

If you watched resources come in and out, you may have noticed that production of finished goods such as Meat Pies and Bread was batched up, and would only start when there were 20 flour/meat/whatever at the building. This lead to pent up demand causing Peasants to bum rush as soon as a batch of goods became available. So we've reduced batch sizes and increased the production cycle speed so every few seconds a newly finished good will pop out.

Taxation now has a much greater impact on villager happiness. Higher rates of taxation now have a much greater negative effect.

Spider Dens won't now wave attack until your village has a culture value of 200. We've also moved the spider dens in the easy map further away from the village, as plenty of players are complaining it's too difficult, which is fair enough for a map that's labelled easy! To help defend your village we've made the City Watch tougher, doubling their health and starting them with 10 Armor so they have some damage reduction.

Editor

Over in the Editor we silently went about cleaning up a lot of duplication, removing terrain tiles from Grassland, Swamp and Snow Kits and consolidating them into the single Core Tiles kit. Doing so reduces the amount of effort involved in adding new tiles and potentially reduces memory consumption slightly We included auto-migration code so that all Level Designers need to do is open up their maps and save them out. All their tile pieces will be automatically mapped to the new kit. We've also done the same to lighting, moving torches, sconces, braziers and camp fires in to the Lighting kit. However, each biome kit will retain it's own flavour of lighting where it is part of a faction environment, such as the Werefu Monk Monastery lighting props.



You may have noticed we also snook in the Ice Cliffs and Ice Palace kits, but without a reference map. In Patch 0.2.13 when we released the Classic Dungeons Kit, we added the Crypts Level 1 map as a reference. Unfortunately players started playing this and reporting bugs. So to avoid that, we'll publish a reference map via the community forum when its ready. Once we've got more of the RPG mechanics implemented, then we'll start rolling out adventure maps.

In the Inspector, we added the ability to override snap settings, and added toggles for prop locking and camera colliders.

Ambient Occlusion and DirectX 11

Screen Space Ambient Occlusion ("SSAO") has been upgraded to a much faster and higher quality shader. We had thought it fixed the AMD card issue, but that fix seems patchy based on community bug reports. We're investigating both this, and the rapid reversal of the rollout of DirectX 11 support. Turns out there was a known Unity engine issue which has received a bug fix in 5.0. We're currently using Unity 4.6.3, but we expect the same bug fix will make it's way into the next engine update, after which we can try again with our DirectX 11 rollout.

What Are We Working On Now?

The Quest Designer is a key framework piece for delivering the RPG aspects of gameplay, specifically storyline and questing. We're working on implementing a node-based quest designer into the Editor capable of supporting branching dialog. It's going to take a few months to get right, with the first test being a starter tutorial to help ease new players into sandbox.

Heroes are progressing well, with work nearing completion on their special ability visual effects. They should soon be ready to add into the build, and in time will play their roles in the storyline.

We have a factional Behemoth in production - our first Dragon - and will be revealing that in one of the Dev Hangouts later in March. It's currently in animation, and as soon as it's available I'll be publishing our first faction pages onto the website. Factions are again a large part of the RPG aspect of the game and storyline, and parallel work streams are driving that content forward including factional loot icons and 3D weapons.

We'll be taking a closer look at plans for the RPG side of the game in the next blog.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Folk Tale Dev Blog 31


Folk Tale Patch 0.2.13 introduces significant change with an overhaul of the first hour of gameplay.

Starter Wagon and Resource Clearing

Players starting Folk Tale for the first time often arrive with an implicit knowledge and expectation from other RTS games. To make the game more intuitive, we have to acknowledge and design to this. Having watched Let's Play Folk Tale and Twitch streams, one of the most common first time actions of new players is to select a villager and right click on a tree, expecting them to go and chop it down. That wasn't happening, so we introduced sweeping changes.

Peasants can now gather resources from the environment (thereby clearing areas for future construction) by selecting and right-clicking on a resource, including chopping trees, quarrying small stone deposits, mining iron ore deposits, and foraging for berries. The iron and stone are new assets that are now dotted liberally around the starter location. After several visits, the resource will become depleted and will be removed from the world.



Peasants cannot access Quarries, Iron Mines, and the (possibly) soon to be added Lumber Mill. These will in time require Works to be constructed that can only be operated by Woodcutters, Stonecutters and Blacksmiths who are far more efficient than their Peasant peers. If you examine the current Quarry, we'll be removing the crane and wooden platform to make Works, an upgrade that becomes available once you have constructed the corresponding Profession building, which in this case would be the Stonecutter Lodge. You'll then be able to construct Works on Quarries, and assign Stonecutters to commence work there.

Woodcutters, Stonecutters and Blacksmiths can also clear areas, and are more effective than Peasants, requiring fewer swings of an axe/pickaxe/hammer and yielding more resources each time they drop off resources.

Enabling Peasants to gather resources presented a new design challenge: where should they drop off the collected resources? Henceforth, the very first thing players need to do when starting a new game is place a Supply Wagon containing a few rations and basic clothing to keep your Peasants happy for a short while. The Wagon also acts as a low capacity Storehouse.



These changes took gameplay further back in the life of a settlement, to where you start with very little and have to find what you need in the environment. There's a degree of urgency and survival. With food being a priority, and the Bread economy chain taking a while to get up and running, we've added foraging for Berries by selecting a Peasant and right clicking on a Berry Bush. Berries can be stockpiled and eaten by Peasants when they get hungry, and satiate a small amount of the need for carbohydrates.



Watching some of the recent Let's Play videos and playing ourselves, we noticed that it was easy to get into a situation of having lots of Planks, and not much Firewood. To address this (prior to the implementation of the Marketplace building), we added a crafting recipe to the Woodcutter's Hut for converting Planks into Firewood, available immediately once the building is constructed. With some further balancing, we'll get the Firewood situation under control.

Improving Villager Needs

In the last patch Peasants would frequently complain via the Advisor about being hungry and needing food, even though inventories would be brimming with supplies. This wasn't caused by mass hunger, but rather individual units - especially Hunters - wandering far from town and becoming hungry while doing so. To solve this, we've changed the Needs system to monitor averages, and added some useful charts to the Civics dialog that can be accessed via the topbar button to support forward planning. In times of bountiful harvest, Peasants are able to gorge themselves to fend off hunger for longer. They also take longer to get really hungry, reducing the frequency of them leaving.

New peasants will now only arrive if happiness is in the yellow or green.



Taxation And Changes To Economy

We were dissatisfied with the way the economy was working in regard to Villagers buying goods for gold. While it sounds logical, this could lead to unacceptable delays waiting for gold to be generated. We've not removed the exchange of goods for gold, and replaced it with a new taxation system. In the Civics Dialog (see image above), you can now set the tax rate in gold. Taxes are levied every 30 seconds, and are dependent on Cottages. Setting low taxes will lead to increased happiness, while heavy taxation will lead to decreasing happiness unless you are taking steps to offset that.

Research

The whole concept of accruing Research Points didn't feel natural, so we scrapped 'em. Now, you choose which research you want to undertake, and as workers deliver resources to the building, part of that work effort can be allocated towards research, progressing the percentage complete. Once you reach 100%, the research is unlocked. Multiple buildings of the same type can contribute to the same research at the same time to unlock it faster, or research something completely different in parallel. For example, one Blacksmith might research Leatherworking. Building a second Blacksmith, you can set it to contribute towards the existing research into Leatherworking, or research Plate Armor in parallel.



Moving to a progress model however presents some redesign challenges for non-production buildings including the Barracks and Storehouse. For the Barracks, we'll be introducing a villager need for security, which can be satiated by stationing City Watch in locations frequented by villagers (by the Storehouse and Wagon would be great!) As Peasant's pass by, they gain an increased sense of security, and that generates a tick in the progress towards any active research in the Barracks. Having City Watch behave in this manner also plays into the original plan for their role as law enforcement, and opens up the possibility of implementing crime and thieves.

Research at the Storehouse will be redistributed to other buildings including the Workshop.

Monster Dens and Ecology

As your settlement expands, you'll be clearing resources and pushing more into the unknown. Sooner or later you're going to encounter Monster Dens, starting with spiders. Spiders make their nests in hollow tree trunks, and are easily identifiable by the presence cobwebs, spider eggs and spiders. Over time, nests will spawn more monsters, and in time a queen that will wander and settle a new den. Monster Dens have health, and can be attacked and destroyed. However, the nests and monsters they spawn are a source of crafting ingredients, so it'll be a balancing act of what to destroy and when.

In future patches we'll be introducing ecology. Wolves will hunt rabbits, and rabbits will eat your crops. But killing rabbits will remove the wolves' source of food, which may in turn hunt down your villagers to chomp on.






Heroes, Faction Bosses, and Behemoth Mini-Bosses

With much of the village assets complete and queued for implementation, the Art Team have shifted over to producing content to support the RPG aspect of Folk Tale. All of the factions now have fleshed out back story (on paper, not in game), with a leader, hero and hulking behemoth. In our world design (community worlds may differ in design), each biome will have two opposing factions interacting together in a storyline, each having their own quest lines. Helping one faction will raise your notoriety, eventually granting access to the faction's hero for inclusion in your adventuring party. However, helping one faction will inevitably cause your standing with the opposing faction to decline into open conflict, leading you into combat with the opposing hero.

In the early stages of play, once you've constructed a Tavern, we want to provide access to non-faction based heroes to introduce adventuring parties and special abilities. Our first hero, Ser Gregory, is coming together and will soon be ready for adding into the game. Adding heroes will run in parallel with an overhaul of the combat system. For the last 6 months we've been retrospectively adding reaction animations to monsters, villagers and heroes, including hits, knock downs, stuns, shocks, and cowering. These additions should make combat feel much more involved and tactical.






Dungeon Kit

The Withering Dead will inhabit the crypts and catacombs of the Desecrated Cathedral found in the Grassland (Easy) map. Somewhere in the cathedral we'll add a portal that your adventuring party can take to Crypts Level 1 (via a loading screen). This map uses the new Classic Dungeon Kit, our first kit for creating underground Adventuring Locations. Adventuring locations are maps designed not to have villages built on, and only your adventuring party can travel there. We've also added a Lights Kit for placing dungeon lighting. Map designers should be mindful not to add too many lights in close proximity, as this can affect frame rate.



Future patches will include a Traps Kit, and a means of setting up triggers, either for traps, encounters or events.

Armor

Work continues fleshing out loot and crafting items. This month we've added the common scale armor that will be worn by the Cavalry and at least one hero; and a rare cloth armor set for Witches and caster heroes.

All icons are hand-painted at 512x512 pixel resolution and then scaled down, be that to the final in-game resolution, icons used on the website, or blog images such as the one below. Detail is painted in roughly in the original images, and becomes fine detail when scaled down.



We've tweaked monster damage to be more reasonable, testing it against the damage reduction provided by wearing armor the different types of armor. Villagers wearing armor are no longer invulnerable.

What's Happening Right Now?

February is a time to refine all the goodies we've added to the game in recent months. Load/Save is having a final push to squish any remaining bugs before adding in the UI. We have a rewrite of the inventory system to reduce chances of bugs, and further balancing to do. The Art Team are working on a wide array of tasks including the Ice Palace/Caverns (Glacian faction), Mordich the Withering Dead boss, Bonefinger the Withering Dead behemoth, Melody, the Gladefolk hero, faction loot weapon models, hero special ability visual effects, and of course inventory icons for the Withering Dead and Gladefolk factions. And I'll be focusing on character voice-over scripts so we can get more of your villagers and heroes talking.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Folk Tale Dev Blog 30


With the relatively short period between the content-rich November release of Patch 0.2.11 and the holidays, efforts were focused on improving gameplay and fixing bugs so that we could release the much improved 0.2.12 build in time for the festive break.

At the top of the community-requested improvements is Load/Save. While it's been available in game for several patches via the console, it wasn't functionally complete which rendered it unusable. Throughout December, Load/Save received much love, and in Patch 0.2.12 it is now stable. We've left it accessible via the console to allow for a period of both internal and community testing, so if you run into a problem please let us know, and submit your output_log.txt file (Player.log on OSX). Pending positive test results, we'll soon be moving forward with integrating Load/Save into the main UI.

The camera is now at a fixed angle, which becomes more shallow as you zoom in closer to the ground. There are numerous reasons for introducing this, the most important of which is maintaining frame rate. By angling down towards the ground in typical RTS fashion, we're able to reduce the amount of geometry in the camera frustum, which means lower frame rendering times and higher FPS. When we launched in Early Access we deliberately set the minimum specification quite high, with the intention of lowering them as development progressed. As optimizations continue to be added, its looking increasingly promising for being able to lower the minimum spec towards launch. We're now able to play a meaningful game at 25fps on an old Macbook pro with an Intel HD3000 graphics card. If you're not a fan of the new camera system, that's not a problem. You can disable camera locking under Settings and return to the previous camera setup.

Building Rotation Is Now Done With The Mouse Scroll Wheel, Fixed RTS-Style Camera Angle, Resources Inside And Outside The Building's Boundary


Referring back to the Let's Play videos and streams we watched post-0.2.11, we noticed players weren't rotating their buildings as much as we expected due to convoluted controls. Revisiting the controls, we've opted for the more expected behaviour of placing rotation on the scroll wheel, overriding the normal zoom function when in construction mode. We also noticed some confusion over how close economy buildings had to be placed to resources. To address this, when placing buildings we added icons over nearby resources, setting them 100% opaque when they are within the building's boundary, and 50% opaque when they are outside but nearby (and therefore likely to be captured once the player unlocks the Expanded Boundary research).

Being able to watch play sessions is so incredibly useful to us in learning how players engage with the game, and where improvements are needed. It's one of the primary benefits of being in Early Access.

If you played Patch 0.2.11, you'll know that the Needs system we introduced expanded playability, but lead to some confusion because of a lack of information provided in the UI, and a likelihood that villagers would start leaving. Throughout December the team worked on improving the UI, adding quick-glance indicators to buildings so players can see if a building is missing workers, or how many workers out of the maximum are currently trained. Missing workers is the primary cause of not being able to meet villager needs later on, so knowing when there's a problem helps players address the issue before it starts affecting villager happiness. We also expanded the number of event notifications, and added advisor voice over to tell players when a worker had left or a building didn't have any workers (more on this later).

Improvements To The Building Healthbar Including Productivity % and Current Workers vs. Max Vacancies; Hover Icons When Buildings Have No Workers


Digging deeper into the Building Dialog, the Workers tab received much needed attention, enabling players to recruit directly from the list of available Peasants (villagers without a profession), demote workers, and find them (thanks to the newly added camera panning system for event notifications). Auto-Recruit was enabled, easing micro-management demands for those wanting to simplify their tasks by automatically filling vacancies. This isn't quite perfect, and in the next patch we'll be adding checkboxes that appear allowing to you check which slots are to be auto-recruited; useful for early stages when you don't have enough villagers to be employing a full compliment of professions.

The Building Dialog Workers Tab


The Research tab in the Building Dialog became functional, especially for the Blacksmith buildings. You might recall the misleading "We don't have enough Iron Ingots" advisor line that would play when trying to unlock research. This was indicative of an increasing number of missing lines from the original tutorial; it was meant to be "We don't have enough research points." So this month we set about recording a new set of advisor lines scripted specifically for Sandbox, broadcast live in one of the Sunday Dev Hangouts. 7 hours of material recorded over two sessions was condensed into 70 minutes of candidate takes, from which 600 individual lines were then selected and dropped into game. These include lines for future features that will be coming online in the next several patches.



If you'd like to read all the improvements made in Patch 0.2.12, they are fairly self-explanatory in the Patch Notes.

Looking to the New Year, we have a number of short-term objectives:

  • Sickness, death, and medicines - the Herbalist get their functional purpose, while the Monks will receive a second function (in addition to brewing Mead), to collect dead corpses and bury them in a new village Graveyard. Expect outbreaks of coughing and vomiting.
  • The Needs system will be iterated and expanded, adding ranting behaviour leading to rebellion where some villagers run around setting fire to your buildings. Wells will become functional to help fire fighting.
  • Clearing areas of Trees/Stone/Iron Ore deposits - we need more interaction with the environment. Being able to clear areas to make way for village expansion contributes to a feeling of progression and further investment in the ownership of what we as players are doing.
  • Quest Designer - being able to trigger quests will allow handholding tutorial quests to ease new players into sandbox, as well as prototyping how the player will progress into the RPG side of the game. This eventually leads to portals, the hero party system, and the World Editor combining multiple location maps into a single playable experience.
  • Monster Dens - these are a natural progression from the wave spawning system. On the Hard snow map especially, the wolf packs present a constant and frequent threat. It makes sense for such creatures to have a home/nest/den with health that can be attacked. Attacking a nest will cause any monsters inside to come out and fight, and destroying the nest will prevent future waves from attacking your village. Leaving a nest alone will result in a 'settler' monster spawning that goes looking for a site to establish a new nest.
  • Enable the selling of Mead and Pumpkins.
  • Implement the Crooked Cauldron, Stables, Jeweller's Shop and Marketplace with their associated professions.
  • Enable building upgrades.
Work continues on the Dungeon Kit which should be making an appearance in one of the Q1 patches. We've brought this forward into the 0.2.x release cycle from 0.9.x cycle to work on enhancing the camera system to meet the needs of dungeon exploring, and to test out triggers and traps.

For a look further ahead, it's worth taking a look at the Development Roadmap.

That's it for 2014. From us all on the Folk Tale dev team, we hope you've all had a great holiday, and look forward to chatting with you in the New Year.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Folk Tale Dev Blog 29


November sees the launch of a new Sandbox Preview Trailer, and a refresh of all our screenshots to highlight all the great progress that is being made with Sandbox. Patch 0.2.11 shipped a few days ago, and was a substantial patch expanding gameplay with the addition of villager needs and the entire new snow biome. If you want to grab Folk Tale now and avoid the recent price increase, there's 25% off in the Steam Sale until 2nd December.

Villager Needs
Villagers now need a variety of things to keep them happy, ranging from protein (meat and fish), vegetables (pumpkins), and carbs (bread), to entertainment (mead) and basic clothing. We'll continue to add to their needs in future patches. If any of your villagers aren't having their needs met, they'll let you know via the event notifications that popup in the bottom right of the screen. Continue ignoring villager needs, and they'll eventually pack up and leave town. In a future patch, we'll be adding in ranting and rebellion.

The needs system has added considerably to gameplay. We've shifted our short-term goals to be purely gameplay focused, so the next few patches should see significant improvements in playability, starting with the latest Patch 0.2.11.

Research


Most buildings now have research that provide village-wide buffs, worker productivity bonuses, or unlock new crafting recipes. Not all have coded effects at the moment, but we'll be adding more and more with each new patch.

Crafting


Researching Plate Armor for example grants access to several Common quality plate items that can be crafted at the Blacksmith. Items take different amounts of time to craft depending on their complexity and size, and multiple items can be queued so you don't have to wait around. As each item is crafted, it gets added to your Global Inventory from where you can distribute it to your villagers.

New Buildings And Professions
The Herbalist profession can now be trained at the Herbalist Den. Placing Farmer's Fields and changing their crops to Herbs will activate nearby Herbalists. Herbs are cultivated and taken back for concocting into Lesser Medicine, which will be used to cure minor ailments when sickness is added in a future patch.



The new Weaver profession is trained at the Weaver's Hut. Placing Farmer's Fields and changing their crops to Cotton will activate nearby Weavers. Cotton is cultivated and taken back for weaving into Bolts Of Cotton.



Last up in the line of new professions is the Tailor who take the Bolts Of Cotton and fashion them into Basic Clothing. Over time, villager clothing becomes shabby and in need of replacing. Villagers will buy new Basic Clothing by visiting the Tailor's Emporium.



RTS Controls
Unit command and control has become a little easier with the addition of Control Groups and Attack-Move. Holding CTRL+1...4 will assign the current selected units to the '1' key. Holding CTRL while right clicking somewhere will command units forward. Any enemies they come into contact with will trigger them to attack. We'll continue to adopt RTS conventions in future patches, including double left clicking a unit to select all units of the same type in the proximity.

Snow Biome


We've added the Snow Kit and Snow Monastery Kit, along with the lovingly designed 'Howling Tundra' map that we streamed the design of over on our Twitch Channel. The fantastic looking Monastery Of The Mangy Wolf is home to the Werefu Monks, a race first introduced in the original Tutorial. They've had a visual overhaul, and now come in three varieties: Warriors, Priests, and Head Priest Wolf Chow (pictured below), whom you may recall incited the Ritual Of The Bloody Fang to turn the Monks into lycans.



Also inhabiting the snowy wastes are Yeti, a sentient race allied with Jack Frost. We'll be expanding on Jack Frost, his minions, and their opposition to the Werefu Monks in future blogs.



Swamp Biome
The Swamp Biome received a solid upgrade in 0.2.11 with the arrival of the Goblin Village Kit, and the Toadkin Race. The Goblin Village Kit adds several starter buildings that map designers can use to create convincing goblin villages.



The Toadkin Kit adds the Worker, Warrior, and a placeholder for the King, sat on his palanquin. We took a closer look at Toadkin in last month's dev blog.



Environment Settings and Weather


Noticed that everything has started to look better? That's because we've added environment settings, enabling you to set mood lighting and weather for each map using the Editor. Weather can be enabled if you want rain or snow. We've also tweaked the ambient settings for all the available zones.

Supersampling
For players with high end PC's, we've added supersampling, accessible via the in-game Console. Supersampling unlocks rendering at higher than native resolutions, scaling down the result back to your native resolution. The results are a terrific boost to visual fidelity, helping world detail pop. The downside is that you need a powerful graphics card with at least 1GB of gpu memory.

Patch 0.2.11 includes a number of bug fixes and minor enhancements. For the full list of changes, please read the Patch Notes. If you like what we're doing, now is a great time to pick up a copy of Folk Tale with a 25% discount in the Steam Sale. Alternatively, leaving a few kind words in a review would be very much appreciated.