Welcome to a new AoD monthly update! As usual, we're working on several fronts at once: graphics, performance, gameplay.
Increasing performance was and remains an important goal, especially when there are many characters on the screen. We've found a new way to optimize character models. While we're still working on it, preliminary tests show a frame per second increase from 100 to 220 fps with 10 characters on-screen, and from 55 to 140 fps (!) with 20 characters. Also we've made some improvements of the models and textures while we were at it. I'm sorry for the lack of screenshots, but we haven't finished our work there just yet. Also, we've discovered a new way to place objects on the levels that reduce memory consumption, makes loading faster and gives a general 10% increase to FPS. AoD is going to run a lot faster which will make a significant difference for people with older PCs and consoles.
Our 2D artist continues to work with the GUI. It's slowly getting a more decadent feel, along with a marked roman looking style, fitting with the overall look of the game much more. We are working on the inventory, alchemy and crafting screens, and also implementing a new dialogue screen that shows more of the action AND more text. It made a huge difference, and makes the transition from moving around the game world and dialogue way smoother.
Now all these graphics update are nice and all, but what about gameplay?
We're testing the demo portion of the game extensively, going over everything, taking notes, and fixing/adding things daily. Thoroughly testing a quest takes awhile due to the number of possible options and outcomes. The fact that everything is skill- and event-based (some options aren’t even shown if you don’t have the right skills or didn’t do something a certain way) makes things even more complicated. Key characters Feng and Dellar have over 15 different conversation triggers (other than quest reporting) just for Teron; they all need to be tested. We’re slowly learning what everyone in the industry already knows – non-linear games with multiple solutions are a bitch to develop. Oh well…
The game is slowly becoming a game. Every now and then I force Vince to play and give me some feedback. Usually he’s too busy working with text files to be a reliable tester.His reaction in May:
"mixed emotions..." [endless complaints and bitching removed to protect our fans' delicate sensibilities]His reaction after playing the last week's build:
"Fucking love it. Can't stop playing it. Don't expect anything this weekend, I'll just play. It's fucking fun. The new dialogue interface is perfect. Way better than I expected."
And yes, the new dialogue interface is great and makes a HUGE difference.
What else? The little things. Some things need to be added, some need to be changed. For example, in one quest you were tasked with recover a promissory note from a certain NPC. This quest was an alternative solution for another quest, so it was fairly simple. Basically, you show up, pick the lock, search the place (text-based), and if your Perception or Stealing are high enough, you'll find the note hidden in plain sight (think Edgar Poe's The Purloined Letter
Now, while the Poe's story is pretty good, the quest wasn't, for reasons that should be obvious. You go over there, the owner conveniently isn't home (again, the thinking was to make it a quick solution), the text adventure mode kicks in and you either pass the check or not.
It was way too simple, not very interesting (not interesting at all, to be honest) and had to be changed. The original thinking (let's place one of the solutions to a quest elsewhere and turn it in a few lines quest) was flawed. No matter how simple a quest is and regardless of what it's supposed to represent, it should be interesting and should be able to stand on its own two or three feet. The reworked quest is a thieves only text-adventure:
You find Kaeso's house without much trouble. A modest home, like everything else in Teron it's seen better days. You casually stroll past what used to be a flower garden and a crumbling well, but if anyone is home, they must be inside. The front door looks newer than its frame. Recently reinforced, no doubt after Flavius' thugs' visit.
You stroll around the back, hoping to get a glimpse inside the house. You're in luck; the first pair of shutters is open, revealing a large hall. You see a stove and a table set with bread, smell the aroma of food cooking. Someone moves into view to check on the food. Must be the cook. You move on.
The second pair of shutters is boarded over. Looking around to make sure there is no one around, you risk a peek through the cracks. The room inside is dark but you manage to make out shelves stacked with goods, sacks of grain, a chest. A storage room.
The last pair of shutters is also open, giving you a view into a small, cluttered room. You see scrolls, pots of ink. A man, most likely Kaeso, sits at a desk, intent on his writing. Must be a personal study. He stirs and starts to look toward the window, and you quickly move on.
1. Pick the lock.
2. Lure Kaeso away from the study.
The goal is to get to the storage room, and as you can see, there are two different (i.e. you use different skills combinations) ways in. Instead of just letting you grab the note, the goal is to find where Kaeso keeps his stash, which is more of a skill-based puzzle:
The storage room is dark and musty. You check the shelves and the sacks, but find nothing but stored vegetables. The chest's lock is broken, courtesy of Flavius' thugs. You open it anyway. Except for a large stone, the chest is empty.
- Examine the stone.
It’s a large, grey stone. You've definitely seen more interesting specimens.
- Take the stone and leave. Maybe you'll start a collection one day.
[crafting] It’s a lodestone. A natural magnet. Interesting.
[perception] It’s a large, grey stone. Looking carefully, you notice a small, barely visible groove running around the stone. It looks like a rope was tied to the stone at some point.
So, in the end a simple text adventure check has become a two-page text adventure. We've also added a lot of flavor text to Teron's NPC. Stuff like:
/on kill/ "Sent another one across the river?" smiles Dias.
"Any advice for me?
"Hone your skills. It's you or them, and the prize for a second place in this contest is a tombstone. Remember that and hone your skills every chance you get. It doesn't take much to kill a man. It's a lot harder to kill three, and still have enough strength left in you to take care of the fourth.
My hardest fight was against a fourteen year old kid. I offed his old man quietly, but his bodyguards surprised me. When I was done with them, I was barely able to stand. Then this kid walks in. The fight must have waked him up. He takes one look at his pa lying there with his throat cut from ear to ear, grabs a sword from the floor and runs at me, yelling something. He could have had me, but he slipped on the blood and I nailed him to the floor.”
"Quite a story."
We also added healing dialogues:
/if HP is less than 100% / “You look like shit. Do you want me to fetch the doc?”
/if wounded/ “Let me see, “ says the doctor. “A few cuts and bruises. Possibly a concussion. Nothing modern medicine can’t fix. X imperials.”
“Fix me up.” /if have enough money.
/if badly wounded/ “Let me see, “ says the doctor. “A penetrating skull fracture. Intracranial bleeding. Subdural hematoma. You can probably walk it off, but if you’re in a hurry, I can certainly be of help here. X imperials.
/if almost dead/ “Let me see, “ says the doctor. “Several skull fractures. Intracranial bleeding. Cerebral contusion. Multiple organ failures. Internal bleeding. Frankly, I’m surprised you’re still breathing. It appears that it’s your armor that’s holding you in one piece. Most remarkable.
Fortunately for you, we have no shortage of fresh cadavers with plenty of spare parts. In fact, I have a piece of cranium that will fit this hole perfectly. X imperials, including resting here for a couple of days."
Also, we implemented a good suggestion from the forums. Right now, many checks are slightly randomized at the beginning of the game. We developed a system that allows us to set the randomization range (for example, -1 to +1, -3 to +3) or if they should be randomized at all. That would add a little spice to the checks between different playthroughs while still being "hard" checks, and also make every skillpoint you add potentially useful.
Last and least, we’ve added some overhead lines for the merchants and traders. Few samples:
Good price, just for you, my friend!
Sweet wine from Ashkaan!
Magic elixirs! Ointments for all ails!
Slaves from Kemet! Good for at least three years!
Chairs! Finely crafted tables and chairs!
Amulets, best amulets against curses and evil eye!
Clocks! Made with the finest sand!
Hashish! Hashish! Only the finest blends!
Fried iguanas! Tender and juicy!
Exotic spices! Pepper! Saffron! Myrhh!
Well, that will be all for this month, I hope you enjoyed it, and stay tuned for the next month's update with lots of new things to show (and maybe some good news!)