Arcen Talk A Valley Without Wind, Part 1

By Phill Cameron on February 7th, 2011 at 1:17 pm.


Arcen Games, famed for AI War, financial troubles, and causing a shortage of iron, have announced their new game: A Valley Without Wind. It’s quite the concept: survival in a procedurally generated world, exploration, magic, and… perma-death? Interesting. Read on to find out more. (So much more, that there’s another instalment tomorrow.)

RPS: Can you start by explaining who Arcen Games is, and the basic premise of A Valley Without Wind?

Park: Arcen Games is a small indie development studio that I founded in 2009, and our first title was AI War: Fleet Command. That grew to be something of a cult classic in the hardcore strategy niche, and so now we’ve just released our third expansion for AI War, as well as bringing it up to version 5.0. In 2010 we worked on our second full game, a block-based puzzler called Tidalis — knowing that we didn’t want to get stuck in any one genre permanently. A Valley Without Wind (or AVWW for short) is thus our third full game, and our third genre to work in, as well.

AVWW is an adventure game with a focus on exploration and discovery in huge, procedural 2D worlds. There are a few JRPG inspirations here and there, such as having concepts like stats and levels, but in gameplay it’s all action-adventure. There’s a fair emphasis on traps and magic and monster avoidance, though — it’s not a hack and slash, and while combat is quite important it’s definitely secondary to exploration.


RPS: What’s the premise for AVWW? What’re the threats, how does the magic work?

Park: Your first character, who is selected from a small stable of randomly-generated characters when you start a new world, is just one of many low-level survivors in the world. The character is alone, surrounded by monsters like everyone else, and just kind of scraping by. This has been just the way of life for most characters in the world for as long as they can remember, for generations.

You the player are put in charge of this character’s well being. What will you do? You can certainly just continue scavenging, and hanging around the starting area. But as you explore around you’ll build some basic traps and weapons, and you’ll find a few caches of small odds and ends. Before too long, you’ll inevitably meet another NPC of some sort, and can start talking to them to make use of their crafting abilities.

Eventually as you continue to explore new places and meet new people, larger conflicts become apparent. Various Bad Things are going on in the immediate area, and you can choose to do something about it… or not. As you’re doing all of this, of course, your character is gaining in levels, gaining new equipment, and picking up all sorts of odds and ends for crafting. At some point you’ll find a good location for your first settlement, and you can start inviting NPCs there. At some point you’ll likely have your first character die, and you’ll choose a replacement to control from among the NPCs you’ve met.

The threats are a variety of monsters and mutated animals and plants, as well as occasionally other humans. There isn’t a broad way to classify this, as it isn’t a “zombie game” or anything like that. Depending on the region, the types of monsters are different. Above-ground, it’s heavier on the mutated animals, and occasionally undead type things. Underground, it trends more to the fantastical with a lot of evil stuff lurking there. Basically anything from fantasy, sci-fi, or any mix is something we consider fair game. There will be a few high-technology futuristic encampments, and not all of them are benevolent.

This mix of magic and technology is something I’ve really loved ever since encountering it in the classic NES game Crystalis. Certainly it’s been explored in many games since then, but there’s a specific feel to those 80s Japanese games and movies that really feels different to me. I’m hoping to recapture at least some of that feel with AVWW.

Magic power is granted by special gems that can be found underground. Each gem enables the wielder to use a specific spell, although the gem has to be prepared first by an Enchanter (one of the five classes of crafter in the game) before it can be used. The raw gems actually can be prepared in one of several ways, granting one of several spells, and so during the crafting process you choose which one you want to make the permanent end result of the raw gem.

In terms of using spells, some the low-level those will be simply recharge-based, so that you can use them repeatedly, but just not too close behind one another. We might use a similar system for the higher-level spells, or we might use a mana/magic points system. That part honestly hasn’t been fully figured out yet, because we really need to have some internal playtesting before we figure out what feels like the most fun. We know we want to have some unlimited-use low level spells so that you’re never completely out of “ammo” on your long treks. But at the same time you’re never meant to feel like a godlike powerhouse just roaming everywhere and blasting everything at will. So the final spellcasting design will probably evolve some, but that’s the end effect we’re aiming at.


RPS: Originally, AVWW was announced as a tower defense game, with Alden Ridge being announced along side it. What happened?

Park: Alden Ridge was the project I was working on by myself back in 2008, before ever founding Arcen or having any kind of team. I spent a solid 8 months on it and then got stuck with one aspect of the design that wasn’t working out like I hoped, and so started occupying myself with the “side project” of AI War. Then of course AI War became this all-consuming thing and I haven’t had a chance to return to Alden Ridge in the intervening years.

AVWW-the-tower-defense-game was something we talked about in late 2009 and all through 2010, and it was something that we’d planned to be our next full project after Tidalis. Problem was, when we hit that point of actually starting on the tower defense game, we were less enthused about it. There are just so many tower defense games these days, and meanwhile a lot of other design ideas had been coalescing in my mind and with the team. We’re always just full of ideas, and so when a year passes between the concept of a game and actually getting to implement it, the implementation tends to be radically different!

RPS: Is Alden Ridge gone?

Alden Ridge isn’t completely gone, but that’s not the game we’re making at the moment. About 80ish levels for Alden Ridge are actually complete, so it would be a shame to throw those away, but I still don’t yet have the solution for the design issue that’s been stymieing me on that project. So for now it’s shelved, and AVWW has changed so much that it bears almost no resemblance to what we announced in late 2009. The general post-ice-age setting is the same, and… I think that’s it? The new concept for AVWW ties together our favorite ideas from Alden Ridge, the setting from the original AVWW concept, and adds in a whole lot of new ideas we’ve had in the meantime.


RPS: With games set in a post apocalyptic environment, there’s always a heavy sense of survival and survivors in the world, even if the games themselves don’t always play towards that. How have you made the setting affect the game?

Park: Actually, it’s pretty central to the gameplay, underpinning pretty much every aspect of it. There’s no economy in a post-apocalyptic setting like this, so it’s all a matter of making what you need. To that end, when you’re out exploring on your own, you’ll be picking up materials from caves, old office buildings, factories, and so on. Then you can do some crafting yourself to make weapons, armor, consumables, traps, and magic items. But for a lot of that crafting, you have to seek out other survivors (NPCs) and have them do the crafting for you.

One of the big themes of this game is going to be making the world a less depressing place for the characters to inhabit. Everyone is alone or in really tiny bands, and in constant danger. As you explore around, you can find settlement locations and encourage the characters you meet to go and live there in larger groups. This is useful in terms of having all your allies and crafters in a centralized location, but it also changes the landscape of the world in other ways. A lot of these settlement-related mechanics are something that will be built in after we hit the point of public alpha with the game, but we’ve been undergoing intensive design on these aspects and are really excited about them.

RPS: There’s a very nature-heavy focus from what I’ve read about AVWW, not least because it’s the sort of world reclaiming type of post apocalypse, where the traces of man are getting wiped out by biology.

Park: There’s really a mix of nature and technology here, that’s very true. In most places, the technology is old and outdated (and most importantly, broken). For the most part, you won’t be driving around in cars, though you will see them stranded on old highways, in suburban driveways, etc. And the plants and grass are all unruly, growing up everywhere, crossing the boundaries of roads and things and basically making a mess of the whole terrain. Going along with that, chasms are a big thing, and having these huge holes and cliffs in disconcerting places is definitely a theme. Often there are strange plants or even monsters crawling out of these.

RPS: Is this having mechanical effects on how the game plays as well?

Park: Mechanically, this whole state of ruin has a lot of effects. When you are dealing with enemies, if you are outside, often they will be somewhat camouflaged by all the plant life. That’s not something you see in a lot of 2D games, but it’s a staple of a number of first person shooters I’ve enjoyed. I thought that would be really interesting to see here. Plus, all the plant life is constantly moving slightly, blowing in the breeze, so that even masks the movement of enemies to a small degree, creating a greater sense of unease and exposure when being out in the wild.

By contrast, this lets the indoor areas, which will be largely dark and filled with trash, feel even more sterile. You go from this really lush, constantly moving outdoor area to this dark, dingy, very still internal area with different moods of music. A little movement in the corner might just be some small harmless animal, or it might be something much worse.

RPS: Does that mean you’re creating a deliberately hostile environment and putting the player on edge?

Park: Fear isn’t something we’re intentionally cultivating in the sense of a horror game — there’s no blood or gore or anything — but I think that to really feel like you’re a brave adventurer out in the wilds, there has to be a certain gravitas, a certain the-world-is-larger-than-me feeling to the surroundings. The combat mechanics also emphasize this, as your prowess in hand-to-hand combat is somewhat questionable, and you’re better off using ranged attacks or traps to deal with enemies — or to avoid them entirely when possible on long treks. You’re not just Hero Dude out there slaughtering everything that moves, you’re actually in very real danger the entire time, and have to make your way through each area accordingly.


RPS: Is this tying into the use of permanent character death? Creating a consequence for failure beyond merely being set back five minutes?

Park: The tendency when one hears “perma-death” is to think of the uber-hardcore — but that isn’t where we’re trying to go at all. In a lot of respects our system is more forgiving, because it is literally impossible to lose at this game. You will die, and you will have massive tragic graveyards of fallen characters you liked, and you can have the game be quite a difficult beast if you want to push to the limits of where your levels and equipment will let you travel.

On the flip side, you can stay closer to home and play the game more casually, with vastly lower difficulty. Sure, the game gives out less rewards in that fashion — fortune does favor the bold — but there’s a very natural difficulty curve in there. The perma-death aspects are something that I’ve personally been really worried that players will misunderstand as a sign of “this game is ultra hardcore and not forgiving.” I explained it to my wife, expecting a negative reaction, but was really surprised that she took to it immediately, in the context of the larger mechanics of this specific game.

It boils down to why we have perma-death: it’s about grounding the characters in the world, and creating a real sense of consequences. We aren’t out to punish the player — there’s no purpose or fun in that. But one of the big problems with some games is that there is just no sense of reality, or of danger. I really admired Demon’s Souls for how it created fear in the player via its death mechanic. Granted, that was an uber-hardcore game, and I eventually gave up on it after a few areas. I still thought it was worth the money for the lessons it taught me, though.

In the case of AVWW, we wanted a really forgiving system where you never have “wasted time” by being out and adventuring. If you go out on a long haul and gain a bunch of experience and levels, then by god you get to keep those no matter what happened. That said, if there are no consequences to death, then it winds up feeling way too tame and uninteresting no matter how far you travel. I absolutely adore Zelda games, but it’s definitely a lighthearted series where no matter where you go exploring, you don’t ever feel in mortal danger if you’re pretty good at the game. You can always run away or otherwise escape. That’s not at all the tone I wanted for AVWW.

Therefore, when you die your character is gone permanently, but they also leave a lasting mark on the world and are remembered. Isn’t it annoying when games act like past events never happened? Whatever inventory and equipment the character was carrying is not lost, but is dropped in a “magic bag” or similar where the character fell. So if you had a Legendary Sword of Awesomeness, and your character dies, that sword isn’t lost — it just might be inaccessible for a while. Or you can make a run into the dangerous area with your new character and an inferior weapon, grab your old character’s stuff and hightail it out of there. Another example of not needing to fight every monster you run across, that would be a specific example of when avoidance might be best.

The character-death aspect is something we’re trying to push in a new direction, where it creates the appropriate mood and atmosphere to the game without leading to a sense of player punishment and frustration. That’s tricky to convey when using off-hand phrases like “perma-death,” which have entirely the wrong connotations, so I’m really glad you asked me about that.


RPS: Can you explain about how the difficulty is tied to the terrain and direction?

Park: AVWW will have an overworld system, where there are specific “region tiles” that you can venture into and explore. Each one of those regions is potentially enormous, and the type of tile on the overworld speaks to the type of region it will be. So, it might be snowy woods, or a desert, or an old city, or an office park, suburbs, volcano, mountain, beach, whatever. You see these things on the overworld, and you can go into anything you can see.

The world map itself expands infinitely in all directions, so you’ll wind up skipping most regions on the map and just going to the ones that interest you at the time. One key component of each region tile, aside from just what type of region it is, is what Difficulty Level it is. You as a player have a level in a JRPG sort of sense, and whatever character you are controlling at the time takes on that level (individual characters are permanently gone when they die, so this player-persistence-of-stats is really important).

The world map is arranged such that you can get the difficulty level you want to play at at any given time. If you travel east from your starting location, the difficulty levels go up linearly. Travel west from your starting location, and it’s a rather mottled affair: it’s mostly a lower difficulty, but with pockets of very high difficulty. Travel north or south, and the difficulty level stays generally constant with whatever your x coordinate is.

RPS: Overworld Travel?

Park: Overworld travel itself is dangerous, I should add, so you can’t just go infinitely in any direction with ease. Every few tiles on the overworld, you wind up “getting lost in a windstorm,” which is part of the theme talked about in the title of the game. When you get lost in a windstorm, you’re sucked into that region at some random location far in, with atypically harsh weather (rain, snow, sandstorm, whatever), and atypically difficult monsters roaming about in larger numbers. In some cases, it may also be night, or other similar effects. Once you escape the region, you can continue traveling on the overworld as normal.

Of course, there needs to be a way to fast-travel once you’ve explored a bit, so one key mechanic is building “wind shelters” on individual region tiles. These shelters get built when you accomplish special objectives in the region in question (the objectives varies from region to region). Over time, you can therefore have these networks of wind shelters on the overworld map, which let you avoid getting lost when the windstorms come up. It makes travel in known areas quite safe and fast, but travel in the more uncharted regions quite a bit more dangerous. There’s a lot of room for some strategy on how to set up wind shelter networks for the players to figure out, too. Lots of room for player choice and individualized playstyles.

Tune in for part two of this discussion tomorrow!

Trees!

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121 Comments »

  1. Quine says:

    “Plus, all the plant life is constantly moving slightly, blowing in the breeze,”

    IN A VALLEY WITHOUT WIND?!?!

    • gutenbergn says:

      Good point.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      Well, the whole game isn’t in the valley ;)

    • Urael says:

      I’d imagine stumbling across Nausicaa’s crashed glider-wing at some point…

    • Tacroy says:

      Given what Park said about being sucked in to regions due to “windstorms” which also cause out-of-depth monsters and other events to appear, I would assume that the title of the game is not the setting, but the goal. That is, you do not start out in a valley without wind – you work towards creating one.

  2. Stevostin says:

    Holy crap this is ugly.

    • AndrewC says:

      Pre-alpha? It’s true though – it is super ugly right now.

    • Dreamhacker says:

      This is one of the most interesting post-apoc game concepts I’ve heard in a long time, but…

      Whoa! The graphics look like photos redrawn in inverted colors with MS Paint 95! I mean, I’m no stranger to programmer art, but this is just beyond ugly.

      I really hope Arcen manage to find some real artists, because I really want to try this game concept.

    • MrMud says:

      I think the overgrown apocalypse setting is a fantastic one and I have wanted to see it in games ever since reading “The world without us” by Alan Weisman. And since I adore AI:War I am always interested to see what Arcen are up to. That said, Im not sure I could take playing a game that looks that terrible and I really hope that it is programmer art that is to be replaced with something else.
      In AI War the minimalist art works because its ultimately a high concept strategy game, this sounds like something that you need to be immersed in and I just dont see that happening without better art direction/art.

    • CMaster says:

      Have to agree. Those screenshots are just horrific (although the lower ones are a little better), and if the game winds up looking like that it will make playing it a chore.

    • aerozol says:

      I think it looks REALLY interesting.
      Obviously risky, but interesting.

    • Lightbulb says:

      Well I was sold right up until I watched that video.

      Put me off totally… :(

    • malkav11 says:

      AI War’s art, when zoomed in, is actually rather good, even though most of the time you shouldn’t really be playing at that scale. So I’m really hoping this is placeholder stuff, ’cause, yeah. Ew.

  3. gutenbergn says:

    AI War is one of the best indie games I’ve ever played and Tidalis is pretty good as well. This new game sounds really interesting, can’t wait for it!

  4. Kits says:

    Really not fond of the looks, but the game itself sounds nice and interesting. Will certainly give it a look when it appears.

  5. bwion says:

    Yeah, I actually love the style of the art, but there’s something about it that’s visually off-putting at the same time.

    This sounds really interesting, and if they can pull off the game they’re describing, it could be incredible. Definitely keeping my eye on this one.

    • bob_d says:

      I’m trying to figure out what’s so off-putting about it, besides the white fringes. Obviously the look is super-stylized, despite the elements being fairly realistic. I think it’s that the 2D, front-view elements in a 2D top-view world makes it feel more like an ungrounded jumble of photographs rather than an actual environment.

    • bwion says:

      I think, for me, there’s something about the perspective that’s a little weird. I probably don’t have the artistic vocabulary to adequately describe what’s irking me, though.

      The other thing to consider is, at least for me, that screenshots and even video captures rarely communicate to me the actual experience of playing the game. What might look like a mess (and I actually think it’s kind of a beautiful mess) in a static image could well work just fine when actually playing the thing.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Maybe it’s that it’s mixing a top down view of the game space with a front view of the foliage and an isometric view of the player. Any two of those might have worked, but all three seems to just end up off-putting.

      The actual game sounds great, but I really hope they alter that art style somewhat.

    • bob_d says:

      @Lilliput King: Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get at, but I don’t think that’s it, entirely. There are plenty of RTSes that have done the same thing but aren’t so off-putting. (Ignoring the surrealism of having what appears to be a top-down view that reveals the sky on the edge of the map.) Those RTSes blend terrain elements into the ground in various ways, but I think in this case, the lack of any sort of shadow to ground anything is what makes the big difference. You have the difference in views for different elements (side-view, top-view, almost isometric view) which can be overlooked, but without the shadows to indicate they’re on the same plane, it all starts floating around in a disconcerting manner.

  6. stahlwerk says:

    D’Avww :3

  7. mrjackspade says:

    I’m no where near a graphics snob but I don’t think I could play a level that looks like that for more than five minutes before my brain snorts itself out of my ears in derision.

  8. Jp1138 says:

    The concept seems nice, but it wood be better to have 8bit style graphics if this is the best art they can get. At least it would get a retro look, not an ugly one ;)

  9. Mccy_McFlinn says:

    The way his legs move, it looks like he should be running backwards. Still a way to go on development but certainly worth a good when it’s complete.

  10. Lambchops says:

    I never quite took to AI War (though that may be a sympton of not having time to learn to play it properly).

    I’m loving the sound of this concept though, it’s good to see an in depth interview and hear a bit more about it. Glad it has not turned out to be a tower defence game, as although I’m sure Arcen would have done a lovely job of it I reckon they are definitely capable of delivering something much more imaginative.

    Shame that Alden Ridge is shelved but hopefully it will appear in some form in the future.

    i actually like the direction the are style is taking. Sure it needs a bit of prettying up, but it’s early days and it is already managing to look quite distinctive.

  11. Mattressi says:

    I looked at the screenshots and thought “no way”. Then I read the article (apparently that’s what you do with those funny characters on the screen)…I MUST GET THIS. I love everything they’ve said. It sounds absolutely fantastic! Their use of ‘perma-death’ is really very unique and actually a great idea IMO. Any idea when it’ll be fully released? Can we get into the alpha if we pre-order, or is it only for selected testers?

    • cupogoodness says:

      @Mattressi

      We’re targeting an Alpha release in March that all pre-order customers will have access to (also it will carry a cheaper price tag than its subsequent beta and launch versions). I’m sure it’s mentioned in part 2 of the interview so I’ll keep my trap mostly shut, but players who get into the alpha (and eventually beta) will play a huge part in how the game develops in several ways.

      If everything goes according to plan (heh) then we’ll launch the 1.0 version sometime in the latter half of this year.

    • Mattressi says:

      Awesome! Thanks for the reply. I’m really looking forward to this :D

      I’ll be pre-ordering just so I can get a taste of it before it comes out.

  12. CMaster says:

    OK, so it sounds a little less sim-heavy there than the preview on the Arcen site, but still, this game sounds very roguelike inspired, simulation driven.
    I think we’ll see more of these and I certainly hope we see a lot more of these.

  13. cocoleche says:

    I’m getting Flashbacks of playing NARC in the arcade. I think it’s the animations.

  14. keith.lamothe says:

    @The folks who think the art would do them physical harm (the one about the brain shooting out your ears was clever) :

    How about the art in DF or Minecraft? Do you like it? Personally, I enjoy both games. In DF the art doesn’t get in my way, at least with a tileset. In Minecraft it’s actually strikingly beautiful in some cases.

    If neither of those, what games DO have art you like? And, of those, which one had the lowest art budget? And how big was that budget?

    I’m asking all this seriously, we’re still in pre-alpha here, it’s not like we absolutely can’t change art direction. But I’m reasonably certain that any change that would actually significantly increase the percentage of people who like the graphics would involve resources generally unavailable to indie studios.

    Also, in reference to the comment about MS Paint, etc, here’s a description of the actual process:

    http://christophermpark.blogspot.com/2011/02/art-pipeline-for-valley-without-wind.html

    If MS Paint could do all that I wish we’d known, would have saved us a bit of money ;)

    • CMaster says:

      At the moment, I prefer the art of tileset-based roguelikes – Dwarf Fortress with a decent set, or Rogue Survivor dramatically to this. Aside from the fact that “top down, but all the objects are viewed side on” has always been a really clumsy way of showing things, the foliage with really strong colours like a filter has been cranked to “crazy to the max” in photoshop combined with the very strong outlines this foliage has makes for a very confusing and unpleasant look.
      While I’d love something pretty and more inspiring, to make these different regions really stick out, I’d certainly take the art style of say Spelunky or Dwarf Complete over how this looks in those screenshots.

      edit:Funnily enough, the example sprites on that blog post look ok. The scenes we have here however…

    • Harlander says:

      For me, the apparent outlining of some of the objects (especially the trees in the first and third screenshots) makes the images look very rough and cluttered. I haven’t seen it in motion yet (can’t get video here) and that always changes how a style looks.

      I agree with CMaster… Spelunky, and the games which inspired it, are a good example of fairly cheap art direction that gives a nice look.

    • Dominic White says:

      The things that stand out as particularly broken in that pre-alpha video (I was honestly assuming it was all placeholder material, so… err.. not so good) were the main character (that running animation is almost painful to look at – perhaps something more stylized? Look at some classic SNES games with similar perspectives for how a run cycle should look), the cars (those really DO look MSPainted in) and the red trees, which don’t seem to mesh with the background at all, and generally look badly cropped.

      The environments generated by, say, Stonesense for Dwarf Fortress look much better at a glance because they’re not attempting to mix pseudo-photorealism in awkward layered style. http://i.imgur.com/RYnLi.png – By going for a more realistic art style, you seem to have fallen into the Uncanny Valley Without Wind.

      Now, if AVWW looked like, say, Alundra on the PS1 – http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_elnPYzYjm58/TR9_4WXDi7I/AAAAAAAAAD0/E3iJYq-LG-o/s1600/alundra16.jpg – I’m fairly sure everyone would love it. Just detailed enough to convey a good sense of what you’re looking at, but cartoonish and stylized enough to make people automatically gloss over the fact that most trees look identical. Comparatively low-res sprite art is something indie studios CAN afford, and there’s quite a few people doing good spritework in the indie scene at the moment.

      Lower-resolution sprites means you can pull the camera further back without losing detail, too, wheras if you zoom in, things get all chunky and pixellated, but not *ugly*.

    • Mr_Hands says:

      Minecraft doesn’t look aggressively bad, as you pointed out. It has a consistent art style that works in the context of its game design.

      Dwarf Fortress isn’t asking for money from me. (Though, agreed, given the stories I’ve been able to tell after playing that game, I’ve gladly given some cash over to Toady)

      Comparatively speaking, AI War and Tidalis aren’t blowing out my eyes with graphical overtures and they’re still terrific games at their core. I have utmost faith that you cats can deliver the experiemce Chris is describing above. It’s just a little offputting that the graphical style of this (so far) resembles Pickle Wars.

      I don’t know. On one hand, it’s possible we’re just being too hard on pre-alpha screencaps, but it also looks exceedingly barren, with most of the foliage being trees that all look exactly alike. Obviously, it looks like the art process is a little more in-depth, but the results so far don’t suggest it. I don’t know, I mean, the graphical style of Ultima seems to be the closest coordinate here (which is still a fair bit of a leap, being 3/4 overhead instead of 2d) but given the generic conventions of latter-day roguelikes like Din’s Curse, that isometric look is part of the horizon of expectations that a target audience would have. Not saying Arcen needs to adhere to that, considering their success with bucking those expectations in AI War and Tidalis. Something about the art style just isn’t sitting well, which might make the game a bit harder to sell to the unconverted. Maybe the avatar needs to have a bit more personality? Maybe a few more splashes of colour? Usually when I see objects that look “painted” I flash back to mid-90s adventure games with pre-rendered backgrounds and just figure nothing is interactive.

      So this response has gotten entirely too long, but hopefully it’s helpful.

    • Jolly Teaparty says:

      I’m still not entirely certain what the big glass structures blocking the screens are. I think they’re skyscrapers but if they are, man is that a bad idea. A massive amount of invisible terrain because of an object you might not be anywhere near.

      I don’t really have any suggestions on how to make it better, all I can really say is I love the concept but hate that video. Dominic’s suggestion of making it in the style of Alundra’s more tolerable though.

    • CMaster says:

      Hmm, hadn’t spotted the video. Some more thoughts from there:
      My hunch is that isometric view would actually do what you want well here, although I realise that they are very out of fashion (with additional confusion caused by people referring to true-3D games like Lara CroftGoL and Company of Heroes as isometric). Going with that being impractical/too expensive, then I’m still feeling that going for something more well, cartoony like classic Zelda games or other NES/SNES/gameboy JRPGs you say are an inspiration would look more right – it would certainly make the constantly repeated trees look less odd – there’s enough detail on the trees to make the fact that they are all identical very strange. Maybe you could push for a watercolour/oil painting/pixel art/3D art stylized look.

      Oh, and drop the autumn colour trees. Whatever filter it is that is doing a pass over most of the foliage makes them look horrific. I think they are a big part of people’s initial reaction.

      Edit:Oh, and Dominic is right about the run animation not being correct – it’s a awkward, and B: still too slow for the really fast movement – it appears that he is ice skating, not running.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      We’ve been working on getting rid of those white borders, and I think Chris has nailed that in his latest stuff. For instance, look at the second screenshot in this article and compare it to the first. I’m pretty sure the second one came from after Chris figured out what was going on with some filter or another. Anyway, does that one solve the border problem?

      @Dominic White : Yes, I’d like Alundra-like graphics too. But do you know the art budget on that game? Or at least the number of dedicated artists? I’m guessing it wasn’t out of the ordinary for games like that, but with pixel art I’m guessing their art staff was twice as big as our entire staff.

      @Mr_Hands : Thank you for comparing AI War and Tidalis in there too. It was also my feeling that if AI War was successful (and it’s been remarkably so, as indie niche titles go), then AVWW should be fine because AVWW’s graphics are already _considerably_ more detailed than AI War’s on a pound-for-pound basis. On the other hand, Tidalis had an enormous amount of effort put into the art and it’s been a commercial failure (by a long shot, though we still hold out hope for it; it’s a good game).

      Isometric like Din’s Curse would be cool, though that’s actually using 3D models in-game which would be quite a shift for us. I’m thinking that people would react in roughly the same way, the only difference artistically is that the textures would be wrapped in a much more complex way than simply being drawn onto a single quad.

    • Goateh says:

      The colours themselves seem a little off, though that may be a deliberate choice given the setting. The undergrowth/bushes/those shrubs are far too busy when they fill the screen though. In the barren parts of the world it actually looks quite nice (aside from those cars, they look photoshopped in) but when the video moves to the areas with a large undergrowth I found it near impossible to actually pick out any details.

      The goal might be to have monsters able to hide in there but currently entire trees are pretty well hidden. The only thing I could see for certain when on the move was the guy. Everything else was an indistinct mass of colour; I’m fairly sure a house could’ve hidden in some of those sections, nevermind something to eat my brains.

      That also applies to the dense tree foliage sections, but at least in those cases it feels more reasonable than everything being hidden by 1 foot shrubs.

      The comparisons to minecraft and dwarf fortress don’t feel that relevant. In mechanical terms they might be but visually those are pure tile games, even if you get a pretty tileset for dwarf fortress. This feels like a more natural, organic world. Those are very abstracted and game like, which works well for them.

    • CMaster says:

      @Keith
      When I said Isometric, I was thinking more like Sim-City/X-COM. Though it may of course be cheaper and easier to do isometric with simple 3d models that animated spirtes.

    • Mr_Hands says:

      @keith.lamothe: I’d read that Tidalis didn’t do well, and it’s a fucking shame. That game was a blast. I almost didn’t mention Din’s Curse, since the models are in 3D. I don’t think AVWW needs that kind of rendering. I think, if you guys are looking to give a bit of a nod to procedurally generated RPG-styled games with some roguelike tendencies, you could probably get away with a fixed non-3D isometric view. But who knows? I mean, Dink Smallwood was basically using the same camera angle and it did okay, I think?

    • Andyroo says:

      I do dislike the art style as it appears here. There does seem to be something just…off…about it. DF and Minecraft I love, but not being artistically inclined its not a major point for me. Likewise it makes it hard to say why it looks disconcerting. The outlines do stand out a bit too much, look into some woods and its usually blended together with subtlety. It also looks flatter than it should to my eyes, even considering it is 2D.

      One thing to consider here is how we are looking at this though – I believe we are seeing this and thinking “Would I want to play this?”. You Arcen chaps, however, are probably looking at this and thinking “think of the places this can go”. The individual assets look good to me, but I do think some experimentation of the worldly appearance would be good.

      You guys still have me buying this when it hits alpha – the level of trust that has been cultivated in the last few years with your products would have me buying Sims Content Packs if you helped make them. I will wait to see what becomes of the art style in the alpha versions, whereas I am sure I could and would adapt to whatever is there – sales need something grabby and instantly positive really.

      As a thought, I would like to see a larger image – as in showing more landmass. Not of the overworld map, of these region maps or whatnot – just zoomed out from what has been already showcased. See how it looks like with a bigger viewframe.

    • jRides says:

      I think if you could get rid of that psuedo-photo look it would be a huge help, it actually looks really ‘cheap’ at the moment, I’m sure (from reading your post) that you must have put a fair bit of effort into that artwork, but it certainly doesn’t look like it.

    • CMaster says:

      @jRides
      Think you hit on something with the “cheap” line there.
      It makes me think of just importing a bunch of cropped photos into The Games Factory and spamming them around (something I did as a kid)

      @Keith
      Yeah, the white edge issue does get better with some of the later shots. It perhaps moves the game away from “eye searing” to just “ugly” however.

    • MrMud says:

      @CMaster yea I agree that the sprites in the blog post look alot more interesting.
      It may be that the lack of detail in the probably subsampled screenshots is what is making it look shit.

    • MrMud says:

      @keith.lamothe
      I dont think you can compare the art for your three games like that.
      Tidalis has good art but in a puzzle game that only makes you not dismiss it out of hand, it doesnt actually help rope anyone in. Tidalis failure probably has more to do with the perception of the game or that you misjudged your demographic.

      AI:War doesnt need art because it is a high concept strategy game. It could probably do very well indeed without hardly any assets at all.

      AVWW seems to be a game that has to convey a strong sense of place and in order to achieve that a strong art style and good art is absolutely critical.

    • shaun says:

      I think I know what bothers me about the art so far, especially since the art in AI War is generally fine for me. It kind of seems like there’s this sliding scale between quality of art and the simplicity of the scenes – Crysis can have very complex scenes because the graphics are so good, AI War looks fine and so do other space games with simple tiles due to the relative sparseness of the world. This feels like this footage is stuck in the middle – tons of details and lots of stuff, but somehow the graphics aren’t quite up to it.

    • Dreamhacker says:

      About the MS Paint comment, I want to emphasize that I meant no offense by it. I strongly support your game idea, but the graphics scared me.

      As for what looks wrong about the graphics to me:
      -First, the different graphic elements don’t mesh to well, especially color wise. Granted, it is damn hard to make realistic looking nature, and few games ever succeed in that. The main thing that hit me is that it seems like the alpha blending is off in some places, with pixels in the outlines of objecting having the wrong color.
      -Many of the terrain elements are repeated much to close to each other.
      -In some places, there are a mix of starkly tiled environment (roads and building) and non-tiled objects (trees). You might want to work on blending the two more subtly.
      -The placement of graphics objects seems too clumped in some places and too sparse in others. Perhaps some modifications of the placement algorithm is in order?
      -One method of making good looking landscapes that I’ve seen devs use is basing your landscape graphics on aerial footage and satellite footage. For a game like this, which is isometric, the aerial/satellite footage would have the right perspective from the start.

      As for games with nice graphics and low budgets, I would say that a lot of the old Gameboy and SNES/Super Nintendo games had very nice environments despite oftentimes being limited to small resolutions and tiled “maps”. Another low-budget game which combined tiled/untiled graphics with good results is Dink Smallwood.

      Finally, really refreshing to see a dev asking for feedback! :)

    • omicron1 says:

      Personally, I’d suggest three things.
      1. Borrow the “rolling world” concept from Deathspank. It allows you to have a cool-looking visual effect, add a bit of perspective, increase the apparent size of the world (allowing you to see into the far distance), and still use 2D objects.

      2. Give some indication of Z-values. Especially problematic are the areas where the trees intersect with the grass/other foliage – the color values remain the same, making it rather hard to tell where the edges occur. Either darken the terrain/objects vertically (objects at the top of the screen are dark; those farther down are brighter) or use a pseudo-perspective effect similar to Diablo 2 to allow the trees to shift visually (the sprites’ tops need to move based on their xy-coordinate relative to the player) – or both.

      3. The buildings really need to be better. I’d suggest having them fade past the base (so you can really only see one story), then allowing the player to enter the building and wander around on the ground floor. Anything else aside from true 3D perspective is going to cause problems.

    • yhancik says:

      Reading that “art pipeline” post made me a bit sad :/ because I LOVE Arcen Games, but it feels to me, like you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy on an aesthetic dead end…

      What struck me was the numerous mentions to filters, photoshop filters and more filters, among other things to achieve a cartoony/painterly/arty look.

      I know I can’t paint, my drawing is unexceptional, and I know I’ve been obsessed with the idea of giving a more “analogue” look to digital creations. I’ve been impressed at first, and I thought that the “magic” of filters would help me compensate my own shortcomings.
      But I quickly hit a limit : filters only produce the illusion of an art technique.

      Eventually, I realised I didn’t have to simulate a style I can’t handle, and that it was more fun and satisfying to be creative with my own limitations.

      -

      Considered your limited resources, you’d have more chance taking a simple, efficient and maybe radical aesthetic direction. You’ve mentioned Minecraft, I would add Introversion. And they’re just two examples.
      Dare dropping the “painterly” fantasy, because I feel it’s something you’d love to be able to do, but it’s not what you do, here and now and today.

      And keep it simple! More details ⇒ more visual clutter ⇒ even more difficult to keep nice and clear.

      -

      (I must admit the perspective really feels weird to me too.. it feels I’m seeing things from the top and front at the same time… which get really weird with that tower building :s)

    • suibhne says:

      I agree with several of the other comments re. the art, but the animation actually disappointed me much more. If you could spruce up the character animation and somehow mesh it with the overall art style, I’d find the general graphical package a lot less troublesome. In fact, I light the painterly aesthetic of the trees.

    • malkav11 says:

      You know, looking at expanded screenshots, I think part of the problem is that it looks really terrible, just…ugly as hell when shrunk down to the size of a thumbnail or Youtube video or whatnot. When it’s more like the size I would actually be playing it at, I can see enough detail that it’s substantially more attractive. It still doesn’t look quite right – the borders are part of it, and it doesn’t quite mesh into a cohesive whole to me. But it’s a lot closer than I was thinking. This is kind of the opposite of my usual problem with screenshots, where a shrunken version of the image looks really good and a closer look shows off all the jaggies and polygons and bad texturing of the actual game. I mean, hell, thumbnails of Everquest screenshots still look pretty good, but the game itself is pure low-end 90s 3D.

      On the other hand, the game looking awful in preview material is not a good thing.

    • Eclipse says:

      Sorry but that art is awful, and knowing that was done using 3d models doesn’t help it. Look at Fallout (the first one) or Baldur’s Gate. That’s good looking prerendered stuff.
      Also too much photoshop filters make it look “digital” in a bad way.

  15. pakoito says:

    That pre-alpha video hurts the game more than it helps IMO. I was thinking on preordering (Rogue Survivor finished minus the ascii? SOLD) then I watched it and backed out :(

    • keith.lamothe says:

      Which brings up an important question:

      Do y’all want game studios to be open and transparent about their game development, even in the early stages, or do you want them to wait until they have something super polished before releasing anything? Or resort to “bullshots” that aren’t even from the game, in favor of having more appeal?

      We could very easily be silent about what we’re doing, but we figured y’all would like to know about it as we went along :)

    • CMaster says:

      Rogue Survivor is all tile-set when I’ve played.
      Only “ASCII” is in the actual text.
      I played it and loved it for a few weeks, but it really needs progress.

    • pakoito says:

      One example is Overgrowth, that has no game at all yet but the innovation in animation he’s doing it’s worth watching.

      But in this particular case there’s still not enough gameplay (shoot, craft, I don’t know whatever other than running) to make a video. It’s still screenshot and blogging time until you can demo a proper whole run, IMO, or at least mark the video as ART SNEAK PEEK and use some dramatical fades to black or something.

      EDIT: Bullshots…hehe, someone reads Penny Arcade :D

    • Mr_Hands says:

      Keith brings up a good point, here. You just need to look at the Arcen games blog to see the welter of changes that have been pushed out the door for AI War. Admittedly, I wasn’t closely watching things until the run-up to 4.0 started, but I’ve consistently checked out the Arcen blog ever since to see what’s going on. I’m not necessarily booting up AI War (or Tidalis) every day or every week, even, but it’s interesting to see the process at work.

      Personally, I was really excited about Alden Ridge when it was announced, but where other companies may not even address the fact that they quietly slotted a game to the backburner, Arcen was pretty up-front about it. That kind of transparency is all too absent these days. I’d hate to see it disappear because we’re just not used to it.

      And Rogue Survivor: It’s a very interesting game, but it’s still got a ways to go before it even hits Dwarf Fortress competence, and the graphics, while they’re better than ASCII, are still terribly ugly.

    • Jolly Teaparty says:

      @keith.lamothe I think this is more of a question to ask yourselves. I’d always prefer to know what’s going on than to not, because I am a big kid who wants to tear his presents open before Christmas and ruin the day. You’ve got to sell your games though, and showing what you’ve got when what you’ve got is not a lot may spoil first impressions. This video puts me off the game, but then I reckon a much better video later or a working demo would fix it.

    • Lambchops says:

      @ Keith

      I think the answer most people wil give to the “do you want to know what we are doing?” is yes.

      Thing is though, I don’t think our opinion on the matter is particularly important (not that it’s going to stop me writing a wall of text about it!). If you do go down the road of transparency then the only thing people reading about the game actually need is a clear indication of what stage the game is at and how close what you are currently working on is liketly to reflect the end product particularly, as you’ve just found out, the graphics and art direction as that is a major factor in first impressions.

      But when it comes down to it, you have to make the decision on whether transparency is worth it and there are both pros and cons to it. On the one hand you can generate some excitement about your game, get some meaningful criticism and build/enhance a reputation as likeable, trustworthy developers. On the other hand you may put some people off with footage that they deem unimpressive, you risk making promises that perhaps you can’t keep for some reason or other, you will face some tough criticism whcih could hit morale and you may end up hearing many conflicting opinions on your work creating uncertainty on where to go next.

      Whatever you decide to do I guess the most important thing is that you have confidence in the game you are making. Either the confidence to work away wtih a small circle of people supporting you and minimal publicity, safe in the knowledge that you are going to release a great game that you think will sell well or the confidence to open up early versions of your work for criticism and that you will be able to take any flak and to take on board the criticism which you believe will make your game better rather than struggling trying to please everyone.

      Personally I think there’s much to be said for transparency though. This might come from a rather selfish point of view but I find it very interesting seeing the thought processes behind game development and how games slowly but surely take form (see Introversion’s blogs on Subversion or the alpha versions of Minecraft and Dejoban’s Kick It! for examples). Certainly this interview has me excited for the game regardless of how it currently looks. Sounds like a really interesting concept if you can pull it off.

      Anyway in short; I don’t really think you should be asking us this question, it really is something that is for you to decide. Bit of a cop out answer I know, but that’s how I see it.

    • CMaster says:

      @Keith.
      I’m certainly intrigued about the game from what you’ve said and would like to hear more.
      I think you’ve got to accept that if you go for the open development style, some of the content you released and certainly some of the decisions that you make along the way (especially as you change things) are going to put people off. The question is (and it is one that only you can really answer after you’ve tried it) is if the increased word of mouth in general, and the amount of people who are excited and get interested in your game as a consequence outweigh that. I suspect for an outfit of your size that it will, but who knows.

      Also, by being open about what you are doing with development, especially from early on, it gives very much the impression that you want feedback, that potential players are being invited to give input on what they like and don’t about the game, and especially what hopes and fears they have.

      In short: If you want people to talk about your game, then yeah, open development seems good. If you want to present and market a product, with a take it or leave it attitude, open development probably doesn’t work so well.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      @CMaster

      “Also, by being open about what you are doing with development, especially from early on, it gives very much the impression that you want feedback”

      Absolutely. And what you’ve given me is what I wanted in that regard. I mean, I wish you liked it better but you’ve behaved like a decent human being in telling us that you don’t. And maybe we’ll be able to accommodate you or others in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if we did not know your reaction to this early state.

      My reasons for asking “do you want to know what we are doing?” are (at least) twofold:
      1) For the people who are simply insulting us without providing any substantive feedback: do you just not want to hear about this stuff? Or do you actually like it but just get a kick out of kicking people in the shin?
      2) For folks who say they used to have interest in the game but now won’t follow it at all… well, actually I don’t think anyone here’s said that (maybe someone did, dunno). But if anyone thought that and is reading this: Do you want to encourage or penalize transparency in game developers? Do you want developers to believe that transparency will hurt them?

      For folks who are still intending to follow AVWW’s progress (whether you like or hate what you see here), that’s great, that’s what we’re hoping for :)

    • yhancik says:

      @keith about being open:

      I’d say yes, be transparent!
      But it’s probably also a matter of audience. I speak from my point of view, I love to see how one builds a game, I love to see things evolving. I find something fascinating in human-sized projects, the idea that *people* are behind that game, and that they’re reachable, that we even know their names :p I will admire their effort to try something new, and understand where the limited scale or possible lack of polish would come from.
      In the end, it makes the whole thing more…. lovely/lovable?

      It’s like the opposite of Faceless Studio 33 that only appears to you in scripted teaser videos to tell how much they wanted to provide the best experience to the player with their innovative A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. System which is basically glorified quick-time events.

      But that’s just me. I have the feeling that there are people who don’t really understand the idea of “work in progress”, find not-absolutely-perfect games offensive, and assume that if developers are “listening”, them loud audience automatically becomes some kind of director :p

    • CMaster says:

      @Keith
      I think a lot of people just see something and say what pop into their heads on internet comments. Some will have just looked, gone “Yuck” and moved on, never thinking about why. It’s like someone in a club or bar saying to their friends “I hate this piece of music”. Certainly, a lot of people don’t really expect the creator to come along and read their throwaway comments. Now a lot of that is less true of RPS than other places but it certainly still happens. Equally, people who react like that, while they probably wouldn’t look up the game again, if they saw something later where it appeared much better would probably come back into the fold.

      As for me – I’m still very, very interested in the game. It sounds like a lot of the things I really like, plus it’s meant to support coop (right?) which is a great thing for my little gang of Teamspeak friends. I’m loving the more “simmy” elements pushing through into games at the moment (like a lot of the RPS writers, I felt back when Deus Ex came out that every game was going to wind up like that) and my experience with AI War (I have it and bought I think6 copies to gift to friends for coop too) gives me reason to think you guys at Arcen might be able to pull it off too. I just think that the screenshots above look really unpleasant and if things don’t improve during development in that respect that the game might not work for me in the ways that it should.

      (As an aside, I’ve always felt that AI War’s graphics while functional feel like they could be so much better without being any more time consuming or technically demanding. Feels like you guys need a really talented artist on the team – of course those aren’t the sort of people you can just pick up easily or cheaply).

    • Dworgi says:

      I have to say I’m in the camp that is really disappointed with the graphics. I’m a big fan of the game design, but the graphics look too flat, the textures too repetitive and depth is communicated far too badly. And I say this out of a position of being quite happy with most indie isometric games such as Eschalon and Geneforge.

      Even ignoring the problems that you’ve already commented on (the running cycle, edges of trees), I think the foliage just look bad when you’re unable to tell what’s the foreground and what’s the background. Added to that, the photographic skies really draw attention to the lack of detail in the foreground.

      I’ve seen the screenshots you’ve linked, but at this point I think it’s safe to assume that there IS a problem with the graphics that you will need to fix before release or risk alienating a large part of even your most devoted fanbase (of which RPS readers are a significant part).

      I just honestly can’t see myself playing a game with that art style for the number of hours required to do the game mechanics justice.

  16. ithree says:

    Sooo its an artists impression of Minecraft ?

    Being a ghost side kinda cool, think I’ll be evil and drive my hosts into the great beyond to feed the critters :D

    Less Avww more Muhahaha !

  17. tomnullpointer says:

    ugh, i think my eyes just fell out

    • keith.lamothe says:

      Between this and the guy thinking his brains would shoot out his ears, I think we can add a marketing bulletpoint about “Visceral Gameplay” :)

      But seriously, I have to ask: would you rather know what we’re doing, or not?

    • Wilson says:

      It always amazes me how over the top people go when they think a game’s graphics don’t looks great (especially when adding no other comment).
      @keith.lamothe – As to your query, I very much enjoy knowing what devs are doing, but I would like a bit more information about how that trailer relates to what you have working now. E.g., are those final graphics for the game, is that representative of how you’ll spend most of the game, stuff like that. Especially with a game concept like this that has so much potential, I would want lots of clarifying detail on everything about the game. But since that would be time better used on actually making the game, trailers and stuff like this are great (thanks!) but I would just like it made clear in trailers what will be improved and what might be more final, especially for super early trailers like this. Just so people don’t have to go crazy about some bit of the trailer that isn’t actually a concern at all.

    • MrMud says:

      @Keith
      Like someone said previously, it shouldnt be a question about if we want to see it early. It should be a question about if you want to show it early.

      Showing a game really early can damage a brand there is no doubt about that.
      On the other hand showing it this early might cause you to do the changes required to the art before its to late and that will probably be a good thing in the end.

    • Dinger says:

      By all means, keep the dialogue coming. Yes, I want to hear about how your studio is tuning in to some of the key elements that make Dwarf Fortress a cult classic and Minecraft a runaway hit, and trying to take them into a new direction. Absolutely, I want to know what challenges you encounter with procedurally generated maps and providing the player a challenge. Without question, I want to feel that co-conspiratorial bond between developers, journalists and players that is a love for games and not product.

      But if a bunch of your pre-alpha screenshots go up, and the game looks like ass, people will say it looks like ass. If you expected this reaction, fine.
      If it comes as a surprise, then either

      A. You have too much faith in anonymous web forums.
      B. You did not realize the game looks like ass.
      C. The game does not actually look like ass, only the screenshots (and video) do.

      In fact, I’m willing to bet there’s a bit of all three going in here. In particular, the visual style seems to be based on lots of sharp details (branches of barren trees, bushes, and so on), and all the screenshots are downsampled; the youtube video also looks a hell of a lot less ass-like in 720p than in the default 360p as embedded here. So all we’re seeing are the blurs and what looks to the untrained eye like palette mismatches.

      I’m looking forward to hearing more about the development process, including the graphics. I don’t play Dwarf Fortress because the whole representational system is impenetrable. Minecraft, on the other hand, has excellent artwork: the tiny textures in use there excel and expresses what something is and what it does, immediately and at a distance.
      Representing a world in two dimensions is hard stuff, and I eagerly anticipate following how your development team meets the challenges to realize your vision.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      @Dinger:


      A. You have too much faith in anonymous web forums.
      B. You did not realize the game looks like ass.
      C. The game does not actually look like ass, only the screenshots (and video) do.

      Mostly C.

      I actually don’t mind the screenshots in the size they are in the post above, but Chris says they look a lot worse than the actual full-res in game stuff. There’s some links to full-res stuff at the bottom of this:
      http://www.arcengames.com/w/index.php/games/avww-features
      (you have to actually click on the small images to get the full-res stuff, just to be perfectly clear; also, those are before we nailed the white-border problem)

      And, well, I guess you could say “A” is true, too. I am actually (painfully) aware of the standards of behavior on internet forums. RPS is actually quite a bit better than the average. Quite a bit. But wherever it is, internet or no, I simply won’t accept that people should or have to act in a sub-human fashion. Criticize away, but treat us like you want us to treat you. It’s not been so bad here, actually. So I’ll stick to my “low-res jpegs not good” theory ;)

    • Dinger says:

      Yes, it is worth underscoring that whatever has been done to the screenshots makes them look far nastier than they actually are, and the embedded video also hurts. I started out with those three options, and included option “C” only for completeness’ sake. When I went to check the screenshots on your site, I saw that something had happened to make everything look far worse than it should.

      I’d say you still have many artistic challenges ahead (including how to make the art look good in a 360p YouTube video), but it’s not nearly as bad as it seems to be from this article.

  18. deejayem says:

    “You will die, and you will have massive tragic graveyards of fallen characters you liked, and you can have the game be quite a difficult beast if you want to push to the limits of where your levels and equipment will let you travel.”

    I like this idea. A lot.

  19. Wilson says:

    This looks quite odd. I’ll be following it closely I think, but it looks like they’ve set up a huge task for themselves. Getting a visual look that actually makes it interesting to explore places (e.g. better/more varied than in that super-early video) will be very important. I almost think it would be better not to show that video, since it doesn’t fill me with optimism, but obviously it’s too early to comment on what they should/shouldn’t do, since we don’t know what the current version looks like. The game idea sounds great, but bloody hard to pull off properly.

  20. Stranglove says:

    Is it bad that since playing BC2 with Phill, I imagine all his posts are shouted loudly and with lots of swearing?

    Still, this looks rather fun, thank you interviewing/interviewed parties!

  21. Navagon says:

    I like the sound of this game a lot. But yes, as already stated numerous times, the look is something that will need a major, if not total overhaul.

  22. Chinacula says:

    This game sounds very close to what I think would be perfect. I am excited to see how it actually turns out.

  23. triple omega says:

    What I’m missing from all this is a reason to play. Right now it seems like the standard MMO end-game reason of “I’m doing this raid to get that sword, so i can get that shield, so i can do that raid, etc.”. It’d be nice if there was some incentive like being able to build and expand your settlement with the stuff you collect.(Instead of it happening automatically as you find people.)

    I’m also worried about the graphics. I know these are all programmer art placeholders, but it does portray the 2D-style look of the game. Whenever I see these types of graphics, it makes me think of flash games and the year 2000. Aside from the fact that it is hard to make anything look impressive in this style, doing combat with both you and your enemies (half) obscured by the environment is very annoying. This has been clear for about 2 decades or so.(Like this @ 10:35.)

    So low hopes are low for this at the moment.

    • Mattressi says:

      I’d say that you’ll probably find more people the further you travel outward, meaning that the ‘get this to do that to get this’ mechanic will have to be used in order to build your community/base/whatever.

      However, I actually like games with little forced direction to them. Let me decide if I want to live as a hermit or the mayor of my newly established town, let me decide where I want to hole up and whether I even want a permanent base. Let me make my own story, rather than forcing me to follow one. I was hoping Dead State would be like this, but they’ve decided to make it a story-based game :( To me, it seems AVWW might actually do this; let players have free roam and let them make their own goals. I really hope so.

  24. DXN says:

    A lot of really great ideas here! I’ll definitely be following it with interest. If they can get it right then I think they’ll really nail a lot of what’s missing from most open/sandbox games — and the ‘permanent death’ thing gets around one of the bigger paradoxes in videogames, where most characters are timetravellers who can just infinitely retry anything they fail at.

  25. The Army of None says:

    This’ll be a day one purchase for me :D

  26. Vinraith says:

    Anything from Arcen is an automatic preorder from me, of course, but I’m particularly excited about this one. People ignoring the concept in favor of bitching about pre-alpha art are… well they’re pretty much the reason mainstream gaming is as it is, aren’t they?

    • keith.lamothe says:

      Thank you for the support :)

      “People ignoring the concept in favor of bitching about pre-alpha art are… well they’re pretty much the reason mainstream gaming is as it is, aren’t they?”

      This has occurred to me as well. My earlier question about “do you want to know what we’re doing or not” isn’t really from the folks actually giving concrete _feedback_ on the art, making suggestions, etc. It’s from the folks who just say it looks like (pick random expletive) and that’s it. Basically, if “be transparent” results in “be insulted”, then there’s not a lot of motivation there.

      But I should add that some of the actual feedback here is definitely not just bitching, and seems very valuable to me. I don’t know how much we can really do about it, but I appreciate the input. That sort of thing, though a bit bittersweet, is a decent motivation for transparency.

    • Wilson says:

      @Vinraith – I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to comment on the graphics, because as someone said above, the atmosphere is very important for this kind of game. Without a comment in the trailer about whether these graphics are or are not representative of the final product, it’s understandable that people may be concerned about them. I’m not obsessed by having the latest graphics in games, but I didn’t find the trailer appealing. Of course you’re right about people saying “oh that looks really bad” and nothing else, but there is some thought out criticism about the graphics that is relevant. They stated that the trailer was pre-alpha, but without any other detail in the trailer it’s natural that people are going to base their views on what the trailer shows. Maybe there is normally a disclaimer next to the trailer on their site (or wherever it’s natural home is) saying these graphics are not representative of the current version of the game, don’t get overly worked up about them, but without that some gently stated concern is understandable.

      I’m excited about the game concept, but I want to learn more about the game before I really let myself get hyped about it. It’s a very difficult thing they’re trying to do. That said, if anyone can do it, it might well be Arcen.

      Edit: In response to Keith, I think you just have to ignore the silly people who haven’t made enough effort to explain their views. If they’ve just said “the graphics look sucky” I think you can pretty much discount their thoughts.

    • CMaster says:

      @Vinrath
      I think you’re being pretty unreasonable there. Ignoring the fact that I’m a regular commenter here and you won’t find me saying “need more sure-hi-fi military FPS” anywhere (that applies to several of the other critics too), or that lots of people, when asked what would be better dredged out a variety of inspirations. Keith linked to a blog post by Chris which very heavily implied that while the art may get some refinement, that this isn’t place-holder stuff – the graphics as we are currently seeing them are representative of what the final game would feature (as currently planned).

      More philosophically, you seem to be disregarding the fact that graphics serve an important purpose in a game. They communicate a huge amount of information to the player and, if done right (without even necessarily being very good – see Minecraft, X-COM etc again) can draw and involve the player in the world. Especially in a game where exploration is a big part, you need to be wanting to see new places. It’s part of where Dwarf Fortress without a tileset falls down – you have to memorize or look up what each symbol means, whereas a simple tile can communicate immediately by appearance that there is a door there, and a pile of spears there, a dog up the corridor etc.

      As it is, the first screenshot in this post (admittedly featuring the outlines issue which has seemingly been fixed or at least improved) makes me actually wish to avert my eyes. I certainly don’t see myself faced with a world like that wanting to find any more of it.

    • Berzee says:

      I think it might be mainly because of the video — there isn’t any real gameplay shown, so it really only can be a video about showing off the art (and the running?).

      All the other stuff is described in thrilling detail (I really am thrilled :D) but the video doesn’t match it, and might take people’s minds off what they read.

    • Wilson says:

      @Berzee – That puts it very nicely. There is lots of nice detail in the text, and the trailer doesn’t match it.

    • tomnullpointer says:

      Hmm, I also think you are a little harsh there vin, graphics are all about communication. If a developer wants to communicate something (blog pos, preview, alpha or final game, whatever) then the choice of images is part of that communication. Its quite legitimate to include that choice when framing your opinion of the project. Just because many AA games pimp themselves purely on gfx doesnt mean that ‘alternaive’ or ‘independent’ projects shouldnt be intersted in graphical style,. Visual concept is just as relevent as gameplay concept imo.

      Anyway I apologise for my flippant remark, it was just that, flippant. The game premise and mechanics do sound really interesting. But in all honesty the graphics (if they remain close to their current design) would really put me off. Its not a high end fidelity issue either, I love minecraft, N, etc etc its just the screenshots above dont evoke any of the atmosphere i think a game premise like this should transmit.

    • Sarlix says:

      @Keith – good call on replying to Vinraith’s comment, he could well be your biggest fan! He’s spent much time explaining the finer points of A.I war to me and fellow rps’ers, and I brought it as a result of this – by my calculations he’s responsible for 23% of A.I war sales! Although I’ve never been very good at percentages so that could be a little off.. Either way, go go Vinraith!

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      @CMaster
      is “a dog up the corridor ” a euphamism?

    • Vinraith says:

      @CMaster and others

      Let me be clear: my comment was not directed at anyone who is contributing constructive feedback on the game graphics (which I agree need work), it’s directed specifically at the large number of drive-by “this looks like shit” posts. Judging a game by pre-alpha graphics (and nothing else) is the height of stupidity and a big part of why we have the industry we have. Most of you above, on the other hand, seem to be interested enough in the concept to want to provide useful feedback on problems with the graphics, which is something else entirely.

      @Sarlix

      Happy to help. :) I’m still annoyed I was away from my computer the day Steam had AI War for $3, I’d have gifted 10-20 copies at random without a second thought.

  27. Sarlix says:

    The music reminds me of a game I’ve never played.

    - On further reflection the intro reminds me of a circa 1995 adventure game – then it turns into a 90′s rpg – then at exactly 32s, into a megadrive game I’ve never heard of…intriguing

  28. FalseMyrmidon says:

    The concept sounds awesome (if a little similar to Notrium). Art style is pretty off-putting and it’s hard to see it doing well with this art style (I think AI War has the same problem to a degree). 2D doesn’t have to mean ugly.

    That said it looks a little bit better in motion in the video.

  29. Berzee says:

    I love this idea for permadeath! It makes it so that you are really playing the whole community of survivors just — one at a time. So that the story you’re playing is about a series of failures that saved the world :) And that’s something different than most games. Usually you have to do everything right and you’re the only man in the world who can do something about it, whatever it is. Here…well, each person does everything they can and we get there together =)

    Will it be possible for some characters to mess up the world even worse for those who come after? And most wonderfully — will the NPCs make mention of your previously dead characters? Talk about how they died and all the great things they did in their lifetime?

    Maybe this was all mentioned in the comments I didn’t read. I’ll come back later to read them when I’ve time :)

    P.S. On the art style, I will say I’m very glad you’re trying something different than standard 8-bit retro or whatnot. I actually love the way it looks right now :) It reminds me of p0nd (lol). My advice for any art changes going forward would be, that right now, it looks a little bit…I dunno, “hesitant” or “undecided”. Like you’re caught between aiming for realism or aiming for an exaggerated style. So do take all the other very good notes about perspective and clarity and whatall, but if or when you have finally decided on a direction, do it as confidently as you might.

  30. 7rigger says:

    Well I think it looks fine. And sounds awesome.

    Seeing as theres negative posts with no context I thought I’d add a positive one :P

  31. RagingLion says:

    Many of the concepts here start to describe one of the potential perfect games I have somewhat vaguely in my minds-eye. As one person above noted it might well depend on what you’re actually able to achieve in playing. Leveling up is not an incentive for me, exploration is very good but what effect will I be able to have on the world? I like some of the hints of being able to influence whole societies and bring people together and building things which continue to exist, but if this isn’t well developed then it wouldn’t be enough to engage me.

    The permadeath scheme of picking up with another character in the world after your old character dies is really nice. That has a very particular narrative effect that might leave the player feeling as if they’re representing the whole of this remnant of humanity rather than just an individual. If the designers are aware of this and exploit this effect and way of thinking that would be really interesting.

    I’m detecting some influence from Minecraft in the infinite possibilities of exploration and I think you could gain some very rabid fans if this is at all implemented decently.

  32. MrMud says:

    I just watched the 720p version of the video and its quite a stark difference when the art assets are not subsampled. I think much of the complains here come from only seeing the low res art (that looks terrible).

    That said many of the complains lodged are still relevant, the perspective remains very strange indeed for example.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      I’m glad to hear some corroboration of my “low res jpegs bad” theory. On the perspective, that was something that puzzled us for a while. We actually went with what we have because Chrono Trigger and similar games did pretty much exactly that:
      - If the character is facing south, draw them like they’re laying down on their back (not actually laying down, but you get the idea).
      - If the character is facing north, draw them like they’re laying down on their front.
      - If the character is facing east, draw them as if viewing them side-on.
      - If the character is facing west, draw the east graphic flipped horizontally.

      We all rather like Chrono Trigger ;)

      Do you have an example of a non-isometric 2D game that have a perspective that makes more sense to you? Several people have mentioned Dink Smallwood but it looks isometric to me (there are soooo many more frames to draw to get the perspective correct in that kind of setup).

    • CMaster says:

      @MrMud
      Heh, you can actually see the trees move and things at full res.
      Still far from a fan, especially with the fact that said perspective has always felt like a bad kludge. Not quite as bad as my initial feelings suggested though.

    • Wilson says:

      There is a hefty difference between the screenshots on your site and the 720p video compared to the 320p and how the screenshots look here. The images in this blog post and the low-res trailer definitely don’t do justice to what you’ve got. I’m still not sure whether I really like it or not, but we’ll see I suppose.

    • Soon says:

      The larger screens do look several times better. The running animation needs more frames, or something. Does it loops at the wrong moment (maybe?). It looks like he’s running backwards, but moving forwards. That’s quite a skill, but it’s going to take people out of the game constantly.

      Grand Theft Auto is 2D with a perspective. That’s more top-down, of course, but it works. I think people are expecting something in-between. It currently just looks like a flat plane.

      Just to complain a bit more… the swaying trees are a nice touch, but the screen scrolls so often that it isn’t noticeable. Maybe you need to zoom out, which would also give a greater sense of scale. However, because of the detail, zooming out could look like a big mess.

      Edit: Hadn’t played Chrono Trigger, but had a quick look. You can see how the foliage differs. Even though the characters are pretty flat, the foliage is more like a view from a hill.

    • Soon says:

      I’m sure you get it. But, basically, your trees are on the left.

    • RQH says:

      In the high-res screens, I like the appearance of some of the individual assets (not really sold on the appearance of the PC still), but they don’t yet seem to cohere with the rest of the world, even allowing that the white-edges will disappear. The ground doesn’t seem to have the same texture (EDIT: well it does have the same texture, but it’s more subtle) or attention to detail as the trees, and the trees have no roots and just sort of stop. So rather than a painterly look, it looks like a cut-and-paste job. It’s not a scene, but a pile of disparate elements jumbled together. (That said, it does look significantly better than in the low rez shots.)

      Also, while not being isometric, Chrono Trigger does use some tricks in how the characters are drawn. Specifically, their faces tend to get fewer pixels than their hair, giving a sort of 3/4ths perspective look (sorry, I’m not much of a pixel artist, so my terminology may be off here), where you think you’re seeing a bit of the tops of their heads, giving the illusion that you’re not viewing them entirely face-on. Same as with the trees, as Soon has pointed out.

  33. Ergates_Antius says:

    Is survival the new zombies?

    This sounds very much like the kind of game I’ve been wanting for a while.

    Minecraft with more survial. DF with more direct interaction.

  34. Tetragrammaton says:

    Love the concept -Almost reminds me of Unreal World (http://www.jmp.fi/~smaarane/urw.html)
    Definite pre-order fro me – Arcen have yet to let me down.
    EDIT:
    Re the graphics: the only thing which assaulted me were the skyscrapers, which looked completely out of place & far too shiny for the context. Aside from that – i think it needs a wee bit of work, but has potential.

  35. cerebroside says:

    The gameplay sounds amazing, really looking forward to this.

    Can’t say I like the sideon objects against topdown background style, isometric would be a huge improvement. I think a lot of the graphical complaints relate to colour theory; i.e. in the screenshots the most jarring bits are where you have a red tree against a green background, or a brown tree against a blue-green background. I don’t have a problem with the way they look on their own.

    Oh, and the run animation/skyscrapers (?) need some work, but hey, its an alpha.

  36. Stompywitch says:

    It sounds a lot like an upgraded vbersion of 3059, so… yeah, I’m interested.

  37. HermitUK says:

    This certainly sounds like a game right up my street. I don’t think the art is something I could properly judge without playing the game first, which I’m looking forward to doing.

    I will say, though, that some shadows would go a long way to adding some depth to the game world. It becomes a lot easier for the player to judge their relative position in the world to enemies and background elements. Even simple spot shadows could work really well with this art style (rubbish paint.net example here. You get the idea, anyhow).

    It’s a technique lots of NES and SNES rpgs with this 3/4 perspective used. It also comes in handy if you add flying or leaping enemies, or give the player the ability to jump – The shadow always lets the player know where they are on the game world’s z-axis.

  38. BurningPet says:

    I have to join up on almost everyone else here.

    While the game does sounds like my cup of tea and knowing that the company behind the idea is arcen is a very big plus, i think the graphics put me off to the point of not wanting to play it.

    Ill put it up front, i am a graphic designer/artist and i hate the method in which you produced those images. however, thats a personall preference and it is a totally understandable decision considering the large amount of art assests needed and low amount of artists you have. leaving that aside, i do believe that the same method can be dealt better with little effort.

    Most of the graphics problems, to my eyes, are the result of attention to seperate pieces and not the whole picture. the trees which looks good as seperate entities (as seen in the art post) doesnt function in relation to the surrounding. i believe its a simple matter of perspective, focal focus and lack of shadows that enable the placing of the objects.

    perspective can be achieved via programming by a method of scaling objects as they are farther from the eye. however, if thats too much of a problem, then i dont think its neccecery. but the shadows and focal point are.

    i have used the same method you have (PS filters) and a texture of mine on top of the image and i think the results are much better.

    note that i had to draw the shadows myself, but if i had each object seperatly, that could have been easily done using a macro (copy the object to a diffrent layer, rotate 90 degrees, shrink it, turn its hue to pale dark purple, set to multiply, gaussian blur by 10 percent and set its alpha to about 70%).

    heres what i got in 1 minute of work.
    http://i113.photobucket.com/albums/n229/benkashmir/valleyPreAlpha-v001-Autumnal-Road2.jpg

    if you like the result, i can send the original ps file.

    • multiname says:

      This is so much better. Although you have the shadows coming from the bright side of the trees, not the dark side :)

      I’ll also say that the skyscrapers particularly stand out as something I (non-artist) could have made myself. I think you should seriously consider an art consultant or some other formalised feedback. Good art will sell your game, it’s worth the investment.

      An additional comment no-one has made yet is that the camera is set up wrong for the character movement. When running you can see behind you but not much that’s ahead – that’s unrealistic as well as frustrating in a dangerous environment.

  39. Consumatopia says:

    If you don’t want people to judge pre-alpha art, don’t show them pre-alpha art. Just describe the concept and show some concept art.

    I don’t see why the game playing community should have any pro- or con- view regarding the transparency of the development process. What matters is the game, not how you made the game.

    In AVWW’s case, it makes no sense to talk about the size of the development team as an excuse for the graphics. Judging by the full resolution screenshots, Arcen seems to be aiming for a very unique, interesting visual style. I think it shows promise, but it needs work. But making an usual visual style that players are unfamiliar with is tricky, very tricky. It’s much trickier than making the same-old pixel graphics everyone is used to work. So it’s kind of worrisome to hear Keith talk about it almost as if it’s a way of saving money–it might ultimately mean fewer man-hours drawing pixels, but the risks of looking painful are much higher. You have to have a lot of confidence in your abilities as a visual designer and in your aesthetic senses to go this route. (And you’ve got to accept that players are going to accept or reject your game based mostly on this.) If you’re going to compare yourself to Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft…that’s a really bad sign. If you just want to focus on gameplay and aren’t excited about graphics, then you should go the lo-fi route–put up some cheap blocky pixelated things (e.g. Minecraft) and play some chiptunes. Lo-fi means fewer degrees of freedom means fewer chances to screw up.

    Think of it like a generalized version of the Uncanny Valley–the more detail I see, the higher my aesthetic standards climb.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      “If you don’t want people to judge pre-alpha art, don’t show them pre-alpha art. Just describe the concept and show some concept art.”

      That might have worked better, particularly for this early stage. But the art isn’t just placeholder either, so it’s good to have some feedback on it. The problem comes when people place so much emphasis on the art that they see that they ditch out despite really liking the concept (or without even waiting to hear about the concept). That motivates us to keep the art under wraps.

      “I don’t see why the game playing community should have any pro- or con- view regarding the transparency of the development process. What matters is the game, not how you made the game.”

      It’s a simple matter of this: do you enjoy hearing about the game development process, or not? If you do, it’s a good idea to not make developers feel like it is a bad idea to share those details. If you don’t, then, well, I guess it’s not a big deal either way. But a lot of folks do like this kind of info.

      “So it’s kind of worrisome to hear Keith talk about it almost as if it’s a way of saving money–it might ultimately mean fewer man-hours drawing pixels, but the risks of looking painful are much higher.”

      It’s a matter of working within the resources we have. Our current staff doesn’t have a pixel-art background, but Chris does have a strong 3D art background, so that choice was natural. From there the style choices were based on what seemed best (and still do), rather than money.

      But herein lies another point to the earlier question: in a sense, everything I say here can and will be used against me in the mental-evaluation-courts of reader minds. Failures in my own communication, their understanding, etc, may damage the reception of the game. That motivates me to just not say anything. But I’d much rather feel like I was “on the same side” as the customers, and not have to constantly be on guard against them. My guess is that a lot of customers feel that way too. But it may not be enough for it to work, hence the usual practice of game developers to only show their best face forward (even to the point of dishonesty, regrettably).

      Anyway, this whole thread has been helpful to us in a number of ways. We’ll see how things go :)

    • Consumatopia says:

      The problem comes when people place so much emphasis on the art that they see that they ditch out despite really liking the concept (or without even waiting to hear about the concept).

      I think you’ll find that the more unique the visual design of the game, the harder its going to be for people to see anything else when evaluating it. This does not represent some sort of irrationality or shallowness on the part of prospective players–the more unique/interesting/unusual/significant the graphics are, the greater their effect on the experience of the player.

      In other words, by choosing such a unique visual style, whether you realize it or not, you’ve chosen to emphasize the art. If you don’t want to emphasize the art, you should find a more subdued visual style.

      That said, I think the visual style is intriguing and I hope you keep experimenting with it.

    • malkav11 says:

      For me, it’s basically that bland or nonexistent graphics aren’t an issue – I respect the ideas and gameplay innovations in Soldak games even though it’s very generic and low-poly, graphically. But seriously unattractive graphics are hard to ignore even for the best gameplay, and the screenshots above would drive me nuts. (The expanded, full resolution shots, on the other hand, might be viable with some alterations.)

  40. Sleepymatt says:

    Am I the only one that thought:

    “Run Forrest, run!”

    …or should that be Run: Forest: Run. Hopefully the very appealing and original gameplay ideas described in the interview will become much more apparent in future trailers :/

  41. WCG says:

    Wow, this really sounds interesting! I don’t like action games, if that’s what this turns out to be, but I might have to try it anyway. The gameplay does sound original.

    And re. the graphics, as long as it’s not ASCII, I’m fine with it. :)

  42. Garret says:

    I was put off a tad by the shots up above, but the screenshots on your site look much more satisfying.

    I’m not even sure that the graphics matter to me though; I just recently got addicted to Dwarf Fortress, and I prefer to use the default ASCII tileset.

    What you guys are doing sounds really amazing though, I’m going to keep my eyes on this one and bookmark your site so I can follow it.

  43. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Fantastic premise, I’m definitely interested.

    But to echo everyone else in this thread — man, those are some ugly graphics. Like, worse than proof-of-concept level. Hearing it was “early pre-alpha” was reassuring, then I read that you’re actually taking that direction to fruition.

    Dink Smallwood is 14 years old and looks better. Fallout is also 14 years old and looks exponentially better.

    Yeah, you don’t have Fallout’s graphic team. I don’t even know if you have Dink Smallwood’s. But christ, this is ugly — not just in terms of assets, but your direction is totally unappealing to me.

    You just can’t take this game to market looking like this. It’s suicide. If I saw these screenshots, I’d figure it was a proof of concept made using one of those anemic “MAKE YOUR OWN GAME!” packages that were popular in the late 90s/early 2000s.

    You wanted suggestions, so:

    -Go isometric with all your assets. Pick a perspective and stick to it, right now it looks like a guy skating on a stickerbook,

    -Zoom out. There’s no reason for the player to take up that much of the screen — it looks very amateurish as a result and makes the world lose all sense of scope.