No Parping: A Valley Without Wind Details

By John Walker on May 24th, 2011 at 12:43 pm.

Someone please help that poor mutant thing.

Arcen Games, they most famous for AI War, are still working extremely hard on their next project, exploration-led adventure, A Valley Without Wind. Oh, I’m so desperate for a great exploration game. Will this be the one? Please let this be the one. There’s a bunch of new details, and a new trailer, below.

The idea of AVWW is to survive, and explore. Procedurally generated worlds house an ice age, in which those who still live struggle to continue. The glaciers are receding, and the world that was is becoming accessible again, with ruined cities, ancient towns, and much confusion.

Philllll provided us with an exhaustive interview with the team recently, if you want to find a squillion details.

But new bits and bobs are being talked about. Including reworking the game’s story, setting, and adding new features. Perhaps most dramatically, the place in which you’ll be surviving is getting rejigged. They’ve decided to ditch the “real-world future” setting, in favour of a purely fantasy world called Environ. This, they say, gives them more scope for flexibility, and allows a larger mix of fantasy and science fiction environments to discover as you explore the world you create by exploring it. You’ll still discover modern cities lying in ruin, alongside mysterious areas of unknown technology, as well as archaic bronze age huts and fields.

The team’s latest update also brings news of a “rather significant breakthrough in terms of the creation and generation of AVWW’s interiors.” They’ve struck upon a way to create procedurally generated interiors – some code they’ll be releasing for others to play with in a couple of months. You can read more about that here.

They’ve fiddled with much else too, improving the NPCs and the graphics, and you can take a look at the visual improvements below.

Clearly the character animations still look a touch dodgy. And good grief, what is wrong with that skellington? Someone just put it down. But this is one we’re waiting for with our fingers, arms, legs and dangles crossed. The first beta is due this July. Be good be good be good be good be good.

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51 Comments »

  1. Chalky says:

    You can harp on about game journalism all you want, half the reason I come to this site is for the article titles. ;)

  2. CMaster says:

    The words and ideas still sound great for this game.
    The graphics have improved from early on ugly, to interesting and refreshingly colourful but still really clunky in some places (character animations are still wonky looking, as are most of the non-human sprites. Spell graphics just look like random sparkles, tile effects make me think of someone who has just discovered powerpoint animations).

    But I’m getting more and more worried that while the game effects and consequences and even world might be great, the actual gameplay continues to look clunky, unengaging and probably highly frustrating. I’ll reserve judgement until I play it of course, but I’m far from sold. That said, the core ideas still have me interested enough to be keeping a close eye on the game,

    • keith.lamothe says:

      @CMaster

      “The graphics have improved from early on ugly, to interesting and refreshing”

      I’m very glad to hear you say that :) After the first few dev logs and graphical revisions and so on it really didn’t look like people were ever going to stop complaining about the art. I figured it had just become habit, regardless of how much we actually changed. But perhaps my pessimism was unfounded :)

      “the actual gameplay continues to look clunky, unengaging and probably highly frustrating”

      Hmm, I guess my own experience with it makes it hard for me to see how it looks in the videos. The core gameplay is in the middle of some significant revisions, so maybe that’s involved. In any event, we won’t let the gameplay be clunky, unengaging, or frustrating. If our alpha/beta/etc testers tell us it is, we’ll keep working on it until the situation is resolved. Doing our own art has been something of a stretch for us; Chris is a talented 3D artist but doing all the art for a whole game is a new thing for him (iirc). But we have a ton of experience in gameplay design and implementation, we’ll definitely get that part right :)

    • Josh Brandt says:

      Yeah, I was kind of a graphics whiner back when, and I think it’s turning into “distinctive art style” rather than “pasted-together mess.” I can see where you’re going with it, anyway, and it’s pretty neat.

      The character animations are definitely shaky, though. I do like the sort of Crane Kick magic pose for the first character there, although it’s a little silly. 8)

    • CMaster says:

      @Keith.
      Like I say, the whole thing is interesting enough that I’ll give the demo a go and decide from there. What looks awkward and unwieldy on a video can feel perfectly fine when you’re actually behind the controls.

      I would ask that maybe for whatever the next game turns out to be, you could maybe look at employing/contracting an artist. AI War’s graphics were pretty poor as well, it just didn’t matter very much- all my own ships were always reduced to pure icons (I was always disappointed when I zoomed in to get a closer look at them though) and while the AI guardians always confused the hell out of me as to what I was even meant to be looking at, I could always mouse over them to check what they were. It says something about a lack of clarity in the art though that I never learned which guardians and posts were which just to look at them.

      Anyway, keep plugging away. How do you find the openess of development is working for you? It’s certainly interesting to watch from this side of the fence, especially seeing Chris take on several challenges that another indie dev named Chris has in a rather less successful attempt at open development. I found the article about procedurally generating indoor spaces really interesting, although I’ll say that I’ve been shown around several houses where the bathroom really does come off the kitchen.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      “I would ask that maybe for whatever the next game turns out to be, you could maybe look at employing/contracting an artist.”

      Have you seen Tidalis? That was our second game (AVWW is our third, not counting AIW expansions). We had a fulltime artist, Philippe Chabot, for that one. We definitely would have _greatly_ preferred to bring Phil in on AVWW but finances would not permit. If Chris wasn’t a 3D-artist we’d probably just be doing some totally different game that didn’t need nearly so much art. But this is the one we wanted to make, and it’s coming along well at this point.

      “How do you find the openess of development is working for you?”

      Hmm… in a word, “challenging”. It can be frustrating at times. Speaking for myself, it bothers me when people make critical remarks without accepting any accountability for their own words or actions in return. And it’d be easier in general if people’s intensity-of-reaction was proportional to how-much-they-actually-know-about-the-subject. Thankfully, a significant number of commenters/critics have emerged that don’t do either of those things to any great degree, and that’s encouraging to see.

      On the brighter side, even without people being able to play it yet, there have been some very valuable bits of feedback that we’ve been able to incorporate.

      And then there’s stuff like being able to share the interior generator tools and methods and whatnot, which is a lot of fun :)

      But mainly I’m looking forward to the beta when folks can actually play and provide more meaningful, grounded feedback. We’ve been doing the open-beta thing since the first AIW expansion, and it works really really well.

      And yes, I remember thinking the same thing about house layout when I read Chris’s article. “Actually, sometimes it really _is_ that crazy…”.

    • ShawnClapper says:

      To pinpoint what I feel is one of the reasons the animations look clunky in case this helps with design:

      The main problem I see is the characters seem completely disconnected with the environment. They appear to float over the area like a custom mouse cursor icon would float around the screen. Some of it has to do with how the walking animation is not aligned with movement speed. So you see an image of someone walking and see that image moving across the screen, but it does not seem like the animation and movement are linked together and that is why he is moving.

      I’m excited to see what this game has to offer, although I fear trailers like this could hurt it if it’s true that the play is better than what people are seeing here.

    • CMaster says:

      @Keith
      It obviously applies less on your forums or blog, but I think you have to realise that people when they reply to stuff say on RPS, and certainly on other sites where devs are seen a lot less is that they don’t expect the developers to come along and read it, or to take them seriously. So when people make a comment like “Looks ugly” or “like a bad C64 game”, they aren’t bothering to explain why as they don’t expect that comment to change anything. They’re airing the opinion without really considering it, more for their own benefit and maybe that of other commentators than the people actually involved in the game.

    • rivalin says:

      The graphics look alternately like they have received a lot of work, and are individually impressive, but the bizarre perspective and way they are put together are just too much, plus the music, urghh.

      Also things are just a bit discordant in the setting, it’s sounds like some kind of futuristic techno-magical post apocalyptic fantasy, and then the first seen main character is a black guy with a name (Darrell? Why not LaShawn, it’s even more stereotypical) , who’s dressed, with a hair style and facial trimming that says 1990′s America… Why? Did he fall into the Chicago River after a Bulls game in 1997, frozen only to awake 5 thousand years later? (sounds like the plot of a poor Martin Lawrence movie)

      And the girl; short shorts and tennis shoes? For frontier exploration that’s a brave fashion statement.

      Also, you’re trying to restore civilization by defeating central organising military figures? Read some history and you’d realise that those are the people who put civilization back together after a fall, people don’t gather round in “people’s councils” , sing kum-by-yah and hey presto civilization reappears without anyone getting their hands dirty. People like Charlemagne were the ones who picked up the pieces after the fall of Rome.

      I like the basic idea but there’s something about the execution and ambience that is just appallingly off-putting, even if it does have great game mechanics at its heart.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      @rivalin
      “[discordant npc placement]”
      Well, bear in mind that we’ve only done the art for 3 of the NPCs, and none of them are particularly intended for the ice age regions. Not sure what those ones will end up looking like.
      “Also, you’re trying to restore civilization by defeating central organising military figures? Read some history…”
      Um, I don’t recall having said that the goal is to restore civilization by defeating central organizing military figures :) [Edit: oh, I see the bit about tyrants in the revised story... that's still ongoing, as you can guess.] There are some evil-overlord-type guys that you can go after, but they’re not interested in rebuilding human civilization. Some of them might be interested in slaves, but mostly they just want the humans gone, or don’t care about the humans at all. Most of those evil-guys-with-an-actual-organization aren’t human, by the way.
      Not that all of that’s obvious from what we’ve told y’all, of course. And we might do something a bit more ethically complex with having a few not-really-evil-but-sees-you-as-an-obstacle-overlord-type guys ;) But one thing at a time.
      In any event, I certainly wasn’t planning on writing a story about the triumph of post-apocalyptic restorational committees and whatnot ;) Might be a few jokes about them, but any promising human leaders will probably be the usual blend of audacity, eccentricity, strength, and luck. Whether or not they’re effective will probably depend on whether they have the additional sense of the relationship between authority and responsibility, etc. Not sure how far we’re going to be able to take the personality and NPC-leadership side of the simulation, though. Game-wise it’s designed to be largely centered on the actions of the player, and the stuff going on in the background is designed to enhance that experience rather than exist for its own sake.

    • Sleepymatt says:

      I’m really glad you decided not to stick to your guns on the graphics front – I know you guys were pretty bummed by the stiff reception way back when RPS first covered AVWW, but I’m glad to say I also think the new environmental graphics are a huge improvement. Nice work!

  3. Teddy Leach says:

    I always keep my dangles crossed.

    The teleport spell also looks like a Michael Jackson dance routine.

  4. Protagoras says:

    Every time I see the game name I wonder why no one has made a miyazaki themed game yet. Then I remember the state of most remakes/retreads/reres today, and I thank god for it.

    • Daniel Rivas says:

      There’s to be a Miyazaki-written RPG, I think.

    • lhzr says:

      yeah, it’s this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt8vGFs-14A

      looks lovely, but i don’t think that’s enough to help me stomach the usual tedious jrpg mechanics.

    • Oozo says:

      Might not be aware of something, but as far as I know, Miyazaki is not really involved in the project – it’s correct though that “Ni no Kuni” is co-developped by Studio Ghilbi, the animation film studio Miyazaki co-heads and did all his movies with. However, there are other major directors working there (with Isao Takahata being almost as important as Miyazaki).

      Smartassing aside: I’m actually very much looking forward to this game (the fact that Joe Hisaishi, who did the score for most of Miyazaki’s movies, did write the music would be reason enough for it), and yeah, a game based on one of Miyazaki’s movies would be wonderful, too. (I’d go for Nausicäa, if I had to choose).

    • Protagoras says:

      @oozo

      Yeah, Nausicäa is definitely the way to go for an RPG/explore/survive/etc type feel, though Castle in the Sky had a good feeling as well, and Porco Rosso could make an awesome graphics style for a WW style fighter sim game.

      Also, I didn’t know about Joe Hisaishi, though I adore the music in all the Miyazaki films. I’m currently going through the Porco Rosso OST for the 20th+ time, and it just gets better and better. I’ll definitely play this game, even if I don’t care much for the jRPG mechanics (it was ok in 2003 when I still played FFs, but today its just dull and uninspired).

      Actually, when I think about it the beauty of the Miyazaki films is that they’re all so good at atmosphere building that you could use any of them as a setting for a game. On the other hand, maybe that’s why it feels wrong to touch those settings again – they all feel like distinct stories with a clear cut endings, such that there is no need or want to revisit them. Expanding on the concepts, themes, story, characters, what have you? Yes, and Miyazaki has done it very well in the last 20 odd years. But redoing the story? Not so sure. Maybe this new settings is the best option.

      Anywho, you just got me really excited. Too bad there’s not gonna be a PC port… And I just figured out through wiki-scavenging that “Whisper of the Heart” was also a Studio Ghibli film – and that the director died :( But man do they make awesome awesome awesome movies.

      P.S
      Sorry for dragging this off topic, I’m actually intrigued as to how aVWW works out – seems like it might be great if you guys can pull the concept off.

  5. Harlander says:

    The post about random house interiors is pretty interesting. I tried to do something similar some time ago but came up with nothing very good, so, you know, props to him.

  6. McDan says:

    Looking goood, so pretty. And the skellingtons have a lot to worry about, being dead an’ all, let them be.

  7. Tinus says:

    I wasn’t sure about this at first, but I’m really starting to warm to it now that all its aspects are getting more refined. I’m also hoping this will satisfy my (sometimes so intense I could scream) yearning for a new game about exploration. Plus, I really dig that Arcen put so many in-depth development updates on their blog. Insightful stuff.

  8. tanith says:

    Anyone else finds it weird that the female characters wears a mini-skirt in a devastated, destroyed maybe post-apocalyptic world? :|

    • keith.lamothe says:

      I found it very weird, actually. I think the 3D model came that way; thought about asking Chris to change that but he’s already got tons to do.

  9. I LIKE FOOD says:

    I´d get a migrain playing that. The colours, they burn.

  10. I LIKE FOOD says:

    PLS CAN I HAS NON MIGRAIN VERSION pl0X

    I would appreciate it, thank you.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      Actually in each of our games I’ve added a “Reduced Visual Stimulation” toggle for the sole purpose that my wife can play them. Certain kinds of strobing/flickering/etc give her migraines.

      Haven’t implemented that for AVWW yet since all the various sources of problems aren’t even in to be fixed, and we wouldn’t use it for the videos/screenshots anyway, but I’m certainly planning on it.

      I don’t know if it would help against your particular migraine triggers, though, since they differ so much from person to person.

  11. Buttless Boy says:

    Every time one of these videos shows up I take a look hoping there will be something interesting, but all I ever see is random wandering and awkward combat. Reading the interview I get a picture of a totally different game. This looks like a terrible Diablo clone, not an open-world survival adventure. Yeah, good job making it less ugly, but if it were ugly and fun I’d still try it. This just doesn’t look fun.

    That said, I’d really like to play the game the devs keep talking about. I just haven’t seen any indication that this is it.

    • Wilson says:

      Well, it’s still very early isn’t it? That video was about animation, not gameplay. Personally, I feel like I’m starting to get more of a feel for how the game may play. It looks much nicer already (in terms of graphics and the extremely limited gameplay shown so far), compared the the super early trailers we saw. I will continue to watch with interest.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      I get that it’s early. But they’ve released what, about a dozen videos so far? And as far as I’ve noticed none of them show anything but walking around and shooting things.

      Besides, I’ve seen plenty of games that looked fun much earlier in development. I don’t doubt that there’s more gameplay planned than wandering and casting magic missile, but it’d be cool to see some of that instead of the same thing every time. This looks like an engine demo, not a game. Not a very good engine demo, either.

      I’ll keep following the game because I want it to be what Arcen says it’ll be, but after 17 weeks of development it looks as boring and ugly as ever.

      Actually I take that back, it’s definitely less ugly than the first video we saw. But so was Joseph Merrick.

    • Reapy says:

      I think that sometimes gameplay doesn’t really come in until the end. Right now they are generating content, working on engine tech and figuring out how to procedurally create things. In a sense they are basically just still doing proof of concept things like, hey, I put this stuff in, lets run around and test it. I think later on the gameplay will start to be added, but for now for them it is probably like a ‘hey lets try this’.

      I think most games are developed this way, an iterative process where it is often not fun for a long while until things just ‘click’. But what we have been looking at are things before that process has even really started in earnest imho.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      “I think most games are developed this way, an iterative process where it is often not fun for a long while until things just ‘click’. But what we have been looking at are things before that process has even really started in earnest imho.”

      I think that’s the problem I have. I don’t see any value in videos like this. They don’t tell me anything about the game except that it’s aesthetically unpleasant. If all I get from promotional material is that the product is bad at things, that’s not very good promotion and that doesn’t speak well for the fate of the product.

      I know I don’t have to watch the videos, but I keep thinking the next one will finally demonstrate some of the cool features the devs talk about. But they talk about all this neat stuff, then release videos that show none of it.

      Of course, some of the blame lies with the coverage. The game’s got an unusual amount of press, which often creates overexposure. Do we really need a new RPS write-up for every minor iteration of the pre-release code? What is this, Minecraft? :P

    • keith.lamothe says:

      “Do we really need a new RPS write-up for every minor iteration of the pre-release code?”

      For what it’s worth, RPS has not done a write-up for every iteration we’ve told them about via blog post or press release. I think it’s been about one RPS post per 4 or 5 times we’ve sent them an update. I might be off in my counting, but that’s the general idea.

      As for showing the other stuff about settlements, NPCs, affecting the game world, etc… well, that’s probably my fault in that I’m implementing most of that stuff and I tend to solve each of the hard problems and get the first few iterations in and then move on to the next system rather than building each of them up to something video-able first before moving on. I’m trying to get the overall macrogame gameplay (Chris is handling the action-adventure core gameplay) into shape as a coherent system rather than focusing on making it presentable. But perhaps I could find a bit better of a balance so Chris can show some of it ;)

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Nothing wrong with that as a development strategy. It’s probably not the best marketing strategy is all.

      I think that if you showed off some of those features it’d go a long way toward silencing complainers, or at least getting us focused on something other than the game’s looks.

  12. Vinraith says:

    It’s Arcen. The question is not “will I buy this game,” it’s “how many times will I buy this game?”

  13. adonf says:

    Last time this game was mentionned here I thought that it would be much better with a “pop-up book” look and I’m glad that you guys read my thoughts and followed my advice.

    I still think that the ground should tilt more or less depending on the running speed though (so that when the character is immobile all the objects lay flat on the ground plane)

  14. Gunrun says:

    Is it really THAT hard to put in a diagonal walking sprite? the rest of the game looks visually pretty alright but the same animation for east and west as diagonal is really horribly jarring.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      I think Chris is looking into the diagonal thing today. It really doesn’t seem necessary to us but it’s worth a shot. The more important issue to us is being able to use dumbfire spells on diagonals (there’s already targeted spells and homing spells, but you know).

      Whether it will be worth the increase in memory-consumption, etc… dunno, we’ll see.

    • Thants says:

      Whether diagonal walking sprite would be worth the increase in memory-consumption? That seems like something that computers from 20 years ago wouldn’t have a problem with.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Things were less diagonal back then. Due to inflation, one modern diagonal is, like, 120 old diagonals.

    • keith.lamothe says:

      @Thants

      Adding diagonals means going from 3 sets of animation frames (north, south, and east/west combined due to flipping) to 5 (northeast/northwest combined, southeast/southwest combined; if that winds up looking right flipped). There are some other frames so it’s not quite a 2/3rds increase, but you’re still talking about a 60% increase in the RAM footprint of every single character type’s textures. And these textures are quite a lot heavier in RAM than anything 20 years ago.

      But yea, it might not be as big a thing as we were fearing. Bear with us on that, our experience with AI War is that we have to fight every last little bit of increase-in-RAM-cost to avoid hitting the limit for a 32-bit application on some machines and dying horribly. That’s because in AIW the entire galaxy is always in memory because of how the simulation is run and how players can always see anywhere they have a scout, etc. In AVWW we were able to have a much more “if the player’s not in a chunk, it can sit on the disk”, so the actual memory footprint is much smaller.

      There are some other costs to doing the diagonal frames, but we’ll see.

  15. Steerpike says:

    The style of this game reminds me of those old Atari 2600 games – Swordquest. While those were bad games and I hope this will be a good one, the trailer video made me think back to those dreamy landscapes and animation styles.

  16. Scatterbrainpaul says:

    Is that a topless women running around? from about 52 seconds in

    I’m sold

  17. mmalove says:

    This looks like Din’s Curse minus the multiplayer, with a bit more sandbox and less direction.

  18. keith.lamothe says:

    AVWW has multiplayer, actually. Or did you mean something else?

    I have been looking at Din’s Curse, actually, and from one perspective it’s something like a Din’s Curse where you can travel between towns, the towns stick around, and is less combat-oriented. But that leaves out a lot of details about both games.

  19. Thants says:

    Honestly, I think the player sprites and animation look really bad. And something about the mixture of different perspectives is really disorientating.

  20. sinister agent says:

    I’m not impressed by the video, putting it bluntly, although sprites aside, the art style looks quite unique, which is promising. But then I rarely pay attention to videos this early in development, so it’s a bit unfair being so flippant.

    As it’s Arcen, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. AI War never looked amazing, to be fair, but it is excellent, and had quite massive visual overhauls even long after I bought it. So yeah, I feel quite optimistic about this one.

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