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Luno
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« on: February 10, 2017, 07:42:59 am »

Year In The Trees is an upcoming 2D survival/action RPG about self-reliance for PC, Mac, and Linux. Explore a magical forest locked in time; can you survive long enough to uncover its secrets?






I threw together this pre-alpha trailer for a local event some months ago. Some of this stuff is a bit outdated (the old UI, for instance), but you can see some gameplay


Hello and thanks for visiting! My name is Luno and I'm a musician, coder, and artist living in Chicago. I began this project in March of 2016 as a way to learn Unity, but things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand since then :D

Wizard
Twitter: @lunoland
Website: yearinthetrees.com
Dev Stream: twitch.tv/lunoland (Mondays 8pm CT)
Kickstarter: Soon-ish



Game Overview
Set in a magical forest that only appears once each year, learn to live off of the land as you explore ancient forest ruins, frozen crystalline caves, a mysterious sunken temple, and a cozy village! Journey through the four seasons and experience a mix of action RPG combat and survival mechanics like crafting and farming. You may even discover the secrets of how this place came to be...or die trying.

It's a bit like if Walden were actually a nature Diablo game set in middle earth.

Inspired by my favorite roguelike ADOM, I wanted to make a procedural game with a persistent sense of place and a lot of world building. A game where there are enough random elements to keep each run fresh and inspire you to try different strategies, but where you always feel like you're visiting the same familiar world. As such, I've built an over-world that contains both hand-made areas (some of which might not appear in every run) set amidst randomly generated maps.


There are many familiar areas like your cabin that will appear in every run


Character customization is possible via equipment, hair-styles, and skin colors.


Day/night cycle as observed from your cabin's kitchen. This is where you'll want to stash all your food and supplies for winter ^^


Retro pixel look, but with modern amenities like this minimap that fills in as you explore the randomly generated areas


Diablo-style inventory management and item storage


Progression System/Core Gameplay Loop
I'm interested in the possibility of adding a talent system, but right now progression is mostly item-based. I like crafting in games, but I hate how games like Terraria just drop you in with an overwhelming list of items. I want you to be able to play the game without needing to constantly keep checking some wiki page in your browser! To address this I'm building my crafting progression system around the concept of "discoveries", which are inspired in part by the "sparking" system from Saga Frontier.


Progression revolves around crafting items in order to unlock new recipes.

You start with a few basic recipes in your recipe book each run, and you have a chance to unlock new recipes each time you craft. The kinds of new recipes you might discover are based on what you make: if you want to want to unlock better food recipes, you have to do a lot of cooking. If you don't like tons of crafting, many valuable items can still be found in the world or purchased from merchants.

The core gameplay loop has you gathering materials via farming/exploration/combat, and then combining them into new items. As a result you learn new recipes and expand your capabilities and wealth. Now you can explore further and gather or buy the requisite materials to craft the new recipes, which in turn results in more discoveries...and so on.


Your recipe book functions a bit like a quest log, providing you with clues on how to craft your latest discovery

Your primary goal is to survive long enough (one year) to be able to leave the forest. Expert players who risk venturing into more dangerous areas are rewarded with the discovery of new story beats and the best items and crafting materials. Although there is permadeath and you lose all of the items that you're carrying when you die, a random selection of non-perishable stashed items (those not pilfered by looters and bandits) and some upgrades (that nice new stove you bought) from your previous characters will persist across runs, but they may not always be in the same place you left them, e.g. that awesome sword that your last character expertly forged and stashed in a chest for safe keeping may suspiciously be available for purchase at the village pawn shop in your current game.

Thus, a meta-strategy of stashing items on one character in the hopes of progressing further on the next is possible, but you're faced with the dilemma of using your best gear or stashing it for the next run and hoping it saves. There will also be a very small heirloom stash (think a hidden safe that only members of your family know the combination to) that is guaranteed to persist between runs; space is limited however, so choose wisely.

Certain areas of the game are only accessible during certain seasons, e.g. the temple beneath the lake can only be entered before it freezes over in winter, but finally being able to cross the frozen lake may lead to another new area. You'll have to be an exceptionally good player, or have items stashed for your next character in order to reach these areas before they are closed off that run. Legends say that the true secrets of the forest can only be discovered through the work of generations!


Play as a steward of nature who carefully tends to the delicate balance of the forest ecosystem to optimize drop rates for the items you need...or just some jerk who punches everything



Development
I work on this game in my free-time, but I'm pretty dedicated so progress is slow but sure. The game is still in pre-production and has been very exploratory so far. I'm trying to build out a lot of key systems and make sure I give them the best look and feel I can before I explode out the content. I am rapidly closing in on a polished first-playable demo that demonstrates the core loop. The next step is funding! Some of the key features that are already implemented include:

  • Day/Night cycle and lighting effects
  • Weather
  • Combat
  • Pathfinding
  • Inventory, equipment, and items
  • UI
  • Crafting and recipe discovery system
  • Fishing
  • Mining
  • Farming
  • Dialogue


Release the birds!



Art
I create the art in Photoshop with a mouse. The game's internal resolution is 320x180, which is then up-scaled using a virtual screen. I hadn't tried pixel art/animation previously, but I've been surprised by how much I've been enjoying it. My style is very much influenced by other superb modern low-res pixel art games like Swocery, Hyper Light Drifter, Crawl, Fez, and Moonman!

I have developed an unusual approach in Photoshop for creating the art that seems to work for me: I work with silhouettes first, and then use the same 4 layers for lighting/detail across all assets. The result is that the silhouette colors exist independently of the shading. I then adjust the silhouette colors via layer styles to balance the colors of a full scene.





I've also been doing some traditional concept & character art which is mostly pencil drawings that I finish and color digitally (also with the mouse Tongue )







Music
Since I've spent most of my creative life as a musician/engineer, one of my greatest motivations in making this game is the chance to create the soundtrack! I'm planning what I think is a somewhat unique approach: instead of editing MIDI data, I'll be recording my own live performances on various instruments. Although this is the process I'm most familiar with, I think it will produce interesting results not typically found in game soundtracks.

Here's the opening theme!
https://soundcloud.com/lunomusic/beginning-of-a-journey/s-3f8ot

Thanks again for reading! You can reach me via email, twitter, or forum message if you have any questions  Smiley
« Last Edit: September 28, 2017, 07:08:27 pm by Luno » Logged

MrHassanSan
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2017, 08:04:12 am »

Oh wow, I'm very into this visually. "Null Life" from your website is also really nice. Which instruments do you play?

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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2017, 08:53:45 am »

MrHassanSan, thank you!

I play piano, double bass, and drums. Also do a bit of trumpet and guitar, but piano is my main thing.
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Luno
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« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2017, 07:37:33 am »

I thought I would start out with a post about the weirdo pixel art technique that I've developed. My prior experience with traditional art was mostly just a lot of black and white pencil drawings that I did when I was in school (instead of paying attention). As a result, this method grew out of me trying to overcome my struggles with color.

I'm not sure it's a completely original strategy, but I haven't run into any other similar tutorials yet so maybe it will help you. Let's get into it! Gomez




Typical workflow: sketching, working with silhouettes, and then details and shading


Setup
I use photoshop because that's what I know the best, but this should work in gimp and probably many others as well. It's also possible, if a bit tedious, to start with a sketch and then convert it to this scheme.

1. As you work, create a new layer with a color overlay layer style for each major color/material in your scene. In my forest scene I have one layer for wood, one for leaves, one for moss, one for rocks, and so on.

2. Sketch the silhouettes of major shapes in your scene on these layers. To start, you can set the color overlay to be your best guess for what the colors should be (you'll be adjusting these later). Working with the silhouettes first helps with the composition and getting your scene to "read".

3. Create a few layers that you'll use to add shade/tint to the base colors in order to show lighting and details. You can experiment with different blend modes and opacity on these layers as well. I ended up with 4 layers: 30% black overlay, 13% black normal, 12% white overlay, and 30% white overlay.

You can also use a low opacity color overlay on your shading layers to tint them as desired (e.g. making your shadows slightly blue).


Keeping your shading on separate layers lets you adjust the base colors independently


Results
As you work/when your scene is complete, you can adjust your color overlays and the opacity of the various shading layers. The main benefit is that you can audition new colors/shading and see the result across your entire scene in real time; a huge advantage over the paint bucket.

Once you're finally happy with your palette you can flatten everything and paint in the usual way. This is also a good point to try to push things further with more traditional color techniques and/or trying to simplify your palette further.


Using color overlays lets you immediately see the results of your adjustments!


Who Should Use This?
No workflow is perfect of course, so here's a list of advantages and disadvantages I've found using this method:

  Pros
  • Decent results without guesswork; good for beginners.
  • Constraints help with creativity, especially if you limit the number of layers you use.
  • Good for people who tend to be less intuitive and more analytical. Easy trial and error.
  • Helps you focus on silhouette readability, composition, and contrast first
  • Easy to experiment with colors and solve problems with readability.

  Cons
  • If you're already good with color, the added complexity is likely more annoying than helpful
  • an be a bit fiddly, extra work for setup and maintenance
  • You kinda have to draw assets arranged in a scene and separate them later.
  • All your shading uses the same relative values, which sometimes makes things look flat (mixing more than one shading layer can help a bit)
  • Analysis paralysis can occur with all the possible choices. It can also be hard to nail something down because tweaking things is easy



Add an HSV adjustment layer with saturation set to -100 to periodically check your palette's balance/contrast

I also use a brightness/contrast adjustment layer on top of everything to experiment with pushing things further. The tried and true method of adding a flat color as an overlay to the entire scene has also been helpful.

Combining this approach with other traditional methods has really improved my skills with color, I hope it helps you too!
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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2017, 08:25:26 am »

I see a bit of a flaw with your method of shading. You use shades of black and white to provide shading over the base layer, however conventional art techniques dictate that shading should use cooler versions of the color of your object to provide shadows, and warmer ones to provide lighting. This makes the scene look more interesting, but I think it's incompatible with your current methodology. Here's an example I whipped up in Photoshop:

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Luno
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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2017, 08:57:23 am »

I see a bit of a flaw with your method of shading. You use shades of black and white to provide shading over the base layer, however conventional art techniques dictate that shading should use cooler versions of the color of your object to provide shadows, and warmer ones to provide lighting.

Hey critic, thank you for the feedback ^^

I have experimented with cooler shadows and warmer lights. Happily, it is compatible with the methodology, as I mentioned above:

You can also use a low opacity color overlay on your shading layers to tint them as desired (e.g. making your shadows slightly blue).

So you can achieve this just by adding a color overlay to the shade or tint layers to blend in a bit of blue or orange. The limitation here is that all the dark shading will receive the same amount of blue tinting, although you can make it more dynamic by experimenting with the blend modes of your color overlay. To be clear I am not rigidly committed to this methodology, but I do work this way a lot.

I have actually tried this quite a bit and gotten results similar to your example, but for some reason I find myself going back to the non-tinted look? Maybe I need to reconsider though. Perhaps something very subtle? I may try this again after work today!
« Last Edit: February 13, 2017, 09:03:35 am by Luno » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2017, 09:03:21 am »

The game feels beautiful  Smiley
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« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2017, 09:09:57 am »

The game feels beautiful  Smiley

Thank you Eyon!
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Luno
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« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2017, 07:29:10 pm »

conventional art techniques dictate that shading should use cooler versions of the color of your object to provide shadows, and warmer ones to provide lighting

So I did end up experimenting with overlays on the shading layers on photoshop tonight and it didn't work well at all. However, I did get some good results with an adjustment layer for color correction across the entire scene. I ended up using Unity's image effects to replicate this in game (I also ended up bumping the saturation a bit too). Here are the results!

BEFORE:


AFTER:


It's sort of subtle, but I think this is an improvement; thanks again for the feedback!


« Last Edit: February 13, 2017, 07:34:17 pm by Luno » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2017, 10:44:43 am »

At present many of the characters only exist in my head, so trying to remedy that with some concept drawings. Behold, [one possible interpretation of] the mysterious forest lord!

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« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2017, 09:41:57 pm »

I've been working on some title screen and logo art. The colors (especially the backgrounds) are still a bit loose at the moment.

Which do you like? What could I improve?

Logo A:



Logo B:

[/quote]
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« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2017, 10:33:57 pm »

I quite like logo B... the title suggests the game is at least a year long.. being survival game, I assume the player has to live through the seasons? so maybe your logo could incorporate the seasons somehow.. just a random idea >_<
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Luno
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« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2017, 10:38:42 pm »

I quite like logo B... the title suggests the game is at least a year long.. being survival game, I assume the player has to live through the seasons? so maybe your logo could incorporate the seasons somehow.. just a random idea >_<

Thanks for the input! Yes, you essentially have to advance through the 4 seasons for the basic win...but time is frozen so it's a little unusual Smiley

I really love the idea of having the seasons in the logo somehow. Having all 4 at once might be a bit noisy, but I could try it. Someone on my dev stream today suggested I just change the season of the title screen based on some condition (maybe time of day, progress in the game, at random, etc), which is also a solid idea.
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2017, 07:25:55 am »

Alright, so I tried out the seasons idea:




It actually looks pretty cool, but unfortunately I do think it may be a bit too cartoony for the game. Getting the colors to work with a full illustration on the title screen would also be a bit of a challenge.
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« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2017, 08:29:19 am »

To be honest, I don't get a cartoony vibe from that at all. Plus it supports what actually happens in the game, which is nice!

Between the other two you posted, Logo A feels flat/dull and is hard to read (Looks like Year in the FRTTS or FREES). B definitely looks better, but honestly C looks the best. It's dynamic and shows off the central conceit. If it looks too cartoony to you, perhaps you could try making the letters' forms less curvy and more stately?
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« Reply #15 on: February 21, 2017, 08:36:16 am »

The new logo looks pretty good.
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« Reply #16 on: February 21, 2017, 08:42:10 am »

Welp, you guys are in good company because I'm running a poll on Twitter and it looks like B is winning in a landslide Smiley And I really liked the stone one too! Good thing I asked for input .__.

Since the seasons idea seems popular I'm going to try just animating B to go through the 4 seasons like in the new image)! Maybe I should just run another poll tho  Undecided
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« Reply #17 on: February 25, 2017, 03:44:38 pm »

I finished my title screen illustration today! The parallax effect follows your mouse movement Wizard

Based on everyone's feedback, I've decided to do a combination of logo B and the four seasons idea. I made four seasonal variations of logo B, and I'm working on matching variations of the entire scene as well. My plan is to have your system's local time dictate the season (spring starts in the morning, summer afternoon, and so on). I will also create seasonal variations on the title screen theme music!

Here's summer:







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« Reply #18 on: February 25, 2017, 05:45:13 pm »

Making variations is a fantastic idea! And the summer screen looks excellent. I think it would be better as changing season per day on the title menu, though - i.e. over four days, rather than over the course of a single day. The thing about games that have effects depending on time of day is that many gamers (such as myself) are usually able to find time to play only at a single consistent time of day, and so we really only ever see the game in one state.
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« Reply #19 on: February 25, 2017, 10:56:34 pm »

This looks great, really atmospheric and original. Great devlog too!

I agree with Pineapple's comment about the seasonal cycles. I only ever play games in the evenings so it would be annoying not to see the other seasons. Of course. If the seasons don't affect gameplay then you could always have an option to adjust their frequency?
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