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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsCaesar's Revenge - join our Discord!
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jb
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« Reply #40 on: April 16, 2019, 01:16:38 AM »



It has been awhile since the last update - the good news is that the project is alive and well! All three of us are working on the game in our free time so progress tends to come in peaks and valleys. Another reason for not posting is that we are spending a lot of time creating levels - content is proving to be the most time consuming part of development but is also the area that may be most important to get right. For this update we have updates around new level art, menu systems, music and more.



A challenge of achieving the aesthetic of ancient Rome in a gritty, retro style is that iconic elements such as marble run the risk of coming across too bright and clean. Intricate interiors can also be problematic as a lot of details and embellishments become noisy at a low resolution. Recently we spent some time revisiting one of the early stages that we created to try and establish a better thematic aesthetic while still delivering on the grimy, pre-rendered look that the game revels in. The new street scenes maintain the simple geometry that are the building blocks of the game while utilising more props and texture variety to better situate the player in the time of Caesar. Some new props include washing lines, carts and furniture. Slanted roofs make an appearance and we are experimenting with more interesting skyboxes to render the environment less muddy. This is all a fine balance as over decorating a scene could end up detracting from the final result. Our main goal has been to create unique environments that facilitate fast and readable gameplay while also evoking their setting clearly.







Most of our design decisions have been informed to varying degrees by historic reference. This reference however, is often informed, adapted (and sometimes ignored!) in favour of our own intended art direction. Some examples of this are taking elements that clearly evoke ancient Rome but may be from a slightly later period than the game is set. The Sid Meier ethos of using the children’s section of the library for research resonates here in that we're not aiming to create an accurate depiction of the time but rather to conjure that narrative setting in the player’s imagination.







New menu screen offers a more digetic level selection with icons denoting level completion, secrets found and time trial achievement.

While we all liked the look of the old menu, we realised that it didn’t scale well to meet the needs of where the game was going (and the amount of content it would need to hold). A challenge of making a retro, low-res game is crafting a world from tiny textures and simple shapes while still instilling a sense of time, place and atmosphere. The old menu certainly fulfilled its function but missed out on significant world building opportunities. The new design places the levels on the map screen, diegetically situated on a table. This approach gives the player a better sense of place while introducing an opportunity to include more artwork to better set the scene. The game is currently planned to span across three acts, each with their own maps to create a stronger feeling of progression throughout the experience.

Moving towards this format has also opened up potential for better iconography to communicate ideas. A theme for our project has been ‘the excess of Rome’ - what better way to express this than an pre-rendered door that opens in place of a text-based exit button? The 90’s nostalgia also feels more distilled in this approach, harking back to the days of obtuse UI that may not be the clearest but certainly had a lot of character.



Many of the incidental props and pickups are much higher res than they appear in game. The pre-rendered map screen has the added benefit of giving us an opportunity to show off these more detailed props outside of their pixelated down scaling.



The custom font used throughout the game is of our own creation and the logo was made in 3D Coat. This approach allows us to easily play with lighting effects to achieve a distinctive result. One thing that a lot of early 3D games did was feature higher detailed renders than the real-time 3D in the actual game, something we wanted to emphasise in this logo. We are still iterating the design to balance readability and character.



A Hateful Passage experiments with a more aggressive and spontaneous style, channeling the torment of the Roman underworld and drawing its name from the mythos surrounding the River Styx.

This track is more niche than the last one I posted and was written with the intent to lean towards the more intense end of the game’s score. This is an interesting challenge when the baseline comparison is already high-tempo and reasonably heavy. With this song I aimed to explore different time signatures and key changes that would push an aesthetic of dissonance even further. One option could have been to make the mix heavier though the overall cohesion between songs is also essential - while we aren’t strictly following a genre template, a lo-fi thrash sound defined the early musical direction and is a key pillar to each composition. This means that we are actively avoiding electronic parts and any audible synths (though there are some subtle supporting layers). Similarly, all of the songs are written in drop D which makes transitions and blends between atmospheric tracks more seamless. Overall I am very happy with how everything is sounding and how effectively these songs frame the game. Something exemplified by this track is the number of different changes and layers within its duration. The lack of vocals means that more generic structures risk becoming overly repetitive and given that this is a game where the player restarts a lot, sixteen bars of the same progression again and again could become tiring. In an attempt to mitigate fatigue, most songs avoid dwelling on one riff for too long and often jump between several ideas in short periods - an added benefit of this is how the sporadic blasts of guitars and drums reflect the intensity and pace of gameplay, crafting a cohesive experience between play and audio.

Hopefully we won't wait so long before the next update - we are going to be showing the game off at a convention in a few months so that should be a good push for more progress!
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« Reply #41 on: June 01, 2019, 09:26:16 AM »

You guys have this, I know it.

Just remember - stress may be a good motivator, but the game community would rather have a triumvirate of developers than another burnt effigy! Please take care of yourselves, even if this hits all my sweet spots.
Best of luck..!
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jb
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« Reply #42 on: June 02, 2019, 11:45:43 PM »

You guys have this, I know it.

Just remember - stress may be a good motivator, but the game community would rather have a triumvirate of developers than another burnt effigy! Please take care of yourselves, even if this hits all my sweet spots.
Best of luck..!

Thanks for the encouragement! That is an amazing quote - we should totally start calling ourselves that. We tend to work in bursts most of the time and seem to take natural breaks when other things are going on. There is the reality that it takes a ton of hours to get something like this done so if everyone is okay with waiting a little while it we will get there eventually. It helps we all love the project so I am as excited as anyone to play the release!

We actually showed the game for the first time at a local convention called Chromacon:



We collected a ton of feedback, found some new bugs and confirmed a number of suspicions we had around balance. The reception of the game was great and watching people play over the last few days has been really rewarding. We playtested a few different early levels and will be working on tweaking the loop to help new players get a feel for the pace of the game.



If anyone would like to chat or get more immediate updates we are also launching our public discord server. We will be posting updates to the game as well as sharing a lot of day to day content that might not make it to the devlog posts. We don’t want to host a discord server that simply reposts gifs from Twitter – rather, we hope to run a lot of our design talks and interactions between one another in this space to let players peek behind the curtain as well as open up channels for feedback.

Public invite link: https://discord.gg/WpzfTSA (feel free to share)

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« Reply #43 on: June 03, 2019, 06:32:18 AM »

I'm a bit too cowardly for discord, but -

That really looks like it went swimmingly. I gotta say, I do love the idea of wearing the galea while playing. That's the sort of immersion I wish'd really make a comeback - oh! And I'm very pleased that I could get at least a small chuckle out of my wordplay. (It was loads better than my suggestion of a build title being 'Pompey Played Paraoptimally,' that's for certain.)

One more thing, I think it's good to take your game into the public sphere, now and then. I'm only one person, and I know a lot of devs I've followed over the years can really draw energy from people getting a chance to see what's happening; not sure where I'm going with it, but I'm really glad you got a chance to get some good feedback, and have some fun at the same time!  Smiley Keep it up, and don't stop until the SENATE IS BATHED IN BLOOOOOD
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« Reply #44 on: June 18, 2019, 06:10:18 PM »

This update brings a new weapon, effects and additional enemies to the fray. Behinds the scenes work continues with presentation and options features being added. We have had a very motivated and productive few weeks with a lot of general progress on levels.

Sica
Matt
The Sica have been loitering in WeaponWednesday™ limbo for almost 10 months. They were initially created to fulfill Ivan’s hunger for dual wielding, offering a more interesting alternative to dual gladius. Sica in real life are not directly Roman but were used by Romans to a lesser extent than the Gladius or Pilum. They were more popularly used by peoples surrounding Rome primarily the Dacians, Albanians and Illyrians. The reason they have been so long in the making is due to rigorous and extensive gameplay and animation alterations. I planted this idea early on that Sica looked a lot like a boomerang, but this felt too farfetched at the time. However, as we struggled to balance and make the Sica feel fun the idea become more and more appealing. Ivan animated the attacks, the primary of the Sica being a flurry of cuts, all in quick succession – it is faster than the gladius but can only slice one enemy at a time. Initially the alternative fire was a scissor-like finisher but it was slow and under utilised considering how much more effective the primary attack was.




This is when the boomerang idea came boomeranging back out of the past, smacking into the game design, firmly lodging itself into the head that is the team’s psyche – the perfect solution for our problem. All according to plan! I grinned. Jordan threw together a prototype and before we knew it Ivan had the animations ready to go. The alternate fire is now a boomerang it can be thrown and returns, quickly becoming the perfect solution to pesky shield bearers. Unique now in comparison to all other weapons in the fact that it has infinite ammo (since it will always return to you) on top of being a powerful melee weapon. While thrown can still use a half strength primary attack with a single sword which adds a layer of strategy: when to throw, when not to throw, based on each enemy encounter. All up, an awesome addition to Caesar’s arsenal for sure!


Blood effects
Ivan
In the latest build, we did a third pass on the blood particle effects. This effect has been both a thematic and technical tug of war throughout the entire project. Considering that Caesar does a lot of killing in the game the blood effect needs to satisfying and clearly communicate a landing of a hit. Conversely, considering you are encountering many enemies in the game we can’t afford to have too many particles and effects due to frame rate considerations. This new iteration is both efficient on particle count while also being more visceral than the previous wall and mid-air splashes. The new textures have been hand painted in Paint Storm Studio with its new pixel precision feature.



Priest
Jordan
While this unit has been in the game for sometime, it is worth writing about at this point as they have become one of our key enemies. Priests don’t have any offensive abilities but revive fallen units to rejoin the battle. When approached, they teleport away from the player, making them tricky to dispatch. This makes for interesting target priorities as while they are harmless, they can end up causing a lot of trouble if left unchecked. The strength of this enemy is that they can be paired to any enemy type in an encounter to create compelling dynamics from level to level. For example, simple enemies like archers and swordsmen play very differently when augmented by one or more priests. Trivial enemies become real threats when revived as quickly as Caesar slays them. This design is continuously engaging as enemies are recontextualised throughout the game, giving this unit a lot of longevity. This is also the unveiling of some of the more magical elements in the game – Roman and Greek mythology will be in abundance.



War Pig
Matt
We talked about war pigs two years ago when discussing enemy types and it was more a joke than anything. I thought this day would never come – it was impossible they said, silly they said, but low and behold the team has come around and it happened. To my reluctance I spent Saturday making the War Pig, this time thinking it was silly, but oh how I was wrong. The War Pig is epic! Despite how silly it sounds, war pigs were real; Romans used them in warfare against war elephants. The elephants didn’t like the sound of the pigs, the way they moved, and of course the fact that they were on fire. Covered in pitch they would be set alight and bolt towards enemy lines causing the elephants to flee and inflicting casualties on their own forces as they trampled them down in a panic. Our war pigs are not burning, instead (and more humanely) they are carrying an explosive payload, trained to attack then detonate on command by those cunning senators and their legions. Caesar is sure in for a surprise. The pots they carry are the same as static explosive pots to make the pig read better on your first encounter with them. The pig itself acts as a sort of a homing missile but just like the static pots, the pig can be used to inflict damage on their own troops if detonated early. The pig was modeled, rigged, animated by me then and implemented by Jordan all within the day, hell of a Saturday!




Bug fixes
After Chromacon we recorded a substantial list of bugs to fix and tweaks to make – the kind of list that comes from playing a couple of levels for 16 hours. We have fixed all of the issues encountered at this point as well as a number of persisting flaws that we hadn’t got around to addressing yet.

Options Menu
Jordan
I have recently been working on implementing the options menu into the game. Philosophically, there is debate to be had around what controls you give the player given the amount of time is spent designing specific experiences. For example, letting players turn off the music can dramatically change the mood of a key scene. Right now the Gore on/off doesn’t actually function – we are considering keeping it that way since the violence of ancient Rome is imperative to the narrative of revenge. To what extent should developers afford user preference versus honed designs?



A good example of this is how FOV adjustment is an expected feature in an FPS – a customisable element that other genres don’t normally expose. This feature isn’t a given in platformers, RPGs and driving games, allowing gameplay to be consistent and designed both technically as well as experientially. High FOV gives a greater sensation of speed so if you are making a game that is supposed to feel fast, should you allow players to make it feel slower if they choose to? The best argument I have heard for dynamic FOV comes from an accessibility standpoint as a fast first-person camera can make players feel ill and making it adjustable can mitigate these effects.

In terms of game play in Caesar’s Revenge, a higher field of view makes movement feel a bit faster and provides more periphery to the view port. Overall it feels like a good feature to include since the slider lets players set it higher than the previous default. A small takeaway is that increasing this cap has thrown off some of our culling distances: there are areas in levels that were previously out of frame that now need to be extended – easy fixes but building future levels with the max FOV in mind will make the process cleaner.

We have been posting a lot of updates on our Discord, the server is still small but is going really well. For a more spoilery behind the scenes look, we are being much more liberal with what we post over there in terms of development and work in progress stuff.
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« Reply #45 on: November 20, 2019, 01:19:55 AM »



Desert Spotlight
Matt
Desert is a weird level, especially when considering Caesar’s design. Generally most of our levels consist of linear paths or multiple linear paths/loops; the challenge comes from reacting and learning the patterns these challenges present. Overcoming these and learning from mistakes feels good, the flow of going through the motions and perfectly completing a level from start to finish, where all your work pays off in that last run feels epic! The feedback is consistent and you know what went wrong and exactly where to go to try again. Desert differs in the fact that it is completely open. There is no defined path, only a fortress in front that requires three keys to enter. There are multiple copies of each of these keys strewn throughout the desert, each with a small encounter to boot, the catch is you have to explore and find them.



The fog is partially to blame, but exploration in a completely open scenario is not fun when you can’t see more than five meters ahead of you, and although the concept of being lost in a sandstorm in the desert is cool, in practice its shit. Especially in contrast to how fast paced the rest of the game is. I knew it was bad when both Ivan and Jordan didn’t finish it, too much walking around randomly hoping to find something. The challenge then became how do you make things discover-able in a sandstorm? Here is what I came up with: (SPOILERS if you want to figure this all out for yourself when you play)

  • A rough perimeter wall (this way if you walk out you will likely find it and if followed leads to encounters)
  • Subtle difference in ground textures (paths in the sand that lead to encounters)
  • Consistent language regarding props (following bushes, rocks and props will point to neighboring encounters)
  • Looping Room and fog increase (if you walk too far out you will walk back into the other side of the map and likely bump back into something + fog increases the closer you are to the edge)



The combination of these make the level much navigable once these things are noticed, the idea of backups, as in both ground texture or prop following lead to everywhere you need to go making it easier to discover the trick. The biggest change of all though is scale, though a mission, I moved everything in as it was all just too far away (seen in the diagram above). Having intermediate pieces that are visible between the goal and encounters are really important. Once the pattern is recognized the level becomes much more learnable as each encounter is consistent. What’s cool about it in comparison to the rest of the game is that it is completely open to what order you want to complete it in; you learn what each encounter encompasses then there is a choice of how much you want to gear up before going in and choose what to avoid. In the end, after ironing out the creases it turned out well and although being one of Caesar's more unconventional levels it provides a much needed break and a variation in gameplay.

Soldier Variant
Ivan
During the project we have introduced multiple enemies in order to facilitate balance, one example being the introduction of a Slinger as a weak Archer. We knew that the Archer enemy felt and played well but during play tests people found the unit far too difficult in the earlier levels. This directly led to the creation of a weaker projectile enemy. Now we realised the basic Swordsman was a unit that needed changing, the main reason for the change was the three slashes that he performs at a frenetic pace as it is hard to read where the blows are landing. This is only multiplied by being flanked by multiple Swordsmen at once. Considering we liked the animation and the size of the Swordsman we decided to create an Elite Guard enemy type. The Elite Guard will use the original animation of the three slash attack while our basic Swordsman will have a slower attack landing only a single blow over the 16 frame flipbook.




The next issue was trying to figure out a colour scheme that will make the Elite Guard stand out from a distance to differentiate the two. The secondary challenge was making him not look so different that it would imply a drastic change in behaviour. We settled on a darker armour set with large shoulder guards, shin and forearm armor.

We operate by the philosophy of getting it right the first time but also not being too precious about work that we can't scrap it if it doesn’t play well. Animation even though recycled for the most part has been edited; for example lowering the sword to the side while running. Making the game in this fashion has helped us to avoid polishing one element past the usefulness of said polish and improves the turnaround of assets generated.

Weapon UI
Jordan
We have added a weapon and ammo display to the corner of the screen. Players don’t normally have too many weapons at a time to make this entirely necessary but it allows fast changing of weapons without having to wait for the animation to play to see what has been selected. More experienced players will likely swap to what they want using the number keys but this will help new players and also anyone crazy enough to play on controller.


Music
This track features a middle section that deviates from the normal motifs towards a slower, more atmospheric pace. There is enough of a lead up to this section that it still supports frantic gameplay while bringing some variety to the structure of the overall soundtrack. So far I have found too much lead work to be a bit distracting, instead favoring more sporadic rhythmic composition - this song however has ended up pushing that envelope with a lot more lead guitar work. Though a lot of it hasn't been posted yet I'm also happy to announce that the soundtrack has hit the thirty minute mark! There won't be a unique track for every stage but I do want there to be a nice variety as well as enough content to support an album release as well.



Armageddon
We recently exhibited the game publicly at Armageddon Expo. The weekend was very busy and it was great to see so many people come through. It was interesting to play test some new and old levels as well as see how changes we made after the last showcase have worked out. One thing we experimented with was giving players ‘lives’ - this allowed those not used to FPS games as well as younger players to make further progress without needing to practice too much. A takeaway from this was that a fair number of players used half a dozen lives to beat what was supposed to be easy levels - we don’t want to use this system in the final game but it has given us a good indication of areas that need a balance pass. A big thanks to the NZGDA for organising the booth.





We have been posting even more updates and work and progress things over on our Discord - come say hi!
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