Greetings again after a long absence. I’m Brian Johnstone, Lead Programmer on Wulverblade, and I’ve been very busy working on our game. We’ve been neglecting this blog but we have definitely been making great progress. This is just a selection of notes letting everyone know what we’ve been up to.
The last few weeks have been full of play testing. Levels 1-7 are completely playable including their boss battles. A lot of time is spent playing and replaying these levels with a focus on polish, playability, and balance.
Polish is how professionally and cleanly the level plays and it covers a lot of areas. While playing I like to keep a notebook open and ready for quick notes usually about bugs or any slightly “weird” things that might happen. Weird things that need fixing might be the player interacting with the level bounds in a strange way like jittering or pickups spawning from destroyed crates sliding along walls incorrectly.
What I mean by playability is how the level feels while playing. The experience may be smooth because it is well polished but this is about whether the experience feels fun and well paced. A lot of this is intertwined with balance as well. Much of the time spent revising these levels is spent finding things in the level to make reactive and able to be hit by the player. Hitting things is the basic way to interact with everything in a brawler. Trees, shrubs, stakes, campfires, pots, stakes, etc. all are rebuilt to make them respond to the player hitting them. Some just shake, some spawn items, some get destroyed.
The balance of each level depends on a lot of aspects. Many of these topics are overlapping and greatly affect each other. This is a broad topic for all games but even specifically for Wulverblade this should be its own post later going over all the factors that we adjust to control the balance of the game.
Game Flow, UI, Notes, and Tutorials
There’s a lot of aspects to games that are outside of the moment-to-moment gameplay. We have to consider the experience of players from the moment they launch the game to the moment they close it. What do the menus look like, how does the player first engage with the game, how is the world’s background information presented, and how do we teach the basics of the game?
The most basic game flow has been in place for more than a year. Now, as we get closer to launch more attention is being paid to the specifics and the polish of getting the player from the launch of the game into actual gameplay. Transitions, animations, UI layouts, and sounds all go into making the experience user friendly and well organized.
No small amount of time has been spent crafting the lore of Wulverblade. This is information about the setting. There is a lot of real history behind the setting but Wulverblade is definitely historical fiction. We’ve done our best to really blur the line between where the real history ends and our embellishments and concoctions begin. We also want to present this information in an interesting way so players feel rewarded for exploring and finding new bits of lore.
This idea of filling in the world with secret and unlockable text is not that new. Other games have done it quite a bit and I like the system. It does not force players to read who have no interest but provides a lot of context to those who are looking for more background.
Since we have lots of weapons that can be picked up and used in Wulverblade I thought it was a good opportunity to attach notes to these weapons. They reveal information about the weapon itself while also filling in a lot of background about the world and cultures that produced it. There is a real blending of actual history with my imagination in these notes. I will admit that this idea and how it is done was influenced a bit by Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls attaching lore to weapons. Though the kind of notes we attach to ours are quite a bit less cryptic.
The most recent efforts of mine have been focused on tutorials. How much will we explain about how to play and how exactly will it presented? I’ve put together the basic information we want to tell the player and spaced out where within the game this information is shown. It’s a real balancing act between letting the player discover the gameplay and just telling them exactly what to do. The naive approach is to tutorialize everything and to have a basic information dump about every button and every move available. Presenting this kind of information in a way that feels accessible while also not punishing veteran and repeat players is very important. The final look and feel of these tutorials is still being worked on but I’m confident we have found a good balance.
This is not a very sexy topic compared to cool animation or gameplay mechanics. It is, however, important to plan for because it is one of those areas that if you aren’t prepared can become a nightmare in the later stages of the project. Thankfully I had always planned on this game being localized.
Now that I’ve put effort into making sure a proper localization system is in place we have switched over so that all text is fed through this system. If you look at the screenshots above you’ll notice that some text begins with an “*” and this is a subtle note for us during development that the line is not currently being translated and is using the default english. Eventually we will turn on some flags and this text will begin flowing from localized spreadsheets.
Sometimes you have to spend time working on areas of the game that aren’t as fun as others. I definitely don’t view the text localization system as fun but it has occupied some time recently so I thought it worth a mention.
We have been admittedly terrible at updating this blog. For quick tidbits about development and a sexy GIF or two I recommend following the game’s creative director @MichaelHeald on Twitter. If you have requests for topics to cover you should totally harass him and let him know what we should write about.
I also am committing us to posting more updates going forward. The game is very much in its final stages of development and so we are working very hard on finishing it. However, we told ourselves at the beginning of development that we’d try to be open about the process and try to engage with our fans. We have not been living up to that commitment. I think we got caught up in the idea that all of our blog posts were going to be epics written and illustrated like Evan’s posts about our animation process. Those are great but take a huge amount of effort to create. We will still be making some of those but we will also do simpler updates like this one. This post turned out to be a bit long only because we have been doing so much over the last several months.
I will also try to work in more GIFs and and maybe even some narrated videos. We’ll see. I got a new microphone and want an excuse to record myself.