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Illustrations by Filip "Skvor" Storch

While a fair bit has been presented concerning Winterfall's gameplay, not much has yet been said about the universe that awaits the player. The time has become to begin filling that lack so that you may better imagine what adventures and possibilities await you in Winterfall. In this first of a series of post, we will talk of some of the underlying concepts and notions behind the world of Winterfall.

The world of Winterfall is set in a fictional time that could be equated with something between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, smattered with touches of Classical Antiquity, all of it loosely echoing a time of our own history that is little known. In the current times follow a grave collapse from a higher state of civilization where the sciences, works and arts of Men had reached greater heights of achievement. Much was forgotten, including the exact nature and proceeding of the events that brought the world so low. Thus, with such ignorance ruling now, great loss have been incurred in the culture and ways of people. Songs of knowledge and science have faded, tongues of power over nature have withered, even common implements such as tools, weapons and armor of hard metal have become greatly rare and valuable. While some wise Women hold the secrets of plant, stone and ore, while a few crafty Men would know to use such guidance to smith great works, most have come to rely on softer materials such as varieties of leather and wood and soft metals, rebuilding weakly yet boldly into a new age.

The term "low fantasy" may come to mind. The world of Winterfall holds focus on a certain sense of realism or plausibility, as it is steeped in a certain interpretation of the old european soul as can be divined from myths and folklore from all over. It is, however, a decidedly post-collapse world, where all civilizations have crumbled down to a state of ruin or contracted to near-irrelevance. It is a greatly desertified theater of rampant wilderness and towering ruins, to which some have escaped or journeyed, seeking such goals as building a new life for themselves, uncovering ancient mysteries, retrieving fabled treasures, or starting civilization anew.

The world of Winterfall is a world without order. There are no more kingdoms, no more crowns, no more temples, barely still tribes or clans. Thus, little organization remains beyond local communities and marauding groups. Vast cities, bustling trade networks, clashing armies and political intrigues are a thing all but forgotten as each man and woman has immediate concerns and satisfactions to see to and to most, the very memory of organized civilized life evokes things either unpleasant or removed. The world, albeit wild and dangerous, is split open and opulent with offers: it is simply too easy, too tempting for one displeased by their society, to walk off into the new day, towards new landscapes to settle in, for a day, a year or the rest of a lifetime. All the more honor and praise to those who become, in such vacant times, leader of men... and with the Winterfall and its many perils slowly breezing in, great leaders may soon be needed again indeed, lest all comes to true and complete loss.

Games featuring elements of survival and rebuild in a post-collapse world tend to chase a certain sense of decay and cruelty, where nature has been marred, mankind has been twisted, and technology has turned back to crude or makeshift designs. In Winterfall, the opposite angle is being taken: it is a bright, colorful world, whose moods are vibrant and powerful and even the characters that you will commonly incarnate or deal with tend to be strong in body and mind, masters of great vitality and willpower, whether they aspire to live a simple life or chase heroic feats. We want an engaging world, worth exploring, full of life and secrets, adventurous and full of resources to build with. We want an abundance of splendor and beauty, reflected in environments teeming with life and atmosphere. We want the very clouds and light to offer a spectacle to the player's eyes as they move across the landscape. We want deep starry skies as vistas to remember, for the world of Winterfall is above all a place of myth and memory, a place of romance and adventure, a place of hope and possibility in the lands of Anor, the Old Kingdom.

Once a flourishing realm, the seat of many empires unfurling through history, Anor, the Old Kingdom is now no more than a large number of broken off regional landscapes, where the majestic ruins of what once was and the creeping waves of lush nature silently collide into a theater of complete collapse. Today, we would define Anor as a kind of post-apocalyptic setting, the setting of many lost and fallen things, surrendered to the unrelenting advance of wilderness. And yet, we would still be awed by its beauty and mystery, for it is a place of endless history and living myth, where great remnants still stand, whispering of what once was, where silent halls beneath the earth hide lost lore and treasury and where the great woodlands themselves, like open temples beneath the stars, shiver alive with remembrance.

Once, however, Anor held many glorious names: governed by sanctuaries high up in the mountains, life within its boundaries obeyed the sacred rhythms of the stars. People there, descended from on high, built beautiful cities, carved endless gardens and paved great wide roads from landmark to landmark. Land of the Sun, Ancient Home, Fields of Summer and Throne of What Is, Anor was the seat of a strong civilization whose roots stretched far and deep into history: the Adranaics, a line of peoples whose achievements in war and peace stood unequaled and commanded upon the lesser tribes much praise and devotion.

Now long withdrawn into their High Homes in the mountains, the dormant Adranaic bloodlines rest watchfully, remembering the times that saw, through their agency, great glory visited upon the world. Anor is now known as the Lower World, for a sea of clouds stretches from peak to peak above the ancient lands and there, many would now be king, or queen, and ruler, thinking to redress what once was, or build something new. This is where we, the players, enter the game. From peaks to peaks, through fells and crags, over plains and hills, we shall journey over a changing world and its endless sights, and found our lasting homes.

Until the Winterfall itself... and maybe beyond.

Dev Blog #2

Here is the second installment of our Dev Blog updates, where it's time to talk Winterfall!

August has been an interesting month for sure, during which a fair bit has been done on some exciting features.

As I previously explained, Winterfall is not a "concept" but is in fact well into development or, shall we say, well into re-development. Indeed, early in 2015, several systems were already playable and quite functional. Combat, survival, horse-riding and jousting worked satisfyingly in a prototype incarnation and the mechanics for social interaction and relationship development were also functional. But all of that was in need of a serious cleanup and revamp. So that's where Winterfall has been this year: starting afresh and striding forward to reclaim old ground and expand into new.

Videos so far have shown a fair bit of combat gameplay, and of course Winterfall's signature graphics, full of color and rich in atmosphere. This month of August has brought to us nice things of a more varied nature:

- Polished combat functions (additional moves and attack chains and customization basics)

- Improved locomotion animations

- Core object placement and structure placement mechanics

- Mounted melee functionality

- Core inventory mechanics

Here is a little breakdown for each of those components:

- Combat now features 3 combo lines for each of the two combat styles (1 hander & 1 hander+shield), as well as two standalone attacks: a shield-breaking kick and knockdown melee attack.

- Locomotion animations have been improved particularly for female characters, with more motion captured animation and the crouching/crouchwalking animations have been replaced as well

- It is now possible to enter placement mode, from which you can place "plots", upon which to construct buildings, using snapping points for cleaner placement (red tiles in the screenshot below). Pre-placement, they can be rotated by increments of 45°. Buildings get built over a span of time, with progressive display of advancement. This is the first phase of our system, the second phase will involve gathering and stocking up resources to enable construction. The fourth phase will enable custom building using house add-ons, rather than placing pre-made structures. The fifth phase will enable inner room furnishing and decoration.

- Still from placement mode, you can place objects: protective ones (fences, palisades), interactive ones (campfire), resource storage/production (lumber, hay, hives)... While there are no rules and mechanics right now beyond simply placing those objects, since the placement mechanics work, everything will follow nicely.

- The melee combat controller works from horseback, so you can perform attacks while riding. Further developments will involve better riding functions, like in the 2014-2015 build, with horse stats (acceleration, speed, charge and endurance), damage bonuses based on speed and so on.

- And finally, the core inventory mechanics enable to pick up and drop items, quite simply, which is the first step towards different inventory types for different types of items and so on. We are going for a grid system with items of different sizes, but there are other aspects to it that should be exciting to implement. Silence on this for now, more about it later.

So things are ramping up nicely. I have already expressed my dedication to taking this game further to a state of development that offers factual play and not speculative promises. This August has had us witness yet another very exciting imagination-capturing project ending up underdelivering on its hype and that is not a fate I would ever consider for Winterfall. As reception for what Winterfall describes in terms of its goals and design is always very vibrant and excited, the sense of responsibility I derive from that excitement teams up with my own sense of perfectionism to ensure that with this game, we get something really nice to play.

While the very end August should wrap up the first version of a playable pre-alpha (usual delays notwithstanding), we'll still be some distance from the full core gameplay loop, although many of the base game systems will be in place. To be frank, however, getting new systems implemented is usually not the problem, the challenge they pose tends to more generally be with how they integrate within the greater gameplay. And then of course there is the bug-fixing, feature-tuning and overall polish they imply.

It's very hard for me to settle for merely "functional" even when I have it nicely served. Many games have promoted themselves, or even gotten on sale with less. Well, I just want this gameplay to be good and to be rich. I really set out to make the game that I've wanted to play for ages and that nobody's making, so at this point, making things that just "work" is held against that standard of me enjoying my own creation while making sure it is also enjoyable for others. I admit to such an approach not always being all that smart given that things end up taking more time, costing a lot more money and overall being far more demanding of me than they would be if I just focused on simpler things and design tricks.

For example, a common theme driving this project's design is the refusal to settle for gamification and instead doing my best to always chase fun-based satisfaction. We've all played games that rely heavily on gamification, where the primary reason why you go through an hour or two or more of gameplay is to earn some reward or other, rather than primarily enjoy yourself. From a design standpoint, it's very tricky because vertical progression in general is easy to understand, easy to get into, and an easy motivator for a player. And it can also be fun. But I'm perpetually wary of how easy it can be to go too far with that and, sooner than not, encourage play for higher stats or stronger items rather than play for a fun experience (which can still definitely grant in-game rewards as well).

It's really one of the key reasons why I'm running with the idea of worlds so big, of so many things to do, of long-range scope for the development of player characters and Houses. There is an inspiration there in strategy games, where you are actually dealing with a vast living world made up of other factions and parameters and you are trying to conquer that world and you are engaged in both the grand goal and the step-by-step of achieving it. That's exactly what I'm chasing ultimately. Make a fun and satisfying gameplay that encourages the pursuit of long-range goals, of development over spans of time, in a shifting world made up of many other factors besides player input.

Amongst the many inspirations for Winterfall are games like Skyrim and State of Decay, and the frustrations inherent to the design of those games have greatly driven me: Skyrim for instance, is a rather static platform and it's also a very small land to explore. Yes, there are many dungeons and tombs and so on, but paradoxically, they don't add a lot of depth. To me, after a hundred hours it was going to be all about keeping doing the same things just so that I could level a character higher and higher and stack up more loot. Really great game, awesome piece of work, but not really interested in that.

And while State of Decay does feature a bit of development over time and so on, there that paradox of you getting engaged into building something that you are ultimately to leave, because the world around you isn't really going to change as a result of how much you have achieved. You can run a fully independent base, fortified and stocked with weapons and food and populated with heroic survivors... yet it just ends up being one of those situations where the game just patiently waits for you to leave it all behind to claim the win, so you may start a new game or consider yourself sated and move on to another title.

Well I want to do away with that. I want to give us, players, the scope of a long-range campaign whether what we'll want to do in Winterfall will be to live in a small corner of the woods or build an expanding kingdom. I want the game to last as long as we want to: having it where one year after we first started that particular session, a lot of things have happened and there is still no shortage of goals to accomplish: old ones as well as new ones that came up along the way.

The plans for multiplayer functionality should throw some rather wild new perspectives and possibilities into that. But while I am dead-set on multiplayer components to this, it is still too early to address them. So I'll leave that particular topic at that until it becomes truly timely. But by now you've surely gotten the idea that I want Winterfall to be that game we can play many hundred of hours and come out of with so many stories and so much inspiration. Will I succeed at that? Time will tell, but that's definitely what I'm chasing. And may I keep the dedication that drives me to never relent in that particular pursuit!

Thank you for your interest in Winterfall!

Hello everyone, It has been a few days since I put Winterfall on Steam Concept and the interest and support have been considerable. It is a very humbling and encouraging thing, after so long working more or less entirely in the dark.

Today, I would like to address some of the chief questions and concerns expressed in the Comments and also tell you a little more of where things are at. I briefly touched upon it in the previous blog post on the website but it may be important to re-frame this project's situation a bit. The Steam Concept status may muddy the perception, letting one think that this is just a bunch of nice ideas and not an actual product in development. So, Winterfall at this stage is quite a fair bit beyond the Concept stage. The core platform is in active development, some components are well playable and various systems and mechanics have been in the works on and off for about 3 years now. It's a bit of a funny story. It was December of 2012 when I decided I really wanted to start this project after so many years thinking about it. Nobody was making the game I really wanted to play, I realized nobody ever would anyway, so I went ahead. By March of 2013, in a basic form the game allowed several players to log on to a play platform where they could generally walk around, harvest resources, loot chests, wear equipment and kill each other. It was brute but it worked and things were well on the way. At that pace, the following 3 months looked like they were really going to be great and it wouldn't be long until the game could be brought to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Or so I thought. Various events, external and personal, sent my plans up in flames back then. One of the main ones was the announcement of Shroud of the Avatar and its subsequent Kickstarter success. More about that another time, but it was a bit of a broadside because many concepts in SotA seemed similar to concepts in Winterfall. Ultimately, SotA took a wildly different direction on similar concepts, Winterfall has had evolutions of its own and the two games don't have anything in common anymore, but back at that point, the damage was done. I had always wanted to present something solid to Kickstarter, not just "ideas" but actual work. After all, not only am I a complete nobody without any street credit, but I'm also a perfectionist and I'm really uncomfortable with empty promises anyway, even when driven by the best intents. So I figured I needed to take all the risks and work really hard to make sure Winterfall would be a reality, not a concept, before getting out there. Especially after that SotA episode. Following that period of time, what had once looked like a less-than-one-year prototype development cycle turned into a 3+ years romp through the wilderness. For all the distance walked since then, the project has lost and gained a lot, so have I, but we're both much stronger, sharper and healthier for it, and now, thanks to you people especially, we have much, much more to look forward to already. So let me address some key questions regarding this project: - From the past 3 years of work, we have working systems in the following departments mainly:

  • personality simulation, social interaction, relationship development

  • horse-riding and basic elements of mounted combat

  • vital needs and basic survival

  • ARPG combat featuring dodges, blocks, combos, and bot AI with many personality factors

  • day & night cycle and environmental/weather factors

  • inventory & equipment

A lot of the work currently on our desks and ahead of us involves salvaging or upgrading some of those systems from older platforms and dev builds, as well as laying the groundwork for some new systems. Construction & decoration come to mind, although Combat has really been a core focus for the past couple of months (the videos don't yet quite do justice to the work). - Winterfall is really meant to be an immersive RPG with lots of things you can do. Not quests and artificial objectives but instead, the idea is to offer the player many ways to interact with the world, let the world respond, and let those interactions have consequences. It's basically a long-range, open-ended RPG that helps you generate your own gameplay. If you keep on fighting people, it'll ultimately give meaning, cause and reasons for your future fighting. If you keep on making friends, it will give you things to do to protect, nurture, affect or otherwise test those friendships. And so on. It's not just a "do stuff until you have consumed all the content" or "do all the stuff until it respawns", but instead is meant to offer a long-range build-up in meaning and consequence. - Thanks to the tools available in this day and age, we are able to put together VERY large environments. Of course it's always a matter of balancing what we CAN do, what we SHOULD do and HOW we should do it, but the ability to literally get lost in that world, and playing 50+ hours without having even seen the totality of one of the available play regions is very important to me. I basically want an experience where some people may want to be explorers who travel across the world and will never see all of it, and where some others may decide to stick to their patch of countryside without ever needing to venture out. - The Winterfall itself is definitely part of the play experience, not just a gimmick or some score menu. It's first of all a change to the environmental conditions in the game, therefore also a change to the challenges and events, availability of resources and so on. The world of Winterfall is very lush and abundant, you can literally pick food off trees in the Wilderness and people don't need to mind each other if they don't want to. The Winterfall turns that upside down and brings a sense of impending, epochal doom. So, yes, definitely gameplay to be found in there. - Combat in Winterfall is ARPG timing-based combat where you can perform different types of attacks, manually dodge, shield-kick, take down, block and so on. As each fighter has a personality made of a number of traits, the idea is that the flow of combat and a fighter's actions have pull over each trait. So it's not equipment-based where great equipment and poor skills will still make you win, rather it'll be about coming up with a good mix of playstyle and character personality, and managing your resources to open up tactical options at key points. It's not 100% hardcore though, as I want slower players with poor reflexes to enjoy the gameplay and get to perform well rather than be hopeless fodder. - Customization of all kinds is crucial for me as a design focus. Right now, for instance, the work that has recently begun on Construction has for a goal to enable players to build and extend their own homes and structures not necessarily from scratch, but in a modular way, using portions and segments and additional rooms and facilities, that you can snap together as you like. Customizing your House (as in Household and so on) follows the same imperative: no two Houses should be similar since you will be making choices to determine mood, history and legacy, not to mention who populates it and so on. - Currently, the game is being developed primarily for Windows. I'd love to be able to promise a Linux and OS/X release but right now it'd be a promise backed by no facts. As I'd like to make Winterfall available for as many people as realistically possible, we'll keep that goal in mind though and hopefully we can make it happen not too far along the road. Thank you for your interest, support and comments! I must reiterate how passionate and resolute I am about all this. For me, Winterfall is a shot at making the open-world RPG many of us always wanted to play and that nobody's making. No matter how challenging the process can be at times, I am unstoppably determined to take this project home.

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