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Dev Blog #2 - August Progress & Design Musings

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!

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