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Dev Blog #4 Part II

Welcome to part 2 of this Dev Blog #3. With a rather eventful September, offering contacts and future opportunities through established industry names, October has in turn been a rather challenging month where a lot of external things got in the way and progress was slowed a fair bit. This is the indie life though, especially while working on projects of such scope and ambition in very unlikely circumstances. While this article has been ready for a while technical problems have also come up to make it impossible to post it earlier.

But regardless of the recent difficulties, we move forward. The big values that have dominated the development of Winterfall, as it should be for any area of worthwhile undertaking really, are patience and perseverance. Sometimes life takes us on the express train, sometimes we trudge along on the bumpy roads... but without further ado, let's talk about development and developments.

Early in october, Vital Needs have finally made it to the internal test phase. Thirst, Hunger, Injury and Exertion make up the growing Conditions that may befall characters in the world, and therefore will drive their needs and motivations. The nice thing about this is that there can be all kinds of sources for each of those Conditions, even though at the moment they are centered on physical events. Conditions demand that you deal with them lest they build up into Weariness, which will accumulate to further effects on the character, some short term, some long term.

However, in Winterfall, the "survival" component is not about plain Life & Death but instead about character development: how much stress do survival ordeals put on your character and how is the character pressed for change in return, developing positive or adverse personality traits and reactions to interactions? This is what you will be dealing with. It's all about what situations you get to create with the gameplay and what responses you give to the challenges.

While eating, drinking, healing and relaxing are presently the ways to appease character Conditions, various additional interactions within the game world will allow to alleviate some of those Conditions (including Weariness) and of course, interactions that cure a Condition to feed another are also planned, and so on. A good example of that being how a certain type of fine meal could appease Hunger but stimulate Thirst, or how a shining achievement may ultimately charge the character much Exertion but diminish his Weariness.

Journeying through the lush wilderness of Winterfall is greatly meant to be an adventure of trials, ordeals and decisions as opposed to merely being about the simple life-or-death loop of "roam, loot, consume, die, restart" with stuff happening in-between those points. The long range, deep immersion aspect of open-world RPGs disqualifies such a simplistic loop: if you're going to spend time creating a character, you want to get to spend time having fun with it and not just watch it die of thirst as you run around cluelessly looking for stuff to loot. And yet, the pressures and imperatives of good survival games can be a powerful shaper of game experiences. Our middle ground here is therefore in the fact that there is not just adventure, but also a life after adventure, and adventure determines in what shape the character returns to that life.

In the longer run, there is also to be the feature that characters react to their own Conditions and form demands to the player based on those, or, in the case of NPCs, seek to appease them of their own. Thus, a character suffering from high Exertion may make it a priority to go get some relaxation, or go seek comfort from another character, such as a good friend or lover, or an entertainer. In the same vein, a hungry character is likely to go rob the pantry, and so on. All of this gives gameplay mini-goals to the player, but also does quite a fair bit to lay the groundwork for the "life sim" component of Winterfall, and stimulate the world to life by providing a stream of mini-events.

"Point me to the nearest pantry, yeah?"

As you can see, thanks to this update to the core mechanics, important and meaningful gameplay and development alleys open up. A key point of design in Winterfall is that your character is meant to be more than a mere vehicle to drive around and interact in the world with, while other characters are meant to be more than automata or content-delivery machines. Making character needs (and their satisfaction) a part of the actual gameplay experience, as opposed to making them mere short-term goals dotting the gameplay loop, is a very important step in that direction.

And with that comes the idea of Personality. Personality dictactes how a given character reacts to a given type of event or interaction, by "generating" emotions that will then fuel its behavior and motivations. So if you go back to the Exertion example above, an Exerted character may simply go ask for comfort from another, such as family or a friend... or instead burst out in aggression or have a complete meltdown. In any of those cases it would be their personal way of dealing with the Exertion overload... but in each case, the outcome could be quite different based on who that particular character is and of course, based also on the other character they're dealing with (if any).

That is how and why rest situations, from the campfire to the hearth, end up being much more than a time to cook some food or buy/sell some wares. That kind of downtime is where you get your opportunity to deal with the adventure's pressures and reliefs.

So, to sum it up... in a good deal of RPGs, the entire gameplay is pretty much centered on going around fighting and picking up loot that you then get to manage. Here, it's mostly about going around so that you and your character experience things, from which developments ensue, and you have to manage those developments so that they help you build or influence your character (or other characters, for that matter), in the direction you want to. Makes sense? In RPGs, we all enjoy getting better equipment for our characters, scoring up achievements and improving skills and stats and while there is of course some of that in Winterfall, the real metric of power and development is in how advanced or rounded up a character's traits are, how seasoned he or she is to life's ordeals as experience in adventure and often, how quirky and colorful (or twisted and somber) he or she may become as a result.

As you've no doubt figured by now, the overarching design of Winterfall is quite a rich thing, with many branches and components. Here is a little zoomed-in sample of the design map as it currently stands.

Should everything go well, we will have the absolute core (pale blue cross) done before going into November. While a good game experience amounts to a lot more than having systems up and running, having those systems in in the first place is the solid foundation upon which to expand and improve and, in this case, would mean a better ability to showcase something more akin to what the Winterfall experience is meant to be to be. Some existing mechanics, such as horse-riding and mounted melee, don't appear on that zoomed-in map as they came in quite early as a somewhat unexpected outcome. So with the combat gameplay well encapsulated in its own build at the moment, the next goal is a nice Wilderness build featuring the systems described above (and in the picture), all of this on the way to the "Has Everything" Demo Build we've started preparing for late in October. If the Gods of Indie Game Dev smile down at us, Winterfall should be in a very good place in regards to its goals come the end of November. And if they don't, ah well, we'll adapt accordingly!

So that's it for this time. Stay tuned for more next weekend!

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