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Dev Blog #7 Emotional Survival: Conditions, Homecoming, Camping

Going to be telling you a little bit today about the work that's been up with Winterfall recently and where things are going. It'll allow a bit of further direct insight into how the game is meant to work in actual practice, at least the part dealing with "Wilderness Adventures".

Conditions & Emotions

As you can see on this screenshot, we've got a basic UI, entirely placeholder, but featuring some new elements.

So, as you no doubt gathered from the rest of website and the various posts made about the game, Winterfall is at the core about two things: wilderness adventures and character+house development. I'm going to tell you about two core systems that touch upon both those aspects and communicate with one another.

The first aspect is how we twisted the core "vital needs" design abundant in survival games to give it a little more depth and make it a bit more suitable with what we're doing with Winterfall. In Winterfall, the survival component is emotional survival more than it is physical survival. The feeling here is that regular survival gets a little tired by now - too many games out there that make you wander around between loot spawns until you die of some thing or lack of a thing or other. We didn't want to leave it at that. That design is pretty primitive in that it does not leave room for long range development and worldbuilding, since everything is a closed loop of living and dying.

So here, as you can see at the top of the window on the left, we have a hierarchy of colors that set up a personality type. Colors were chosen because they're easy to get a general idea of, ultimately we'll plug actual, specific traits to those colors:

But you get the idea, I'm sure. Blue/Soul = emotion and depth, Red/Heart = action and intensity, Green/Will = physicality and stability, Yellow/Spirit = mentality and agility, so to speak. So you get to determine a hierarchy of colors for aspects of your character's life and personality. In this case, the Primary color slot deals with vitality and core needs.

Beneath that you get a bunch of additional values. Two "threshold" values and three percentile values (untouched here):

Further down, you get status indicators, which we call Conditions. Standing around a bit seems to have made our character slightly thirsty, very hungry, and quite exerted:

Beneath that, at the bottom, you get Emotions, presented as -/+ gauges centered at 0, although here, the physical activity described above has worked our character's emotions negatively a bit:

So the entire idea essentially is that you have a personality structure in place. Each Condition is attached to an Emotion so that each time a character is stimulated, it may react by generating a primary emotion, occasionally a secondary emotion, or no emotion at all. To that end, we check the Condition's Color, the character's personality Colors, and there we go we get a coherent, reaction through the generation of an emotion.

So as you run around the countryside and get hungry or thirsty or hurt or exerted, it's not just that you want to eat or must drink or die but instead that there is an emotional buildup in your character based on those stimuli.

Those emotions aren't just there to look pretty, of course. They have a fourfold fate:

Outlets - Emotions pile up (positives or negatives), upsetting the character towards a reaction, which we call an outlet. Now, based on the emotion type, the personality type and the % value at the top of the window, the character's chosen outlet will be determined. It's something the character needs to do to either alleviate the pressure of a negative emotion, or enjoy the benefits of a positive one. When it gets to that, the character will notify of its feeling and then it's up to you to let the character indulge itself or keep him/her focused away from that. Think of it as a mini-quest, or a bit like the Whims in the Sims. Both doing and not doing have consequences, of course, some of those explored in the follow-up Homecoming System. But short term, in the moment to moment of your adventures, they may introduce an element of chance and surprise, and also of entertainment for the player. Right now, Outlets are lines of text, there are 12 positive and 12 negative (stuff like self-grooming, meditation, playing games, self-lamenting, getting intoxicated, reaching out to someone, going on a binge, breaking something...), but they'll be a lot more entertaining when they become animations and cascade into gameplay.

A good shower under the waterfall as a fine way to relax

Development - There is a Rest button by the middle of the window, near Conditions, to the right. At the end of every day in the wild, presumably you'll want to rest your character. Essentially, closing the day on a given emotional balance or imbalance will "fixate" those emotions in the character. As fixated emotions cross thresholds, the character earns new personality traits fitting its personality and further influencing the way the character reacts to certain things, or the needs that it has, etc. Some traits will be fun, others not so fun, some will build up an idea you had of your character, some may go on a tangent... then it's up to you to accept or deny, knowing that traits do build up over time and that you'll ultimately be able to work against them if you don't like them. At the moment, we do have fixation but not trait-acquisition.

Interaction - Emotions are also to be used as a "currency" that you can pass on through various interactions. As they build up, you can "pass them on" to other characters, for instance you can vent your excess anger to someone else, and that anger may become that person's burden to carry from then on. Or maybe that other person will react to your anger with fear, with sorrow, or will feel amused or unmoved. The same rules that determine how your character reacts to the needs it feels are to be used to determine how any character reacts to any interaction and emotion, basically. Such mechanics are not in yet, but given that in-between every journey there is to be a halt, you'll walk into that camp or inn or homestead with a lot of pent up emotion that you have to do something with... there again, it offers interesting interaction possibilities, with direct consequences to interactions as well as over time, longer range effects as characters and entities remember you and their previous interactions with you and how those went.

Collecting some negative emotions from Mr Funny Hair, apparently.

Power - Just the same as you'd use Emotions as currency, you'll be able to use Emotions to acquire certain powers of personality, or invest items you may be making with a certain "power". We aren't going into fireball territory here because it's not the point. But there are many simple and understandable ways to invest those emotions through all the regular effects and uses you can think of for crafted items. More potent poisons, sweeter food, deadlier weapons, that kind of thing. Of course, using Emotions in such processes means embracing them and working with them. So just as with the "Development" aspect, those Emotions will fixate themselves into your character and it will grow associated traits. It will be hard for someone riven by fear and anger to dedicate themselves to crafts that demand focus and joy, for instance. Try singing a cheerful ballad to your friends when all you can think about is how angry you are with everything... but then again, if you need to rile them up for an upcoming fight, maybe that anger will go a long way.

Holding a sword to the light, an adventurer thing to do.

So as you can see, this whole Personality component and its loops and branches, allow us to inject much needed depth into the walk-around open-world rpg experience. Its core and mechanics make it easy to replicate at other scales and integrate with other systems so that any event can trigger a reaction in the character, and as you've gathered, as soon as there's a reaction, there's a little cascade of things not far.


Currently, this system branches out into the Homecoming System, which follows this concept:

The Homecoming System structures the part of gameplay that deals with integrating (or returning) a character to the House through a journey, adventure or ordeal. In so doing, both the character and the House will be augmented or altered in some way.

The concept is that the character starts from a haven or sanctuary and is tasked (or tasks him/herself) with delivering a resource to the House. The House being set in the lands of the Old Kingdom, it is thus located in what is known as the "Lower World", a land teeming with life where the call of the wild brings forgetfulness and a desire for unbound freedom.

It is against the effects of that call that the characters will struggle, by trying to retain what resources they are bringing, in the face of forgetfulness, devaluation and wastefulness.

Journey by journey, you will be delivering the "exp" that the House needs to grow in its various areas: cultural identity, technical knowledge, historical identity and prestige. With that "exp", you will unlock perks and traits for the House, which may lead to events, facilities and so on.

Ancient ruins are a good place at which to refresh your lost knowledge

Currently, the Homecoming System ties in with what I described earlier through how the emotional ups and downs of the character may bring about that "forgetfulness" that is mentioned in the concept text, as well as "devaluation and wastefulness". Through emotional ups and downs, the character may get carried away by the thrill of adventure and the ordeal of survival, and forget about his/her mission and the value and contents of the knowledge and values he/she is bringing to the House. When the character finally arrives home, the "resource" carried by the character is tallied and we see how much of it was preserved and will be usable as "exp", so to speak.

Momentous ruin-touching snapshot, because a slight bit of cinematics cannot hurt the immersion

The Camping system, which is our current in-development item (also as ui for the time being) plays into that since at Camp, the player can manage the character's needs and Emotions, get some rest, but also try to counter the effects of forgetfulness and wastefulness that cloud his/her remembrance of the cause and goal of his/her journey (as well as do a whole bunch of camp-related activities).

Ruins are nice for camping but also a great place to brood over the landscape, Winterfall-style

Hope this clarifies things a bit for you. As you can see, we're working on somewhat unusual stuff for Winterfall, as far as rpg design is concerned. It's exciting to have a fair bit working already. Despite the immense challenges of working on such innovative and "out there" systems and mechanics, It's thrilling to be implementing such unique systems and to get to talk about it a bit.

Thank you for your interest!

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