Advancing Telos is a new series of blog posts that I’ll try to publish around the time I release major updates. The definition of “telos” is an ultimate end goal, and I like cheesy puns, so “Advancing Telos” basically means getting closer to that ultimate end goal for the game. These will essentially be “state of the game” posts where I talk about what’s new, what I think of the current state of the game, and what’s coming next.
In the future, this section will describe some of the new features and content the game has. But since this is the first, I’ll try to give a brief (I said “try”) overview of what’s in the game right now.
I think Arms of Telos has one of the most varied movement systems in a game to date. The maps are zero gravity, but there’s pockets of gravity inside space colonies. The zero gravity in Arms of Telos isn’t just a gravity value modifier like in some other games — it’s full six degrees of freedom zero gravity, which means there’s no up or down and it has a very distinct feel compared to gravity areas. Very few games have done this and, as far as I know, Arms of Telos is the first to mix 6dof zero gravity with normal gravity areas. But even where there’s gravity, the movement is still different than most games — your spidermech’s feet glide along the ground, allowing you to maintain speed; the physics have a sense of grip, so if you’re going too fast and take a sharp turn, you lose traction sort of like a racing game; you can charge your jump, giving you more control over jump height and allowing you to launch yourself to great heights. Moving in and out of these different kinds of areas at blistering speeds is unlike anything else out there. Sometimes I describe it as parkour in outer space, but really it’s something you have to experience yourself. In zero gravity, there’s also special magnet surfaces that you can land on and launch off of to add another layer. Everything described so far is just the current base movement — weapons and equipment expand your options even further. Deployable Speed Gates let you set up a virtual high-way to help your team get around the map more efficiently. Grapple Hooks let you do all sorts of cool moves. There’s nothing quite like swinging around like spider-man in true zero gravity. Even more options will come as new weapons and equipment get added to the game. My goal was to design a movement system from the ground up that rewarded mastery and was fun even if you were alone just fooling around — I think I’m on the right track.
Building around this fast zero-g-racing-hybrid movement system (I still struggle to describe this game in an elevator pitch because it does so much), I've made a custom game mode inspired by CTF. There’s three stages for each team — as you capture enemy flags, you progress farther into the enemy base so different areas of the map are in play as the match continues and tensions escalate. Another fundamental difference from vanilla CTF is that it’s not about the number of flags you cap (first to 5 or whatever), but instead uses team health bars. This means that single flags can be worth different amounts of points, which lets me do some cool stuff with the game’s design. If you pick up the enemy flag but decide to stick around the enemy flag stand, it'll soak up more points and be worth more when you eventually cap it. This creates a nice risk/reward system that opens the game up to different kinds of strategies your team can employ — will you try and have super fast cappers get in and out with smaller caps or come as a group, soak the flag for more points, and escort it back as a team for a bigger reward? The stage 3 flag, the final flag, is special — it’s a single cap, but instead of being captured as soon as you touch your own flag stand with it, it turns into a defend the point as you deposit the points by having the capper stay within range. This gives the game a nice climax at the end where the other team has a chance to stop you and both teams converge at the same location for some epic combat. I’m focusing on this single game mode so I can continue to refine it and make it all it can be rather than implementing the standard game modes simply to check some boxes. This also lets me tune everything else in the game around this one game mode, including things like weapons. Most games have to balance everything to work well in multiple game modes, which inevitably leads to compromises. Not only can I balance things better around a single game mode than I could otherwise, I’ll also be able to design weapons and equipment from the ground up specifically around this one game mode — things like the flag and flag stand can tie directly into features of weapons and equipment. This is something I’ll be excited to explore as development continues — I think there’s a ton of potential here as it’s something you basically never see in other FPS games.
Right now there’s 4 weapons and 4 equipment to choose from — you craft a custom kit with 2 weapons and 2 equipment. Since the selection is relatively small (I eventually want dozens), it mostly covers the basics — but even for those basics, I’ve tried to take them further to make them more interesting than what you’re used to in other games. For example, the Eye of Jupiter primary fire shoots lightning that is a pretty normal rail gun, but if you hold after firing, it will start to charge the thunder — when you let go, it’ll do more damage in that same position you fired the lightning. This opens up some cool options — like you can choose to hit them with the lightning for a bit of damage, or you can lead a moving target to intentionally miss with lightning so you can try to hit them with thunder as they pass to do more damage. You can also keep charged thunder covering the flag or an entrance as a defensive measure almost like a remote mine that you detonate manually. And finally, hitting players with lightning and thunder charges the Eye of Jupiter’s Storm Shot which is really crazy.
Another example is the Teleport Blade — it’s a melee weapon, but instead of simply spamming left click swinging a blade, you stick them with a sticky explosive when you stab an enemy. That explosive charges over time — you can speed up how fast it charges by aiming accurately at the target. The better your aim, the less time they’ll have to try and kill you before it detonates and finishes them off. This also lets you do some neat things like stick an explosive to another player or a deployable (like a Speed Gate) and have it blow up as enemies pass — super handy when you have their flag and you’re being chased. To top it all off, the Teleport Blade also has a short range teleport orb to help you dodge enemy fire and get in close.
Some arena FPS fans might see the 2 weapon kit restriction and think that’s too limiting, but I hope these examples illustrate that the weapons in Arms of Telos often do more than the weapons in other games. I try to look at each weapon almost like it’s a hero in a MOBA, each with multiple skills — I’m trying to think beyond pointing and shooting. And I haven’t even gotten to the equipment yet!
In a lot of first person shooters, almost all of the focus is on the weapons — equipment is usually relegated to side perks that slightly tweak how you play. In Arms of Telos, equipment can have just as much impact on how you play and how the match plays out. The Grapple totally changes how you can move around the environment. The Shield and Light of Apollo can totally change how a fight plays out just like a weapon would. Speed Gates can change how your entire team navigates around the map. There’s so much more I plan to do — I’m just getting started
Challenge Mode is a big feature in Arms of Telos. It’s where the tutorials live, but it’s also so much more. After designing the game’s movement system I realized it was almost like a racing game hybrid, so I thought why not make a race mode? At first I made a checkpoint-based time trial race mode that could be played offline, but there’s a great racing game called TrackMania that has an interesting format — it’s a time trial race, but everybody is racing together at the same time online. Collisions are disabled, so it’s like racing against ghosts in real time. Arms of Telos borrows this format when playing Challenge Mode online. Arms of Telos’ movement system was inspired by things like surfing in Counter-Strike, skiing in Tribes, and strafe jumping in Quake, so I thought it’d be great to continue the rich history of defrag modes. This mode also has online leaderboards so you can compete for the best times — I have some exciting plans for that. And in the future, I’d like to expand Challenge Mode beyond races and tutorials.
But Challenge Mode also serves another important function. One of the biggest obstacles for indie multiplayer games is empty servers. Someone will join a game, wait a bit for people to show up, but it’s easy to get bored so they'll leave. There may be enough people wanting to play, but they’re effectively invisible because they’re not in the server. Challenge Mode is meant to help that a bit by giving people something to do while waiting for more people to join. Instead of waiting in an empty server doing nothing, you can join a server and play challenge mode, which will be more likely to hold your interest and keep you in the server, which will then give other players more time to trickle in and fill the server so you can play a real match.
I know that alone won’t be enough to solve this obstacle, but I think it’s an important part of a multi-pronged approach. I’ll also be working with the community to try and address it in other ways.
Right now there’s only one map. Because of the way the game mode takes advantage of different parts of the map depending on how the match plays out, I think a single map feels less repetitive than in other games. Eventually I do want to have more maps, but first I want to continue to improve this one until it’s super solid. I’m exploring the possibility of a map editor but no concrete plans yet. Because of things like the different gravity areas, designing maps for Arms of Telos is a huge design and technical challenge compared to other games.
There’s no spectator mode yet. I want to try and get a simple spectator mode working soon, but my first priority has been gameplay. I know this is important, but as a solo dev I have to prioritize and I figure a spectator function wouldn’t be very useful if the gameplay wasn’t worth spectating
For a multiplayer game, I believe community is key. I want to take it a step further and try and create the foundation for a community that is more helpful, more nice, and more sportsmanlike than what you might be used to in online video games. To help make that a reality, I’m trying to provide solid community tools. I’ve chosen Discourse for the forum software, which has a lot of these same ideals embedded directly into its functional design. Discourse is extremely flexible — it will serve as forums, but it also has a wiki, a question and answer section, and a place for people to post and upvote guides, feature requests, and more.
We also have a Discord server, which will help with things like organizing play sessions.
Current State of Balance
The closed beta has had playtests about once a week but compared to a live game, that’s still a relatively small amount of testing. I think things are in a decent place balance-wise, but I’m sure issues will arise once more people get their hands on it. I expect balance to be a continuous effort moving forward, especially as more weapons/equipment get added as I’m sure that will effect the current selection as well. I’ll be looking closely at the analytics data as well as player opinion to help inform me, but I’ll also need some patience and understanding here — since this game is in active development, the balance will constantly be in flux. I’ll try to be clear with my intentions and goals with each balance change so it’s easier for us to be all on the same page.
The next major milestone is Steam Greenlight and my main priority there is the game's visuals. Thus far I’ve focused almost exclusively on gameplay and it’s time for visuals to do some catching up. Visuals certainly aren’t the most important part of a game, but they can still be incredibly important for a few big reasons. First, an ugly game can be a major hurdle for someone thinking about buying a game — the visuals are one of the only ways a game can convey quality to someone that hasn’t played it — that’s just how it is. But having a convincing presentation won’t do much good if nobody knows about it and the game isn’t reaching new eyeballs — thankfully, visuals also make great marketing materials. As a small indie, I’m not going to have a marketing budget where I can produce high quality advertisements and buy ad space to display them — at this stage, it’s things like viral social media posts that I’ll be relying on to spread the word and that’s where tweeting gifs showing things like new graphical effects will generally do better. And third, the visuals are also a key element for the game’s identity. I’ll be sticking with the vibrant low poly style the game has now, but will be adding more details and polish to the art assets and effects and I’ll be trying to refine everything to give it its own unique visual identity. This should improve gameplay by increasing visual clarity and enhancing in-game communication (for example, helping to better orient players to where they are in the environment), but what I mean by the game’s identity are things like communicating player scale. In Arms of Telos, players are piloting 30 ft tall super-agile spidermechs — I think that’s an interesting aspect that differentiates AoT from other games, but right now the game isn’t doing enough to communicate that. There’s a lack of perceived scale in the environments and you barely see your ‘body’ while playing. So at first glance, that aspect is basically invisible to players and it might as well not be different. So a big goal will be to make it feel more like you’re in that 30 ft mech to really capitalize on that unique aspect of the game.
While visuals for Greenlight is the main priority, I’m also really excited to start adding more weapons and equipment to the game. This is a game designed to have dozens of weapons/equipment to choose from, so right now it’s like having a MOBA with only a couple heroes. Fun, but still a far cry from the final vision for the game. These new weapons/equipment will focus on expanding the range of play styles and skill sets accommodated by the game.
But as always, I’ll also be keeping in mind things the players want. The forum has a Feature Request section, so be sure to make your voice heard!