Wow, the last few months have been crazy! Lots of ups and downs.
A brief summary: At the end of February, I went to GDC -- as always, it was great meeting other devs and getting inspired. After I got back from San Francisco, I spent a considerable amount of time working with the Discord SDK in March. I'm really excited for some of the features that will come from that, but it's not quite ready yet. Then at the end of April I went on a 10 day meditation retreat hoping to come away with some simple tools that could help me destress and focus -- instead, I nearly broke my brain. I had basically no prior experience with meditation and I learned that some forms of meditation can be surprisingly intense and should be used with caution (I'm talking like full blown tactile hallucinations that lasted days after I'd already stopped meditating where it felt like my entire body was stretching and expanding). After I recovered from that, I got back to work... or, at least tried to. My work computer stopped booting. I sent the motherboard in to get RMAed, they sent it back saying it was fine -- that took a couple weeks. So I then got a new motherboard and found that my CPU was the problem -- basically the last component I expected to die. RMAing that was much quicker (Intel overnighted a replacement and their support is generally awesome). Anyway, I'm finally back up and running at full speed.
Since the last post where I talked about working toward Greenlight, Valve has announced that Steam Greenlight will be no more -- that it will be phased out in "spring" of this year. Originally, the plan was to make more progress on the game's visual polish before unveiling it on Greenlight to really make a splash and perhaps even get some press attention and an influx of new players. That threw a big wrench in my pre-release plans. Considering we were already well into Spring and Valve still hadn't given a date, I was worried I was running out of time so I went ahead and launched it with a quick video I made the night before from one of the playtests. Despite the campaign being rushed, it seemed to do pretty well on Greenlight -- lots of positive feedback and managed to get Greenlit in about 19 days. Almost all the negative feedback had to do with the thing I wanted to improve before doing Greenlight -- the visuals. So that's giving me some confidence about where I'm taking the game. I'll be getting the game's Steam page up soon
Mech feel and feedback improvements
Players pilot a large spider-mech that's about 3 stories tall, but a lot of people don't even realize because the game hasn't done a great job communicating that fact -- I'm trying to change that. In most games that feature mechs, they're slow and clunky so that helps them naturally feel larger -- that's not an option for Arms of Telos because of the mechs' agility, so it makes this tricky.
While I don't want to have an obstructive mech cockpit taking up a bunch of space in your HUD, I do want you to be more aware of your mech's body. So now your mech's front legs are more visible and I've added some effects to help communicate movement. They'll lean into turns and give better feedback for how your input is reflected in your mech's movement. In the above gif you can also see the legs kicking up dirt as they tear through the environment. Similar effects have been added for jumping and landing to help give a sense of the mech's weight without slowing them down.
When you're moving at high speeds on the ground, you'll actually lose traction if you turn too fast sort of like a car in a racing game, but there hadn't been much feedback other than seeing your speedometer drop. I've now added some sound effects to help communicate when that happens.
Together, I hope these changes will both help to communicate movement feedback better to players and also help sell the fantasy of piloting a mech this large. But it also helped open up space to add...
New piece of equipment opens up a new style of play. While tearing through the map at crazy speeds is obviously a core part of Arms of Telos, I do want to accomodate a wide range of other play styles and stealth is one of them.
The way it works is pretty simple -- just take out the Cloaking Device to enable cloak, select another weapon or equipment to uncloak -- cloaked players are nearly invisible, but they can't shoot from cloak status because it's tied to what is selected. And when players take damage while stealthed, they'll flicker:
However, the dirt effects mentioned above and the light trails mentioned in the last post make things more interesting.
In normal gravity, dust trails and other effects still show up, so if you think someone is looking in your direction, you'll want to limit your movement if you want to remain undetected.
In zero gravity, your thrusters will still show up. So if you think someone is looking in your direction, try not to press movement keys -- this creates some neat gameplay situations where you'll want to get yourself moving in the direction of where you want to go and you just let go of your keys to drift to your destination while remaining hidden.
In either gravity, your trail still shows up so stealth and high speeds don't mix too well.
The experimental Pursuit Mode has been revamped again. The gates weren't accomplishing the design goals as intended -- I could see it being more viable when the game has more weapons/equipment, but the current meta is too limited to support it.
This time it's closer to the traditional Rabbit mode you'll find in Tribes games. Players fight over a single flag and the winner is mostly decided by who can hold the flag the longest.
From the wiki:
We've been playing it a lot the last few playtests and it's been a big improvement. I've also set it so that an admin can change a server's game mode during intermission instead of having to edit the config and restart. So a few players can play Pursuit until there's enough for a CTF match and then switch to that.
I've done some optimization work to improve performance. How much it'll help you depends on your rig, but I've seen it double the framerate on some rigs. It should also help make the framerate more consistent across the map. This is mostly from improved occlusion culling and a reworking of the camera system and render pipeline.
Discord and Discourse
I've been doing some work outside the game as well. Since moving from IRC to Discord, chat has come to dominate over the forums. While it is a bit sad to see the forum discussion cannibalized, Discord more than makes up for it with it's slick mobile & desktop apps and the API for bots and more.
So in response to this, I've started shifting the forum's focus away from discussion and more toward a resource hub.
The front page used to show recent threads, now it shows categories to make it easier to find what you're looking for. And the normal Discord widget simply shows a list of online users and chat channels, but I found a nice third party widget created by bgsteiner that shows recent messages, which will hopefully be more inviting and get people to join
The News section also shows thumbnails and previews now, and by default is sorted by most recent so it serves as an actual news feed.
There's also some neat little features like you can now hide things with spoiler tags (click to reveal) and certain acronyms can expand on hover, like TB and LoA for example.
Full list from the changelog:
Current State of Balance
I haven't yet gotten a chance to see how the Cloaking Device will really affect the meta, so too soon to comment on that but I'm excited to see how close it fits with my expectations.
The overall balance in CTF seems pretty good. One small tweak I'll probably do is make the Rocket Launcher minimum splash radius a little larger.
Pursuit mode will naturally see a different meta where some items aren't as popular, but I'm still balancing everything around CTF, and that won't change, so that's expected.
While something might be balanced, that doesn't mean I don't have any changes planned. I still think a lot can be done to improve weapon feel, and that will sometimes affect balance. For example, I want to add thickness to Multicannon projectiles so that it's a bit easier to land hits and feels more consistent -- I imagine I'll have to compensate by dropping the damage some. In general, I'm looking at pretty much every weapon and equipment to improve feel so there may be slight tweaks to balance as they're implemented.
It's been a while since I've had an operational work computer, so I'm excited to really get back to work. Now that my pre-release plans got turned upside down with Steam Greenlight changes, I imagine the next few updates will have a little of everything.
- More visual improvements, better feedback (like sfx for colliding into stuff), etc
- Cleaning up Pursuit mode now that we've settled on the core mechanics
- Basic spectator mode
- Moving away from the existing Launcher and onto Steam
- General bug fixes and quality of life improvements
Might throw in some surprises too
In general, I'm also going to be trying to do a better job growing the active community. I've started thinking about how I may organize a weekly noobie night sort of event. I also want to start streaming playtests on twitch. With the new Pursuit Mode and updates to @Grandy's Discord bot helping with matchmaking, I'm pretty optimistic that I can grow the active community leading up to the Steam Early Access release.
And I know I've been bad about posting these update posts. Last few months have been rough, but I'll try to be better.
As always, let me know what you think!