Over the last month we’ve focused on a few key areas and really polishing them up before we cut some video, and a ton of work has gone into scripting the trailer and how we want to present the gameplay. It’s been a huge learning experience for us as it’s something that we have absolutely no experience with, but it’s been quite fun to work on and really we’re looking forward to releasing it out into the wild for everyone to see.
Animation Polishing & Timing
Our artist Jove worked extremely hard to really polish the character animations in the current pre-alpha build, which actually totals 40 characters with 12 distinct animations each. As you can imagine this was quite the daunting task going back and forth between testing all of the animations, looking for glitches and bugs, and him having to fix and polish things to perfection.
Another big job was the timing of animations when responding to abilities, such as blocking, being hit, and dying. It took a little longer for us to fully nail it down as we’ve always done this slightly different right from the beginning. The majority of the time in a game such as ours you would make all of the characters impact be on the same frame, so for example every character’s attack animation impact on frame seven and hurt animation would impact on frame five. This makes it really simple to code and test, but it also restricts artistic creativity in the animations.
When building the animations for Darktide we allowed any time during an animation to be an impact, and in earlier builds you could see many of them slightly off as we still had to find the exact timing, rather than a set frame, and we hadn’t had the time to really go in and tweak and test these impacts until now. Also with some animations you’ll actually see the defender start moving slightly ahead of the attacker in anticipation of the coming action, and overall everything feels very fluid. We’re extremely happy with the work that has gone into animations in the upcoming build, and you’ll see noticable improvement in how the characters respond to actions, this includes both melee attacks as well as ranged and magical effects such as bolts.
When we rebuilt our characters with higher detail so we could render them at 1080p we ran into an issue where the grid was too crowded when there were many characters close together, as they were now much larger to show off their details. After a lot of testing we found the right sizing and it’s going to be something that we put a lot of work into down the road. There are multiple changes that come into play, from changing the environments to space them out more, to retargeting the characters to make sure they are walking and attacking at the proper angle. The initial planning and testing phase is finished and the art side is something that we’ll tackle later this year, but at least we have a great solution.
One amazing thing is that we were extremely lucky and didn’t have to go back to the drawing board on the map design and how it affected gameplay. The reason is that although the game was rendered at a 16:9 aspect ratio the original map design was built using a centered 4:3 grid and the unused area was art blocking off the playable region. Our solution is to keep the same grid design but to stretch out the hexagons so that the gameplay area fills the entire width of the screen. We’re not happy about having to go back and modify the map art and character targetting, but if we had to redesign the gameplay of every map it would have set us back an incredible amount of time.
Campaign Dialogue Screen
Our second pass at designing the conversation screens worked out well for the most part and were much improved over the originals, but they were still a bit messy and not exactly how we wanted them. So we want back to the drawing board and realized that we loved having the large size characters, but the problem was with how we were taking up too much screen real estate and the screen was a little too busy.
If you take a look at the last version of the screen you’ll notice that the character is quite large and this led to a problem when there were two of them, one on each side of the screen during conversation, as it covered up a large amount of the scene and made it really hard to see what was happening in the game world. We love showing the larger detailed characters in the conversation, but we needed to shink them down slightly. Another change was that we dimmed the scene slightly in order to give more importance to the characters speaking.
The second issue was with the actual dialogue itself and how it was presented in a modal box. The box would be repositioned depending on which character was speaking as we needed to show who was actually talking as not to leave it ambiguous. So not only did the box overlap and get in the way of viewing the scene, but it was annoying to have it jump around and have to keep moving the mouse around to click next or an option.
So for the new build we entirely redesigned the way dialogue was shown and did away with the seperate boxes. By having it on the bottom of the screen it is much cleaner and you easily know who is speaking as we show the character portrait along with their name. I’m really excited about this change as it not only looks much better and is easier to use, but it gives us more space for the actual dialogue instead of having to cram it into a much smaller area. You’ll also notice the addition of hotkeys for the dialogue options which should have been there from the get-go.
Future Development Schedule
Throughout development on Darktide we’ve had to split our time between building our own title and working on contracts in order to keep the lights on. This has been both good and bad. On the positive side we’ve been able to get extremely far into building the game without having to try crowdfunding prematurely or look for outside investment. Although the negative aspect has been that our schedule hasn’t been the greatest since we have been splitting our time and there were a few periods where we couldn’t work on Darktide for a week or two.
In May we moved to working on Darktide full time without being sidetracked by contract work, and the pace in which we’ve been getting things done has nearly tripled. We hope to continue this pace right until we launch the game, and to help us in doing that we’ll be launching a campaign on Kickstarter in the future. As mentioned previously we want to post our project on the Square Enix Collective initially to get feedback and hear from the community, so we’re not sure of the exact timing, but it will definitely be in the coming months.
We’re hoping to launch the Darktide site and forums at the same time as our Collective and Greenlight campaigns, which we’re hoping to run in August if all goes well, and at that point we’ll be moving our development updates and information there. So make sure to follow us on twitter and facebook to be updated when we have more to share!