Please note that all screen shots displayed in this blog are works in progress and in no way represent the appearance of the final game. Check out the main site here.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

How Kevin Bacon Helped Make Malevolence

My project team have the distinct honor of listing actor Kevin Bacon in the ‘Special Thanks’ portion of our credits, but I doubt he has any idea that he’s in there. The fact is, he’s had a very large – albeit unknown – influence on the game’s development.

The game is Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox, which I have been project lead on for over two years now, and its engine is quite different to most games due to the fact that the entire game world is procedurally generated, infinite and also persistent.

Being infinite AND persistent, the team’s main challenge was to keep the game interesting so long as the player kept playing (not an easy task). We, of course, took the path of procedural item/weapon creation, even going so far as to make the game procedurally generate the graphics for the weapons, to ensure plenty of new gear to find. That, however, can only last for so long, and procedurally generated countryside, dungeons and towns can only entertain a player for so long before they all start to look the same. So we put our heads together and came up with a solution. We all agreed that would couldn’t keep the players interested infinitely, but we can take steps to ensure they get maximum enjoyment and re-playability out of the game while they do play it.

What we came up with in the end was the quest and dialog system, and the way they interacted. Both were to be procedurally generated and intricate enough to ensure long-time interest from the player. But how does Kevin Bacon get involved with this? The answer lies in his namesake header file:

Some readers will be familiar with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game back in 1994. The basic concept was that you could take the name of anyone involved in the Hollywood film industry, whether they be an A-List actor or an isolated gaffer somewhere on an obscure film, and within no more than 6 steps, be able to link them to Kevin Bacon. For example, one of the voice cast in my game Malevolence, Karen Kahler, was in the short film “The Magician” with actress Jackie Zane, who was in the film “Burning Palms” with actor Nick Stahl who acted in the movie “My One and Only” with Kevin bacon. Thus, her “Bacon Index” is 3 (and through Karen, mine is 4!). Make sense?

Well, it’s that system (or a modification of it) which the NPCs in Malevolence work with.

Let’s say that the player enters a town and talks to an NPC. The game determines that this NPC will have a quest for them, and so the game spreads its feelers out and works out what is relatively close to the town, and how far away each location is. Since the game world is generated procedurally, it does this process dynamically:

First the game procedurally generates the quest. The engine first selects what type of quest to generate and settles on an item centric quest. It then generates an item, and an incident and comes up with a backpack which was lost. Once this is done, the NPC tells the player that they need help recovering their backpack from a dungeon that they were exploring. Only the catch is, they fled the dungeon so quickly that they don’t remember where it was.
While this is happening, the engine consults the memory map shown above and looks at the area around the town for a few kilometers, then chooses a dungeon that is close enough to not be too far away, and far enough away that the player will have to search for it. However, once it has found a dungeon, it doesn’t let the player know where it is like most games. It is now the player’s mission to search for it.

Now that you know that there is a dungeon out there somewhere with a backpack in it, you can ask around to get more info. The engine, however, is processing the dungeon’s “Kevin Bacon Index” in the background. The main difference, however, is that not everyone knows everyone else perfectly well, so if one person gives you information, they may not be 100% sure about the information. So when you get a map of people like this:

You can see the percentages between them all. That shows the familiarity of the characters between them. So, if you speak to NPC ‘A’ and ask them about nearby dungeons, they will tell you that they have no idea about that sort of thing, but their friends Steve and Kyle might. If you speak to Steve, he may refer you to Kyle or pass you on to Bob the Blacksmith, who he’s fairly sure knows a mapmaker and a woodsman, who would probably have a better idea about dungeons in the area. When you speak to Bob the Blacksmith, he’ll tell you about Keith the Woodsman, who is familiar with the local wilderness, but will more likely put you on to Kevin the Mapmaker, who knows Keith the Woodsman quite well and may be able to help you himself (with his maps). These NPCs may all be in the same town, or they may be spread between multiple towns. It’s all generated by the procedural engine, but it’s how the player FOLLOWS the path that defines how well the quest will work out.

If a player is clever and good at deduction, they may have an easy time of it – for example, if they followed the path ABDEF, while it may not be the most direct route to Keith, they will get some accurate maps out of it, and maybe even a new weapon to help clear out the dungeon to find the backpack. But if they don’t follow good advice, they may have a far less fortuitous way. And keep in mind that due to the lack of familiarity between certain NPCs, sometimes the player will get false information in their searching, which can slow them down quite a bit.

However, not all quests in the game will work like this. The quests are divided into two quest types. There are the multi-tiered quests, as mentioned above, and “b*tch quests” which are your standard “there’s a dungeon, clean it out” or “there are rats in my basement, kill them”. On top of that, even when a player is assigned a multi-tiered quest, sometimes they will have 3 steps to complete, sometimes they will have 20, it all depends on how the cookie crumbles in the procedural generation.

Making a game which is infinite AND persistent has provided countless challenges to us as a dev team, but the solutions to intricate problems are often the most unique. I hope you enjoyed reading about this little section of our game, and if you ever end up playing it and you see Kevin Bacon in the credits, you’ll now know why.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two Pints Please!

In a nice twist, we've been given a very powerful nudge forward in progress :) Steve Finney from Arteria3d has offered us a lifetime membership to his site, allowing us to progress our development work much faster. His work is really quite good and if you make games, I recommend checking it out!
The first of his assets that we've settled on to use is the tavern, which is totally awesome. Check it out!

So that's helped us out quite a bit. We've been working closely with our test team to try and perfect the countryside code and make it as efficient as possible. So far with good results, too!

We've also added witch's huts to the wilderness! The witches in Ahkranox have all the very best poisons, and will help you to mix your own potions and learn alchemy, but be very wary, as they're more dangerous than they seem...

 Also, watch this space, as Hyfrydle32 has told us that there's another Let's Play video in the works (so we'd better stop being lazy and get him a new alpha build!)

That's really all for now, but expect a bigger post soon.

One thing I'd like to point out before I go, though, is the comments we've been getting regarding Legend of Grimrock. People keep commenting saying that it's the same as Malevolence, and I'd like to set a few things straight.

Firstly, I'd like to say that I and the rest of the team are BIG fans of that game. It's epic. We've spoken to the guys, too, and they're an awesome bunch. The game is totally fun, its graphics and design are GORGEOUS and we highly recommend that you buy it and play it to death. But please, please, please keep in mind that Malevolence and Grimrock are two very, very different games. The only things that they have in common are the movement style and the fact that they are both medieval fantasy games.

Here are the main differing points:

Legend of Grimrock                Malevolence
Real-Time                               Turn-Based
All Indoors                               Can go outside
Party-based                            You play as one character
Fixed level design                   Procedural world generation
Puzzle-based                          Quest and character progression based

So, as you can see, very different games. Please don't look at the grid-based movement and assume that it's the same game.

All that being said though... GO AND BUY IT! We've been playing it, and it's HEAPS of fun, and looks incredible as well. Almost Human Games have done an incredible job of it, and it's been well worth the wait.

Anyway, more soon. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Countryside sounds good, too!

It's amazing how adding sounds to a game can make it actually look better, but it's true! We've started adding sound into the outdoors.
I feel I should remind everyone that we are INSANELY lucky on this project to have as our lead Sound Engineer, the one and only Roland Shaw. Here's an amazing video showcasing his work:

So Roland has been working with us for about eight months now, and between he and Alex Norton, the Creative Director, came up with all of the sounds you heard in the dungeon segment of the game. Now, they've been hard at work on the outdoors. Combine that with the INCREDIBLE music score being hand-crafted by Nicolas Lee, and you get results that have to be seen and heard to be believed:

Underneath all of the environmental sounds plays an intelligent ambient sound system, which is not just an ambient sound loop but instead an intelligent piece of software that chooses the right ambient sounds to play at the right time. If you are hanging around in one place for too long at night, for example, you'll hear the wolves starting to come in. If you've been quiet for too long, the owls will start calling, etc. In this video, we've stripped away the environmental sounds so that you can hear the ambient sound engine at work:

Rachel has also been hard at work pumping out even MORE weapon components. This time to make us some Claymores! They're looking pretty damn tasty, too.

So that's coming along nicely, too. We're also welcoming Carrie Oglesby to the team, as you may have read in earlier posts. She's started work on some new loading screens for us, but will have more detailed work coming up:

We're very lucky to have her on board, and we'll be announcing two new artists very soon, too, if all goes well!
Anyway, back to work for us, and we'll keep you updated as more new fun stuff happens!
In the meantime, there's only one week left in our IndieGoGo campaign, so head on over if you haven't already. Just click the image below!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Bit Spooky

So we've been busy adding new content to the game, as you know, and our latest addition is graveyards, which are turning out to be VERY scary. Here are some early screenshots:

So as you can see, they're much more frightening at night time, but they will be the home of the undead in the game. You will be able to enter the mausoleums and tombs and raid them for goodies (if you survive). There are humorous messages on the tombstones, but they're written in Ahkrani, so you'll have to decipher them yourself ;)

However, the graveyards are only about 50% done so far, so we'll update you further when they're finished.

We've also received some new art assets from Rachel for weapon generation! Here are some examples of weapons that the game generated using her art!

So, as always, don't forget to check out our IndieGoGo campaign by clicking on this image:

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Geeky Eye Candy

Well, well, well, we've been pumping out the features for Malevolence lately! Not much info for this post, sorry, but LOTS of fun things to look at. We'll also try to describe each picture for you...

A dungeon!

A farm! Complete with windmill, haystack and hidden sheep!

Also a pig! Yay!

The farmhouse at night, with the moon shining its ghostly light.

An ancient ruin having a bath.

A distant watchtower out past a ruined temple.

Our updated forests! Now with extra lushness!

Water is also looking MUCH nicer.

Also by night things look nice, too.

A henge during twilight.

A different henge in the early evening.

Sunset over an ancient ruin!

Sunset over a farm! (we like sunsets)

 Twilight... Much better in Malevolence than it is in the movies...

So that's all for now. There'll be more stuff over the coming week and Hyfrydle32 should have a new Let's Play video up relatively soon, which will be positively smashing!

So in the meantime, don't forget to check out our IndieGoGo campaign by clicking on this image:

And checking us out on all of the social networks with the links below: