Jul 182016
 
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Welcome everyone! The early access version of Ghost of a Tale is nearly upon us! So it’s now time to talk about specifics.

The game is going to be available for PC in early access on Steam, GOG and this very site (with the help of the Humble widget).

If you’re a backer of the Indiegogo campaign you can look forward to an email from us within the next 24h to 48h. You’ll be able to choose which key you’d like to receive and when you get that key it will let you play the game right away! :)

For everyone else, although you can’t yet buy the game you can still access the store pages by clicking on either of the pictures below.

steam_logo

Console versions will come at a later time since the PC release must be done before anything else is possible.

But before I continue talking about the early access let me say this: I recently looked at the last trailer (from 2014) and was really surprised by the difference in visual quality. So I captured a frame and tried to match it roughly to the same angle/time-of-day. First the 2014 version:

ScreenShot 2016_07_17 15;10;55001_2014

And here’s with what the game looks like today. I really need to start working on a new trailer!

ScreenShot 2016_07_17 15;10;55001_2016

So much has changed since then. And I don’t mean just the graphics! 😀

But let me go back to the topic of the early access. Actually instead of boring you with a dry litany of information let me break it down into a series of questions you may ask yourselves.

What are the technical requirements for Ghost of a Tale?

Well, you need a gaming PC of course. By this I mean essentially a graphics card that can run modern games. Laptops which are mostly used to browse the web or play older games probably won’t cut it.

On the CPU side an Intel i5 @ 2.5Ghz is the minimum. On the video card side, see if you can locate your card on this chart (available on videocardbenchmark.net) and look at its score:

ScreenShot 2016_07_16 19;03;23001

In a nutshell, here’s what to expect (assuming your CPU is not the bottleneck in your machine):

  • If your video card is well above 7K you’ll have a grand old time, period!
  • If your video card reaches 4K or more, you’re hunky-dory; that would pretty much warranty 1080p at a solid 30fps.
  • If your video card is between 2K and 3K you might have to lower the resolution to 720p in order to maintain 30fps.
  • If your video card is well below 2K I advise you only buy Ghost of a Tale with the understanding that you will not get a smooth experience unless you bring down the resolution even more.
  • If your video card is well below 1K then I advise you do not buy the game as I cannot guarantee it will run as intended.

Do I have to use a gamepad to play Ghost of a Tale?

No. However, while the game fully supports mouse/keyboard it is fundamentally designed with a gamepad in mind (I use the Xbox One’s).

Since Ghost of a Tale is a third-person game where body-awareness is fairly important it’s just nicer and more precise to use a Gamepad. But in the end it’s your choice of course.

What can I expect from the early-access version?

A beautiful place to explore, NPCs to encounter, secrets to discover, dialogs, quests, etc…

If you intend to immerse yourself in that world and try to do each quest then you’ll have quite a few hours of enjoyment ahead of you.

The early access represents roughly 25-30% of the game (at most). But by a lot of aspects it only shows a VERY LIMITED slice of what the final game will be. We removed some mechanics, enemies, and systems and walled off several locations linked to quests that are not yet available.

Eventually you’ll be able to explore the whole of Dwindling Heights and meet all of its denizens; this is just a portion of it.

(One last note: the “fancy hat” edition will arrive later on, either as an update to the early access or with the final version of the game…)

Is the early-access English-only?

Yes. For now. Dialogs and quests will evolve until the final game is complete, so if we translate the game now a lot of work is going to have to be completely redone later on. And at the moment we simply cannot afford to do this from a financial point of view (more on that later).

Here’s a screenshot to provide some breathing space. Look, the sun is about to rise over Dwindling Heights…

ScreenShot 2016_07_07 09;29;07001

Why should I buy the game now instead of waiting for the final version?

That’s a fair question and the answer revolves around money: there’s none left.

Successful games’ crowdfunding campaigns can reach a few hundred thousand dollars, sometimes even close to a million. The campaign for GoaT brought roughly $40K of effective budget.

As some of you know I’ve been working on Ghost of a Tale each and every day of my life for the last three years and I’ve paid myself $500 per month. The rest of the money went to buy hardware, licenses and of course to compensate my collaborators.

Note that I’m not complaining at all; no-one is forcing me to create Ghost of a Tale!

Now we could very well start a new crowdfunding campaign but it would require quite a lot of time and energy and it would push back the game by as much. I prefer to put that effort into development. And given the advanced state of Ghost of a Tale I think the early access route is the best for everyone.

That being said I totally respect players who would rather play the game when it’s finished and prefer to wait for the final version to be released.

If however you choose to buy the pre-release version, know that you are actually making the development of Ghost of a Tale possible. Plus you get a better price while the game is still in early access since the final version will likely be more expensive when it’s out.

And if I’m still not convinced…?

Well, what can I say. How many games let you play as a minstrel mouse in a world that looks right out of a fairy tale? Which doesn’t expect you to slaughter anyone and instead appeals to your sense of wonder…? :)

If you believe in the game then please, spread the word! Let your friends know that the pre-release is coming very soon!

I’ll do an update to let you guys know as soon as the pre-release is out for everyone. If we don’t discover anything catastrophic during the next few days then everyone will get a chance to experience Ghost of a Tale next week, on Monday the 25th of July… :)

Jun 272016
 
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Welcome to this new development update! So much work accomplished since the previous update. So many long hours and concerted efforts to get the game closer to our goal.

Along the way my graphics card died on me! So I got one of the newly released Nvidia beasts as a replacement. Alas my computer is not top of the line anymore and it doesn’t allow the card to fully showcase its power (both CPU and motherboard are the bottlenecks). As a result my frame rate on GoaT is stuck between 60 and 70fps when I know it should be much higher.

Anyway, you’re not interested in my technical woes because you read the title of this post and it says “BETA TESTING HAS BEGUN”! Yay! And as you can see we only use the most discriminating professional testers… 😉

DSCN6308_cropped

More seriously though, we’re currently testing the pre-release on a bunch of different rigs, squashing bugs left and right. For the first time in a long while people who’ve never played the game got to experience it at last!

And before you ask: yes, this is a closed beta process. We will add more testers in the coming weeks and although we do appreciate everyone’s willingness to help we’ve got testing covered for now! If you are among the next (small) wave of testers then we will get in touch with you soon.

The entire process has been an eye-opener though and we’ve already got some quite astute notes. But I’m very happy to report we haven’t heard anything of a nature to make us doubt the validity of the entire experience! Whew! 😉

ScreenShot 2016_04_20 22;27;060012

What we’ve got in spades are insights into what some players expect, or may take for granted. If you’ll allow me to digress here: When I was working on movies we did what’s called “test-screenings”, after which producers would come back to us (the crew) and make us change A LOT of things, sometimes putting into question the foundations of the project.

I always disliked those periods. Not because of the feedback itself (it often had merit) but because it meant our leaders (the studio) didn’t make the right decisions in the first place. Sometimes even though we were telling them there were issues.

To be fair, creating a piece of entertainment is always difficult because it has to be communicated clearly. You need to make sure your intended audience “gets it”. Although it can sometimes lead to a certain amount of pandering. Or on the opposite end you can get obtuse experiences with a mightily cerebral message, which does not appeal to me either (at least as far as games are concerned). Finding the right balance always is a difficult act.

But it’s exciting watching players put two and two together and as a result wanting to learn more about the world they explore. Which is why I don’t want to reveal too much about the story or even some game mechanics.

ScreenShot 2016_06_26 15;40;59001

But I must say the game has gotten much richer and deeper than I would ever have anticipated. When I started development 3 years ago (how time flies) I thought GoaT would amount to a moderately nice-looking romp involving hitting enemies until they went down. Period. And boy did it turn out to be so much more!

Anyway, there are still many bugs to fix before we can officially launch the (public) pre-release so I’ll go back to work now!

Barring any unforeseen catastrophe you guys should be able to put your hands on the early access version of Ghost of a Tale in… “not too long”. Meanwhile, thank you for your patience. It shall eventually get rewarded… :)

May 092016
 
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Welcome! At the moment we are all intensely focused on a single goal: reaching closed beta status. Which is the phase preceding the pre-release (at which point you’ll get a chance to experience the game for yourself). There’s still some work to be done but we’re definitely nearing the end of the tunnel!

We’re testing things all the time, making sure one change doesn’t break anything distantly related. So when we do release, bugs will not be of the kind anyone can see within the five minutes of playing. No, they’ll be much more devious than that… 😀

As you probably know, Ghost of a Tale relies a lot on tessellation. Now tessellation is great because it creates micro details based on a texture while the base mesh (the original “flat” model) remains quite simple (and thus does not tax CPU or memory as much).

In the following pictures you can see the base (Maya) meshes for the set. Their density is kept quite low and mostly uniform:

ScreenShot 2016_04_07 14;51;14001a

And here’s the final in-game picture, with textures and lighting (although the torch’s fire particles are turned off):

ScreenShot 2016_04_07 15;18;10001small

One of the issues with tessellation though is that it’s not “stable” by definition. Meaning it constantly re-evaluates the subdivision level, usually depending on the camera’s distance to the mesh.

The result of which can lead to “swimming” textures artifacts; the details created by tessellation seem to constantly morph in an almost organic way. It’s quite distracting and can look frankly rather poor.

But not long ago I have found a way to fix this issue and now all the environment feels rock solid; no more wobbly textures! Yay! :)

Here is an example of Tilo walking near that tunnel area.

 

On a different topic I’ve just integrated the new sound effects provided by Nicolas (the foley artist helping on the game) and they sound awesome! It’s a delight hearing Tilo scamper from a ground surface made of earth to climbing steps made of stone to plodding on a wooden floor, etc…

Jeremiah has also been delivering soundtracks and they’re (as usual) terrific; they blend in super nicely when talking to characters and bring another level of immersion.

Finally here’s a little time-lapse type video of the day quickly going by over Dwindling Heights. It looks far better in the game because you can see braziers lit around the tower but I thought you’d like to see it anyway.

 

And with that I’ll go back to work and end this update. Thank you for reading it and for your patience waiting for the game, of course. I think you’re all going to be pretty happy when the time finally comes… :)

Mar 312016
 
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Welcome to this new update! It will touch upon varied topics and as always I’ll try to present an interesting insight into what it means to develop Ghost of a Tale. But first, let’s start with a screenshot of Dwindling Height’s war room… :)

ScreenShot 2016_03_31 10;25;21001

Switching to 5.4

Well, that didn’t go quite as planned…

In fact, the move (from 5.3.1 to 5.4) I alluded to in the previous update was basically a catastrophic one. The reason is very simple: 5.4 was in beta stage. And it is entirely my fault for thinking “how bad could it be”.

For months it was written on Unity’s road map that 5.4 would be delivered at GDC 2016. And they did indeed release it; but as I was saying it was just a beta. To be more precise it was the 10th beta. And I thought “alright, some new things won’t quite work yet, but that’s ok”. That was naïve.

Turns out the move to the beta took me about week. At which point, after the 20th crash to desktop, I had to face the fact I had made a terrible decision and subsequently spent about a day just to revert to 5.3. With the indispensable help of Cyrille I managed to salvage about 85% of what I had created while using the beta, and had to rebuild the rest.

Bottom line is: the 5.4 beta Unity ended up releasing in place of the “real” 5.4 is still months away from being anywhere near production-ready and it is my fault for not picking up on the obvious beta clue. Lesson learned.

We’re now back to 5.3 and while we won’t get the improvements we were hoping from 5.4 I’m just very happy to be able to work again! :)

ScreenShot 2016_03_29 11;00;41001

Optimization

Since the game doesn’t use baked lighting at all (every light is dynamic) it presents some optimization challenges. Casting shadows is very expensive in Unity. And baking shadows is quite limiting and would really bog down my workflow.

So I had to come up with ways of keeping nice visuals (shadows are a big part of it) and yet not burn the framerate budget on things that wouldn’t be seen.

It took a lot of work but I improved on the system I already mentioned in a previous update. Before, the lights visibility distance were subordinated to a unique value; an absolute distance all the game’s lights followed.

I changed that so each light now has a specific visibility distance, depending on its location and visibility. That level of granularity keeps lights looking the same, but they’re smoothly turned off by the game as soon as they’re not needed anymore.

It makes a very big difference in the framerate. Before, in the jail, I was around 45-50fps. Now I’m mostly around 70fps (oscillating between 65fps and 82fps). The courtyard is another matter though and I still have a lot of work to do there.

On top of this optimization work I also started using a different LOD system (called AutomaticLOD) for some of the game’s assets (models are getting simplified the further away they get from the camera). It allows the poly count to go down without any noticeable visual drawback. I’m still putting the asset through its pace but so far it works brilliantly and the developer is both helpful and reactive, which is extremely important!

ScreenShot 2016_03_25 23;21;18001

Table Decision

We have this game mechanic where the player can hide in a plethora of items (chests, barrels, cupboards, etc…). Basically anything that would accommodate Tilo’s size.

But since the beginning, tables have been a sticking point. Because it looks like Tilo should be able to fit under one, but actually the table colliders did not allow him to simply walk under a table. Yet it wasn’t visually very clear.

A long time ago I had implemented an automatic system that would put Tilo in a “forced sneak mode” when he would get near a table (touching it). And it would allow Tilo to walk under the table. It worked alright for the most part but wasn’t entirely satisfying.

In the game, when you want to hide somewhere, you switch to the “sneak stance” (hold the right gamepad trigger) and the option to hide becomes available. But again, with tables we were in a situation where it was a half-way thing; you weren’t hiding but merely “concealed”. Sometimes.

And it came with a couple of problems: when Tilo sneaks his walking speed decreases (which might be unwanted if you’re being chased) and when under a table it wasn’t clear if the enemies should see you or not. All because Tilo wasn’t officially hidden.

The solution was to simply turn tables into bona fide hiding spots. This was achieved by lowering slightly the tables’ height so that Tilo can’t quite fit under even when sneaking; hiding under a table is now a clear-cut player decision. You enter the hidden state, or you exit it. No more confusion.

Those kind of things become clearer as we play the game and the structure becomes more established; things that are half-baked like that tend to stick out more.

And on this point I think I’ll end this update. I hope it was an interesting enough read! As usual, please leave your questions and comments below. See you in the next update! :)

 

 Posted by on March 31, 2016