Oct 232017
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale update, in which I will talk about the final game (release date, price, etc…) as well as various improvements and overall progress on the game’s development (spoiler: it’s going great!). 🙂

I do wish I had time to post more development updates here but we’ve entered the final stretch to the game’s completion and I tend to not see time whizzing by. Paul is working hard on dialogs and quests and Cyrille still develops precious tools which allow me to streamline my everyday workflow. And at this point of the development the dividends pay up big time!

To start, here’s a screenshot that makes use of a new volumetric lighting asset (not yet in the early access version). But more on that later…

The final game’s release:

A couple of months back I was still hoping we would be able to release the game this year. Even though to this day I’ve refused to give out a specific date out of fear of missing it I’ve been known to say publicly “2017”.

The thing is, now that we’ve got a very clear view on the final stretch, that’s just not realistic. Well, technically the game’s content itself will be mostly done by the end of December, there’s no doubts about this.

So I guess technically you could say “Yay, game done this year!”. But that’s not the way it works. You don’t release a game as soon as you wrote the last line of code and animated the last walk cycle.

When all is said and done we’re going to need a few weeks (we estimate 4 to 6) just going through QA. That is intense testing and making sure there are no outstanding issues (whether it be in text display, animation, mechanics, quests, dialogs, etc…).

After that (well, almost in parallel) we’ll have several people working on translating the 60K+ words of the game into as many languages as we can financially afford. Which is at first: French, Italian, German, and Spanish. We will also try for Portuguese, Polish and Russian eventually (depending on how much it costs). And after that Chinese and Japanese would be great.

On that topic, some studios often go with horrendous Google translate (sometimes because of cost, sometimes because they can’t be bothered) but let me assure you that won’t be the case for Ghost of a Tale. We will make sure the translators know of context and are given the tools necessary to do a great job.

Meanwhile we will reach out to journalists and YouTubers in order to make them aware of the game’s release date (or in some cases of the game’s sheer existence). This phase includes anything marketing-related (screenshots, interviews, advertisement, etc…).

If you remember, the early access version of Ghost of a Tale was released more or less in a void. We can’t afford that for the final release; things need to be done properly in order to insure the game’s completion doesn’t go thoroughly unnoticed.

All of this amounts to roughly 8 weeks after final content is done and locked. Which is why we are aiming for a release in the beginning of March 2018.

Note that this is for the PC version. Xbox One will follow soon after that (barring any technical catastrophe). And finally the PS4 version.

(We haven’t looked yet at Xbox One X but if the Xbox One can run the game, the X won’t have any problem running it much, MUCH better!)

Development Progress:

As I mentioned earlier I’ve very recently integrated a nice volumetric lighting asset in the game, which greatly brings out the atmosphere of mystery that I always wanted to capture.

Technically what it does is it allows for the display of light rays even when the light source is off-camera. In the screenshot below the sun is actually out of the camera’s frustum yet it casts visible volumetric rays.

At night it translates for example to a much more dramatic moonlight. Which inspired me to revisit the overall nocturnal look of the game and I think that you guys are going to like it! 🙂

What’s great is when you explore a dark wood at night and the moon rays fall through the canopy as Tilo runs through them. It just feels so nice.

Final game’s duration and details:

Some of you might wonder how long the game will last. That’s obviously difficult to say but based on the early access it should take at least 15 to 20 hours to finish. Of course it could be much longer if you want to discover all of the secrets and locations.

The final game will have roughly 60 quests, varying in terms of complexity (compared to the 30 or so in the early access). It will also have more NPCs, but let’s not spoil that right now!

The new locations to explore will more than double the area of what’s already available in the early access. Believe me, the world feels much bigger now and you will get lost without a map. 🙂

The price:

The final game will go on sale at $24.99. However, while the game remains in early access, the price will stay at $19.99. Which is a way for us of thanking you for taking a chance on an early-access game and trusting us not to fudge it up!

Character portraits:

Finally I would like to officially welcome Jerome Jacinto to Ghost of a Tale’s (diminutive) team! Jerome is an experienced illustrator who worked on “Tooth and Tail” (where he took care of character design and key art) as well as the digital board game “Armello”.

Jerome is now creating the game’s NPC portraits, which appear during dialogs (the art in the current release is just place-holder if you hadn’t guessed!). This will make dialogs even more enjoyable than they currently are.

Here’s a gallery of some of the characters (no real spoilers as those already appear in the early access).

Of course each character will possess a wide range of poses to match their dialog and personality. Here are only a few of Gusto’s expressions:

I have to say every time Jerome finishes up a new character’s expression sheet it truly is a pleasure to peruse through all of them in anticipation of their use in the game… 🙂

Alright, so we reached the end of this update! Thanks again for taking the time to read all of it. I hope you liked it and now I’ll go back to work. As usual please don’t hesitate to leave your comments below and I’ll do my best to reply. See you in the next update!

Aug 112017
 
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Welcome all! Today I’m very happy because I get to talk about new content added to the early access! 🙂

Indeed we’ve opened up a new location: the Northern Slopes (along with the old armory) but we also worked a lot on the existing Far Tower area. Not only is the location much prettier to look at (thanks to many new assets) but there’s actually stuff to do there now!

Here’s a lighting test for the time-of-day system which is recorded in the new area:

We’ve added 5 new quests to the existing 28, which brings us to a tally of 33 quests available in the early access version. The new quests range from quite easy to much more involved.

Furthermore we introduce a couple of new gameplay mechanics: among which are the “brisance kegs”. Those are in effect a sort of exploding barrel/nitroglycerin. They are heavy items which Tilo can grab and move anywhere within a certain distance.

And that’s what makes them special: every time Tilo takes a step the brisance bar fills up a little until it fills up completely and as you guessed… the whole thing goes ka-boom! So better not let that happen.

But that’s not all: the brisance is sensitive to shocks so Tilo can also throw projectiles at it to blow it up at a distance.

Conversely, Tilo can light up the fuse of the brisance kegs (using his candlestick or fire steel) to create a delayed explosion. Which will prove very handy throughout the rest of the game, against some enemies and also as a way to affect the environment.

In this update we have added new shortcuts for you to discover, making traveling from one part of Dwindling Heights to another even more enjoyable.

Besides the usual helping of bug fixes you’ll also find long-time requested features like a brightness slider, an LOD slider (for people with powerful machine who just want the game to look as good as possible) and a way to sort the inventory clothing items by costume and/or body parts.

And by the way just to give you some hints: the new quests can be accessed by talking to Faustus, visiting the garden and exploring the far tower area (mind your steps).

The guards now have new attack sounds (coupled with camera shakes when Tilo gets hit) so they overall feel more threatening. Some of them now wear greaves, which means that they won’t slip down on a grease jar anymore.

You can think of it as a rock/paper/scissors situation: some guards wear a helmet so you can’t knock them down with a bottle but they could slip and fall on a grease jar, while some others have no head protection but they wear greaves, etc… So you have to choose the right tool for the right situation.

The map system has also been improved in that the markers that appear on it now visually indicate if the items they refer to are located above or below Tilo’s current position.

Story-wise you can also pick up more roses in the world, which in turn will let you learn more about Tilo and Merra’s story.

Anyway there are too many things to mention here so I encourage you to read the detailed release notes.

With this update we are nearing the 60% of publicly available content. One thing to keep in mind about the whole process is we only publish things when they are ready. In other words out of the remaining 40% about half is already created and the other half is well on the way. Of course for now the “non-public” content is only reachable by us developers and alpha testers. But boy do we have some beautiful things in store for you! 🙂

To illustrate this point, here’s a screenshot of Tilo exploring the catacombs (which are not open to the public yet)…

In terms of availability this update can be downloaded on Steam today, then in a couple of days on GOG and finally (barring any unforeseen troubles) on the Xbox One before the end of the month.

Update on August 18: The new build is now available on Steam, GOG and the Xbox One store!

As usual, don’t hesitate to leave your questions and suggestions in the comments below! See you in the next update! 🙂

May 052017
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale update! 🙂

We’ve been working on so many things over the last few weeks that I have a hard time keeping track! But just to summarize (in no particular order): new quests, dialogs for new NPCs (where Paul is doing a bang-up job as usual), optimizations, whiteboxing, Xbox One certification and new locations!

And speaking of new places you’ll get to explore in the game… As promised in the previous update here’s your first look at the catacombs sprawling under Dwindling Heights!

Catacombs!

The catacombs are the burial ground for soldiers and commanders whose bodies were entombed over the centuries since before Dwindling Heights ever became a prison.

As expected it’s a dark, eerie place. No doubts quite dangerous for a minstrel mouse!

Screen Shot 04-25-17 at 05.15 PM

It is whispered there might even be relics of the War of the Green Flame under there. And it’s probably haunted too! Although spiders might make quicker work of explorers than ghosts. But who knows…

One thing is for sure though, the Dying Lights lend a chilly atmosphere to the place. Their spectral blue flames do not give out any heat but they possess the distinctive feature of being virtually eternal. Indeed they cannot be put out by normal means. Which is why they’re often a fixture of pirate ships as even the strongest of storms won’t snuff them out.

Some sailors even say on a calm night while sailing on lake Vaelia you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the ghostly blue lights from long ago sunken ships deep under the waters.

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(Oh and just to be clear: the catacombs are not yet in the early access version of Ghost of a Tale. We still have to connect several elements before you get a chance to explore them 🙂 )

Magnet Aim:

One of the aspects of the game that was recently overhauled is the throwing mechanics. In the game Tilo can throw several types of items (sticks, bottles, slime jars, etc…) to different effects. For example if you time your moves properly you could throw a bottle at a guard’s head to momentarily knock him out.

But up to now it was a finicky business. You had to perfectly align your target then throw and after that it was literally hit-and-miss. In short there was really no way to precisely aim at something.

As a result the experience wasn’t really fun and didn’t feel responsive enough. So I recently implemented a system we baptized “Magnet Aim”. It’s not exactly a locking system in the traditional sense of the term as Ghost of a Tale is definitely not a fighting/combat game. So we came up with something else, as illustrated by this short video:

 

(Note that for the video I made the targeting distance longer than in the actual game, for testing purposes)

Basically you just need to aim roughly in the right direction and the targeting reticle with snap to the relevant place (within a certain threshold of accuracy). If you throw at that moment, Tilo will send the projectile flying with mostly predictable results.

Now of course if you deviate a lot with the camera (say you aim wildly to the side of your target) then the aiming reticle will snap back to the center of the screen and Tilo will simply throw straight ahead. Similarly if your target is moving fast then it might not be a sure hit anyway.

We feel it’s a nice mixture of getting a little help from the system while still requiring the players to know what they’re doing. Of course you can turn off that feature in the gameplay options if you prefer to solely rely on your skills.

Loading Speed:

In the previous update I mentioned our new reloading process. So I thought I’d just show you a short demonstration of its speed. Please keep in mind that my machine has a solid-state drive so it’s already pretty fast.

(Please note that in this video I’m reloading a save located at a completely different place and progress of the game)

 

In the previous version when reloading a save we also reloaded almost the entire game (in order to reset things back to their default state). But we reworked our data managing system (thanks to Cyrille) and are now able to surgically reset things in the game’s world as needed. So we don’t have to wait for all the game’s locations to be read again from the disk.

This might not seem like a big deal for very fast gaming PCs but it makes a lot of difference on consoles and more modest PCs.

That’s it for this update. Thank you for coming by and as usual don’t hesitate to leave your questions/remarks/support down in the comments section! See you in the next update! 🙂

Apr 032017
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale development update! This is a rather sizeable one to make up for last month because we were so busy preparing for GDC. So think of it as a double-issue! 🙂

GDC Adventures!

Paul single handedly took care of the Ghost of a Tale booth like a champ! He had to stand and talk for three days straight but he had a grand old time overall. And it seems everyone who played the game really liked it!

So it was an excellent experience and Paul even gave away some swag (big thumbs up to forum user Nautilus for his nifty screenshots)!

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Although I wasn’t personally present at GDC let me give a big thank you to the Unity people who were nice enough to invite us and feature Ghost of a Tale in some of their tech demos and on the mighty large screen looming over their booth!

(Oh my, who could the chirpy fellow on the right-hand picture be…?!!)

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Whiteboxing:

So I’ve finally started the long stretch of “whiteboxing” all the remaining areas of the game. Meaning creating locations out of cubes and low-rez polygonal volumes. This is a crucial phase, as it’s going to allow us to explore for the first time the entirety of the game’s breadth.

The goal is to clearly define space and indicate all the required areas while remaining suitable rough (to avoid getting bogged down by details).

It’s a mixture of composition (from a graphical standpoint) and game design (interesting paths to navigate) while also encompassing sheer functionality (things need to make sense for the world’s characters).

Screen Shot 03-19-17 at 09.29 PM

So far whiteboxing is done for all the as-of-yet off-limits areas in Dwindling Heights (barracks, commissary, commander’s office, cellar, etc…).

Even without the final models and textures it’s great to get the sense that everything is properly connected from an architectural standpoint.

 

Xbox One Preview Version Status:

Just as we were ready to submit the game to Microsoft we uncovered an unfortunate memory leak bug within the Unity engine (specifically related to the console) which keeps us from finalizing the process.

Basically the player could save and reload their save 2 or 3 times before hitting the bug. Both Unity and Microsoft are of course aware of the issue and I’m sure they’re going to do whatever is in their power to fix it as soon as possible.

We’ll keep you posted whenever we hear back from them!

 

Rocking Assets:

I’ve created assets which will be used to populate the new locations, among which are some new rocks!

I do use quite a few photogrammetry rocks in the game but I wanted to have more “designed” ones that feel graphical and purposeful, as opposed to simply realistic. So this time I chose a different workflow.

In the past I had used Zbrush to create rocks but was never happy with the result. So this time I went back to the basics and simply started from a cube in Maya. Cutting faces and pulling vertices allowed me to remain focused on the shape above all things. No details, no distractions. Just thinking about faces and silhouette.

Then I created a tileable texture in Photoshop containing all the fine details, cracks and small crevices that I needed.

At the heart of this method is the clear delineation between “shape-features” and “surface-features”. The earlier is only concerned with polygons, the latter with textures. While it’s important to remain aware at all times of how both domains are going to overlap I made sure I never attempted to add small features to the shape if it would be better suited for texturing and vice-versa.

This allowed for the final result to retain a fairly stylized looks and yet appear appropriately realistic when seen up close.

Screen Shot 03-23-17 at 10.57 PM

An advantage of this technique is that all the rocks share the same textures (diffuse, normal, etc…) so memory wise it’s quite a boon.

It also means I can simply swap the diffuse texture for a completely different look. And the models themselves are very light since I only split edges where it can be seen (silhouetting).

Screen Shot 03-23-17 at 10.52 PM_2

 

Water Works:

I’ve just started developing a new shader for large bodies of water (ie: Lake Vaelia!). It’s a rather cheap/simple shader (since it doesn’t even use the Gerstner algorithm) but at this very early stage it’s showing promises.

(Thanks to Cyrille for helping me with non-trivial sine-waves math!)

 

And another quick test of an even earlier version of the water in different lighting conditions (night/morning/afternoon/evening). It might seem obvious but I can’t stress out enough the importance of always checking your assets in different lighting conditions!

(Apologies for the terrible quality of the video grab)

 

That’s it for this update. Once more, thank you all for reading and don’t hesitate to post your questions/remarks in the comments section. See you all in the next update! 🙂