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!

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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! 🙂

Dec 202016
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale update! How time flies. Paul, Cyrille and I have been working like crazy on a lot of different things over the last months.

Work has been roughly divided between enhancing the early access (fixing the bugs, adding features) and working on the final game (new locations, game mechanics, etc…).

By the way, just to avoid any confusion: some of the screenshots displayed in this update are from new areas which are not yet open to the public! They’re just a taste of things to come… 😉

(In the screenshot below Tilo -or is it the famed Red Ranger?- has found an old place in the forest. Some say it dates back to the War of the Green Flame…)

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The new build update available today provides a solid cushion for the new mechanics (to which I alluded in the previous update) which will be part of the final game. It also represents a clean slate of some sort.

Indeed after the last build update we took a long hard look at what could be improved and we found several areas where we could do better (from an artistic, visual and coding standpoint).

We knew that since those changes were so fundamental we would lose previous saves compatibility. We didn’t take that lightly but we assessed the prospective benefits and we decided that since the game is still in early access it was really worth it. And we hope you will agree with us!

Performance:

Last time I alluded to performance improvements and I can confirm they are indeed substantial! As an example I tried running the game in 720p on a very old computer of mine which doesn’t even have a proper gaming card (it’s got an old Quadro) and while before it was struggling to reach a barely playable 20fps it now runs above 40fps!

Some other average machines that could barely run the previous build at 30fps in 720p can now do so at 1080p (or close to 60fps at 720p).

Finally on my powerful gaming machine the average framerate went from 90fps to nearly 150fps (which is admittedly a little ridiculous).

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So all in all I’d say it was well worth the effort! 🙂

But that’s not all: We have implemented a new kick-ass sectioning system that allows us to streamline everything we display and I’m happy to report that there is no more stuttering or micro-freezes when transitioning between areas.

Visuals:

As you guys know Ghost of a Tale relies a lot on tessellation and I reworked all the tessellation shaders using a new shader editor for Unity by Amplify which takes care of the remaining issues in previous builds: transition with distance looks much better, all the micro-cracks/back-faces scintillating artifacts are gone and finally it does a much better job at showcasing the humidity and wetness of some materials.

(In the screenshot below you can also see the improved sub-surface scattering shader on Tilo’s ears and hands)

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Plus you get new settings to change the tessellation’s amount and distance to your liking.

Some textures have also been doubled in resolution for a finer look and detail mapping now plays a much bigger role in delivering crisper textures when seen up close.

Gameplay:

Tilos’ costumes are now directly affecting Tilo’s capacities as well as the guards’ detection. Cloth items now influence Tilo’s endurance, the rate at which he recovers his stamina, his sprint speed, auditive discretion and visual conspicuousness.

Costumes don’t affect Tilo’s health/stamina anymore, meaning there’s no issue anymore with losing health/stamina when switching between different costumes.

It feels much better because the new items now really have a discernible impact on Tilo’s skills. All this is in preparation for the upcoming game mechanic when you can find some costumes that allow Tilo to run around without being attacked right away by the guards.

(On the screenshot below you can spot Tilo in a suspended basket which works as a new shortcut between the top of the tower and the garden below)

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Xbox One:

There’s not a lot to report on that front unfortunately; we have submitted a build to Microsoft in order to enter the Game Preview certification process but that was a while back and we haven’t heard from them since.

Anyway, since this is totally out of our control we will keep concentrating on the PC version!

Regarding the new build I invite you all to go here to read the release notes for all the details.

Finally we wish you all happy holidays! Thank you for sticking with us throughout this year of development! And stay tuned for more Ghost of a Tale related news to come in 2017! 🙂

Oct 222016
 
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(Note that this post contains a couple of nifty screenshots by talented forum member Nautilus)

Welcome to this long-due Ghost of a Tale update! 🙂

As the title says we’ve been extremely busy this month, dealing with a lot of different topics ranging from bug-fixing to improvements and optimization as well as working on what lies beyond early access. It’s been a very pregnant period in terms of ideas, concepts and overall dealing with the feedback from players as well as gameplay suggestions.

After pouring over the feedback Paul, Cyrille and I talked a lot among ourselves about ways to make stealth in Ghost of a Tale more challenging, more realistic, more demanding, but… well, after a while it became quite clear that this wasn’t the proper route to follow.

One day I found myself watching many videos of stealth games and came to the realization that I was basically trying to make Ghost of a Tale behave like other more hardcore stealth games. And that was definitely wrong.

We’ve got a pretty clear idea of what Ghost of a Tale should be and that never entailed consciously mimicking other games’ mechanics. Ghost of a Tale is not a hardcore stealth game (like Styx or MGS 5); it’s a hybrid of action/RPG/stealth. It is about exploring Dwindling Heights, dealing with the enemies (sneaking is one way), talking to well-defined characters and leading Tilo in his quests.

That being said I believe the stealth elements need to blend better with the rest of the game; which is why we’re currently working on a sizeable update. Here are some of the main lines. Please note that NOT all of those will necessarily be included in the next build release!

The costumes should play a bigger role:

Costume’s items will now have a direct effect on Tilo being detected by the enemies. Visual and auditive discretion will vary depending on the cloth you wear.

Items you wear will not only have an effect on your resistances but also have a direct impact on the rate at which your stamina depletes and the speed at which it regenerates. So there will be a greater emphasis on practical differences between the costume items.

Costumes however will not change Tilo’s health amount anymore. Only resistances, sneaking skills and stamina will be affected by them.

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Being able to explore the world more freely:

And here’s a big change: some of the costumes you complete will let you walk around Dwindling Heights without getting attacked right away by the guards. How much time you get before being considered a target depends on which costume you’re wearing.

What will happen is the guards will become gradually more suspicious of you and then they’ll walk towards you. If you manage to break the line of sight and hide without scampering away then they’ll just lose you.

But if they reach you then they’ll challenge you (e.g. “Who are you? What are you doing here? What’s the password?”, etc…). If you answer correctly they’ll let you be for a while. But if you raise their suspicion then they’ll attack you (as they do now).

But remember this mechanic only works with some of the complete costumes; running around as a thief or in mismatched clothes will still make the guards aggressive towards you.

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It’s an important nuance in the game: If the rats attack Tilo that’s because they recognize him as a prisoner who escaped his cell. Not because they’re inherently evil (they’re not).

Conversely, you’ll meet other mice in Dwindling Heights which are not prisoners, like contractors working on rebuilding dilapidated parts of the place (mice are famous for being good architects all across Pangia). But they might not be willing to help Tilo just “because they’re all mice”; they’ll just see him as an escaped convict and want nothing to do with him.

Once again this drives home an extremely potent point: rat guards do not attack all mice on sight and other mice are not necessary your friends just because they’re mice.

Enemies and combat:

There will be different types of guards in Dwindling Heights: some are the slower halberdiers you meet in the jail. Some others will carry swords and shields and be much quicker on their feet. Finally some will be armed with crossbows (introducing the element of range combat). They will definitely offer a greater challenge for those seeking it.

In the final game Tilo will also have additional tools to deal with guards (ie: ability to throw hornets’ nests at them, etc…). This will enhance the interactivity with the rats without overpowering Tilo.

Quests offering more rewards:

Completing quests will grant Tilo renown points. Every time Tilo gains a certain number of points he gets one additional health/stamina slot. So Tilo’s health and endurance levels are now in direct relation to your actions as the player.

On top of this the NPCs will grant you some florins and items when completing their quests, so as to make the whole experience a little more rewarding. As usual, those florins can be used to buy some special skills/information from some NPCs.

screenshot-2016_10_17-165328001

Better Platforming:

This has been greatly improved and Tilo can now climb much more freely all around. It makes a big difference! 🙂

On top of that, if you maintain the jump button pressed as you run around, Tilo will automatically climb over things as you run into them.

Improving assets quality:

I have done a huge reworking of the vegetation (thanks to coder wizard Larsbertram) and the game now has trees that react to proper wind zones and sway in the breeze, gently waving their branches and leaves.

As you can see in the video the leaves translucency is also more accurate when the sun creates back-lighting. Trees were always something that bothered me in the current release and since we have wooden areas coming in the final game I really had to rethink my whole vegetation pipeline.

The game now also uses Unity’s new Temporal Anti-Aliasing which is a step up from the one we were using before.

screenshot-2016_10_04-235423001_taa1

Recently I started using photogrammetry for some rock assets and ground features; they bring a touch more credibility while all the while being easier on performance thanks to the use of LODs (there are almost no LODs in the current release).

screenshot-2016_10_22-121616001

I have also reworked the water interaction (after having been inspired by the tech presentation from Playdead’s Inside). I’ve posted about it on Twitter already but this is a better quality version for those interested:

Which is a great segue into…

Xbox One:

We have made huge progress on this front. Basically the game currently runs at 30fps in 720p, as you can see on the video below (sorry for the shaky-cam).

Microsoft has some a strict certification process and I’m sure it will take a while before Ghost of a Tale’s Preview version can land on your favorite console. Still, already having the game chugging along is no doubt a step in the right direction and I just wanted to let you guys know!

The good thing is it looks exactly like the PC version. No real dumbing down. Just a LOT of optimizations without compromising the way the game looks.

The PC version also benefits from this of course. As a result the tech requirements for the game will go down. For example my computer is 3 years old (albeit with a kickass video card) and the game went from 70fps to 90+fps (in 1080p).

All thanks to having to optimize the game for consoles! 😛

And let’s not forget that we made drastic structural improvements in the way zones are loaded and activated in the background. Those might sound less exciting but trust me when I say that they are every bit as important as the shinier improvements.

It also means that your saves probably won’t be compatible with the next release but that’s the price to pay for this performance boost and game mechanic changes.

So when is the next early access release happening?

We don’t know yet. But I just wanted to make sure you all understood that if this update is taking a long time coming it’s not because we don’t care anymore, quite the opposite! It’s because the changes are fundamental and require a lot of work and planing to get implemented!

Alright now it’s time for me to go back to work. As always, please feel free to share you reactions and ask questions in the comments… 🙂