Archive for the ‘Developer Diary’ Category

Shadowhand dev diary #31: Looking back

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

We announced Shadowhand in September, 2015 and rapidly put together a demo to try out on the public at EGX.

The concept was something of a prequel to Regency Solitaire, featuring one of the older characters from this Regency Romance in her wild youth, 40 years earlier.

While I was getting immersed in the history of the 1770s, with masquerade balls, highwaymen, smugglers and tricorns, Jake devised a novel game mechanic: turn-based combat driven by solitaire rather than dice rolls. As far as we could tell, this was the first time this had ever been done.

Testing the concept
Positech Games arranged for us to exhibit Shadowhand at EGX in Birmingham. So we spent four days cosplaying as highway robbers and demoing our game.

It was an exhausting time but the super-positive reception we got from players and press gave us confidence that we were on the right track with the game.

Photo credit: Jason Alan Dewey

We were hoping that Shadowhand would take maybe 12-18 months, but in the end we have spent over two years developing the game. Some of the extra time had to do with fine-tuning art and adding a lot of content, such as a multitude of enemies, items and collectible cards.

But the other factor that has taken longer was building and balancing a turn-based RPG. This is very complicated! There is a huge amount going on behind the scenes and we really wanted to get this right and provide a good level of challenge, choice and strategy to the highwaywoman experience.

The final weeks in the run up to launch have been exhausting as we have been working around the clock to make sure everything is ready.

Now we are finally at the finish line with launch day tomorrow – December 7th. We are really proud of what we have accomplished and are already getting great feedback on the game from those who have tried it.

It really is time to stand and deliver!

Shadowhand dev diary #30: Game complete!

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

We’re done! (almost)

It’s been a super-intense week with some extremely “crunchy” days but finally the game is done and a beta version has been uploaded to Steam, and a build has been sent to GOG! We still have to add Steam achievements and maybe tweak a couple of things before launch on Thursday but that won’t take long.


Added in levels for Chapters 11-22

The game has got 22 chapters to play and over the past month we added in the levels for chapters 11-22 which is 12 chapters x 8 levels = 96 levels! As you can imagine, that took a while because each level is edited and balanced until it behaves how we want it to feel.

Then we playtested them all, and even got our publisher and sons to help – and now beta testers are testing them as well! This way we can spot any issues that automated tests don’t reveal and fix them but luckily pretty much everything was fine.

Balanced Weapon Groups C, D, E

There are 5 distinct weapon groups in the game and Jake balanced the last 3 groups by testing them with the automated AI test system and then tweaking them as required.

We also finalised all the gear (bombs/potions) item drops throughout the whole game. You can get gear from enemy loot, the shop, and crates on some of the levels.

Balanced Duels from Chapters 11-22

This was a big task that took a long time. Each enemy needs testing with different weapon and outfit combinations, and their stats must be adjusted to be the right level of difficulty. Generally enemies are hard but fair. Some are deliberately a bit easy (trash mobs) and of course the bosses are hard (but possible!)

Mid way through this task Jake discovered that the reality of the test results began to diverge from his mathematical design models as the enemies began to get too easy. So we had a rethink about how to make them tougher in a variety of interesting ways and then implemented that. It was an unexpected bump at the last minute but we solved it.

Edited the story from Chapters 11 to 12

We also edited the story and made various pre-duel and post-duel dialogs pop up for various characters. Plus we added in some pre-duel story sections and selected relevant music and gave everything one last continuity check.

What’s next?

The game has been sent to beta testers and press/streamers. If you need a review key, please go here and get one via keymailer.

Now we need to add the Steam achievements which we’ve already planned. There is code in place from Regency Solitaire for achievements that we’ll reuse plus we’ll add in some new ones. So it’s not a giant task luckily.

There may also be the odd tweak here and there before launch based on beta feedback and our own list of things we’d like to do. Also, there are things we can’t add in time for launch that we’ll do in the coming weeks in between collapsing in a heap from exhaustion and eating mince pies.

Misc Tasks

As per usual we’ve done a ton of small tasks covering all aspects of the game. This time I won’t bore you with the minutiae, suffice to say there was a LOT of it.

Shadowhand dev diary #29: The final countdown

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Don’t forget that you can wishlist Shadowhand now on Steam!

With launch day for Shadowhand just ten days away on December 7th, we are excited that so many people can’t wait to play the game. Fortunately our publisher, Positech Games, is currently working on many aspects of promotion so that we can concentrate on testing and last-minute details.

Content complete
The game was finally content complete on 22nd November – until that point we had various enemy artwork and levels that we had designed that had not all been slotted into the game. Every detail is mapped out on spreadsheets first. That’s right, until a few weeks before launch the game in its entirety only existed in our heads and in Excel.

Jake has been doing stirling work balancing the battle elements in Shadowhand. We have numerous meetings to talk through consumable items, weapon damage and effects, enemy and player stats and so on. This ties in to level design and difficulty. I designed the levels, which we then order and edit together to fit their final location in the game.

As well as the more obvious enemy health and defense, there are a number of factors that we can use behind the scenes, such as tweaking the intelligence of the enemy AI, to ensure that players get a fight that is just challenging enough.

After balancing the first half of the game and automated testing, it’s back to me (and soon a number of beta testers) to play test the game. Inevitably we have found a few issues with level design that mean we will have to make changes. But of course I’m also looking for the difficulty and fun factor, whether the game economy works, and flagging up any frustrations.

The good news is that I’m loving it! Our plan was to use a card game to drive an RPG with a lot of player choice and customisation. I honestly think that we have delivered. As I was testing, I felt this every time my enemy scored a health-giving steak and ale pie during a battle and I coveted his lunch. I was delighted each time one of my swords delivered a surprise counter attack. I spent a while pondering whether to wear a corset that protected me from stun or bleeding…and I wore my ruffian beard, both an excellent disguise and to boost my stealth.

Checking the enemies’ stats before a fight becomes increasingly important, and switching out weapons or defensive clothing items can make a real difference. Here’s mine at the end of Chapter 10:

The rapier I’ve selected comes with a chance to counter attack, and because it is a “sea” class weapon the Swashbuckler Swordbelt, designed to go with sea swords, boosts its damage by 10%. At this stage in the game Shadowhand could equally be wielding a club, an axe, a duelling pistol or any number of other weapons. For her off hand I’ve chosen a blunderbuss that comes with a built-in chance to stun.

This waistcoat is also anti-stun (I’ve just come fresh from a fight with a bludgeoning enemy). My breeches, shirt, bracers and hood all stack to boost stealth – the chance to go first in fights. Other items, like my hat and boots, add to my character’s defense.

Here are a few of the alternatives at the same stage in the game, with garments that are are better for combatting bleeding, animal attacks, and resisting the debuff effects of alcohol:

There’s more testing and level polishing to do, as well as finalising Steam achievements and a host of other tasks. Onward!