Archive for the ‘Game Development’ 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 #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!

Shadowhand Dev Diary #22: Story, item drops and loose ends

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Click here to wishlist Shadowhand on Steam!

It’s been a busy week. Helen and I have been finalising more design decisions and editing more text, and I’ve been coding a bunch of small loose ends in between our meetings. I’ve also been balancing the chapter goals and game economy but more on that in another blog post.

Training Level Dialogs

The image above is from a pre-duel dialog from Chapter 5 in which you get to do a spot of fencing with an expert. Some enemies also have a post-duel dialog if they need to say something important when you defeat them. We spent a while writing the text for dialogs and making them all trigger at the correct point in the game.

(Click image to enlarge)

Story Editing

We also went over the story for Chapters 1-6 to make sure that the conversations flowed naturally and the plot was clear. This was a surprising amount of work but the end result is much better.

(Click image to enlarge)

Item Drops

I also added in item drops for chapters 6,7,8. There are several types of item drops:
- Story item drops that occur as a result of talking to another main character. The image above is a story item drop from a robbery!
- Enemy item drops that occur after you beat an enemy.
- Shop item drops that occur after you complete a chapter. These are items you can purchase if you have enough gold.
- You can also pick up items from bomb/potion crates on some levels.

Loose Ends

I’ve been ploughing through lots of loose end tasks and have reached the end for now which means I can get back to main features in the coming weeks. These aren’t polish items, just small things that I made a note of before to finish later, or things that cropped up as a result of testing and design meetings.

- Some code refactoring (always fun! I’m not being sarcastic, honest.)
- Finalised some design decisions about the game economy and earning gold.
- More design questions answered.
- Showed 2 star goal on level end screen if you don’t reach it, and showed 3 star goal if you manage to get 2 stars.
- Players can no longer keep earned gold if the fail to meet a chapter’s goals in Normal mode.
- Fixed simultaneuous defeat issue with killing training dummy on final turn.
- Level end screen: Enemy loot now shows as 0 if you don’t win the fight.
- Made sure gold shown on loot cards is same as enemy’s gold.
- Gold card image is now dynamically set based on enemy’s gold value.
- Fixed automated AI test run gold output ready for balancing the game economy.
- Made Chapter 6 card with coachman image.
- Made sure enemies with no throw anim don’t try to use bombs.
- The “new item” icon won’t be shown for each additional consumable if the player has already seen it before. I had to save this information in in the player profile to make sure it persists between game sessions.
- Fixed possible exploit with undoing a card that has instantly charged/poisoned a weapon.
- If you have two counter attacking weapons now either can counter attack instead of just the first one found by the code.
- Added a restart hand button to the in-game menu after doing a Twitter poll and discussing it with devs. 75% wanted a restart button!

I’ll make another blog post soon about the balancing I’ve been doing and the metrics system I use for beta testing.