2015 Review

With the end of 2015 nearly here, I thought I'd briefly summarize everything we accomplished. Before that though, we owe you all an update on what's been going on for the three months since our last post. The short answer is: not much. Half of the team (including myself) became very busy toward the end of the year, and the other half seemingly dropped off as well. It's unfortunate, but we've learned that these things will happen. With a team made up entirely of unpaid volunteers, sometimes we just need to take a collective hiatus. As such, our September release plans were not realized.

We started out 2015 in a pretty sad state. I had been working solo for about four months trying to find a way to bring this project back. In January I completed the first step by doing a major overhaul and series of improvements to our map editor, which had been too difficult and cumbersome to use and really made the world creation process painfully slow. With this work complete, I began using this new tool to rapidly develop some of the largest maps this project has ever seen.

With a little outside help, at the midpoint of the year this project put out it's first release in nearly four years. This was a huge turning point and created the positive momentum for what needed to happen next: rebuilding a team. A few weeks after this release we had a small but dedicated number of individuals working hard to understand what Allacrost was and improve upon it. Our focus turned to producing a second development release that improved balancing and added additional game content. Basically, the intent was to produce an unpolished but nearly complete version of our next official release.

We made a lot of good progress on that front, especially with the help of two designers who developed some great ideas between the two of them to help realize Allacrost's vision. We invested heavily into improvements in battle design and UI layouts. The majority of that work had been completed, but there was still plenty left for us to do. Earlier in the year we also successfully migrated to a new host and repository management system (BitBucket/Mercurial) and it has greatly improved the collaboration and efficiency of this team. The last three months were unfortunately without progress.

Recently I'm finding myself with time available for this project again, so things should pick back up in 2016. Our primary focus has not changed. We are still working toward the development release that was originally meant for September. The majority of the work needed for that release is development of the capital city map. Unlike the beginning of 2015, in 2016 we do not have any elements that are blocking us from making progress. We simply need to put in the time necessary to finish what we've already done. At this point it's hard to estimate when that next release will happen, but I'm optimistic that you'll see it sometime in Q1 2016. Thanks for all your support this year in seeing this project rise from the dead.

Preview of Upcoming Release Features

A lot of large changes have been implemented in the last few weeks with regard to the battle mechanics in Allacrost. These are large design changes that were created to improve the battle experience and as such, I'd like to take a moment to discuss what these changes are, why they were made, and how we see them improving the gameplay experience.

In the last release, our new designers identified several issues with our battle mechanics and experience. We started by identifying what sort of battle system we desired for Allacrost and decided to focus on the following.

  • Remove the tediousness of players needing to go to the party menu to heal/restore HP and SP after battle
  • Every character skill should be viable to use in any battle; We do not want players to only use their most basic skills for normal encounters and only their most powerful skills for boss fights
  • The player should be penalized if they use their most powerful attacks too frequently
  • Players should have a long-term strategy to a dungeon. They shouldn't chose actions thinking only about the current battle, but future battles as well.
  • Determine a way for SP to restore naturally during battle so that the player feels encouraged to use more powerful skills regularly in battle

You may notice that these traits align closely with the game's overall design goals. We threw around a lot of ideas to figure out how to realize a system that met all of these design criteria. And we came up with a central feature that meets this design, which we call battle fatigue. Below is an outline of how our new system with battle fatigue works.

  • All characters are restored to full HP and SP at the end of every battle.
  • SP regenerates a small amount every turn in battle.
  • When a character loses HP, they accumulate HP fatigue. This fatigue reduces the max health HP of the character.
  • When a character consumes SP (by using a skill), they accumulate SP fatigue. This fatigue reduces their max SP of the character.
  • Fatigue persists between battles, meaning that the more battles the character party fights, the lower their max HP and max SP becomes.
  • Fatigue is only removed by visiting an inn and resting. It is not something you can remove with an item or other readily available mechanic.
  • Characters have two attributes that determine fatigue accumulation: stamina for HP fatigue, and resilience for SP fatigue.
  • A higher stamina attribute causes HP fatigue to accumulate more slowly. The same holds true for resilience and SP fatigue.

There are several implications to player strategy with this battle fatigue feature. If the player is constantly using their most powerful abilities to end a battle quickly, toward the end of the dungeon they'll find that their max SP is very low and they will struggle a little more against tougher enemies and bosses. At the same time, if the player is too conservative with their skill usage and takes too much damage from drawn-out battles, their HP fatigue climbs greatly and they have a lower max HP when they face the tougher enemies deeper into a dungeon. The player must develop a strategy and carefully manage both types of battle fatigue to be successful.

Personally, I am very excited for these design changes to be fully realized. They are implemented and functional in the game already, but we need to do further balancing work in order for them to feel like they make the game a decent challenge, but not a frustrating and impossible one. Of course, these are not the only changes you'll see in this month's release, but they are definitely the most impactful. We look forward to publishing our first release with the battle fatigue feature and are anxious to hear feedback from our players on this new battle mechanic.

August Update and September Release Plans

It's been about six weeks since our last release and a lot of changes have been going on recently.

A Team, Reborn
If you read my post back in April, you know that we've been working with a very small team so far this year. I'm glad to say that this is no longer the case. We have a solid handful of individuals that are actively creating content and code for this project again. This is very uplifting news, and our progress has increased significantly. The only area where we could still really use some help right now is in our artwork department, but for the time being we have enough existing art and placeholder art to get through this next release.

About Page
One of the criticisms that I heard about our project in general was that it was difficult to figure out what made it stand out from other games like it. People visiting the site for the first time weren't able to gain a good understanding of what this game was about and what makes it special. In response, the About page was overhauled to explain the game's major design goals and offer brief explanations of some of the core features that make Allacrost what it is.

Design Improvements
With the addition of our new team members, we've been taking a hard look at the game's design and are actively seeking to add, cut, or replace features as necessary to improve the gameplay and experience. More specifically, at the moment we are focusing on making our battle system more strategic, interesting, and enjoyable than it has been in the past. The battles present in our last release were incredibly simple and much too easy. As one player commented recently, the enemies were "uninteresting meat bags", and we're certainly seeking to change that through our design work and balancing.

If you want a peek at what sorts of design changes we're currently talking about, head over to the design section of our forums. And if you have an opinion, please do share it with us! Your voice can help influence the direction this title takes in the near future.

September Release
The plan to publish our next release in September has not changed. The last release was focused on map design and scripting. This upcoming release we have our aim set on the following:

  • Improved battle mechanics and balancing
  • More interesting and diverse sets of skills for both characters and enemies
  • Additional game content, picking up where the last release left off and finishing out the current chapter of the game

This release will be a huge step forward in bringing this project closer toward our major design goals. We hope you look forward to it, and check back with us next month to try out what we've been working on.

June Release Walkthrough

Walkthrough Video

The walkthrough video for our latest release is now online at our youtube channel. In the video, I commentate about current content and the content we have yet to produce. I also give an explanation about our design philosophy and the motivations behind many of our major features.

Windows Release Available

The Windows package of our latest release is now available at Project Download page. The file is named allacrost_win_dev20150628.zip. Enjoy!

First Release of 2015 Available

Today we're glad to announce our first release of 2015. This is a development release, meaning it is a stable snapshot of the game's current state of development. You can download these files from our new project page over at BitBucket (the files for this release have the text "dev20150628" in the filename). We have provided a release file for OS X and Linux (source). The Windows distribution is not available yet due to some technical issues, but it will eventually be on the download page in a few days. I'm also in the process of recording a walk-through video for this release along with commentary, which you can also expect in the near future. I'll make announcement posts accordingly when these items become available.

This is a pretty significant turning point for this project. It's been nearly four years since the last time this project saw a release and it feels great to turn things around. And notice we called this the "first release" of this year. We fully expect to follow up with at least one, possibly two more releases in the coming months. Much of the work that has been accomplished in the past several months had the aim of improving the process of developing maps, scripting events, and managing game data. With the bulk of this work now complete, future development efforts are going to be focused on developing game content and fixing many of the rough edges found throughout the game.

We hope you enjoy this release, whether you play it yourself or watch the walk-through video when its available, and look forward to what's coming next.

Moving to a New Home

You may have heard of the latest scandals and tribulations with the site sourceforge.net, which has been a reliable service for our project since our earliest days. This news greatly upset me and caused grave concern about using their services. It's a shame, but it is clear that this hosting service has long since lost their way and can no longer be a trusted partner for us. As such, we are in the progress of migrating all of our code and release files to a new home and will eventually shut the doors on our sourceforge project page indefinitely.

After doing some research, we've decided to move to BitBucket.org for hosting of both our code repository and release files, including past releases. Additionally, the site supports a free issue tracker that we're going to experiment with. We'll likely retire our old issue tracker as a result. This tracker was used well for a few years, but it hasn't been maintained due to time constraints and most of the issues reported there are so old they are no longer relevant. Finally, as a part of this move we'll be migrating the code to new version control software. Subversion has served us well over the years, but has fallen out of favor and many hosting services do not support it (including BitBucket). We've decided to transition to Mercurial, which is similar to the popular Git, but is easier to learn and has a superior user interface. This ease of use was the critical factor in our decision, as we don't want to alienate those who aren't already experienced git users from being able to contribute to this project.

The new project page for Allacrost on BitBucket can be found here: https://bitbucket.org/allacrost/allacrost . It currently is very minimalistic and the code hasn't been uploaded here yet. By the time the next release is available though, this page should be complete and fully functional.

These moving pains have unfortunately caused some delay in publishing our development release by a couple weeks, as we need to complete this migration prior to uploading the release files. The release should still become available sometime this month and we're very, very close to having it ready. I'll also be uploading a complete play through of the release to our youtube channel once it's ready, so that those without the inclination or time to download, install, and play through the game themselves can still see what's new and get a sense of the state of the game. All of these developments should happen by the end of this month.

April 2015 - The One Man Army

Progress has been slowing down quite a lot over the past month. There's a simple reason for this. For the past six months, I've pretty much been working solo on Allacrost. Yes, there have been small contributions by a couple of others along the way, but 99% of the progress made since the Fall of last year was due directly to my own efforts. My time has become more scarce over the past few weeks, which explains why this progress came to a grinding halt. This is a temporary situation though, and I expect to be back on track in a couple weeks.

The lack of contributors was certainly not due to my lack of trying. I've attempted to find others to help out at communities we've been successful at pulling from before, but for some reason this project doesn't seem to attract the talented and dedicated people that it used to. I'm not completely certain why this is, given that we are in a better position than we ever have been to start really producing playable content. But I speculate that lack of interest may be due to the following.

Hosting Platform
Most popular open source projects these days are hosted on sites like Github or BitBucket while we are still on Sourceforge. Some have told me that simply moving to these platforms will make our project more attractive. It's something we're certainly considering for the future, but right now I'd rather our efforts be focused on making the game, not fumbling around with updating our platform and processes.

Competition
When Allacrost was birthed, gaming in Linux was barely worth mentioning. Today, distributors like Steam and GOG provide native Linux ports. Not to mention the number of games produced in general feels like it has really climbed over the years. It's hard to be noticed among so many other fine projects (not that I'm complaining, as a Linux gamer myself I love how the platform has grown).

Ageism
Allacrost is now over a decade old. That's a really long time, and I can imagine people being deterred simply because they don't want to contribute to something that's taking so long to complete. I can't say I blame people who think that, and it's unfortunate. People also tend to like to join a project early, when they can influence the direction and style of the game more easily. The only solution is to pump out releases so we can show the world we're still around and kicking.

To put it simply, we (I) am desperate for additional help. Its a real struggle to work solo on such an enormous project. Truthfully, there isn't much that remains in the way of completing the development release I had planned back in February. But it's a lot of little things including some programming, map scripting, artwork production, and map design. It feels a little overwhelming for just myself to wear so many hats and do all of this alone. But, I will do so alone if I must. But if you'd like to help, please have a look at the Contribute page and find out how you can.

With any luck, the next news post will be an announcement of the next development release. Look for that sometime in May or June.

February Status - Back on Target

With the editor redesign complete, focus is shifting back to working on creating the content needed to complete this release. The new editor is immediately being put to work to create new maps, and it's new capabilities are greatly expediting the map creation process. Here's a couple screenshots showing what is to be our largest and most complex map ever created. A link to an album containing more screenshots follows. This map is still very much incomplete and is only in the drafting stages, but it is the best visible progress that this release has seen in a long time.

Allacrost Capital Map Drafts

I'd like to make a development release happen soon, ideally by the end of the month. The editor needs to be made available to more than just those with the time and interest to download and compile the code, particularly since we are still hoping to find a game designer who will focus on creation of maps and other game content. It will also serve as further proof that this project is alive and well again, even with our limited team. Below is a visual that illustrates just how large of a gap there has been since the last time that development on Allacrost was (briefly) active. Steam continues to pick up, and I feel increasingly confident that we can make an official release happen by July.

Map Editor Improvements

Over the past several weeks I've been working hard to make some major improvements to our map editor. Tonight, I'm happy to be able to share the results of that effort and demonstrate what our new editor can do for us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Su31AWg3t4

The impetus for this work was that our old editor, while fully functional, was cumbersome and tedious to use. Our upcoming release includes one map that is larger and more complex than anything we have published in any of our past releases, and we found ourselves discouraged when we made attempts to create this map in the past. I look at this work as a long-term investment in this project that will pay off down the road as the map creation process will now be easier, faster, and more enjoyable.

For this release, the work on the editor is now considered complete. The major focus for the next month will be to use this tool to create the additional maps that we still need and to write the corresponding map scripts. A development snapshot release will be coming in the near future.

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