Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Developer Diaries

Discussion in 'Ash of Gods' started by Sneaky Seal, Dec 27, 2016.

  1. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2016
    Parrots:
    308
    Location:
    Sealand-upon-Duck
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    Developer Diary #1

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    I’m eager to complete the game in the space of a year. It’s damn hard, even when you know exactly what to do. It was obvious from the very beginning that we’d have to do everything simultaneously: write a novel, turn it into a script, work on its technical adaptation so we could launch it in Unity, draw backgrounds and characters, and create visual effects and animation for the combat system. All in the best traditions of indie agile: fast, steady movement forward, even when you have no idea which exact route will take you to your goal. But on the other hand, after four months of intensive work on this game we still don’t have a build in which everything we did can be shown off as an integral product. Right now we are moving towards this goal with giant strides.

    In search of a style

    Most part of August and all of September we spent on searching for the right style and techique for scene drawing. At this stage I failed a bit as a newborn “I-know-everything’ guy. I hoped that concept artist Vladimir Malakhovsky, my mate and a close friend of our art director, Igor, would help with the adaptation of the scenes’ style. I’ve worked with Vladimir before, on a game called Cradle of Magic – he did cool graphics in the old-school manner, which, as I supposed, would fit into our new project too.

    I really wanted it to look like Disney’s Fire and Ice and LoTR, and The Snow Queen (1957) and Twelve Months (1956) by the Soviet studio Soyuzmultfilm – thin lines, simple forms and fills, a warm palette. At the same time, it would have to be quite close to comic books in its aesthetics.

    However, Vladimir’s current style turned out to be closer to classic oil paintings and it wasn’t the manner that we wanted to see.

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    The effort of bringing more realism and clarity has required too much time for drawing the scenes. And the style turned out to be too complex for other artists to work in without making the difference stand out.

    We’ve lost almost a month with these experiments and it was exhausting and demotivating. It seemed to be a total failure given the fact that with the characters we did everything right from the first attempt. Fortunately, Igor (our art director) remembered about Andrey Zherdev – and the very first sketches he did already had the feeling we were looking for.

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    At the end of August (thanks to social networks) we found Julia Jokhova – a great artist who had experience in making illustrations according to the technique that we need. We started to search for references and also the stylistics which would manage to express the atmosphere of the story accurately. It took almost one and a half months to create the city of Albus and its vicinities and the yard of Thorn Brenin’s mansion. Despite all its seeming simplicity, this elaborate techique of drawing (the brushes, coloring and light) still demanded a lot of time. We had to design the greenery separately: individual trees, groves and bushes. We had to understand how to correctly draw the building materials. So, in its first version our city of Albus looked like it had been created by genie a minute ago, out of materials freshly arrived from the factory.

    Parallax (That’s when different layers on the screen are moving at different velocities) is “our everything”, but during the work on the first scene we just had no tools to test the stuff that the guys drew in Photoshop. We did it “quick-and-dirty”, creating the animatics directly in Photoshop.

    The first attempt to build animatic scenes in Unity was made at the end of September:



    We had to find a solution that wouldn’t only satisfy each one of us, but would also allow us to create the content quickly. I’m not sure, however, that we really managed to do it: with each new scene there appears something new and interesting that was missed in the stuff which was already created. You want to go back and redo everything – or, at least, redraw it. By the middle of December we’ve learned how to draw one scene one-and-a-half to two screens in width. We did it in 2-3 weeks – from idea to Unity build. This scene – “the village at Arch” near the town of Ursus – was one of our first victories.

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    In this scene Julia used some of the methods that were previously used by Andrey Zherdev in the third game’s episode (we didn’t show these scene anywhere): elements of work with color, mountains on the background, greenery, the stylistics of drawing the Menhirs (those huge stones which form the arch). Such things helped us to finish the illustration faster.

    Hello, Unity

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    This image showcases what the basic episode direction looks like: managing the camera and the points where the dialogues begin. This is the part that we’re intensively coding right now. The first urge – to pick Fungus (the only distinct solution for visual novels in Unity) – didn’t work for us. The storytelling in the episodes is tightly bound to the camera work and the author’s text. Fungus doesn’t contain anything like this while its tools for work with story trees aren’t as convenient as in Articy (I will talk about this thing some later).

    We began with something else, however – we moved the main rules from the prototype into the game’s code, we built our own animation controller – to play the animations on the battle field – and we wrote a little tool for importing the individual clips of battle animations:

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    We had to solve several problems simultaneously. So, the current sequence of the “Rush” hit contains 53 frames and the character in this animation moves quite a lot – he crouches, turns his body from side to side, steps back. The battle field is presented in isometric perspective and if you want the animations to flow smoothly from one into another, each of these frames needs an accurately set point of binding. In other words, this is how you center one set of frames in relation to others. Being a naive man, I thought that Unity would include this operation, which is so easy and regular for any 2D game (and I have a pretty extensive amount of experience working with stuff like that in Flash). But, as it turned out, Unity doesn’t have this functionality (just as it lacks many other things which you expect from a platform intended for making 2D games). Moreover, almost everything you can find in open source or in the Unity store for 2D games is intended for platformers. So we had to code the import and alignment of the battle animations by ourselves.

    Then we focused on the part that plays the animations – to make sure that our clips with walking, strikes and the master poses are done right and look good.

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    When we began coding in Unity, we already had a combat system prototype that was written by me in JavaScript. Currently we are still adding and testing new classes in it, following the next rule: code fast and don’t think about the consequences. I think that the main hurdle about implementation in Unity was our attempt to port our prototype proof-of-concept combat system into it without any changes, keeping all the features which were in the Web version. And this was long before the work on AI begins. Either we’ll decide to incorporate the completed animations, or do something serious with this part of the game in general. It was important for me to do this as soon as possible – so we could understand how difficult it would turn out to be and on what general principles to base development as a whole.

    It was also very important to let all the mathematics and mechanics be ready for quick incorporation into the final version of the game: the skills and parameters of the different battle classes, the rules of motion and all the rest.

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    Each skill is a little text file in YAML format that describes, in declarative form, how this skill works. You can quickly change the parameters, add or remove effects, or simply change individual classes’ behavior mechanics. This allows us to quickly try out the ideas we get from the people playing our prototype. For instance, the idea of the Hammerman class was suggested by Voice of Reason. This is a class that can move across the entire battlefield and has only one goal – to deprive your enemy’s characters who haven’t moved yet of the opportunity to move. A few minutes are all you need to create a new class and begin to watch how it plays and affects the game process.

    The plot?

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    During all this time Sergey Malitsky (the author of the script) and Dmitry Erokhin (the game designer) worked with Articy. Articy is the gizmo that allows us to write and check the script independently from the creation of the game’s code. You can’t play the novel in its entirety yet, but we’re already able to play the first 5 episodes in Articy – to check how the decision trees and choices work.

    For almost a month, since the middle of November, we’ve been engaged concurrently in the directing of the dialogs – how to place characters correctly in dialogs, how to do the switchover of backgrounds in 2D scenes. Such dialogs in the game have up to a maximum of seven characters. This is how we arrived at the “three scenes” model: two general and one additional. Game designers sets the place where each of characters is standing, while Articy controls who’s speaking at the current moment.

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    Any course in film photography will give you the essential theory – where to place the camera correctly when filming the conversation of several people, how to do the switchover of backgrounds, and which rules you shouldn’t break. But when you try to emulate these rules in 2D, you encounter some difficulties: you can’t turn the camera in different directions, so you have to somehow simulate motion which is natural for a 3D scene. When you’re making a movie, it’s enough for the director to give a command, and the cameraman will shoot the episode from another point of view. But when your making a game, we very badly wanted to avoid having to place the camera manually, because that looks a lot like suicide : even now the game already contains about 2000 of speech lines (if I calculated correctly). We’ve spent almost a week to understand when and how we should change the views to make everything look nice.

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    And yes, articy:access api is a big headache. In practice working in it turned out not to be as simple as the ads promised. This wasn’t a story of “start it up and everything just works out of the box”. I’m also thinking with some trepidation about the localization process – the internationalization tools which were promised in 2014 still haven’t appeared in Articy. Not that it’s that big a deal, but it makes us nervous anyway.

    What’s next

    There are 37 characters, 21 scenes and 12 battlefields to be done. We’ve drawn seven scenes and three battlefields so far. Since the beginning of September we’ve drawn 22 dialogue portraits of characters and six individual miniatures of the enemies. This is a bit more than two thirds of all the characters in the game. It looks like we’ll manage to draw all the characters we need in time. We’ve also done tons of concept art for the intro video.

    By the end of December the first animation packs for the battle miniatures will be ready: Fisk, Rumlin, Krieger, Ark and Sopp. By the middle of February – another ten characters and by the beginning of summer there will be around 30 of them. Unfortunately, we are four or five calendar weeks behind schedule with the scenes, and two to three weeks late with the script plan. Right now we’re still deciding what to do with all of this. Should we reduce the amount of content or speed up? I don’t know.

    Sometimes it’s harder to finish something than to start. So, here is the brief list of things that fucked us up. Aaaargh, we don’t have time! The winter is torturing us. It already gets dark by 16:30 and it seems daylight doesn’t exist anymore – you wake up when it’s still dark and you finish up when it’s already dark. The neighbor with his electric hammer drill is making it really hard to write the storyline. And for some reason, there is such a small number of hours in a day.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
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  2. HoboForEternitygender: ⚧ Magister

    HoboForEternity
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2016
    Parrots:
    3,128
    looks sharp. the parallax thing's movement is good enough for me. it slides smoothly and the perspective is good. it maybe isn't sufficient for an artist's eye but surely for peasant like me it look good enough. the dialogue tree is really promising now that you've shown alot more than some cocnept arts, the fire to the hype locomotive has started running.

    keep fighting the good fight guys! also happy holidays!
     
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  3. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2016
    Parrots:
    308
    Location:
    Sealand-upon-Duck
    Thank you, I'll try to post something fun to read regularly. The parallax does need further adjustments of how fast the layers move, but we did get the basic stuff. For the dialogue tree - we really do want to have lots of choices with meaningful consequences but without things getting out of control and the narrative losing focus, so managing the scope is a challenge (we'll probably cover it in one of the next diaries).

    Is there something specific you would like to know more about?

    And happy holidays to you as well!
     
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  4. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2016
    Parrots:
    308
    Location:
    Sealand-upon-Duck
    Developer Diary #2

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    During the first month of the new year we passed several important milestones in a row. We finished the first music track for the game and completed work on the rotoscope data of our first two characters—Ramlin and the archer Ark. We also began to work intensively on the network part of the game and a new game designer joined us—focusing on balance and the game mechanics. Also, we completed work on the animatics and the storyboard for the game’s intro video.


    The Build and the Plot

    We are slightly behind schedule creating the episodes for the game. As for art and the script, there are 4 episodes ready (8 scenes and 3 cutscenes). We are still making several cinematics and backgrounds for dialogues, but the most complex part is over. The tools in Unity are still not fully ready and this is a big restriction for us. I think that during the very first week of February we’ll fix everything we need. We can assemble episodes already now, but it’s not as comfortable as it should be, and as we’ve realized from the unsquashed bugs, not entirely safe either.

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    On the screenshot above you can see the first working version of the UI where the phrases and possible answers are shown. We are very eager to make it comfortably readable and to make it clear who said what and who replies to whom.

    The crucial problem of our “sufferings” – is to associate the data model and the arrangement of the scenes in Articy with that how it should be reproduced on the episode sequencer in Unity.

    Now, when we’re associating the Articy story episode and the graphic scene in Unity, the game engine automatically places onto the sequencer the dialogues, the author’s text, battles and special groups which are considered by the game as the place where you see the dialogue icons, the store, and other actions for the current location.

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    I’ve already mentioned that we are doing everything in parallel. Because of that, when the integration comes, we sometimes have to redo some of the earlier episodes, to make them comfortable for the import. I still suppose that this strategy is way better than to wait for the game engine to be fully ready for import.

    Dmitry (the game designer) and Sergey (the author of the script) have finally found a common literary language, so the process of editing the episodes now takes much less time. I wouldn’t risk to give any numbers now, but everything obviously goes easier now.

    This game contains several defining and very complex episodes (from the point of view of implementation). These are parts 8, 10, 12 and 15, where the actions are taking place in one and the same city – Ursus – but with different protagonists and in different times. I write about this because it is our own version of hell, so to say. You have to track all the possibilities of each character to die. This means that we have to walk through all the episodes where these characters are featured and reset their storylines to make the story look logical when you consider every version of the episode’s ending. I suspect that this is just a first circle of Hell, because we are still not taking into account the behavior of protagonist (whether he is a good person or behaves like an asshole) in the dialogues.

    Music




    The music for the game is being created by Adam Skorupa and his colleagues Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz and Michał Cielecki. We are planning to record over an hour of music before the end of summer—in general this is West European and Pagan folk music, with vocals and polyphony in a fictional language. Some tracks – the music of combat scenes, for instance – are set to fit the individual types of enemies. The “bad guys” in our game are Frisians (inhabitants of the Northern kingdoms), Gells (an equivalent of Celtic warriors) and Ensa (otherworldly intruders). We will try to record the individual tracks for each of these factions, the tracks which will reflect the nature of these foes. Some of tracks will just reflect the set of emotions or be intended for use in specific scenes.



    In January we completed the first track for the game – the music for the main menu. Vocals by Magdalena Przychodzka, guitars by Aleksander Grochocki, the vielle by Katarzyna Kamer. The vielle is quite an exotic instrument. At the same time, I think that it amazingly reflects the feeling of anxiety and desperation. We are planning to record some more exotic instruments – the gadulka and, probably, some unusual drums.

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    On the upper photo you can see Adam Skorupa and Katarzyna Kamer during the recording session for the music of the Ash of Gods main menu. In February we plan to finish the music for the intro and outro videos as well, and then we will begin to work on the first battle themes: four whole tracks lasting a total of 12 minutes. Maybe we will include male vocals—we are thinking about it now.

    The intro video


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    To be honest, I write about this video just because I’m very excited about it. I cannot show it now (otherwise it will no longer be “terribly secret”), but I want to write a couple of words about it all the same.

    The intro plays a crucial role from the point of view of the plot—in fact, during 2/3 of the game you will search for the answer of question “what and why has happened here?” We want to make a player ask many questions to himself and to us. We want to bring a fog-like feeling of uncertainty and, partly, to give an answer about the game’s title. The upper picture is the tonal scheme for the first seconds of intro video.

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    This is the clean line (in its quality) for one of the crucial characters of this video – Hopper Rouley. As with all the other animation in the game, this video will be hand-drawn frame by frame. It has required a lot of complex montage. For some scenes we had to do the reconstruction in 3d to set the camera and the motion of a large amount of people. It is almost two minutes long and has a very tense plot with a lot of action. We came to the final of the first part of this work – the 19th version of animatic is complete and the first scenes are ready to be drawn in a rough line. The very first of them is even ready for the insertion of the intermediate frames.

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    These pictures show the concept of location where the action of the intro video takes place. Adam Skorupa composes the music for the first 38 seconds, while our new-found sound engineer and sound designer provides the post-scoring. I’ve crossed my fingers in the hope that we will not fail with this intro; because we want to impress and fascinate all of you with this.

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    This is the stuff that showcases how we chose the contour lighting tech. In the working version we paint the middle and the long-range distance in brown, while the frontal perspective will use the contour adapted for the color of the substrate.

    Also, we have already started to work on the outro video too. In the working version of it we have 3 different endings, but, independently of them, we have also a little second ending – which will be a bridge between the first part of game and the next chapter of the story.

    We draw and animate


    The most huge and complex part of our work (i. e. “the biggest headache”) is the creation of the combat animations for the characters. On average each unit requires 16 animation sequences of approximately 80 frames for each of them. The creation of a full sequence takes about a month of work for one animator.

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    The rotoscoping technique makes the animation creation simpler, but only in part. There are some very complex animations – getting damage, the death of the character, or simply walking – you can’t do it well if you lack the skills of an experienced animator. It’s very difficult to properly record the damage sequence, while the walking animation suffers due to the cycle length. All the animations where the actor moves suffer due to perspective distortion. We record them on a 35mm camera (though we have to turn it on its side), because with the 50mm, where distortions are barely seen, it’s impossible to find a studio where you can record something in isometric perspective. The 50mm cam should stand at a distance of not less than 9 meters from the recording subject, and has to be lifted at least 7 meters higher than the floor.

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    Sadly, we didn’t record those auditions when I tried to actually hit the actors with a stick to get the necessary level of lifelike damage reactions. Now this point is a complex thing because it requires a huge volume of the animator’s work – to make it obvious for the player that the character has really been hurt. The second problem is the gait. In the studio where we are recording videos, there’s not enough space for a full walk-cycle, so if you only use the rotoscope, the characters literally look lame. We are thinking what to do with that.

    From the beginning of current year we decided to stop using TVPaint in preference of Toonboom (the software for frame-by-frame animation). If you are still in doubt which of these two you should use—pick ToonBoom. It will allow you to work faster, while the tools of line control allow you to receive similar pictures even when different animators are working on the same animation or its frames – the key ones or during the insertion of intermediate frames.

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    This is the crowd from the combat scenes of Ursus city. We had a long argument among the team: whether it was good to place the static images (for example, the city inhabitants) on the battlefield. It may look strange that during the battle on the city street the citizens are standing still instead of running for their lives. But if we wouldn’t use the people and animals for the scenes arrangement, the levels would seem empty and not lifelike. It’s long and expensive to create full complex animations for such objects. So, we finally decided that we will draw the animations with a low frame frequency – about 10 frames per second (for 2 or 3 key frames and automatic insertion of intermediate frames in ToonBoom). It can be a drunk holding up the wall, or a woman with buckets, who drops them in the beginning of the fight and presses herself against the wall. Maybe some scared people will look out of the windows and close the shutters. Just some simple activity which would allow you to feel the life and vibrant emotions of the environment.

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    Another complex moment is shown on the upper picture. We had a lot of work on the color correction in the scenes which were already created (the upper one is “before”, the lower is “after”). The difference between earlier and later scenes was very significant, so Andrey Zherdev has revisited the old scenes to make them equal by tone and atmosphere to the newer ones. With some of them we significantly missed with the emotional tone (there are corpses around but you cannot feel it from the picture). I hope that the current view is the final.

    What’s next


    We’ve began to code the network part of the game. I think that by the middle of March we will have the basic possibility of holding matches, and it will allow us to play a rough but real game not in the html prototype but in Unity. Now we try to use PhotonServer as the lobby and game server. It’s too early to talk about anything else now. We are planning to take part in the DevGamm exhibition in March, to show off our combat system as close as possible to the final expected result.

    Also, we’ve completely finalized our combat animation schedule (about 5 characters per month) and decided how we should correct the overall work on the game accordingly – everything that concerns recording sessions, actors, references and integration.

    Since the previous issue of our devblog we drew 5 characters, animated 6 dialogue portraits of heroes and completed the rotoscope of 2 ones. Also we drew 2 combat scenes (both from the city of Ursus). One of them is the constructor that will simplify the composing of multiplayer scenes and other city battles for us. Sergey Malitsky has completed 27th chapter of the novel (there are 30 of them totally) and we already know in detail how the story will end. And, at the end of the day, I’ll give you a little spoiler: as it turns out, Frisia has an undercover agent among your allies and if the player does not realize who it is, he will shout: “Le Roi est mort“.

    By Nikolay Bondarenko, the Main Dude
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
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  5. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2016
    Parrots:
    308
    Location:
    Sealand-upon-Duck
    Developer Diary #3

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    We can characterize the past month as a month of difficult UI solutions. We began preparations for our Kickstarter campaign, worked very hard on different UX scenarios, made a flop of our first bash at the multiplayer option, and developed the first draft of the AI, a lot of story tools and other things related to the animation, FX and cinematics. Also, we have finished the first draft of the balancing of one of the key mechanics of the game, namely the world map.

    The Dialog UI

    I think Julia Zhokhova (aka LeksoTiger) is quietly cursing me because she’s drawn a thousand UI options over the past month and a half. At the moment she’s hard at work on the combat interface, after which she’ll take on the main menu and worldmap. I’m planning to finish every single interface by the end of April.

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    This is the dialog window for displaying almost every in-game event. I’m not sure this is the final result, but it’s a good start.

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    In our Facebook and Vk pages we got cool advice—to use different umbilicals (the rounded handles of the scroll’s rod) depending on the type of event or active protagonist. It is a neat idea, and we’re totally doing it.

    Balancing

    We began to make the skills trees for characters, together with the balance. The current vision means that the characters don’t have a free upgrade system, but stats, perks, skills or their upgrades are improved from the skills tree.

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    This is Krieger, a swordsman. I’ll use his example to explain how I see the different “builds” of this class working. Here we see a lot of health, low energy and a relatively weak attack, he can strike hard, there’s a counterattack, and ordinary attacks bring a small permanent increase in attack value.

    This class has two styles:

    1. Regular hits improve the attack, gradually turning a swordsman into a damage dealer. Thus, if your enemy didn’t realize this in time, he’ll face a tough killer with a lot of HP.
    2. Another option is to reduce costs and increase the damage of a special attack. For example, if a character has an attack equal to 2, he can sacrifice 2 HP (with 22 base) to deal 4 damage to the enemy. And if you then upgrade this ability for a fee of 1 HP you will be able to deal 6 damage.
    The World Map and Difficulty Level

    Since the world map is a core-loop mechanic, a player will spend several hours using it. Time is a valuable thing for our story, therefore the map will help you to make timely decisions due to the fact you will see the Frisian army on the march on the world map, as well as roads and passages that have already been blocked.

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    You’ll also be able to understand what kind of terrain surrounds you and which path to choose—whether to go on the open path, expecting to meet a merchant and buy something useful from him (or to kill him and take it all by force), or to choose a mountain road where no one usually walks, and untangle one of the mysteries of Terminus.

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    During some of the quests, you can find clues about any interesting items or events that may occur. But to understand exactly where and how to get to them is one of the tasks the player has to solve.

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    A couple of people have asked me about the game’s difficulty and if there’s a mode for people ‘who’d like to follow the story only’. The truth is I don’t think such a mode would be possible for our game. Let me explain. We have 10 difficulty levels ‘under the hood’ where 1 is easy and 10 is ‘the absolute pits’ in full swing. The higher the current level, the more difficult every particular incident on the road you are facing. If you see a corpse on the road, instead of a purse of money on him, you might encounter a poisonous snake, and it might bite to death whoever examines the body. Some parts of the roads may become inaccessible or dangerous, the mountain pass could have collapsed, and instead of a road leading you through the swap, there might only be a deep quagmire.

    Everything depends on the actions of our protagonist Hopper Rouley and some of the actions of two of the other heroes, and this will constantly affect the nature of the difficulty level for better or worse.

    The difficulty level affects the cost of the path, the complexity of the AI and the availability of options for the behavior of the characters Thorn and Lo Pheng when their parties run out of vital resources. For example, at maximum difficulty level you can no longer share strixes. Thus, you will need to choose which of your party members will lose them for the benefit of others.

    Rotoscoping and Animation

    Once again we went to the studio to finish shooting some of the characters and to try to record a few animals and monsters. Everyone says it’s very difficult to animate non-humanoids, and we decided to do a test shoot. Here’s the attack of ‘the scorpion’:

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    It was also important to reshoot the walking cycles from the previous footage. The walking cycles were too short (4 steps only) and because of this the gait looked as if the character got a kick in the kidneys and started to limp. So we recorded a full cycle of walking without start and finish to accommodate as many steps in the frame as possible.

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    This time we did the animations for a couple of the tough guys such as the tall ‘Viking’ Ruor, the lumberjack Dume and some evil guys like Gellians, Frisians and Reapers. Dmitry Krivoshchapov proved to be excellent at this, because after 5 minutes of training and showing him what we’d already done, we recorded the Gellian animation almost completely in the first take and in the space of only 20 minutes.

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    We still have 11 female characters to do. We can’t find an actress of average height to handle all of them. I guess we’ll have to spend some money to hold a casting. If you know someone who can help us please let me know.

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    This is the first FX draft of blood on the battlefield. We would like to create a couple of different samples for different types and directions of blows such as piercing, cutting and crushing, and whether it’s applied to the body or head of the enemy. We can then use different blood patterns, depending on who does what, where and to whom.

    Kickstarter

    Well, if you’re looking for the recipe for success, it’s unlikely I can say anything new. I’ll only be able to write condescending articles on the subject with a snobbish hipster-look (I already have glasses and a beard) once we’ve gotten the required amount of money and reached a few additional goals. But until that happens, my attitude needs to be all about kicking problems in the butt left, right and center and charging forward like a locomotive:



    And that’s a hell of a job. I know you’ll say “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” with an intelligent look, because everyone’s talking about it. But that’s the way things are—you don’t know how deep the pit really is until you start digging for yourself.

    We’re working hard on the physical prizes: we’re going to mold a six-inch figure of Dorpkhal, plus we plan to make cool bracelets (an important artifact in the game’s plot) and make a hard-cover A4 art book of at least 30 pages and a comic that’s worthy of a Comic Con.

    It’s a pity there’s no magic place where you can just pay for everything you need. You need to look for a large number of helpers, individuals and companies that will work on the individual lots and all the trivia.

    Lo Pheng’s full storyline is one of the goals of our Kickstarter campaign— we won’t be able to pull it off with our current resources.

    The process of searching is by itself a big, complicated and stressful job, especially if you don’t have money to waste. Here’s the result of one of such “triviality” – our animated studio logo for the teaser, game and videos:

    [​IMG]

    Kickstarter is a new experience for me. Since September 2016, I’ve talked to a bunch of individual consultants and consultancies in the former Soviet Union and the United States. The know-it-all professionals will tell you all and do it for your money, right? I’m sure that the sooner you throw this idea out of your head, the better. I want to say that the advice of real studios is a lot more interesting and allows you to look at the issues from a completely different angle.

    Many thanks to you, Anatoly Hajduk (Insomnia) and Eric Neigher (Obsidian). Your answers to our sometimes stupid and naive questions have been invaluable.

    Generally, we think that what should be done before the beginning of the campaign, is to try and get on the Square Enix Collection or a similar program from Nvidia or HumbleBundle. I believe this is important, because the hysteria around Steam’s cancellation of Greenlight is in my opinion gaining momentum, and the amount of crap that has appeared in Greenlight has grown significantly since the announcement of the news.

    So when can we play it?

    We’ve integrated the first three characters—Ramlin, Ark and Krieger—into the combat system. By the end of the month we’ll add another seven. Overall, the plan is to have the combat pre-alpha ready by the end of March so that we can invite players to play with us not only in the web prototype, but also in the actual game build.

    Please, share your thoughts: several times a month somebody asks us to put the source of the web prototype on github. After reading the readme file it should usually only take about 5 minutes to start it up on your PC without any previous programming experience. The only thing that needs to be done is to translate all the instructions into English and somehow describe the internal structure. I’m not sure whether I should spend time on this? Will someone really use it?

    We finished the first version of the close combat AI, wrote the abstractions and implementation for the management of the combat characters – both for the single-player campaign, the AI module and the multiplayer game, when all the data comes together and is calculated on the server. Right now we’re working on the UI for multiplayer team management:

    [​IMG]

    This is a very rough draft (with a couple of placeholder icons) and we’ll find out what the end result is in April. We’re working hard on making the system of rounds, cards and statuses extremely clear and simple.

    If you work in a cool UI lab, we’ll gladly accept your criticism or help in working on the UI / UX to make it as convenient and simple as possible. And we’ll sing your praises on every street corner!

    A brief overview of our struggle with Photon Server looks like this—it’s very cool, and we’re dumb. We started from the wrong end, and began by writing stuff that wasn’t needed. But by the middle of March we’ll be able to complete the team authorization, registration and management. Next will be the start of the combat—the placement, synchronization of statuses, timers, and the actual combat itself. We’ve already written the combat section as a separate library. It will be used by the single player AI version of the game and the multiplayer option.

    A short summary

    A kind person on Facebook asked: “Why aren’t you inviting everybody to subscribe to your mailing list at every opportunity? Wrong, wrong, wrong!” So please subscribe and show us your support. We’re not sending anything out right now, but when the time comes for Kickstarter, expect a heartfelt letter from me and exclusive gifts in the multiplayer version to everyone who believed in us at this stage.

    [​IMG]

    I think that the main fail of the month is the multiplayer part. We already figured where we screwed up and are actively working on fixing the mistakes. In March, we’ll hold some rudimentary matches so we can play a rough, but actual game in Unity. And that’s our main goal right now.

    Since the last diary we drew 4 characters and 5 combat miniatures, animated 8 personal characters, prepared key frames for the rotoscope of another 5 characters, including a very complex one—the Ense swordsman:

    [​IMG]

    We finished the battle scene and the journey through the “Ash Wasteland”. Malitsky completed the novel and wrote a short story about Thorn and the beginning of his confrontation with Bran Vichti that happened 18 years before the game (we are working on a cool comic based on it). Sergei and Dmitry moved 5 chapters of the Thorn and Blance’s storyline to Articy, and now we plan to finish 6 more chapters in the next month.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2017
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  6. an Administratorgender: ⚧ Self-Ejected

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    The art style pretty much reminds of the Banner Saga
     
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  7. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
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    Oh, yeah, Banner Saga is one of our major inspirations, especially in the visual style. I assume it's not a bad thing, is it?
     
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  8. Sarmatiangender: ⚧ Novice

    Sarmatian
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    I personally loved Banner Saga, although the second part was a little underwhelming.

    You can't go very wrong by using the same formula. Keep the battles varied and make the choices hard and you're golden.
     
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  9. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

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    So much has happened since the last installment of our diaries that I suggest we give the intro a pass and get right down to brass tacks. We’ve pretty much finished the main storyline, so now it’s possible to play the rough draft of the game from the beginning to the penultimate episode. Writing the finale without Lo Pheng was a tough nut to crack and our scriptwriter is twitching around like an angry eel on a hot frying pan, that’s how badly we want to hold onto the fever-pitch of emotion and the density of events that would have been unleashed if the protagonists had collided at the end of the game the way we planned them to. Above all, we wanted to avoid writing anything stupid and just bring things to….



    Early in the month I streamed the first episodes of the game online and we received a lot of comments from our Russian readers about the “staleness” of some of the characters’ dialogs, so now we’re frantically trying to fix this without causing downtime for our translators.

    Wanna play?


    I love walking. A part of the route from my house to the office passes along the Moskva River embankment at Maryino Park. Now I’ve got something to fill that time other than enjoying the silence and the scent of the water. Like any normal human zombie I can now stare at my phone while I’m walking.

    [​IMG]

    That’s because we finally managed to compile our battle “sandbox” to run on Android this week. It contains 36 finished characters (we still need to animate and integrаte seven more) and is indispensable for testing the AI and balancing the skills. It also provides me with the opportunity to watch how the AI plays itself and how deterministic its behavior is. A good AI should be able to lose in an interesting way, and that’s the main thing we’re trying to teach it at this stage.

    [​IMG]

    That’s Thorn and company on their way to a get-together to find out what’s taking us so long. It’s tough to admit, but since the end of May we’ve practically had to rewrite the code for the combat system and the toolkit for creating combat characters. The first implementation required too much individual scripting by hand of the different skills.

    In its new incarnation it consists of a couple of simple YAML files, and now you can describe all the animation, commands, skills, special effects and audio files of the characters with a basic text editor. A small script file does all the remaining dirty work for you. I don’t know how true Unity disciples manage to pull it off, but to my modest taste creating 2D animation “the Unity way” is a bag of hurt and a cup of unadulterated, over-the-top agony. It’s as if you’ve fallen straight into the Sixth Circle of Hell, and a simple piece of work that should take around 5-10 minutes turns into hours of clicking on the editor’s “convenient” tools and inspectors.



    Battling the AI in one of the first game scenes. But right now Unity isn’t our main headache. The biggest pain of the combat system is the UI and controls. They’re terribly inconvenient. We’re going to have to redo the card panel. In all probability we’ll have to hide them under the clock so we can save some vertical space. If you saw any of the screenshots or videos from the previous version, you’ll notice that we also took away the side panels with the portraits. We did that for the same reason. They were taking up too much space.


    The UI and art

    [​IMG]

    Here are a couple of thoughts on the skills selection menu during combat. And below you can see the character profile interface. As we speak our awesome busy bee, Julia, has practically finished all the remaining UI elements for the single-mode game. All that’s left is the main menu and the interface that handles winning or losing in combat. After that we can roll up our sleeves and rework the combat UI and map navigation. Right now it’s really hard to select a specific road with your cursor.

    [​IMG]

    The last couple of months I’ve earned myself a deserved spot in the “Additional Programming” spot of the credits. That spot is usually reserved for the young guys who can’t not be mentioned, but who spend all their time on all sorts of crap (and by that I really mean crap, not just all the loose ends). And that can be anything from assembling the texture atlases, preparing the automation toolkit, creating the builds or doing what I mentioned earlier in this instalment, namely putting together the Android version of the game. Some may think I’m already in the “acceptance” phase, but I prefer to think (probably unreasonably) that I’m still in denial.

    [​IMG]

    We’ve also started working on the skills and upgrade icons for the game, and we’ve drawn the first set of objects and the first 62 portraits of our Kickstarter backers.

    While our art director was on vacation, we started applying some spit and polish. Andrei is working on the color correction to better convey the atmosphere of the game and make the picture sweeter on the eye. Below you can see the “before” (left) and “after” (right).

    [​IMG]

    The scenes are getting a bit murkier, with more contrast, and there’s a slight coldness to some of the hues. All in all we’ve practically drawn everything that had to be drawn. There are just a couple of scenes left that we’ll leave for last, namely the intro and a couple of cinematic animation scenes at the beginning and end of the game.

    Now that we’re able to play the first build, it’s becoming apparent that we’re going to have to shorten a couple of the scenes, as well as add some fights linked to the plot, both new ones and ones we’d previously cut out. For instance, that includes an extra fight scene when Thorn and Gleda run home after their fight with the Reaper, and the game intro, where Hopper Rouley meets up with Amma.


    A bit about the plot and the Photon Server

    It just so happens that I began writing this instalment of the developer’s diary in the beginning of May, and here I am, finishing it in August. Most of what I’d wanted to tell you about the plot has already happened. On the whole, we’ve finished the story. We’re still making a couple of changes to the two final episodes and writing the promised quests, so although there are still bugs and glitches, it’s already possible to play the game from start to finish.

    At the beginning of spring Nevigo (the developers of Articy Draft) announced Articy 3, and with it a native plugin for Unity. There was no time to try it out or experiment with it, so we just postponed this job for after the upgrade.

    [​IMG]

    These cute little skeletons are showing their joy at the fact that we ported everything we’d already written on the Articy Access API to the new Unity plugin, while silent tears rolled down our bearded faces. This hurt, because we’d pretty much created our own equivalent of their plugin from scratch, meaning we’d wasted almost one and a half months. But I’m glad to say this time wasn’t entirely wasted, because we now know our new tool from the inside out and have a near perfect understanding of how to use it.

    Of course, SEC told us to go to hell, so to an extent the rush and change of priorities had been all for nothing. PhotonServer really helped us a lot to get a working build of the online game up and running. There isn’t much I can say about PUB and PhotonCloud, because we’re creating the multiplayer version with a bunch of server-side checks and balances. That’s why we’re using PhotonServer. That being said, we chucked out almost 90% of its loadbalancing. Data transporting in PhotonServer is really cool and convenient. Just a couple of lines of code and you’re already creating business logic. Searching for matches, scaling, expanding the list of network commands, organizing lobbies and rooms—all of this is first and foremost peer-to-peer stuff and a matter of how you configure it on the authorizing server, which does all the calculations for you.

    Both Loadbalancing and Hive make it very easy to change the relationships between a group of players, provided those relationships can be expressed with a simple dictionary of keys and values. But it’s really painful to implement your business rules on top of them. You can do this by means of plugins, but it’s not a very convenient process. I experimented with Netty and its port, DotNetty, and if I’d had just a bit of extra time I would have thrown Photon out and used it instead. The only thing Netty lacks out of the box is the ability to compile for HTML5 platforms with support for websockets.


    The last time I’m writing about the music…

    You probably know by now that we were able to get a bit of extra money on Kickstarter. That allowed us to record a couple of extra music tracks, and Adam and his team are finishing the last of them. That makes me both happy and sad. On the one hand, that means one of the pages of our development history has almost been turned. On the other hand, it also means we’re finished and there won’t be any new compositions.

    [​IMG]

    On the photograph above you can see Aleksander Grochocki (mandolin and drum), Michał Cielecki (keyboard) and Magdalena Przychodzka (vocals) busy recording the music for the outro video.

    Adam, guys… Thank you for your magical work and your incredible music. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to work with you. Adam is a really amazing composer and a great guy. If you’re looking for cool music, he’s your man!

    [​IMG]

    The game has one very special piece of music called the “general mood”. We didn’t create it as a single six-minute composition, but as a set of fragments that can be assembled into different tracks or just one longer track.

    https://soundcloud.com/aurumdust/aog-sinister-mood-draft/s-2bt0M

    Here’s an example of it. It’s the working version of one of our final compositions, a track for “darker” scenes such as dialogs with blatantly evil characters or grisly situations.


    Kickstarter?

    I don’t want to spend too much time on our experience. Yes, the preparations took up a terrible amount of time and nerves. I think we’ll relive that experience all over again when the time comes to ship the physical prizes. I should probably write a separate post on the topic of everything we did 100% wrong, what we got right and what we got wrong.

    Right now I’d like to say a big thanks to everybody who helped us. Thank you very much, guys! And yes, if you want to launch your project on Kickstarter, you should think ten times whether you want to mess around with physical prizes.


    What’s next


    We need to put together the final UI, finish the character upgrade code and transfer all the workings of that part of the game from the design documents to the game itself. We need to fix the style of the text based on the results of the first play-tests and finish the AI. I really want us to finish the multiplayer version before the end of the month so we can share it with the backers and with their help conduct another round of balancing the classes and their skills.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
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  10. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
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    Hey friends! The most frequently asked question from you at the moment is 'how the developing is going?' It is a shame but I got no time to write another developer diary to tell you how's the development goes. That's why I would like to satisfy your curiosity a bit with this post.

    So, we finished the last scene for Thorn and Blance storylines last week. The final is written, portraits and icons are ready as well as UI but there's still some things to be done.

    We are already testing early multiplayer build for a month in our Discord channel, join us: https://discord.me/ashofgods. Also we are planning to release multiplayer alpha for all backers approximately in the late of November.

    I also would like to know is there anyone who can help us to translate the game to German, French, Italian and Polish. If you want and able to support us, please help us to translate the game to as many languages as possible.

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
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    Got some photos from White Nights Gaming Conference: we won the award for "Best Art" and the Gran Prix of the conference.

    A couple of pretty big cups, bearded and satisfied Nikolay as well as less bearded but also satisfied Konstantin (that is me) included.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  12. HoboForEternitygender: ⚧ Magister

    HoboForEternity
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    congrats! pretty well deserved because that siege scene still blow my mind
     
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  13. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
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    Thanks, man, it was really great to get this award, as we're mostly working from home, so sometimes we start to question ourselves and what we are doing.
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2017
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  14. norolimgender: ⚧ Savant

    norolim
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    Guys, I just watched the stream video. I like the animations and aesthetics. Combat doesn't seem too complex but looks difficult. But the writing... damn. To say it's stale is a pretty wild understatement. If the quality in this department isn't much higher in the rest of the game, you'll need help from a professional. Hopefully some skilled writer can salvage it, because if you leave it as it was in that demonstration, you will get bashed for it.
     
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  15. Sneaky Sealgender: ⚧ Aurum Dust Developer

    Sneaky Seal
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    Thank you for taking your time to share your feedback.

    Can you be more specific on what is wrong with the writing? Just the wording or are there some deeper problems?

    We do have a professional published author writing the story, but he does it in russian with a localization company translating it to English. Do you think the translation might be the problem?
     
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  16. norolimgender: ⚧ Savant

    norolim
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    Yes, wording seems odd at times (Everything left hanging leads to the Reaping) but it is the least of your problems here. I'm afraid there isn't enough quality in the writing. It feels very immature and over the top. There is way too much unnecessary, forced swearing and way too much talk about pissing and shitting. And when it's not overdone, it often falls flat. The characters' motivations seem rather weak. The action jumps from event to event too quickly and there are frequent abrupt tonal shifts, which for me at least, makes the whole narration feels rushed and jerky.

    Take the very beginning, for example: 700 years ago you fought bad Reapers and were supposed to die but you didn't; 9 years ago you started to feel uneasy and decided to do sth about it... :o That's a huge leap in time. WTF were you doing for the last 691 years? Were you in a slumber? If you're going to leave out 700 years of the player character's background, don't mention it at all. Keep him more mysterious for now, and let the players learn about his origins and the events he was involved in, as they play. Because dumping this meaningless, deficient information on the player is just bad exposition.

    Unfortunately, this is carried over to the first dialogue with a character called Amma. At one point, she talks about a battle in which her and her interlocutor's (your) brethren perished and just moments later she seemingly refers to the same event, claiming she heard a legend about 12 brave ones who sacrificed themselves. Maybe I misunderstood something, but this sounds like extremely bad exposition.

    And then when she asks him to hand over a powerful object, that he apparently needs to even think about stopping this ominous Reaping, he says: Pity. I really hoped to use it. I doubt anything else can kill a Reaper. Well, here you go...

    Come on. This is hilarious.

    IDK, mate. I won't attempt to judge the whole thing based on a relatively small expert, but what I read and heard was bad. And if I was making decisions, I would scrap most of it. As far as translation being the problem? It might be too some extend. I didn't see the Russian source and even if I did, my Russian isn't good enough to judge that. But many of the problems go deeper than just bad translation.

    But hey, don't just take my word for it. I might be wrong or exaggerating. If I were you, I would post the stream video on the forum and ask for opinions. Just not here - you won't reach enough people. Post it in the General RPG Discussion section and be prepared for very harsh but honest feedback. Good luck.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2017
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  17. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
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  18. whocaresgender: ⚧ Novice

    whocares
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    Hey. I saw your Steam page and imo, it's a prime example of what's wrong. Everything there sounds stiff and unnatural. Initially, upon seeing the Steam description I wanted to just rewrite the entire thing in a way that was better and send it your way, but I soon figured it would be too much work for a random internet dude who may or may not be full of shit. Plus, I don't know enough about the game to properly convey the ideas behind some of the butchered sentences.

    So instead, here are a few standout things:

    Ash of Gods: Redemption is a turn-based RPG that combines tactical combat, CCG elements, and a constantly evolving story in which no one is safe from death, including the main characters. - Replace “in which” with “where” here and you have a much better-sounding sentence.

    Ash of Gods is the story of three separate protagonists rising in response to a centuries-old menace once thought to be mere folklore. - This sentence is bad on many levels. First - what do you mean by rising? Rising to the occasion? Rising through the ranks? Rising from their graves? House of the Rising Sun?

    Ash of Gods follows three separate protagonists as they fight an ancient menace. - this is bad as well, bland and doesn't tell much, but so is the original and I don't have the benefit of actually knowing what's going on in the story. Do they all fight the menace? What's their connection to the menace? What is the menace and why is it menacing?

    And in your original take - centuries-old implies that the menace was an actual menace for centuries, not that it was forgotten for centuries. The folklore part also tells us nothing of value and seems to just be there. The following two paragraphs are just as wonky but it would take too long to analyze them all. Honestly, this entire section should be rewritten to better convey what the game's about.

    For the next section, let's just look at the titles, the rest is too much effort for a nice Sunday.

    Decisions with Major Impacts - Impactful Decisions, Choices Have Consequences, Your Decisions Have/Will Have Major Consequences all sound better imo.

    No Random Dice Rolls - this is redundant. Random and dice roll mean the same thing. No Randomness (bad) or No Dice Rolls (better) are better choices.

    AI that Adapts to You - an ugly sentence. Just go with Adaptive AI or Flexible AI if you don't want to sound too technical.

    PvE and PvP Multiplayer - this just sounds too formal, robotic even. A fantasy story-driven RPG and you're hitting them with MMO terminology? Why? Just go with something like Play Together With Friends or Face Them in Battle

    Rewards for Risk - this is just bass ackwards. Risk and Reward is the expression. Or abandon economics 101 talk and go with Risks Are Rewarded or some better-sounding variation of it.

    Next, The Story, The Artwork, The Music - you don't really need “the” there. You're not using "the" with gameplay earlier, and these are similar concepts, parts of the same list. Also, artwork is not exactly the word I'd use here. Art Style or Visuals perhaps?

    Those are just a few examples that immediately stand out but the rest is not much better.

    I hope this helps in some way? Maybe you'll take another look at the translation, maybe you'll go up to your translators, ask them - what the fuck? and they'll stop slacking off, cause this is amateurish at best, and it's just a few easy sentences of dry description. I can't imagine what would happen if the same people tried to translate a piece of fiction that requires a semblance of talent.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017 at 5:10 PM
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