Aether Story Dev Update: June 2022
What's been up in the Aether over the past two months? Its been a while since I updated the blog. I have been keeping the community updated in Discord, so be sure to head on over to Discord to get more frequent updates. But let's dive into a nice summary of what's been up.
Back in April an annoymous player of the game provided some interesting feedback. It was interesting because it was honest yet constructive. It allowed me to view the game in a new light and start thinking about solutions to what I felt was off about the intro to the game.
Some of their feedback included statements such as, "every map feels like it requires a group and is a slog", "dailies don't have a sense of progression", "Story Mode is not rewarding", and "I don't feel like I can catch up on gear because I missed past holiday events." These are honestly not what I want the game I been putting all my energy into to feel like. So it was time to start divising a plan to remedy these concerns and take a fresh look at the game as a whole.
Improving the Leveling Experience
So much feedback gathered by not only watching countless people play the game, or direct feedback recieved, it has become clear that there is something off about the leveling experience in Aether Story.
This appears to be not only an issue with the difficulty and reward relationship, but also the way we introduce mechanics to the game. As such we will be changing how mechanics are introduced by explaining them in-game over time, and informing new players of how various mechanics work during their first hour of game play.
But let's talk more about that difficulty and reward relationship. Games are fun because of this. You are constantly challenged and then rewarded, this drives you to want to keep playing. Sadly this system was not only unbalanced correctly in Aether Story, but the overall design was lost over time. The reason for this is how the Aether Story Alpha was created: it was actually developed in pieces over several years, which caused the big picture perspective to not been as easily observable.
The new design will be addressing these concerns by changing things such as:
- Gear will be rewarded more frequently, increasing your character's sense growth.
- More Spells and skills will be introduced on a more frequent schedule, allowing you to experience more varied game play.
- More scripted encounters (soloable like bosses) will be introduced, allowing you to experience different monster behaviors sooner.
- Professions will be introduced sooner and allow you to experience alternative game play such as player gardening/farming.
- More story beats will be introduced to help establish the lore and characters sooner, hopefully helping you feel more invested in the game's story.
- More optional group-based quests will be introduced sooner and frequently, allowing you more chances to want to group up and party with others.
- Maps will be redesigned to allow for less getting lost and have more navigational aids.
- Monsters density will be tweeked to allow easier navigation of the world, but with optional higher densisty dens with bonus loot and rewards.
- Increasing the level cap so you level more frequently, allowing you a stronger sense of progression.
All of these changes I am extremely excited to show you. I know this will allow more players to enjoy and experience the game.
The first zone of the game is currently composed of three maps: The Beach, the Meadows and the Outpost. This zone's purpose is to serve as a linear introduction to the game. However, the Meadows map itself was designed to be open with optional side quests scattered across its massive area. Many of which are not our best work, and statistically are where many players reach before quiting. With there being only one main story beat in the first hour of game play, there was not a sense of progression or drive.
The revamp will completely change the first zone by introducing a new set of maps: The Beach, Seashire, The Ridge, The Outpost, The Highlands, and the Meadows. This is basically doubling, perhaps tripling the amount of content in his portion of the game. It is no doubt the level range for this content is being expanded from 1-5 to 1-10.
We will be going over these new maps and the zone overhaul in more detail in future Blog Posts, but I will give you a quick run down of what to look forward to:
- The Beach - still the map where you wake up on and are required to check Ravril's Shipwreck as to the status of the precious cargo. Now being revamped to be more linear and introduce key mechanics that will help you excel at early game play.
- Seashire - a new town found on the coast near the Beach, this town is introduced with a crisis that requires you to resolve, and if you are skilled enough to do so you will be rewarded with your own player farm: introducing gardening and plant growing. This map not only introduces an additional main story beat, but anchors your first hour of game play with a town to call your home.
- The Ridge - the wasteland area that previously served as a bonus map, is now an integral part of the game. Introducing another main story beat, and more backstory lore to the game's world, this map will be a brand new adventure to experience.
- The Outpost - a small fishing village turned to bustling town as the military has established a large training ground. This map will be overhauled with a few new buildings and a new layout, but will reuse as much as the original Outpost map as possible. There will be two additional main story beats added to the map to help progress the game's themes.
- The Highlands - a brand new map that will take areas of the previous Meadows, such as the Ruins and the Lumberyard. This map will be accessed after going through the Outpost to help provide a forward sense of progression instead of back tracking to the Meadows as it is currently.
- The Meadows - a brand new map that was once the road connected the Outpost, Mine and Forest, is now its own fully featured map. This map will serve as optional leveling content before entering into the Mine and provide new quests and lore to uncover.
All of these changes are well under way and I am very excited to share them with you. At the time of writing this blog post half of the maps above are done.
Keyboard and Controller Support
Before the above mentioned revamp was started, we were hard at work adding full keyboard and controller support to the game. Currently only some interactions are keyboard supported, but menus are largely not.
The goal is to get all aspects of the game to be interacted and controlled by the keyboard, and then map controller support to the same systems that the keyboard uses. Utlimately allowing you to rebind keys for both as well. But the first step is full keyboard and basic controller support.
This work is about 80% completed. And will hopefully be included in the next alpha, Alpha 7.
Version Control and Branches
What an adventure. Aether Story is a data driven project. As such most of the game's content is designed and created within a database. And this is where the adventure began. The need to version control the game's data.
I have split this section off into its own blog post. Check it out here.
With the Version Control and Branches system out of the way, it is now time to return to revamping the intro once again, and finishing up the keyboad and controller support. This work will take some time. It is estimated to take over 300 hours of man power. And with our recent team depatures this falls on the shoulders of only three people. I will be keeping you all updated on our progress not only here in the Blog, but more frequently in Discord. So be sure to join the Discord.
And don't forget to keep your eyes out for a Dev Stream on Twitch. While the streams have been far and inbetween, mainly due to the Version Control and Branch systems were not streamable due to passwords and configs, this should hopefully change. More streams are in order, and I look forward to working on game content again on stream.
Thanks for reading!