Devlog #9 Unity Event, Sound Design & Game Reconstruction Updates

One year ago, we launched our game  campaign. Since then, both LUNA and Lantern Studio have grown so much and became something more than we thought we could be! We surely could not have reached where we are now without all our lovely supporters. As we will be continuously working hard on LUNA, we’d like to say thank you again for being incredibly patient and understanding. Thank you for all the warm support we've received during the past year!

It has been a while since our last update, so here are the things we’ve been working on during these days.

Unity - Unite 2017 Shanghai

This month our team attended this great event where more than 4000 game developers could gather together, to meet up with the Unity experts and industry leaders to explore some of the new creative potential of the Unity engine.

We also met a lot of other local indie game teams during the event, shared our experiences and the challenges faced during the game development process and, last but not least, had a good peek at what other great new indie games are under development at the moment, and hopefully in the future we could give each other more help and support.

We have been introduced to a lot of exciting new technologies for the Unity engine by the Unity dev team, don’t wanna bore everyone with too much tech terms, but for example we’re thinking about using the new Unity Analytics tools for our upcoming Alpha demo, which could help us get the best of all the feedback and data received from the players in order to bring out the best gameplay experience.

Sound Design

It’s time for sound FX to be professionally designed and modified into our game. Together with our game reconstruction, we are now switching to a more effective way for our sound designer to work more closely with the level development. By using the FMOD sound engine, now the interactive parts of the level and its sound design / editing can synchronise much better than before.

Game Reconstruction Updates

Half of the existing levels’ reconstruction work have been completed. According to the plan, there will be 7 levels which is about 25-30% of the whole game content included in our Alpha release. We should be able to give a bit more information about it in our next update, so stay tuned guys!
 

Devlog #8 Game Reconstruction & Early Bird Beta

Here we are reaching the first milestone of 2017. We have been going through quite a few big changes and are very busy working on the game, so this updates came a little bit later than usual. Let’s break it down into three different sections.

Game Reconstruction Updates

Since half a year ago, thanks to the Kickstarter funding from our lovely backers, we then dared to push ourselves a little bit more from its original plan on this project. Over the last few months of 2016, in order to make the story richer and the gameplay more challenging, we have increased the number of levels and cinematics within the game. Due to these workloads, from the beginning of the year we have been working on the code refactoring of the whole game, by switching to reactive programming, as we believe the future workflow will definitely benefit from it. Although it is quite time consuming at the moment, thanks to this change all the trickier gameplay features will be able to stand on a much more solid foundation. By doing so, we can also reduce the debug time later on.

About the upcoming Early Bird Beta Version

Last year we’ve had promised some of our Kickstarter backers to be able to participate in one of our early bird beta version test. We are now planning to launch it around the mid of 2nd quarter this year, and the details of the download links and game activation keys will be announced in the next backers exclusive update. 

Here’s the new stuff that players could expect in this version:  

  • A new and easier to understand hint system to smooth the gameplay experience.
  • A couple of new, carefully selected, challenging levels which represent some of the newly developed puzzle types and gameplay. 
  • Since the new control system of our two characters is mostly complete, in this Beta version players will now finally be able to have a taste of the dual character system we’ve been talking about a lot. 
  • Last but not least, improved / optimized game backgrounds and new cinematics! 


Kickstarter Related Update:

Following by the reconstruction work schedule, there will be changes about producing the physical rewards for some of the backers. In order to focus 100% on the game development as the priority at the moment, the time of dispatching the physical gifts will be delayed until the time of our Steam release. We do hope our backers understand the reason of that and stay patient with us. Because by making this change, if they are produced after the whole game production is completed, the physical gifts will be able to contain a much more complete game art and soundtrack collection, and overall the backers will receive a much higher quality gift set.

Devlog #7 Explorer and the Aborigine

New level development 

The gameplay mechanics of this new action-based level is almost ready. However, as the mechanics of this level are quite different from those of the other point-and-click levels, it has taken lot longer for us to work out a suitable design. Plus, we’ve introduced a new action for the character, and the artwork of this level has also gone through several changes in order to keep the gameplay experience smooth enough. Therefore, as you can see from the screenshot below, the bugs that can come along with all this new stuff are just borderline ridiculous.

And For the past few months, while we were developing the levels which heavily involved the dual characters system, we realized that we can not use one single control system for both of the characters. So on the programming side, we are now working on separating them into two.

In order to explain why both of the characters should not share one control system, we’d like to explain a little bit more about each character’s role in the world and how they might affect the gameplay design. 

Explorer and the Aborigine

The main character, our young boy, was designed as the classic “explorer”. You and him start the game together with the same very limited understanding of the surroundings. But along with the development of the story, the more you two learn and discover, the stronger the sense of connection and achievement can be developed between you and the character. This “emotional bond” is actually what we hoped to achieve the most during the game design. So based on this purpose, the gameplay experience will be more important than the action design itself. So far our main character has already got almost 25+ sets of animations, which is more than enough to cover most of the gameplay needs.  

This was the system we followed, and it worked fine until recently, because we do not just have only one character. And their role in the game are really quite different.

Past the first half of the story, the player will soon find out that our secondary character has an unique ability, which will make it more like an aborigine of the LUNA world or a guide that was sent with an unknown mission or purpose. So in order to emphasize this important role difference, both the action and gameplay that are related to it have to be designed differently. 

If we keep adding new features and action sets into the old system, it might cost more serious bugs in the future and is clearly not the best solution. So our programmer is now working on making sure the old and new features can be played smoothly. It’s not an easy task and it is taking longer than what we expected, but we believe the future progress will definitely benefit from this, so no shortcuts.  

Finally, some animation to let everyone know we are still alive and working hard on LUNA.

                                                            chomp chomp chomp

                                                            chomp chomp chomp

Devlog #6 Refinements Results & SHCC

Refinements Results 

Walking cycle

The walking cycle is usually the most basic and also the most difficult animation to deal with. We realized the jumping/jerky issues of our boy character’s walking cycle is due to his quite dramatic up-and-down movement and big step. So we retouched the animation by referencing more game characters' walking cycles instead of the traditional cartoon/animation movement. The new walking cycle by its own might seems less exciting than before, but once it's been placed in the game environment, it turns out to be a lot smoother and pleasant to look at. 

 Also we realized the camera movement in some of the levels would magnify this jerky issue. More research will have to be put into fixing this issue later on.

Art material size optimization

The build of our game is getting bigger everyday, and this could be worrying. No player would like to experience crashing before even starting the game. So the earlier we start looking into this problem the better. It’s tricky to want to maintain the hand drawn/organic feel of the game's art without using big chunks of background drawings. So, this month we chose one of the new levels we are developing, and tried to find a balance between using seamless and original textures for building the background. We are also trying to get the color effect right by using multiply layers with blending adjustment in Unity. There will be more challenges to take, but the first attempt turned out lot better than we expected. (see image below)

                                                 Before (left) & After (right) Optimization

                                                 Before (left) & After (right) Optimization

SHCC

Last weekend we’ve been invited to Shanghai Comic Con to showcase LUNA (with 2 new demo levels added) along with many other great indie game teams. For all the people who came around to say hi and left us great suggestions, we really appreciated all your support! Hope in the future we will have more chances to bring LUNA to other game show exhibitions in different countries.

                                           Had our first time exhibition stands design experience in SHCC

                                           Had our first time exhibition stands design experience in SHCC

For the new month, we are planning to start the development of a new level next month. The gameplay we designed for this level will give us quite a few technical challenges as it involves quite a lot study about the physics of shadow movement. Also, players could expect to experience some good old action gameplay mixed within the puzzles.  
 

Devlog #5 Storyboard & Gameplay Design Refinements

Is that you? 

During last three weeks, the Team has finally met each other in person for the first time. The four of us have been working together closely for about one year, yet still we found it was hard to put the face and voice together when we met. It was a very interesting experience.

Thanks to our friend Fred, we finally had some co-working picture. From left to right: Betty(Artist), Fox(Manager), W.Guan(Programmer) and W.Qian(Musician)

Thanks to our friend Fred, we finally had some co-working picture. From left to right: Betty(Artist), Fox(Manager), W.Guan(Programmer) and W.Qian(Musician)

Although in this day and age long distance communication has become a common way of co-working, especially usual for indie teams, still there is nothing more productive than a real time, face-to-face communication. This has indeed become both an advantage and disadvantage for many indie teams. We’ve avoided the high cost of renting a studio or buying office equipment, but sometimes we really do suffer from the feeling of isolation and sense of disconnection, due to not being able to see your teammates very often.

So during the two weeks of intense meeting this month while our artist was in China, we had the opportunity to sort out quite a few important gameplay and design issues that troubled us before. 

Storyboard

The draft storyboard for the four major cinematic clips during the game is almost completed. We now have the visuals of the key events, locations and characters’ background stories. This will help our musician to work in advance on some new music compositions. It is important that the visuals be delivered to everyone as complete as possible. It might seem like just the artist's job, but the mood and emotion of the story can help other teammates to have a more complete understanding of the game. Everything needs to be shared and discussed.

                                                                  some of the storyboard drafts

                                                                  some of the storyboard drafts

                                                          Example of one completed storyboard

                                                          Example of one completed storyboard

Gameplay and design refinements

According to the previous work plan, during the meeting we have finalized the theme for all the rooms (levels). Each room now has its own function and content. Also, we don’t want to put any objects that don’t relate to the environment of the room, just for the sake of the puzzle. As much as we don’t want to have the puzzles standing out too much from the theme, we also have to consider the feedback we’ve received often from players, that no one likes to click through the entire screen to find a clickable object. This could be one of the biggest challenges in the design part.

Furthermore, in order to provide a smoother gameplay experience, we are also going to re-adjust the difficulties between levels. For example, in the early stage as the story still remains a mystery, the puzzle difficulty curve might be a constant upwards curve.Then during the middle stage, as the puzzle requires more complicated cooperation between characters, we are then going to adjust the difficulty curve or even reduce it a bit. Meanwhile as more cinematics kick in, the story and all the mysteries will be slowly revealed. We even would like to break the puzzle pattern completely at this stage, in order to switch players’ attention more towards the storytelling rather than just focusing on the puzzles. In one word, we hope LUNA will not only be experienced as a series of puzzle challenges, but rather an interactive story, delivered as a game.

Along with the gameplay details of the levels being continuously refined, we are going to start optimizing some old problems, such as the walk cycle and oversized texture issues.