A request for a Developer Communique

Discussion about Achron.

Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Shalkka » Thu Sep 07, 2000 3:24 am

edit: extreme chronopost

Hazard wrote:1) many of our artists did not play RTSs and didn't have an intuition very well on how to make the units look and be readable (see my post above for more details)
2) by normal RTS standards, Achron has a low number of units. This means that when we adjust something, need to cover a role that hasn't been filled, or determined that a particular role was not as effective as we'd thought, it impacted not just a couple units, but had a more wide-reaching impact across many units. We'd always planned on pushing the art for last, but when we realized that we weren't going to have a big budget for art, we needed to get the art moving sooner than we wanted. The balancing did not come into play until we'd already had a lot of the artwork done, and so when units' roles were still being jostled a bit, the art didn't reflect that. The low number of units made roles overlap more, blurring the units (it would have helped had the initial unit designs been molded around specific roles, but alas they weren't and there wasn't enough of me to be closely involved with unit design at that point given the other tasks that were more urgent at the time). This point exasperated point #1.

Sarcose wrote:If you guys post another art topic requesting for general brainstorming, with an outline of units you deem to have the highest priority in changing their appearance


Gameplay transparency might not be all art question. If there were stronger tendencies in the campaign that forces to hammer out the differences between the units there would be a lot less confusion. It can be as simple as making a video showcasing the differences of the units (like octos vs. tanks compared to near equal octopods vs. the same tanks and then variations on it and how it affects the outcome). Also simply coming up with precise and easily understandable verbal descriptions of the roles would come a long way, even if they were provided out of game.
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Sarcose » Thu Sep 07, 2000 6:28 am

Edit: Jesus we must have been hit with a Chronopostbomb.

Since someday chronoposting will probably be fixed I'll just post a new reply.

A while ago I had an idea for a "profile keyword" series that would go into unit descriptors, outlining buzzwords that described a unit's function. I used League of Legends as my example, which has a list of class tropes for each character that roughly describe its function. We could come up with the same for the game.

Point two, we could use a function key to toggle mouseover tips that summarize the same for units and buildings. I actually really like this point come to think of it. Even if the first point isn't used I think this is something Achron would naturally need.
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A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Sarcose » Tue Sep 06, 2011 2:59 am

The initial review output seems pretty grim right now, and a lot of complaints being raised are complaints that would be valid to the community the game is trying to break into. I love this game and want to see it succeed, so that said my question is: given the current review environment and common complaints surrounding the game so far, what is the Dev team's general response? Fixing pathfinding is an obvious answer so I'm not really thinking about that one - but I've noticed things like the game is still too hard to distinguish graphically (a stylistic choice), and the UI has wasted space, and even that the game balance and unit design is lacking. I disagree with the third point but what I want to know is if the team has any plans in addressing any of these general complaints - being that they are nearly universal issues raised by reviews --- or is the philosophy perhaps to keep improving the things that work so that these issues become less and less important to the gaming community? Do you have any drastic gameplay changes, rather than mere tweaks, on the backburner? Are the graphics still on the table? Are any of these questions too uncomfortable to answer? (I'm fine with that too)

Not asking to reveal any spoilers about new Big Important Things, just a quick and very generic thought on all that has transpired about the common opinions toward the game. Mostly just looking for reassurance - many of the complaints about the game, to fix, would require changes to the game that would possibly make the game something entirely different than what it is now. Some of these negative review points criticize its very soul, in other words.

This is in a different topic than the megathread because it is technically not the same discussion. I don't wanna really discuss reviews, just hear a general thought and maybe discuss that.
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Hazard » Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:02 am

Sarcose wrote:Fixing pathfinding is an obvious answer


Yep, and luckily we were able to do that. I wish I would have found that bug months and months ago. I'd spent about 15+ hours since launch and achieved a whopping 2-3% performance in pathfinding when I stumbled across that bug. It was cleverly disguised as to give technically correct answers and have performance characteristics that didn't raise an eyebrow. What the bug did was change the shape of the decision tree into one that performed very badly in our pathfinding algorithms. Once that was fixed, it opened up many new avenues for improving pathfinding (which you' may have already seen if you download from our site - if you use Steam, hopefully tomorrow, whenever Valve releases the build).

Sarcose wrote:but I've noticed things like the game is still too hard to distinguish graphically (a stylistic choice),


We did the best with what we had. Our miniscule art budget was about enough for us to bring on art students and only a couple of professionals here and there for specifics. Believe it or not, TC, our art director, did a commendable effort with what was available. Unfortunately, many of our artists were not good at taking direction, and TC was only one person (due to budget constraints, we couldn't afford him full-time for the full duration of the project, and yes, he invested a lot of his own time into this). As one example, the carefully designed color palettes for the species were ignored and instead we ended up with a lot of browns and grays. One artist in particular gave us a whole bunch of textures before he had to go back to school and so we didn't even have the option to have him go back and fix them. Shawn spent many many months trying to recruit artists on our limited budget and profit sharing. With a few exceptions, our community efforts here weren't able to fill in the gaps.

That we used Blender to import our models restricted us further. When we started up the art development, we didn't have enough money to pass around licenses for the commercial 3D modelers to have that as our primary pipeline (but we could read in that stuff from Blender). We also don't pirate stuff (i.e., infringe on other's copyright) - I'm a stickler for making sure we have a valid license for everything - and I hope people do the same with our stuff.

That all this resembles a stylistic decision was due to TC's efforts to try to bring together the disparate techniques of our artists together under one umbrella. We initially pushed for highly stylized models instead of grit and realism, but none of those experiments worked out very well in practice. Largely, we weren't able to get the artists to match styles well enough.

The one stylistic rule that we did stick to was that I wanted the Achron universe to be scientifically plausible. Many games, including many military themed ones, are outrageously implausible and impractical in their graphics (there's a reason military vehicles don't have headlights on during battle with super glossy finishes and why continually moving parts are bad). Perhaps the style suffered a little because of that rule; if it did, I'll take the blame for that. As someone trained to be a researcher, I feel it's a moral obligation to have movies and games get the science at least mostly right to increase public awareness and knowledge of science instead of further cementing widely held fallacies.

Further, yours truly created many of the terrain textures (and for all of my textures, I either took the picture myself, wrote a program to generate the texture, or used hand techniques to create them from scratch). TC did over half of them, but we edited some of them back and forth. We weren't able to find a terrain artist.

Sarcose wrote:the UI has wasted space


Our UI has come a long way, but our UI designer was planning one last revamp before he didn't have time to contribute anymore.

Sarcose wrote:even that the game balance and unit design is lacking


I agree that the visuals that relate what a unit can do to the player could be improved significantly, but what specifically about the balance?

Sarcose wrote:Do you have any drastic gameplay changes, rather than mere tweaks, on the backburner?


We have a list of well into the hundreds long of things that we'd want to put into Achron. How many of them get implemented is a function of two things: how well Achron does and, if it does well enough, what fits better in a patch to Achron and what fits better in an expansion pack or sequel (because it'd change the game so much)?

Sarcose wrote:Are the graphics still on the table?


Sure, but as of right now we don't have the funding to redo them. Yes, we're earning revenue on the sales, but the way our profit sharing is set up in the company (basically the contributors helped fund it by investing their own effort into it), a lot of that needs to pay for the development. If there's a rich benefactor or team of artists with a lot of free time out there that wants to help, we'd be open to it.

None of the main criticisms of Achron were surprises to us. What was a surprise to us was just how unforgiving most of the reviewers were in light of the core game, and how little time many of them spent with multiplayer. We knew that some reviewers would take issue with those things, and we expected a wide range of scores. We were surprised at the difference between our samples of how many people (including many reviewers, for example http://kotaku.com/5820164/a-game-called ... ime-travel ) were willing to overlook the things that we didn't have the resources to do on-par with games that have double-digit million-dollar budgets and those that were not. We knew there was selection bias going on there, but it was more than we anticipated.

We sort of had to release Achron now due to a combination of budget and commitment reasons. And we had to release it at the price we did because of other commitments as well.

Do we wish we could have made it better? Of course! (If a game developer doesn't answer yes to that on a game they've shipped, that means their budget and resources far exceeded the game.) But we're proud of what we've created, especially under the financial and technological constraints we had. We think it's a lot of fun to play.
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Numbers » Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:05 am

You know the community can always stylize the game anyway they want. Right now there probably is not any model packs but it is possible!

Think of model packs that changes the races into pastries.
You have Cupcake Humans against Donut Vecgir and of Course Cookie Grekim

Can you say Icecream Cookie Pharopod?

Though that might be a little silly but this is only client side.
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Hazard » Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:10 am

Numbers wrote:Though that might be a little silly but this is only client side.


If there were such a model pack and it were good enough, we'd even consider making it an official DLC. :-D

....walks toward kitchen...
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Sarcose » Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:30 am

I'm sorry that I wasn't very clear - none of the criticisms I listed are my criticisms. I think the game is amazingly balanced and the gameplay is superb, for instance, that the graphics are absolutely fine (I was raised by games that looked worse and I play them regularly), and that the pathfinding is less than game-breaking due to the way multiplayer ends up with a heavy focus on air and teleportation. Also I am completely used to the UI. But those points are what the damning reviews focused on time and again, and my interest is in hearing your response to that trend. I don't know what to say about game balance except that I think it is the case that the game's true playstyle does not present itself readily to the untrained - I disagree with easy to learn, in that the RTS portion of the game is not intuitive and the singleplayer is not a quick route to multiplayer efficacy (it is if you wanna main CESO, but if you wanna learn Grekim via singleplayer you have a long way to go). So the balance and playstyle is buried deeper than the initial player will be digging, and the player has to be drawn into the game by something else (changing the playstyle to be more readily apparent may well go against some of your core design philosophies).

I'm happy to see your quick response, Hazard. I wasn't hoping for anything substantial because I know you're busy, and just thought I'd put the thread on the table in case someone found time to give a generalized blurb. The one issue you still haven't addressed is that gameplay balance, which I suppose I should have worded it: the lack of gameplay transparency. Some reviews, and many comments in review threads, comment that the gameplay is bland and imbalanced.

It is my opinion that in order to see the gameplay for what it is you have to understand: 1) how Timewaves propagate changes (therefore, the game plays out your orders for you at superspeed and you do not have to actually sit through the slow movement rates of units) and 2) how unit functionality lends itself to causal changes. A distant 3 is how chronoporting can affect the game, but you can understand the depth of the game before reaching that point.

So I suppose rather than saying the game is imbalanced and bland, I am wondering how we should address that opinion. Aspects 1 and 2 need to be communicated very quickly - perhaps what you are working on for the demo will address that?

(Also, I am happy to see that the graphics were not entirely driven by core philosophies - many reviewers both amateur and professional expressed the opinion that the graphics should not have to be the way they are, and I was wrestling with the opinion that there must be a good reason for it; I am actually more pleased to see it is the issue it is, and not that it is entirely a result of the engine constraints - what you described is more easily remedied, and the naysayers therefore more easily quelled)
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby ChronAberant » Tue Sep 06, 2011 10:23 pm

Hazard wrote:Unfortunately, many of our artists were not good at taking direction, and TC was only one person (due to budget constraints, we couldn't afford him full-time for the full duration of the project, and yes, he invested a lot of his own time into this). As one example, the carefully designed color palettes for the species were ignored and instead we ended up with a lot of browns and grays.

This is exactly the impression I got while perusing the models in the map editor. CESO in particular run the gambit from jet black to shiny steel. Perhaps this is something the community could help with. I imagine there are plenty of people who would be interested in learning how to do a re-skin mod.


Hazard wrote:The one stylistic rule that we did stick to was that I wanted the Achron universe to be scientifically plausible. Many games, including many military themed ones, are outrageously implausible and impractical in their graphics (there's a reason military vehicles don't have headlights on during battle with super glossy finishes and why continually moving parts are bad). Perhaps the style suffered a little because of that rule; if it did, I'll take the blame for that. As someone trained to be a researcher, I feel it's a moral obligation to have movies and games get the science at least mostly right to increase public awareness and knowledge of science instead of further cementing widely held fallacies.

That's why you get my money and not Blizzard. :D
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Sarcose » Tue Sep 06, 2011 11:18 pm

Hey if I had the ability I would be so willing to contribute all my spare manpower to helping out. My talents lie in writing, however, although I'm learning accounting, so I wouldn't really be able to help. Otherwise I would have already volunteered for only the price offered in alpha - a free copy to give to a friend :D
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Re: A request for a Developer Communique

Postby Hazard » Wed Sep 07, 2011 12:16 am

Sarcose wrote:The one issue you still haven't addressed is that gameplay balance, which I suppose I should have worded it: the lack of gameplay transparency.


That lack of transparency is something I've been pushing hard for a long time. The problem was two-fold:

1) many of our artists did not play RTSs and didn't have an intuition very well on how to make the units look and be readable (see my post above for more details)
2) by normal RTS standards, Achron has a low number of units. This means that when we adjust something, need to cover a role that hasn't been filled, or determined that a particular role was not as effective as we'd thought, it impacted not just a couple units, but had a more wide-reaching impact across many units. We'd always planned on pushing the art for last, but when we realized that we weren't going to have a big budget for art, we needed to get the art moving sooner than we wanted. The balancing did not come into play until we'd already had a lot of the artwork done, and so when units' roles were still being jostled a bit, the art didn't reflect that. The low number of units made roles overlap more, blurring the units (it would have helped had the initial unit designs been molded around specific roles, but alas they weren't and there wasn't enough of me to be closely involved with unit design at that point given the other tasks that were more urgent at the time). This point exasperated point #1.

What to about this going forward from where we are... that's a great question, and we're thinking on that. If we'd had a big budget to make phenomenal artwork after taking more time on balance tuning and role designation, then there's a clear path to solving that problem easily. Community help is greatly appreciated.
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