2021 and Beyond
I need not write about any of the negativity of the last year. I can say though that for the video games industry it was a lucrative one, even with the bulk of it's workforce handling tasks remotely, and I was lucky enough to be able to put an incredible amount of effort into the development of End's Reach. Since the last post in November, the game has undergone some major, sweeping changes that have helped shape the direction of the game as we go into the next stretch: content development.
This article will go briefly over some of those changes, and then we'll cycle back to talk about how the game plans to move forward.
Combat Adjustments & Elemental Properties
The November update came with a complete overhaul to the combat system. With it came adjustments to frame data, animations, hitboxes, and the AI state-machine. All of these changes together have helped to improve stability, reliability, and increase the general difficulty of the game. Since End's Reach features a protagonist which a tonne of mobility, I wanted enemies to act more predictably, and with more weight. They now have strong startup frames, action frames, and recovery, conveying their intention so the player can make use of their high mobility. Where a game like 'Dark Souls' wants the player to act defensively on a fresh encounter, End's Reach wants the player to behave in an evasive manner and then press the advantage to control the situation.
These changes were a major success, and have helped cement the game's direction, and with the increased challenge, the game has finally reached a point where it can fairly kill it's creator.
But there was something missing.
End's Reach has had elemental properties on attacks since the very first prototype back in 2017 (When the game was a 2.5D isometric action game, how far we've come!) I felt that this system was not very well represented. It's not a unique system (quite cliche, actually), but since it was a part of the weapon design I felt that the elemental damage types were not weaved very naturally into any of the game systems beyond puzzles. So I was presented a list of major problems.
1 ) Enemies can have weakness or immunity to different element types, but this just meant that you always use a specific weapon against specific enemies, not super interesting.
2 ) Puzzles can make use of elemental damage too, but I didn't want to build a game in which all you do is hit coloured doors with coloured weapons.
3 ) The game felt too simple to play. Even though enemies could kill me now, the only input that was ever required of the player was jump, dash, and to mash the attack button. Since I want the game to ramp up in difficulty and creativity as the game progresses, I needed a way to add decision making to the combat flow.
I needed a solution that could have application in combat, puzzles, and exploration. It was time to get a bit more creative. Below are some of the major new features that were added to increase the depth to which I could design future content.
Introducing the Combat Point system.
When the player deals damage to an enemy, they will now generate a combat point that corresponds to the type of damage dealt. They can generate up to five combo points at any time, with new ones replacing older ones.
Combat Points are a resource that is used to cast magical abilities (another new system), in a sequence of 3 points -> 5 points costs.
3 Light Energy combat points gives you access to the ability Armor Pierce, which lets you break down the defenses of enemies that are otherwise immune to damage.
5 Light Energy combat points gives you access to Light Beam, which creates an energy clone at your original position that channels a beam of light damage that lasts currently up to about 10 seconds.
In the example clip above, I generate 4 combat points. The system is smart enough to sort through all the skills in that elemental type, but only grant access to the ones I can afford. It then prioritizes the most expensive one we have access to.
But - there's a problem with this. A lot of these abilities would be pretty useful in combat obviously, but we want the system to work with puzzles, too. There wasn't an easy solution to this, and it took a few weeks to settle on something that I at first considered to be a very middle-of-the-road design idea, but after implementing it, the result was positive enough that I decided to shift content around to fit it.
Power Fissures were again the result of a problem that needed to be fixed. I was happy with the new system of attacking to generate resources, and then using resources to solve combat puzzles against specific enemies, but they had no applicable use in puzzles that were in non-combat areas. Power Fissures are a code and procedural art solution that I hope will solve most of these issues long term without making the game a snooze.
The idea here is that in areas with a lot of energy, a Power Fissure can form, spilling energy into the air. These fissure will display visually what combination of energy they're made up of, and then grant the player a set amount of Combat Points when picked up. This lets me create puzzles where the solution can be nearby, but still using the same ecosystem that combat does.
In the clip above, I'm utilizing a power fissure that grants me 5 light combat points.
Then, I run over to a room that requires two switches be pressed at the same time, and use the Light Beam ability that is granted by consuming the 5 points.
A simple puzzle, no doubt. But it's a concept expanded on 2-3 more times throughout this content. It also lets me introduce abilities for weapons the player has not yet obtained, which is great - because it solved another problem. We receive weapons at the end of dungeons in End's Reach, and so the powers you get are only usable in the next piece of content. Power Fissures solve that problem and allow me to design the content thematically as if the player already has the weapon, and then we can give them that power outside the dungeon. Nice.
If the creation of this system is something you're interested in knowing more about. I uploaded a dev stream to our Cuirass Entertainment Youtube Channel that shows the entire process.
Enemies and objects in the game world can now be set to 'Reactive'. What this means is that each object in the world can be given any number of flags that decide which elements they react to. For example, when this grass reacts to the light damage type, it's cut to shreds.
However, because the bush object has it's flags set to be reactive to both Light, and Fire, it can be set ablaze as well.
This system has created endless possibilities for how the player will interact with the world. As anything that has the capability of dealing typed damage, can now be used in puzzles, combat, and exploration. The goal here is to create a world that reacts in a more logical way. To make the weapons the player unlocks become an extension of how they interact with the world and it's characters.
The 'Beyond' Part.
That's a lot of new features to absorb, and there's still loads of work to do to flesh out all these new systems and make sure I'm utilizing them the best I can in design. I do hope that anyone following the game is still excited despite all the added complexity. End's Reach is meant to be a game of decent length and players will have lots of time to learn these systems before they get serious.
With all of that out of the way, it's time to talk about what state the game is in, and where I plan to take it in 2021.
As of today, there are about four zones of gameplay completed. I estimate that for a new player this is about two and a half hours of gameplay if they do moderate exploration. The first (end dungeon) boss has been added to the game and development is shifting pretty heavily toward content delivery and finalizing any areas that are required for completion of the game. With the addition of these last few systems, I can safely say that I have all the tools required to design all of the intended content. The game has cutscenes, dialogue, secrets to discover, a dozen or so unique enemies, and an ever increasing number of abilities within the new Combat Point system.
I have plans for the bulk of development to be completed in 2021. I can't say that this promises a release date this year, but it does mean that unless any more major events upturn my development pace, I plan to have the majority of content, up to the end boss finished before the calendar turns again.
I encourage anyone who's interested in End's Reach to throw a sub on the Youtube Channel or you can follow on Twitch TV where I do the occasional developer stream. There's a good mix of both programming and art on there, so there should be something for everyone.
Thanks for following along, and I wish everyone a safe and happy 2021. Let's turn it around.