The inspiration behind Netherguild
After launching an early alpha demo, I wanted to write an article about different games and media that inspired my development of Netherguild- So I can remember how I got to this point and reminisce about what my headspace and thought process were like when I just started-
On the menu:
-Made in Abyss
Darkest dungeon is big indie hit title that I could write endless articles about. The unique artstyle, the atmosphere, the gameplay, all blends into an amazing experience- and it's a turn based strategy game, so it should come as no surprise that it has made its mark on Netherguild.
In-fact, Darkest Dungeon shares a lot with Netherguild- seeing how both share a genre and have somewhat similar themes. Ideas like having an "overworld", hiring and selecting different characters before descending underground and bonfires are largely inspired by Darkest Dungeon (Though Dark Souls gets the OG medal for their use of bonfires in games). With that being said, both games differ a lot- besides the drastic differences in gameplay and artstyle, I plan on delving more into character personalities with Netherguild, diving deeper into faction relations (with future "random events" and perhaps letting players ally more with certain factions and unlock faction classes), while on the other hand Darkest Dungeon focuses on lovecraftian horror and excels in narration and atmosphere, probably more so than any other game I've played.
Made in abyss
(99.9% Spoiler free!)
While I'll admit to watching anime
occasionally, for some reason I've always put off watching Made in Abyss. Even while knowing how similar it is to Netherguild's subject of exploring underground, I just couldn't watch the characters- for some reason, their "chibi" (big head to body proportions) artstyle really bothered me. Kind or ironic seeing how Netherguild's characters also have huge head to body ratios-
However, my friend Alon insisted on me watching it for Netherguild's sake, and refused to accept my sorry excuse for not doing so. Alon is generally a really smart guy in addition to being a debugging genius, so I figured he might have a good reason for it. And thus, I decided to watch it while taking notes.
Yeah, watching it while taking notes might have been a great idea, and there's a slight chance I'm forever thankful to wise, wise Alon.
I have gained so much insight and so many ideas as to how made in abyss tackles the "underground" subject-
First of all, a great discovery I had while watching Made in Abyss was how the show handled verticality. Besides the theme being about "going down" and a lot of gorgeous views, in "Made in Abyss", going up towards the surface meant getting the sickness of the abyss- which means that every time a character has to go even a slight bit up, they begin struggling against nature- Therefore, this show made sure it's world doesn't feel flat.
At that point, Netherguild has been completely flat- and while that would make sense and is generally not a bad thing with a man made dungeon, with the bluestone mines (former mines and more of a cave now) it wouldn't necessarily make so much sense-
And thus the curves I love so much on Netherguild's bluestone mines map were born, and I got a big shift in perspective- being a top down isometric game, I *need* to use verticality when I can and break the "same ol' grid" paradigm. Even if not in gameplay, at least in visuals. I'm planning on keeping this interesting idea in the game in future updates and levels (but with different takes on it!) so look forward to that.
Another great concept I had gotten from watching Made in Abyss is the struggle of man (& robot!) vs. nature. In the show, the main adversaries are the wildlife of the abyss (which gets stronger and more dangerous the further you go down), and the natural forces of the "abyss sickness".
It makes a lot of sense with Made in Abyss's plot and themes and I loved this idea- however, in Netherguild you're re-exploring a five hundred years old trade route, so I felt like there should be a lot more remnants of human (/gaian?) intervention along the way alongside the "normal" natural fantasy wildlife- Examples of this human intervention are the torches and boards on the cave walls, some of the things you discover in the mines, and the next planned areas (which you can discover at the end of the current demo), and examples of the wildlife and nature are currently the small and huge crystal shrimp.
However, since then I collect pictures of different interesting animals as inspiration for Netherguilds future creatures. Here's some you might enjoy!
Bagworm Moth Caterpiller by Nicky Bay
Dragon Caterpiller by Melvyn Yeo
"Satanic Leaf Tailed Gecko" photograph by Piotr Naskrecki.
I LOVE XCOM. Arguably the most iconic turn based strategy game in recent years and an absolute masterpiece, XCom is one of my favorite games of all time. While not necessarily borrowing too much from this game (compared to others), suffice to say it fueled my passion for Turn Based games like no other.
While playing XCom, I noticed each character had backgrounds that are basic, general and somewhat generic- which works for XCom's way of letting the player impose a personality on their character, however, that was something I wasn't happy with-
So that's partially why I added class background descriptions to my own game. While this is also somewhat generic to each class background, it does give players a bit more background about a character's life or potential personality and teaches them about the world of Netherguild.
In addition to that, my system of randomizing characters does allow for characters to be more unique (with perhaps a list of different sub-backstories to each character background or something akin to that), so I hope I'll be able to improve upon the built-in personalization of turn based characters from the XCom.
Another thing Netherguild shares with (and might have been inspired by) XCom is that in both games, the fighting characters are normal people- (At least in XCom 2) not chosen heroes, but rather different people from different walks of life who volunteered/were hired for a cause- and I'm curious as to how I can use this concept more in the future.
While I love minecraft, and a lot of people enjoy the "minecraft" aesthetic of Netherguild, weirdly enough it isn't an inspiration to Netherguild's development. Alright, maybe besides the design of the pickaxe quest item. Hear me out on this-
I ended up picking this visual style for Netherguild only after finding out about MagicaVoxel. After experimenting a bit with MagicaVoxel I simply fell in love with how easy and comfortable it is to use (yet hard to master).
And while minecraft may appear like a voxelized game at first too, it's just blocky polygons with pixel art textures!
**The shock! The horror!**
Not that I'm complaining, minecraft looks great. Besides, I sort of convert my voxels in Unity into meshes, polygons and textures myself (via Voxel Importer), so I'm just as much at fault here. But there is still a big difference in the process- my models are made in MagicaVoxel, a voxel editor- with a certain space between voxels, while Minecrafts might be made in Blender or Maya with simple yet effective shapes and textures on top, which translates to different visual styles.
With that being said, minecraft's blocky look is crazy good for performance- seeing how square blocks with "small" textures are very cheap on graphic processing. That works great with minecrafts huge expansive worlds.
On the other hand... . For what I gain in depth and nice shadows, I lose in so, many, extra polygons. But it works with my levels, seeing how player characters can only see walls/floors in a certain range around them.
Lightning round! other honorable mentions are:
Battle for Wesnoth:
"Battle for Wesnoth", a great old freeware turn based strategy game with an endless amount of mods that I spent a lot of time on ages ago- back during middle school (even during lessons! But that's a story for another time) and a bit since.
FTL & 4X Games:
FTL. A legendary roguelike, and 4X Games- strategy games where you manage and expand a community, what do they both have in common?
Both of them share this iconic "decision window":
Something that makes you pause, stop worrying about the next enemy or how bad you're currently doing, and read.
When I first designed Netherguild's gameplay loop, I didn't want it to be fighting alone- I wanted there to be certain things that the player can interact with and maybe learn from about the world, role-play or utilize to their advantage in runs- while I still want to improve them in future iterations of the game and add a lot more, the "interactables" or "events" in Netherguild do just that-
And... a lot more! Every time I play, see, or even just watch GDC talks about a game, it can teach me something or give me a brand-new idea- and that's true for all people. Every personal friend of mine or tester comes with their own list of played games, each with curious ideas or design elements-
Truth is, there's even more honorable mentions, and aspects of certain games that I loved which found a home in Netherguild in one way or another, and that list is still open- (might be expanded upon in future articles!)
So if you have any ideas for something that might inspire Netherguild's development or push it in the right direction, please tell me! (: