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Third developer diary about changes during the last months, new completed environments and technical experiments

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The wait for the next dev blog ended up longer than I wanted (even past the new year), although I was looking forward to recapping all the development again. At the outset, I must explain why both the blog and the development process were delayed - in the fall, I had to deal with a change in my job position in the game industry. After five years in the professional game industry (=where at least some money is paid :) ) I felt for a long time in my entry position as a tester that I needed a change. Unfortunately, I ignored these feelings for a long time and got to a point where I had to deal with them immediately. But at the moment I can say that everything turned out well and I am currently continuing in the same company as a 3D graphic artist and thus moved forward in my field. But back to our important game :)

Direction of the game

I was putting together the last blog before the yearly GDS live event in Prague, where I was looking forward to the reactions to the first three finished levels in the first environment of the game. Looking back today, I have to mention that the event served its purpose even if it was much weaker in terms of getting new players. We collected a whole list of notes, and it fundamentally helped me decide about the direction of the game. On the one hand, it helped me a lot to see what types of obstacles were a problem for players (and in some situations it was also a problem with my level design), but more importantly, I became more convinced that Warped Times must not be too close to true hardcore platformers, since the parts with adventure, exploration, and level solving were much more interesting to watch for me as well. Still, I'm glad that most players kept trying the harder locations until they managed to complete the level.

I definitely don't want to drop the hard sections completely, it would just be a shame to make it impossible for some players to progress through the story. The typical solution is, of course, to add optional tasks when completing the levels, which I was counting on as part of the story anyway, but I'm also very happy to keep the hardest levels as an optional bonus. Anyway, I have no ambition to compete with precision platformers, so the most important theme of game design is to make each level as fun as possible and offer something new - after all, this is exactly what I had in mind when developing the original games, and I'd like to say that it's working very well so far :) But don’t worry, I will not cut off some really challenging levels :)

Warped Times at Game Developers Session 2022Warped Times at Game Developers Session 2022

New content

Since the last post, I am very happy that I can boast really big progress regarding new environments and unique levels. As we manage to get into more advanced stages of development, I notice a gradual acceleration of the creation of new environments because we already have reusable assets and scripts. Unfortunately, this also means that there is almost no left usable content from the original Warped Times game, from which I wanted to select only the most interesting levels, and I don't have enough time to sketch the new levels due to the complexity of the new work. But I believe that interesting ideas will definitely come. When playing back the original games, I felt there were missed opportunities because of how some ideas were only used in a single level. That's why I decided to improve this in the remake, and use mechanics that can work in more levels - for example, I would like to find more opportunities to use changing water levels, or stone chasing sequences.

Demonstration of all finished environments
Demonstration of all finished environments

If you watched the livestream during CZSK Games Week (probably not - but it doesn't matter, I wasn't a good streamer :) ), you must have also noticed the fast progress across the levels, which is also a very important thing that I want to focus on - I often repeat the mistake of simply not being able to see the playtime of the level compared to the previous ones, and also the time required for the creation of the level itself isn’t helping with this, because it usually takes a few days - or even more for some “iconic” levels :).

For me, it means I have to find a few moments during the creation to go through the whole level, and compare its length to the previous levels (if they are already finished, otherwise one must predict :) ).

In the last week, I managed to catch up on another very important task, which I mentioned a lot in the previous blog, and that is the story and characters. I'm glad that the game is slowly getting to the point where it will be necessary to start thinking about the story very seriously, and I'm starting to develop the first characters and their dialogues. For this need, I developed a more final version of the intro and thus the entire environment of the dystopian city, and I also prepared a unique sample from this part of the game for this blog :)

City environment from the game intro
City environment from the game intro

Technical improvements

In the end, I'm actually glad I waited this long to get the look of the intro right (even though the rough design of the city has been sitting in a test scene for a long time), because that brings me to the next big topic, which is the technical side of the game. Of all the game development professions, I'm probably the least experienced in programming (if I don't count audio, where my experience ends in assigning sound to the right channel in Unity :) ). Nevertheless, thanks to Unity I am surprised by how many special effects I managed to put together just in the past six months, and the whole game still works well even without dedicated optimization. A huge part of how I managed to bring to life even effects that I could only dream of (like hot air near the lava, water reflections on the cave terrain, or the transition between dimensions) is due to the perfect universal shader material that I use.

Lava effect in the burning forest
Lava effect in the burning forest

But there are also things that look complicated at first glance, but with the help of tricks, they turn out to be very easily achievable. Of course, now I have to boast for example the dynamic snow on the surfaces of platforms, easily deformable only by moving the vertices, or 2D shadows created by simply rendering to a specific layer and then rendering to the main camera, and last but not least, dynamic water. I have to admit that finding ways to do these seemingly complex effects in Unity without deep knowledge of shaders or math is one of the things I enjoy most about development, and I'm curious to see what else I'll experiment with. I really learned a lot from Warped Times in this regard :)

Dynamic snow created by mesh deformation
Dynamic snow created by mesh deformation

Current challenges

The story continues to be the biggest challenge and my biggest insecurity during development. But as I mentioned at the beginning, I'm slowly managing to incorporate the first dialogues and other characters into the game, and so far it seems that the story is starting to fit together well even as I keep introducing new ideas. It would be great if the story is the topic of the next blog entry, but I would like to have its foundations ready even earlier - for this, I set a nice date for this year's Game Access, because we first presented the game at this event last year (yes, it will be a year already :D ), and this year I would like to show as much progress as possible and reach more people. I also think it's about time to show a short preview of the game, so I'd like to focus on a gameplay trailer in the near future.

Animations have also become a new challenge, which will be very important as new characters are added. Apart from the main character, whose movement is mainly controlled by code, I have the challenging task of moving and animating many other characters within the story. The animations will certainly not be perfect in the first versions (so far I have tried animating two characters and one boss level), but we still have a lot of time left until release, and I have no doubt that, like many other things since the first build, their quality will continue to improve.

The new Warped Times is very much about trying new things in both Unity and game design. One of the random attempts that ended up being really successful was a hastily made multi-character arena. Everyone enjoyed this local multiplayer during the test, and therefore I do not rule out that I will devote some time to this direction as well, and make it possible for players to locally play against each other. But there will definitely be more time for introducing potential new content like this in one of the future blog entries.

Experimental Warped Times party with split-screen multiplayer
Experimental Warped Times party with split-screen multiplayer

In conclusion, I would say that the last few months were definitely very difficult and I had to suspend development for a while, but in the end I managed to combine work on the game with a new job position again, and thanks to the set deadline, I am looking forward to what new things I will be able to present in the next post. For now, thank you to everyone who follows our progress :)

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