Greetings fellow ale swilling pilferers!
I thought it was about time that I shared a bit more detail on what is going on development wise, and in particular on what the future development roadmap is looking like. Apologies if my writing is a bit disjointed, as I am still recovering from what is possibly the longest cold I've ever experienced and my brain is not exactly firing on all cylinders.
As you will no doubt know from following my dev videos, twitter posts, or reading the development notes on the discord channel, I've been stuck working on the environment of the inn for a long, long time. You might say that it is something of a quagmire. Part of the cause of this is my insistence on getting what is a pretty damn detailed (and mechanically complex) environment more or less entirely finished, before making an actual game. This is probably a very silly thing to do. But, before plowing ahead with explaining myself, just a recap as to how things got here.
When I first started working on Innkeep, back at the beginning of 2015, I started with very simplistic art, and jumped into tinkering with code that would handle selecting guests, having guests chat, path finding for having them walk places, serving them drinks, etc. I didn't worry much at all about how things looked, because I was basically prototyping.
(The very first prototype).
I spent a good year and a half in prototype mode, figuring out how to program again, and learning some hard lessons about how to do basic art by making all kinds of terrible mistakes (not using layers in my images because I didn't even know how... yes seriously).
This was the learning to crawl stage. I was experimenting with perspective, with mechanics, and with style. But also I was thinking about what the game would actually be. I knew that I wanted to create the feeling of running a fantasy inn, of being in that space. This was priority one. I didn't want to make a straight-up simulation (a good thing, seeming a lot of tavern / inn simulation games are coming out now), but something which borrowed more from a Papers Please kind of narrower focus on certain mechanics.
As the two year mark drew closer, I reached a point where I felt that the existing prototype was constraining me. I was putting in effort building things which I felt I would have to end up scrapping or altering significantly, or I was running into restrictions because I still didn't know what size things would be, or where they would be. In other words, it wasn't so much a problem of the art and the quality of the sprites, but of the size of those sprites, their positioning and interactions.
Of course, I could have set about sorting those issues out without launching into creating actual time consuming art. That would have been a smart thing to do I guess. But I wanted a break from coding, and I was starting to enjoy working on the graphics. So I went ahead and started redesigning everything. Starting with the floor.
This decision actually paid off in a significant manner. Turning back to the actual play space, crafting it, thinking about it, is what helped to lead me back to the idea that you -had- to have bedrooms. Merely having doors that did not open, with the rooms as abstractions, seemed boring. But if you -had- to have bedrooms, what would they exist for? You go inside them to do... what? To steal! What is now for me a planned central mechanic originally developed out of focusing on what the play space wanted to be, in a sense. (You can read a post from this period on the game site, here.)
For the last few months of 2016, through 2017, and now through a good chunk of 2018, I've almost exclusively worked on realizing this idea of an inn. While developing the space, I had further ideas. Fancy cut-away style bedrooms. A kitchen and a stables that you could go in. A cellar under the floors that you could go inside. Etc. etc. Above all, I found that the perspectival design I originally went with, lent itself excellently to this kind of doll-house like cut-away design, where you can enjoy the experience of peering behind things, of opening things up. It's something you can only really do in this way with 2D. The resulting look and feel of the playspace has been something far better than I anticipated, and this feeling served to strengthen my resolve to make sure that I got it right, that it really felt good. Once you could go into the bedrooms, for example, I could no longer leave the cellar as an abstraction. You simply had to be able to go into the cellar in a similar manner. The space practically demanded it of me.
And as I went I made more mistakes, learnt from them, and went back to fix and improve initial issues. To get to the current point has taken multiple passes to assure quality, to get things up to a standard that I think is really acceptable for release. All the way, however, I had to continually revise my expectations of when I would return to making an actual game. 6 months? 12 months? 18 months!? 24 months..!?!!! Certainly, two years ago I never would have believed that I would be here, still working on the environment.
What I want to emphasize about this process though is that, firstly, this is a game which is all about being in this space, in this inn. The mechanics are important, but there is no game without the environment. At least, no game that I would want to make. Secondly, working on the environment has afforded me a lot of time to think deeply about what exactly the game will be. Beyond the mechanic of stealing, I've thought a lot about the setting, the story, the cooking system, the inventory system, the room renting system, the conversation system, etc. etc. The more I've crafted the actual environment, the more I have been able to visualize what playing within that environment would look like in concrete terms.
Thirdly, and finally, however, I wanted to say that though it might sometimes look like I am OCD-ing my way indefinitely on one aspect of a game that will never be finished, as I tinker with little graphical problems while ignoring actual gameplay, in reality I do have a list of specific issues that I am working my way through fairly methodically. Because I have this list, and because it is something finite, I hate the idea of leaving things unfinished and shifting my attention.
In other words, I really do feel like I'm so close to nailing the environment (and I know I've said this many times in the past but really... really I mean it). I am 92%-93% of the way there (ignoring furniture etc). And maybe I can't get to 100%. Maybe I stop at 97% or 98%. But I can't stop at 90. I just have to get to the approximate finish line.
But what does that look like? What is the road ahead, such that you can know when actual game-loopy stuff is going to happen?
Let me lay it out in fairly simply bullet point terms what I have planned for the near future:
1) - Getting the lightmaps working properly (currently some bugs).
2) - Adding lightmaps for the tables and fireplace, for when fire/candles are lit.
3) - Getting the shader system working for player cast shadows, for when the player is standing in cast light by the right-side windows and the fireplace.
4) - Getting the remaining shadow sprites done for under the walkways, and here and there in the environment.
5) - Fixing various broken things with the fireplace.
6) - Getting time of day working properly and hooked up properly to the functioning of the cast shadows, the light maps, and the brightness of the drawn sprites.
7) - Fixing player movement speed to make it relative to player size (closer to the screen and further from the screen should not be the same speed, given the perspective used.
8) - Fixing player scaling to be more consistent, and fixing scaling jankiness around the base of the two stairs (tricky code.)
9) - Getting camera movement consistent and properly focused for ease of play.
And that is it. Of course, there is more to do. But that pretty much concludes stage one. The bedrooms need furnishings. The stables needs lighting and objects. The kitchen needs fireplace functionality etc. etc. But that can wait.
What I am focused on at the moment, in other words, is primarily all about having that central play space working well and looking good, so that I can showcase new features properly as I add them for stage two. (For example, when I make guests sit at tables properly again, I will at the same time be able to have them look awesome with the way the candle-light hits them in the evenings, because the lightmaps and lighting system and time-of-day system will be working.)
I still can't say how long it will take me to work through the above list. But it is a more or less finite list. After that, we have the next stage.
What can you expect in stage two? I'll be working on the following features.
1. Guests sitting down properly.
2. Assigning guests to rooms.
3. Serving guests drinks.
4. Talking with guests (conversation system).
5. Guests talking with themselves, and you evesdropping.
6. Guests going to bed.
7. Mechanics handling stealing from guests at night.
8. Inventory system.
9. Trade system.
10. Guest variations.
11. Other characters.
12. Cooking system.
This is not an exhaustive list of the core game features, but it gets us most of the way. (Then there is stage three, which will be mostly narrative design. And I guess, stage four, which would be polishing everything)
By the way, although I don't want to underestimate how much work some of these systems will be, I have some understanding based on my past experience prototyping. I do have the feeling that it might be surprising how quickly some of these parts come in.
It's been a long and semi-coherent post. Let me get to a conclusion already.
To summarize: The road has been long. Building the environment has taken a lot of damn work. But it looks nice, and I'm very happy with it. I don't really think there is anything else out there quite like it. Despite being a mediocre artist and amateur developer, I think I've pulled off the creation of a play space that should leave a positive impression in its own right. Furthermore, it's very, very nearly complete for now, and that means I will (in a matter of hopefully a mere few months), be moving on to new things. That means no more damn screenshots of static environments or room transitions, but screenshots of mechanics, of guests talking, of booze serving, of trading, of cooking. I'm excited about it. If all goes well, 2019 will be the year where the game finally begins to look like a game.
Best wishes from me and thank you so much for your continued support.