Dev Blog–Scarfoam Coast: Water, Kings, and Falls

So it has once again been way too long since I updated our dev blog. It’s funny, I’m looking at that progress report from four months ago and thinking, “a lot of those numbers now read 100%.” Progress is happening, and it’s going quicker than slower to boot! All of the levels are done save some little details here and there, we have battle maps for every level but the one I’m about to talk about, we’re maybe two songs away from having a full soundtrack, and all the dialogue is done save for one final round of editing.

We don’t have a specific release date yet, but you know, soon.

However, we’re here to talk about the Scarfoam Coast, or the water level in Land of Glass. This was the level I think both my brother and myself were dreading to make, partly because we had no idea what it should look like, and partly because the water engine can be finicky to work with. It does a lot with a little, but you have to know how to make it work to get the best out of it. Thankfully, I know the guy who made it.

Also, I made him do all the water.

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I spent a good amount of time looking at other water levels from games and anime because I wasn’t sure where to start. The majority of this game is pretty grounded as far as magical landscapes go. Yeah a city wedged between a few active volcanoes is a stretch, but the layout itself doesn’t have any floating bridges or the like.

The rest of the levels follow suit. A city in the trees? Yeah! But it has to make some kind of sense.

The Scarfoam Coast sort of breaks that rule a bit. The big city I landed on for inspiration came ended up being Altissa from Final Fantasy, and that place doesn’t make any sense! It’s waterfalls into waterfalls into waterfalls. The city is somehow set between all the big layers of water.

I liked the idea though–a lot–so here we are. I also looked at this big water city from One Piece and maybe took some building inspiration there too.

Now, here’s a gallery of pictures.

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There’s a lot of lore to The Land of Glass that goes into making these levels; however, most of it doesn’t end up in the game. The characters take the story where they will, and sometimes that means not noticing important things or not asking the right questions.

I went into the societal structure of the Scarfoam Coast with the idea that every man is a king aboard his ship, a line I probably picked up from A Song of Ice and Fire. I like it though! What if everyone who owned a boat had a big say in the government? That would be interesting given that this is a city on the water.

That tidbit isn’t in the game though. Maybe it’ll get there between now and release, but I doubt it.

Release is creeping up on us.

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We Are the Ocean Born

Hey, have some more Vitrerran music why don’tcha!

So, this song is the main theme for The Scarfoam Coast, or our water area. I was trying to channel my inner Alestorm, and while I probably missed that mark by a wide margin, I am happy with what I got going here. This song was super fun to make!

What sets this one apart, I guess, is that it uses a new plugin called Sakura. Well, not “new” to the world but new to Dual Wield Software. It came with some awesome strings, including the violin and guitars you here in this song. I finally have an upright bass, guys. You have no idea how happy that makes me. Got a wicked nice harp too.

Pretty sure the Greyjoys liked to go “we are the iron born,” so that’s where the title is coming from. I’m finding it harder to pun off of A Song of Ice and Fire things as I make more tunes. I haven’t read the books in a very long time.

Game Development: Viper’s Bite

Progress continues with The Regret of Viterran, this time in the form of a new song. I’m quite happy with this one.

“Viper’s Bite” will be the battle theme music for the Sekhtus Desert.

This song started off as the night-time, rock tune for our Global Game Jam 2016 game. I created the original draft in around five hours on little sleep, and it featured some okay-sounding electric guitar and organ. It was mostly unmixed and unmastered because I ran out of time to do those things.

I liked it then though, and I wasn’t going to just let five hours worth of work sit there like that. So I loaded it back up and re-purposed it.

The okay-sounding electric guitar is now an acoustic guitar–actually two of them, each sounding a little different from each other–and the organ is now a ney flute. Wikipedia says that instrument is prominent in Egypt and the surrounding area.

Like the last song I made for Vitrerran, there was a nice amount of collaborating at work here. I built the basics, and my brother helped me fix a few things up, partly in pointing out which areas were horribly out of key. I’m a hair tone deaf and have problems with some of that.

And like all my other songs, this one has a nod to A Song of Ice and Fire, The Red Viper being a character from the desert city of Dorn. It’s a bit less in-your-face (and not as clever) as “When Winter Fell” or “A Storm of Sounds,” but it’s the best I managed to do without getting overly wordy.

I hope you enjoy!

 

Jotun Review

Jotun

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games

Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games

Release Date: 9-29-15

Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac, Linux)

You know you’re in for an experience when a game begins with your character dying and entering the afterlife. You also know you’re in for an experience when the worst part of that scenario is how you died and not the fact that you’re, well, dead. In the case of Jotun, Viking warrior Thora died at sea, and only those who die in battle can enter Valhalla. That’s a problem.

Thankfully, Odin has a solution: Complete his challenges and he’ll grant you entry into Viking heaven. However, when it comes to challenges, the Allfather doesn’t mess around.

On its surface, and perhaps underneath it as well, Jotun is a fairly simple game. You as Thora have a very large axe, and you must use it to kill very large monsters called Jotun. Right click to swing, left click to smash, space to dodge, and yeah, off you go. As you travel through the Viking equivalent of Purgatory, you’ll unlock a few extra skills, but they’re fairly standard: You get a heal, an explosive trap, a strength boost, a speed boost, a shield, and a long-range attack.

It’s simple, yet not in a bad way. I’d have preferred some more upgrades, especially for Thora’s axe since there are only the two swings and not much to be said about combos, but Jotun knows what it wants to be and excels despite its limitations.

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Your main goal throughout Jotun’s seven hours of gameplay is to kill the five Jotun found throughout Viking Purgatory. Levels are broken into three sections, with the first two involving exploring maps looking for keys and the third housing the boss itself. Find the two keys, some golden apples to extend your health bar, a power up or two, and then go fight a giant monster.

However, Simple is not easy. The first 2/3 of each level, while not really filled with combat, usually involve plenty of environmental hazards and some puzzle solving to succeed. Each place only has one save station—which can only be used once—meaning activating it as soon as you find it could prove problematic later on when you’re almost dead and out of healing spells. I had to restart a certain level few times because the floor is lava, and lava hurts.

Of the five levels, only three of them have monsters to kill as you proceed through, and of those three, only one of those has what I found to be enjoyable combat. For the other two, it was just easier to ignore/avoid the enemies, which weren’t particularly fast or threatening.

The Jotun are where the real combat and gameplay lie, and holy Viking Hell are they difficult. I knew I was in for a rough time when the first boss took me about twenty minutes to kill, and things never got easier. I threw myself at the thunder Jotun for a good hour and a half before killing her, and the last boss took about just as long. I say that without any exaggeration: It took me at least an hour and a half to kill the last boss of this game!

So the bad news is the game is hard, but the good news is that the Jotun are really, really fun to fight, the last boss especially. I got frustrated from time to time (dying over and over will do that), but I never wanted to stop playing. That’s a high measure of success.

That isn’t to say that the game always feels fair. Thora isn’t exactly fleet of foot, and many of the Jotun move quickly, either through teleports or simple dashes. It can be hard to keep up with them, especially one boss who thought it would be nice to turn the floor into ice so that I was even slower. I am still mad at him.

Thankfully, all the Jotun really telegraph their attacks, so if you get hit, that’s mostly on you.

Simple seems to be the running theme here, and that extends to Thora’s story as well. I’ve already given the barebones plot of Jotun, and the game doesn’t aspire to much more than that. After each level, you’re given a piece of Thora’s backstory on how she came to be the warrior woman that she is, but there’s nothing truly complicated or compelling about it. It’s really only there as a reward for killing a boss and making your way further into the game.

Honestly, what acted as a better motivation to keep playing (other than killing Jotun is fun) was all of the Norse mythology strewn about the world. Thunder Lotus Games have done some serious research here, and I really appreciate the effort.

Throughout Jotun, you’ll get to explore key lore points within Viking mythology, such as the forge where Thor’s hammer was created, the world tree Yggdrasil, the entire Norse creation myth (which was a huge highlight), an entire level on Viking constellations, and more. While most of the lore was in the forefront, complete with voice over explanations, other pieces of lore were far in the background, acting the part of little details. The statue of Loki, for example, had its lips sewn shut, which was his punishment for losing a bet to a Dwarf.

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I was thrilled by what I found throughout my journey, and those seeking information on Viking mythology will want to check this game out. It doesn’t have everything of course, but it’s a good starting spot.

Though the gameplay and narrative of Jotun might be simple, its art style is absolutely not. Everything about the game is gorgeous and filled with wonderful, hand-drawn detail. The backgrounds are stunning, and any time I uncovered a vista, I’d wind up just spending time looking at it. That became a problem with the thunder level and all its constellations, which were breathtaking.

I really can’t stress enough how awesome this game looks, especially in motion.

My only complaint with the visuals is that the characters/Jotun/objects are in a slightly different style than the background. According to the creator’s, this is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli anime, though it’s a convention found in many other cartoons and anime too. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it’s my first time seeing it used in a video game, and I found it to be slightly disconnecting at first.

However, as the game went on, it bothered me less and less. I’m not sure if I got used to it or if the designs of later Jotun simply worked better with the art style. Either way, it stopped being a problem after the first hour or two.

Jotun is a game I backed on Kickstarter a long time ago. It looked good then, when it was still in its early stages and Thunder Lotus Games were seeking a programmer, and it is good now. I love that the Internet has allowed projects like this to come into fruition, and I’m glad this has become another Kickstarter success story. It’s good for the industry.

But more than that, Jotun is just a good game. It’s pretty, it’s fun, it’s filled with little, loving details, and it’s worth your time.

Game Development: When Winter Fell

Howdy, gonna keep this one short and sweet. Over the past two weeks I’ve been working on another track for my video game in preparation for our demo. Welp, the song is done, and that means it’s time to share it.

I don’t have all that much to say about the tune itself. Making music is strange, and when it works, I only feel really lucky. As far as this tune goes, I wrote the basics of it and my brother fixed everything up since he actually knows how to play a piano. He wrote the underlying bells as I just couldn’t figure them out.

I mixed/mastered it, and I’ll admit that the mastering here isn’t finalized yet. There’s some light clipping in one part yet. Mastering is really, really hard, and me mastering the art can wait until after the demo is out.

On top of that, I redid some mixing/mastering on my old ice tune, “A Song of Ice”

Like the above, it’s still not perfect, but my old thunder booms were terrible. What I got going now sounds much better in that department. I also re-EQed the piano so it sounds better too. Better better better!

Naming all of my songs after Game of Thrones stuff because that amuses me.

So there you go. Hope ya like what you hear.