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Sneaky_Seal

Ash of Gods - story driven tactical RPG with card game elements

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WHAT, WHY AND FOR WHOM WE ARE DOING THIS

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We’re not a clone of The Banner Saga or of The Banner Saga 3,  though it’s the most popular question and the most frequent thing people criticize us for. I’m endlessly grateful to Arnie Jorgensen and his team. But we are writing our own long story – and I will tell you about it on this website. It’s always hard for me to sit in front of a blank page, choosing the first word to type. My friend and colleague Dmitry Erokhin (the game designer of this project) asked me whether I understand who this text is addressed to. I think it’s addressed to all those people who are interested to know why this project happened. Why me and my friends are working on it and what goals we want to reach. I hope all of this will be interesting for you, and this post itself wouldn’t look like just another lot of boasting by a bunch of indie developers.

The beginning

I suppose the history of this project actually began in 2007. Back then I worked on games for social networks – including my first project that was really successful – Cradle of Magic. By the way, this multimillion-seller game released on 5 social networks still lives, 7 years after its first release and after it changed teams working on it 3 times. By that time I already abandoned the idea of “making my own MMORPG”, but I got a new passion: to create a game in which the player could gain a deep, almost painful experience of the journey, and meet new people and stories. This idea, however, barely fit the world of big money and the vision of my then-bosses of what and how this should be done.T2KVF5GLgjU-1024x182.jpg

At the same time I was drawn by the concept of non-acceptance of evil and the non-acceptance of its consequences. It may sound abstruse, but practically it looked as follows: a big online game where the world is mortal and dies each 7-10 months. The game includes some special points, the menhirs, with demon souls tied to them. You can go there and receive a free bonus for your abilities if you prayer at such an altar. You receive a bonus – but a demon receives a bonus too. When he gains enough power, the demon breaks free and kills everyone he meets – until somebody defeats him. It was kind of a play on a human weakness and the fact that you can do all sorts of bad things, thinking that you’re not the last one who will do it, and not the one who will be blamed. The more we worked on this concept, the more we had to think about the ethic norms and rules we should play on to present such idea to players.

During the year we moved quite far: we planned out the combat part of the game (a hybrid of tactical RPG and a card game) as well as most part of the story and the rules of cyclic recurrence. But the financional crisis of 2008 almost buried my then-employer together with my dreams of carrying out this project. Back then it seemed too huge. Instead of continuing this work, we had cut off the card part and created on its base a project named Mercenaries: Cards of Destiny. It lived less than 2 years and was closed down due to its terrible stupidity. You know, when I saw Hearthstone first time I choked, because the projects were very similar. Alas, back then I didn’t have enough balls and understanding to export Mercenaries to mobile platforms and prevent it from closing.

These are the first, very important bricks of the house which I and my friends are building right now.

Visual novels

Another brick is the typical genre of Japanese culture: the visual novels. A lot of text, conversations and an endless variety of choices. Primitive backgrounds and the constant themes of demons or sex (or both). You can love them, you can spit on them, but you can’t deny the fact that this genre has learned to do the thing which none of the huge RPGs, have probably managed: it gives real, honest variety. You said something wrong – and it will lead you to one of the ten finales. You will not have a feeling that the game simply plays with you, offering yoy false choices: regardless of whether you say “yes” or “no”, you will still end up having to go and “kill the evil wizard”. Proportions may be different but the essence is the same. And – yes – visual novels brilliantly manage the mission to express the feeling of journey and discovery – the themes I love most as gamer and developer.

When I saw The Banner Saga (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that people will always compare our project with it), I said to myself: “Dude! This is the European reinvention of visual novels”.

 

Yes, it’s not canonic (in Japanese games you rarely play several roles in one dialogue) – but it miraculously and cinematically turned the frozen backgrounds of Japanese games into a real TV show. The technique which the guys from Stoic team have used is called “the eight” – you should know it if you have a movie director education. This method allows you to effectively show the dialogues betweeen people who stand in front of each other. The way I see it, the Banner Saga was brought to life by good old parallax and “the eight” technique. Then, in 2012, the bell rang in my head – here is a method that gives you the opportunity to show emotions, a bit of the living world, a journey – and to create the effect of  plunging deep into this world, like a good old book. But, I should admit that even after I got captivated by this idea I behaved cowardly and didn’t dare quit my day job and make games again.


Instead of an ending

Since then four years have passed. After a lot of work and two children I caught myself thinking that it’s hard to find a decent book to read in the evening. Most authors write bullshit – or just the kind of stuff which I’ve outgrown. Sometimes you want to shout at the page: “Living people don’t talk like this!” Sergey Malitsky, who is mentioned everywhere as the author of our story, is a contemporary Russian fantasy writer who, in my opinion, hasn’t had a single flop. I think he’s the Tolkien of our days — in at least two of his book series Malitsky managed to create a world that was no less convincing, living, complex and absorbing than Middle Earth. In his books he speaks about the same choices that I dreamed about almost for ten years: the behavior of common people living in a world on the edge of destruction. Complex decisions in the hands of different characters. The ethics of “petty evil”. The breaking of human souls.

I said to myself: “If you manage to convince Malitsky to work with us, if he likes our (my and Dmitry’s) idea, what other proof do you need?”

 

He agreed. It was the final brick in the house I wanted to build. Next we had to lay down the tiles.

Even in the 60s Disney and the Russian cartoon studio Soyuzmultfilm taught the world to love cartoons drawn by hand and with heart. A lot of people who are now thirty-something, whose childhood was spent with those cartoons, grew up on this stuff. The style, the grace and living emotions give people aestethic pleasure – and some are reminded of their brightly lit childhood. We chose this old-school technique for the visualization of our project, because it is a very important bridge between the present and the past.
I always say that we’re making a rogue-like project. Did you ever play Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM)? Of course, in comparison to it we suck, because our game doesn’t contain SO many different ways to die. But we work hard as hell to do what the Japanese can but corporations cannot: to give players REAL choice. I think many people know life only by movies where you can punch or kick a guy in the head over and over and after all of that he still stands up and wins. Those of you who are into martial arts know another truth: men are weaker than what you see in movies.

I want to show the fact that life is complex and ambiguous matter. I believe that we will achieve what we want – to give the player an opportunity to ditch everything and everyone, as it could happen in real life. And, damn, we’ll succeed!

Finally, as I write this text, the site is almost empty. What we have here is only a handful of artwork, even less text and we have seriously little time to prepare content. But we are eager to fix this situation – and fix it we will. Stay tuned. Our whole team and I personally will do our best not to let you get bored.

 

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DEVELOPER DIARY #1
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I’m eager to complete the game in the space of a year. It’s damn hard, even when you know exactly what to do. It was obvious from the very beginning that we’d have to do everything simultaneously: write a novel, turn it into a script, work on its technical adaptation so we could launch it in Unity, draw backgrounds and characters, and create visual effects and animation for the combat system. All in the best traditions of indie agile: fast, steady movement forward, even when you have no idea which exact route will take you to your goal. But on the other hand, after four months of intensive work on this game we still don’t have a build in which everything we did can be shown off as an integral product. Right now we are moving towards this goal with giant strides.
 
In search of a style
Most part of August and all of September we spent on searching for the right style and techique for scene drawing. At this stage I failed a bit as a newborn “I-know-everything’ guy. I hoped that concept artist Vladimir Malakhovsky, my mate and a close friend of our art director, Igor, would help with the adaptation of the scenes’ style. I’ve worked with Vladimir before, on a game called Cradle of Magic – he did cool graphics in the old-school manner, which, as I supposed, would fit into our new project too.
 
I really wanted it to look like Disney’s Fire and Ice and LoTR, and The Snow Queen (1957) and Twelve Months (1956) by the Soviet studio Soyuzmultfilm – thin lines, simple forms and fills, a warm palette. At the same time, it would have to be quite close to comic books in its aesthetics.

 

 

However, Vladimir’s current style turned out to be closer to classic oil paintings and it wasn’t the manner that we wanted to see.
 
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The effort of bringing more realism and clarity has required too much time for drawing the scenes. And the style turned out to be too complex for other artists to work in without making the difference stand out.
 
We’ve lost almost a month with these experiments and it was exhausting and demotivating. It seemed to be a total failure given the fact that with the characters we did everything right from the first attempt. Fortunately, Igor (our art director) remembered about Andrey Zherdev – and the very first sketches he did already had the feeling we were looking for.
 
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At the end of August (thanks to social networks) we found Julia Jokhova – a great artist who had experience in making illustrations according to the technique that we need. We started to search for references and also the stylistics which would manage to express the atmosphere of the story accurately. It took almost one and a half months to create the city of Albus and its vicinities and the yard of Thorn Brenin’s mansion. Despite all its seeming simplicity, this elaborate techique of drawing (the brushes, coloring and light) still demanded a lot of time. We had to design the greenery separately: individual trees, groves and bushes. We had to understand how to correctly draw the building materials. So, in its first version our city of Albus looked like it had been created by genie a minute ago, out of materials freshly arrived from the factory.
 
Parallax (That’s when different layers on the screen are moving at different velocities) is “our everything”, but during the work on the first scene we just had no tools to test the stuff that the guys drew in Photoshop. We did it “quick-and-dirty”, creating the animatics directly in Photoshop.
 
The first attempt to build animatic scenes in Unity was made at the end of September:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eGhjj_prSg
 
We had to find a solution that wouldn’t only satisfy each one of us, but would also allow us to create the content quickly. I’m not sure, however, that we really managed to do it: with each new scene there appears something new and interesting that was missed in the stuff which was already created. You want to go back and redo everything – or, at least, redraw it. By the middle of December we’ve learned how to draw one scene one-and-a-half to two screens in width. We did it in 2-3 weeks – from idea to Unity build. This scene – “the village at Arch” near the town of Ursus – was one of our first victories.
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In this scene Julia used some of the methods that were previously used by Andrey Zherdev in the third game’s episode (we didn’t show these scene anywhere): elements of work with color, mountains on the background, greenery, the stylistics of drawing the Menhirs (those huge stones which form the arch). Such things helped us to finish the illustration faster.
 
Hello, Unity
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This image showcases what the basic episode direction looks like: managing the camera and the points where the dialogues begin. This is the part that we’re intensively coding right now. The first urge – to pick Fungus (the only distinct solution for visual novels in Unity) – didn’t work for us. The storytelling in the episodes is tightly bound to the camera work and the author’s text. Fungus doesn’t contain anything like this while its tools for work with story trees aren’t as convenient as in Articy (I will talk about this thing some later).
 
We began with something else, however – we moved the main rules from the prototype into the game’s code, we built our own animation controller – to play the animations on the battle field – and we wrote a little tool for importing the individual clips of battle animations:
 
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We had to solve several problems simultaneously. So, the current sequence of the “Rush” hit contains 53 frames and the character in this animation moves quite a lot – he crouches, turns his body from side to side, steps back. The battle field is presented in isometric perspective and if you want the animations to flow smoothly from one into another, each of these frames needs an accurately set point of binding. In other words, this is how you center one set of frames in relation to others. Being a naive man, I thought that Unity would include this operation, which is so easy and regular for any 2D game (and I have a pretty extensive amount of experience working with stuff like that in Flash). But, as it turned out, Unity doesn’t have this functionality (just as it lacks many other things which you expect from a platform intended for making 2D games). Moreover, almost everything you can find in open source or in the Unity store for 2D games is intended for platformers. So we had to code the import and alignment of the battle animations by ourselves.
 
Then we focused on the part that plays the animations – to make sure that our clips with walking, strikes and the master poses are done right and look good.
 
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When we began coding in Unity, we already had a combat system prototype that was written by me in JavaScript. Currently we are still adding and testing new classes in it, following the next rule: code fast and don’t think about the consequences. I think that the main hurdle about implementation in Unity was our attempt to port our prototype proof-of-concept combat system into it without any changes, keeping all the features which were in the Web version. And this was long before the work on AI begins. Either we’ll decide to incorporate the completed animations, or do something serious with this part of the game in general. It was important for me to do this as soon as possible – so we could understand how difficult it would turn out to be and on what general principles to base development as a whole.
 
It was also very important to let all the mathematics and mechanics be ready for quick incorporation into the final version of the game: the skills and parameters of the different battle classes, the rules of motion and all the rest.
 
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Each skill is a little text file in YAML format that describes, in declarative form, how this skill works. You can quickly change the parameters, add or remove effects, or simply change individual classes’ behavior mechanics. This allows us to quickly try out the ideas we get from the people playing our prototype. For instance, the idea of the Hammerman class was suggested by Voice of Reason. This is a class that can move across the entire battlefield and has only one goal – to deprive your enemy’s characters who haven’t moved yet of the opportunity to move. A few minutes are all you need to create a new class and begin to watch how it plays and affects the game process.
 
The plot?
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During all this time Sergey Malitsky (the author of the script) and Dmitry Erokhin (the game designer) worked with Articy. Articy is the gizmo that allows us to write and check the script independently from the creation of the game’s code. You can’t play the novel in its entirety yet, but we’re already able to play the first 5 episodes in Articy – to check how the decision trees and choices work.
 
For almost a month, since the middle of November, we’ve been engaged concurrently in the directing of the dialogs – how to place characters correctly in dialogs, how to do the switchover of backgrounds in 2D scenes. Such dialogs in the game have up to a maximum of seven characters. This is how we arrived at the “three scenes” model: two general and one additional. Game designers sets the place where each of characters is standing, while Articy controls who’s speaking at the current moment.
 
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Any course in film photography will give you the essential theory – where to place the camera correctly when filming the conversation of several people, how to do the switchover of backgrounds, and which rules you shouldn’t break. But when you try to emulate these rules in 2D, you encounter some difficulties: you can’t turn the camera in different directions, so you have to somehow simulate motion which is natural for a 3D scene. When you’re making a movie, it’s enough for the director to give a command, and the cameraman will shoot the episode from another point of view. But when your making a game, we very badly wanted to avoid having to place the camera manually, because that looks a lot like suicide : even now the game already contains about 2000 of speech lines (if I calculated correctly). We’ve spent almost a week to understand when and how we should change the views to make everything look nice.
 
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And yes, articy:access api is a big headache. In practice working in it turned out not to be as simple as the ads promised. This wasn’t a story of “start it up and everything just works out of the box”. I’m also thinking with some trepidation about the localization process – the internationalization tools which were promised in 2014 still haven’t appeared in Articy. Not that it’s that big a deal, but it makes us nervous anyway.
 
What’s next
There are 37 characters, 21 scenes and 12 battlefields to be done. We’ve drawn seven scenes and three battlefields so far. Since the beginning of September we’ve drawn 22 dialogue portraits of characters and six individual miniatures of the enemies. This is a bit more than two thirds of all the characters in the game. It looks like we’ll manage to draw all the characters we need in time. We’ve also done tons of concept art for the intro video.
 
By the end of December the first animation packs for the battle miniatures will be ready: Fisk, Rumlin, Krieger, Ark and Sopp. By the middle of February – another ten characters and by the beginning of summer there will be around 30 of them. Unfortunately, we are four or five calendar weeks behind schedule with the scenes, and two to three weeks late with the script plan. Right now we’re still deciding what to do with all of this. Should we reduce the amount of content or speed up? I don’t know.
 
Sometimes it’s harder to finish something than to start. So, here is the brief list of things that fucked us up. Aaaargh, we don’t have time! The winter is torturing us. It already gets dark by 16:30 and it seems daylight doesn’t exist anymore – you wake up when it’s still dark and you finish up when it’s already dark. The neighbor with his electric hammer drill is making it really hard to write the storyline. And for some reason, there is such a small number of hours in a day.

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It took almost a year of hard work for this day to arrive, but here we are. Our Kickstarter campaign has launched and we only have one month to reach our financial target.

 

Here's the video we've prepared for the occasion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uP2UYFr4IAQ

 

We are proud of the work we've done so far, but the fate of the project is now in your hands. Help us to complete Ash of Gods without cuts or compromises. All the details are available at this link and don't forget to share this post with your friends.

Edited by Sneaky Seal

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To make the campaign successful, we need to tell as many people as possible about Ash of Gods. A great way to do this is via Thunderclap. This site will help us to share the message with friends and subscribers about the campaign in two social networks: Facebook and Twitter. Simply authorize the webiste and on May 31 together with the other participants we'll share the post about Kickstarter on our profiles, attracting more people to our game. 

Each repost is just as important as the financial support! Therefore, we sincerely thank everyone in advance who will spend two minutes on this. 

You can join via this link: http://thndr.me/Wd0m7p

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Hey, guys!

We got some great news! Ash of Gods already managed to collect more than 25% of the goal thanks to you. That's a decent result. As our sincere gratitude we decided to make a special present for you and upgraded $35, $45 and $65 tiers. Everyone who backed us on this level will get additional rewards.

We also published a sneak preview of our comics (Kickstarter special item) and new battle track written by our wonderful composer Adam Skorupa.

Learn more about it HERE

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New update, that covers the history of the world of the game Ash of Gods, is already available on Kickstarter.

Learn more about the past of the Terminium - events that took place hundreds of years before the events of the game, but determined its nature and structure at the time of your journey.

What would you guys like to see in the next one?

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aurumdust/ash-of-gods/posts/1898407YyQjVRA.jpg

Edited by Sneaky Seal

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In this Kickstarter update we touch upon a topic that is very important to us — game's visual style.
 
On one hand — it is one of the most imporant features of the games, what makes it stand out and what gets its a lot of it praizes. On another hand — it is the part of the game that raizes most of the questions, in particular the similarities between our style and the on of Banner Saga.
 
In this update you can find out how Ash of Gods' style was created, what were the artists inspired by, what materials they had based they work on.
 
As always you can read the update on our Kickstarter page.
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Edited by Sneaky Seal

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The story of our game is written by a published fantasy author Sergey Malitsky. You could have read his books "Arban Saes" or "Ashes of the Gods". If not, then it's worth reading.

Sergey not only creates the plot of the game, but also works with the narrative designer Dmitry writing the script for all of the plot lines, episodes, scenes and dialogues. He also wrote several short stories and stories that tell of the events that do not occur in the game, or describe them from a different perspective.

Today in our Kickstarter update we publish the first of such stories, "The Ense", which tells of the invasion to the Terminium by aliens wearing white masks on behalf of one of them.

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In the new Kickstarter update we are talking about non-linearity, travel on global map, difficulties and decisions that a player will have to face, as well as its consequences.

Learn about narration in Ash of Gods and how your choices affects the story: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aurumdust/ash-of-gods/posts/1913754

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Edited by Sneaky Seal

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Hey guys! New update about combat system is already live! Learn more about its details and features here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aurumdust/ash-of-gods/posts/1916646

Also we managed to ther more than 80% on KickStarter at the moment. That's pretty exciting, and we hope we still can make it.

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3 days till the end of campaign. 87% of initial goal. We would like to make a final dash to success and announcing our first stretch goal: $80 000 — 50 additional side-quests.

We are also have a special offer for all backers. Every backer with a tier since $35 and above will be mention in the credits of the game. And everyone who backed us at $70 and above can choose between his in-game portrait for side-quest character and strix chest for multiplayer (in-game currency to purchase cards and units).

You can read more about in our latest Kickstarter update.

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Finally we finished Hopper Rouly's art, one of the protagonists of the game. The previous iteration (on the left) lacks shadows, that's why the hero looked implausible.

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A wandering chronicler, healer and baron without a title is the little that is known about Houper Rowley. The events that he witnesses are recorded in a special book written on some secret language — probably, therefore, some consider him a sorcerer.

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Dozens of references, hundreds of edits, endless suffering artists and the final version of global map is finally here! I have already shown a couple of WIPs among our Kickstarter updates but now I would like you to admire it in all its beauty:


https://goo.gl/VB1fjj


Does it looks worthily among other fantasy worlds?

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I want to share some news about developing the game. Ash of Gods' UI is almost finished, Juia implements the latest fixes, so you can expect screenshots pretty soon. Also there are cards and item icons on the way.

Meanwhile, animators experiments with weather effects and particles. Also they animate characters, animals and enviroment. We will share the result as soon as there's something.

A lot of time goes to creation of events. Every event should be as non-linear as possible to deliver new experience during your second or even third walkthrough. Also we testing the new build and working on English localization. We hope we can test the game with your help as soon as possible to get useful feedback.

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Working on card's design and its abilities. Little by little we will show you everything. Those cards on the picture are simple but useful cards of restoring health (red) and energy (orange). It would be nice to hear your thoughts, please share via comments.

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