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Updated Our Journal #58: Gamescom 2016, Building the Necropolis

kickstarter2016-09-08 12:28:31

tl;dr: Torment comes to Germany, Adam and Joby talk design

Hello Exiles,

Chris checking in. In our last update, we mentioned that we had partnered with Techland Publishing for Torment, and that our first major event would be showing the game at Gamescom 2016. After quite a few weeks of prep, it was go time. Brian, Colin, George, Thomas and myself all packed our bags up to visit Germany, and it was an incredible experience.

Techland did a fantastic job in setting up not one but two booths for us, and worked around the clock to provide support and assistance demoing the game. We even had professional cosplayers on hand! They are treating Torment like one of their own titles and know how important it is to get things right. We would not have been able to pull it off so successfully without them.

That was reflected in the reception for the game - from press and fans alike, the response was absolutely incredible and universally positive. We even got a few nominations and awards forbest RPG and best of show! Here is a glimpse of some of our memories:

We'd like to thank everyone who came by to visit, whether that was stopping by the booth, covering the game as press, or showing up for an autograph with Brian. We could not make this game without the support of all of you and it is deeply gratifying and humbling to see people so passionate for Torment. It's been a long road but we are finally nearing the end.

Of course, for those who didn't get to attend Gamescom directly, there is still plenty of cool new footage and materials to check out. We sat down for multiple video interviews with Brian and Colin, and several articles have also appeared.

We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention PAX West. While it was a little more low-key, George Ziets and Colin McComb both attended over this last weekend. There were yet more interviews and demos during that time – including one with Alienware you may be interested in, as it features some excellent narration from Colin.

And there'll be more to come! For example, Colin will be at EGX in Birmingham to present a Developer Session on Torment.

Both Gamescom and PAX have been inspiring experiences, and we are energized and even more motivated to get the game polished up and ready for you early next year!

With the game content complete, getting more polished every day, and well on its way to completion, we also thought it was a great time to start talking about some of our content that comes just after the beta portion of the game that many of you have been enjoying. And, with release not too far away, it also seemed like a good moment to commemorate those backers who helped make the game possible. So without further ado, here's Adam to talk about the Valley of Dead Heroes, and more specifically, the Necropolis.

Designing the Necropolis

Adam here. A little while ago, George told you how we are incorporating backer NPCs into our game. I want to tell you how we're including the largest quantity of backer content: tombs and epitaphs.

First, let me take you back to our Kickstarter planning sessions. We knew from the start we wanted a reward where higher-tier backers could include their name in the game somewhere. In a game about legacy, set in a world built on the bones of forgotten civilizations, it made perfect sense for that reward to be a tomb. We designed a massive gravesite for these tombs, called the Valley of Dead Heroes. In this place would be hundreds of tombs, memorializing heroes of the past and naturally raising the question: "What does one life matter?"

Like our backer NPCs, we wanted the tomb content to feel like a natural part of the world. We also wanted to encourage players to actually read the tombs – not all of them, but some of them at least. And ideally different players would search through different ones. It was a challenge, but one we were confident we could make great... until the Kickstarter broke records, and we found ourselves with nearly four thousand tombs and epitaphs that needed to be in our game somewhere.

As we began designing areas, we did the math. We originally planned for two scenes that would contain most of the tombs: the Valley of Dead Heroes and "Valley Part Two" which would be placed in another zone of the game. But even if we made those scenes enormous, cramming in as many tombs as we could fit on-screen while still giving the player space to walk, it would only take care of half of the required number. We also considered sprinkling the other tombstones throughout the game, but that would still require far too many tombstones to be placed in every single scene in the game. So our algorithm master and all-around guru Joby Bednar had the very Numenera idea of a massive underground storage space, now used in the Ninth World as a burial ground.

The rooms in this space would be accessed by a control panel: the user enters a code and is taken to a room in which lie a subset of our tomb/epitaph markers. Mechanically, the room would be a single Unity scene, but with the props, lighting, effects, etc. swapped out based on the code the player enters. It would take a lot of custom scripting, but it gave us the flexibility to handle all the backers we needed to feature. It was the perfect solution, and with some design constraints outlined, thus was born the Necropolis…

Building the Necropolis

Joby here. My role on Torment has been varied. I’m part of the scripting team, implementing the designed scenes. I’ve also had my hand in designing a couple of the scenes themselves, as well as developed solutions for those designs… most notably the dynamic pylons in the Fathom 13 introductory scene. When word came to me to start thinking about the tombs, I was excited. Then Adam outlined the design needs. Um… yeah. I believe my reaction was somewhere between laughing out loud and crying gently in the corner of the office.

As a backer of many Kickstarter projects myself, I knew we needed to prioritize the backer’s experience. It was vital for backers to be able to find their tombstones and epitaphs in a reasonable manner, and it needs to support the narrative. One of the things I truly love about designing games is creating the world, imbuing it with all the life of an alternate reality and building your solutions within that paradigm. This scene might have been my favorite part of working on Torment… impossibly complicated needs, limited resources to implement the sheer amount of backer content on hand, and above all else, making it fit into Numenera.

First up, how are the tombs arranged and how does one navigate them? We went through a number of designs to try to make things work, each of which ended up being their own stories to tell – suffice it to say though, they didn't fully meet the needs set by Adam or had weaknesses that made them hard to implement or difficult for the player to navigate through.

Eventually, after many discussions, what we decided on was a massive honeycomb of hexagonal tombs. Within each tomb, you can see the neighboring tombs. There is a central control room overlooking them all, where you are able to punch in an address on a hexagonal keypad where the player could enter a specific code. Within each tomb, there is a duplicate control panel that allows you the additional option to press one of the six outer hexagonal segments to teleport to one of the six neighboring tombs. Below you can see roughly what this would look like when represented visually.

Now to get a bit technical. This tomb structure can be aligned to a 2-dimensional grid, allowing for a simple X and Y position that lends itself to both having an absolute address as well as traversing it in a relative motion. Using a numerical address system of 4 digits in base-5 (0000-4444, or actually 1111-5555 to be more user friendly), gave us a 25 by 25 grid of 625 tombs. This was nicely within the volume of tombstones we needed to support based on our estimated backers. I desperately tried to devise a method of a fractal layout, or a hexagonal space-filling curve like a Gosper curve, but I just couldn’t beat the simplicity of the solution of a simple grid.

*ah hem* As I was saying, now that the design was set, we needed a way to represent this in the game engine. At that point, we turned things over to our artists to come up with a tomb design that fit into this layout. We wanted to give it a structured, mazelike theme that was representative of the "endless" feel we wanted to have. Mazes also fit nicely into Torment for other reasons, of course.

But those are just empty rooms. It became clear that while we wanted each tomb to look similar, we also wanted them to appear slightly different from each other so that players would know something changed when they went to a new tomb. This meant creating quite a few art assets that we could populate each tomb with for each individual backer tombstone and monument. Our artist Daniel Kim created a lot of these designs which we were able to assign to each individual tombstone and monument.

To create the hundreds of combinations of these assets and make each tomb look random, but not actually be random, I leveraged Unity’s built-in functionality for Perlin Noise. If you’ve played or seen Minecraft, then you are familiar with Perlin Noise and procedurally generated content. Two-dimensional Perlin Noise is effectively a grid of random-ish values, and by using a set algorithm we were able to generate the massive amounts of content, but have it be the same for every player rather than changing every time you play the game.

Furthermore, by leveraging an algorithm instead of needing to predefine everything, we could protect ourselves from memory bloat and the true beast of game development: iteration. I’ve never worked on a game where the initial design was implemented exactly as initially designed. Iteration on your design is always going to happen, and you need to expect it when developing system architectures. If I had developed a system where all this was pre-generated and stored in data files, my job would have been much harder if anyone was inspired and had a "great idea." Any changes would have required a lot of work to modify, show, refine and iterate upon again, so the algorithmic approach saved time in the long run.

This became relevant when it came time to start playing with the Necropolis in the game engine and design feedback began to come in from Adam, George and others. For example, to help ensure that each tomb felt interesting to visit and somewhat distinct from the last, I set up different configurations so even if multiple tombs had just four tombstones, those tombstones would be arranged differently. For the tombs that had a single epitaph, the epitaph might be in the center of the room or against the back wall so that it would stand out better and look like it was placed naturally.

So, what does this end up looking like in the game? When the player reaches the Necropolis, what they'll see is a massive expanse of tomb chambers before them, a control panel at the center, and the option to enter a 4-digit numeric code to navigate from tomb to tomb. And of course, each backer who has a tomb will be given the code to theirs so that they can go and find it in the game – but you'll also be able to visit the tomb of anyone else, either by exploring manually or entering their specific address.

 

All said and done, this ended up being a really entertaining piece of side content to work on. The idea of putting thousands of backer tombs into the game is a challenging prospect, but with all of our backer content we think the way we did it still managed to fit into the Numenera world. We hope that when the final game releases you'll be able to enjoy exploring the tombs, and that you'll sleep a little better knowing that many of the thousands of backers who supported Torment are immortalized for a billion years within the depths of the Necropolis.

News Bits

Eric here to round things out with just a couple of additional news bits for you before we sign off! First, an important word for our backers: the end of September will be your last chance to pledge for or upgrade to physical Torment rewards. This includes boxed copies, add-ons and anything requiring shipping. With release not too far off we need to start locking down our final reward counts, so if you had been waiting to pledge, now is your last shot to get backer physical goodies. And on a similar note - if you haven't yet claimed your rewards or updated your shipping address, now is definitely the time!

Next, we just kicked off a fan art contest! Send us your fan art for a chance to win a copy of the game and a goodie bag. You can read more on our Facebook or Twitter.

 

And last, Techland has produced a fantastic trailer for the game introducing the world of Numenera to players. While we suspect most of our backers are up to speed, if you haven't been following the campaign, now's certainly not too late to catch up on the world of Torment and Numenera. Check it out above!