The German regional TV and radio station MDR paid us a visit some weeks ago. They did a portrait about Rat King and Jana, as the next generation in art and design. It's a really amazing combination of audio (in german only), video, photos and Ludwig's music! Have a look! Thanks to Hanna Romanowsky from MDR for this amazing piece!
Besides getting cool portraits we still refine the look of Behind Stars and Under Hills - our new, bigger project. We work a lot on lighting, got rid of the pixel shader and added some sweet effects. But Friedrich is also is working on the editors to make more design and interaction possible for us. We still improve the gameplay, to have something neat to show to possible publishing partners.
In the last full week of August we not only visited the Gamescom, which is the biggest gaming convention in Europe - we actually went there to showcase our current project, Behind Stars and Under Hills, at the Indie Arena Booth. As Jana is part of the orga team of this 'convention within the convention' we took the opportunity to present the game on 9m² and get some feedback by gamers. (Of course, the 'game' itself still is a prototype, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung.)
Behind Stars and Under Hills is very much pre-alpha (which means nothing is set in stone, everything is a placeholder, and anything can change) and won't be finished for at least a year. But it's important to let people see and feel a project early enough, so you don't develop a game eventually nobody wants to play. This is why this time, in contrast to our Gamescom presence 3 years ago (with TRI), we offered sheets of paper and felt-tip pens so players could write down their feedback. Quite an impressive amount of colorful text was produced this way, filled with criticism, wishes and comments.
So, to say it loud and clear: thanks to all our players! While for me just standing around and talking all the time quickly became tiring, and the whole experience was stressful and even annoying sometimes (thanks to loud presentations by some hardware vendor, offering t-shirts to the cheering masses), meeting so many cool, polite and interested gamers was a blast and made up for any inconveniences. Personally I was a bit surprised that most visitors of our booth were delighted by the design of our game and of the dialogs. To be honest, I expected people to be less patient - but here it shows the benefit of being part of a site dedicated to indies only, as the expectations of the visitors coming by are different.
During the five days of Gamescom the most common gripes with the game were the lack of a button for sprinting and a missing (auto-)map. Of course we already planned some kind of map, but are not sure yet how to implement it exactly. We'd like some kind of 'cartography skill', to make the maps more meaningful and part of the gameplay. Or maybe we'll just distribute hand-drawn maps in the game's world, to support the lore and the immersion.
On the other hand, sprinting is a different thing. We never planned to have it, as we actually want to make a "slower" game with a certain atmosphere to convey. (If you remember the development of TRI, you will feel like having a deja vu.) And maybe such a sprint mechanic could even lead to new problems especially for people with short attention spans, where they wouldn't process the environment anymore and just rush through, and find their way even less. So it's possible not the lack of running is the problem, but the amount of backtracking (e.g. having to go back to familiar place because of a quest with an NPC there). Maybe having a map already fixes this particular problem; thus adding maps has a higher priority for us. In any case, something like teleporters between the levels (anchored in the background story) are definitely planned.
I regret a bit that I wasn't able (physically and mentally) to play some of the other games, not even at the Indie Arena Booth. Behind Stars and Under Hills is so unfinished, fragile even, that I couldn't bear leaving it alone to the masses for too long. I mean, it was the first time the game was playable for the public!
But of course it never really was alone, as we had help by our wonderful volunteers - here's a shoutout to Björn, Jacky, Ludwig and Max! Not only did they explain the game to interested bystanders and answered questions, or helped players who got stuck, they also handed out flyers and made the whole experience much less of a hassle than it could've been. Here's hoping the Gamescom, loud and chaotic as it was, has been a wonderfully crazy experience for them, too.
Our next plans are to develop Behind Stars and Under Hills further of course, and refine it a bit - for example, the whole storyline still is too hazy so we need to work on it a lot more. More gameplay has to be implemented, more characters created, more levels built... Also coming up is the Poznan Game Arena in October, but it's much too soon, i.e. that we probably won't have much new to show. Still, if you happen to be around, come by and try to find crazy old Willard in our small game demo!
[Heavy Spoiler alert! To discuss this matter properly I have to spoil the endings of Witcher 3!]
I‘m not the typical hater on Twitter. My Twitter tag cloud puts the word „Love“ in a big position right in the middle. I‘m easy to hype the shit out of things. Animals, movies, games, art. I despise social media hate and I like to spread love on my channel. Most of the time. If you follow me on Twitter you know I recently played the Witcher 3 and since I played the first title by CD Project Red followed by reading the books by Andrzej Sapkowski and watching the Polish TV series I eternally entered the Witcher fan dome of indispensable love.
But love can easily turn into hate when a fan doesn‘t get what she wants. Am I that immature? Sometimes. My Twitter wall will tell you of that side, too, plastered with sweet, desperate hate. How that happened? Well, I got the bad ending in Witcher 3. The game I dared not to touch for three years, since I pre-ordered it right after gamescom in 2014 where I saw its first major presentation. Since then I followed the development closely as I did with Witcher 1 and 2. But I feared to install Geralt’s final adventure for two years, because I knew it would suck me so deeply into his world I‘m going to ignore work, friends, hygiene and life outside the couch. And that’s exactly what happened when I decided finally it’s the time to play a game praised so overwhelmingly for its characters, world, art, music and moreover story and quest design. It took me about 74 hours to complete the game including tons of sidequests and strolls into the wilderness just looking for stuff or interesting places. How that felt until the end? Addicting. Intense. Fun. Overwhelmingly real.
In those 74 hours I’ve been 100% dedicated to find Geralt’s adoptive child Ciri, whom I knew so well from the books. I was psyched to finally have her in the game and even be able to play her. Though I slightly became impatient after the fifth “Sorry, your princess is in another castle”, the greater was the moment when you finally see both reunited. And the game continues to perfectly put you in the position of becoming a caring dad. I choose every dialogue option with Ciri super carefully. And Kudos to the animators for commenting those lines with subtle but powerful eye rolls or mouth movement of Geralt. After all that's Ciri has been through I tried to comfort her and be at her side whenever she needs me. I felt we we are the greatest team evaaar to defeat the damn evil elves and save the day. I couldn't be more wrong. Turns out I choose too many bad and protective decisions out of five possible trial moments.
After doing the final and the final final preparations, getting the band together twice, defeating evil overlord Eredin (with a close two drops of blood in my health bar) and watching too many cut scenes, I sat there - super proud of my self - to receive my final shoulder pat from the game. All baddies killed, the White Frost prevented and all friends saved, I couldn’t wait to see the final cut scene. But instead the Frost continued to be a threat and Ciri announced she would need to enter the portal alone to end this. Cut. I don’t know what happened but see myself (Geralt) two weeks later in the swamps of Crookback Bog, talking to a werewolf. Geralt is there to kill the third crone Ciri missed in one of the boss fights. Good! But something feels off. And as it turns out Ciri is dead. You never saw her dying. You never got the feeling. Those are the news. Deal with it. After killing the crone, Geralt goes into her hut desperately searching for Vesemir’s amulet, finds it, cries, camera zooms out and a batallion of monsters creep towards the hut. Credits. Is the deadly Frost banned? I don’t know.
Oh and you can continue playing the game after that. Standing in the very lonely, very silent and very large hall of the Witcher castle of Kaer Morhen. The game tells you that the main story line is finished, but you may continue slaying some monsters in this world that was reset before the end fight takes place. Minus all of your beloved characters.
WTF?! I felt punished. I was angry and sad. And angry. And I cried. What did this game do to me? And what did I do to the game to deserve such an ending? Outrageous. Fuckers! Developers burn in hell...and so on. The rest is my Twitter timeline.
I wrote there, that I will accept bad endings after 8-12 hours playtime, but not in Open World games. Not in games where I’m emotionally bound that much. I want my fan relieve moment. I want my romance (I fucked that up either, but that would need another blog post). I want Geralt to retire and live happily ever after. I want Ciri to become a cool Witcher or travel with the circus. It would have been okay if she would be empress, too. But dead...both of them? Why would you want such an ending?
Now that I slept it over, I’m not sure I changed my mind. I still want to have the happy end. But I don’t want to play another Saturday to kill Radovid, retrieve the Sunstone, change my dialogue options concerning Ciri, swimming to Emhyr, killing the generals and Eredin, again.
So I come to accept the outcome and I see more clearly how this might be the more realistic end to the Witcher’s world. The dark and gritty fantasy that I love so much for bringing politics and hard themes to the table. For not being black and white, but deeply grey. For bringing bittersweet outcome to whatever side you choose, all of them with a problematic aspect. To be clear: My bad ending is just one out of three possible outcomes for Ciri. But it makes total sense in such a world raided by war, racism and darkness. I also feel that this is the end, that will stick in my memory forever. Something that a happy ending could never have achieved.
But here comes the big BUT! If you choose to have an outcome like that, where the main protagonist dies (or rather lets himself getting killed), because he failed and lost what became the most precious thing in his live, that died most likely, too. Something the game let’s you experience in every way. Then this has to be done carefully and with the chance of letting the player know what the outcome will be and why.
In no way did I realize I was up for a bad ending and after that I didn’t know why I got to experience that. This could have been done much better! Game endings like “Life is Strange” come to my mind. There was so much foreshadowing and irreversible darkness towards the end, that I accepted the loss. It felt good and it felt right. I did see that coming and I knew why.
Or “Shadow of the Colossus”, where the hero dies in the end (well, there is more happening after that). But after seeing his killings taken a toll from him every time he slays a giant, you are fine with that. You killed those beautiful creatures just to revive your girl friend. What else should happen to you?
I didn’t play Nier, but I already heard about its endings. And I love that they exist. And I feel there is a great opportunity for writers to tell something else then Disney endings (marriage with cute children). But I also want authors to respect the player's feelings they built up with their worlds. Players that laugh, cry and feel with your characters are the greatest gratitude you will get as an author. But you shouldn’t abuse that potential just for the sake of a shocking moment. Warning shots, please!
Moreover took the Witcher 3 a great risk: To let you search for a character that soon will become the main story and thereby the main character. The Wild Hunt is not about Geralt, but Ciri. That's why you play her sometime and that's why you should take her problems serious. I did that, but instead of being the hero Witcher that protects and does everything on his own, I should have built her up to become the main hero. I think the game did communicate this, but I still find it hard to empower a character to go on her quest alone - and thereby missing out certain scenes. That is a weird decision and I normally hate it when games change the characters you play. In Witcher you cannot do much as Ciri, but you play her side of the story and that felt interesting. But maybe I still wasn't prepared to accept that I'm not the hero here.
In hindsight, I love the ending. Probably the perfect ending for a perfect game (minus the character controller). But I know I can’t take this sad and broken Geralt to any of the DLCs. At least not for the next two years.