Well we're back - it was a close thing though!
As you heard, Charybdis folded in April. But with a core team of the original development team members, we've been able to give the project the completion it deserved, backed this time by Climax Entertainment, Nottingham.
After 6 weeks all of the unique content is in, Paul has completed all the scenarios to his satisfaction, and it's now bookended with company idents and looking the complete product.
With all the content in, Iain and Rocco have concentrated on giving optimisation a serious push, and each build is running faster and faster (or is that the brand new powerful machines we've got to develop on now?)
Andy has full control of the localisations (French, German and Spanish) which are in full swing, but his speaking in tongues is disturbing. Most of us are now concerning ourselves with bugfixing, and in particular making sure the amount of bugs coming in to the database is less than those being cleared. We think we've broke the back of it now, however the task of tracking the bugs (a bigger operation than you'd think) is a hot potato nobody wants. So that's the prize for the person with the least bugs each week...some incentive! Still at least that frees Larry up to fix some of the damn things, and more importantly to organise our winding down after each hard day's work (aka the evening's pub crawl, now we're located in the town centre).
Old friends have returned to pool their skills (for a price!). Dr Jon has come in to improve our planet validation so Steve can make sure those pesky dragons get stuck in less houses than usual, and Jim croft paid us visit to give localisation his attention, and the audio bugs a good thrashing.
Finally Hal's got the demo under control, and with it approaching Master candidate at the end of this month, we hope VIE are going to be able to give you all a look of our little game, real soon.
This week ‘pestilence’ has come to Charybdis, in two forms, reworking the current design implementation of the in-game disease and Paul Whipp, our Executive Producer. Now before we get complaints it needs to be stressed than Mr. Whipp is also carrying the plague, well actually flu, to be more accurate. But such is his stout constitution he carried through his commitment to be at Charybdis to add to the swelling numbers of play testers, and infect all those around him.
Yes, pestilence came under the biologist’s microscope this week. And it was determined to be too virulent. The risk being run was that a single outbreak of pestilence could, under certain circumstances, spread to infect pretty much every creature on the map. So, with this imbalance cured, we are left with just Paul Whipp to eradicate. Although we fear that this infection will have to ‘run its course’.
Following on from the considerable playtesting that has been occurring lately, the scoring system and creature ‘experience’ system have been tweaked. Thus making it more obvious to the player what he is scoring points for in multi player. And basing the creature ‘promotions’ through their ‘experience’ on more obvious actions. Like hitting things. No? Really?
Sound, in the form of Daniel Slaney and Jim Croft has given the game ‘ambient sound effects’. So that scrolling over the landscape is now an aural joy! Water gushes, lava hisses, birds sing, and distant offshore Buoys clang in the fog strewn shipping channels off the port of Karnac.
Before the end of this week we should have finalized the dialogue scripts in the single player campaign. This will enable the voice over recording to go ahead, using professional VO actors, down at the studios in London. This will replace the current Charybdis ‘luvvies’ voice-overs that have been in as placeholders since last year.
That’s it until next time.
The accent this week has very much been on play testing and tweaking. This is always good for generating argument. We have been joined by two of Virgin’s play tester, Tim and Carlos, who are here to help with testing the single player campaign (do you know what the hell is going on?) and the multi player levels.
Ah, play testing and tweaking; now there lies murky waters, full of serpents. With a game like Art of Magic there are so many permutations that one has to be careful not to makes snap judgments about any given creature or spell. For a start, players have favourite creatures to summon and favourite spells to cast. Or more importantly they have ‘least favourite’ creatures and spells. This can skew the feedback one gets on which characters are under achieving.
The problem is that in multi player it is hard to get people to remain objective. That competitive spirit takes over and the red mist descends. So, one of the things we do to try and address this is, for example, limit the talismans in the game to only one alignment. This means that if your knee jerk reaction were to take ‘Dragon’s Breath’ into battle, or ‘Excalibur’, then if the talismans were Neutral alignment, then they’d be forced to take the ‘Dryad’ into battle. Dryads are very slow moving tree spirits with a deadly whip attack. But, place them near trees and they become invisible to the enemy and self heal. Cool. Playing in a forest landscape these little Divas come into their own. But under normal circumstances they might have been passed over for the ‘flashier’ spells and creatures.
Next week we’ll get to grips with the single player campaign and I’ll see how much I can reveal before our designer break the door down.
This week has been very much a ‘nuts and bolts’ week, with adjustments to such things as ‘game type’ selection in multiplayer and ‘stereo volume adjustment’ for streamed sound. Oh well, it can’t all be devastating death rays from the heavens!
We continue to work hard at keeping all that was good in ‘Magic & Mayhem I’, these include things like the ‘Raise Dead’ where the longer a cadaver was left to rot the less ‘healthy’ (if you know what I mean) the resurrected corpse would be. Once again, as is the charm of ‘Art of Magic’, this causes the player to continually stop and think about exactly what it is he’s about to unleash.
Of an evening we have started to play ‘Art of Magic : death match’, a multiplayer game with a minimalist set of spells. Last man standing wins. Wonderful for venting all those pent up frustrations that creep in during the day. It’s also useful as a play test session too.
The new single player and multi player landscapes seem to be coming in faster than we can play them at the moment. It’s always exciting to explore a new landscape for the first time. For example, the recent inclusion of ‘Karnac City’, provides ample opportunity for exploration being huge and containing buildings of all shape and size. The ability to cast spells through open windows being a must, right now.
Gooey Blob finally makes it into the game. It’s always exciting to get a new spell to ‘play with’ and Gooey Blob, as Magic & Mayhem I players will know, is something of an institution. So you’ll be glad to know that it has lost none of it’s ability to present a real problem to an opponent as well as being a tactical tour de force.
And the simplest things entertain the simplest of minds, so I was excited to see ‘terrain gradient effects’ in the game. What joy to see a band of Skeletons suddenly start to pick up speed as they traversed a down slope. I was fully expecting one of them to fall flat on his face as he lost control of his legs.
The Vampire is no longer cursed to walk everywhere. His ‘morph to bat’ functionality has now been included. Select him and send him any distance that is further than he’d care to walk and he shape shifts to a bat and takes wing.
And tweak to the ‘fear spell’ has creatures reacting to this spell dependent upon just how scared they actually are. Spot the real Sissies.
New landscapes continue to be added. Celtic City and the Elven Palace to name but two are a delight to roam.
The music is in the Campaign levels of the game now and sounds excellent. In-game music can often be the poor relation in game development but when it comes to adding atmosphere the contribution is makes is out of all proportion to the resource it’s afforded (ironically being mentioned in the last paragraph). We are lucky to have the considerable talents of Voodoo Sound on hand. Not only did they compose all the music tracks but also all of the sound effects too.
Much has happened since last I wrote an entry. And in the heat haze that is the culmination of Art of Magic they rapidly blur into one. So, lets see if we can pick some highlights out:
Well, DX8 has been well and truly established in Art of Magic now, and the optimization process is nearing an end with ‘texture welding’ having a substantial impact on frame rate.
One of the final pieces of the jigsaw to be committed recently was the ‘fog of war’. Our original design implementation didn’t produce the results we required, so we went back to the drawing board, hence the late appearance. But we now have an implementation that is probably one of the best in a true 3D game.
The same can be said of the ‘realm map’ screens. These started life as 3D interfaces and were put into the game as such. Yet something didn’t feel right about them. It was the fact that they were 3D and although it seemed natural to us to make them so, it was confusing. It felt as if you were still in-game. After much soul searching, we ripped it out, and set to work on new Realm Maps. They have now been committed and are traditional 2D screens. Thereby separating in-game and ‘option’ screens.
Two more spells went in recently too, ‘Magic Eye’ and ‘Gorgon Stare’. The Eye, attached to enemy creatures, opens up the Fog of War as they move through it. Gorgon Stare is spell not only used by the Wizards but also the Lord of the Demons. And having watch this guy striding and screaming around the landscape, he has become a very powerful and fearsome creature. Tactically this spell is extremely useful against player who like to use winged creatures. Especially those that have a Dragon fetish.
Other smaller inclusions over the last few weeks have been ‘flinch’ and ‘rotting’. Flinch causes a character who has been attacked to ‘flinch’, to recoil for a moment. This is something that we felt was a little irritating in the original game. It was hard to extract a creature or your wizard from a melee as he never stopped flinching long enough to get clear. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how this is balanced.
Finally the last of the creatures are being ‘skinned’, thus giving them that finished look that is standard in games now. Cloaks flap smoothly and curves extenuated.
New levels of the game in multiplayer are being added continually now and the single player campaign is receiving it’s final tweaks.
That’s it until next time.
Preview copies of 'Art of Magic' have been sent to the States. Copy deadlines for magazines run slightly differently to those in the UK. We have external resource working hard on code (Game World 7) and Graphics (Coyote), helping to ensure that we hit our deadlines. The DX8 compatible network implementation has been integrated. And a storm has hit the Midlands and the South of England. Which seems wholly appropriate.
New landscapes continue to drop into the game. This week end Josh Pickering gave us a tour of Orgon's (The Troll King) mountain stronghold. Very cold and uninviting (unless you're a troll, I guess) it looked too.
The menu screen have been receiving a lot of attention this week. Fine tuning and tweaking to make them easy to navigate whilst providing all the functionality required. Play testing has been a somewhat hit and miss affair with the new network and cunningly secreted bugs providing extra challenges in multiplayer.
The dialogue scripts are being prepared for the professional voice over artist, naming conventions applied and character descriptions written. Jim Croft of Voodoo Sound has been busy creating new sound tracks for the Chaos landscapes and has also been composing the interactive battle anthems. This is going well, although some of the creative feedback can be less than helpful, 'Can you make it sound more…well….'battley'?'
All departments are putting in extra hours, as one might expect at this stage of the game. Nerves seem to be holding and tempers are remaining stoically un-frayed. But we don't tell Paul Whipp this in case he thinks we're not working hard enough, 'Yes Paul, people at each others throats they're working so damn hard!'
Well, ECTS has come and gone, and 'The Art of Magic' attracted much attention at the show. All extra push we'd made to squeeze in fresh features and creatures paid off. The press 'Oooo'd', 'Aaahh'd' and 'wow'd' in all the right places, and indeed in some we didn't expect.
The November issue (out in September) of PC Zone published a two page 'Top Story' feature on the game and was extremely complimentary, saying that the special effects were some of the best they'd ever seen in a RTS game.
The latest creature to make an appearance in the game is a 'Harpy'. Now this gal is a Chaos creature but we still wanted her to have devilish beauty. So the sketches Josh Taylor (2D art) produced were based on the traditional concept of a Harpy but with elements of sado-masochism bondage attached.
Her 'promotions' (she evolves through experience gaining new powers and a different look) see her looks change as she acquires further extremely tight fitting, red leather 'garments', along with murderous talons and claws. Her animations include a spine chilling crawl on all fours for those shorter journeys.
The remainder of the 'draft dialogue' has been acted out in a blitz of late nights last week. Wendy Chambers has had the 'privileged' task of splicing the tapes and ordering the naming conventions for all this voice over. Her hysterical laughter during this work is obviously due to suddenly remembering something funny someone once told her and not because our collective acting abilities are comical and reminiscent of 'Music Hall' at it's worst.
DX8 has now been beaten into submission by Iain Cantley and is ready to rock and roll. Microsoft have conveniently obliged by confirming a release date. This means that we can now make full use of all the latest graphics cards on the market, making Art of Magic run faster, smoother and with all those wonderful effects that we've come to expect from a graphics card with more memory than your PC had 6 months ago.
Whilst sound effects have been created and placed in the game as required, the 'music' for each section and level of the game has been waiting quietly to make an appearance. And Jim Croft of Voodoo Sound, now has the bit firmly between his teeth (nothing to do with the sado-masochistic Harpy). The award winning composer has produced some of his best work for 'Art of Magic' and we expect to see some 30 or 40 sound tracks and battle anthems before the game is complete.
Art of Magic is approaching Beta now, and with 4 weeks to go, the heat has been turned up in all departments. We're all simmering nicely.
Next report in a week or two.
The Developers curse is with us again. ECTS looms large. And as is always the case, we all try a little harder to squeeze that extra something special in for the show. We move mountains and divert the course of major rivers to get that extra bit of 'showbiz magic' into the demo.
And 'Art of Magic' is no exception. We have just finished a 'new look' dragon's breath, which utilises 'additive texturing'. And environment mapping has put that extra shine on all of the weapons and pieces of armour! And skinning is in the form of the Mountain Giant and many a flowing cape on the backs of various characters and creatures.
The main core of the work also continues, obviously, and this week we had fun trying out some dialogue in the game proper. Our plan is to create all of the dialogue in the game (and there is an awful lot) in 'draft' form, before proceeding to the professional voice over artists and recording studios in London. We feel that this will give us the opportunity to see how well the spoken word works in the game. Where it sounds good and where it falls down; where the message is unclear and therefore the narrative lost.
Of course this has also been a lot of fun. The people we drafted in to help 'hammed it up' like true 'Luvvies and Darlings'. Although only a small section was created for test purposes, it made us realise how long this was going to take. Our loins have been suitably girded.
Next report in a week or two.
The game has suddenly taking a new turn. Until now only creature summoning spells had really been implemented, along with Fear, Subvert, Disenchant and Bloodlust, making playtesting more a battle of attrition ( especially with no creature control limit ). But today the first batch of new 'spells' were released for testing.
With: Invisibility, Pestilence, Bury and Lure spells, the game suddenly took on a whole new feel. There was now motivation for getting you wizard out and about, as these were certainly more offensive spells rather than defensive.
With the creature control limit now switched on, the judicious use of Mana was required. Positions of power could not be manned and defended by hordes of inexpensive monsters but had to be watched over by more powerful and therefore more expensive creatures.
To add to this, we now have flying creatures: Dragon, Griffin, Eagle ( the Faerie was already in and we are still awaiting the morphing routine for the vampire to change into a bat ).
Now the game suddenly became much more a battle of wits and strategic and tactical interchange in multiplayer. There was something wonderfully cool about going invisible and watching your character fade into translucency whilst your opponent pounds the area he thinks you are in, with meteorites.
Time to try out the Dragon. He leaps into the air majestically ( for a lizard ) and flaps away to some distant and unsuspecting enemy troop. Landing with considerable grace for such a huge beast, he proceeds to breath death on all those surrounding him. Fire engulfs his foes. Well, that works pretty well.
So far the playtesting has been conducted on just one landscape, in the next week or so we are scheduled to have new ones come on line. The 'Vampire Lair' is all but finished now and work has started on numerous others.
We at Charybdis have been asked to produce a 'developer's diary' for the production of 'Magic & Mayhem - The Art of Magic.' A chance to open a window, if you like, on that dark and mysterious world, know as 'games development'.
First of all, some introductions: my name's Andy Smith and I'm the Producer on 'Magic & Mayhem - The Art of Magic'. For my sins, I'm tasked with keeping the project on schedule and to budget. Mark Hardisty is the Lead Designer, everybody chips in with creative input but, Marky Boy is at the sharp end of the process.
Hal Angseesing is the Lead Software engineer, he's responsible for all things software. Josh Taylor is the Graphics Lead and is encumbered with the responsibility of coordinating the manufacture of all things visual in the game. Jim Croft, composer extraordinare, creates all of the music composition for AOM ( Art of Magic ) and the sound effects. The Assistant Producer is Stephen Norris, he is responsible for the 'day to day' running of the project.
And Finally, the Great White Chief, Paul Whipp, is the External Producer at Virgin. We love him and we are pregnant with his second child: Magic & Mayhem - The Art of Magic.
So what great incite into the development process is this diary going to give, you may ask?
Good question. Every two weeks we'll report on what stage the game is at, what highs and lows have been experienced during that time and just how far up the wall the pressure to hit a Christmas deadline is driving us.
To start, lets explain how we got involve with AOM:
We'd like to say that the idea for such an original blend of strategy, role-playing and action was an inspired, a bolt from the blue, as it were; but we'd be lying, of course. The original title, 'Magic & Mayhem' was developed by Mythos here in the UK. We're a big fan of their work. They produced 'X-com - Enemy Unknown', which is responsible for many hours of lost sleep.
Paul Whipp contacted us in 1999 offering us the opportunity to work on the sequel, and we jumped at the chance. Our background is very much RTS and adventure. Even to this day some of our people ( Hardisty ) can still be 'caught' playing variations of table top games, like D&D and Warhammer.
So having secured the deal, and being keen to start, we started discussions with Paul about how best to 'progress' the Magic & Mayhem game as a sequel.
And as our experience is very much real time 3D, our first request was that we be allowed to move the franchise into a 3D world. We strongly believe that this will afford the player more immersion within the world. A 3D environment does allow us to create a more impressive visual display than using sprites. Dragons swooping from the sky, to spew forth flame onto a troop of hapless goblins, seems so much more 'personal' in 3D.
Can I here groans? What's that your saying? "3D RTS games can be notoriously difficult to maneuver." We know. Believe us. This is a big issue and we feel confident that AOM won't fall into that trap.
Real time strategy games that utilize a 3D engine, can actually increase the complexity of movement around the world. Sure, it looks pretty to be looking up a trolls left nostril with the sun setting in the background, whilst a horde of goblins are attacking over a rise in the distance, but after 5 minutes, what the player actually wants is a control system that is easy to use, and doesn't need a pilots license to move around the world.
With this in mind then, we have 'locked down' a viewing angle of the world that allows the player to easily navigate the environment, in a similar manner to earlier 2d strategy games, but with the ability to zoom in and out of the action. This way players will not be forced to use the full 360 degree rotation that the engine is capable of. Levels are being designed so that the player doesn't have to spin his camera around, just to see a goblin standing behind a wall. However, a toggle will be supplied that allows the player full 360 rotation. So you get the best of both worlds.
So we put a 'tick' against the 3D environment box. Then we discussed the AI.
The AI. Magic & Mayhem boasted some impressive AI, the game learnt and adapted to your style of play. The AI in the original title was good. It will be bettered in the sequel ( Hmm, now why do I feel compelled to say that? ).
The 'opposing' computer controlled magic users will take careful note of the players strategies and tactics and will 'dynamically' alter it's style of play, both during a level and during a campaign in an attempt to gain the upper hand. We've also been dipping into the forums on various web site to see what fans liked and disliked. One of the vibes we picked up was that they wanted more 'aggressive' play from the AI. Especially with respect to 'going after' the player's Wizards.
So, a tick in the AI box. Next came the story line.
We discussed with Virgin and Mythos taking a different slant on the 'sequel' by producing a 'prequel' instead ( well, it's all the rage ). So, first off, we went back 500 years and dropped the sea level a few hundred feet in Europe.
The story concerns the unrest that has occurred with the death of the Magistrator, a powerful wizard who has held this magical world in a state of balance for a millennia. The game is set against a backdrop of huge battles of nation against nation.
The single player campaign has the player taking the on the role of Aurax, a young man who sees himself thrust into a quest, discovering magic, and finally re-shaping the political landscape of the lands. From day one we employed the skills of a professional writer to help us with the storyline, character development and dialogue within the game. It certainly has made a difference. We hope this will be evident in the finished product.
The last major concern was the spell casting.
Our opinion was: 'If it aint broke, don't fix it!'
We certainly liked the simplicity of the spell casting in the original and this was one of the things we were keen to keep from the outset. Art of Magic is a battle arena and often the action comes fast and furious. We didn't want the player to lose the feeling conveyed so well in the Mythos original, that being the ability to respond swiftly to any situation through instant access and casting of his spell selection. As for the increase in power: we are looking to considerably increase the number of creatures the player can control within his army. Although no final number has been set, it's more likely more than double what was available in the original game.
A number of new spells and creatures have been added also. We have giants that tower over the other creatures, demons, dryads and minotaurs, to name but a few of the new additions. All the original creatures have had a major overhaul both graphically and functionally. Now, when a creature upgrades through experience, the model changes, showing a different, more experienced version of the creature. New spells include Dragons Breath, Rot Grub as well as some new totem types.
Well, that just about covers how we became involved in The Art of Magic. From here on in, we hope to bring you news on how the game is progressing every couple of weeks.