Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 14, 2011
It’s time for a long-overdue update on Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon:
Yes, that’s a new title screen. The previous one is somewhat more appropriate for game #2, so that’s where it’s going.
Now how about a really good question: What the heck does “Beta” mean?
First of all, it’s a game status thing. It means that at this point, there are no more big changes. There are no known game-crippling bugs. The game is fully playable from start to finish. All the features are working. There are still bugs, balance issues, a couple of places where we’re still using stand-in art, and room to fix things and change things. We’re down to only about 100 issues, and only half of them are serious (the others are “suggestions” or “nice to have if we can slip it in” changes). We’re down to the small things – small but important. And not always easy. Things like combat feats not always being available for unknown reasons. Or whether dual-wielding needs bigger penalties on attacks or damage to be balanced. Or renaming the “Balls!” spell to “Boot to the Head!” to match the visuals better (the boots come in a little high) and beefing it up a little more. Fixing some weapon visuals that don’t have their mount point quite right (as you can see in the pic to the right). Placing a few more hidden caches of goodies, and placing some last remaining magical gear as loot. Improving some of the spell visuals. Adding some missing sound effects. Making sure the story – and game – as a whole holds together.
And playing the game, start-to-finish. A Lot.
I’ve not been able to do enough of that last, I’m afraid. I do a lot of skipping around. And cheating. The game is a little too big to just blitz through, and changes have happened so quickly that have invalidated my games halfway through (especially saved-game changes). In my current, cheat-free playthrough, it’s taken me over four hours just to get to what I consider the first-quarter mark. That’s hitting all the major features I can at my level, so I’m not leaving much loot (or experience points) behind. But I also know exactly where everything is, which speeds things a little bit from someone’s first playthrough. So I think the game is going to provide players with many, many hours of entertainment.
It’s been an awesome experience. So often, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you are addressing bugs. I know my opinion is biased, and I have a natural inclination to like my game. But the thrill of gaining a new level, and deciding where to spend my character points, is as magical to me in this game as any other RPG. Pushing forward, gauging the risk of One More Fight with my current resources. Sometimes barely getting through a fight by the skin of my teeth. Pulling off a win by remembering to use a particular spell or magic item (or Drama Star ability) at the last moment.
This is what an RPG is supposed to feel like. It feels right. While I worry I’m looking at it through rose-tinted Goggles of My Baby Ain’t Ugly, I think I’m going to be really, really happy and proud of what I’m delivering to you.
I’ve had to do this (picture to the right) a couple of times, too: Limp back to town with the party one nasty encounter away from wipe-out. Benjamin is incapacitated – able to mumble in dialog, but not much else. Chloe is near death, and Dirk isn’t that far away himself. I’ve returned to the safety of town and a stay at the inn. One nasty encounter on our hurried flight from the tower, and it would have been a real challenge. I could have revived Benjamin with drama stars in combat, or pre-combat with a potion (and removed most of his exhaustion with drama stars or potions), but it was really time to return to town and sleep and trade equipment anyway. The whole party is pretty exhausted. And I’m only halfway through the dungeon.
The humor of the game – well, I’ve lived with these jokes so long that they don’t amuse me much anymore. I still keep my eye out for some additional sources of humor – or at least a little bit of wryness. But part of the reason I’ve worked so hard to make this a real, hard-core RPG is that I want a game that I can enjoy playing. That means giving it the heart and soul of a good ol’ fashioned hard-core RPG that is still fun even when I know the jokes and storyline and maps like the back of my hand. I feel like I’ve achieved that.
And now we are fer sher in the home stretch. Finally. It’s been a long time coming. Another part of “going beta” is psychological, for me. It’s a threshold where we can stick a stake in the ground and say, “This is it – this is progress, and we’re almost done.” And seriously, compared to about every other beta I’ve participated in, Frayed Knights seems to be in the best shape of all. Much of this is due to the incredible efforts of the testing team. I’m going to single out DGM again, ‘cuz he’s done an amazing job. (Now we just need to find out why he’s got a problem with his new computer / video card / driver combo…) I don’t think that this means we have a lot less work to do – Frayed Knights is by far the biggest and most complex game I’ve ever worked on (including several hit and not-so-hit “mainstream” games). There’s a lot of little moving parts to check, fix, and polish. But I hope this means things can progress quickly.
As a side not: one noteworthy change that you may notice from these screenshots (if you view them full size) is that they are in 1280 x 960 mode. Thanks to some efforts from Kevin (Xenovore), most of the UIs are all working in different resolutions. 1024 x 768 was barely acceptable for an indie title when I first started this project, but now with widescreen monitors becoming the norm, I really can’t get away with it anymore. Well, okay, sure, lots of indie games still are, but I can’t.
A third part of this final stretch – the flip side of “going Beta” - is that it is a threshold that means it is time to do an awful lot of stuff that has nothing to do with finishing the game, but important stuff for releasing it. Marketing stuff. Preparation for sales. Making it visible. Dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on all the licensing requirements I need to fulfill, as I’ve licensed a bit of content (and the underlying engine) for this game. I’m not complaining – it’s all fun in its own way (well, maybe not the licensing requirement part), and all part of the biz of being an indie. While some of this has been part of the ongoing process, for me “going beta” means the light has turned green and the meter is running on all this other stuff.
An example: the Big Deal with this release is that I’ve now submitted Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon to Indiecade. Just under the wire for the late submission deadline. I guess if we find anything too horrible in this build in the next 24 hours, I can resubmit with changes. There are plenty of things I wish I could have fixed before I sent it, but what I thought would only take me six hours managed to consume closer to twenty over the last weekend, so I had to go with what I had.
It’s all exciting stuff. I can’t wait to let you play it!
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