Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Auld lang syne

Notwithstanding the continuing lack of any new games, 2015 has been an amazing year for Wormwood Studios for a couple reasons. 

First, Primordia sold about 50% more copies in its third year than it did in its second, received a beautiful French translation, and rose into the top 15 user-rated games on Steam.  It also crossed a significant threshold: over 100,000 copies sold.

Second, I fulfilled an adolescent dream of being able to work on the closest thing to a second Planescape: Torment -- namely, Torment: Tides of Numenera.  It's been a humbling experience to be just one of many writers, with only a small part to play in the greater scheme, but all the same, the 70,000-odd words I've poured in so far seem to me to be among the best I've written.  As I've said many times, Primordia was heavily inspired by the original Torment, so this feels like closing a circle.

While life has a way of going awry, next year looks to be even more exciting.  Primordia will be getting a Spanish translation (currently about two thirds complete) and -- if Wadjet Eye Games can clear its pipeline -- an iOS release. There are also Polish and German translations, and a new Russian translation, although I am not especially confident that these will be finished anytime soon.

More importantly, we have three games in the works, which I'll list in order of my confidence that they'll be done in 2016.

First, James Spanos -- Primordia's coder -- will be releasing Until I Have You, an action game that is rather tricky to classify.  It has elements of CanabaltNinja Gaiden, and Hotline: Miami, but is absolutely its own distinct creature.  I've had some peripheral involvement in revising the writing, but otherwise this show belongs to James and his artistic collaborator, Andrea Ferrara.  UIHY has been in development for over a year and it's fully playable, with about 90% of the content in place.  This kind of game requires a huge amount of testing and honing, but I can't see any way that James doesn't get it over the finish line.


Second, Victor Pflug -- Primordia's artist -- is developing Trenchmouth, a point-and-click adventure game similar in spirit and style to Primordia.  Trenchmouth is about a world not unlike ours, where a Great War grinds on without end.  This has a certain superficial similarity to the background of Iron Storm, but things diverge dramatically because Trenchmouth's setting cannot be untangled from Vic's techno-magical realism.  Despite his endless efforts to ground his creations in real technology, there is a dreamlike quality, and at the end of the day Trenchmouth is not going to be a "What if?" alternate history but a nightmare whose symbolism is rooted in a dark historical reality.  Vic and I have chatted a bit about the story, and I think it's shaping up nicely.



Finally, Fallen Gods continues creeping forward.  I'm hopeful that as Torment work wraps up in early 2016, and I'm able to give full attention to FG, the pace will pick up.  In the meanwhile, let me tell you a little bit about the game.

This runestone serves as the main menu (options not visible) and part of the opening cinematic.
Its roots lie in two old, non-computer games from my childhood: Barbarian Prince and Lone Wolf.  I rediscovered these back in around 2006, and I was simply blown away at the things they accomplished without the assistance of a computer.  I loved the ways in which BP created this reactive, complicated game with very simple tools.  And I loved that choices and skills in Lone Wolf felt meaningful.  I was coming off having played a lot of computer RPGs where improving a stat, gaining a feat, picking an option really did not feel significant at all.  In Lone Wolf, by contrast, each of the special abilities just felt . . . well, special.  And you got to use them in these great ways, with great frequency.

I then launched into a massive project to hybridize these games with Weird Worlds, a procedural "coffee break" game.  The game was called Star Captain.  I read about 100 space opera novels, watched hours of space opera TV and movies, studied a ton of space opera P&P games, and churned out a 250-page design document.  I was very close to signing a contract with S2 Games to co-develop the title (at the time, I was doing writing for them), but it fell through, and I switched gears to make Primordia.  Then I discovered that Mass Effect had largely preempted my narrative concept (cannibalizing the space opera canon) and a slew of games, most prominently FTL, had seized on the same gameplay structure.  Well, shit.



Around the time Cloudscape died, I was reading Beowulf to my kids and The Long Ships to myself, and fell in love with Anglo-Saxon language and Norse fatalism.  I embarked on a long reading journey, which took me through most of the Icelandic sagas, the eddas, the Tain, the Exeter Book, and lots of history books.  So immersed, I realized that I could take Star Captain back closer to its Barbarian Prince roots, and thus Fallen Gods was born.

Many missing tiles, and the ! is placeholder. (Also a lousy screenshot.)

Here are just a few of the missing tiles, and sprites that replace the ! icons.
The basic gist of the game is that the player is one of the eponymous "Fallen Gods," who must win his way back to the Cloudlands -- our Asgard -- by hook or crook.  I don't want to spoil too much at this point, but basically it is a bleak game that blends Norse mythology and Icelandic folklore (and European folklore more generally) with a rather bleak worldview that fell upon me when reading a series of books about the aftermath of various revolutions (Russian, French, Bolivarian, and anti-colonial wars of liberation in Africa).  The current pantheon of Fallen Gods successfully overthrew the indifferent, and even cruel, primordial gods who ruled before them (a blend of titans and animistic prehistorical gods).  Despite this signal and perhaps noble victory, the new gods, led by Orm the Trickster, have proven fairly inept as divinities and catastrophe has befallen the world: political, ecological (I was also reading, among other things, The Earth Without Us and The Sixth Extinction), and spiritual.

Anyway, the "hero" -- more anti-hero, or let us just say, player character -- has a fixed number of days to make his way back to the Cloudlands, lest he become mortal forever.  The game plays out through three systems: the world map (depicted above), events (which are still coming together from an interface standpoint), and combat (which is still in the mockup stage).

Here's a look at some of the combat art:
A bogwight in its native environment.
A troll.  In theory, at least, the far background will be contextual to the map.

It's a shame that I don't have a great pic of the warband facing off against some of these foes.  I can only say that the artist -- Daniel Miller -- is simply amazing.  These are true pixel art, drawn dot by dot, each frame drawn from scratch.

Finally, here are a few examples of events:
So this is a look at how they actually work: text with options.
A draug in "The Dead Hand." (How the images look as standalones.)

"The Lights of Skyhold"

Some still worship the old gods.

The corpse of Karringar, one of the defeated Firstborn.

The first three images are by the amazing Ryan Cordin.  The next two are by the equally wonderful Zoltan Tobias.

Anyway, I can't wait to share more about the project and its League of Nations-esque international team, but for now, I'll just wish everyone a happy New Year!  Thanks again for all the support!

10 comments:

  1. My best wishes for you and all your projects. I am sure our Spanish translation of Primordia will be finished by Spring and it will be up to such a wonderfull game.

    Eduardo Moreno (walas74)

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  2. music by nathaniel chambers? :P

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  3. I am waiting for every one of these games, wish you luck!

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  4. This is a gorgeous place, and I won't soon forget it. Attended an event here sponsored by the company. The reception hour was held in one of the rooms next to the venues. I loved their buttery mashed sweet potato.

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  6. Fallen Gods ~one Question about

    oh my, seeing those pics, amazing artworks & pixelart indeed!! and it's description with them three systems: world map, events, and combat just makes me curious ..

    also the artwork/screenshot "Some still worship the old gods." that scene is just happening in Moonstone's intro sequence and done throughout the game as a ritual to prevent death, like i remember.

    Moonstone the Amiga classic, was famous for it's bloody combat! it's unique monsters! and also damn great art-design it hat back then.

    so "Fallen Gods" will it anything be like that? the combat maybe?

    Amiga 500 Longplay [002] Moonstone: https://youtu.be/14L4S1uwyE0

    however keep up the great work, thanks in advance & best regards.

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    1. Thanks so much! The resemblance to Moonstone is pretty uncanny. Someone else mentioned the game to me on an RPG forum, and I was reminded of how charmed were the childhoods of those who grew up with Amigas -- it's an awesome looking game. It's not one of the inspirations for FG, but it's something worth studying.

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