Spirit Development Update: July 2017

Now that we’re rounding out our third official month of development, we’d like to take some time to review our progress and share it with the community. It’s been a busy season for us, with lots of business meetings and new opportunities. We’re excited to announce that we are working with Northumberland CDFC to help fund our development efforts and that we will be participating in the UOIT business incubator throughout the year!

Reagarding Spirit, we’ve nearly finished much of the game’s core prototype functionality, having implemented alpha versions of our core mechanics, user interface, input system, save system, and application management. While we’ve got a long way to go in refining our gameplay and fleshing out our level design, it’s been quite rewarding to see the first few pieces come together. In this post, we’ll reflect on everything we’ve done so far, and how we plan to build on our existing foundation for Spirit in the coming months.

Gameplay

Navigation & Camera

Naturally, our first step in development after setting up our basic input & state management (see below) was the integration of basic player navigation. Our case is a bit unusual in this regard since players will be controlling a lot of different objects, so a one-size-fits all solution just doesn’t work for us. We’ve set up a system that lets us define movement controllers for different objects with varying degrees of deviation from standard rigidbody-based or character controller-based motion, which we will expand as we add new player-controlled objects, integrate animations, and improve the feel of our character movement.

Movement.gif

We’ve also set up a basic camera system allowing for locked and free-form camera controls, which supports a couple of different modes of operation depending on the object the player is controlling. It’s currently quite similar to the camera in our initial prototype, with some improvements to interpolation and adjustment behaviour. We’ve also developed a simple cutscene system built from our path editor utility, which has allowed us to start thinking about cinematic aspects of the game. Our next goals with the camera will be the integration of some basic physics and location-based constraints to improve gameplay feel and make it easier for the camera to adapt to different level geometries.

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Possession & Summoning

Possession is our core mechanic, and so it will be something that is in a constant state of expansion, refinement, and testing throughout the development process. Right now, we have a few different objects in our prototype for players to control (a large, bouncy ball, a marble, and a paper airplane), in addition to Spirit himself. Objects control quite differently depending on their physical properties – shape, size, weight, air resistance, and so on. We’re using three primary controllers at the moment for our current set of objects – a character controller-based model for Spirit, a controller we’ve designed specifically for flight, and a controller for rolling objects (the latter two are both heavily physics-based).

 

Additionally, we’re integrating our post-processing system with possession to give each object a unique aesthetic when players are “inside” the object, which we’ll be expanding on in later updates. Right now, we’re experimenting with a few different effects related to image warping and colour distortion. No psychedelics have been involved in the process, we promise.

Rescue & Collection

Players’ primary objective in Spirit is to rescue their ghostly cohorts from a devious team of paranormal exterminators, who’ve trapped them for later disposal. Spirit, who managed to evade the exterminators’ dastardly traps, will not stand by and allow innocent poltergeists to suffer in captivity. After all, a little innocent haunting never hurt anyone!

We’re going to be designing a number of different friends for Spirit to rescue, which our artist Josh will be bringing to life shortly (we’re acquiring supplies for the ritual). In the meantime, we’ve integrated the mechanic with a host of adorable magenta ghost clones, which aren’t terrifying at all, thanks to their giant yellow eyes. Ever watching. Staring. Judging.

 

Players can also collect little bits of concept art, tutorial images, and assorted bits of photographs and the like throughout their adventure, which they’ll be able to visit in a little journal menu, hosting their collection and detailing their current objectives.

Interaction & Dialogue

Once we’ve fleshed out our story and side characters a bit more, we’ll be integrating a fair bit of narrative, sassy conversation, and general tomfoolery to complement the game world. Right now, we’ve prototyped our system for interaction and conversation with a couple of talkative books. We’ve integrated this system with our collection mechanic, so that players can “take” things from NPCs via interaction, and we’ll be adding some basic fetch quests, riddles, and so on in the future.

Dialogue.gif

Abilities

A new feature we’ve been working on is an ability/talent tree similar to what you might find in an RPG perk system (though far less complicated!) or a game like Ori and the Blind Forest. At the moment, we’ve just finished implementing a skeleton for defining abilities, acquiring perk points, and spending those points to acquire and use abilities. We’ll be working on designing and implementing unique talents over the next few months.

AbilityUI.png

Application Management & State Saving

I like to have the application back-end up and running before taking on almost anything else, so that we can switch between scenes and deal with global GameObjects effectively. This helps us avoid snafus with the inability to test state transitions, getting caught up with persistent objects, and so on. Thus, our app manager was one of the first things we worked on, and we’ve expanded it steadily to accommodate new features as necessary.

We’ve also been extending our save system to support better player data management, improved file handling, and the ability and collection mechanics.

Input

Input was another of our initial areas of focus, as we wanted to develop a custom wrapper for Unity’s input system that allows us to query input based on actions defined outside of Unity’s input manager. We did this so that we can build a system for players to rebind their inputs effectively in-game, rather than having to rely on the Unity launcher. Furthermore, this leaves us the flexibility to import custom input plugins if we want to integrate support for different controllers or improved input polling in the future.

User Interface

Our UI is largely prototypical for now, with many placeholder assets and sprites taken from our older iterations. However, we’ve fleshed out the functionality of the HUD, menus, and hubworld, and we’ve built a solid foundation for our redesign of UI elements, which we’ll be working on soon. We’ve also spent some time wrestling with Unity’s default UI navigation, to ensure the best experience for players using a gamepad.

 

Animation & Sound

Our path editor has been serving us well, and we plan to use it as a tool to help animate obstacles, characters, and visual effects once we’ve finalized our level designs. We’ll have the all-new Spirit character model and animations within the next few weeks, but for now, we’ve integrated our old animations into Unity’s animation system, with a small bit of customization built on top for our gameplay needs. We’ll be extending this system as we continue to refine our character movement and generate new designs. For now, little old Spirit still looks pretty adorable, though.

We’ve also integrated some of our old sound effects and music, and we’re working on balancing and extending our simple sound system to better handle transitions and the overlay of multiple effects. We’ll also be working with some brand-new editing software and digital instruments soon, so stay tuned for music updates!

 

What’s Next

Our next major priority is revamping Spirit’s model and animations, and updating our navigation code to ensure a great platforming experience for players. From there, we’ll be refining our core mechanics and working on level design and asset creation, before drilling down into our puzzle design and adding depth to the game. We’re having a great time working on Spirit and we really hope that you’ll enjoy it when the time comes!

UnderConstruction

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