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ASTRE - Public Events as Milestones

by Thomas Gonzalez on 04/27/20 11:01:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This article is a follow-up of my two other pre-mortem articles about the development of my main side project: Astre. It is an action/adventure game set in a fantasy space universe. You play as a Voyager searching for energy for his city Hyllios. You can use your energy to either make allies by giving it or kill your enemies by shooting it. You can read the first two parts before beginning this last part. 

Third year has been the busiest one. After two years of working on the project on my spare, I had roughly one year to work on it full time. I was the only member of the team in that situation.

Instead of detailing each iteration, this article is an overall view of the final year of development and more (March 2017 - September 2018 and March 2019 - September 2019).

 

Festival du jeu-vidéo - Fegersheim

Being a small team makes it hard to find people to playtest the game outside of friends and family. The easiest way is to go to events. Events are also a good way to establish milestone goals for the project. For Astre, I had my first public event one month after finishing my QA job contract.

The “Festival du jeu-vidéo de Fegersheim” (April 2017) is a small local annual event in Alsace (North-East of France). The week before was busy for me to make the best demo in terms of features. 

Main mechanics were working, level design using several floating islands was implemented and I used Mixamo to add animations to the hero. It has also motivated artists to work a bit more on the environment. Right before the event, we had a demo with basic features working and a first good environment for players to visit.

First nice thing was to let new players discover and test the game. This let me notice that young people were interested in Astre and its universe. It was also nice for parents because there is no blood violence so they let their kids play without any concern.

I had prepared a survey to get feedbacks but most players didn’t take time to fill it so I took feedbacks by taking notes and speaking with players about what they thought or if they had understood certain aspects of the game.

Big highlights were that we had a lot to improve with the graphics and also add a tutorial instead of explaining every mechanic to every player.

One of the main things that has improved in the demo is that it went from a lifeless environment with a T-pose hero dealing with sphere creatures to a chill mood space environment with a fully animated herp dealing energy shader creatures.

Thibaud, first artist on the project, came back to help in creating a proper environment before the event. He has set up the lighting, created rocks, a skybox, islands and a floating bridge to activate and navigate between each island.

After creating the bridge and a new island model, Thibaud has left the project. Sacha has joined the team to work on the environment part. He has used Substance for all new props textures and has also changed old islands textures. 

His main inspiration came from TJ’s environment artworks which defined our art direction.

I have also worked a bit on the visual side of Astre by using Mixamo. It is a free online tool to automatically rig/skin a character and then use a library of animations to add to it. Thanks to this amazing tool, Astre’s character has animations for all its actions! The goal is still to make custom animations someday. 

 

Indiecade Submission

Seeing the motivation growth of the team near the event, I decided to use each next event as a milestone with important tasks for everyone. It worked with motivated team members that had enough time to put on the game. 

Our next goal was the submission to be part of Indiecade’s official line-up. We had until June 2017 to complete submission. We needed to fill a big form to pitch the game and team, an improved build and a trailer.

Mandrin and TJ worked together to create the final character and its scepter model.

 

Environments were improved, hero model was finished, level design was changed to have a more linear and better paced flow, tutorial was added and trailer was done. I also want to thank Jerimiah for all his work on the form and itch.io page to make my basic english texts shine.

This part of development was also one of the only one where I kind of crunched. Final days before submission were during E3 so I was following the conferences while finishing all the details, made the trailer and reintegrated Mixamo animations one by one for the final character model.

 

Start to Play 2017 - Strasbourg

Following this submission, there was a free event again in Alsace at Strasbourg. 

For this event, I mainly improved the tutorial and added some AI behaviors to make the species more interesting and unique.

  • Shooting a Friendly species makes it afraid and run to ask a Defensive species for help. Then, the Defensive is angry at the player so it follows him and shoots.
     

  • If a species shoots another species, it will run if Friendly or attack if Defensive or
    Aggressive.
     

  • If an Aggressive species sees a Friendly species, it follows and shoots it.
     

  • Happy species can become allies and help the player in combat encounters.
     

    • Friendly: give him energy every 5 seconds

    • Defensive: give a shield to the player and shoot at enemy species

    • Aggressive: shoot at enemy species

 

Ally mechanics also went through some iterations. 

  • Before, players had to give more energy to happy species to make it an ally that was parented to the character. It was not intuitive to understand and there were some visibility issues in combat.

  • Now, a species is an ally directly when it is happy but can’t follow the player to another island.

Adding all those behaviors has been hard to implement with my garbage coding but again it was worth it. It gives more life and personality to species and creates an almost systemic feeling to species reactions.

 

 

The game was globally well received but it was too hard for most players. 

My main goals were to improve the tutorial and lower the difficulty. The last task has mainly been done using hero and species’ energy stats as well as projectiles speed.

I also met nice other indie devs that have now released their game: Koloro, Ana, Just Beat Em Up, Drago Dino and Heal Quest.

 

 

Indie Cade 2017 - Paris

 TJ focused on level design and species’ artworks. 

 The LD artworks led me to create the last island structure and Sacha to create the specific models needed.

The species’ artworks led to Grégory modeling and animating species to replace the old spherical particles.
 

After that, I had the information that I wasn’t kept for Indiecade official line-up. The game was in a too early version compared to the games in the line-up that were released or almost released games.
 


I was able to have 3 hours of showcase thanks to the Show & Tell program. 

During this quick time, I had tons of feedbacks from:


Thanks a lot for these hard but true and detailed feedbacks.
 


After this event, my goals were to improve readability and game feel.

 

Intermission

While working on these aspects, I already had most of the team having hard times to work on Astre. 

Big thanks to Sacha and TJ that were still producing stuff to help me on the visual side. Also thanks to Clément that made me a few sounds on demand. 

The project was progressing but too slowly. I almost attempted a bigger event: Toulouse Game Show.Finally, I decided to focus on finding a new job as Game Designer or QA Tester.

This is also an intermission in this article to talk globally about a few big topics that has been done during this pretty busy year: the UI.

Having only one energy bar for both life and ammunition lead me to think back about an early idea: get rid of the HUD bar and go full diegetic with an energy indicator integrated into the character’s armor.

  • Pros

    • More immersive visual experience

    • Energy is more directly part of the character

    • Being compared to Dead Space

  • Cons

    • Harder to be spotted by the player at first

    • Harder to follow while fighting/interacting with species

It has been a difficult challenge to make this bar noticed by players but it was worth it. Feedbacks can always be improved but overall, this diegetic UI is appreciated by players.

 

Journée des Auteurs de Jeu - Montpellier (2018)


In march 2018, I still didn’t have a job, tutorial and game feel were improved, species weren’t spheres anymore but had proper animal shapes, their own custom shader and a couple of animations, we had a few new sounds and environments assets.
 

 
With all of this in the build, I went to a local event in Montpellier (where I lived) and the game was well received. Even if I knew it would be hard to go on like this, it was a big motivation to see the project in this state.
 
 

 

Etree (2018)


Last milestone before putting the project in stand-by was also at Montpellier: Etree. As E3 was almost here, Push Start (Montpellier’s main game dev association) launched a project of making a video including games made around Montpellier with trailers and dev interviews.

Big thanks to them for this nice opportunity!

Sacha and I had improved the global lighting of the level and added some post process effects to polish the visuals, a trailer has been done by Panda using a new music sketch done by Trent.

 
 

The final Etree video featured a trailer and an interview of each developer. I had a great time on set with the Push Start team and Seele Games mates!

 


Indie Game Lyon #1 (2019)

I have moved to Lyon to work as 3C Dev Tester on The Crew 2 at Ubisoft Ivory Tower in September 2018. 

Beginning to meet the indie game community there, I heard about a new event happening in early 2019.

It was the first time I went to an event with an old demo for Astre. I also brought a demo of my other project Casa Nyxa. Same universe, different games. This approach was globally appreciated.

Feedbacks were globally good except on the overall game feel and some tutorial details. I already knew these critiques and hadn’t any time or energy to improve that.

 
 


Level Up Festival - Bron (2019)

This time it was only Astre demo, no Casa Nyxa. This event was here to show some locally created video games to kids.

Feedbacks were pretty positive! The game has even been compared to Fortnite sometimes.

I would love to attempt this kind of event again some time.
 

 


TGS Lyon (2019)

For this event, I brought Astre and Casa Nyxa. For Astre, I did a quick update on the tutorial steps to better put the Ally mechanic in light.
 


It is the biggest event I have attempted, people were often quickly testing and dropping the demo.

An old bug preventing people from using energy mechanics (shoot and gift) has been reproduced at a really high rate. 

It was nice to meet Just Beat Them Up dev and meet Flore devs. 

Big thanks to my best mate Nono for coming to the event to help me handle the booth and being able to have regular breaks.

After the event, I took some time to fix this bug and improve the tutorial one last time.

It has been pretty exhausting and it’s hard to hear that much feedback and not being able to handle it because of my job and the scope of the project. 

 


Conclusion

The demo hasn’t been updated since September 2019 and won’t be until a long time.

This is my best creation, the king of my portfolio and also a big experience to now enjoy working on smaller indie projects.

I will go back to this project someday, but for now you can still test the last version!

This project has made me the Technical Game Designer I am today.

I want to thank every person that has worked with me and supported the project through all these years!

 

Credits

  • Thomas - Technical Game Designer

I was in charge of the Game/Level Design and Programming using Unity.
 

He was on the project from the very beginning. He gave a soul to my prototype!
 

He composed short symphonic sketches to find a distinct sound for Astre, using piano and percussion along with spacious strings to create an otherworldly atmosphere. His music is one of the most beloved aspects of the game!
 

  • TJ - Concept Artist

He has done all the artworks of the game. One of these has been the main art direction document and cover art for the game!
 

He has done the final character and scepter model. He also gave a lot of strenght and motivation to the project and the team!
 

He has done most of the environments, all textures, lights, post process settings and custom species shader!
 

He has done all the sounds!
 

He has written all the itch.io page content, Indiecade submission texts and a lore document that is unfortunately not directly used in the game yet.
 

  • Léna - Graphic Designer

She has done the logo, all marketing assets and has supported me in all this crazy adventure!
 

He tried to reboot my garbage code.
 

He has modeled and animated the species!
 


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