DESYNC// DEVELOPMENT BLOG
#05 // Clarity in complexity
Monday, March 28th 2016 - by S
Lately we've started being a bit more candid with what DESYNC will be as a final game experience. We've been thrust into needing to do so as our publisher Adult Swim Games becomes increasingly involved with the game, and as we work towards a playable demo for PAX East, an event which we won't actually be in attendance for. Giving the game to new players that don't know anything about it has been, of course, an interesting and revealing experience. We've been guarded with the game up until this year as many of the mechanics all rely on ideas and systems that weren't yet implemented yet, so we weren't looking for feedback unless via those who knew what was yet to come. Now that we're almost feature complete we've been able to relax on it a bit.
Other than the obvious and often recited "Oh, we didn't think you'd play that way" knee-jerk responses to the diversity of playstyles, the big take away has been how we've been revealing the innards of the game mechanics to players before challenging them with expectations of those innards.
We've wanted everything in Desync to be somewhat abstract, hidden behind a layer of understanding that can only come through interacting with and even caring about the game's systems. This is most clearly reflected in the art-style, but also in the terminology we use in the game. For example, in the attack sequence readouts, the descriptions of actions required aren't overly descriptive. Instead of "Use X gun to X manipulate an enemy into X trap", we'd use "X gun X manipulate, X trap". For a glimpse into our thoughts on this, it's true that we only begrudgingly use human language at all. Had the game been simpler we'd create an alien language of glyphs, animations and icons to describe actions in the game.
Desync has been built upon the idea of supplying simplicity/minimalism inside a shell of complexity. Without sounding too overwrought, a linchpin of all of Desync's design is creating synesthesia through an overabundance of mechanics that each, individually, are simple to grasp, but when combined and made necessary, demand all of your attention.
Of course, positioning players to be able to absorb that complexity quickly requires explanation/demonstration, which is where the aforementioned begrudging-ness arrives. For example, in Quake your shots against enemies have a random chance of staggering/interrupting them, and that random chance increases if they're mid attack or shot in the back. Quake, though, is about survival, so that mechanic although probably felt by most players, doesn't need explaining. In Desync, defeating enemies increases your base speed / dash recovery with attack rush, enemies can be staggered, launched, shunted, overkilled and desynced. Desync isn't just about surviving though, at it's heart it's a score-based shooter.
These mechanics are essential to getting high scores and extracting the most out of the game. Watching players struggle to learn these concepts (especially under duress) has been difficult. Watching the "ah-ha" moments when someone figures out something important that instantly change how they experience the game, they're worth the pain. Players then own those mechanics more closely than if they were just explained to them, instantly understanding where and how to apply it.
The impasse then was this; Is it a major failure point if players give up / assess the game before understanding this depth? We've seen it happen with a couple of playtesters already. After a brief demonstration of some fundamentals they'll be energized to play again, but it took explanation. Other players have cherished having an obscure game to discover over many hours.
In today's world of huge backlogs and a thousand distractions a minute, releasing a mechanically obscure game could be seen as a mistake. In Desync, our compromise is inserting various hint-systems that should hopefully tease players into getting better at the game. Outside of youtube videos or streams (Or the brilliant replay systems from Devil Daggers and Superhot), we have an Outsider in the game that sends players various hints and notes. And of course we also have the descriptive leaderboards, which'll show how the top echelon of players have performed and some hints at how they performed it. You can also spend credits to unlock attack sequences prematurely.
Anyway, much of this is well-trodden ground in game design. So although we've long since strode over this impasse, having the game playable currently in this mysterious state has only reinforced our approach. Desync will be an obscure, niche, abstract game, that asks you to come to it - tempting you lovingly with testosterone-based perfume.
#04 // Tight
Tuesday, February 2nd 2016 - by S
Hello users. We're alive here. Frequent online updates has been the first casualty for our small team of three, as we're all focused on adding content / testing / polish / project management, etc. We'll be ramping updates up from here on out though, we've got lots to share and we're able to make faster progress now.
We've been up to a lot over the past few months. We've been wrapping up various outlier features like the leaderboards and player tracking, the link network (hub area), the new ammo resource system, and movement polish and tricks.
We've kept refining on the art style and tightening the belt on lighting, depth perception, color consistency, all that good stuff. Since we're still rocking only 1 artist we've had our designers helping out here too, allowing the artist to focus on models/animations mostly. Hopefully you'll agree that everything's looking a bit more focused and atmospheric. The 90's slapdash radical color-soup style has been taken out the back and given a generous severance package and second lease on life.
Foregone took some milestone builds to a couple of conventions, namely PAXAus and Rooster Teeth Expo. It was awesome having people play and give feedback. We've found that DESYNC will definitely have a core audience. You'll either see the game in action and immediately want it or you'll pass. It likely won't have a middle ground, but that's fine. There's plenty of middle ground out there. The synth soundtrack and digital-abstract artstyle have proven to be crowd drawers though, which is sweet.
Something that doesn't translate well at conventions of course is progression and unlocks. We've put a lot of work into adding loads of weapons/upgrades/abilities to unlock and purchase in the game. You'll want to go through beaten levels with new gear since you'll have access to exponentially more attack sequences and game mechanics as you play through the game. The difference between having "a cool combat fps simulator" and "an actual videogame where you progress and earn new stuff" is stark. We've also started putting in some secrets and hidden encounters... some of these include unique mini-bosses and gear you won't find in the normal route. You'll want to check those out.
So what now? We're adding more content, refining and testing, changing things that aren't fun, further tightening and polishing the art. We still can't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but we're hearing the echoes of search helicopters looking for us.
Thanks for reading.
#03 // Your old neighborhood
Wednesday, August 12th 2015 - by S
What do you mean it's almost been a year?
Since the last update here... let's just say a lot has happened. We've turned DESYNC from a scrappy prototype FPS-something into another something that very likely resembles an actual game product. Often it felt like drawing blood from a polygon as a lot of the initial design ideas from a couple of years ago didn't manage to evolve into fun gameplay, but they were far along enough that these ideas needed to be reshaped into fitting with the main mechanics that did work. All of which is really just an obscure way of saying: "We cut the chaff".
What we have almost a year later are mechanics that all support each other, an art-style that makes sense within the world we've created, and a smooth as silk gamefeel that holds it all together. Which is a great starting point for a Beta, the phase wherein loads of content is injected and all the rough edges start getting buffed away.
Although it's been tense, we've all been positive throughout. We put out a call to some Level Designers to help define what actual DESYNC levels should be, and they've been fantastic. The pictures above are a little unflattering, though leagues and leagues beyond what we were working with beforehand. We've had a few interested publishers looking to wheel and deal and [spoiler] we're set with one, who will be announcing us over the next couple of weeks [/spoiler]. They've been awesome to work with and have given us exactly the right pushes to go from a super niche hardcore FPS to a functioning, enjoyable experience with progression, item discovery and an eye towards making sure everything's just snug enough that players aren't likely to rage refund after they die a few times.
Our first working boss fight turned out as intense and powerful as we were hoping. A caustic mix between a Demon's Souls boss and a boss from Unreal, these guys (Zone Defenders we're calling them) are already forcing our testers to actually learn the higher level concepts we're going for. Imbuing Attack Sequences, Overkilling for health, using sidearms. It's been good.
I'll leave it there for now for this update. We're working on Quick Update Video #3 right now, showing off some of our new tech, levels and a tease of Zentore in action. DESYNC leaves a much better impression when actually playing it, hopefully some of that comes across in video form until you guys can start playing it.
Thanks very much for reading.
#02 // Announcement
Thursday, September 25th, 2014 - by S
Well, that was an insane fortnight for us.
We've been working quietly on DESYNC for the past 7 months, on and off, and with never a dull moment - moments always contained to only a handful of people at a time. Whether it's a game destroying bug, a game release with similar aesthetic / gameplay to ours (anything that vaguely looks like a colorful FPS == DESYNC is over), team members being forced to find work or take a break from development, or just the realization that we can't keep working on this game without a bigger team and some actual money - nobody outside of the team knew about anything going on.
It's been incredible, to say the least, to finally be able to show people our game. It also means, hopefully, these wins and losses each moment seems to bring won't have to be hidden away anymore. Now that people know about DESYNC (and wow, people know), maybe we can finally start reaching out and getting input, talk about development issues, and show progress.
I never expected the amount of feedback and encouragement we've been getting. We tried out Steam Greenlight to gauge interest and as a means to force ourselves to get the game out there. In under 2 weeks we were Greenlit and that's just an amazing morale boost for us here. Especially the comments and emails and twitter messages we've been getting.
So we've now really got our work cut out for us. DESYNC has loads of potential and it's pretty much a dream game of mine that I've wanted to play/make since the UT'99/Q3 era. It's in a really really early stage right now, but I can't wait to get it out there for people to play. We've all taken massive risks and put ourselves in debt to get this underway, but the reception has more than made up for that.
With that out of the way, we're hoping to use this Dev Blog as usual - game development updates, progress pictures and videos, all that. I'll get around to making this an actual blog with RSS and email notifications as well at some point.
For now, here are some pictures of new early environment tests, and a first pass of the Attack Sequence Journal.
Thanks for reading.
#01 // Vidgame Development: Origins - The Reckoning [Episode One]
Saturday, September 5th, 2014 - by S
Welcome. This blog will serve as dev blogs oft do; condensing updates and information on our game into something enjoyable to read for those interested in the trials and tribulations of the development of a vidgame.
DESYNC has been in active development for about 6 months. 3 months ago it looked like this;
I'm a huge fan of FPS action games. Instead of listing them off, suffice to say I've finished every game on this list here (System Shock 2 50th, seriously?). In recent years it's felt like the FPS genre has fallen out of favor. Stagnation, genre fatigue, lack of developers interested in the genre - all factors.
Over the years some friends and I had been concepting a pure FPS game where every action the player makes is tracked and filtered into some sort of system that the game then preys and acts on. If you've got a slow sensitivity, enemies will flank you more often. If you run backwards a lot, enemies will stop you from doing that. It was a simulation of sorts. How much could be reasonably track? How could that be output as an interesting and rewarding "Playstyle" statistic? The core idea was "What if FPS games never stopped getting harder?". Where would they be now? How skillful would your average FPS player be?
It was also a game born of wanting to share the intensity and thrill we felt as players so invested in the genre. The excitement of nailing an impressive series of shock combos in UT, mid-airing someone, winning a 5v1 in CS, stealing a megahealth in Q3, or rounding a corner to three Shamblers in Quake. It's one thing to create setpieces for the player and set off the fireworks you think will get their blood pumping, but it's another to actually get players in that zone and experience actually pulling off awesome FPS moves on their own with enemies that aren't simply damage sponges that die if you hold the shoot button down long enough.
So eventually that idea turned into DESYNC, and 6 months ago we began prototyping and building the systems required to see if our ideas were actually fun.
At this stage of development every feature we implement feels like a huge step towards the initial vision of the game. Every new weapon or Attack Sequence or enemy adds another dimension to the challenge. We're already having a blast setting high scores and balancing everything, so hopefully that bodes well for the full release.
That's all for now, thanks for reading.