Friday Dev Update: Improving the Initial Experience

7:49 AM willsterling23 5 Comments


Since we've started developing Salt we've always tried to maintain the philosophy of minimal hand holding. We try not to bombard the player with tutorials telling them where to go, what to do, and who to be. Instead, we let the player decide for themselves and try to stay as hands off as possible. What we hope this translates into is simply this: freedom.

We want players to feel freedom when they play Salt. Freedom to make mistakes and screw up, but also freedom to create a unique story and adventure that you discovered on your own. This sort of game design isn't as prevalent as it used to be, and I can understand why. When you start out in a game that doesn't tell you what to do, doesn't give you a sense of direction, and just generally lets you go, it can be kind of frustrating. You're kind of left thinking, "Okay...now what?" But that's the beauty! The "what" is completely up to you.

If you've played Salt then you know we use our philosophy of minimal hand holding. Salt simply drops you on an island in a vast world and you are left to figure it out. While this is a design we plan on keeping, it hasn't come without its problems.

Today I want to talk about some of the issues that this brings and how we plan on improving upon it, while still maintaining a free and hands off experience.


No Direction = No Content


Those of you who have played Salt for a decent amount of time have probably realized that there's more content in the game than meets the eye. As you sail further out into the sea and sink more hours into the game, you start to discover new quests, bosses, rare items, and other things that I won't mention for sake of secrecy. The very beginning of the game, however, isn't very indicative of the mystery and intrigue that comes from spending more time into the game. While this in and of itself can be a good thing, it also gives players the wrong impression of Salt. 

Often times a player will pop on Salt for a couple hours and assume that all there is to the game is island hopping and gathering resources. While, yes that's a large portion of the game, there's a lot more! And we want to make sure players are intrigued and encouraged to go find that content. But since there isn't any direction in the beginning of the game or not much hinting at there being more, how do we clue players in on this while still maintaining minimal hand holding? 

Adding Intrigue and Mystery


The main way we plan on alleviating this problem is to include things in the early portion of the game that will be intriguing and mysterious to the player. This content will give you a sense of "something more" to the world and encourage you to continue exploring. We're still working on figuring out exactly what this content will be and like most other content, it will likely be improved upon and expanded as the game develops. 

Our goal here is to let the player know that there is more to Salt then meets the eye and improve the initial experience of the game. We don't want you to feel like all you can do in Salt is island hop to the same island over and over just to gather the same resources time and time again. If that's something you enjoy doing, then there's plenty of it! But there's a lot more too. This goes along with our playstyle focus philosophy and ensuring that players can experience the game the way they want. 

If you want Salt to be a relaxing experience full of fishing, exploration, and resource gathering, then you most certainly can do that! And we'll be expanding upon that. If you want Salt to be a thrilling adventure full of quests, bosses, curses and secret items, then you can do that too! We don't want to force you into the anything, and that's why we will always remain as hands off as possible. 


All in all we are very excited about adding more mysterious and intriguing content early on in the game and can't wait for you to experience them! As always, we would love to hear your ideas for this content and what kind of things you'd like to see in the world. 


- Will Sterling (Game Audio and Design)

5 comments:

Friday Dev Update: The Update Process

2:42 PM Unknown 4 Comments



This week we release update 1.5, which introduces a redesigned user interface as well as full controller support. Click here to read the patch notes.

This has been a very fun patch to work on for me. It was very satisfying replacing the old placeholder interface. It had been sticking out like a sore thumb for too long. As for the next update, we will give you some more information on that soon. Keeping with our common pattern of alternating content and mechanics updates, the next one will contain some new content.

In this post, I’m going to briefly go over the process of creating and releasing a Salt patch.


Stage 1: Planning


The first stage of creating a new update is the planning stage. We often have mini-planning discussions throughout all stage of update development, so we sometimes have a decent idea of what we are going to be doing in a particular update before we start this stage. However, this is the time to focus on, and solidify the plan. 

As mentioned before, we generally alternate between content and mechanics updates so that we don’t go overly long without some new fun and very tangible stuff for players to explore and experience. So, if last update consisted of mostly one, we focus our planning on the other.

We look at our list of major things to do, notes on player feedback, bug lists, and brainstorm new ideas. We will write all of our candidates down and choose which ones we want to work on for the upcoming patch, and which we want to push back. We make these choices based on what we feel would be the biggest “wins” at the particular point in development. 

We also consider how long we think each will take to implement. We strive for a balance of releasing a full fun patch but not taking too long between updates. It took us about two and a half months to complete the interface update, and we received a lot of comments of people saying that they were glad to see we were still working on the game, which lets me know that we need to try to reduce that duration for future updates. 


Stage 2: Implementation


After we planned out what we are going to do, it’s time to implement the update. This accounts for the bulk of the update period. Also during this period, we continue to fix any major bugs that we become aware of from previous updates. Generally, the very small cosmetic or non-game-breaking bugs we will fix and roll it into the next major update without releasing a hotfix patch.

Initial testing is also a large part of this phase. Everytime I implement a little piece of something, I will test it and everything that I can think of that it might affect. This gets rid of many easy-to-catch bugs right off the bat.


Stage 3: Heavier Internal Testing


Once we are very close to finishing an update, we will put it through internal testing. That usually means we will start a new game and play for a bit. When I’m doing this, I make sure to cover the new content, but I find it’s also very beneficial to play normally so that I can try to catch any other unexpected problems.


Stage 4: Steam Testing Branch


When we feel pretty confident from our internal testing, we’ll push the update to the Steam Testing branch. This is an optional game branch on Steam that you can opt into. This is the point where the bravest players have the opportunity to risk it all and sail straight into the bug-infested waters.

This is a very important step because it increases the amount of testing, but it doesn’t yet release the content on everybody. This means that if someone finds and reports a bug, we can usually get it fixed pretty fast before it affects very many people. We really appreciate all of you who chose to help us with this process. You are the tanks of the development world.

In addition to finding bugs, players on the testing branch also provide us with great feedback and initial impressions. Things that are not pretty, intuitive, or smooth come to our attention very quickly. If you are a testing branch player, never worry about speaking your mind about new changes. Both positive and negative feedback are invaluable. 

We prefer to have the build on the testing branch at least a couple of days before we push the full release. The length of the time depends on the amount of bugs that need to be fixed. Large mechanics updates generally require more time on the testing branch than content updates.

If you are interested in opting in for the testing branch, click here for instructions.


Stage 5: Release / Hotfixes


After we are satisfied that things have been smoothed out in the testing branch stage, we release the update to the default Steam branch, and to our patcher for those that keep updated using that. This is both one of the most exciting and intense portions of the update process. 

With a much larger influx of players playing with the new additions, any bugs that slipped through stages 3 and 4 will be found, and must be fixed as fast as possible so that they affect the least amount of people. This generally results in a small number of hotfix patches on the day of through a few days following the release. 




After the release of an update there is both a great sense of accomplishment, and excited anticipation for starting on the next one. With each, Salt gets a little closer to the complete experience that, I hope, will instill a little extra adventure into someone’s life.


- John Gamble (Lead Developer)

4 comments:

Friday Dev Update: The Road Ahead

8:20 AM willsterling23 9 Comments


We get a lot of questions about where Salt is headed, what kind of content is coming up, and what we plan on adding into the game. While some of these questions can be hard to answer just due to the nature of game development, we try to be as open as possible and not keep our players in the dark about what we are working on and what we plan on implenting going forward.

Today I wanted to talk about some of the content we plan on adding into Salt and where we are currently. Just as a disclaimer, we aren't always sure when and how fast content will go in or what content will be next, but we promise to keep you updated as soon as we can answer those types of questions.


Where We Are Now


Our next big update (which is currently on the testing branch and will be out soon to public) will be the GUI overhaul. This has been probably one of our biggest and most in depth updates yet. In this update we have completely overhauled the UI and added a lot of new features as well. This wasn't just a matter of making the UI skin look better, but improving functionality across the board and adding new features like a character screen to display your stats, new health bars and quest dialogue windows, and other features. 

In addition to overhauling the GUI, we also have added controller support. With this update you'll be able to play the game entirely keyboard free. This has been a big request from a lot of players so we are pretty excited to get this in. 

We've also been able to do a few other architectural improvements in this update such as transitioning to Unity 5, which will help in a lot of areas of development. 


Where We Are Going


I'd like to give a brief overview of some of the content you can look forward to in the future. With the GUI overhaul soon out of the way, we will be free to focus more heavily on adding content and new features to the game which we could not be more excited about. 


New Humanoid Models

Coming soon will be the brand new humanoid models. These models will primarily replace the pirates, inn keepers, merchants, and other human type npc's. We think the new models look great and will fit the theme of Salt perfectly. They will also have improved and new animations to add entirely new dynamics and life to the AI. 


Weather

Weather is something I'm particularly excited about, mainly because it will add a sense of dynamics to the world. With weather will come a lot of fun features such as huge waves and intense moments at sea. We will be unleashing Rob on this implementation in the future and can't wait to get it implemented! 


More Story

A couple months ago we implemented the first portion of the main storyline in Salt. The response was great and we look forward to adding the rest of the story. What excites me about the main quest implementation is how much else comes along with it. While I won't spoil anything, these updates will introduce new places, npc's, weapons, lore, bosses, secrets, island types, and other features. 


Factions

This idea isn't entirely fleshed out yet, but it's definitely something we want to do and are designing the foundation of. We think it would be really cool if there were certain factions in the world that had their own quest lines tailored to certain playstyles (think assassins guild, beast slayers, fishermen's guild, etc.) Adding these sorts of factions would add more life and diversity to the world of Salt and an entirely new array of quests and rewards. 


Multiplayer

Multiplayer is probably the most requested feature for Salt, and we promise you it is going to happen. Our goal from the beginning has been to get a solid base foundation of the game that can be enjoyed as a single player experience, before moving on to multiplayer. We didn't want players to feel like they had to play with others to enjoy the game, but that players could play with others to enhance their experience if they saw fit. Rest assured we will start work on implementing multiplayer as soon as some of these other features are implemented. 


I hope that clarifies our thoughts going forward and just some of the content we will be working on. We've got a lot more features than what is listed here that will be added, but this gives a good overview of some big areas we'd like to focus on going forward in development. 

As always, we'd love to hear your feedback and ideas regarding future content of Salt! 


- Will Sterling (Game Audio and Design) 


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