Let’s talk about Ethereal

October 1, 2016
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zhanintro

I’ve been working on Ethereal Legends for a long time now. The game first came into my imagination while I was a student at the Art Institute of Atlanta, in the form of something I called the Babylon Spire. It was a simple level design project, the content of which became one of the earliest posts here on soverance.com back in February 2013. A few short months later, I built FFXI: Soldier around those ideas, and this is what I consider to be the very first prototype for Ethereal LegendsFFXI: Soldier was a proof-of-concept demo built with Unreal 3 using assets I had ripped from Final Fantasy XI. While it was a great exercise in copyright infringement, it also helped to formulate many of the ideas that still exist in Ethereal today. If you watch the walkthrough video I did for Soldier, you’ll see that the core gameplay idea is still there. The camera and character movement is very similar to what it is today, and the same hub world / portal system exists to transfer between realms. It’s fascinating, to me, how much of the original concept has survived over this length of time.

Today, however, Ethereal Legends is a much more complicated and polished affair. In the three years or so that I’ve been working on Ethereal, the game has grown massively, and changed direction many times. When I moved the project to Unreal 4 in late 2014, I first prototyped Ethereal as a side-scroller. Some time after that, I brought on Jacob Corle, and we rebuilt Ethereal as a FF-style turn-based RPG. We used this build to run our Steam Greenlight and Square Enix Collective campaigns in the summer of 2015. We even built a version that worked on Oculus Rift, which we showed off to hundreds of people at SIEGECON 2015. It was even available on Oculus Share for a while. Based on player feedback, we then rebuilt Ethereal as a multiplayer action RPG at the beginning of 2016. While we did have a working multiplayer build, I opted to cancel the feature after realizing just how much was involved to fully support a multiplayer game of this scope. What Ethereal is today is that same action RPG, without the multiplayer. When we lost access to our office space, Jacob stopped working, and during the process of moving our data into a new location I encountered a catastrophic corruption error with many of our Blueprints. After this I was feeling pretty defeated, but it led me to rebuild Ethereal from scratch yet again, and this time I did so using C++, which is now open-sourced on Github. I might be working out of a tiny apartment again, but at least today Ethereal is more robust and stable than ever.

So we’ve come a long way. As we get closer to release, I want to share with you the current and projected timelines I have planned for Ethereal, as well as what features made it into the game, what got cut, and why. Let’s dig in!


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Release Date

This is the most pressing information to get out there, so lets do it first. The Steam store page claims Q4 2016, and I’m really trying to make that date happen. As of now, it’s looking to be that I’ll release the game on Steam in late December. Due to losing our office space and the C++ rewrite, I lost a lot of time and momentum, so I’ve unfortunately I’ve had to push back the console releases. I have recently (just a few days ago) packaged and run the game on Xbox One, so I know it works on that platform. Despite having the hardware I need, I cannot test the game on PS4 right now because we lost our office space, and I no longer have access to the IP address Sony has on file for Soverance Studios. That’s an issue I haven’t dealt with yet, but it’s on the list. Either way, I expect to make console releases the #1 priority after the Steam release. I’ve reviewed the requirements for both platforms and I do not expect any major certification issues on any platform.

Price

I’m planning to release the game on all platforms at a $9.99 price point. I feel this price will have the appropriate effect tempering the public’s expectation of what this game is, and accurately reflects what consumers like me would be willing to pay for a game of this type and quality. While I feel like I am shipping a product that I personally would pay more for, I am fully aware of the game’s flaws, so I’m aiming to strike a good balance here and still be able to earn a living for myself.

I have no plans to ever include in-game microtransactions, but I have many ideas for expansions and DLC, so it’s highly likely that I may go down that road next year.

Features

Alright, lets start this one off by talking about what made it into the game:

This is pretty much what the game will ship with later this year. Most of this you can learn about in the Ethereal Game Guide, which is still a work-in-progress. I feel like it’s a pretty fair amount of content, but it’s a lot less than what I really wanted to add.

Flamethrower

Cancelled Features

We generated a lot of ideas that simply didn’t make it into the game for one reason or another, almost always due to technical restraints or time limits. What remains I feel is the minimum we could keep and still maintain the original vision. Many of these cancelled features I hope to bring out later as DLC or free updates. Some of these ideas include:

  • Multiplayer mode
    • We had a build where you could play with up to six other players, cast spells on each other, see their stats in the HUD like an MMO, and even attack and kill each other. In the final game you can equip six spells, but the original idea was to give each player the ability to equip only three spells, forcing the party to create “job roles” for each player in order to succeed (just like the Final Fantasy MMOs). I cancelled the feature due to it’s complexity and infrastructure requirements, but I’d like to bring it back in the future.
  • Modular Armor
    • I feel like this is the biggest missed opportunity in the game, simply because even though armor exists in the final game and equipping new armor has a noticeable effect on your stats, it does not currently change the player’s appearance in game. This is due to a few reasons, but it boils down mostly to my inability to make my own custom 3D armor pieces. While I have a good eye for visual direction, I am not an artist, and I have little experience with 3D modeling, rigging, or animation. This leaves me with sourcing my art assets from third parties, and simply put, there are no resources available for me to get the amount of armor pieces I require in sufficient quality that are rigged to a skeleton I can actually use. It just doesn’t exist, so the only solution is to custom make this stuff, which I don’t have the ability to do with everything else on my plate. So modular armor got cut, and I am disappointed about it.
  • Familiar Pets
    • There’s a fundamental problem when using Ranged weapons where many of the enemies are always running into your melee range. This causes the player to often be “on the run,” so to speak. It’s still totally possible to play this way and in many ways fun, but we had designed a system to combat this problem where you could obtain new spells to cast Pet familiars. These pets would then follow the player around and act as a sort of tank, becoming the primary target for all melee-attacking creatures. The player would then be free to run around and use ranged weapons as their leisure, at least until their familiar died, when they would once again become the enemy’s primary target. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, and reminded me a lot of the Beastmaster job from Final Fantasy XI. Unfortunately I scrapped this idea due to time. I think I’ve already got all the models for this feature, though, so maybe in the future.
  • Arena mode
    • Early in the multiplayer design phase, I built an “Arena” map to test things with. Originally it was designed as a place where two players could duel, spawning on opposite sides of a large pit. When multiplayer mode was scrapped, the Arena was turned into a test map for individual enemies. It’s still in the final game (just hidden and inaccessible), but I’d like to turn it into an actual gameplay mode, where players could enter the Arena and battle against more difficult versions of certain enemies, for greater rewards. This might end up being part of an update or future DLC.
  • Casting weapons
    • There was originally a fourth weapon type, known as Casting Orbs. They were basically a pair of magical orbs, one for each hand, and they pretty much acted just like ranged weapons with magical projectiles instead of arrows. The idea was to make you feel like a wizard, and the orb’s binding stats reflected that. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get the animations or projectiles to work as well as I wanted them to, so I scrapped this feature.
  • Story
    • Ah the story. You will find a sincere lack of cutscenes in Ethereal Legends, so few in fact that you may wonder if there is a story at all! There is a story, but it is not really told to you in-game as I simply do not have the means to properly tell a story. I am not a really good writer, nor am I a voice actor, and as such, Ethereal will ship a general lack of storyline. There is some available backstory and I’ve tried to add bits and pieces of world-building lore through item and Realm descriptions, but there’s only so much I can do with the resources available to me. Instead, I’ve tried to focus exclusively on gameplay, and I hope that will make up for the missing storyline. Despite how much I really wanted to add a better storyline, I think players will enjoy not having to suffer through an hour or two of terrible voice acting.

There were a lot more things that got scrapped, but I’m sure you get the idea by now!

This post is getting a bit long, and it’s almost 4 A.M., so I need to go to sleep! Discuss this post on reddit or our steam community!