Version 13: Faces of the Enemy


Version 13 is here, and it is a turning point for the game. We feel the game has reached a point where it can actually be considered a mature product. This is quite surprising, as the game started its life as a semi-joke on Something Awful, and was continued thereafter off and on as a hobby game. However, development through the years has gone well, and we now believe it may actually be reasonable to call it a video game, not just a binary file generated by Unity and thrown onto the internet.

A very core aspect of this is the introduction of Enhanced Edition. While the game persists as an open-source project, and the free version will continue to have all gameplay aspects, we are releasing a DLC-like product which features graphical elements. This will allow us to better support the game going forward, hopefully, and we feel gives the game an aura of legitimacy. Free-to-play undersells it, as it gives the impression that we do not value the work we put in, nor do we consider it worth considering alongside paid products. Obviously we are still not charging AAA game prices, and we wish to maintain its open-source core, but we felt this was a good decision for the game itself.

Enhanced Edition

Enhanced edition introduces faces for the various nobles and agents of the world. These are assembled into different "cultures" which are distributed around the generated map. This should let players better identify and recognise the characters and perhaps increase immersion in the game world. The different cultures should then also give an at-a-glance idea of where a person is from. A merchant's rough homeland can be determined by their cultural appearance.

Conspicuously absent is the 'classic' culture of fantasy, the England/German style which is so common in fantasy, going back even before Tolkien, but certainly reinforced by Lord of the Rings and its immense influence on all fantasy works which followed. Instead we went for a trio of well known cultures which, while still familiar, might make the game a bit more exotic. Obviously the cultures are a bit stereotypical, but hopefully not in such a way to cause offense, and not too much to be cliché or obnoxious.

It also features a music player, which cycles through a set of permissive license music we found, by Alexander Westmacott. The music seemed a good fit, as it was neither too upbeat for a game about the apocalypse nor too depressing to be listened to for prolonged lengths of time. It also has a very solid presence by the musician himself, with the sounds of fingers along strings and very raw note sounds, which I felt worked well for the style of game we are going for. 

Obviously you can turn one or both of these features off if you feel the game was better before.

Whether you feel these additions are worth 5 quid is up to you. As mentioned, the free version has the exact same gameplay as the Enhanced Edition, it is the graphics we are selling, not the underlying gameplay.

Gameplay changes

This version brings us closer to the "final state" of the game. Politics merges with the agents with the introduction of the Dark Heirophant. This is a cult-leader type agent, which can enthrall a noble, and then break other nobles to provide them with political allies. The political allies can then support other agents by voting against security measures.

As we go forwards, we want the agents to be more personal, and hostile agents to be worth knowing by name. Hostile agents will be deployed in specialised ways, and specific agents can develop hostilities to individual enthralled agents, or become talented at handling particular tools you are using. 

Nobles, on the other hand, we want to make more responsive with the "crisis" political vote, which directly responds to events in the world by providing a set of special actions the nobles can select between. Hopefully this will make votes more powerful, as there could many very close votes which you can swing to a small degree to keep your plans on track. It will also introduce yet more ways for nobles to disagree with each other, and improvements to their political AI could allow the player to exploit this for their advantage. Critically, we want the player to be able to win because the nations fall in political deadlock and disfunction. They may have five times your military power, but be unable to agree on how to use it effectively, one of the core themes of the game.

Underlying system changes

The game, now a somewhat-professional product (since money is changing hands) now has to behave a bit more professionally. You will note that relevant files are stored in the user's APPDATA folder, as opposed to just alongside the .exe. This should make the behaviour a bit more reliable. Saves will not transfer between versions, and the game is aware of which version a saved game belongs to.

Possible Steam release

Currently, the game's main source of new players is Itch.io recommendations. This makes sense, as we put very close to zero effort into marketing (since it's mostly a hobby game, both of us are employed full-time, so can't really commit to that kind of stuff). As a result, if we want to grow the community a bit, we could benefit by having both the Itch.io recommender and the Steam recommender working together to suggest our game to new players.

While we do not wish to become full time game developers, having a somewhat larger audience could be interesting, now that the game is a bit less amateurish and a bit more developed. Even as a free open-source project, more eyes means more chances that someone will fork the project and develop their own variant.

Occasionally I remember a joke on Something Awful about a game with hyper-realistic water simulations, so agents can poison water upstream and your Deep Ones can have freshwater and saltwater variants. We aren't planning anything like that, but by leaving the core gameplay open-source we leave that option open, if someone wants to give it a go. But for that to occur, they must first be aware that this repository even exists.

Possible discontinuation of Linux support

The sad news is that we can't seem to get the game to work on Linux any longer. For whatever reason, Unity is completely failing to handle graphics on two separate Linux distros. We have tried different Unity versions, and searching online for help with regards to this, and will continue to investigate it, but at the present we can't say with confidence that we can produce a Linux version of the game. The executables can't even display Unity's own built-in splash screen, which suggests it is a problem deep in the core of Unity itself.

This is of course quite unfortunate. We both have great respect for Linux (my co-author having an actual Arch install, and myself using it professionally on a daily basis), but we cannot correct for fundamental issues in the Unity engine.

Conclusion

We have discussed the various facets of this release at length, and hope this is the best path forwards for the game, and hope your enjoy the new version, whichever you decide to go for.

I'll admit that I avoided drawing faces originally as I'm a programmer, not an artist, and faces are one of the hardest things to draw, especially when they must handle swappable features (eyes/mouth/hair/jewels) without major artistic issues. I would say I'm mostly pleased with how things turned out, but occasionally some are a bit cursed.

Anyway, enjoy

Files

manual.pdf 10 MB
91 days ago
shadows_v13_enhanced.zip 73 MB
90 days ago
shadows_v13_standard.zip 33 MB
90 days ago

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Comments

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Noticed a bug! If a paladin is on the same square as your agents, it will do no damage to them!

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Ah yes, that would happen, you're right. Combat is triggered by moving, so if you're not moving you wouldn't engage in combat. I'll need to look at that for the next version.

Thanks

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It's a pity you may drop Linux support, but well, that's life. Glad to hear that you folks preparing to polish this into final product and may even come to steam - that'd be great!

Really cool to see that Shadows may become a game that a lot more people will enjoy (from being able to find it easier), well done BobbyTwoHands!

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Awesome - I'll chuck a couple quid your way for the enhanced edition.

I feel like you should make a decision on how you want to proceed with this project as you seem to be at a sort of crossroads.

1. Do you continue to develop as you are?

2. Do you encourage future development primarily by the community via marketing?

3. Do you want a big publisher to pick up the project and run with it?

4. Do you commit more development time yourselves (not preferred/wanted)?

How do you want to proceed? You can always call on the community to try and help grow the community too, though I think a steam release would be beneficial as it legitimises the game.

Shadows started life as a That Which Sleeps proof of concept if I remember correctly. I don't mean the following to be harsh critique, so apologies in advance if it comes across that way but Shadows still lacks much of the most engaging elements of TWS. TWS was pitched as this dark fantasy, narratively driven, pseudo boardgame with procedural, narrative gameplay. Politics was an optional part of the game, as was military, magic/rituals, relations, trade/economics and the other systems that supposedly worked together to make the game. Now Shadows actually exists, so you've already surpassed TWS in that respect, but my point is that your primary target audience, at least to start with, was those who craved TWS but for obvious reasons were unable to play anything like it.

Shadows has the political systems down and to a degree some of the insidious magic systems, but it does not have meaningful combat (a staple in many games likes this), it does not have any economic gameplay and, crucially in my opinion, it lacks any real narrative drive. I can't emphasize this enough - one of, if not THE main draw of TWS was the ability to 'tell a story'. We wanted to influence the story/ies of the heroes trying to thwart this evil power in fun and engaging ways. We wanted to see Bilbo Fraggins go mad while trying to destroy the ring. Or perhaps our plans fail and against the odds he succeeded. But that was part of the fun to tell and experience those tales. Similar to how Rimworld, or even Dwarf Fortress allows for emergent narrative gameplay. The fun of the game isn't 'winning' - it's about experiencing a unique and interesting story through play. While I think there is a story getting told when I play Shadows, I have to work to find it and sometimes fill in the gaps.

If you want to grow the community quickly, my recommendation would be to make as close a game to TWS as is feasible (or closer in some key respects), to draw in that crowd first and foremost, since it was the root beginnings of Shadows. The community will grow organically too - if you look at the TWS wiki (that still exists, bless), it was all fan made.

There is a market for a TWS-like game - there is an active TWS discord, their YouTube and Kickstarter pages both still get regular comments and there are other games with a similar feel currently in production.

Regardless - thanks for the update as always, have a great Xmas and New Year.

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Okay, let me try to answer of all this, apologies if I miss a point:

- There's a discord? Could I get a link? I've read a bunch about That Which Sleeps, ever since I found the SA thread, but wasn't aware of a discord for it.

- We intend to roughly continue development as we are. Neither of us want to increase commitment to the project, including actually becoming published by a real publisher. I don't want to talk for my co-author, but I personally am very committed to my current career path, and while I love working on the game, wouldn't want to make it a full-time thing.

-If the direction the project goes in is that this means that we become slightly sidelined by a more active developer who forks the project and makes it their own, that's a good thing in my book. I'd be happy retaining credit for the original foundations and become a contributor to another lead dev's work. Or, possibly, two projects would exist side by side, and we would be happy to share and co-ordinate with our sister project so they can use any of our work going forwards.

-Shadows started related to That Which Sleeps, but isn't a clone by any measure. It's its own thing, for a variety of reasons. Some of these are: 1) We can't say how TWS would actually play, as we have no true implementation. 2) I do this mostly for fun, so want to work on stuff I find fun to put in and think about, and so try to balance what will be fun to play and what will be fun to implement. 3) It's just plain bad form to straight up copy someone else's idea, regardless of how they may have behaved, it's just a bit creatively bankrupt to not try to give it your own flavour.

-That all said, I do agree with a desire for a more personal and narrativelike structure. This is part of the driving force behind the new agents. The enemy would perhaps have a kind of RPG mechanic, in which your actions influence their growth. They'd individually learn about your individual agents, so would have personal connections in a one-to-one way. Hence giving them faces, which hopefully would add to that.

-Events and suchlike are cool and interesting, and would definitely enhance the game, but I also try to play to my strengths, and I don't feel that artist is one of them. Events in, say, Crusader Kings II, have a cool picture attached, and I don't have the talent to really give life to some of these things. As such, I tend to naturally gravitate towards stuff I feel I understand.

-Events also rather depend on foundational gameplay loops to be in. We'd be more comfortable adding 'fluff' to a working game, than adding it first and hoping that the gameplay adds together afterwards. While the gameplay needs a bit of work, expanding and definitely balancing, it at least has its shape now.

-Expanding the community is interesting to us, but not necessarily our greatest desire. It would be nice to have maybe three times as many people here as there currently are, but as a hobby game, it can't receive the degree of attention with maybe Tynan is able to devote to Rimworld, and we wouldn't be able to cater to such a wide audience in a way they might hope for.

Hope this answered at least some of your queries. I think you're right on a number of fronts, and hopefully we actually share more thinking about the future of the game than you might have feared.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too, if we don't chat before then

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Ill reply fully later, once kids are settled and I have a minute, but here's the link for the TWS discord: https://discord.gg/ywEnSywu

Right, a few minutes of my own now!

- Whilst I appreciate it is incredibly bad form to copy something very closely, a lot (like loads) of people want a TWS clone, because TWS looked very fun to play (someone on the Discord, on learning that you had been invited literally stated "if it gets us our that which sleeps clone im all for it").

- I love the idea of adding an RPG element to the enemy and I absolutely agree that faces allow more narrative interest.

- Re Events - I just thought it was the quickest and easiest way to allow branching gameplay.  But I'm no gamedev, to be fair.  I wouldn't worry about art mind, that's somewhat superfluous.  The reason I've suggested them is that they allow a sort of roguelike element and replayability.  The player wonders what would've happened if they had chosen another option.  It also allows the game to feel more "alive" (not sure how to express myself well here I'm afraid.  All I can say on this is that some of the mechanics (infiltration, for example) felt like I was going through motions to increase numbers, rather than doing a risky and interesting task.  Not sure that makes sense, but hopefully something there is of use!

- I'm not scared on how you want to develop the game man, it's entirely your baby and it's not my place.  My interest here is entirely selfish - I want a TWS like game and this is by far the closest thing available.  I'll offer my suggestions and you can use them or throw them away, that's entirely your prerogative and I'm not precious.  You'll always have my support though, because you are doing something that I actively get enjoyment from, regardless of where you go from here!

Cheers!

The TWS discord link doesn't work :(

It was a 24 hour one. Here you go! https://discord.gg/7MdMVdxAvg