A Dead Project...Or Is It?

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 11/05/2012 - 01:29

It's been a long while since the last news post here. Over 15 months, in fact. Last year I took a temporary break from this project to focus on other things, and that break lasted a lot longer than I imagined it would. In my absence it would appear that no progress has been made on the project, which I was disappointed by but not terribly surprised about either. Looking at the dust one has to ask themselves "Is this project dead?". Sadly, it certainly appeared so.

I have vowed to continue working on this project and not let all of our past efforts go to waste. I renew this vow with you now. I will continue working on this project while I still live, even if I am not always able to work on it consistently. The problem is that I have many other things going on in my life, as does everyone else on the team, and I/we are not always in a position to work on this endeavour regularly. It will take some work, but I am committed to rebuilding this game, this team, and getting things back on course. Even though doing so will require a lot of effort and certainly will not happen overnight. It's not easy to lift such a heavy and historied project off the ground.

My plan was to rebuild this project and get things moving again. But thanks to the power of open source, I discovered something wonderful had happened while I was away. Allacrost did not die after all, but rather continued on in a different form. And it has seen some great progress. This discovery is wonderful for a number of different reasons, both for Allacrost itself and for open-source gaming in general. After some deep consideration, last night I decided to utilize this new project to assist in the rebirth of the development of Allacrost.

I don't mean to tease you with the lack of details, but I'd rather describe this new project and my intentions with it in a seperate post to follow within a day or two. For now though, I want to make the following points clear.

Development on Allacrost has been dead for over a year.
I am in a position to spend time here again, and I intend to do so.
A new project related to Allacrost has been in the works and will play a key role in our revival.

I'll announce this new project shortly, so look for that post to follow soon. In an upcoming blog post, I will also discuss my own personal view on Allacrost, how to prevent development from stalling like this again, and my own relationship with the project and my life.

July 2011 Development Release

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 07/18/2011 - 09:00

Tonight we're happy to make a new development release available. You can grab it by going to our Sourceforge page and opening the "development releases" folder, or simply follow this link.

We've decided to change our nomenclature of "unstable" releases to "development" releases. This is because we simply felt that it was a more suitable term for describing what these releases are: a snapshot of the state of the game while it is still in development. All the same old caveats apply:

  • These releases are works of progress and are not completed
  • You may encounter various bugs throughout the game
  • There could be pieces of media that are missing or incomplete
  • A substantial portion of the text encountered in game may be placeholder
  • Translation files are not updated and thus running the game in a non-English language will have missing translated text

Here's the list of major changes in this release from our last.

  • The boss fight at the end of the cave leads to a short dialogue and transitions the player outside of the cave back to the opening desert map
  • The opening map has a new event sequence where the knights head back to their home from the cave
  • The Harrvah city map is available for the player to roam around on (this map is largely incomplete)
  • Smart camera panning on maps has been included
  • Several scripted sequences have been updated in the cave map
  • The GUI in battle has been updated to make damage numbers and status easier to see
  • A battle tutorial has been added that is triggered when the player encounters their first battle (the player may choose to skip this if they like)
  • Dialogues are now able to be scripted into battles (this is used for the battle tutorial)
  • Battles may now be scripted, though this functionality is not yet being used except for the battle tutorial
  • The battle system has been updated so that commands can be entered for characters prior to when they need to begin executing them
  • The bottom right area of the battle screen now shows the selected action and target of each character
  • The save/load screen has been updated to provide a preview of the file being saved or loaded
  • A confirmation prompt is given when saving or loading a game, and a dialogue indicating success or failure is provided when saving a file
  • Some improvements were made to address performance issues that were observed on integrated Intel graphics card and other lower end systems

The changes to the battle system we would definitely like to receive feedback on. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we have an active discussion going on about this on our forums, and this is our first release that demonstrates the first results of that conversation. Basically, with this release you can enter commands for the characters while they are in their "idle" state, which is when their icon is in the yellow region of the stamina bar that is situated on the right side of the screen. This allows the battle to flow more smoothly, rather than being a game of "stop and go" where the action stops whenever your character needs to have a command selected and otherwise you are just sitting there watching the action play out. Its a different approach and felt rather weird to me at first, but I've grown used to it. We've gotten various feedback about it in our community, some of it positive and some if it critical. We really need more opinions so we can lead this design in the right direction. So head over to the discussion topic here and lend your voice after trying it out.

Thanks for checking in with us. We might have another surprise coming soon, so keep that in mind. Till next time.

A Response to Recent Feedback

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 07/04/2011 - 10:10

We've had some great positive feedback in recent weeks about the game itself and our recent June release. Amusingly, one of the comments we've heard repeated is "Wow, you guys have been working on this since 2004? That's some intense dedication!". We've heard this from both people that are exposed to Allacrost for the first time, and from people who recently rediscovered Allacrost after playing one of our older demo releases years ago. With these comments in mind, I thought I'd address two general questions that people have about us and this project.

What's taking you so long to complete this?

There are dozens of different answers to this question. The most common response we give is a reminder that everyone works on this project in their spare time. We all have lives outside of this project and sometimes life gets in the way. And not everyone sticks with this project forever either. Some people work during the summer in between semesters of school, others find themselves getting married or becoming parents and no longer having the free time necessary to dedicate themselves here. We perpetually need new people to join our team to replace those that are left, and this really takes a toll on our development pace. We don't have a large, active team like some other open source projects do. I wish we did though.

Another reason I think this is taking longer than expected was that the choice of our development model was initially poor. In the past, our development used to be much more "closed". We only did official releases instead of our unstable/development ones, meaning that there was often several months between releases. The majority of our forum topics were private and internal only to those already on the team. To get on the team, you had to submit a formal application and pass a rather thorough acceptance review. And so on. While this type of model may work for some, it was definitely not working in our favor and it took us much too long to realize this and change our ways for the better.

The scope of this project is also a big factor. In the beginning, the vision I had for Allacrost when we were starting out was much more simple. I saw basically a game with the same mechanics as Final Fantasy VI, but with a much improved battle system and other significant differences. But over time, we've let new features creep their way into our plans and the scope of this game has gotten pretty massive as a result. Some examples include using OpenGL for our graphics back-end, switching from a tile-movement system to a free-movement one, eliminating random encounters off of maps and replacing it with enemy sprites that roam around, etc. Our artwork requirements were initially outrageous as well, and I had to have some sense kicked into me by others before I accepted it. Even today our artwork needs are painfully high. Sometimes I almost wish our artwork was lower quality than it is, because all of the new artwork we make has to match this high standard and it takes a lot more time and a lot of skill to produce art like that. I've been playing some older console RPGs lately and realizing that many of them are incredibly limited and basic compared to Allacrost in terms of both features and content quality.

Finally, I think its worth mentioning that Allacrost is really three software projects in one: the engine, the game itself, and the game editor. Allacrost runs on a custom-built game engine, and the development of this is what we focused our first 3-4 years on. Writing a game engine, even a 2D one, is a lot of work. Especially for a group of people who have no game development experience, which most of those who joined the team did not initially have. If I could go back and do one thing different, it would be to use an existing game engine instead of building one on our own. But writing this engine definitely gave myself and other programmers a wealth of experience so it wasn't entirely without merit. But I feel like we'd be years ahead of where we are now had we made that decision early on. So remember, the last seven years haven't been a constant effort to develop a single product. They've been years with periodic stalls in development while simultaneously working on three product lines.

What keeps you going?

I obviously can't answer for everyone here, but I'll try. For a lot of us, I think its a passion for the type of game that we are shaping Allacrost to be. The SNES-era of RPGs holds a place dear in my heart, and its like that for many others on the team as well. For others Allacrost is an outlet to develop and share their talents. Some people join this team simply to gain experience in game development as part of their step towards getting a job in the gaming industry. (I've actually been approached by game development companies before and have been requested to come in for an interview, but I've always turned these offers down). On a more personal note, Allacrost is a way for me to exercise and practice an eclectic mix of interests. Through my time here, I've learned how to be a better programmer, writer, artist, manager, and communicator. It has been and continues to be a great learning experience for me, and believe it or not remains the highlight of my resume and what I am most often questioned about at job interviews.

Of course not everyone has the same zeal for this work. Of the original five or six members who formed the initial team, only two remain. Currently only three people active on the team have been with us earlier than 2010. Most people don't even last a year with us. Some don't even last a single week. This isn't because working on this team gives them a horrible experience, or we are all slave drivers or anything like that. Some people simply find that this isn't something that they are interested in, something that they have enough skill to do, or they just can't find the time to continue with it. Even I get burned out sometimes, which was the case for over a year up until a few months ago.

And finally, something that keeps me going is the realization of how many thousands of hours I have put into this project so far. To leave it unfinished would be extremely unfortunate and I don't want all that time and effort that I and dozens of others have put in over the years to go to waste. I feel like it would dishonor all those people whom I've asked to come and help out with this project, and who gave a serious effort to move this game forward. I've said before that this project will never die so long as I still live and so far I haven't broken that promise.

Evolution of the Battle System

Submitted by Roots on Sat, 06/25/2011 - 06:50

A few days ago on our forums, I put forth a set of ideas for how to improve the battle system in Allacrost. Usually I don't highlight forum discussions on the main site, but this is a rather important one for us to receive feedback on. The outcome of this dialogue could very well greatly influence the direction we take for our battle system in the future. If you'd like to add your own thoughts, comments, and ideas, we'd gladly welcome them. The link to the forum thread is below. Its a long read, so prepare yourself.

Forum thread: Making battles more player-active

It is likely that our next development release will include some changes to the battle system based on this thread so that we can receive additional feedback after people have actually experienced these concepts instead of just read about them. So be on the lookout for that.

June 2011 Unstable Release

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 06/13/2011 - 04:15

Its been a long time since our last unstable release and today we're happy to break the trend of silence. Head over to our sourceforge page and you'll find unstable releases for Windows, OSX, and Linux/source. In case you're new to this concept or you forgot what an "unstable" release is, they are basically development snapshots that are meant to allow interested parties to observe our current state of progress. We try to polish them up a bit so that things aren't too incredibly chaotic, but they do contain many unresolved bugs, missing features and artwork, etc. Its a little hard to put together a changelist, since this release is part of an entirely new product (the full game instead of a demo). Here are some of the major new additions you can see through this release.

Two brand new maps with many scripted events that develop the beginning plot of the main story
Enter/exit sequences in battle to smooth the transition from map exploration to battle execution
Better display of battle damage and status indicator text and images
Receiving damage causes a brief stun on the stamina bar, allowing you to delay opponents actions slightly
New skills available to use, some of which can target an entire party
Attack points have specific stat modifiers (for defense and evasion)
Targeting certain attack points may invoke status effects. For example, targeting legs to reduce agility
Enemy's are no longer "leveled up" to match the party's strength
If the player loses a battle, they have the option to restart the battle from the beginning, taking a penalty on XP/drunes earned upon victory
Two new enemies to fight, one of which is a boss-type

A few miscellaneous notes about this particular release:

It is not balanced at all, and currently all battles are extremely easy.
I'm not sure if the save functionality works, but even if it does you shouldn't need to use it
Don't try to mix saved games of this release with those of past releases, because it likely will cause problems and may crash the game
We left the "debug" options on the main menu for you to play around with if you like. These are: "Menu, Battle, Shop" and will take you to those respective environments. There are Lua (text) files which can be modified to change the properties of these modes as well (if you'd like to know how, ask us on the forums)
There are a few pieces of placeholder art in this release
If you're experiencing any input issues, there's a forum thread detailing the problem and instructions for how to enable a temporary solution that was put in place for this release. This problem seems to be rare, thankfully.

Now our plan going forward is to attempt to try and make a new unstable release every month until we make the official release. This, however, is not a promise and it totally depends on the state of progress that the project is under. If we can maintain our current level of progress, it shouldn't be difficult for us to keep making these releases on a monthly basis. With that, we hope you enjoy this progress snapshot release and continue to look forward to more. If you have any comments, questions, or problems regarding the release, either post on our forums or join our IRC channel and we'll be glad to help you out. Thanks!

Wrapping up this May

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 05/30/2011 - 01:05

May is coming to an end and it has been the first full month since this project's re-awakening. We've had a handful of people join our team this month and make some great contributions, although our team remains a small and focused one. Despite this size, this month marks in the top three of the most active periods during the history of the project, as measured by the number of SVN commits.

On a related note, Allacrost has a page at Ohloh, a site which tracks and monitors the state of open source projects. You can find the Allacrost page here. On the main page you can see an visual analysis of our codebase. A good way to check our progress is to view the "Commits" tab on the code analysis graph. Generally speaking, the more commits there are for a given period of time, the more active the project has been. And if you're wondering why the code base seemingly doubled in size last month, that's because it did. We created a new development trunk for the game at that time and left the demo trunk intact for any future work we may do there.

We're still struggling on the art front as we're missing several key images we need for the upcoming prologue release. I've been doing some artwork myself this month to try and fill the very large gap. The weekly challenge for May 28th through June 6th over on OpenGameArt.org was actually created with our needs in mind, and we hope to get some usable art assets from this challenge to construct our castle tileset. This site, by the way, has been a great help to us and to open source game projects in general. Indeed, some of the art and sounds that we have in the game currently are taken from the archive on this site, and we've uploaded some of our own work up there for others to use as well. Please show them your support as they are a vital asset to the open source game development community.

The current state of the game is playable, though we're still not finished with the largest and most critical map for our upcoming release. The other maps though are mostly complete and will only require refinements and tuning to make them fully release-ready. The gameplay of map exploration has not changed too much since the demo, although there have been a lot of improvements to this code to make it easier to create vivid environments through scripting. The battle gameplay, on the other hand, has seen and continues to see significant improvements in both its execution and additional features which have been added.

So things are looking pretty darn good and the team's progress has been phenomenal over the past few weeks. If we can keep up this momentum and rate of progress, I'd guess that we're only maybe 2-4 weeks off from having the first unstable release out, which will be an enormous step forward to getting us to the finalized product. Thanks for checking back on us, and we'll have something new to share with you soon.

Wiki Status

Submitted by Roots on Fri, 05/06/2011 - 00:23

Our wiki, which is hosted at our Sourceforge webspace, has been offline for sometime due to changes that were made by the adminstrators over there. The wiki is back online as of today. Unfortunately at the moment, any attempts to edit the wiki will be met with an error message so it should be considered a read-only wiki for now.

Our plan is to migrate our wiki content over to our main site and bring it all back online there. This will take some time to do though so we ask for your patience during this time. We'll try to get the wiki fully functional again before our next unstable release is made available.

Back From Hiatus, New Releases Coming

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 05/02/2011 - 01:40

Over the last few months the project has been in a state of limbo and very little progress was made during this time. However, I'm glad to announce that we are back on track once again. I took a personal break from Allacrost to deal with some issues and now find myself with both a large amount of free time and motivation, a truly powerful combination. We've made incredible progress in the last week and have quickly rebuilt our lost momentum. I want to take a moment to outline our next major milestone and what you can expect to experience from us next.

Our previous major release of demo 1.0.0 marked the end of our demo series. We've built up enough of a foundation to take an exciting step forward and begin production of the full game. If you recall, the keystone of our release model is that we release the game in modules. A release of a module of the Allacrost game is analogous to the release of a new episode of an on-going TV series. The first module we are currently working on is the prologue. Like we started doing last year, we'll be making available a series of "unstable" releases throughout the development process of this module. These releases will continue to offer a playable preview of what we are working on just as they have in the past, and we'll iteratively improve on each one until we feel that the final product is ready. As always, there's no set time line for this release. But we are working hard to get out the first unstable release as soon as possible

So aside from the new plot, what else can you expect to see in this release? We'll be starting with a brand new set of maps and a sizable amount of new artwork this round. Most of the new features will be in the battle system and include status effects, the ability to retry battles that you lose (so you don't have to start all over from your last save point), and target points on enemies that have different weaknesses and effects. There's a thread on our forums going into more detail about the changes to the battle system that are coming up. Speaking of the forums, if you'd like to participate (or merely spectate) in the discussions we're having about the changes that we're making, that's where all the action happens. You can also subscribe to the Subversion Commit Log thread, which provides a real-time progress meter showing when changes are made and what those changes were.

We hope you're looking forward to the revival of this project (though it wasn't really dead, just in hibernation). One major setback from our long slumber is that we've lost contact with most of the team. If you're willing to lend us a hand, we could really use it. Even if you have no talents or skills other than playing a game, we could find a use for you. We're especially in dire need of artists, as we have zero of them at this moment. The more help we can get, the sooner this release happens. Thanks for being patient with us. We hope to begin rewarding that patience very soon.

Allacrost Demo 1.0.2 Released!

Submitted by rujasu on Fri, 10/01/2010 - 05:25

Version 1.0.2 has been released, and can be found here:

https://sourceforge.net/projects/allacrost/files/

This is primarily a maintenance release to correct problems with the Windows version. Players can attack in battle now. Please let us know if there are any other bugs by posting them on our forum, or join us in our IRC channel (#allacrost on irc.freenode.net).

Available is a source release, as well as a binary version for Windows. Mac OS X users can compile from source or continue to use version 1.0.0 until a binary release is available.

A changelog can be found here:

http://allacrost.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Changelog

View screenshots of the game here:

http://www.allacrost.org/multimedia/screenshots

Enjoy the game!