After I wrote the “new features” piece it occurred to me that a similar one about “new content” is in order. After all, RPGs are not just about mechanics, they are also about the world, story, mood & feeling, exploration, quests, NPCs, items and so on.
New content introduced in the sequel
The sequel got a bunch of content related improvements. Music, art and a different, presumably better, approach to the locations and story construction. So, here it goes, the list of content related improvements.
That part of the game content would be the most significantly different, in short, music was totally redone. I have contracted a composer, Christopher Loza, to arrange a set of custom made tunes, made to fit the mood and feel of Amberland world. The instructions provided was to make it feel like tunes from those old games from the 90s era but at the some time without technical limitations of the era. I think it worked out great, while those who love 90s era RPGs would be delighted those who are not into it that much still will find it very decent. This also means that a soundtrack DLC is possible.
A bunch of improvements of existing tiles and new tiles as well. Animated portals, animated lava, new tile types for farmlands, more plants, flowers, gardens and so on.
Before I started designing the sequel, first I gathered all the feedback on the first Amberland I could. The conclusion was that overworld was awesome while dungeons were merely passable (with some weirdos saying dungeons were great, but I don’t believe it personally). So, I decided to strike it from both sides. First, strengthen the strong (which means making the player spend more time outdoors: bigger overworld, mixed indoor/outdoor locations, gardens inside location) and second to improve the weak (improving design of dungeons). Judging from the feedback gathered from the demo it seems it worked out well, now the consensus is the dungeons were significantly or greatly improved.
In addition I took a different approach to designing locations, before those were heavily gameplay focused (dungeons filled with monsters, bosses and treasures). Now I allowed a decent number of smaller locations intended for purpose of the mood of the game not gameplay. So there are some, even very tiny, locations which serve only as a mean to convey the lore, in places that are logical to have those (example: abandoned hideouts of sorcerers and the like).
There is also significantly more locations overall (but fear now, there are additional tools provided for players to keep track of it, like new tiny map of the overworld which makes navigating much easier).
The common criticism of the underground locations in the first Amberland as compared the ave of the overworld made me reexamine my approach to constructing those. Based on the demo feedback it seems that it worked out and those were greatly improved.
Much higher priority was given to environmental storytelling. Like environment takes into considerations what should be where in relation to the world and story. In addition, there is now more reactivity of NPCs to changes (like: you kill the dragon and the people start to repopulate previously abandoned area which is safe now).
Story (lore, characters and plot)
The conclusion of the predecessor’s feedback analysis was that lore of the game world is awesome, no change needed at all, that NPC characters are very good, so again the same route should be taken and that plot is, well, the weakest part of it all. So, I redirected all efforts and focus to the plot part when it comes to story. First, I decided to do it 100% my way this time, without taking into account critics, worrying about cliche and the like, all this proved to be a way to nowhere previously. So, now I’m using the same approach as I had with lore and characters, I write it the way I like it and we will see how it turns out. Second, the story was split more evenly between NPCs to simplify interactions with individual character (I’m looking at you Royal Wizard, who have stolen half the camera time in the first Amberland).
The shift was made from using only predefined to a mix of predefined and randomly generated items. This alone provides much higher variety of items. While handcrafted items sound nice in theory, in practice a more algorithmic approach works better. In addition, it freed some mental energy resources of me as a developer which allowed to add more variety to the semi generated stuff.
In the first Amberland I was obsessed with removing the fat, to assure the game does not drag too long. To my surprise, no one complained the game was too long. Ever. So, now I’m taking a more relaxed approach, allowing some parts that do not have the optimal playtime to fun ratio. It seems that’s what basically all of you wish for. Of course this still means Amberland stays as one of the most compressed games in terms of removal of boring parts, that does not change. Overall, I think the total playtime will be longer than in the first one, but it’s just my guess at this point.
I have experimented with special environmental and magical zones. Now ships require navigation skill to access some sea areas with strong wind, snow zones might have areas with extreme cold you need to prepare for and there are parts where magic work differently. This allowed me to craft outdoor zones which feel even more diverse.
I got several reports that people were sometimes confused where to go next in the predecessor. So, now all quests descriptions include the name of the area or location where you need to go (if it’s known of course) and the overworld sector designation.
There are also new monsters, dungeon features and probably some other minor stuff not listed above. Overall, I think you will see a significant improvement when it comes to locations and overall feel of the game compared to the predecessor.