Creating multiplayer content in Below is tricky. I want players to interact - it’s exciting, and it creates an unpredictability that the core game can’t. But it’s important not to fracture the sense of subterranean isolation, or to give the impression that what the hero is doing is commonplace. Below is about ordinary people driven to extraordinary things. If ‘adventuring’ were a reasonable, accepted thing to do, that stops feeling true any more.
So we cheat. Most interactions between players happen in the Above Deck, tucked safely away in the hero’s memories. But there’s one way heroes can meet while they’re in the dungeon: it’s just that one of them needs to be dead.
I grew up in the edgeless industrial conurbations of the West Midlands, where the suburbs of one town seep into the retail parks of the next in a sluice of brown brick and grey concrete. When we went on holiday, dad always made a point of taking us somewhere green. Sometimes Devon. Once Scotland. Mostly Wales, where we’d drive along fidgety hillside roads and around lakes ringed by ragged mountains.
Today, a special guest post from Below’s artist, Yasmeen Khan. I wanted to post it here so everyone sees how much work she puts into every single thing she does.
Coming up with a new set of icons for the Conditions was something we talked about for a long time, but put off until we’d got the beginnings of a style established. As generally happens, it started with some initial discussions and culminated in a very late-night Google chat session, in which Yas tweaked version after version as my demands grew ever more rarefied and impossible.
At some point when we’re working on stuff like this there always – always – comes a moment where I go “Hey, I’ve got this idea. Maybe it’s crazy but let’s try it.” And Yas diligently tries it and it always looks terrible and burns the eyes from our sockets and I go “Ok, clearly I’m mad as a spork, just keep doing that thing you were doing before.”
Every time. And because Yas is a saint, the next time I do it, she never goes “Remember last time you said that and the art police threw us in the cells and made us look at Matisses until we’d calmed down?”
Anyway. Find out about her painstaking process after the jump. Oo, and check out Yas’ art blog here.
Below’s second dungeon, the Sea-King’s Grave, is going to be the first major purchasable chunk of content for the game. I discussed the issue of fair (and reasonable!) price with the closed beta testers and got the sort of diverse, insightful responses that the community spoils me with. Lots of people wanted to know what exactly they get with a new dungeon – what does it equate to in terms of cards and content? I’ll break it down after the break
Lordy, look at those cobwebs. I’ve let this place languish while the G+ community has been so active in beta-testing. How about some updates?
First up, I’m working at Failbetter Games again on Fallen London and this secret project. Which is fabulous, but means I’m down to a day a week (plus what I can squeeze from evenings) to work on Below. And when the kids get sick or some other calamity strikes, inevitably my Below day is usually the first to go.
But! Not a day goes by that I don’t work on the game, whether it’s fixing bugs and typos or working on new content. Things have slowed, but they grind inexorably onward! The closed beta has 150 people in it and has generated colossal amounts of feedback and improvements. So here’s a summary of the recent (extensive!) updates to the game and my roadmap for release.
It’s been quiet here as I’ve worked on the latest update to Below’s beta, and lots of the discussion has moved over to the game’s G+ community. But that update is even now being tunnelled through by keen-eyed beta testers. It’s a biggy, adding mounds of new content and a number of new systems for players to sink their teeth into.
The new content includes a third, multi-stage, quest in the Bellringer’s Tomb, as well as tons of new treasures and Legacies.
The new and revised systems include a new resource called Strength of Will that lets you use your Boldness, Subtlety and Wits attributes in new ways, a revamped treasure system, an all-new waypoint system that lets you camp anywhere and establish bases throughout the dungeon, and an achievements system to recognise your accomplishments.
I plan one more big update that will revamp the Above Deck, and after that I’ll be inviting a second wave of beta testers in (so if you’ve requested an invite, expect to hear from me then). Once that’s out of the way, the game will be going live!
I can almost smell it. Full notes on the current update (which is currently only available to members of the closed beta) follow the break.
I am so excited. I can only apologise in advance for the terribly un-British tone of this post.
Why am I all a-quiver? Because the latest issue of PC Gamer contains an extensive article on text -based gaming, in which Below gets a lovely capsule review! The article was written by the excellent Richard Cobbett, and is a fantastic read on the thriving state of the genre. There are interviews with the Failbetter guys, the Inklewriter folks, and recommendations of some fine, fine games you might not be aware of.
In celebration, I’ve opened the current beta build of Below to the public, replacing the old prototype. That build contains a new characters, piles of new dungeon content, initial versions of the death and legacy systems, revised quests, new skills, an enhanced town and camping system, squillions of gameplay enhancements, improved words, and much, much more!
Read more after the break!
Today my slime-filled crypt is festooned with balloons. There is rejoicing! For the first day of the beta has seen only modest (and occasionally quite pretty) explosions. The testers are doing an amazing job of finding bugs and pointing out my typos (which, like the stars, are without number). Meanwhile, over at the Below Google+ community, we’re discussing how many actions you should get and how fast the refresh rate should be. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and the community is open to everyone whether you’re in the beta or not. Drop by and chime in!
Fingers-crossed, touch-wood, avert-the-evil-eye, things seem to be going well. So this seems a good time to talk about death.
After the break: death.
The Below beta is now live! If you backed the Kickstarter, you’ll be receiving an invitation very shortly. Check your email!
There’s now a Google+ community for Below, which I hope beta testers will use to post their thoughts and stories. It’s a public community, so drop by, take a look and join in!
After the break, check out the many, many improvements you can find in the beta.
Apologies for the radio silence – I’ve been hard at work on Below adding lots new content and systems. We stand upon the cusp – the very cusp! – of beta. Once it’s live I’ll be posting information on topics like death, legacy, questing and maths (try to contain your excitement, at the back) over the next week. But to break the silence, here’s a very special guest-post written by Yasmeen Khan, who is providing the vast majority of Below’s bespoke art.
Yas has gone above and beyond. Because of her, the entire Below deck now has eerie, dedicated monochrome art and we have the most beautiful banners for the dungeons and Gallowmoor. Oo. And she’s working on some very funky tweaks to the StoryNexus UI that make tracking things like Spirit, Depth, skill cards and quest cards super-easy.
After the break, read Yasmeen’s take on making art for Below, and see the thing she drew that freaked me right the **** out.