Sons of Ra Devlog 10

It’s Been a While

Man, we only just realized it’s been more than two months since we did one of these. At the time of last writing, things were moving pretty slowly, so we figured continuing to try to get devlogs out weekly would over-saturate our market, so to speak. As a result, we decided to hold off for a little while. Then March and April hit, and the exact opposite happened. The past month or so have been nonstop action, both in and out of the game. We’ve put in new major features, updated others, and driven up and down the Eastern Seaboard to various events. But now, we are finally (temporarily) free of hard deadlines and actually have some time to tell those of you who haven’t seen our game firsthand some of what’s changed. So, here we go. Let’s start with the big one. The elephant, or dog, if you will, in the room.

Anubis – God of the Dead

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Montu and Isis had been in Sons of Ra alone and unchanged for more than 6 months. We for a long time wished to add more deities from which players could choose to bring with them into battle. Well, we finally had the time to devote to bringing in a third, and we decided to go big.

Anubis is prominent in Ancient Egyptian myth, and we wanted to make the abilities he grants the player fun, engaging, and respectful to his depiction in history. As such, we start with his ultimate blessing, Embalming. This was the big new thing we wanted to try with Anubis. Up to this point, we have had 3 kinds of blessings in Sons of Ra – active blessings, ones that the player casts at a location for some effect (i.e. Solar Flare and Tower Lock), buff blessings, which give all the player’s units some temporary effect (like Immunity or Recovery), and global blessings, those that apply an effect to every unit across the map (Earthquake).

Embalming is the first Unit Blessing. It lets the player pay favor for a special unit with a unique effect. In this case, it lets you spawn an Embalming Priest, a ranged unit that applies a debuff called Embalm to units whose attacks it hits, and units who hit it with melee attacks, for a couple of seconds. If Embalm is active on a unit when the unit dies, it spawns a mummy to fight on the team of the other player. This blessing has the ability to, when played correctly, turn the tide of battle as you turn a player’s own forces against them. Since we introduced Anubis just before East Coast Games Conference, players there and at RPI Gamefest really seemed to enjoy this ability.

embalming priest

Fun dev fact regarding this ability – Anubis was initially heavy in development back in January, but the behind-the-scenes complexity of spawning mummies at arbitrary spots in lane was taking far too long to solve, and Jeff had to drop Anubis in lieu of other major outstanding tasks. As you can see though, he finally figured it out. And didn’t let the rest of the team hear the end of it.

Anubis’ second unique blessing is Decay. It is an active blessing that allows a player to place a long-lasting damaging aura on the battlefield, that does damage over time to all units inside of it. It’s pretty simple in effect, but requires smart placement as it is at its strongest when you are able to keep your opponents inside of the effect for an extended time.

decay

Lastly, Anubis’ two basic blessings are Haste and Recovery, which you have already seen on Montu and Isis. Together, these abilities create a very unit-centric gameplay style for Anubis, which is a much more specific strategy than those employed by Isis and Montu, who are a bit more all-purpose in terms of gameplay. We hope you’re really excited to try him out!

Back to the Drawing… Wall….

Remember wayyyyy back when when we upgraded patron deity select to be styled like wall carvings or paintings of the chosen gods? Well, we went through a major second iteration on that menu in the interest of information communication and better showing off Mark’s art of the deities… which has also been redone since our initial design of the wall to be more iconic:

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But onto the wall itself. Like we mentioned, we wanted to feature the art of the deities more than the art of the wall, so we greatly simplified the wall itself and re-positioned a lot of information on the UI. Here it is to see.

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As you can see, the deity art is much more prominent now, and blessing icons are displayed more centrally in the screen. We also added a little bit of game feel as far as looking at blessing detail goes.

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Jeff is a little too proud of this

Overall, we’re really happy with how the new wall feels, and think that it adds a lot to the game.

But Wait, There’s More!

These were some of our biggest updates since last speaking, but we’ve still got a couple more things. First is a more in-theme pause menu.

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As a fun added bonus, those images of the gods on the left and right will correspond to who the players have selected for the game! Our loading screens also got a small thematic overhaul in terms of text and color.

We also made some small gameplay changes, like a refinement of the tower placement system so that area of influence can no longer be shared between the two players if their areas overlap. It’s first come first serve now (until you take out the other player’s towers).

We also have new particle effects for Immunity to make it feel a bit more “ultimate”…

immunity.gif

… and a shiny new splash screen!

In Closing

Whew, that was a lot to type out. There’s still more coming behind the scenes that we’re excited to share, but the stuff we’re working on these days take a bit longer to perfect, so we won’t be trying to get devlogs out on a determined schedule. Instead, we’ll do like we did with this one, where we’ll wait until we have something really cool and complete to show (though maybe a little more frequently, so we don’t have gigantic info dumps like this). Hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time.

Sons of Ra at ECGC 2019 – Postmortem

A New Experience

After a long day of travel and a long night of frantically trying to add some much-needed features to our build, we loaded our car, ate some fried chicken, and drove to the Raleigh Convention Center. It was the first day of the East Coast Game Conference.

Pharaoh Hound Games has presented Sons of Ra at a few smaller locations previously, but this was by far our largest showcase to date. All of us on the team had been attendees at game conventions, but never exhibitors. We were excited, but also very nervous.

Set Up

Our setup turned out really strong, partially due to our luck of placement and partially due to our preparations. We were placed on the edge of the balcony, pushing us away from the foot traffic to the main expo area. However, our booth was directly in sight from the stairs everyone needed to use to access the main expo hall. The first thing everyone saw was our brand-new standing banner and our two large TVs demoing the game.

Gameplay

The two TVs were also a huge bonus. It meant anyone who just walked up to watch almost always had the opportunity to try the game on the second machine. People often crowded around the machines waiting for their chance to play (especially since the wait wasn’t long). Some were satisfied just watching and seeing the outcome to a really close game.

It wasn’t all perfect. The first day was rather busy, but things were interrupted when the power was cut for much of the indie alley. Our friends at Matrioshka Games had their TV blow a fuse when they tried to plug it in. After informing the volunteers, one of the power boxes needed to be replaced and many booths were down or forced to run on battery powered laptops for nearly an hour. We quickly set up a laptop, but the screen was so small and dim, barely anyone used it. Once the power was back up, everyone was able to get back on track (and Matrioshka Games was able to fix their TV, so their booth was up and running too!)

Meeting Cool People

When members of the team weren’t helping at the booth, they were exploring the rest of the expo and talking to other developers presenting. After us visiting their booths and them visiting ours, we had awesome talks with developers like Upside Down Bird, showing Mariachi Undead, and Light Arc Studios, showing off It Stares Back. Both teams and every other developer we met were incredibly nice, super supportive, and just awesome people.

But the awesome people weren’t just limited to the developers. Nearly everyone that stopped by our booth to play and talk were incredibly nice and even the criticism we received was constructive and always directed at making our game better. In fact, many on the team were surprised with how positive the response was. People were often incredibly excited about our game and had a lot of fun playing it. Many even returned multiple times over the convention to replay it and try new strategies. The team was super humbled to see this and hear all this fantastic feedback.

What Went Well?

Feedback

We heard a lot of great things at ECGC. We heard from a lot of people what they like about our game and where they hope it will go in the future. We heard a lot of great suggestions about what could make our game better. And we heard a lot of people ask if they could go ahead and buy the game. We’re going to really take the feedback to heart and push forward on future development

Demo Video

One of the last changes we added to the build was a demo video when the main menu was left idle. While we love our current main menu, the whole team agreed it wasn’t very interesting to someone unaware of what our game was. The night before the convention, we re-edited the trailer to a much shorter scissor reel that better showcased what the game was and presented much stronger to the casual observer. This addition really paid off. People checked out our booth much faster and players understood our game much more easily. Oftentimes, while talking to members of the team, people’s eyes would be glued to the video after they had already played.

Making Connections

We met a great number of cool developers, artists, composers, and even journalists. We hope to keep up with these connections as we all keep working to release better and better games.

Exposure

We had some good exposure over the event. On Twitter, despite the month not being over, our analytics are almost double their normal amount. We hope this sort of growth will only continue over the months as we get closer and closer to release.

What Went Bad?

Last-Minute Builds Lead to Last-Minute Bugs

Every day had a new build… and their own unique bugs. The most significant one was the last-minute demo video. While it did really help our presentation, it also appeared to break controller input in certain menus. We were able to fix it during the first day, but we continued to have controller connection issues and other minor input issues throughout the conference. Nothing truly hurt our game, however; it just required some troubleshooting.

No Power Means No Games

Pretty self-explanatory. While we didn’t have power, almost no one saw our game and the team was stuck not wanting to leave the booth in case the power came back but we were otherwise just sitting on their hands waiting.

Where Are We Going Next?

The next thing for Sons of Ra is RPI’s Gamefest on April 27. It’s a free, short, one-day expo in Albany, NY from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM. If you can make it, you should stop by.

Beyond that, Pharaoh Hound has applied to the Indie Game Showcase at TooManyGames in Oaks, PA from Jun 21-23. We currently don’t know if we are selected, but we will know by the end of April.

There is another convention we could attend through a competition. But until we know the results, we think it’s best not to get people’s hopes up.

In Closing

We hope this was informative to anybody who may be considering exhibiting or attending ECGC next year, or other conferences in the coming months. Who knows, maybe we’ll see you there!

Team

Sons of Ra Devlog 8

A Step Back

For the past couple of weeks especially, we here at Pharaoh Hound Games have been hard at work pushing forward a lot of new features and polish, from our shiny new radial UI to the flashier, more impactful game opening. This week though, we thought it was important to take some time to reexamine some aspects of the game that had been somewhat forgotten on the wayside as we ventured forth.

First and foremost, did you guys know that Sons of Ra had sound? Well it in fact does, and until just a few days ago, that sound had been the same since last summer. Most of it was actually implemented back in May. For those who have had a chance to play our game at any expos, events, or playtests, even you probably didn’t know this. After being neglected in favor of other features for months, we finally took our first steps towards making our game sound as interesting as it looks, courtesy of Joe. The game has new music now, as well as a greater variety of effects for unit combat, tower attacks, and other events such as building towers and units entering and damaging the keeps. We aren’t done on this front, as we are still going to be revisiting blessings and other more minor events to make sure everything is unique and stands out.

Next on the list was another UI improvement. Though we had upgraded to a radial menu, the icons representing the different units and towers remained unchanged, and the transparency on them created an unappealing effect when used with the radial menu. So, we gave all the icons the same treatment as the unit icons used in the queue, which can be seen here:

newIcons

Though still just a first pass, this change gives us a more unified style for our iconography in-game and helps to make things stand out more distinctly for the players.

The last significant item we wanted to mention this week was a small effect added to units. When a unit is defeated, it grants Favor to the players to be spent on blessings. That said, we felt that this was not communicated well enough in-game, so Mark put together a nice looking effect that is meant to help get across the idea that something additional happens when a unit is killed in battle:

favorGained1

While small, the team felt that this added nicely to our gameplay.

In Closing

There was not a whole lot of flashy progress to be shown to you guys this week, but that certainly doesn’t mean that progress isn’t being made. We’ve been having some important conversations behind the scenes about what’s coming, and are continuing to work on things that we think you will find really cool. You might even see some of that in the next few days, so stay tuned. See you all next week.

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Sons of Ra Devlog 7

UI: The Sequel-ing

Was last week’s gigantic shift in UI not enough for you guys? No? Well it wasn’t enough for us either! This week at Pharaoh Hound, we did a first pass redesign of the secondary UI elements in Sons of Ra, being things like the keeps’ health bars, resource counters, and a personal favorite of Jeff’s, we also added a unit spawn queue visual showing upcoming units for each lane. Here she is in action:

queue visual.gif

While it might be boring that I only spawned Catapults in this example, their longer build time shows the function of the display better. Should you queue up multiple types of units, their respective images will show up in the order that you queue them, with a maximum of 6 (one actively building, and another 5 “waiting) being shown at a time. Should there be more than 6 units in the queue, when a unit is built, the un-shown unit will appear at the end of the line. Your information will not be lost!

In this gif you can also see our new health bar and redone visuals for gold and favor cost and available to the players. Like I said, this is a first pass, and we will be coming back to give these new elements a nice shine, in addition to the radial menu we showed you last week.

Starting Strong

While Jeff and Joe were hard at work on the UI, Michael was having some fun giving matches an exciting introduction. Now, rather than the game starting immediately after patron deity selection, the players will be greeted by this awesome new visual:

match intro

We felt that this gives matches a greater sense of gravity as well as a smoother start so that players are not thrust into the fray with no time to prepare. Like the new interface elements, we will be coming back around to this and making it even more awesome as time goes on.

In Closing

The name of the game for the immediate future is juice – camera shake, shiny new particle effects, and the like that will help make every action and event in the game feel even more interesting and impactful. Also, don’t tell anyone, but for the first time in about 6 months we are going to see some new scenery here in Sons of Ra. Stay posted, we’ll be back next week!

Sons of Ra Devlog 6

Full Circle

There have been a number of times in the development of Sons of Ra where we have realized that design decisions we had made previously should be reviewed and possibly changed. That said, none have been as significant as what we have done the past couple of weeks.

The original control scheme for Sons of Ra was, like the rest of the game, developed with console play in mind. It was intended so that players could quickly engage with the game without having to worry about a myriad of keyboard mappings for different units or abilities. So, we arrived at the 4-button menu:

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The top layer of the menu had options for Units, Towers, and Blessings (and later Keep Expansions, though that is not pictured here). Pressing the corresponding face button would take the player into a submenu containing options of different units they could create, towers they could build, or blessings they could use. After selecting a unit they would also be prompted to select a lane to build in, as shown, and at any time the player could choose to go back up a layer in the menu. In this early version, this was done by pressing RS, though that was later changed to be done through the triggers.

Though the menu was functional and relatively quick to use once understood, we found through playtesting that the process of understanding it was less than easy, to say the least. Additionally, being located in the corner of the screen brought the players’ attention away from where the action was happening. We knew something had to change, but weren’t sure what or how.

A few suggestions were made, such as moving the existing menu to be located above the keep, but we eventually decided on an idea that we kept coming back to – the radial menu. Though unliked by some, a radial menu seemed to solve all of our problems at once. It would allow us to keep much more information on one level of the menu rather than having multiple submenus, and it would allow a large number of options with only a few buttons to use. Though its appearance is still in the works, it is a clean enough state that we felt it was reasonable to show, especially because of how excited we are about it.

radial

The menu is divided into 3 sectors, each containing all the players’ options for spawning units, building towers, and using blessings. To use it, the player simply holds the left stick to activate the menu, points it in the direction of what they want to use, and presses A to choose the selected option. In cases that do involve secondary menus or choices, returning to the main level is as simple as pressing B. Building towers and using blessings is simple as well:

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Even though they still employ submenus to a degree, spawning units and building keep upgrades is still easy to understand and do. After selecting a unit, the menu immediately brings the player to lane select and they can simply point the stick in the direction they want to send the units and press A to create them. Keep upgrades are the only item still wholely within a secondary menu, which we did because of the infrequency with which they are used. That said, they are accessibly just by pressing Y, and pressing B while there will bring the player right back to where they were before.

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All-in-all, we feel that we were able to cut an enormous amount of complexity from our game and increase ease of understanding for new players, and preliminary hands-on testing has said the same. We’re incredibly excited for the prospect of more people getting their hands on the new system and seeing how it feels, and we’re going to keep improving the feel and especially the visuals of it as we go.

In Closing

This was just one of the big changes that we promised last week, and we certainly don’t plan to start chasing our tails now that we’ve shown this to you. We still have more that we’re working on and improving, and we’re excited about what’s in the future. We hope you are too, and that we’ll see you back here next time. Have a great weekend guys!

Sons of Ra Devlog 5

A Bit More Magic

Happy Friday everyone! This week at Pharaoh Hound Games, we spent some time looking back at some smaller aspects of Sons of Ra to see how we could make them feel more interesting and, well, “magical”. After all, this is a game where the players invoke the powers of gods to assist them in battle. So, why not lend a bit more of that supernatural feel to the game?

For starters, our new Archers shoot powerful arrows that overpenetrate and deal damage to multiple units. What kind of arrows fired by a normal bow do that? Magical arrows, of course!

magicarcherarrow

We added some effects to make the arrows themselves feel mystical and etherial, giving them a glow and a fade out, as well as some particles to make it feel as though the arrow is dissipating away into the air as it runs out of energy. We think that this enhances the feel of the unit, and makes games feel a bit more spectacular.

Leaving a Footprint

On the technical side of things, we for a while have been working to adapt our tower system to accommodate towers with even widths or heights. Specifically, we wanted to adjust the Obelisk to have a 2×2 footprint to give us a bit more flexibility in its power. With it taking up the same area as an Archer Tower, the average damage output of the two towers had to be very similar for balance, but this made the game less interesting.

Due to the grid-based system we use, making this adjustment was a little difficult, because the system would automatically center towers around the location they were to be placed at. With some work, we were able to get our system to adapt its functionality depending on a classification we would assign towers of different footprints. Just this week, we adjusted the art of the Obelisk to better visually show this change.

newobelisk

As you can see, not only did this change better communicate the space taken up by the tower, but it also gave us the leeway to make some more visual features to show its charge-up process. Even more than that, we also created a “spark” effect that will play when the tower is at full charge, occasionally emitting sparks so long as the tower holds full charge and is ready to fire. This can be seen at the end of the above gif. This was just another instance of the small bits of magic we have been trying to add.

Growing Up

One other small feature we added was to give unit spawns a bit of a better feel. Up until now, units simply appeared at the keep entrances on spawn. While functional, this doesn’t look particularly polished. So, we gave the guys a short scale animation to make it seem like they don’t just come from nowhere.

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In Closing

While we are continuing with our efforts to make sure every element of the game feels good and polished, there are a number of huge changes, additions, and improvements coming down the line that we’ve been working doggedly on, some of them we hope to even have in come next week. Hope you guys will come around to check them out!

Sons of Ra Devlog 3

Writing On the Wall

Welcome back! This week’s devlog is going to be a short one, as much of our time recently has been focused on behind-the-scenes fixes and improvements, things that you guys probably don’t really want to hear about. Instead, we wanted to show the first iteration of the improved patron deity select menu.

Patron Select

As we mentioned in our first devlog, we changed the method of selecting your blessing loadouts so that you do so by choosing a patron deity who grants you a specific set of powers. This is the menu in which you make that selection. Below the depiction of the deities are images denoting the blessings they give the player. More detail on those can be found by pressing X. We really liked the idea of leaning into ancient Egyptian wall art as an inspiration for the look of this menu, and we will be tweaking the look and feel as time goes on to better capture that feeling.

 In Closing

Admittedly we would have liked to have more to show this week, but since we were all wrapped up in finals there was not a whole lot of time to get things done. That said, we will continue to keep you all updated as we continue to make changes and improvements. We’d love to also hear feedback if you guys have any suggestions or comments on what we’re doing. Just hop on over to the Contact page and give us a shout! See you all next week.