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    Technical Director John's Avatar
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    Post Technical Blog #13

    2015/12/16

    Banner Saga 2 Launches

    This spring and summer, we had the good fortune of launching the Banner Saga 2 across all our supported platforms.

    For Banner Saga 1 it took us 2 years to launch console, and 9 months to launch mobile. This time around we have the time window shrunk to 3 months for console and 5 months for mobile.

    We are working on a few more updates for Banner Saga 2, including bringing our localizations to console, and continuing with 3 more translations for Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, which are underway.

    We've been cleaning up and improving our engine and asset pipeline. One of our ongoing technical tasks is to upgrade our story writing capabilities. For Banner Saga 1 and 2, we've relied on Inkle's InkleWriter Beta. This is a fine tool, but is no longer supported and does not scale well to our game. We've studied Inkle's new Ink language, and their new tool, Inky. These are really neat, but to retrofit into our game would be a bit too difficult. We want our new solution to be backwards compatible with our old conversations, and vice-versa. So, inspired by Inky, we've created our own tool, which implements a subset of the Inky features, and in a way that can be 1:1 mapped onto our existing conversation technology.

    As part of this effort, I've had the pleasure of working from the ground up with Test-Driven-Development again. The Banner Saga was originally developed in a test-first way, but this was interrupted after about 18 months into development. Adobe AIR released an update that broke their testing framework. The primary issue was that we simply had too many tests and their framework fell apart at scale. We spent some time trying to get it working again, but ultimately had to abandon our tests. They certainly served us well during the initial 18 months of development.

    Now, as part of pre-production, I've taken the time to create my own custom testing framework, a framework that I can control and scale as needed. All of the new 'Story' system is being written test-first and it sure does feel wonderful to program that way.

    A few weeks ago, we had an issue with our Amazon EC2 servers running Factions. One of the servers, the one that hosts the RabbitMQ message server, had a hardware failure. The server was still running, but Amazon informed me that it could go down at any moment, and furthermore would be shut down automatically in 10 days, regardless of what happened in the interim. This may seem like a fairly simple problem, but since I haven't administered any maintenance to the Factions servers is years, I had to go through the whole process and remember how to do it, and how to configure the RabbitMQ server once it was restarted. The server was also running on some obsolete Amazon features, so I needed to figure out how to migrate into the new paradigms (specifically migrating into Virtual Private Cloud). Believe me, I took the opportunity to carefully document my steps for next time. It was fun, and made me miss doing server development!

    I'd like to back up a bit and talk about Survival Mode. Shortly after PC launch, we were hanging around the office, waiting for console launch, and waiting for our holidays to start. We decided to do something productive with our time, and brainstormed various updates we could do to the game. We settled on Survival Mode, a 40-battle challenge mode that focuses on character progression and tactics, with permadeath and lots of items. This was essentially a 2-week game jam on our end, followed up with several weeks of testing and polish. We ran an open beta on Steam for Survival Mode, and many of you participated. This open beta was a great experience for us, and we really felt invigorated by our close collaboration with our community. This experience is one of the things that made us realize that we need to invest more in our community, the result of which is that Khatie has now joined us as Community Manager on the Stoic team.

    Survival Mode was a good technical exercise, as it forced me to formalize the structure of these 'sub-sagas' that can be entered into from the main game. We added item drops and permadeath in battle, which caused us to upgrade the reporting on the battle 'Resolution Screen'. This screen (the wide red banner), now reliably displays deaths (injuries in regular play), items discovered, and achievements earned.

    Once we all reconvened after holidays, we recognized the fact that we now have a bunch of out-of-game stuff to share with everyone. These include the Warbands miniatures board game, the double LP Vinyl albums of the soundtrack, the digital soundtracks, and the Gift of Hadrborg, James Fadeley's great Banner Saga novel.

    Aside from this, we often have a desire to communicate news and event information with our players. As a result, we have created a 'news ticker' GUI that can sit at the top of the Start Screen. This news ticker allows us to push news updates to clients without the pain and expense of a full patch. We had done something similar for Factions, however this new one looks much nicer and can contain custom images and CSS text formatting. We'll be rolling this out soon, starting with PC.

    We're also working on an update to TBS1. For one thing, we would like to include the News Ticker there. As another point, we recognize that the Bellower fight is still a major problem for many players. Of the players that reach the Bellower fight, only 47% make it through to the end of the game. This is a pretty terrible completion rate, and we are looking at ways of tuning that battle to mitigate. We are also looking at tuning the supply availability in Chapter 6. This last chapter has always been unintentionally devoid of supplies. It's not supposed to be easy, but you should have enough supplies and renown to at least have the option of keeping your Morale up. We hope to roll this out in a few weeks as well.

    Last week, I attended Steam Dev Days with Zeb West, our new Producer. We spent 2 days in Seattle for this event, and found it extremely informative on many topics. A major topic was of course VR. There were VR demos and tech talks galore. It is pretty amazing what is being done in this field, not least of which is Steam's opening up of the Lighthouse technology as OpenVR. What this means is that you can use the Lighthouse tech to DIY all sorts of projects, or even commercial products ranging from pet trackers to in-home high-quality motion capture rigs. The positional accuracy of these Lighthouses is about 300 microns, so the potential uses are enormous. Banner Saga VR anybody?

    Thanks for reading - please share your feedback in our forums, here:

    https://stoicstudio.com/forum/forum.php

  2. #2
    Senior Modder YaK's Avatar
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    Right on!

    Interesting reading, i am eager to see the changes and to have a "first contact" with this new Inky-like tool, but i have to admit a personal thing:

    While reading, i was scared as Hell that you were on the verge of telling us you needed to kill Factions. A tiny tear was already forming in the corner of my eye.


    Anyway, you could imagine how happy i am you guys will spare some love to TBS1

    Personally, i think that people find Bellower fight so difficult cause the game tend to force you in haveing a sort of lazy bad-habit.
    Let me explain better, from the exact moment the tutorial ends, the game let you use always the same kind of strategy: Maim and Kill.

    There isn't any different kind of battle, like for example the ones in Saga2, where you could end a battle killing a specific foe, or there are endless enemies to crowd control while performing another objective.
    So, many player, the exact moment they arrive at Bellower fight are not prepared in thinking a bit out of the box and MISS COMPLETELY that the goal of that fight is NOT a TOTAL ERADICATION of dredges but, respectively, break Bellower's armor to let your hero shot that arrow and then kill JUST HIM, as soon as possible.

    I am totally sure that the majority of people struggling with that battle are just acting in a default manner, trying to kill everything, understimating that a game with a "simple" mechanic like this could have a LOT of different tactical approaches. A lot. Simplicity is not scarcity.
    I think that for a Faction's player, that was a piece of cake.

    Of course when you focus on an approach and start failing, it could became frustrating and, as soon as rage takes on, you become more blind to different solutions, ending in being pissed of. I will spare you the consideration that nowadays "punitive" games are not really very well tolerated, because it made me feel like and old nagging guy, nostalgically talking of his past , but i hope you understand the point.

    Of course, this just my humble opinion, it's possibile that i am totally wrong, being a masochistic player that like to suffer (in fact i LOVED "Sunless Sea", "Darkest Dungeon" and the old X-Come games )

    Aside from this, a feature that i REALLY REALLY like to be backported to Saga1, is the onscreen notification on morale loss/gain, for two reasons:

    1) Because it's awesome;
    2) Because as you know, in Saga1 the "granularity" of the morale gains is a bit more. You need more rest to shift from a level to another and, aside from the smiling face in the UI (not considering the console) you often could end in totally missing the effect on morale of a choice you made/event.

    Sorry for my English, i hope it's understandable.
    Last edited by YaK; 10-18-2016 at 11:17 PM.
    My mods: YaK's SSLTBS1 Unofficial Fixpack ( www.nexusmods.com/thebannersaga/mods/1 ) and Drake's & YaK's BS2 Unofficial Fixpack ( www.nexusmods.com/thebannersaga2/mods/2 )




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  3. #3
    Skald Aleonymous's Avatar
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    Good stuff, John! Always a pleasant read. What is the 2015/12/16 date at the start of your post?

    Now commenting on the many subjects you touched:

    --- Inkle must have been a big piece of your core game structure, handling dialogue and poppenings. Its simplicity probably allowed non-programmers to work with it, too, I suppose. Having to build your own tool just for the last game is a bit unfortunate though... Thankfully, and if I understood well, the files of the first two games will not be changed to "fit" the new tool, right? That's good for our modders

    -- Test-driven development -- Could you give a practical example of how/where TDD was used while building the game and/or its dev-tools? I'm not a software dev, for sure, but hopefully I can understand its usefulness!

    -- Factions: Good to hear it was rescued from Death's Door I don't play so much nowadays, so I hadn't noticed the problems. Factions is always your "free demo", so I think you should really consider a few minor changes. It might even resume paying some of your bills, maybe small ones... Top of my list would be granting a bunch of Renown to new players, on tutorial completion, so that they can make a power-6 team (or various team-powers) right from the get-go. Alternatively (or additionally), I think that downgrading the Tourney to power-6 would rejuvenate its playerbase. Reaching power-12 requires a lot of grind, scarcely possible with matches being so hard to get.

    -- Survival Mode was a HUGE & welcome surprise! I think you forgot to mention one of its most interesting ingredients: the "classic" turn-order. I was honestly surprised at how well all the game mechanics worked in this "new" turn order, and with practically zero changes to unit abilities and stats. In view of this, I think you should consider giving players the option to use this turn-system for the main game too. I think I've asked you again, but here goes:
    1. Are you planning an SM for Saga1?
    2. Is SM turn-system "available" to the main game via modding?

    -- Saga 1 update: Speaking of Ch6 supplies, do address the "always starting w/ 3 days of supplies" at the start of Ch4 issue!

    Another "Hail!" to your new caravan heroes: Zeb & Khatie

    Quote Originally Posted by John View Post
    Banner Saga VR anybody?
    Sounds like... Eyvind Earle on LSD!
    Together we stand, divided we fall.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Yellow's Avatar
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    Regarding the patch for Saga 1, AWESOME!

    But please get the stuff mentioned here https://stoicstudio.com/forum/showthr...Banner-Saga-1) fixed and added officially to the core game, so that people don't have to rely on a mod. While we are at it, any chance of addig Trygvi officially too? It was great that you guys released the mod tools and information that allowed Aleo to add him via a mod, but again people should not need to mod the game for such trivialities.

    Apart from that, any other improvements to the UI or to how morale, supplies, caravan numbers, wars, etc work in Banner Saga 2 that could be backported to Saga 1 would be "icing on the cake"!
    Last edited by Yellow; 10-30-2016 at 05:50 AM.
    "Forged by Fire; Empowered by Passion"

  5. #5
    Good to know about all the exciting stuff going on. Survival Mode is a lot of fun, definitely a good addition. Looking forward to everything in the future.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Yellow's Avatar
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    I got a question, is James Fadeley currently working for Stoic, or did he just licensed the IP for his novel Gift of Hadrborg? Also, has he been involved in any other gaming stuff before? His name sounds familiar.
    "Forged by Fire; Empowered by Passion"

  7. #7
    Community Manager Khatie's Avatar
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    James is an independent writer who licensed the IP.

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