Day: September 23, 2011

A Valley Without Wind: Locales And Enemies

As you journey through your own unique world of Environ, you’ll primarily be splitting your time between exterior landscapes, building interiors, and underground caverns.  Not only that, but you’ll be traversing shards of nine different time periods, ranging from the prehistoric, to medieval, to modern, to far-future.  Each has a very different feel, often different enemies, and often unique rewards.

While the game is in beta, of course, the all of the full content from all these areas of the game is not remotely yet in place.  However, that said:

  • You can visit all nine of the time periods already.
  • There are at least four different character models for NPCs in each of the seven human-inhabited time periods.
  • There are already a number of unique bits specific to each time period’s shards.

Enough enumeration — a lot of the fun of a game like this comes from simply exploring it and seeing what cool things you can find.  So we won’t provide an exhaustive spoiler-laden list here, or attempt to show everything.  Suffice it to say, we’ve had some alpha testers that put more than two dozen hours into the game, and they didn’t even see everything that the game contained at that stage of alpha.  Right from the start of beta, this is a respectably varied world, and it’s only going to get more vast as beta continues.

Here’s a few specific snapshots to give you an idea of what you might encounter on your journey.  All of these are full-resolution (no downscaling, no JPEG or video compression, etc), just cropped down to make them fit in to 600px wide:

Fighting A Blue Amoeba In An Underground Cavern
As you gain civ levels, you’ll actually start running into the even-more-deadly red amoebas, so watch out!  This is also a relatively close-to-the-surface underground dungeon; as you delve further underground, the number of wooden platforms decreases, the monsters become tougher, and eventually you’ll find yourself in a heated lava climate. 

Charging A Rhino
The grasslands surface areas (and sometimes interiors!) commonly have rhinos running about them.  Rhinos move pretty fast, and stop for nothing short of a brick wall.  This character is casting the Forest Rage spell at the rhino, but unfortunately it looks like not only did she miss, but the rhino is closing in.

Creeping Death Inside Pyramid
This character is casting the creeping death spell on some desert burrowers inside a pyramid hallway.  Creeping death is a particularly nasty entropy-based spell (there are six colors/elements in all), and is one of the few that presently can harm your allies or NPCs.  The doors you see behind the spell lead further into the pyramid (she’s about halfway up at the moment), into massive maze-rooms filled with enemies.

Decrepit Modern Building
This is a building from the modern time period, and the character is casting Ice Cross to the far side of the image, which is what is providing the paltry light here.  The Emit Light spell would be a far more effective choice, but as it stands this old building looks more like something out of a horror movie.  Buildings don’t yet have furniture in them — that’s one of the things coming throughout beta — but the walls, floorplans, and room designs are heavily varied already.

Desert Hut
Thus far, all of the images have depicted characters who were actually from the time period of the region shards they were journeying in.  However, this is a character from the medieval time period (which you won’t be finding until much later in the game), and he’s traversing a bronze age desert exterior.  This is perfectly normal — you’ll start out with only futuristic ice age characters to choose from, complete with sci-fi snowsuits, and as you journey you’ll eventually unlock characters from all the time periods as playable options.

Destroyed Room
This is an example of a destroyed room in a modern building.  There is never, ever, anything interesting in these; and they are marked with a bomb symbol on their doors so that you can see to ignore them.  Why have bombed-out rooms?  Because players — including us — hate doors that your all-powerful magical character mysteriously can’t open.  It’s like the chain-link fence kryptonite joke.  At any rate, in the wake of the cataclysm, buildings are in varying states of destruction — some are all but impassible, others are pristine.  You can go into any room in any of the buildings, but the bombed-out ones are items you can easily (and happily) mark off your exploration list.  The spell shown is Douse Monster Nest, by the way.

Settlement Management (Citybuilding) Interface
This is one of two screenshots that we’re actually not going to crop down, so you’ll have to click through to see the entire screen resolution on this one.  This is where you can create homes and jobs for your NPCs, assign them places to live and work, and provide them with amenities like wells, grave plots, upgraded homes, and so on.
Avoiding Death With Auto-Applied Potions
This character is exploring next to a pyramid in a region far above his civ level of 6.  As such, the lightning esper bolt that you see piercing him has brought his health to zero — but since he was carrying healing items with him, one of them was auto-applied to save him from death.  The recharge time when a healing item is auto-applied is extra long, though, so he won’t be able to heal himself again (automatically or otherwise) for another 20 seconds.  If the esper (or another monster) lands another killing blow within that span of time, the character will be permanently dead and the player will have to choose another to continue with.  Those spear-skulls the character is jumping over are monster spawners, incidentally.

Terrence Crow’s Grave
What’s the name of that character above? …Oh.  Looks like the espers did him in, after all.  Each settlement starts out with 100 grave plots forming a graveyard.  Every time your current character dies, or an NPC associated with that settlement dies, one of the grave plots will get filled with their actual grave.  It also depresses the local NPCs for ten macro-game turns, making them less effective.  If you play for long enough, you’ll have to put down more grave plots to prevent your graves from spilling out into the rest of your settlement where you don’t want them.
Forest Battle With Bats
This character is from the pre-industrial time period, and she’s using the Circle of Fire spell to strike back at some bats that are following her through a daytime forest.  Circle of Fire is great to use against bats because often they’ll swarm around you, and one use of this spell can hit a lot of targets if you’re careful about it.  It’s also hitting the background trees and stumps and such; ice cross and fire touch also do this, as does energy pulse, but most offensive spells don’t impact the background.

Launch Meteor
Personally, this is one of my favorite spells at the moment.  Launch Rock is a spell that you can craft right from the start of the game, and it’s pretty neat — it does pretty much what it says on the tin.  Launch Meteor is a spellgem recipe that you have to unlock through profession books, and it uses magma — one of those rare commodities that you have to climb a boss-ridden tower to find a single unit of.  Magma will ultimately be useful for more than just the launch meteor spell, but it will have to be something pretty cool to keep me from using it over launch meteor, which crashes through multiple enemies in a wicked, flaming arc.

Moon Rising
Even Environ’s moon didn’t escape the carnage of the cataclysm, as you can see.  Every 10 minutes of game time is a day/night cycle, although you can accelerate to morning or evening using the Sunrise and Nightfall spells (if you can get your hands on some of the rare sunstone or moonstone, that is).  At present the day/night cycle doesn’t have an impact on gameplay, but during beta we’ll be introducing spells and enemies that are affected by the time of day.  Also please note that the global passage of time is counted in macro-game turns, which are considered more equivalent to weeks and which you can advance via the strategy or settlement-management screens.

The World Map
Here’s a small slice of the world map.  This is how you get between the various regions.  As you can see, the cataclysm has thrown the time-shards together in a somewhat haphazard fashion.  You can tell roughly how difficult a given region is going to be based on the region level it has — if the region level is higher than your current civilization level, then be careful there!  Of course, some region types — the ocean, the lava flats, and the deep spring to mind — are always exceptionally dangerous. 

Strategic Map
And now we’ve come to the second of the two full screenshots that I’m not going to crop down — you’ll want to click this to see it at full resolution, for sure.  This is the strategic map, which lets you order your NPCs around to do things outside of the settlement in which they live.  At the moment it’s pretty much three things that they can do: they can scout regions for you (removing that crosshatch fog that you see below on many of the regions); they can build wind shelters (and the attendant roads) for you; and they can invite new NPCs to join their settlement (you have to have located the target NPCs first on your own).  This is a part of the game that is still in relatively early stages, like the citybuilding sections, but it’s a part of the game that we’re very excited about.  These :macro-game: bits are turn-based, like a very light 4X strategy game.

Wind Shelter
Here’s a wind shelter — this is one that I constructed directly, by hand.  You don’t have to use NPCs to do this, but it is often faster to do so.  Until this wind shelter went up, this region and all the regions near it were covered by a terrible snowstorm.  Any regions too far away from a wind shelter, settlement, or road are covered in fierce windstorms that buff all the monsters and reduce your visibility.  This wind is part of where the name of the game comes from (“a valley without wind” would represent a safe place to the people faced with these winds), and it also has a mysterious connection to the cataclysm.  You’ll be able to learn more about these and other mysteries through talking to NPCs and collecting memory crystals on your journey.

The type of weather the windstorms manifest as, as you might guess, is based on the climate of the region in question.  In temperate climates it tends to be rain more often than not.  In the desert it’s sandstorms.  In the lava flats it’s a firestorm (lots of blowing ash, etc).  And so on.

Ocean Cavern
If you have enough healing potions, you can actually go exploring in the acid oceans that dot the planet.  It’s a slow and dangerous road, but there are even completely submerged caverns such as this one.  In future beta updates there will be fish and whales (instead of just amoebas), and you’ll be able to transmogrify yourself into a fish as well for faster, safer travel.  Did we mention that you can already transmogrify yourself into a bat?  Yeah, that’s another favorite of mine.

Sapphire Gem Vein In Ice Cavern
The undergrounds vary by the region they are in, of course.  Here in the ice age, even the underground caverns are so cold that you’ll freeze to death in under a minute if you don’t bring along a heavy snowsuit.  Here you can see a couple of Icicle Leaper enemies guarding a sapphire vein — split that open, and you’ll get not only a sapphire raw gem, but also two units of sapphire dust.  Gems and dust are the backbone of almost all crafting (everything except the Outfitter goods use them). 

Robo Brawl Here you can see my neutral skelebot character (left) fighting some other skelebots in a futuristic junkyard’s surface tunnel.  That’s a quartz outcrop I’m after, behind them.  You might notice that my character here is also named Terrence Crow (as was a woman from the medieval period in the underwater cavern).  This isn’t normally something you’d see in a game, it’s just a function of how I was transforming my character to move quickly around the world and take these screenshots.  There are tens of thousands of first and last names included in the game, and millions of possible character names — the likelihood of your ever seeing two characters with the same name for as long as you play is pretty low.  And unlike with AI War, these are all real names that you can pronounce (well, except some of the monster names, but those are still way more prounounce-able despite not being real names).

Giant Skelebot
While we’re on the subject of skelebots, here’s one of the minibosses from the game: the giant skelebot.  He hits you with his spear if you get too close, and he shoots fireballs at you when you’re further away.  The giant skelebots, believe it or not, are actually by far the tamest of the minibosses in the game.  When you hit level 12 and start seeing the crippled dragons, whose fire breath actively chases you around the room… yeah, the giant skelebot is nothing compared to that.  
But he’s still killed me quite a plenty times; and depending on the boss room layout and what regular enemies are spawning to help out, even a weaker miniboss type can give you quite a fight.  This is a case where we’re starting to see some combinatorial emergence in the same fashion that we see with AI War battlefields, and that’s something that was really a surprise to me personally to find.  The AI itself isn’t emergent here, not like AI War’s swarm intelligence, but the way that the environment and various enemy types combine to make emergent challenges is very much in the same style as AI War.

The very last locale I’ll leave you with is the my favorite grasslands windmill, with rolling clouds behind it.  In-game, all those clouds are dynamically animated in realtime on your GPU thanks to Unisky (on modern GPUs — older or underpowered GPUs can use a much-lighter static skies option that still has the day/night transitions, etc).  That’s a lightning esper waiting down below, peacefully gliding along until you come within range — and then zap.  Bring a weapon.

AI War: Alien Bundle (Physical/Digital) Arrives On Matrix Online Store

Arcen Games is pleased to announce a partnership with Matrix Games and Slitherine that offers the AI War Alien Bundle up for purchase both in physical and digital forms at the Matrix Games Online Store effective immediately.

The AI War’s Alien Bundle contains the base game along with all three currently released expansions: The Zenith Remnant, Children of Neinzul, and Light of the Spire. An absolutely mind-blowing amount of content!

In celebration of the event, Matrix is running a two week sale on the bundle so gamers can pick up the digital copy for just $19.99, or $10 (33%) off of the standard price! For more information, check out the product page on the store. As always, anyone who’d like can try the sizable demo as well.

A Valley Without Wind: Getting Started Guide

Note: This guide is now hugely out of date, and we’ve written a replacement that you can view here.

A Valley Without Wind
Getting Started Guide
By Josh Knapp
The year was 888.
Wind blasted snowfields have covered the world of Environ for centuries…
Hey! Never mind all that, let’s just get to the game!
If this is your first time playing A Valley Without Wind, getting started is easy.  First, install then open the game.  Click ‘Play’ on the menu, and a new menu will open up.  This time, click ‘Create World’. Now the game will ask you to name the world.  Personally, I’d suggest naming it “Wayne’s World,” but really, you can name it anything you want.  Now, for the character selection — every character you have the possibility to select has a name, and a list of personal stats.  Don’t be overwhelmed with the stats, the most important thing you need to know about them right now is that green is good, red is less than good, and white is average.  So, you want to try to avoid a character with a lot of red stats.
Once you’ve chosen your character, he or she will be dropped into your first settlement.  This is your first base of operations, and you will likely come back here often.  To start, use the ‘A’ and ‘D’ keys to explore the settlement, and collect all the various gifts (like books) on the ground that the Ilari have given you.
The next steps you should take are mentioned in the top right part of the screen, but we’ll briefly cover them here, too.  First go and talk to the Adviser Guardian Stone, the big teal colored crystal dude with an inflated sense of self-importance. To talk to him, simply stand in front of him and press the ‘E’ (also called ‘confirm’) key.  He’ll give you tips about the game.  You are only required to read the first 5, but if you want to keep reading more, he’s got a lot of good information — and you can always come back later.

Ok, now it’s time to talk to the green crystal dude — another vessel of the Ilari.  This is the Hearth Guardian Stone.  Any time you are low on health just stand in front of him to have your health and mana be completely restored. Also, he’ll give you free warp scrolls if you have fewer than two.

We’ll get to what those do later, but for now, find the spellgem crafting books that you should have already picked up in your inventory (if you haven’t picked them up keep searching your settlement till you find them). They look like a small rectangle with a diamond in the middle (if you don’t see them in the bar on the bottom left of your screen, try opening up your inventory by pressing ‘I’, and see if they are there).

Once you’ve found them and you are standing in front of the Hearth Guardian Stone, right click on the spellbook. This will open up a display on which you can choose what new spell you want to learn the recipe for.  Keep in mind you aren’t making the spell at this point — we’ll do that next.

The list of available spells you can take here depends on which hearth guardian stone you talk to (there’s more than one in the world, but only one in your starting settlement), so they won’t always be the same.  To start, you should take some sort of ranged spell.  Examples include: Fireball (my personal favorite), Forest Rage, and Energy Pulse.  After this, since you have four books, go ahead and learn three more spells.  Don’t worry, you’ll find more books later, but having more spells makes it easier to do… anything.
You may have noticed that as you were doing this, you gained EXP.  There are many things you can do in this world to gain EXP for your civilization.  Learning new spells is one.  Killing one of the many bosses you will encounter in your travels is another.  As you continue to gain EXP, your civilization will level up, making you more powerful and able to face the monsters in higher-level regions.  There you will in turn find better gems, which will allow you to craft better/stronger spells.

Now we actually get to make some spells!  And isn’t that what we’re all here for?  Well, ok, maybe not all of us…  To make a spell, stand in front of the Spellgem Crafting Workbench, as shown above. Pressing confirm will open up a new window.  Each new spell consists of a spellgem and possibly 1-2 commodities.
As you hover over a gem, the window will show you what spell that gem alone will make. Click on the sapphire. You will see that this can make the Ice Cross spell.  If you add a walnut, it will make the Tidal Pulse spell instead; or adding granite will make the Douse Monster Nest spell.  For starters, don’t add any commodities, and just click “Done” to make the Ice Cross spell.  This is a good spell to have for damaging enemies close up.

Now go ahead and make as many spells as you can at this point. While you do have a limited number of gems, you will be collecting many more as the game progresses.  One other spell that is crucial is called Ride the Lightning:  this one allows you to double jump to reach higher locations, get away from enemies, or escape from caves.

Ok, once you have your spells made, you’re almost ready to go out and start making the world a better place.  Literally.  The last thing you need to do is to make a few Spell Scrolls. The Scrollmaker’s Workbench is usually right next to the Spellgem Crafting one, and works the same way. The main difference being that this time, instead of raw gems, you’re using raw gem dust. I’d recommend making at least a few Heal scrolls, using jade dust.  Make any other scrolls you feel you might need or want, as gem dust is usually plentiful enough.  Consider the Emit Light scrolls, as these help you see in otherwise dark caves and buildings.
The last workbench (that’s right, the last one, we’re almost done here) you should know about is the Outfitter’s workbench.  This one works the same as the other two, but is useful for making physical objects, like platforms (which you can use to get out of holes) and protective suits.  It’s not required to visit this bench before leaving, but you should at least check out what’s there.  More workbenches will appear as you level your civilization.

One last thing to do before we leave: see the circles in the lower left of the screen?  That is called your ability bar.  Whatever spell or item is equipped in the first circle can be activated by pressing either the left mouse button or by pressing the number 1.  The second circle is activated by the right mouse button or by pressing the number 2, and so on.

You will want to put your spells and scrolls in the slots that you’ll find easy to use. You can do this by dragging them where you want them.

Wait, what’s that?  You don’t see all the spells you created?  Hmmm, well, if you press ‘I’, you will see your full inventory open up and the rest of the stuff you took time creating will be there.  I’d recommend putting a ranged spell like fireball in the first slot, and a melee spell like Ice Cross in the second, but, you can do whatever you want.

Got your bar set?  Ok, then let’s ditch this settlement!

Your first time out of the settlement
Now comes the real fun!  But how do we get out of this settlement?  Your minimap is on the upper-left hand part of the screen — you can press ‘M’ to maximize it if you want. Your character is represented by a blinking blue dot.  On your mini-map, there is a white bar that goes all the way to the top on one side of the map or the other.  Head in this direction, and keep going until you leave the settlement.
Once you are out, you will see an overhead map of your world. This is where you pick which region you want to explore. Your character starts in the region of your settlement.  Press confirm to enter whatever region you’re standing on, and use the WASD keys to move around your map to choose the next area to explore.  I’d recommend picking one that has the number 1 on it (the numbers represent the level of the region, and the level of the enemies that are in it).  This will probably be an ice-age region.  As you progress further away from your initial settlement, more region types will come available.

Once you enter a region, you are back to the side view again.  You can use A and D again to move left and right, and spacebar to jump.  Left clicking the mouse will fire your first action in the direction of the mouse pointer if it is an aimed spell, or simply around you if it is a melee spell.

Ok, so now what do you do?  I’d recommend exploring any buildings you see.  Inside the buildings, you will find things like consciousness shards (which allow you to do things in the strategic part of the game later), health and mana potions, and even gem dust.  In regions such as abandoned towns, you should search houses for studies and libraries as well.  These are the best places to find more books.

After you’ve collected a bunch of health and mana potions, you may want to consider taking on your first boss.  On the map above, you can see a number of rare commodity towers (all the triangular memory crystals, in this case).

These towers that have several bosses in them, and at the top of the tower is the rare commodity that you saw on the world map.  You will get EXP for killing each boss, and further EXP for bringing the crystal back to the Memory Archive in your settlement.  At higher levels, the towers also can contain elusive crafting materials like sunstone or moonstone.

Eventually, after your civilization gains a few levels. you will have to scout new regions to see what is in them (any regions above level 3 won’t show you their icons automatically). To scout regions you must first expose them on the world map by moving around it. After that, go into a settlement and speak to the Hearth Guardian Stone, and you will then be able to assign the NPCs living in your settlement to go explore for you.

Once a region is scouted, you will be able to see if there are any resource stashes in it that will aid your settlements, or things like evil outposts and overlord lairs, which contain the big bosses for this part of the world.

One final thing: remember those warp scrolls we talked about? Well, any time you are in the side view of the game, simply open your dungeon/chunk maps by pressing either comma or period.  Once these are open, you can click on any part of the map you have already been to and you will automatically warp to that area. So, for example, if you are deep into a large building, using these will allow you to leave the building without having to back track through every room.

That should be enough to get you going.  I don’t want to give you everything, since this is a game about exploration, after all.  Happy adventuring!