For the last post of this year, we’re able to bring you some positive news: there’s a Frontline Update featuring the Ghost Ship!! That’s right, the Ghost Ship is finally live on the frontline version of the game, so please go check it out if you haven’t already! As always, we’d love to hear any and all of your feedback, please let us know what you think :)

With this out of the way, we’ve been taking a lot of time to look back at the year that has gone past and talked about what we’ve done, what should have been done, and what could have been done better. While we’ve never been truly satisfied with the amount of output for the game, 2019 has been especially poor. To be completely honest, none of us can believe we haven’t managed to properly release the ghost ship yet, and we’re far from happy with the time it’s taken.

A lot of things have happened during this year, both around work and for us personally, but it’s hard to make any excuses. At some points it kind of felt like we had started all over again, losing the ability to plan and design properly the way we did before, making the Ghost Ship a trial and error mess where we had to remake and redesign a lot of stuff before it got to the point where it is now.

While we’re incredibly happy with the dungeon now (I think we all agree it features two of our favourite bosses), we’re absolutely nowhere close to happy with the amount of time it’s taken us to get to this point. Our mistake with the way we initially designed the dungeon (randomly making rooms instead of making a complete whitebox version to run through featuring all of the elements), is partly to blame, partly indecision and poor boss ideas that didn’t turn out as well as we’d thought. In the end, we should have had a clearer vision of the dungeon from start to finish before we started making all of the assets for it.

I know a lot of you are getting impatient with us, and trust us, we understand and we see your comments; we know. We feel you. But, as much as I’m disappointed with the time it has taken for the dungeon to reach this point, I’m also happy we’ve taken the time to do it the right way instead of releasing something that isn’t up to our standards. Yes, the game could have been completed by now; it could probably have been completed years ago. But it wouldn’t have been the same game, and it wouldn’t have been something I could have stood behind a 100%. To quote Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the people who inspired me to become a dev in the first place: “A delayed game is eventually good, a rushed game is forever bad.” While this isn’t completely true in these days where a lot of games are digital releases that do a lot of post release patches (in no doubt we will do those too; if nothing else to add bonus content), it wouldn’t feel right to release something bad when we all feel it’s so far from the vision we had.

However, thanks to all of you who have supported us (thank you so much), we still have the funds to keep on working, and to keep making it better. We’re determined to make Grindea the best game it can be: we love this game and we don’t want to release it before it’s something we can honestly say we’re proud of. Obviously there will always be things that could be done better, and by saying this I don’t mean we’ll continue working indefinitely on improving things in a never ending cycle; I’m just saying that we want each part of the game to reach a certain treshold before we’ll call it done. The Ghost Ship has taken an unfortunate amount of time to reach that point, and for next year, we’re gonna do our very best to make sure not to fall into the same traps we did with this. Every mistake is a learning experience, and while the process of making this dungeon hasn’t been the best, we’ve thankfully learned a lot from it.

So, as the year is starting to draw to an end, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who still support us, whether it’s financially through buying the game or mentally by your encouraging and lovely comments. Thank you for being with us on this journey, and know that no matter what, even if it may take a while, we’re not gonna let you down. I’m sorry it’s been taking this long.

One more dungeon to go after this. Let’s do it!

Now, with all that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve been working on this week:

Last week you saw a sneak peek of the cutscene where Luke destroys one of the ship’s masts to use it as a barrier to keep the fighting area a decent size. Here are the assets and the work in progress of getting them to the state they’re in in the cutscene:

To make the ship feel a bit more old I got to make the railing a bit more worn down:

As one of the rooms got redesigned into a bigger version, I added some decorations to make it less empty:

There are now backgrounds for the character display and the enemy codex, featuring both the regular and spirit world versions of the ghost ship (not yet sure which version will be used or if they’ll both be used depending on whether you’re in the spirit world or not):

And finally… The addition of the ghost ship in the left corner of the world map:

A milestone if any… Can’t believe we’ve come this far! Each of the dungeons are now added to the map, except the last one. Which is, in a way, already there… Sort of :)

Of course, with Luke having a strange artefact in his possession (ha!), it’s only decent to give his portrait a bit of an upgrade and a ton more expressions! Not sure how many of these will be used but I wanted to give us plenty of options:

For comparison, here’s his default portrait:

Oof! Be kind to him, will you?

And finally, some animations from Fred and pieces of the cutscene where they row you to the ship:

And with that, merry christmas and a happy new year! The blog will be back again on the 13th of January, after we’ve been back at work for a week! :)

This has been a week of card making :D Let’s get straight into it with the card for the crab enemy (which we call Crabby for now):

The second card is the skeleton mage card, summoning a bunch of those scary that block your path in the spirit world:

Third, the Hauntie card, where Dr. Spengler is keeping an eye out for those scary ghosts, only to completely miss the fact that they’re all behind her!

And finally, the skeleton warrior card, which has unfortunately lost his head:

Meanwhile, Fred and Teddy have been hard at work building the cutscenes for the battle with Luke! There’s a ton of unique animations that need to be made, implemented and properly timed for this to look its best, but I think we’re getting there!

Here’s a sneak peek of one of the cutscenes, where Luke creates the space where you’ll do battle:

In order to create this I also needed to do a bunch of new mast props which I’ll show you more closely next week!

Other than that, Teddy has also done a tone of multiplayer testing. To test multiplayer, he connects locally and record his whole screen and then watch the footage, which lets him see discrepancies between the windows, to identify desync issues and determine if certain attacks need more or less latency compensation:

Thanks to this, it’s now possible for us to play through the ship in multiplayer up to Luke’s boss battle! Still some things to iron out and a lot of animations we still need, but we’re getting there :)

Another week has gone past and more plans have been made for the final dungeon! As homework over the week we decided that each of us had to come up with two ideas for things that could happen in the various floors of the dungeons. When we met up again it became clear that each of us was quite divided between two various ways of dealing with the dungeon: either as a pure gameplay mechanical experience, or one where old friends from the rest of the game return in various ways, allowing for more story focused floors.

One such thing we’d like to include is the ghost of Tessen, whom you met in Tai Ming, as well as Naniva helping you out with the Temple of Seasons floor. A couple weeks ago I mentioned a beast of some kind that will resummon bosses for you to fight – in one such idea we’d like a resummoned winter that wreacks havoc on the Seasonne floor, adding icy winds or spikes for you to deal with aside from fighting the regular enemies.

For Pillar Mountains, we have ideas of adding your mother in some way, and in the Ghost Ship floor reintroduce some other old ghosts from Tai Ming, namely those of Sizou and Mana. However, all of these are just in the idea stage at the moment – so we’ll see how many of them (if any) end up in the final design of the dungeon.

Gameplay wise we’re trying to spice up each of the floors a bit by adding elements or enemies from other areas of the game. One example of such an idea is to have a Phase Shift puzzle in the Flying Fortress floor, where you have to change the layout of the course by using season orbs that will change the various blocks; causing roots to overgrow some, while others are revealed.

We’ve also finally played through the Ghost Ship up to the very last portion of it (the creepy Startington and the last boss battle of the dungeon). This portion of the game takes us about 1 and a half hour to complete, and even though it’s taken us a very long time, we’re really happy with how the dungeon looks and feels at this point. It also has some of our top favourite boss fights, so we hope you’ll enjoy those as well!

Next up for us will be to complete the creepy Startington portion and boss fight, which are both now well under way before we can finally upload it all to Frontline. Hang in there guys! :)

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the creation of one of the final rooms in the Ghost Ship – the Phase Puzzle room! Here’s where Kailan, the Flying Fortress engineer from ancient times, has set up a Phase Puzzle course for you that you need to pass to get to the eye boss!

We’re starting with the basics, following a sketched designed made by Teddy after he prototyped the puzzle:

Next we’re adding all of the Flying Fortress details, to give the room a more high tech feel to fit the Phase Puzzle course:

And after that, it’s time to make some Ghost Ship special phase shift blocks:

These blocks will only be visible in the ghost world, so better keep your wits about you when you try to phase through this challenge!

And, finally… Making the ghost world version of the room!

This Monday we’ve started discussing the last boss of this dungeon, which is one of the final things we need to add. As many of you have already guessed, and which might be quite obvious at this point, the opponent you’ll be facing is none other than your dear old friend Luke, and today we sat down to discuss what sort of feeling we want this battle to have.

For starters, we want the battle to take place on the ship, outside, and in the rain! This far we haven’t had any rain in Grindea, and it’s about time the weather changes. We also believe this will help set the tone for the fight. As for the actual fighting bit, we want Luke to use heavy attacks which will cause smoke and wood chips to spray from the surroundings.

Some of his attacks will be inspired by the two hand skill tree that is open to the player character, and he’ll combo others by mixing and matching them in different ways; meaning he might start with one attack which may have two different endings to keep you on your toes. He’ll also be starting some of this attacks by running towards the player, and we want the overall fight to be high paced with little rest; he won’t be idling around as much as Marino, for instance. Finally, towards the end, he’ll start using berserk mode to make things even harder for the player!

We’ve also discussed the last room we’ve yet to make for the Ghost Ship; a phase shift puzzle with ghastly features! Once this is made and implemented it’s only the boss and the final creepy Startington stuff remaining before the dungeon is completed – finally we can see the light at the end of the tunnel :)

The phase shift puzzle room will not only feature a phase shift puzzle featuring the ghost skill, but also another old friend from the past: Kailan, whom you last met in Tai Ming where he was showcasing the phase shift technology to the town’s inhabitants. Do you remember who he is? If not, you’ll get a reminder when I get around to making the ghost version of his portrait :)

Now it’s time for something slightly different; namely, creating a ghostlike thing that will block players paths here and there in the ghost ship! First up, a few different suggestions:

In the end, we decided to go for the ghastly substance, but were unsure about which color to use, so I made a couple different options (ending up with the original one after all):

And finally, making versions of the substance for the other door directions as well:

In its final form, this substance will be animated as well, giving it a bit more character and creepfactor!

The Startington interiors have long been outdated (they were, after all, among the first things I made), and what better opportunity is there to upgrade them than now that we’re looking into making a creepy version of Startington?

We’ll still keep the old versions of the graphics, but only use them for the ghost versions of these houses – we believe that their slightly shrunken, gnarly appearance will only help make the difference between the regular houses and the creepy houses more prominent.

Second house, same principle: touching everything up to the standard of graphics we use today:

And finally, the third and final revamped Startington interior:

In this week’s Monday Meeting we spent a great deal of time discussing the final challenge in the creepy version of Startington (among other things)! As you might remember from a previous meeting post ages ago, there will be three challenges in this surrealistic and spooky version of Startington: one where you fight a ton of slimes which gives you a card called Obsession, and one where you do some tough shield training and gain a wooden shield called Expectations.

In our latest iterations of the third challenge, we’ve been working around the theme of Deceit. In this latest iteration of the challenge, there will be a block puzzle in which you move blocks with each of the artifacts to designated squares (rather than a key block puzzle).

Mechanically we have a couple of ideas for how to make this more fitting the strange world; one is that instead of moving the blocks, the room will move, the other that as you attempt to move on block, another of the blocks will move instead. We’re not entirely sure which of these we’ll go for, or if we’ll do something else entirely, but we’ll start off with making prototypes of these two ideas first and see whichever one feels the most cool.

Next up, it’s time for us to “creepify” the interiors of the Startington houses! Our idea is that the player will enter each house in its original form and complete a challenge in there, after which the building will deteriorate and become dark and gloomy:

The second house creepified:

And same thing for the third house:

And we’ll end this week with a bunch of gifs from the second boss fight of the dungeon: the Evil Eye or the Twilight Beholder, that has finally been finished! This boss uses a lot of lasers and creepy eyes to try to eliminate you, so you better keep your wits about you :)

Another week and more boss progress! There are so many things we could do with this boss that it’s difficult to choose which attacks and patterns we want to keep. One of the things we’ve done recently is working on tweaking one of the eye boss new attacks, featuring a barrage of eyes that will eventually explode! There are a bunch of sliders we can use to tweak this attack, and one of them is number of eyes:

..and also the shape of the explosion circles, below with a more circular shape:

The one above is probably closest to what we’re aiming for for now, but as with everything else this might be changed with more testing!

The latest iteration of the laser attack now also has proper lasers, and more eyes:

As you can see here, the trick is figuring out which eye colors are not present in the big eye, which will let you know which eyes won’t be firing the laser. To make this a little easier we’re also adding symbols to the eyes, making them easier to tell apart:

We haven’t decided exactly which of these symbols we’ll use yet, as we want to pick the ones that are the most clear from the side as well. Fred has already started playing around with what the eyes would look like from the side, but we’re not quite there just yet:

We know this boss (and the map in general) is taking ages to finish, but we’re determined to not let it go until each of us is fully satisfied with the fight, and we believe that once we’ve gotten to that point, it will all be worth it! Hopefully the third floor will be complete enough to run through and test very soon… :)

Meanwhile my work outside of the Ghost Ship continues with more improvements, and we’re slowly working out way down to Evergrind East; here’s a couple more of my sketches for more places we’ll improve upon:

And so we’ll start with the first two sketches, adding some more decorations first to the second Pillar Mountains map:

…and then we move to the area right before Evergrind City to spice up Evergrind East a little bit:

Next up, Evergrind City’s entrance itself, a slightly bigger job adding some decorations and making the wall more prominent:

New week and a new cabin redesign! This cabin belongs to a fashion designer from Tai Ming, who fled their home to start a new life in the Merchant Isles after the great cataclysm started by Zhamla:

After that, it’s time for a quick break from the Ghost Ship to make another one of the Pillar Mountains improvements! Because this cave will have some significance later on, we wanted its entrance to look a bit more fancy:

What you’ll find inside? Well… You’ll see!

For now it’s time for some more ghost like portraits, starting with the headless chef:

Quite an.. eh.. Interesting portrait, no? First time drawing a portrait without an actual head!

And next up, the bartender, who will have an important part to play in the players quest to get through this dungeon:

With the ghost ship ghost quest inclusion, it’s time to do something we haven’t done in a long time – add another interface!

In your quest to help the ghosts, you will need to bring items to them that will remind them of who they are. To do this, you’ll have to first speak with a confused ghost, bringing up an interface featuring all items you’re able to present to the ghosts (mainly misc and key items). Upon selecting an item, the ghost will then let you know if it’s what they’re looking for (which will clear up their confusion), or if it’s not.

We wanted this interface to be quite straight forward with lots of space for items so you don’t have to scroll too far looking for the item you want to give each ghost. We also wanted a box where you can view the item’s name before giving it.

Here’s my early sketch:

And the progress:

This week it’s time for some more trap prototyping! This time we’ve been working on those eyes we’re using in the ‘ghost bridge’ room, but here they serve as a ‘trap’ of sort in an ordinary fighting room.

In our first iteration, we used the eye in the same way we use it in the ghost bridge room; basically moving back and forth in a set speed. If you’re in the regular world, the beam from its eye will be slightly transparent and won’t deal damage, while in the ghost world it’s darker and will damage you quite a bit if you get hit by it.

For the second iteration, we wanted the eye to feel more ‘alive’, so we’ve given it a couple patterns. Either it will slowly open its eye and cast a beam straight forward, or it’ll look to the sides as in the example above for a little bit before closing up again. These patterns are then randomized so you never know which one it will do next; you’ll have to keep track of it to know how to dodge it.

We do prefer the second version so far, as it makes the eye feel more like a living thing rather than something that just ‘blindly’ (ha) looks back and forth forever. It also keeps the players on their toes a bit since they need to keep track of what it will do next, rather than just dodge the eye beam over and over.

And now, time for something much less exciting but still very needed… Some background masking! This is a technique we use when we want certain effects and such to only be visible on the floor and nowhere else. Basically, each part of the floor is painted with a color (in this case a pretty pink), which will be used as a guide in the game for where the effect can appear.

Starting out by applying this to the first floor rooms, since we want to finish up the first floor and get it all sorted out before we move on to the other floors:

Next up, the captain’s portrait! To make sure I’m getting his features right, I’m going to trace the boss sprite for this one, using it as a base for the portrait:

And here’s the finished thing:

As I mentioned before, we’re currently working on finishing up the first floor. That means going over each room and adding the remaining details that have been missing. For the very first room, that entails adding a ton of boxes and crates to give the room a bit more ‘storage room’-y feeling:

Quite a few boxes! We thought of blocking the path leading straight to the door, but ended up keeping it open as we felt like forcing the player to take the long way around might feel a bit overdesigned.

Meanwhile in the animation department, the enemies are finally being polished into their final forms, their animations cleaned up with further details added. Just look at this:

We’re drawing closer to the stable patch, and in doing so we’re in need of a few more items! Here we have the creation of a vest, a pair of shoes, a full card album (could it be real?!), a pair of earrings and a new hat: the fez!

 

Since we decided that the shield salesman will be dealing with armor as well, I figured I’d put a random armor among his many shields to illustrate that fact as well:

And here’s a bunch of items that weren’t recorded, featuring a shoulder strap, a battery, a camera lens, a …seven.. three drop appearances for cutouts that will become available as housing items and a ton of weapon sprites for all the weapons Fred has been working on. Phew!

Next up, the background for the professor Pine and Tannie cutscene needed a bunch of new (and old) stuff, and for some reason I decided to make a short video of that process:

 

We’re also introducing a pair of friendly faces in the town of Port Monnaie. Remember where these guys are from?

Perhaps this cutout will serve as an additional reminder:

The girl has been animated by Fred as well:

Next, the shop titles for all of the shop! We’ve been so busy making things for them to sell that we actually managed to forget they need graphics for the shop’s interfaces…. Oh well, that’s an easy fix:

All of the shops in Port Monnaie will carry new unique items, though some will also sell things available earlier in the game. The Potion shop will work just like Remedi’s Alchemy and will allow you to change your potions; which, by the way, will be an added function to the potion shop in Tai Ming as well (though if you’ve played so far as to reach the desert, I’m afraid you won’t be able to access the Tai Ming shop anymore).

The Jar, Souvenir and Carpet shops will all be focused on housing items, while the others will carry new gear; Helmut & Headgear carries hats, Topaz’ accessories, Shield + Guard armors and shields, and Blade and Arms sell, unsurprisingly, weapons.

Another thing that remained was making these expressions for Professor Pine and Tannie in the flashback orb showing their work on stopping Zhamla:

And now, finally, with the addition of this final piece..:

..(which is the graphic for the desert fishing achievement), I think (for like the 5th time) I’m officially done with everything needed for the stable patch. Let’s hope I’m right this time :D

Now, there’s a lot more Ghost Ship backgrounds to do, so let’s jump straight back into it! First up is a bunk room of sorts, where the sailors used to sleep when they were still working on the ship and they weren’t ghosts:

Here you will battle enemies, and once a prototype for the kitchen is ready, I will add the kitchen on the right side, one platform up but on the same screen (I will add a jumpdown back into this bunkroom from there). One idea we have for decorations here when toggling into the ghost world is that you’ll see skeletons of the sailors in their beds… But I’m not sure if this will be too macabre or not. What do you guys think?

Next, we have a set of rooms one next to the other, both of the smaller kind. There will be a corridor above these two rooms, where the path is blocked, so you have to pass through these two rooms to get to the other side. And here’s the first one:

Like with the bunk room, we have a few ideas for ghost world-only decorations here too. In this case, we want to make a spooky version of the painting on the right and possibly some spooky shine around the candles and lanterns on the tables.

Last week I made the entrance cave and the reward cave for the optional math puzzle sequence. This time around it’s the actual math puzzle’s turn to be made! In the GIF below you can see the basic process for the creation of each of these rooms:

And now we can take the same graphics and apply them for each of the difficulty settings (yes, the last one gives me nightmares too – in fact, most of these give me nightmares):

On top of these, there will be a set of wall- and floor variations so it won’t look like you go through the exact same room every time. For the endless math puzzle version there’s also this counter on the wall as seen below, which allows you to keep track of how many puzzles you’ve completed so far (we’ve capped it at 999 since we don’t think anyone has the stamina to do any more of those… but maybe one of you will prove us wrong?):

There’s still some random fixes I want to get done before the stable patch hits, so here’s a bunch of those again!

First up, closing up the tree so it doesn’t look like you can walk into it (I know this is a common enough problem in the game already!):

The optional Math Caves need its own entrance as well, which fits its aesthetics better than the current; hence the removal of the wood in favor of this more metal-y entrance:

Of course, in the final thing, there will be a few of those flaming goblets as well.

There’s one of two more quests to add for the stable patch, one of them involving this drinking fellow at the Saloon. As such, it’s fair to give him a bunch of new expressions:

And since you can’t have a quest without a reward, here are two mysterious sprites involved in this quest:

It was a while since we had a meeting, but now it’s time to start getting serious about the Ghost Ship and design the 2nd and 3rd floors! So we sat down and discussed what kind of things we’d like to see, brainstorming various design ideas for how the floors could look.

We already had some basics down: we wanted there to be a kitchen and dining area for the ship’s crew on the 2nd floor, and a grand ballroom, a set of cabins as well as the captain’s bedroom on the 3rd. With this information in mind we made a bunch of sketches, quickly discarding a few of them.

Here’s one of our ideas for floor 2:

A quick sketch for one of the “puzzle” rooms:

The 3rd floor:

And one of the versions we scratched:

As before, we’re not quite sure about how some of the puzzles will look in the end, so I’ll probably stay away from making backgrounds for those rooms until we have some kind of prototype, focusing instead of the more static rooms such as the basic battle rooms! And one such room I can make is this cleaning room:

Using the base from a previous room idea, I make a bunch of cleaning sprites and water on the floor. The idea is that the mops will be animated and that this room will be used as a battle room, the first of the 2nd floor!

Meanwhile, Fred has been a busy necromancer, animating a bunch of skeletons (haaaaha – get it?):

The above are, as you might realize from the sword, the melee version! The magic user version looks slightly different and has another color scarf as well:

As Fred made these sprites, he came up with a rather interesting idea: to be able to cut off the head of the skeletons and have it turn into a stand-alone, different enemy (which would work much like a Jumpkin). The idea was born as he made the head on a separate layer and removed the layer from the animation:

Pretty neat, huh? I think these enemies will be a lot of fun! What do you guys think?