a6 Developer Logs — JOYLANCER / APR 23 2015 — v1.6 Release

(if you don’t care about all the extra info and just want to see the change log, you can find it HERE.)


hey everyone! tj here, creator of The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight! thanks for stopping by our website today. you’ll have to excuse if it looks a little messy right now, as i actually just got this layout set up recently. if you’ve peeked this page before, you probably noticed the garish layout before. it was a temp job while i fiddled with it to make it look better, but i ended up getting lost in a sea of work, as per usual. i finally managed to luck out and stumble on a really nice layout that was easy to modify, and here we are!

i wanted to try something a little “different” this time — hosting this development log on our actual site! WHOAAAAA. i hope you’re strapped in, because this is gonna be a long one. but i also hope it’s a substantial one, that brings everyone up to speed on our game, and maybe even understand a little bit of our methods behind this game and why things are how they are.

I — EARLY ACCESS, OUR ASPIRATIONS, AND PERSONAL LIVES

we’ve been super busy for the last few weeks putting in some hard work on the game. Jesse (Joylancer programmer) has been busting his ass cranking out some really great work re-coding some systems in order to add support for lots of new things… so you know what, i know that you all want us to get straight down to brass tacks and show how much stuff we’ve been doing in the last few weeks of development, and why the update took so long to launch!

we’ve been meaning to get this version of the game out a lot sooner, but there are lots of external factors that get in the way of our work, like Jesse having to go help his family occasionally (which amounts to hours of exhausting travel), or me having to divert my time to the enormous amount of side work that i have to maintain in order to pay our bills and keep us from going homeless (like commission work, helping administrate itch.io, various side projects, opening a Patreon, and the occasional having to shamefully ask friends for loans). there’s also the matter of us planning other projects at the same time (which you’ll be seeing on this page soon!), which is both a necessity for us to be able to operate, and something that we really just can’t help doing; we have a lot of plans for the future, we’re just trying to put together the money so we can actually dedicate our full time to working on them.

of course, in the meantime we’re still busting ass getting Joylancer to a state that we deem acceptable and ready to consider “final.” there are certain bugs that appear and certain requests from players that we are dedicated to fixing before we proceed with the “full” phase of the game. we’ve spent a lot of time developing the game already and we’re ready to just get it done and out there… but we also don’t want to do a half-assed job that dissatisfies us as artists and lets down the players. it’s a constant battle between trying to maintain a strict deadline and making sure the game that launches isn’t an unfinished work.

i wasn’t happy with the initial Early Access release in November; i wanted to hold back a little longer for us to get some of the bugs fixed and make sure everything worked, but at the same time i felt it were necessary to commit, to show that we at least have the potential, and that there is the roots of a really great game in Joylancer. as a game director and producer, it can be very tough trying to balance maintaining a release date and holding a game back a little longer to get the edges sanded down a little more. i do worry constantly that when we suddenly go dark for a few weeks that people think that we’ve abandoned the game; on the contrary, that typically means that we’re working so hard on so many things in this game that we just don’t have the time to put together a full and structured update in time for our release windows.

the warm reception in the months following really helped us get energized to take this game to the next level and prove that we’ve earned the Early Access spot that we have, and we want to show that we will be releasing a complete game that will hopefully become a beloved play for those of you who have already put it in your hands so far, or for those of you who have been keeping a distant eye on us. i actually never imagined this game would become as popular or as played as it has been, and i definitely never imagined ever getting on Steam, so in a way this whole thing has been an overwhelming learning experience for me as a director and for us as a growing studio. i have high hopes for the future and believe very much in this game and our work as a whole.

 

II — PROJECT DEVELOPMENT

anyways — THE GAME! this is the fun part, because there’s also gonna be lots of colorful and showy screenshots here to gawk at!

 

OPTIMIZATIONS
so, what most of you, especially those of you with lower-spec PCs, might consider the most important part of this update — we’ve done some major optimizations to the game! we’re also now introducing a Frame Skip feature that we’re pretty excited for– so if you notice that your game is running really slowly (lots of reports of 30fps slow-mo), you can turn on this new Frame Skip option!
if you know anything about emulators, you’re probably familiar with what Frame Skip does, but if you’ve never heard of it — it’s a rendering technique in which a game can run all of its logic at full speed (meaning no sluggish movement or slow animation), but render fewer frames than what are being performed. what this essentially means is that the game maintains its full speed and action, but draws fewer frames, which majorly lessens the amount of work a piece of hardware has to do in order to run a game. depending on how many frames you skip, you can double or even quadruple a game’s performance by making a minor visual sacrifice. many console games do something similar, where they’ll render at a lower frame rate in order to maintain more consistent game speed. (this is also why you see a lot of PC gamers complain about framerate issues on console ports compared to PC versions, where if you have good enough hardware it doesn’t matter!)

Joylancer runs a lot of logic on every step when drawing the in-game graphics. i’ve explained this in previous dev logs before as well, and tweeted about it a few times, but when you look at screenshots of our game, it looks like every sprite was just made in a solid color, but what’s actually going on is that all of our graphics are given one very specific and exact palette to maintain, comprised of black (R0 G0 B0), blue (R0 G0 B255), light blue (R0 G255 B255) and white((R255 G255 B255). each sprite only uses these colors combined with a layer of transparency. the game reads these colors on each sprite, and then using a separate custom made palette, draws a color over each color in the palette, 60 times a second. every single animation, object, tile, and background image is constantly re-rendering in order to maintain a constant palette, and this system also allows us to modify palettes for an object or graphic instantly, which also lets us take advantage of cool “glowing” and after-image effects, as well as a bunch of other potential tricks!

the only downside to this system is how much logic the game has to process between that and the extremely intricate characters, which causes slowdown on lower-end computers. if you’ll remember before, our previous system attempted to compensate by only loading colors once, which meant it didn’t have to keep re-drawing colors every step, but this also forced a lot of loading times in the game. our new system seems to have cut load times out entirely for the most part, but the obvious sacrifice is that a higher FPS is a little more difficult to maintain. we believe that the introduction of Frame Skip will allow players to continue to enjoy the game’s frantic action without sacrificing the overall speed of the game; after all, speed is a big part of Joylancer!

 

UPDATED INPUT SYSTEM
Joylancer‘s input system has now been totally reworked over the last few weeks of work. it’s been a fairly tough job, but it’s all working amazingly. gamepad support is now greatly extended! originally, Joylancer was only playable on XBOX 360 / XB1 controllers, and there was some goofiness with analog stick control being inconsistent. we’re so glad to say that we’ve finally fixed this problem, and the game now accepts many more types of game pads, including fight sticks!


our freshly updated Control Wizard, with brand new key binding menus

our Control Wizard that launched in November or so has finally come back and it’s better than ever. we’ve now organized a much better menu, and cleaned up the code, and now players will be able to set their own custom key bindings again! we’ve also expanded this system to character actions; you can now add and change the commands that you need to perform in order to execute certain actions! if you don’t like the way a move works or is assigned, just go into the new control menu and pick an input that works better for you. almost every crucial command in the game has its own choice of commands that you can switch to, so if you find that you’re dissatisfied with a move’s input or accidentally keep performing moves, you can just change it. these control configurations save to your profile, and if you accidentally assign your keys incorrectly and lock yourself out of the game (which we’ve made very hard to do), there is a key that you can press to reset your controls to default. (and we know that the menu feels a little strange to navigate in-game, but it ends up being really snappy and convenient once you get how it works!) please note that you have to bind your controller to player 1 in the PROFILES menu before the game will respond to controller input!

 

COMBAT ENHANCEMENTS


over the last few weeks, we’ve been going through and re-doing a bunch of old code for optimizations and to improve the combat experience in general. we’ve introduced a new hitbox system that is a lot more precise and functions a lot better overall, and we’ve also played with defensive mechanics a bunch.

for example, we’ve wanted to do this for a while, but we’ve finally implemented the “Perfect-Counter” system in the game! for players with extra precise reflexes, this means that instead of just hoping your attack flies far enough to collide with a counterable move, you can now precisely time your counters and instantly perform Drive-Counters without needing to stun the enemy first! introducing the Perfect-Counter has expanded the combat a ton and added even more reward to learning the more nuanced techniques in high level play, and we’re very excited to let you all give it a shot for yourselves.

we’ve also implemented the Drive-Clash, a new counter technique that automatically activates when you counter powerful attacks. when you clash with one of these attacks, you engage in a duel with your opponent by rapidly tapping the attack button to build your Burst Meter up to MAX. when your meter fills up all the way, you perform a powerful counter attack!

 

NEW ENEMIES + CHARACTER BALANCE


Joylancer has a huge variety of characters in it already, and our roster is only going to keep growing. so we’ve gone through and done some more balancing to each enemy type, and the AI has been revised to be more efficient and to make it function a little better. we pretty much do this every time we do an update, so if you’ve been playing the game for a while, you probably know to expect some of your favorite / least favorite enemies having some brand new tactics and updated techniques!


 

EXPLORING ANTORIA
our World Map has finally returned to us! if you played an earlier version of Joylancer, you might remember that you would get thrown into a big map of areas when starting the game, and you could freely select a level by traveling to it. before there was only one area to venture, but now we’ve expanded it to three areas, each area containing its own set of levels!

 

THE DARK PALACE RETURNS
The Dark Palace was a special mode in Joylancer that contained 50 floors, each floor containing a different arrangements of enemies to engage in extreme motorized combat with. we pulled it from the v1.5 release after some bugs started happening once we did some more system updates, but now it’s making a return in a new way!

there are now multiple Dark Palaces scattered all over the land, hidden in various spots in the world map! each one has a different size, a different room layout, and its own set of challenges. this lets us be even more creative with the capabilities of the palaces, essentially making each palace its own dedicated arcade mode. CAN YOU DEFEAT THEM ALL?
and of course, for you challenge seekers out there, the original 50-floor Palace won’t be gone… maybe there’ll be an even bigger palace to challenge in the world somewhere!

 

III — OUR FUTURE UPDATES & RELEASE

we’ve been asked a few times on the Steam forums, “about how complete would you say Joylancer is?” i think that that is a tricky question to answer in an honest fashion.
a big part of this game’s development has been devoted to improving and revamping the mass of systems we’ve assembled for this game over the last year or so of work. sometimes we’ll run into a weird bug that requires that we completely re-do elements of the system, and other times we’ll rebuild systems simply because they can be a lot better and more optimized, or they can add support for something that will make the game more fun to play. occasionally this takes a long time to fully realize, and other times it’ll take about a day or two of work. sometimes all it takes is a few hours. it’s always very different based on the context of the circumstances surrounding us as we do these things. sometimes we need to rush something to get an update out, and then gut it and clean it up in a later update so it works properly. sometimes we need to hold something back because it wasn’t ready when we expected it to. sometimes we might need to change the entire structure of something in order to accommodate for the deadlines that we attempt to meet, and it’s never a guarantee if that’s going to be a smooth process or not. sometimes i might just be a perfectionist director and re-do stuff entirely just because it doesn’t work how i think it should. (you don’t want to see how many levels i’ve scrapped from this game — it would be enough content to be its own game by itself!)

as such, this game has gone through a constant generational shift as more time passes, we learn more, and we figure out new ways to improve the game, or ways to make it more unique from the crowd without sacrificing total elements of the game. we’ve gone through multiple phases where we have most of the content in the game, but a roadblock causes us to have to start some of it over. however, we’ve reached the point where we can’t, and don’t need to, do any more major iterations or revisions on how things work. at this point the only thing we need to do is finalize some more code, and then at that point the only thing we have to focus on is adding more content and pushing out bug fixes.
i can safely say that we are in a very comfortable position with the game’s core engine now, and a lot of it has been in part to the feedback that we’ve received from our little Steam community, the various writers who have reviewed and previewed the game over the last year, and the absolutely amazing support people have been giving us, especially since we’re just two dudes doing this from our house.

now that our engine is approaching a much more stable position again, we will be making it a personal goal of ours to update at least once every two weeks with some kind of new content added to the game. these updates will be leading up to Joylancer finally going Gold, which we are currently planning to achieve in June of this year. we will let you know when we finalize a hard date, but we are very comfortable with this, as it gives us a few more months to really get stuff nice and done, as well as give us adequate time to do some hard playtesting before launching a Gold 1.0. the last thing we want to do is panic about day one patching or something like that.

we thank you for all of your continued support as we continue to build this game into something that we can confidently call Complete.

 

– alpha six productions 2015

Abouttj

"officially" starting his venture into the world of games in 2008, tj has been steadily sharpening his self-taught skills as a pixel artist, game designer and composer. his animation work can be found in a variety of titles by a large amount of developers, both large and small, with WayForward, Nicalis, and Lab Zero Games.

releasing his first project, Navigator, in 2011, originally under his former DIGITAL HAVEN ENTERTAINMENT label, alpha six productions began its venture into "serious" game development with The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight, and the upcoming Project Desperado.
a lot of his work is heavily experimental, but tends to lean more towards the "hardcore action" edge-- reflecting his love for extreme action games by Japanese studios such as PlatinumGames and Treasure.