Raphael van Lierop

Milton Mailbag - Dispatch #26

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Hello community,

Just a note that I'll be out at GDC all next week (along with a group of the team), doing some professional development stuff and learning from our peers in the industry, so don't expect a Dispatch next week. 

Enjoy this week's Mailbag!

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Question from @smaointeoireacht:

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I fell into a late night Wikipedia black hole and found myself on a page about the wolf and moose relationship on Isle Royale, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_and_moose_on_Isle_Royale ) and it struck me on how similar the environment and wildlife is between Isle Royale and Great Bear. This got me wondering, during development were there any islands that you researched into or drew inspiration from in order to create the environment of Great Bear? (Also, part of me kinda wants to see a pack of gutsy wolves attempt to take down a moose in game, is there any slim chance of this happening?)

Thanks for sharing that reference! I've not heard of Isle Royale, but it sounds super interesting. 

In terms of locations that served to inspire *our* Great Bear Island, mostly it's been inspired by my living on Vancouver Island: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vancouver_Island

...but in general it's inspired by living on the Canadian West Coast, the Pacific Northwest, and in Canada in general.

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Question from @Sipriano:

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Jeremiae's story isn't over, is it? We still whitout knowing who is Atwod

Jeremiah asks Mackenzie to take a message to Atwood. Beyond that, you'll have to wait and see. :) 

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Question from @Sceh:

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After the announcements in the latest dev diary I'm really excited to see what you'll do with Pleasant Valley. It's a nice enough region but I have to admit it feels a bit empty at times.

Now, I think it was before Redux hit that players were warned about upcoming changes to MT, ML, FM and BR in survival mode and that we should move stuff out of the way so as not to lose it when the areas got changed. I panicked and laboured at this for close to three evenings, shlepping all the gear and food I had stashed in those locations to the Ravine (it being the closest unaffected region), going back and forth thinking my precious possesions from my longest running save file could be deleted. Then of course I found out that I needn't have been so thorough and that the actual changes were minimal (from what I could see, might be totally wrong here!) and mostly consisted of furniture and other interior having moved slightly etc.

My question is: will this be the case again for Episode 3?

I dread having to do this for Pleasant Valley if it comes to that. I have a hoard of loot in the Farmhouse and it gets tedious and boringly repetitive to just haul things back and forth to the next region over. Of course I could always just risk it and leave everything where it is, or become Zen about it and swear off earthly possessions. I'd much prefer to get a slightly more specific warning like "players should move their possessions outside of building X, Y and Z" or something along those lines. Please advise and thank you.

 

In general it's always best to move things out of regions we're using in Story episodes, yes. We haven't given the warning to move them yet because we're trying to come up with a better way to handle this than having you move things around. If we're not able to do that, we'll definitely provide some advanced warning, including in the in-game Notification system.

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Question from @Smellyfries:

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What is your favorite item that you have created for the long dark?

The can opener, back in the early days of the game where you couldn't open cans without it.

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Question from @Sunwolf:

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I'm nervous about what I like to call "resource creep".  I'm not sure if there's an established term for it but it amounts to adding new mechanics and resources without doing anything to increase the difficulty of the overall game beyond static difficulty setting adjustment.  Over time the end result is, while there may be a few "hardcore" zones that provide some challenge, the majority of the zones, particularly those that were introduced early in the game's development, become boring and easy and fail to provide any meaningful sense of threat as the game goes on.  I can already see things like the active feats system as well as in-game stuff like the moose hide satchel causing this.  The mechanisms already in place (progressively increased cold, reduction of wildlife, etc) help but I'm not sure if they help enough.

Has "resource creep" been discussed in-house and if so,  are there plans to address it beyond what's already been implemented?

 

Yup, it's been considered, discussed, and we have plans.

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Question from @Azdrawee:

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Have you ever considered adding multiple skins for items? For instance, crowbar is always blue. I think it would be interesting to also have a red crowbar. Even more interesting would be to have multiple skins for items like the rifle, I understand that this would be a bit harder to implement, but I'm already seeing myself abandoning my 100% rifle in exchange for a one with a terrible condition, but a nicer colour.

Not as purely cosmetic changes, no. We've discussed adding support for variants (so, using your Prybar example, we might have one that looks slightly different and has slightly different stats, like better overall Condition, opens lockers faster, etc.). But that's an approach that would have to be rolled out across the entire game and all its systems so it's a bigger philosophical topic.

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Question from @Tylor9261:

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Raphael, my Canadian Brother! Did you get the chance to play Metro: Exodus yet? And, if so, did you love it as much as I did?

Not as much as I would like -- I've made it to the early part of the Volga section. I absolutely adore the game. Love the atmosphere, the environment design, the overall tone and mood. The character designs are great, the actual models and animation look fantastic. I'm particularly in love with all the great little first-person presence moments. I hope to get back into it at some point because I'm just where it begins to open up a bit more (it's been very linear so far). It's kind of my dream Half-Life 2/STALKER mash-up, really. I love it. Kudos to the developers -- they've done a fantastic job (at least in the parts that I've played). I hope we can achieve something like this some day.

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Question from @Skelegutplays:

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When we get the bear spear in survival mode, would it also be possible to get a makeshift bayonet for the rifle using the spear mechanics but lower range and slighty less damage?

We have no plans for that, no.

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Question from @JeremiahJohnson:

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What are your thoughts on adding thunderstorms into the game? Certainly would make those dark stormy nights even more haunting when camping out on a mountain with the thunder roaring in the background. Flashes of lightning against the wolves in the forest... Definitely gonna put that revolver to some good use. 

Can there be thunderstorms in winter? I've never heard of such a thing.

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Question from @francoisb:

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What is the difficulty in adding new weapons or clothes or food? Is it the level of testing that is required, to make sure the game is not unbalanced?

Depends, of course, on the type of item. Everything needs art, audio, some things need animation, lots need code, design set up and tuning, often they are part of a larger system and have to be integrated. Most also need UI hook-ups, sometimes HUD elements (for new gameplay) and always icons for the inventory, sometimes the radial, etc. Anything that needs animation tends to become a huge thing. Everything new has to be balanced against all the existing stuff in the game, so that hopefully it's additive to the experience and broadens the gameplay toolbox in a meaningful way. Everything in Story Mode is 10x more complex than anything in Survival Mode. Everything needs tons of testing. All changes to the game in terms of mechanics, tuning/balance, adding new mechanics, changing UI elements, etc. all needs to be checked against ALL the Survival Mode gameplay, ALL the Challenges, and ALL the existing WINTERMUTE content. This means Episodes One and Two also need to be replayed/re-tested regularly. Adding anything to the game is a huge task, mostly because of how big the game is now, and how many things can be affected by every new thing or change.

*****

Question from @muoz:

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Could you consider randomize the spawn of wolves in caves? I just discovered that there is a cave in Desolation Point with a wolf living in it and was an amazing experience (I panic a bit). I think it would greatly improve the gameplay experience inside caves because you wouldn't know if there are wolves inside or not, and you will need to be focused.

We put that Wolf in that cave on purpose. I'm not sure we would want them to potentially exist in "any" cave. I agree that it can add to the tension, though!

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Question from @legolegs:

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I recently saw you twitter rant regarding some steam reviews which are actually more like support requests but without possibility to do support thing. Also in a previous mailbag I did asked you about issues tracker in jira, and you said Hinterland prefers players to use the support portal (and I did B|).

So my question is: why so many game developers prefer to provide blackhole-like support forms over public issue trackers (like ones e.g. Red Hat and Mozilla have)?

Let me clarify and also share my experience and opinion: every time when I reported bugs trough support portal I did received an confirmation email (obviously written by not a robot but by a real person, which was very nice :$ these days). But afterwards it is a blackhole. I can not even check if I already have uploaded a particular screenshot of mine. I can not write "me too" under someone else's report (often this action can make me feel better about my difficulties with a game or software). I believe when an unhappy player leaves negative one-line steam "review" they want their words to do three things: 1) to attract developer attention 2) to be read by other players 3) to stay. Your old jira lacks 1 (at leas it seems so from outside) and partially 2, your support portal lacks 2 and 3, your (or Steam's) hypothetic public issue tracker can do all 123 but does not exist (why?), Steam Review also does all 123 but it is not its purpose.

 

The short answer is, we don't have the bandwidth to provide constant communication and updating on every bug or support query we get. Well, support queries we do handle 1:1 with the reporter, but bugs go into our internal database and get fixed as quickly as we can. 

Despite my "rant", I do think that most players try to contact us with their issues. My point was really that a lot of negative reviews on Steam are really just people who are too lazy to follow up with us to ask for help. We're not hard to find and we work hard to fix the issues that exist in the game (and, to be fair, we often get negative reviews for things that are *not* wrong with the game, but issues with people's own systems, etc.).

My comment re: Steam reviews was really to say -- Steam already asks us to provide Support link for players, so why not just put those front-and-centre on the Steam page (like a big button that says "Ask for Help") so that it's easier for people to find, therefore maybe instead of writing a one-off negative review (in anger) that they won't update even when the issue is fixed, they might send us a note instead. (It probably won't be a nice note, but at least we have a chance to try to fix the issue for the player.)

In short -- our Support portal and reporting works fine from my perspective. It's the Steam review system that is broken, IMO. :) 

*****

Question from @Faithful Cartographer:

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In the game there are mines with numbers 3 and 5, the question is where mines №1, 2 and 4? Will they be in new regions?

They might be. They might also have been closed, might have collapsed, etc. 

*****

Question from @PlayerPawn:

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Is this apocalypse affecting other areas other than Great Bear?  I know Will makes a comment about the weather being unusual before he and Astrid set off, but that seems to be the extent of which we're told about the greater world outside of Great Bear in regards to this apocalypse, aside from the financial crisis going on.

What's your theory based on what you've experienced in the game?

*****

Question from @Arran:

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Also have you considered some progressive difficulty for lower survival modes - Pilgrim / Voyager ? Pilgrim is nice setting for new players, but once you learn basics its impossible to die in this mode. What do you think about increasing environment settings mid-game after XX days passed ?

Ie you start at Pilgrim, after survival of 150 days difficulty increases to Voyager - needs increases, wolves becoming aggressive etc. After another 150 days difficulty advances to Stalker and game stays in that mode until player falls into long dark :)

 

The Experience Modes are intended to let players make a choice about what kind of experience they want to have. Pilgrim players choose to play Pilgrim because they want a more meditative, exploration-experience. If they later on decide they want to play Interloper, they can. Some players run multiple games in multiple Experience modes, depending on what kind of mood they are in.

I don't think of the Experience Modes as "difficulty" per se -- I look at them as choices around what kind of experience players want to have. If they want to try something different, they can then start a fresh Survival game in a different Experience.

*****

Thanks for your questions and have a great weekend!

- Raph

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Please use this thread for discussion of @Raphael van Lierop's answers. However, while we will be monitoring the thread, he won't be following up on questions here. If you have more questions please post them in the main question thread and they may be addressed in a future Milton Mailbag.

If you want to know if a topic has been addressed please check the Milton Mailbag Index.

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56 minutes ago, Raphael van Lierop said:

The can opener, back in the early days of the game where you couldn't open cans without it.

That's an interesting one! Wasn't expecting it! Can't wait to see you after next week! I'm sure you'll have ALOT of questions built up to read off! Have Fun!

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@Raphael van Lierop

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Can there be thunderstorms in winter? I've never heard of such a thing.

I live in Chicago, IL and I can confirm there is such a thing as thunderstorms in winter.  In fact, they've coined the term "Thundersnow" for the phenomenon.  I remember when I was working downtown one day during winter, it was completely overcast, snowing, and the sky lit up and loud thunder rumbled across the city.  It was so bizarre.  I heard it's pretty rare but like most things in the natural world, if you have the right combination of things, it can happen.

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What's your theory based on what you've experienced in the game?

I feel like Great Bear might be one of a few larger areas that might be experiencing the phenomenon, at least currently.  It seems unlikely that the entire global weather system would suddenly change together unless something massive contributed to that change.  I could see there being a ripple effect though, slowly working its way and messing with weather systems far and wide until it becomes a global problem.  Or, maybe Astrid and Will saw the lights when passing a time-barrier that is attempting to contain a time rip that is disrupting the weather around it.  Maybe Grey Mother is actually a much older Astrid, and Methuselah is a much older Will.  I mean, Grey Mother lost a daughter, which I'm assuming is the situation being hinted at between Will and Astrid early on, and then Methuselah being omniscient, seems like he's seen these events play out before and why he'd know where to be to guide Will.  Like I said last week, I'm not sure how sci-fi you're going with this story but I like to speculate. :)

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5 hours ago, Raphael van Lierop said:

Can there be thunderstorms in winter? I've never heard of such a thing.

Yup - chiming in with the other comments above. We get this in New England occasionally. It's definitely not super common, so it's unsurprising that it's not widely known... It's actually pretty awesome... Have you ever seen a power-line or transformer go down during a snowstorm, where you can see it sparking the whole sky an insane blue? 'Thundersnow' is kind of like that, only even crazier. Certainly plausible that the crazy weather of the silent apocalypse could increase the frequency of such things (...especially in Pleasant Valley... am I right??).

I'd never thought about it before, but it would definitely be a terrifying experience in-game... you've ranged out a little further than you planned while looking for provisions and were caught by a surprise blizzard as night was falling.... now you're starting to get turned around and can barely see in front of you.... *FLASH* - For half a second you catch a fleeting glimpse of the landscape around you... you're pretty sure that was the Draft Dodger's Cabin in the distance... but you also caught a glimpse of something else....  was that a wolf just past it? No.... ....No way... ...it was so quick, maybe your eyes were playing tricks on you and it was a log, or a corpse, or a very large rabbit... you haven't heard any howling... ...but you ask yourself... ...would you hear anything over the howling winds and periodic thunder...? You run the math in your head... there's no way you're going to make it out here another hour without shelter... you've got to head towards that cabin and pray for the best.... *FLASH* ....Crap. It was a wolf. And it's closer now. The head on silhouette is what threw you... ....good run.... 

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7 hours ago, Raphael van Lierop said:

Can there be thunderstorms in winter? I've never heard of such a thing.

I know everybody keeps commenting this. But I just want to throw in my 2 cents as well. ^_^

This has been requested multiple times and I can confirm its real. We could wave its occurrence off as being caused by the Aurora's electrical elements; however, it occurs in real life when heavy snow and colder air moves into an area of relatively warm air (so it could happen if a blizzard hits right after a sunny day).

While extremely rare, it would be pretty thrilling to experience even one instance of muffled-booming thunder that introduces a blizzard.

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3 hours ago, MarrowStone said:

I know everybody keeps commenting this. But I just want to throw in my 2 cents as well. ^_^

This has been requested multiple times and I can confirm its real. We could wave its occurrence off as being caused by the Aurora's electrical elements; however, it occurs in real life when heavy snow and colder air moves into an area of relatively warm air (so it could happen if a blizzard hits right after a sunny day).

While extremely rare, it would be pretty thrilling to experience even one instance of muffled-booming thunder that introduces a blizzard.

I think it would be a cool feature/mechanic to have a very rare chance of thundersnow happening during a blizzard.  Mechanically, it can be something like a polar vortex where the temperature gets insanely low, even lower than what would normally be occurring at that stage in your run.  It could be triggered to happen randomly (but very rarely) once you hit like day 50 to add some challenge to late game survivors.  I know Raph doesn't like to put stuff in that doesn't really add anything mechanically, or doesn't fit with the overall idea, but I think this is a pretty solid start to a late game challenge mechanic.

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Yes there can be thunderstorms in the winter! I've experience lightning flashes and small booms of thunder in the winter. But it's quite rare. 

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@Raphael van Lierop It's awesome, and funny you mention Half Life 2/STALKER....I had the exact same feeling, and just wait until you get to the Caspian. It gave me the same goosebumps as entering Black Mesa and The Zone for the first time.

 

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