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Published: 16 May, 2023

Developer Q&A: Roadmaps, Early access, and What we learned from launch

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In the third edition of the Ravenbound Q&A, we welcomed CM Althalus, Steacy (Product Owner) and Tomas (Game Director). We discussed the challenges we faced leading up to Ravenbound’s launch, the lessons we’ve learned and other questions around roadmaps, co-op and adding a sandbox mode.

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If you'd like to listen to the full recording instead, check it out here.

From a publishing standpoint, was there a reason the game was released as a full release instead of as early access? 


This question is something we've been discussing a lot amongst ourselve. I think it's one that's really relevant to the industry, especially the PC gaming industry.


First and foremost I think the Early Access format is great. It has its time and place, and there's a lot of good reasons to do it. But with Ravenbound, we wanted to release a complete experience for players that had the total feature set from day one - that was always our goal. That is what we wanted to provide to players, and we wanted to use the betas and demos beforehand to try to deliver that. Then we wanted to work really closely with the community from 1.0 onwards.


The reason this question comes up for us on this project, is that we really believed that the game was 1.0 ready. We also wanted to share it with the community and the players as soon as we could because our idea has always been to develop this new genre with the community by our side. We did use the beta and demo to try to test as extensively as possible.


PC testing can be really complex because of the many permutations of setups, so we wanted to have as many people as possible play to try to solve that. Our in-house QA testing and the beta and demo did show really promising results that made us feel more confident in the 1.0 experience, I think there's also an aspect where we really love the game, we think it's hella fun, and that can create some rose-coloured glasses, that ultimately made us feel that the game was more ready to be a 1.0 than it was.


That said, I still feel that we released with a full feature set that we can work from, and that is an advantage. We've learned so much from this, we're striving to improve how we test quality and performance. At the end of the day, we're a small team, so we feel really lucky to have the community's ongoing help with this and we are really, really excited to do it together from kind of the 1.0 onwards.


Is there a roadmap that can be shared with the community at this stage?


We really, really, appreciate working on this with the community, we really appreciate everyone out there who's giving us feedback and playing the game, and we want to be very transparent and open with the community. And we are excited to talk about all the plans that we have. When the game was released and we started to get a lot of the feedback, we had to rethink some things. And we had to plan a bit differently to make sure that we could actually address many of the wishes and desires that are coming from our players. So we've been working really hard on this. And we do hope to be able to share more soon. I don't want to make any promises yet, but this is for sure a goal for us soon.


Are there any plans for Coop or Multiplayer in future?


Yes, always a good question when you want to share a fun game with your friends. The total honest truth is that currently, we don't have any plans to add these as we are focused on maximising the quality and fun of our single player experience. And that has to be goal number one. Right now, we're really, really focused on getting that feedback and updating the game on the single player side.



There are some players who are struggling with the game’s difficulty, but still really enjoy the world and the combat. Is there any chance of adding a sandbox mode, or alternate difficulty levels?


Well, I don't know if I would call it a sandbox mode, the thing that we're looking at currently. We started the process with the updated hatred cards, which is a step in the direction of listening to that feedback. We're incredibly aware of it, we're looking at it and thinking and talking about it quite a bit.


And there are more designs and thoughts around the difficulty of the game that we're working on, and that we're planning to add to the game. I don't want to be super specific, because I don't think we've landed on the exact way we want to do it. Because we talked about this last time I did this Q&A, too - this kind of game is like a spider web, or a house of cards where everything is quite carefully balanced. So when we had the conversation about the reason for the hatred system, and so on how it's sort of the spine that holds a lot of this together for us. When we talk about changing difficulty, it ties into that balancing. So, absolutely, we want this experience to feel good and be available to the people that are currently struggling.



And if I can just add on, Tomas, I think for us, it's really, really important that when we do things, we're doing them in the best possible way. Like, there's a lot of stuff we want to do. But we want to make sure that the House of Cards stays upright!


CM Althalus 

We’ve talked a bit before in the previous q&a about how it can be quite complex to implement these kinds of changes, because they can have knock-on effects that you're not expecting. The great example was letting players change back to Raven form all the time. Sounds like a great idea. But it's not until you actually experiment with it a bit that you understand the impact it can have on, in this case, the feeling of scale in the world. I think like a few people have already mentioned in the chat, the hatred changes have made a big difference for the difficulty. Some of the players who were already quite good are clearing faster now, I think some of the other players who were struggling a bit are having a better time with it. So I think we're moving in the right direction there.



Yeah, and I think the way those new cards work is a great example of where we didn't just rush into the problem and switch something off or change some numbers. Because what I like about the new cards is that they can be less punishing, or they can be not punishing at all. If a card removes your mana and you didn't have any mana, it doesn't even feel like it did anything, which is kind of a nice feeling. But there is also a lot of new strategy that we've seen crop up - intentionally from our side as well. But it's really fun to see people talking about holding on to some lower tier cards in case they get this hatred card that steals a card and so on.


CM Althalus 

Hatred is obviously a key part of the concept of Ravenbound. Was it always called Hatred? And were there any other names or ideas for the evil power taking over the world?



All right, this is gonna become a two hour Q&A now!

It wasn't always called Hatred, and it wasn't always the Hatred system. And it's come from two different directions. Way, way back it was called corruption and it worked in a very different way. I can't even remember all the names to be honest, but that's gone through many permutations, because the entire narrative went through many permutations, because the game itself went through a bunch of permutations.

So we were moving blocks around for quite a while. And I think hatred became a thing in the end, because we had previously seen in surveys that we had a kind of narrative that was quite complicated to get into. Because on the one hand we don't do lots of cutscenes or any VO. So it was all in text, and then we use a lot of Scandinavian style language which doesn't make it accessible to a lot of people. It was a little bit difficult to get into.

So one of the changes that we decided on was to just try and make it more clear, because I think when you're talking about a Roguelite, and the loop that you play, you don't want that to be too confounding. Really, I just want to jump in and go okay, big bad guy over here. These are the steps to get to the big bad guy. It's kind of good versus bad in that sense. And I think that's why we landed on Hatred too, to try and simplify the whole game in essence.



I heard a name for it used to be meanie metre, confirm or deny.



Hard deny, but I like it.


Are there any plans for modding in the future of Ravenbound?


I will tread carefully here. We haven't had a modding conversation, as far as I'm aware, on this project, yet. I think the question is really interesting. And I will take it with me because we haven't really had a chance to talk about the modelling aspect of things.

I think it's a good question or discussion to have. There's precedent and history at Avalanche of modders coming in and doing cool things in our games. I think a big one is modders adding multiplayer to Just Cause 2 way back in the day, which was cool. That's actually before my time so I can’t speak too much about it. I don't know yet what the answer is, but it’s definitely interesting.


I just want to really agree with Tomas, and also say that, like, modding is magic.I think it's one of the coolest factors in games, but it is something that you need to structure your codebase to allow for. So it's something where we need to have the conversation. We can't just turn it on tomorrow.


What are some of the key things the team has learned from the launch of Ravenbound?


We learned so much from launching Ravenbound, and you learn so much from every game launch - every game launch is completely its own unique thing. And you always, always learn a lot. And we've already been making a lot of improvements based on the learnings that we got. We’re trying to change how we work, how we develop, how we integrate the community, into our development processes, all those things based on these learnings.

But I have two key learnings that were really important, I think. One is to make sure that we have time to use the amazing community feedback we get to improve the game. I think one thing for us is that we underestimated, post the second beta, how much time we would ideally want to get in all the improvements that we wanted, based on the feedback that we got. Because we want to be able to integrate all the great feedback we get from the community and make the best possible experience.

And the other key learning for us is that we have been thinking a lot about how we can seriously improve our quality assessment processes. This is about how we assess things like performance and stability, but also how we assess the more intangible things like the fun factor of a system, which is, in some ways, a lot harder than assessing things like performance and stability. So we're spending a lot of time on this as a team. And our goal is basically to be able to understand as soon as possible when we have issues so that we can solve them before they ever touch the players. What do you think, Tomas?



I think creatively, there were some surprises in the way the community reacted to certain designs and certain decisions that were made where maybe we weren't expecting it both negative and positive. For instance, there's been a lot of feedback on the combat and, personally, I enjoyed the combat we had  at launch. And I think it's the blindness of having played it so much that you get used to it to a degree that maybe you forget, then when it's in the hands of a new player who hasn't put hundreds of hours into it, they have a different experience. That was a great learning for us, I think - I don't want to single out combat specifically, but perhaps that was an area where we felt that we were in better shape.



Yeah, combat was an area where we had a lot of confidence.



Exactly. And there are players that just kind of picked it up and enjoyed it and liked it in the same way that we liked it. I think maybe it was more onboarding and how we introduce players to these systems. And how do we teach you the game in general?



That's a really good one. And it's such a challenge. I mean, they've done studies and humans, when they've learned something, they immediately forget what it's like to not know that thing. You need new players to really know how you're evolving your new player experience.



And there are lots of cases where, in the tutorial, we force you to push that button and do the thing. And then you watch multitudes of streams, and you see them not using that feature or that button. And frustration quickly turns to the question - what are we doing wrong on our end? Why haven't we taught this correctly? What’s the learning here? Clearly we haven't done our job in that sense of like, bringing you into the game with all of this ready in your mind.



It's the only entertainment product where you have to teach someone a whole new set of skills every time, which I think is a fun challenge. But it is a challenge.



That's an interesting point. There's no tutorial for movies.



Not to go back to the last Q&A too much again, but there are plenty of references for Roguelites. And there are plenty, plenty of references for open world games, but there weren't that many for Roguelites in an open world. So I think there's an increased difficulty curve, and how do you tutorials for this stuff? That is part of the challenge, which is again, also what's fun and cool about it for us.


Are there any big features or pain points we want to address in the near future that we're ready to talk about?

One of the things that we're looking at now is permanent progression, and I think permanent progression is something that was identified by the community and by us, too, but I think it actually started with the community. The argument is really, at its base, that Roguelites have permanent progression. And I think we've all felt that's actually absolutely true. And we felt we had a take on permanent progression. But we also agree that it's not really there yet.

I think our permanent progression was a little bit academic. We're currently looking at making moves in a stronger direction for permanent progression. Having said that, these are design meetings that are currently happening, I imagine they're happening as we speak, so the exact details of any changes are not really ready. But a lot of the things that we've talked about - what I heard from the designers , and so on - it looks really good. It looks really cool. And I think that's gonna do a lot for the game, adding that experience of feeling like your death is its own kind of reward, in a sense, as it should be.


Do we have any plans for that OST as a separate release?


Yes. I love this question. I also love the soundtrack. And I appreciate that you don't want us to just hoard it to ourselves forever. So yes, we are talking to the fabulous composers at TwoFeathers who did the soundtrack about exactly this - what would be the nicest way to make this available? So stay tuned. 

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Working side by side with our players, we want to create sandboxes with unique settings that allow your creativity to thrive. Our focus is freedom, exploration, and a drive to create games like the ones that kept us up at night as kids.

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