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August 31st, 2017

August development update

An update from the development dungeon! Now that the TAGAP 10th Anniversary holabaloo is behind us, it's all about entering the final stretch of development. We still have loads of little things to do, but those items are getting crossed off of the to-do-list at a good pace.

What am I working on now?

Right now I'm in the middle of scripting the TAGAP 3 endgame. See, TAGAP 3 is a hub-based pseudo-metroidvania – where you can replay the sections in any order you choose without leaving the game. However, when you visit these levels after completing them once, things aren't always the same.

For example, story scenes aren't repeated on the second playthrough and this can lead into some portions of the maps to play differently. For instance, the boss fights are major plot events, so you only need to defeat them once – on the replay run, the boss fights are skipped. This also applies to all the cinematics; during the first round through the levels, you'll naturally get a dose of exposition to explain what you are doing. On further playthroughs, however, these are cut down to being just scene transitions.

So, the endgame scripting is all about ensuring that the second playthrough of everything works as intended. I've taken these scenarios into consideration whilst designing the levels, but few moments slipped past me the first time around. It's been an interesting experience, essentially requiring me to deconstruct my older work into bare necessities.

Right before this endgame operation, I spent a good week or two injecting the soundtrack into the game. The in-game music is almost all there, with only a few tracks missing, waiting to be mastered by Petja. There are some truly funky tunes and bona fide earworms here!

In case you are wondering why is the soundtrack put in place only now, the answer is simple; I actively avoided inserting it into the game because once I did, it was part of the distributable version I share with Petja. This means that once the music files are there, Petja installing that new version would overwrite all the test tracks he might have inserted to the game by himself. So for the sake of keeping the project sharing as simple as possible, we didn't put the songs in place until they were finalized.

Playlist

Playlist is a regular feature in our Penguin DT blog; A chance to highlight cool games both old and new that I've been playing. As always, I believe that in order to make games, you need to play them, preferably with a broad scope when it comes to genres, so each day I dedicate at least an hour to actually playing games. The rest of the free time? There is no such thing, it all belongs to TAGAP!

Wow, this didn't go as predicted, eh? In my previous playlist update I said that I would play Shadow Warrior 2 or The Evil Within next. Well, neither happened. Shadow Warrior 2 was wisely delayed so that the physical versions would ship with all the Day One patches. And with The Evil Within I realised that 'hey, this is a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 and I've never played it – let's fix that!'.

So yes, I actually never got to play Resident Evil 4 until now. No, seriously, S.T.A.R.S. never aligned – it was either on a different console or a re-re-release coincided with some big game I was waiting for. But oh boy, it was really interesting to finally play it.

It's a darn good game, though the experience is sullied a bit by the fact that by now I've played all those other games that improved upon it – like Dead Space. Still, the way the game keeps itself fresh through-out by completely changing the setting, set-piece by set-piece, is truly impressive.

The only major issue I have with it is a familiar one to modern Resident Evil fans; the friendly AI (or lack thereof). The scenes where you traipse with Ashley – the daughter of U.S. president – are almost torturous. It's funny that, as you play as Ashley's designated bodyguard, you involuntarily sigh of relief every time the evil cult captures her, leaving you alone. Luckily the scenes involving Ashley are a minority.

And after I played Resident Evil 4 I thought 'oh, I wonder if RE5 feels better now that I know these plot details'. So I immediately replayed Resident Evil 5 next. And no, the story doesn't improve, I just understood this time what 'The Kennedy Report' was the character kept referring to. The friendly AI is still painful, though I do appreciate the other gameplay improvements (smoother aiming etc.), now that I have an evolutionary comparison point.

And finally, there was Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice by Ninja Theory. It's a fascinating, almost art-house-esque game that is one part third-person action, one part horror and one part absolutely brutal depiction of psychosis. In the game you play as Celtic warrior Senua – or one of the voices in her head, guiding her – on her quest to save the soul of her lover. To do this, she has to travel deep within Helheim and defeat Hel, one of the gods of the invading vikings.

But like I said, this is about psychosis, so layers of myths, beliefs and reality blend together forming a wild yet somehow grounded experience. I'm not going to explain this one much further, since it's honestly something every gamer should experience for themselves, whilst wearing headphones. The way the game uses actual psychological research, consultation from folks experiencing these issues, high tech mo-cap and brilliant actors makes it a one journey to darkness you won't forget any time soon.

And no, the rumoured savegame-wiping gimmick isn't a thing – or if it is, it's so lax that you'd have to have flippers instead of arms to trigger it. Don't let that scare you away. There are tons of truly harrowing and nightmare-worthy moments in Senua's journey, but the supposed permadeath isn't one of them.

Hellblade is a strong candidate for my GOTYs this year, though the new Wolfenstein will surely give it a fierce fight in October.

What's next?

On TAGAP 3 front, we've scheduled our voice over recording session! I can't wait! This will be a massive one, since we have loads of characters, each requiring a unique voice.

On games front? Right now I'm in the middle of the delightfully cheesy and colourful Agents of Mayhem (all hail Gat!). Since that Shadow Warrior 2 I mentioned earlier finally shipped, I guess that's next. Also, like I wrote earlier, I never got to the The Evil Within, so it's waiting still, too.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin