War Ender

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Welcome to the official website for the upcoming video game War Ender, created by Lance Talbert. Join the Outsider Resistance Movement and combat those who threaten the peace of The City!

Design of War Ender - Level 1-2

Hop aboard my train of thought as we dissect Level 1-2.

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War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

My goodness, it’s been a while since we’ve focuses specifically on War Ender, hasn’t it? Well, I don’t have a lot of new things to show off with any of my upcoming projects. A lot of what I’ve done with those involve smaller updates that couldn’t really fill a dev blog. Thus it seemed like a good idea to dive back into War Ender’s design and walk you through the philosophy of one of its levels. Today we’re going to examine Level 1-2 and look at how it introduced various ideas into the War Ender gameplay.

For starters, I have a fun little nickname for this level. I call it “the big list of enemies” level as one of its key aspects is revealing several of the enemies you’ll encounter for the rest of the game. And this is where I begin with a self critique of my level. I really wish I hadn’t thrown as many new enemies in here as I did. When originally creating the level the idea was to show off as much gameplay within a few levels as possible. This was at a time when I was still trying to get War Ender a booth at a games festival. In many ways, I was still working to make that good first impression I was talking about the last time I went deep into War Ender’s design.

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If you’ve followed this blog closely, you’ll know that booth was never acquired, at least not at the festival I was looking to attend at the time. Still, I didn’t really change the fact that this level throws too many new enemies at you. In total, there are four new enemy types to combat. This is more than the first level introduces! This would have been fine if

A) there were a lot more enemy types in the game, or

B) the setting wasn’t so drastically different from the previous level

But neither of those things happened, and therefore 1-2 remains a level that I still think throws too much at the player too early.

All that said, I feel 1-2 succeeds in many other areas. Let’s start with the aforementioned setting. The player has gone from being out on building tops to inside a factory. Obviously the level rules and geometry is going to be fairly different, and to hammer that fact home I present the player right from the start with a simple task…go down. Fall through the platform and face the enemies below. Now there’s something you can’t do outside! The whole first section is like this. It presents very few enemies and gives examples of what an indoor level is like. On top of this, the game is now showing that story can be delivered mid-level too, as an enemy exclaims to his buddies that you, the player, are here and they need to get out of there fast. Just a small reminder that the enemies fear you.

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After this is when the new enemies start appearing, and they come quick. You’re first introduced to a turret that zooms forward from the screen and starts shooting. Thankfully, they’re at least less resilient as the regular turrets. Still, this will show the player that enemies can pop in from the sides at any moment. Right above them are the infamous rocket turrets. I placed these enemies above platforms so that the player has time to see what they do. These turrets shoot rockets that will home in on your position, requiring you to either destroy the turrets quickly or move around the rockets.

The player is shown a quick demonstration of the power rocket turrets have with other enemies. A few robots from the first level are wandering the platform above with a rocket turret behind them. This is one of the more basic interactions that the rocket turret can have with other enemies. Next up are the mines, spread along the ground waiting for you to jump on them. You’ll hopefully notice the blinking lights before you jump down to where they are. If not…well, you can guess what will happen. Either way, the player is taught that traps can be placed by their enemies. Fortunately, you can shoot these mines before going down to where they are. Enough mines are placed so that players will most likely accidentally shoot the mines, destroying them. This is War Ender’s way of saying “don’t worry, you’ve still got the advantage.”

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At last, you’re introduced to one more enemy - the grenade enemy type. They toss grenades at you in an arc, requiring careful approach in order to defeat them. They’re first shown off three in a row, straight in a line, to show the player what they do. Immediately after this they’re interacting with two turret enemies. You’ll also notice that the roof is awfully low here, subtly telling the player that attempting to jump over the enemies will most likely reward them with a grenade to the legs.

With the new enemies introduced, the rest of the level is dedicated to tossing level design and enemies, both new and old, at you in ways you hadn’t seen previously. For example, one area requires you to shoot some mines in order to make an area to stand on. In another, you have a grenade enemies threatening to hit from across and below a platform along with a moving turret discouraging mindless jumping. And after that, you get to the final part of this level. Brace yourself for an onslaught of enemies like you’ve never seen before!

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It starts off simple. A couple of turrets, some shooters, nothing you’ve never seen before. Then all of a sudden you’re greeted with a pit full of enemies. How in the world do you get through all of that? In truth, at the time of making the level I wasn’t sure myself. I almost cut this part out but a friend told me he thought it an interesting segment. He compared it to lava pits in other platforms and said this enemy pit is far more interesting. Due to that compliment, I ended up keeping it in. And I’m glad I did too. Most players were well acquainted with the shoot-float mechanic by this point, so they would intuitively figure out to simply shoot-float past them, picking them off as they navigate the platforms. A health pack is found in this area to allow them some room for error.

In case you don’t want to simply glide over them, the option is available to take the pit head on and vanquish all enemies. To this day I find it rather cathartic to do. To a newcomer it certainly won’t be easy, but the feeling of satisfaction after doing it is immense. This simply would not have worked anywhere else in the level. It had to happen immediately after getting a checkpoint, learning the enemy types, and sharpening your skill with the game’s mechanics. Remove any of those three things and this segment could have been not fun very quickly.

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Regardless of whether you fly over them or defeat them all, you’ve made it past the second level of the game. Cyrus stands there at the end informing you of where The Outsiders are going and thus the stage is set for the third level. As a fun little bonus this is one of two levels where you can reach the top of the flagpole, Super Mario style. You certainly don’t have to, but doing so will change Cyrus’s dialogue a bit with him asking you to come down from there. A fun little easter egg exclusive to this level that simply came about because I had a floating platform near the end that had no other purpose. Sure I could have just deleted it, but where’s the fun in that?

In an effort to continue wowing the player, War Ender’s second level throws a lot at you. And while individually I think the game handles these introductions fine, it would have been better to save a few of these new things for later levels. In an alternate timeline there’s another version of this game that primarily focuses on showing the player indoor level design and, at most, two new enemy types. But that’s not the level I created. Still, it seems to have worked out because I noticed that by the time someone finishes this level War Ender typically has gotten its hooks into them. At this point the player must now brace for a couple more new enemies and a new environment object. But that level’s dissection is for another time.

Later!

-Lance T.

War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

Milestones reached!

What’s going on?

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War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

Now that I’ve begun to get settled in, it’s been good to be back in the wonderful world of game development properly. And given the updates coming next, it was a good time to jump back in. Perhaps I should just say it now. During the month of March we had two, count ‘em, two major milestones achieved. To say that I’m pleased would be quite an understatement. So what happened? Let’s start with what’s probably the simpler one to explain.

The first major milestone I want to go over is for a game that I’ve not said much about. For this larger game that I’ve been working on, I can finally come out and say that all the gameplay for this game is complete on a basic level. All player abilities are operational, even if not fully fleshed out. Some simple enemies have been created which can be expanded upon later, and the upgrade system (you read that right) is in place. There’s a basic gameplay loop in action. What comes after this? At the moment, I’m still figuring that out. This event, as of this writing, only happened a few days ago. Just in time for the dev blog, am I right? While I still can’t show or tell much, I figure we could celebrate this momentous occasion by giving you a very, very alpha screenshot.

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Have I mentioned that it’s 3D? I’m sure I’ve brought up the basics of the game before but if I’m honest I really don’t know which dev blog entry that could be. But yes, as you can gather from the screenshot (again, extremely alpha), the game is a first person shooter (FPS). Astute eyes can probably tell that this project is using Unreal Engine 4, which felt perfect for the kind of game I wish to make. You have your health, a gun with infinite ammo (between this and War Ender, I’m quite generous with ammo), a compass, and another gun with…fire ammo? Hmm, interesting.

We’ll leave this big game alone for the time being. It still needs plenty of time in the oven, after all. Let’s move on to Impressions, a game that I allow myself to say much more about. It also hit a major milestone, though what was achieved is a little less obvious. In a nutshell, the game is far along enough that I was able to come up with a basic demo for it. This demo isn’t available to the public though, sorry. It was created to show a certain artist what the game was all about. However, the fact that it could be created at all speaks well to the game’s progress.

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To create this demo, a few things needed to be done. First, character customization needed to be allowed. A very important aspect of Impressions is letting the player be themselves in the game. And that all starts with the basics, such as your gender and name. Now Impressions addresses you as he or she, and will call you by your name. Or, if you like, you can have the game refer to you as “Butter.” It’s up to you. Once you’ve got your character created, the game begins.

From there, the progress continues. The first in-game day is fleshed out and ready. The characters now correctly respond to your various actions. So if, for example, you start the game talking about the greatness of aliens coming only to then suddenly call them mean names, the game will call you out on your inconsistency. The remaining days still need this aspect worked on, but it’s coming along. In addition, three of the four in-game days are playable from beginning to end. All that remains is day four, which is effectively the part where you get your ending. So, everything leading up to the game’s final moments is playable, and it’s just the ending section that needs working on.

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The next major steps involve getting the game’s endings in order and allowing the remaining days to have the same responsiveness of the the first day. Doing all this could be potentially tricky since you have to program the game to be mindful of more and more choices as the story progresses. But once those things are done, the only other tasks remaining are polish. That includes technical polish as well as writing polish. And of course, there will be music, sounds, and art that doesn’t look like it was made by a programmer. Numerically there isn’t that many tasks left to do for Impressions!

But let’s not underestimate the work that remains. Just because you can count the number of things to do on your fingers doesn’t mean the path will still be easy. Making sure Impressions reacts to the player correctly for the remaining days will most likely be the hardest task and could take some time. All I can say is that the game is ready when it’s ready. How long that may be is something I don’t even know. But with this milestone completed, Impressions is that much closer to being finished.

Until next time!

-Lance T.

War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

On Environments and Game Development

I’ve had an interesting last few weeks.

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War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

Part of the fun of writing a dev blog for February is that you don’t have as much to say since it’s a shorter month. Granted, it’s only a few days shorter, but less time is less time. So what’s been going on in February in the world of Infinite Level? Well, I have a simple answer for that. I moved. The apartment I had stayed in for the last few years was nice, but it was time for an upgrade. Thus, my wife and I have gotten our own house. Now I can be as loud as I want!

In all seriousness, the moving process is long and exhausting. Technically I’m not even done as we haven’t finished unpacking. I would be lying if I said much had happened in the game development scene. But the whole process got me thinking about what a game developer must do while still going through a monumental change. Eventually I settled on something very simple. The moving process gave me time to reflect on the past and think about the future.

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The events that happened before the big move were obviously a big deal. War Ender came out. That was easily one of the biggest things to happen in my life. And thankfully, the positive reception I had seen from before releasing War Ender carried over into launch day and beyond. Not too long after that, a batch of extra levels was released for War Ender which revived some old levels that didn’t make the final cut. It also showed off a “concept level” that was created when War Ender hadn’t even gotten it’s official title yet.

Sadly, due primarily to the need to work on other things, that first batch of extra levels for War Ender was also the last. There’s still some other levels that were scrapped that could have seen the light of day had I allowed myself the time to create them. But there comes a point where, as a game developer, you have to decide when to let a game go and move on. For my first game, that first batch of extra levels was that point. I can still say that War Ender does the things I ultimately wanted it to do.

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War Ender’s development comes to a close, and in remembrance I keep a few things that I had related to the game. This includes the banner I used at conventions and a little sign I made for the game. Unsurprisingly I place these items in my new office, reminding both myself and those who come in where I came from as a game developer. Well, partially at least. Now with that game complete, some new ones arise and prepare to take center stage.

Last month I revealed Impressions, the first of my intentionally small games about a trio of pundits talking about extraterrestrial aliens. Much like how buying a house represents a fundamental change in both how I live and how I view certain things, Impressions represents a shift in how I make video games. Impressions is much more story driven than anything else I’ve ever made. While that makes things like game mechanics and programming easier, it still has its own set of unique issues that I will have to tackle. During February I finished coding in the basic story beats of Day 3. On top of that I also made several passes through the game already and took note of which places need to change more based on player choices.

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I’m also beginning to think harder about what kinds of polish will be needed as the game goes on and how I wish to handle the game’s release. Being a smaller game there’s less pressure for it to make as much noise as War Ender. Yet at the same time you still want to be sure it gets in people’s game libraries. It’s a far cry from how War Ender was when thinking long term. In fact, just about everything with Impressions differs greatly from War Ender. Just like, you guessed it, house life versus apartment life. The two require different things and different approaches to those things.

It will be interesting to see how my development sensibilities change now that I’m in a new environment. And it will perhaps be even more interesting how I fare with a more story driven game compared to a mechanics focused title. It certainly is the season of change right now, and it is quite exciting. Now that I’m beginning to settle in, I look forward to seeing where Impressions goes over the next month. Look forward to more updates in the future!

Ciao!

-Lance T.

War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

Infinite Level's Next Game - Impressions

It’s funny that last month I was talking about first impressions…

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War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

I know I originally said I would hold off on showing anything about the small project. But after thinking about it for a month and getting the opinions of others, I feel I may have misspoken. So, without further ado, allow me to show you what I’ve been working on for the last few months. Just bear in mind that everything you’re seeing here is in the alpha stages of development. Not that this should come as a surprise to you. Just look at that programmer art.

This is the alpha version of Impressions. Impressions is a game where you take control of what is essentially a pundit. You and two other pundits have the pleasure to discuss one of the greatest moments in human civilization. It has been confirmed that aliens are real. Not only that, but we were able to communicate with these aliens. And so the world (well, most of it) now acknowledges that we truly are not alone in this universe. But not everyone agrees on how we should approach this life changing discovery.

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The game is split into four days, with each day relating to alien activity in some way. For example, the first day is all about initial thoughts on knowing we’re not alone in the universe. When a day begins, you’re shown a brief article about what you will be discussing and some early thoughts from some of the off screen characters in the world. Navigate to another screen to check out what the general public is saying about the event on the internet. Suffice to say, initial impressions (ha) are quite divided.

After reviewing this information, you move on to your job. You and two others are gathered around a newsroom to discuss these events. As you may have guessed, the discussion gets quite heated. On the left is someone who believes this can only be good news for humanity as a whole. She is already fantasizing about the great things our species can accomplish thanks to this newly formed relationship. To the right lies someone less than thrilled about the news. He believes this could mark the beginning of the end, and that we cannot simply trust these aliens. At least not now.

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This is where you come in. You’re effectively the mediator. As the discussion continues, you will be asked to give your thoughts on the situation. But of course, you have a lot of eyes on you. What you say will be heard across the world. And perhaps even more intimidating (or exciting, depending on your point of view), the aliens will be witnessing your commentary as well. So what will you say? Do you side with the woman to the left and think this is positive news? Or perhaps you agree with the man to the right and think this is a bad thing all around? Maybe you’re just not sure yet?

What you say will affect the story and world around you. Sometimes those consequences are felt immediately, while other times you don’t see the end result of your decision till later. In the above gif, the conversation happening is suggesting that the player has a generally positive take on this news, and the dialogue following that choice reflects that. Though gameplay is relegated to this newsroom, you’ll get a peek at how your choices affected the rest of the world during the “pre-day” segments. On Day 2, the article you read will change based off your choices, and the public reaction will be different depending on your leanings and even some of the individual choices you make. The whole world is watching what you do. No pressure.

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As noted earlier, this game is still in the alpha stages. But it became important to start sharing what was coming up. Currently the game has two days of story beats programmed with the third day halfway complete. There’s still several checks that need to be done to make sure the choices the player makes will be felt throughout the game, and obviously a proper artist will be needed for the project. I’m hoping to have a much more polished game to show off within a couple months, but that will certainly be dependent on a few things.

Hopefully you enjoyed this early look at the game. Now that I’ve officially unveiled it I’d like to do more posting about it in future. So be sure to follow me on Twitter to get the latest info. Keep an eye on War Ender’s Facebook page as well as I’ll be sure to post updates on the game there. As stated before, I’d like to finish this game sometime in Spring, and I think I’m well on my way to accomplishing that. Day 3’s story beats are nearly finished, and Day 4 is looking to be fairly easy. Keep an eye on this dev blog as well as the aforementioned social media to see how the game is shaping up. And above all, as exciting as Impressions will be, don’t forget to show War Ender some love.

Until next time!

-Lance T.

War Ender Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

A Good First Impression

What does the first level do to get you excited for the adventure ahead?

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Store Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809

First impressions are very important to any game. They can win over a player or make someone drop the game forever. So how do I go about creating the first few levels? For some, these may be the only levels anyone ever plays if they aren’t impressed. To create a good first play session, a little setup is required. Today, I’m going to show you how I went about creating the game’s first level and how I believe it serves their purpose.

Let’s begin with the setup. Every time you boot the game, a short cutscene plays. Of course, you have the option to skip this cutscene if you so choose, but I would encourage players to at least sit through it once. Why? This opening gives a lot of context as to why you, the player, are doing what you are doing. In War Ender’s case, it’s a very simple premise. It’s a revenge story. It’s about an angry guy in a coat who wishes to avenge his dead friends. As soon as he learns who committed the crime, he goes after them.

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Thus ends the story setup, but we’re not quite finished. There’s also the tutorial, which introduces the players to the game’s mechanics. Thankfully, because of the player character’s limited range of abilities, this is the only tutorial they have to go through. After a few minutes they are introduced to all the player character’s abilities and examples of where to use them. Now with all this in mind, they can jump into the action that awaits within The City.

And yet, just before the game begins proper, they get one more little story tidbit. Once again, they can skip this, but I think it helps put a player in the right mindset for the first level. Something is going wrong, and you’re the one who’s going to fix it. Now the game begins. But at first, there aren’t many enemies. In fact, there’s no enemies at all at first. I want to allow the player a little time to adjust to the physics of the world before they start getting into firefights.

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Once that’s done, enemies appear. But they’re pretty basic, All they do is walk back and forth endlessly until you shoot it or you run into it. Almost immediately after that, another enemy type appears. What does he do? He fires a single bullet every couple of seconds. Just in case you took some early hits (and first timers most likely will take damage), there’s a health box that restores three of your health points, which will most likely get you to the first checkpoint.

At that point, I’ve seen players do one of two things. They might walk right into it, like any other checkpoint. Here they see that their health gets fully restored and they now come back here if they die in the next section. However, I’ve seen some players instinctively shoot the checkpoint. Then of course it shatters and they realize what they’ve done. It’s actually kind of funny to watch. But it also teaches an important lesson: you can destroy the checkpoints. Later on they may notice that clearing a level and destroying these checkpoints in the process leads them to additional content such as more lore for the Lore Book and entire bonus levels.

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The level continues. This is now where concepts presented in the tutorial come back to test the player. In fact, the immediate structure of this section is reminiscent of the early part of the tutorial, is it not? There’s a few enemies to shoot, straight in a line, followed by a wall. They need to run and jump to progress. Next, another section from the tutorial has made its way into level 1. Shoot floating is given a proper case scenario, once involving enemies and another involving a large gap. You must shoot-float in order to make it past the gap. As for the enemies, it is recommended that you shoot-float but it is not required.

Not long after this, another checkpoint arrives. Beyond this checkpoint, the geometry begins to get a little more complicated and a whole new enemy type arrives. The stationary turret enters the fray, and it takes five shots to destroy. It fires the same bullet as the basic shooter enemy from before, but at a much faster rate. Learn this enemy and you’ve effectively learned the entire level. At this point, the remainder of Level 1-1 exists to test your knowledge of the game so far.

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Is there anything I would have done different with the first level? There is one item: I wish I had incorporated something involving the dodge mechanic. Of course the player is shown this ability in the tutorial and can use it anytime, but there’s no scenario where they are forced to use it. At the time, I think I wanted to avoid overloading the player with too many things to think about. I wanted to keep the first level to the bare essential: movement, shooting, jumping, and shoot-floating. Those four things form the bulk of War Ender, and I wanted to make sure players understood this. But I probably could have found a way to remind players of dodging.

Beyond that, I think the game’s first level does its job wonderfully. Of course, I might be a little biased. But I do believe it eases players into the world before them, showing bits of the game at a time before it all comes together near the end in a simple test of knowledge. Get past the first level, and you get to the second. In this second level, the level structure changes and there’s more new enemy types to discover. But we’ll have to dissect that level another day. As mentioned in a previous dev blog, I’m going to spend a lot of time going over elements of War Ender I’ve not touched on before, and that includes many of the first levels. I’d also like to take a deep dive into the different bosses and look at how they came to be. But this is all in due time. And besides that, some days I’ll have some important info about my next project.

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Speaking of future projects, I suppose I can give you a little update on those. They are coming along nicely for the moment. The smaller project is getting close to having 50% of its basic content coded in. I think it will soon be time to start properly getting some art and music together for the game. Being a game based around narrative choices, it will also soon be time to work on how those choices affect your story. There’s one area that I know can affect the story in a major way, but there’s lots of potential for smaller decisions to change the game in small ways. We’re talking as small as a sentence changing based on something you said a few minutes ago.

Also, with it being 2019 by the time this goes up, I could maybe give you an idea of when you might start to see more info about these projects. The aforementioned small project is intended to be released this year. Preferably sooner rather than later, but at the same time you never want to rush something. Ideally, the game would release in Spring. Though I don’t know if you should actually count on that. The bigger game is still a long ways away, but I’m thinking about putting some early prototype images together for your viewing pleasure. I’d do the same with the small project, but it didn’t exactly stay in the prototype stage for long and there’s not much to show. And I’d personally rather not show it off too early, given the scope of the game. Look forward to a great 2019! I know I will.

Until next time!

-Lance T.

Store links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/884070/War_Ender/

Itch.io: https://prof-smash.itch.io/war-ender

GameJolt: https://gamejolt.com/games/war-ender/355809