Looking Back, Moving Forward

or The Plan For 2020

We're coming to the end of another year, and with that, a time to reflect on what we've done and look forward to what we will do next year. It's a good opportunity to step back and evaluate how this project is going, and where it needs to go next.

It may look otherwise, but Ascension III has come a long way since 2018. At the same time, there's still a long way to go, with some big steps planned for 2020.

What we accomplished in 2019

The past year has been a mixed bag for Ascension 3. On one hand, we released a very small, somewhat unpolished demo, along with only a handful of screenshots and videos. In terms of visible progress, it wasn't great. Last year's Island demo was more comprehensive, and some of the things that worked then are actually now broken.

On the other hand, we've made a ton of progress behind the scenes. It may not look like it, but Ascension III is in a much better state coming out of 2019 than it was going into it.

Both the core code and game logic have been overhauled in many areas. There's been major cleanup in the core code and game systems, both improving the quality and performance of various systems and making everything more modular and loosely coupled. Admittedly, this is more important for flexibility/reuse than this game specifically, but it makes development easier and some of it is necessary as the first baby steps toward mod support.

On the gameplay side of things, several systems were overhauled. The very simplistic weapon handling was completely reworked to support the things you'd expect from even the most basic FPS games. Player movement was also rewritten with a new physically-based controller that has a much better feel and supports more interactions with the environment. Improvements were also made to actors, and though the AI code hasn't been significantly improved it's in a much better spot for that change to happen.

I also implemented a feature I've been wanting to do for a long time- an in-game music player! It's definitely a feature I did because I wanted it rather than one that'll be generally useful (I think most of us don't have local music collections anymore), but I got to try some new technologies and I enjoyed implementing it. Some of the changes to core were to support this module and modules like it. The background music player was almost completely rewritten to support arbitrary music sources, for example.

With all that said, the big accomplishment, in my mind, isn't an implemented feature or technical change. The big accomplishment in 2019, in my mind, is finally nailing down what Ascension III is supposed to be. Having a solid concept of what the game is gives us a template to plan features, build gameplay, and write story. It really was a eureka moment for me to go from a loose set of features and ideas to something cohesive and coherent.

What we're hoping to accomplish in 2020

The short answer is "What we didn't accomplish in 2019".

The goal for 2020 is to build the demo we wanted to build in 2019, but didn't have time to finish. The Dragon demo was a small part of this, but it was to include a small town and sizeable dungeon in addition to the dragon fight. Most of the necessary features are already implemented, although a few such as melee weapons and equipment switching do need to be added, and some things like leveling and movement need some things changed. The majority of the work, though, will be writing the story, building the world, and implementing the gameplay.

This is something I'm genuinely, truly excited for.

We had some technical goals for 2019, which mostly amounted to "clean up the mess in core and finish the half-baked stuff you started two years ago". For 2020, we're hoping to implement mod support, or at least the beginnings of it. That's a pretty serious challenge for a Unity game, but we've mostly figured out how to do it in a way that's not too difficult to add but should still be usable for modders. I got my start in modding (something I may talk about someday), so this is a feature that's very near to my heart and I'm excited to get it working, even if it's of questionable use.

We also want to implement some gameplay tweaks and changes based on feedback from the Dragon demo. Really, this should have happened months ago, but there just hasn't been time.

Which brings us nicely to a small (okay, not that small) disclaimer for 2020.

What happens, happens, as time allows

As I've mentioned before, I use the royal/editorial/pretentious we a lot. The truth of the matter is that Ascension III is still a one-person project, and will likely remain a one-person project for the forseeable future. It's not even my sole project or a full-time project. I try to hit certain goals, but I more or less work on Ascension III as time, energy, and motivation allow.

So when I say "hope to accomplish", I really mean hope to accomplish. I know what I want to get done in 2020, but I don't know what my priorities are going to look like six months down the line. I may have plenty of time and nothing else to do. I may end up very busy. I may have some time, but decide that I need a break from this project. I'm optimistic, but I really don't know how things are going to pan out.

The bottom line is, if things go well, we'll have gone from a barebones gameplay demo to a decent vertical slice in the space of a year. I don't know what the journey will look like, or how well it'll go, but that's the destination.

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