Field Report: The Life of the Crablet

Dear Galactic Union Science Whatevers,

I heard you are paying frontier explorers in crystals for information on new species and technologies. As the only human to set foot on the shattered planet in sector K, I submit the following:

 

The Crablet

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Suggested species name: Homarus cyclopea

Adult size: 40-60 cm

Adult weight: 10-15 kg

Lifespan: ???

 

As you can see, the adult crablet seems quite harmless. But don’t be fooled! Crablets appear to despise humans and I have the claw-marks to prove it. They aren’t as aggressive to the indigenous tribes, despite the fact that the tribes kill the crablets on sight, even by the dozens. Perhaps the locals have discovered some way of masking their scent, which I haven’t learned yet.

The hard exoskeleton is actually rather fragile, and in fact is no tougher than animal hide — even less, when using weapons that smash and crunch. I wonder whether a crab mallet would, in fact, be a feasible weapon…

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The “crablet” begins as one of dozens in an egg sac. A single egg sac appears to be capable of creating hundreds, possibly thousands of crablets. The sac pumps eggs out at a steady rate, almost like a caviar factory. I suspect this (along with their delicious insides) is a reason why the local folks kill them on sight; otherwise, they’d fill up the whole dang planet!


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Crablet eggs complete incubation in cooler temperatures, signalling to the crablet inside that it is time to hatch. If an egg is picked up and carried, it will never hatch, as if the crablet inside has become lazy from the warmth.

No time is needed for a newly hatched crablet to adjust to its environment — it hatches fully-formed and ready to fight. In fact, I have attempted to surgically open one of these eggs, and the crablet inside nearly took off my nose!

Crablets, like most other native species, are fiercely loyal companions once befriended. I have occasionally persuaded one or two to follow me, usually through the use of food. These often refuse to listen to my instructions, and rush out to defend me against attackers! Despite this adorable ferocity, they do not appear intelligent enough to train.

I haven’t seen a crablet die of natural causes. It’s possible they are immortal, or very secretive when they get older? Perhaps they transform into another creature entirely. Perhaps I’ll discover a massive crablet graveyard. Only time will tell.

 

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On the other hand, if the Blight is permitted to spread unchecked, it appears to occasionally build nodes of power, and these evil-looking crablets crawl out. They appear to want to kill me as soon as they start to exist! There’s no befriending to be done here.

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I have occasionally glimpsed a rarer type of crablet that is capable of spitting a highly caustic venom, perhaps due to a unique diet or environmental factor. Luckily, their distinctive bright green shells make them easy to spot and avoid.

For now, my suggested Galactic Union datalog entry for the Crablet will read:

“Delicious, territorial crustaceans that are highly social, traveling in groups. Rumored to be immortal — the population must be controlled with regular culling. Sensitive to Blunt damage.”

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I’ll be waiting for my crystal payment to be transferred.

– Captain Aurora

Painting “Jump-Shot”

The Design

All of the environments, characters, concepts, and backgrounds in Shattered Planet are created by Xin. After creating the “Just in Time” piece, we knew we wanted to also showcase the female character. Where the Renegade was inspired more by Han Solo and Mal, the Assassin’s design is more Commander Shepard and Tron for a different flavor.

We also knew that the first piece communicated the core experience of exploring a shattering alien world, but was lacking the urgency and action of the game. So, Xin aimed for more of a “comic book cover” feel, with heavier stylised elements and a foreshortened action pose.

The Process

For more insight into how Xin goes about painting, check out this video that goes from blank page to finished design.

The Finished Piece

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Xin will be attending the Massive Black concept art workshop in L.A. this week to increase his skills further!

For those of you out in the interwebs… any comments or questions?

Environment Design: The Shattered Desert

Hi guys! Tanya here!

Today I’ll go into some detail on our environment design, using the Desert as an example, since we haven’t shown it off much yet and it’s the first area-type the player encounters. I’m actually from the Mojave Desert of southern California originally. I spent most of my childhood chasing lizards, catching kangaroo mice, and climbing the Rocky Mountains… when I wasn’t allowed to play NES, anyway.

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An environment’s atmosphere comes from every element — the landscape, the colors, the wildlife and lighting. Xin, our artist, starts by painting the terrain we need. For the Desert, we knew we wanted basic tiles of Dirt, Sandstone, and Brush. We want the Desert to feel desolate and dry, but not lifeless.

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Now, before you think, “those aren’t very interesting! Where’s the life, the juice, the oomph?” … we started out going super-detailed, with intense painterly details on each tile…

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And yes, they were beautiful! BUT when they’re tiled all together, 10×10, it looks terrible. Dirt starts to look like meat!

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We might still sprinkle details like these throughout as a rare treat, but for now, we’ve had to forcibly tone down the contrast and details of any one basic tile, for the betterment of the whole.

Next, he paints combinations of each tile-type with another, so that the world generator can smoothly transition between regions. For example, a half-Brush, half-Sandstone tile should always buffer between Brush and Stone areas.

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The final terrain layer is composed of “crumbly bits”, as we call them, which help reinforce the idea that you’re on a shattered planet. They match at least half of the tile-type they’re generated next to. For interior levels, these take the form of metal struts and frames. For exteriors, they’re more like chunks of earth and rock.

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And then, at long last, the fun part — we can add gameplay! Bushes and rocks are obstacles that get in your way and help with the ambiance. As for enemies, you might have seen our Hatchling and Nest Guardian back when we first concepted them in July, and now they can finally romp and hunt in their natural desert habitat. Combining all of the elements together gives us a flavorful, unique Desert environment that feels significantly different from the others.

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So, with no photoshopping or other trickery, here’s a screenshot taken directly from the game while it’s running:

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The next step will be adding in a flavorful background for each environment. We want to keep the lonely, dark feeling of the desert at night, but something a little bit more interesting than plain black.

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Unique story encounters can also happen in the desert — finding unearthed skulls, old campfires, lost hatchlings, or even strange stones can lead you on mini-adventures into the unknown. Just like home?


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Playing With Fire

Space captains can now find themselves in a tough spot if they play fast and loose with fire.

Because, you see, grass and moss and brush tend to catch nearby fires and even embers can be dangerously hot to walk on.

Watch the gif below carefully to see a venomous crablet get turned to a pile of ash!

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Building Your Captain

From the start of the project, we knew Shattered Planet was about exploring. And when we first implemented a protagonist, we were often asked, “So who is this guy? What’s his story?

It was a fair question. The protagonist we chose was a distinctive character design. Internally, we called his initial sketch “the Renegade”.

But when I tell my friends about my accomplishments in Brogue or Minecraft or Binding of Isaac, I don’t talk about what The Hero or Cubeguy or Isaac did — I tell them what I did. And not everyone can or will relate to the Renegade as themselves.

So, we’re adding some basic character customisation, which you can access from your space station at any time. We’ll be launching with three character types, and we’re ready to show off our first two.

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I haven’t decided yet whether there’s any significance to choosing your type — maybe being a Renegade could give higher Wits but lower Strength, for example. But we love the strategic depth yet initial simplicity of games like Brogue, which always start you out the same way and let you build your strategy as you go, and quickly re-start a new run when you die.

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However, you can rename your character at the cloning vats, all the better to have a hilarious obituary to share with your friends… even if when you tell stories about Shattered Planet to your friends, it’s all about your strategy, the crazy levels you found, and the bizarre set of circumstances that lead to your death.

Which one will you play?

Inventing the Inventor

The Inventor is an important character that the player interacts with on a regular basis, so we made sure to dedicate some extra love to creating its concept.

Here’s a glimpse into our creative process for its character design!

First Iteration
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– A1 and A2 were too goofy
– A5 felt too gangster, so we made a nerdy A4 version
– We need more sketches!

Second Iteration
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– We did a quick survey of 15-20 developers and B2/B3 were tied as the most popular.
– B4 now looks like old grandpa, which we decided was undesirable
– MORE SKETCHES!

Third Iteration
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After a bit more sketching, we definitely preferred the friendlier, happier faces and decided it was time to narrow down on the design. The white arrows point to our internal favorites.

Fourth Iteration
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At this point, we’re pretty satisfied with the design of the head, and the yellow-green one is our favorite color scheme… so this is what the good doctor will look like in the game. What do you think? Did we make the right decision?

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Exploring the Planet, v2.0

We made some improvements to the exploration feedback recently and we thought we’d share them with you!

Exploration is the core of Shattered Planet. Yes, there’s combat, and yes there’s silly choices to make and crazy items to use, but to us, the important thing is that no matter what you’re on the hunt for, everything is fun to find. So we prioritised improving the way you explore, and a few small, relatively simple changes made a big difference.

First, you might have noticed that in previously posted screenshots and gifs, the “fog of war” had a harsh black edge. We took that out, and made the nearest tile half-transparent, so you can see what might be around the corner. If you’re really observant, you might also notice that the fog clears away from you, which feels much better than the old shrink-fade.

Then, we added instant feedback to the pathfinding, via a line pointing to your destination, following the path that the hero will follow. Sometimes this means you can tell when your hero is trying to go somewhere dumb, or makes bad decisions, but overall it gives you a better sense of where you’re going, and gives you a chance to change your mind.

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AFTER
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Field Report: Alien Anthropology

On the shattered planet, extensive laboratories lie beneath the fragmented soil, their pre-programmed defense systems intact after all these years. Lasers still hum, turrets still fire, drawing power from an unknown source.

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But on the surface, the lack of resources has caused a degradation in civilisation. The territorial aliens roam with hatchets and strict hierarchies within their tribes. They appear to entrust weapons only to proven warriors and adorning only their leaders with decorative feathers and headdresses. I have yet to meet a spear-thrower, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.

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At first, I thought it strange that I never saw one without their mask, not even in sleep.

I do not think it strange any longer.

I befriended one of the creatures. This was a mistake. I have looked beneath and I will not — cannot — describe the horrors that lay underneath. It is not a mask. It is an… integrated part of their physiology, some kind of bone structure to hide the creeping madness that is their sensory organs.

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But hey, if you find one lying around, it fits like a dream and smells like cinnamon!

Posted in Art

Safari on Planet Earth, Fragment #8419

We experimented with the glorious little application that is Gifcam, and behold… beautiful new gifs of gameplay!

First our Captain had a bit of a wander to meet the native wildlife and share his bountiful medicines:

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Then he got out his Lonely Planet guidebook and tried out the greetings and customs of the local people:

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Finally, our intrepid documentarist exposed himself to the dangers of the growing Blight, for the education of home viewers.

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Character Design In-Progress: Captain Aurora

We spent some time refining the male protagonist (“Captain Flint”) in his default configuration. He’ll have other heads and skin-tones available, but we felt he was a good starting point.

We looked at all of the classic adventurous space captains (Han Solo, Mal, Captain Kirk, maybe even a little tiny bit of Flash Gordon/Zap Brannigan) and tried to find our own distinct design for Captain Flint.

We wanted him to seem independent and perhaps a bit defiant in his quest for adventure. Internally, his art assets are still referred to as “the renegade”.

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We’ve started looking at our second protagonist design. We want the female protagonist (“Captain Aurora”) to have a more military, athletic feel.

Like the male Captain, she’ll be customisable, but we want all of her versions to communicate that she’s a serious, skilled combatant, like Zoe, Starbuck, or Ripley.

We’ve moved away from styling her like an outright “assassin”, but so far, we’re happy with Captain Aurora’s evolution.

What do you think of them both?