Age of Wonders: Planetfall - Dev Diary #39: The Next Gen Campaign

Age of Wonders: Planetfall - Dev Diary #39: The Next Gen Campaign

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LennartGS

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An Age of Wonders game wouldn’t be complete without a single player campaign with an engaging story spanning multiple maps and impactful choices to make. For some people it’s all they play, while others will delve straight into the configurable standalone (random) scenarios.

For us as developers the campaign has always posed a challenge, as the series’ complexity increased traditional puzzle like scripted scenarios clashed with economic or AI systems, resulting in difficulty spikes or players having trouble understanding a level designer’s mind-set for a particular challenge. AoW3 campaign maps would easily break after systems -or even balance – updates.

As Planetfall deepens the strategic gameplay, with a more developed economic system, diplomacy and emergent story telling compared to Age of Wonders III, it was time we reevaluate the foundation of campaign creation: Create a story-rich experience that is compatible with the open-endedness of 4X gameplay: Next Gen Campaign.


MINOR SPOILER WARNING: Although this dev journal does not expose how storylines play out, it does show how the campaign is structured and provides some screenshots from early stages of campaigns. If you like everything to be a surprise you best stop reading here.


Campaign Purpose:

- Provide a starting point for (new) players, including an optional tutorial.
- Provide immersive story arcs for added entertainment
- Gradually expose players to the content and mechanics that are in the game.

Narrative Focus:

- Provide Point of View and origin stories of the main factions in the game.
- Unravel the mystery of what happened to the Star Union
- Players constructing a new future for their faction.

Gameplay Focus:

- Mission specific scripting and victory conditions that complement - instead of replacing - the main 4X formula and AI systems.

- Variable campaign difficulty levels
- Maps relying on Procedural Generation for consistency with 4X mechanics and standalone RMG
- Rogue-like replayablity.
- Allow Commander customization where possible
- Choose path through campaign; opt for a full or shorter route.



Campaign Structure

The Campaign allows the players to start with the point of view from three main factions (Vanguard, Dvar and Kir’Ko), with the tutorial being attached to the Vanguard Mission. For each faction there are typically two missions, after which new factions and eventually the climatic end scenario unlocks. (Similar to the Age of Wonders Shadow Magic Campaign. But this time you don’t need to play all their Points of View to reach the end.)

The campaign level design lead is Jakob Matthes, Eomolch of AoW Modding fame!

Campaign Commander Customization

Race and Secret tech are fixed in campaign scenarios but as a first in any Age of Wonders game, you are able to customize your commander’s personal perks and appearance for gameplay variation and added immersion. For relevant races, two genders variations have been recorded for narration.

We had some fun making personal relation between some of the characters work with customizable characters.

Jacqueline.jpg
Why not play as Jacqueline Gelder?


Campaign Briefings

Campaigns feature planetfall scenes in which your customized Commander narrates the events leading up to the mission. (we added male/female voices for applicable races) We kept things concise in briefings, with more narrative content moved in-game. Each Campaign planet has a bespoke artwork.


Briefing.jpg

One of the scenes for the First Vanguard Mission

Campaign World Generation

The Campaign maps are procedurally generated according to the specifications provided by the campaign designers. Our tools allow them to define campaign specific sector definitions representing unique key areas on the planet, which can then be placed following their own RMG placement rule-set. Depending on the design these rules can be used to either push for variety and replayability or for more controlled fixed placement with respect to other sections of the map.

KirkoPlanet.jpg

A Kirko Planetfall Image

KirkoPlanetWM.jpg

The Environmental lightning the alien Kirko world looks different from the typical maps.

The carefully placed campaign sectors are the foundation of a lot of the story telling done within our campaign missions. Using the campaign scripting system, the campaign story can be baked into those sectors not only on a geographical level but also with regards to quest locations, events and in-lore area names.

The Map Generator’s algorithms are synched up with the economic and AI gameplay updates happening over the course of the game’s development. This has been of great help for the campaign development, since its flexibility allowed us to avoid situations where carefully handcrafted campaign maps would break because of changes to economy or unit balance.

Vanguard1a.jpg

Vanguard1b.jpg

Spot the differences: Comparison of the same campaign start in two sessions.
Note our new Quest HUD!

Campaign Quests


Campaign quests are distinguished between side quests and the main path that leads to the resolution of the story and victory. Most maps have a number of standard victory conditions active a long side the main campaign quest (conquest, unifier doomsday, etc) giving you freedom on how to tackle the scenario.


Campaign Replayability

For the player this procedural approach brings the advantage of replayability. Every time a campaign map is generated, it will look and play a little bit different. So, when doing a replay at higher difficulty you’ll be challenged by a different lay of the land. Replayability is further increased by being able to customize your campaign leader’s perks and appearance.

How will you start playing Planetfall? Play the Tutorial, jump to the Vanguard, Kirko or Dvar as campaign starts, or go straight to the custom (random) scenarios?

 

prof_doom

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The carefully placed campaign sectors are the foundation of a lot of the story telling done within our campaign missions. Using the campaign scripting system, the campaign story can be baked into those sectors not only on a geographical level but also with regards to quest locations, events and in-lore area names.
Do you guys plan on making the campaign scripting system available for modding/generating your own stories (minus the voiceovers)?
 

LordTheRon

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Very interesting. The less rigid scripting the better but it’s going to be exciting to see how this can still give us that real campaign vibe.

Looking forward to see the questing in action. The campaign path leads me to think there must be a chain of quests.

Surely gonna play the campaign at least twice then to go for a different ending.

Do choices in one campaign mission have consequences for other missions?
 

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Campaign is a nice addition to the game for that casual experience but I'll be going straight into random map scenario hotseat against my arch nemesis (cousin).

Every saturday night from august 2019 is booked until x-mas. No interruptions pls., it's game on!

First expansion scheduled for x-mas maybe? :)
 

Ridixo

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The campaign looks great, the custom commanders are a good idea and is good to know that you are thinking the campaign scenarios with patch's changes and balance in mind.
Still something worries me.

jump to the Vanguard, Kirko or Dvar as campaign starts
This are not the only species with campaigns, right? The assembly, Syndicate and Amazon will get some maps, or there is a "no campaign for the wicked" approach?
 

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I can`t wait for this game to come out "Age of Wonders: Planetfall", i am a big, big fan of "Age of Wonders III". Good luck on the new game.
 

ashbery76

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So the mystery of what happened to the Star Union is actually told in this campaign.Did not expect the reveal so quick.
 

Zaskow

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I hope for a solid and interesting story in campaign, practically that's all I expect from it.
 

Rhaeg

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Campaign's always been the highlight of each of the AOW games for me. I also liked the standalone story scenario's that were included with AOW1, each of them focussing on one specific conflict from the timeline of the setting.

The randomly generated maps sound great, though I will probably end up missing some of the beautiful handcrafted ones like the Valley of Wonders map from AOW1 or the Stronghelm City map from Shadow Magic. I doubt randomly created maps will be able to give that kind of epic feel, but we'll see.
 

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The campaign looks great, the custom commanders are a good idea and is good to know that you are thinking the campaign scenarios with patch's changes and balance in mind.
Still something worries me.



This are not the only species with campaigns, right? The assembly, Syndicate and Amazon will get some maps, or there is a "no campaign for the wicked" approach?
The other races will get unlocked as you clear missions (If it is needing a full clear of a faction's missions or just the first is still unclear) but in the Campaign Structure section they tell us

The Campaign allows the players to start with the point of view from three main factions (Vanguard, Dvar and Kir’Ko), with the tutorial being attached to the Vanguard Mission. For each faction there are typically two missions, after which new factions and eventually the climatic end scenario unlocks. (Similar to the Age of Wonders Shadow Magic Campaign. But this time you don’t need to play all their Points of View to reach the end.)
 

Ridixo

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The other races will get unlocked as you clear missions (If it is needing a full clear of a faction's missions or just the first is still unclear) but in the Campaign Structure section they tell us
You are right. I missed that bit of information :p
Thanks for the info :)
 

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This looks interesting, visually unique planets are a great idea.

Another thing is: how are you going to handle research in the campaign? Will the progress be saved? And if so, how are you going to prevent players from dragging up early missions to grab as much tech as possible before progressing further?
 

prof_doom

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So the mystery of what happened to the Star Union is actually told in this campaign.Did not expect the reveal so quick.
He didn't say they were answering all the questions. ;)
 

Pyoro

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Interesting. Could be good, or could feel too similar to random games, I suppose.

I like that you customize commanders, including their gender. Should satisfy (most) everyone.
 

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I usually start a game with the tutorial, because I like to see things in the intended order(as far as there is one) and experiance the whole story. In Planetfall I´ll then continue with the Vanguard campaign because:
1. Its the same Faction as in the Tutorial
2. the other two available Factions are less appealing to me

I´m looking forward to experiancing this next generation campaign design, because from reading about it alone I can´t decide if it is an overall improvement, a step sideways with pros and cons roughly balancing each other out, or a step in the wrong direction...

Regarding Commander customisation:
1. gender and looks aside, it seems that AoW PF allows for less in campaign leader customisation than AoW1 and AoW:SM...but that´s got pros and cons xD
2. If there will be an expansion with a campaign set at a time after the end of the core games campaign, and "Jack Gelder" makes an appearance, will it be the default version, or will the game check for a "vanguardfinalmissonwon" save and copy the players design for him/her found there?

Speaking of the lastname "Gelder"...is it really derived from "to geld an animal"?
 

Lyesmyth

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i am a little bit disappointed by the lack of campaign for syndicate and assembly.

one thing i liked in aow 3 i that it allowed to show diffrent classes like theocrat etc it seems this cmaping wont have it
 

Silvus

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i am a little bit disappointed by the lack of campaign for syndicate and assembly.

one thing i liked in aow 3 i that it allowed to show diffrent classes like theocrat etc it seems this cmaping wont have it
For each faction there are typically two missions, after which new factions and eventually the climatic end scenario unlocks.
Given their wording, I am very certain there will be missions for all the factions not just the 3 that were listed.
 

Grunthex

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Given their wording, I am very certain there will be missions for all the factions not just the 3 that were listed.
Yup. he even referenced the AOW:SM campaign. So doing the 2 Vanguard missions might unlock Syndicate, or something. Sounds like you'll have the opportunity to finish the campaign earlier (won't have to play all the sub-campaigns), but that option is still there for someone who wants to play all of them first.