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

Managing / Game Director @ Triumph
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Jun 12, 2018
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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?