Age of Wonders 4 Dev Diary #16 - Release
Hi there, Lennart (director) and Ronald (operations manager and AoW fanboy) here. Welcome to the release day dev diary! This will surely not be our last dev diary as this is just the beginning of our new Age of Wonders. We’ll be working on updates and expansions to make the game even better.
But firstly, we want to take this opportunity to thank the entire Triumph team, the team at Paradox Publishing and all our fans for making this game possible. We are very proud of what we’ve been working on, but the basis is you, our players! We know we have valuable fans from the first hour but it’s also great to see how many new players discovered Age of Wonders recently. We hope you have a wondrous time.
We are especially proud that we put this game together during a very challenging time. We had a Covid pandemic to deal with but our team really pulled through and we managed to release the game in the timeframe we had anticipated before Covid hit.
This DD will feature input from various team members. With a small window from the announcement to the actual release we didn’t get to cover every aspect we wanted to show off. So here are some insightful contributions from across multiple disciplines.
Enjoy release day!
Hey there! My name is Daniël and I'm an engine programmer, but I mostly specialize in animation. I like to make things move, what can I say? I've worked together with our animators to revamp how we did animation in our engine.
With the whole repertoire of customization options within the game, we had to really figure out how we were going to keep animation work manageable. Creating an animation for every possible combination would be impossible. I've worked on a system that scales the "bones" of our characters to match new proportions.
On one side of the extremes we can have Spawnkin Rats looking for a new snack to devour; whereas on the other side there are the Supergrowth Orcs of which some might even fear themselves! However, they have one thing in common; they share the same animations.
With proportional differences like these you soon discover you can only move complexity and not get rid of it completely. However, the animation system was also made a lot more flexible by adding new procedural tools for the animators to use. The cape physics are a personal favorite of mine. It was a blast making Age of Wonders 4 just that bit more immersive and lifelike!
The Karagh animated
Hi, my name is Michiel Wouters and I do 3D Animation here at Triumph Studios. I have over 14 years of industry experience and my job is just the best in the world! Making animations look good in a game is difficult and definitely a team effort.
After Planetfall, we really wanted to up the animation quality. Good animation means having a solid animation engine in place. Daniël, our Engine Programmer, had to rework a bunch of animation code in order to make that happen.
Allert, our Principal Artist, is really good at making rigs. Rigs allow animations to be applied to a 3D model.
Notice how the 3D model of the Karagh is enveloped in all these colored lines. These make up its rig and I can use them to animate it.
We’ve also had Ciska, an awesome 3D Animation intern, to help us out during the production of AoW 4.
So how do I make a 3D animation? By pretending to be the character I’m animating!
I then use the captured video as a reference for making the final animation. This method is used by big and fancy animation studios all over the world. So as an animator, you also need to know a bit about acting. Isn’t my job the best?
Quick facts about the Random Map Generator
Hi my name is Jamie, I’m a gameplay programmer and I worked on the RMG! I’ll run you through some quick RMG facts.
Continents are generated by pairing up players. After doing the initial placement for players based on the distance settings, we can then start to form the land masses. Using the predetermined oceans as guidelines to form a nice shape of the world as a whole.
Underground pockets are generated with a projection of how much value they have. Afterwards these pockets are connected to ensure underground connections between landmasses on the surface or provide a small adventure on their own.
Roads connect important locations of the world, and sometimes take a detour to make sure you find those much needed pickups.
Rivers will always generate from the center of a mountain sector, and flow down to the ocean.
3D Character Art
A big challenge for the character art team (Geertje Eeftink, Stefan Volkering and Robin de Jong), was the modular way we had to approach the creation of the characters. Allert van der Leij was responsible for the “joint scaling”, a system allowing us to create forms with different proportions while sharing animations and morphing the outfits. We wanted to have a large variety of different forms in the game so we had to set up a workflow that made it as efficient as possible.
We soon decided that the low poly model, the 3D model that is optimized and used in game, should be shared across all forms.
As you can see the shape of the different forms is quite different but we managed to keep the topology the same by always starting from the same base mesh.
This allowed us to share a variety of technical aspects of the pipeline like UV's, skinning, sculpted details and mix and match different forms together to get a headstart when making a new one. This gif is a screengrab from our sculpting software. Because the topology is shared we can easily morph from one form to another opening up a whole world of possibilities during the creation of the content.
Production, localization and VO
Hello there! I’m Frederick Milders, producer here at Triumph. During the project I have had the pleasure to be involved in many areas of the game to ensure everything went smoothly and to support the team wherever necessary.Two areas I was responsible for overseeing and am particularly proud of are Localization and Voice Over.
In a game like ours there is just so much text that the player gets to see (roughly 220,000 words), so it is vital that all this information comes across clearly, especially in other languages. The game currently supports German, Spanish, French, Polish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
VO is there to complement the text and make it really come to life. The voice of Cassie Layton has successfully set the tone, in my opinion, and makes the game feel all the more cohesive due to her stellar efforts.
Story realm character concepts
Hi I’m Ollie, 2D artist and I had the pleasure of designing three characters for the story realms: Meandor, Nimue, and Arachna. Old fans of the series will likely recognise them, as they are returning rulers to the world of Athla!
It was a wonderful challenge to redesign and iterate upon core characters to the Age of Wonders series, reinterpreting and reimagining their look for a modern title, while still honoring their previous designs. I like to think that these characters exemplify what we’re trying to do with AoW4, as both a return to its fantasy roots, and a big leap forward for the series.
It was also really great to get the opportunity to spend more time on singular concepts. There is a vast amount of content in this game, and along with concept art, our 2D team needs to make icons, user interface assets, illustrations, and marketing art. We have a lot to do on any given day! So it’s a rare and lovely opportunity when we get to spend a couple of days on a single character. Because of this extra time, we got to work closely with the narrative designers to make characters that had personality and fitted well with the existing lore.
Meandor for example, was pitched to us a ‘slumbering god’, a being of great power taken to apathy because of his tragic past. It was a fun challenge to try to bring that out through his design.
And of course, watching the character you’ve drawn come to life through 3D art and animation is one of the greatest joys of being a concept artist. These are not the only characters returning for Aow4, so keep an eye out for more familiar faces when you play! We can only hope that we did them justice, and can’t wait for players to meet them.
Hi, I'm Ajay, a gameplay and AI programmer. For this part we want to go over the two biggest changes for the AI for AoW4.
In Planetfall the AI would passively meet other players, as there is more vision in Planetfall then in AoW4 and the players themselves were the driving factor for meeting AI’s.
For AoW4 we have reworked the passive scouting into an active scouting. The AI will now send out scouts on scouting missions trying to meet other players as soon as they can. Once the AI is satisfied with the number of players they have met this active scouting will return in to a passive scouting or obtaining information on other leaders via diplomacy based on their personality.
In Planetfall the AI followed a simple rule: the higher the tier the better they are. And therefore the AI’s only focus was to get the highest tier units (with some limitations for variety) to create strong armies.
However AoW4 is a different kind of beast and therefore the AI needed to adjust its mentality when it came to unit production. For AoW4 we want the AI to not only have the units with the highest tier but also a deep variety based on unit types (the days of only seeing the same high tier units is gone). Of course each AI’s personality will adjust how much of a specific type the AI will field in their armies.
(AI with a higher preference to magic casters)
(AI with a higher preference to shock units)
3D Environment art
Greetings! I’m Sara and I am the Environment Artist at Triumph Studios. I wanted to share with you how we tackle making all the many different assets for the world in a smart and modular way. I like to think of it as making puzzle pieces that we can use throughout the environment and we apply this principle on both the world map and the tactical combat maps.
Environment Asset Creation Often we make small sets of certain assets like wooden planks or different stones with which we can build almost anything we would want. Ranging from little houses to bridges and boats, one of my favorite sets to use is our wood set.
We make these sets by either modeling/sculpting different building blocks and creating tileable textures in Photoshop and Substance Designer. We use this workflow for all the architectural assets but also all the natural assets.
Working in this modular way allows us to easily iterate and make variations. Even make destruction states for tactical combat assets when you decide to throw some huge fireball on it. 🙂
We also apply some little details on assets depending on the climate so for example we add a small layer of snow on top of everything so it's nicely integrated within the environment.
Tactical combat maps
Our Art Director Rich briefly touched on this too in the Dev Diary about the art of Age of Wonders 4. Tactical combat maps represent a certain tile on the world map and every type of tile has their own map. How we make sure that it shows all the assets we want in the maps is by using a system we call “the conditional content system” which will show the assets depending on certain conditions we assign to maps through world map buildings, cultures, climates,... This is how we make sure that we tailor a specific map to all be able to show up and fit certain scenarios. A good example of this is the screenshot below which is actually all “the same” map but with all the different assets we swap out based on, in this case, climate we make sure that it looks distinct every time.
Creating the Entwined family
Hi, my name is Luis, game designer. When asked about my favorite unit designs I first went to strong units with cool abilities like the Balor or Gold Golem that I am sure players will love to use on the battlefield but felt like those should be discovered by the players. So instead I will talk about the Entwined, a group of overly devout druids that became one with nature, and are often found together with animal units in Forests.
The Thralls are units that were forced into the Entwined’s service by a Scourge. They are quick skirmishers that can deal damage in melee while poisoning enemies from afar and serve as the basic foot soldiers of the Entwined family. The Tier I Nature Tome of Roots allows you to summon these.
Shield Unit and vanguard of the Entwined. The Protector has the Healing Sap ability that heals all adjacent friendly units and itself while entering Defense Mode: Shield Wall to grant extra defense to them as well.
You can unlock them as a summon via the Tier II Nature Tome of Glades.
These ancient druids started the Entwined sect by merging with the trees and the sap.
Their Entwine ability curses enemies to become immobilized by vines and take blight damage each turn, and if a unit dies while cursed this way they become a new Entwined Thrall under the Scourge’s control!
Casting Awaken the Forest from the Tier IV Nature Tome of Nature’s Wrath has a chance to summon these units.
The sound of Wonders
Hi I'm Toby from PDX Audio. We’re thrilled to have contributed to the evolution of AoW audio. Working in tandem with The Audio Guys we’ve tried to push the count of unique sounds larger than has been heard in previous AoW titles (particularly all the different model movements and emotes). Audio events work on a fairly granular level, relying less on animation timelines, and hence should be more fluid depending on gameplay speed. We spent a lot of time reworking how to control sub groups of sounds collectively, enabling us to balance the mix better, while also trying to keep audio options simplified for players. This has meant more reactive and reflective audio, better dynamic flow and a focus on multi-channel; crucial aspects of immersion. Notably, AoW4 inherrits an iteration of the Master Ambience System as used in other Paradox titles, but with each biome specific to AoW.
That means you must really like Age of Wonders 4. Thanks for sticking with us. There you have it, our final dev diary before the game’s actual release. We wish you a lot of fun and hope you’ll spread your best stories and enthusiasm for the game!
We will now take a little break from the DD’s, having full focus on post-release support. We’ll start posting them again close to the first DLC release for Dragon Dawn!