Game Developer and Technical Director Petar Kotevski told us about the development process behind Angelic, an upcoming multiplayer strategy RPG, discussed the game's turn-based combat mechanics, and explained why they chose Unreal Engine 5.
My name is Petar Kotevski, the Technical Director for Angelic – and a game developer with a primarily engineering background of over 22 years. Before working on Angelic, I worked at a bunch of different studios, including Crytek and Bungie – on everything from Far Cry, 50Cent: Bulletproof, Halo 3, Halo: Reach, and Destiny, on PC as well as various consoles. I am a proud recipient of a strict East European Computer Science education in my home country of Macedonia.
My contribution to the projects I worked on is primarily in software engineering. However, as any other engineer, I have very strong opinions on game design that I sometimes manage to apply to the projects I am working on. My most recent work before Angelic was a very novel game concept developed by KAMAi MEDIA called Sonder, which is an interactive narrative adventure where every choice matters in how the story develops.
The Idea Behind Angelic
A few other people at KAMAi MEDIA and I got an early sneak-peek at Angelic's design, worldbuilding and story when it was only an idea in Erkan's (our project lead) head. We immediately liked the concept, jumped on board to help develop their original Vertical Slice prototype, and clicked with the rest of the team. So, as the project planning for Angelic materialized, we decided to become an integral part of the development team.
I have to say that I did not get the full scope of the depth and richness of the lore created for Angelic while working on the vertical slice – we were too close to the combat details and the daily engineering grind to actually see the big picture. But when the whole thing came together, even in such an early stage, it really became apparent that the world of Angelic is not simply another backdrop for combat, but a very carefully crafted world, with interesting characters that you immediately form a sort of kinship with.
This was really inspiring and unique – and even now, as we are developing the full version of the game, the strength of the storytelling in that early vertical slice is making the characters we are bringing to life that much more interesting. And on top of that, we are doing some really interesting cutting-edge design in terms of turn-based strategy, so it's that fusion of narrative depth and design innovation that is very interesting to me.
And I talk about the heroes in the game as if they are real people – it's super weird.
Working on Turn-Based Combat Mechanics
Usually, the term turn-based strategy combat is fairly self-explanatory, and people have a preconceived notion about what such combat entails. We have tried to use that well-known meaning as a springboard from which we start – and we started thinking about how we can make the strategy deeper but also more visceral to experience. Usually, in turn-based games, the player feels somewhat detached from the characters he controls on the screen because they are like chess pieces. We knew from the start that such detachment from the characters would be detrimental for Angelic because the heroes are narratively very fleshed-out, and they feel like real people. So we are doing some innovative things in trying to bring the player and the heroes closer together, so they can experience the combat together with their heroes, and not as a passive, outside observer.
We are innovating how the player controls the characters. We are doing more with the combat cameras and making their attacks and reactions so that even players can feel them. At the same time, we are trying to create a balanced set of combat strategies that a smart player can leverage to always get the upper hand. While this will be a game anyone can learn how to play, the depth of strategy will allow smart players to always find a way to triumph.
There are many skills and abilities, multiple weapons with carefully balanced features, and many tactical moves that one can make to achieve their objective on the battlefield.
One of the most difficult challenges that any turn-based combat game faces is balance – and getting it right is what separates great games from average games. And when you start with characters and heroes with a very definite place in the narrative universe, and they already need to have a specific magnitude of presence on the battlefield, it becomes much more challenging to balance.
Every hero, no matter their place on the hero pantheon, needs to be a viable combatant in the game. At the same time, you don't want uniformity in power between heroes because that would compromise the lore of the game. So, balancing their influence on the gameplay is a very delicate process.
At Metaverse, we are strong acolytes of iteration. No matter how something looks on paper, ultimate judgment can only be passed when it's implemented and can be tried and played. Some of the most innovative features we implemented, were not sure about in the beginning. By implementing them and trying them out, we were able to determine how to evolve them and use them in the context of gameplay balancing.
We are also constructing the toolchain and the game development tools to support ultra-rapid iteration by placing more power in the hands of designers. We fully expect the balancing of the game to be an ongoing process even after release, and we are constructing the entire ecosystem of tools and distribution of Angelic around that premise.
The RPG Aspect
Narrative depth is one of the biggest strengths of Angelic, not just in terms of the character's backstory and the design of the world but also in their continuous evolution as the game is being played. The quality of the narrative was one of the principal draws for me towards this project, and I believe it will be what sets Angelic apart from similar games in the players' eyes.
I don't have a large role in crafting the story in my day-to-day work, so I can only speak as someone on the consumer side of the equation. I know that one prevailing motivation in leveling up players is never to do that by the meaningless grind. Everyone working on the Angelic universe wants players to level up by making smart choices in a gameplay sense, but also right choices in terms of the narratives of their heroes.
Other than a combat aspect, Angelic has a lot of dialogue-driven narratives, which will have embedded in it ethical, moral, and consequential choices that will ultimately shape the opportunities for players to level up.
Landscapes and Planets
We are developing Angelic in Unreal Engine 5, and our artists use a multitude of tools to create assets that end up in our Unreal project. The production of the entire visual look of Angelic is a painstaking, detailed process that starts from the narrative baseline created by our writers through the vision of the many talented concept artists and the skill of our modelers and animators. We have a weekly progress show-and-tell style of a meeting where we see the visuals slowly taking shape.
Our workflow is highly collaborative – assets need to be created within performance limitations, and sometimes we go back and forth until we can find that exact balance of visual quality vs. performance. Producing a game with as high a visual bar as Angelic is a daunting process and not always easy to the scope and execute, but I think the underlying motivation of the people is based on the fact that Angelic is trying to innovate on so many fronts (gameplay, narrative, blockchain) keeps us focused on the delivery of an incredible game experience.
Creating Character Animations
Animation is a very big part of the character's personality, so we are focusing a lot of effort on the quality of animation, but also the code driving it. Characters have to look like they have weight in the world, they have to embody the characteristics they have on paper – agility, poise, strength; the players have to see that in their movement.
To achieve that, we are using the standard Unreal Animation tools, but we had to implement a fair amount of custom code that allows us to be able to craft the performance we want from our characters and also make it easier to maintain, improve and iterate on.
Because we have many heroes and many things in the world that require animation, we are cooperating with various animation service providers to get mocap data that we then use in the game. We also do some procedural work when it comes to hit reactions and deaths because we need the weapons (and in general damage) to feel visceral in our game world, and we need the players to perceive their heroes as personalities with strengths and weaknesses – and animation is a big part of that.
We are currently hard at work on our new and improved combat, which is going to work over the network. We have a lot of heroes, and they have a lot of skills and abilities, all of which have very subtle game rules attached to them in order to strike the right gameplay balance.
Our next big milestone is a fully playable PvP module that we can use to hone the skills and abilities of each individual hero and use as a basis for the development of the narrative part of the game.
We are a unique international development team, and we have the usual problems that distributed teams have. Our main challenges have to do with appropriately organizing and scaling our team in order to be able to deliver on the promise of the concept (and vertical slice) of Angelic.
We are always on the lookout for ambitious and talented people who are looking to work on something new, interesting, and challenging.