I get asked this somewhat frequently, so I guess it is better for me to explain it once in a post rather than to everyone who asks. If anything is unclear, just ask me about it! Also, if you have not seen the latest demo, take a look now. Also, please vote on Steam Greenlight (cough cough self promotion).
Just a quick announcement, I have posted to Steam Greenlight. It is perhaps a bit early, but I figure the more awareness I have between now and my launch date the better. The Greenlight page is accessible here or via the side bar. Please vote if you can, thanks!
Where to start? It's been about 6-7 months since my last update, but I've been hard at work this entire time. I did not want to keep things hidden but doing big updates takes a lot of time. I think from here out I am going to just do micro updates with the occasional picture or video, and maybe stream my work on Twitch TV or something. There is a lot to talk about, too much to put here...so if I left out something just ask me. Some of you are new here, so some of these features might be a recap:
What is Voxel Quest, and why should you care?
Voxel Quest (VQ) is a single-player, isometric, procedural, emergent, voxel-based, roguelike, tactical, turn-based RPG. Which is nice, but there are like a million of those already. I've been a proponent of these buzzwords even before 2004 when I began work on the Genesis engine. That is to say, I'm definitely not the first person to evangelize these things, but I'm also not just jumping on the bandwagon. Beyond that, here are a few noteworthy features regarding the engine and the game, respectively (if you don't want to read about everything, I highly recommend at least reading about the AI near the bottom):
There are a few games that seem to be catching onto the importance of good AI, and fewer yet that actually have what it takes to implement it. One of these games is Clockwork Empires, and the other, I speculate, is the new Everquest, since they acquired Storybricks [EDIT: My mistake, Storybricks is still a privately owned company] - these would be my two top picks at the moment, but I still would have to see their implementation to judge. [UPDATE: I should also add Ken Levine's new venture to the list, it looks promising - thank you "Tonto" for pointing this out in the comments).] There are many games that claim they are going to create the dynamic, emergent, AI-driven worlds but seemingly have no idea how to do this, so I fully appreciate if you are skeptical when I say I am going to do the same thing. That said, I have been prototyping various types of AI for over a decade and I think I have something that will work pretty well, and it is all based on prior (and proven) art. To be clear, I am not building an "ultimate" AI that can comprehend English and so forth - the AI will actually be very crude.
These include such things as score maximization (used for pathfinding, planning, and traversing action trees), reconnaissance/knowledge gathering, deduction (propositional logic, queries, backwards chaining), and collaboration. The AI operates under a unified mechanism that basically attempts to maximize the NPCs "score" on any given turn by maximizing their comfort, wealth, social standing, and so forth - directly or indirectly, using some combination of their skills and existing knowledge. The AI can and will do everything you can do, including pursuing artifacts, conversing with other NPCs to attain knowledge, and even lie, steal, or kill. This is by no means a perfect AI, in fact, it is very crude. The key is abstraction - a minimal set of rules are abstracted, and the AI makes new and surprising deductions based on this rule set (if you are familiar with languages like Prolog, you already know how this works -- if not, Google it). Since the entire world is procedurally generated, it is ideal for the AI - it understands that a room is part of a house is part of a city block which is part of a city. If a model were imported from an external program, it likely would have very few properties that describe the characteristics of the object beyond the placement of vertices, normals, and texture coordinates.
Going beyond this, I have something that I think will make VQ truly stand out: I have come up with a method of abstracting traditional storytelling mechanisms into gameplay mechanics, which is actually mostly a result of the way the AI is setup. A storytelling mechanism is something that writers use to make a story interesting or surprising - even though most are, by nature, cliche, we still have an almost genetic tendency to appreciate them. Some examples are the hero's journey, character growth, overcoming fears, friends become enemies, enemies become friends, etc. Many mechanisms are based on traditional character archetypes. There are no prewritten quests or dialogue, I simply set the stage and the rest is the result of the rules of the world and the circumstances. Fulfilling archetypes, or fighting against the nature of your archetype at that critical moment, are all rewarded and punished appropriately within the game mechanics, making this perhaps one of the first roleplaying games that really forces you to play a role. Please do remain skeptical until I show you my implementation. :)
An additional bonus is that users can define new rules which the AI will inherently comprehend, just by editing a text file. This makes modding certain things extremely easy. You can even modify the mechanics of the game and the AI will still understand how to make the best moves (for example, if you edited the property sheet for apples and specified that they were poisonous, the AI would try to avoid them, or perhaps even mix one into some food to poison an adversary).
When can I play it?
Alpha invites are slated for September 2014. Anyone can get one, but you must purchase a game key, and the earliest opportunity for this will be the Kickstarter campaign which is supposed to be launched soon (date to be determined).
Why doesn't the game fill up the entire screen?
I am working on a solution to ensure that the entire screen is filled. As it is, there are memory and performance constraints that require only a certain amount of chunks be on screen, but there are plenty of ways around it. Additionally, it will probably be less present in the actual game as the view may remain more zoomed in (TBD). Chunks can also be rendered "offline" and stored to disk. Lastly, GPU memory size will increase quite a bit in the coming years as this game progresses - I suspect 8+ gigabytes will become the norm for cards to keep up the current generation consoles. A larger memory pool makes it easier to store and render larger amounts of chunks simultaneously, although there are other workarounds as well.
How good is the performance?
This is still a relatively early build, but already performance is pretty good...still tons of room for improvement though. My target release date is roughly 3 years out (public access will be much earlier though, sometime this year), so hardware will likely improve during that period. Additionally, the voxels can be scaled to any resolution so it can actually run on pretty low end systems, although at the sacrifice of visual quality. I am aiming to have it run well on midrange systems (for whatever is considered midrange in 2017).
What is with the name?
I know, it is kind of a "dumb" name - it was originally intended to be a code/placeholder name but it might end up sticking. Hey, domains are hard to get, ok?
Make games, not engines, right?
I agree. In this case though, I could not find an engine that did what I wanted it to do. Furthermore, the engine is almost as important as the game because I want to foster a strong modding community - if I were to use a prebuilt engine, my users would be subject to its licensing conditions. All that said, I'm pretty much done with the core world generation and rendering, and from this point forward I am focusing on gameplay specific items and AI.
This is overly ambitious, and are you insane?
This is the first song I have ever composed, so naturally it is not very good, but I wanted to give an idea of the sound I am looking for (I am hoping that eventually I can get some people to contract or donate better music to Voxel Quest -- three are on board already).
The song is based on the old tracker formats that were popular with the Amiga, and popularized in games like Star Control 2 and Dune.
I am a pretty crappy pixel artist (and this image violates some of the traditional pixel art principles) but I more or less got that old-school arcade / demoscene look I was shooting for (65 colors used, should / could be less). I only spent an hour or so making this so I think it could be better (also, I "cheated" by working in true color and then palettized it and touched it up). The outline of the font is based of an old demo font from Daniel Guldkrans (he also has a great set of old demo fonts here).
I just want to let everyone know that I have been continuing to work very hard on Voxel Quest over the past few months and I think you guys will love the new stuff I have added in. I have had my hands full between working on VQ and gearing up for my Kickstarter campaign. I apologize for the lack of updates but on the other hand I think my time has been best spent actually getting work done rather than talking about work to be done. :) I can't give a definitive date for the next update but it should be relatively soon (on the order of weeks). I've updated the site a little bit and I now have a "company" name, which is "Roll, Roll, Die" (in case you don't get it, it pertains to dice rolling in RPGs, and also...uh...the inevitable death in any good RPG). You can see a first draft of the logo by clicking in the sidebar.
Update: I've added an email notification so that you can be notified when the campaign launches, and a design document (which can be found on the "about" page).
I had never heard of this online publication until I got a few incoming links from them, but it looks pretty cool! They did a little writeup on VQ as well.
Voxel Quest fan John Bohan made the following logo / fan art piece for the game, and I thought I would share. As you can see, it contains a V (in the book binding) and a Q (in the face of the book). I upscaled it for visibility. Very cool! On a side note, more updates should be coming this week (fingers crossed)!
For whatever reason, Youtube downscaled my 1080p video, so here is an HD version hosted locally, and one hosted on Vimeo below in case that fails.