Showcase: "Archmage Rises" by Thomas Henshell

January 3, 2016 ‒ posted in Showcases

We at Nevigo strongly believe that the more we know about our users, the better we can improve our software. So we started to ask our customers some questions about their projects and how they use articy:draft. In this Showcase we talked to the Indie Game Developer Thomas Henshell, who use articy:draft for his upcoming RPG “Archmage Rises”.

Nevigo: Hi there! Could you please introduce yourself? Who are you and how many people are in your team?

Thomas Henshell:I’m Thomas from Toronto, Canada. Game Dev is a second career for me. I started as a web developer in the late 90’s dot com boom. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. First working for startups, then starting my own mobile software company 11 years ago (pre-iPhone). Since then I’ve started a board game/miniatures store, a grocery store, and a fashion store with my wife. All of these are going strong now. So I can finally focus on pursuing my dream making video games for the PC!
I have a distributed contract team of five throughout the world. I’m the only person working full time on the game, but my artist Rogier in the Netherlands works almost full time. My musician and a programmer friend live on the west coast of the US while another programmer collaborator is in Florida on the east coast. Working in three different time zones is definitely not easy! Sometimes I have to pause development for a week or two to take care of my other business interests, so working with contractors who have other clients and projects works well for me.

Nevigo: What are you currently working on? Please tell us more about your current project “Archmage Rises”.

Thomas Henshell: Sure! The roots of Archmage Rises go back to my teen years in the 90’s. It was the golden age of PC gaming. I loved the original “open world” games like Sid Meier’s Pirates, Syndicate, and Ultima Underworld. And of course, then there were the SSI goldbox RPGs. My favorite was the Champions of Krynn trilogy because I am a huge fan of the Dragonlance books and AD&D.

Those years taught me that though computer graphics were limited, gameplay was not. Sid Meier’s pirates, for instance, has a pretty sophisticated world politics simulator that you can really influence by which towns you attack or trade with in the world. Now compare that to Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag from a few years ago; You could do more gameplay-wise as a pirate in 1987 on two 5.25” floppies than you can in this massive multi-gigabyte game today. That really got me thinking we should be investing more time in player freedom rather than 3D visuals.

As I mentioned, I love the Dragonlance novels by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman. They brought this D&D world to life in such a real and tangible way. In the story there is a young mage, Raistlin, who over the course of 6 books goes from being a young, sickly, outsider mage to the most powerful archmage in history ultimately determining the fate of the planet. That’s quite the character arc!

I was captivated by the idea of making an open world role playing game like Sid Meir’s Pirates, where you play as a young ostracized mage, and see what happens. Nothing is set. Who your friends are, who your enemies are, is completely set by the player and how they behave in the world. In fact the whole world is procedurally generated so each player gets a completely unique experience.

I’m using AI motivations and reactions to create emergent story. So far it is looking quite good!

Nevigo: For what part of your work are you using articy:draft? What do your workflows and processes usually look like?

Thomas Henshell:I learned pretty early on a 100% AI driven emergent story game is beyond my abilities and means. Shadow of Mordor is a great AAA game and it isn’t even close to that lofty goal. So I cheat!

If a player decides to kill a noble (let’s call him George), George’s family will likely come after the player (assuming the family liked George!). They will hire bounty hunters, they may even send an army against the player’s mage tower. This is all totally emergent and the world’s reaction to the player’s choice. Said differently, it is the “cost and consequence” of a decision.

But the reason for the player to kill George could be that George was a bad boy. He was sleeping with another noble’s wife, and THAT noble hired the player to go kill George out of revenge. That is what I call a “story template”. It’s pre-written by myself or my writer, but with a lot of the specific details left blank. This story template is then put in a story library of possible stories that can exist in the world between various characters. I like that I, as programmer, can’t tell you if you will encounter that story or not. All I can say is it is a possibility. The AI Dungeon Master decides what story templates to pull from the story library, and “fills in” the details of the story with actual people in the generated game world.
Another way of saying it is: in many D&D books they provide a series of “hooks” which very loosely layout an adventure idea. Well that’s what my story library is, a series of hooks the AI can use in the game world to bring it to life.
So with that explanation out of the way (phew!), I first use xmind to brainstorm story ideas. If I have one I like, I’ll take it to articy:draft and write it out.

I absolutely love the branch writing interface, because it lets me identify where a story branches (based on certain world variables, or player choices) during the burst of creativity. Using something else, like Word, is just so hard to organize branching stories that I spend more time fighting the tool than letting the creativity flow. articy:draft doesn’t get in the way, it helps me unleash my creativity. And it keeps that creativity organized.
I tend to write one complete branch of the story, creating possible interesting branches along the way, until I get to the story’s conclusion. Then I’ll go back, pick up another thread, and continue on with that until it completes. The abilty to easily see how many branches I’ve done and how many are left, with color coding for certain kinds of results, is invaluable.
I’ve tried using Twine but that’s like coloring with crayons. Articy is like painting with the latest high-res graphics tablet. There just isn’t any going back.

Nevigo: What were the main reasons for you to use articy:draft for this project?

Thomas Henshell: When I started I didn’t know how difficult writing branching story templates with other tools would be. I saw articy and decided to give it a chance. I was blown away! Just the ability to track how often a character is used in a certain story is valuable because it tells me how much effort should be put into artwork, or background, or other aspects.
Then I found I could PLAY my story through articy to try it out?! Wow! That saves so much time, allowing me to work iteratively and (hopefully) really improve the quality of the story templates.

Nevigo: Which feature would you like to see the most in a future articy:draft update?

Thomas Henshell: Once I have my story mapped out in articy, I transfer it into a proprietary format for my game. I should write an XML importer from articy but when I looked into that (granted, it was about a year ago now) there was just so much data to sort through in an XML export it was easier to just recreate it by hand. So an easier way to export just the elements (a single story) I want from articy (instead of the whole database) would be fantastic.

Nevigo: Where can we find out more about your game? Do you have a website?

Thomas Henshell: Yes! I have just finished the first gameplay trailer and made a new website for the game, so people can head over to www.archmagerises.com. For those interested in the emergent story and story template technology I’m developing, I have a 5 part video walkthrough where I deep dive the design and some of the tech in the game. I’m all for sharing my knowledge with other indies. (But AAA stay away, go do your own research! :-) )

You can follow the game at: http://www.archmagerises.com
Twitter: @LordYabo

Nevigo: Thanks a lot for sharing this information with us! We wish you all the best for “Archmage Rises” and your future projects!

Thomas Henshell: Thanks, it’s a privilege! And keep up the good work with articy:draft! I can’t live without it now!