Ascension Post Mortem (Part 1)

Now that Ascension has been out for around two weeks, I figured I’d sit down for a while and write up a good post mortem for it. I have no idea how long this is going to end up being, so be warned in advance. I’ll try to dot it with some development pictures to break the giant walls of text, but I might end up breaking the post mortem into parts if it stretches too long. Without further adieu, off we go!

 

First off, some history. We started working on Ascension way back in April of 2011. I went hunting for the very first blog post we made on the game and you can read it here. Man, April 26th. It’s incredibly strange looking back on that post and seeing the mindset I was in at the beginning of this project. There’s something inspiring about being able to revisit the excitement I had way back when we were first designing the game. It’s also interesting to see that we were originally planning on selling the game. That idea is going to resurface a bit later in this post mortem so I won’t spend much time on it right now.

If I remember correctly, the original pitch for Ascension popped up about a week before we released Grief. We had been wrapping up the game’s development and sending it out for some minor testing, and I remember Avash (Worthington, the magnificent writer) suggesting that we make a horror game. The concept of making a horror game was really exciting to us. Horror is a bit of a niche genre, but it creates a very one of a kind feeling when done right, and it was something we all wanted to attempt. A few days after that initial suggestion I expanded upon the pitch with “A horror game in a giant skyscraper”. Not exactly visionary but hey, I tried. For whatever reason we decided to accept that expansion and the groundwork for the game was in place.

Once Grief was released and out of the way I set to work developing an engine for the game. We hadn’t solidified all the details yet, but I was fairly confident that I would be safe in creating a basic platforming engine. Once that was satisfactorily in place the three of us got together and started laying out details. It was going to be a horror game. It would take place in a giant skyscraper. You were going to be a grounds keeper. You would have to travel across 8 different themed floors, eventually reaching the roof and the end of the game. We were ambitious, to be certain. I announced the game under the working title of “Dark”.

About a week into development we hit our first hitch, in a manner of speaking. Avash was grounded, and in my infinite wisdom I decided that instead of continuing work on the game I would work on another, smaller project. Justin (Tangleworm, lovely artist) and I got together and started putting together AFROFARG. For those of you (all of you) who don’t remember, AFROFARG is a tower defence game based around the premise of ice and fire. The game was supposed to take us a week while we waited for Avash to get un-grounded. Instead, it took us two months, and the final product isn’t something I’m a huge fan of.

We finished AFROFARG on June 17th and returned to Ascension. At this point in development the game looked something like this:

Ohhhh man, that’s sexy. Let’s de construct this screenshot a little to give you an idea of what our plans for the game were. At the top left you can see a bunch of bars and numbers. The white bar is the health bar. That stayed in-game; one point for us! Below that is the panic meter. Oop, that’s not in the final product. We lose a point there. The first two numbers are Battery Level and the number of batteries the player has. Both those stayed in game, point for us. I’m not even sure what the third number is, so I’m going to take a point away for that.

At the bottom we have a very crude hotbar. Health packs on the far left, point for us! Pain killers are next, we ditched those. -1. Sedatives are after that, -1 again. We already had the lighting engine in place at this point, albeit a very basic and ugly one. The PC (player character) was about 30% animated and isn’t the Atticus you know and love. That giant green box in the middle of the screen was the very first enemy. Terrifying, isn’t it? The last thing I want to point out are those little black lumps on the floor. Those were salvage piles. The idea was that if you crouched and mashed the E key, you would get a random item. Those didn’t even make it to the first demo. -1 point for us.

Perhaps you’re starting to see a pattern here. A lot of the initial design for the game did not make it into the final version. Why is this, you ask? Well, why don’t we explore what the initial design was.

As you already know, the game was going to take place inside a giant skyscraper. You play as an unnamed grounds keeper that wakes up in the basement long after the disaster occurred; presumably you suffered a knock to the head or some rubbish like that. You emerge from the basement and realize that the lobby is completely destroyed and overrun by horrible monsters. You’re terrified, but thankfully you have an axe that you conveniently discovered in the basement. You hack your way through the monsters and escape outside. You sprint for the front gates, only to discover that the skyscraper has been enclosed in some sort of miasmic forcefield. Disheartened and frightened, you return to the lobby to try to figure out what exactly is going on.

It’s at this point that the true game was going to begin. You would hear a man calling for help through a walkie-talkie on the floor, and through it you’d be given instructions to reach him. We originally planned to focus the game around quests and combat. Each floor would have a hub of a sort, and you would be sent off to search for tools or circuit breakers. A fair number of the quests dealt with killing a certain amount of enemies. I’ll discuss why that’s such a bad thing later.

 

…Yeah, I’m definitely going to have to stretch this post mortem into multiple parts. For now, I’ll end this part here. In the next part I’m going to write a bit more about the intentions for the original game, as well as the pre- and post- open beta development. I hope you found this interesting, and if you didn’t, don’t worry: the best is yet to come. It’s important to give some background, after all! Let me know what you think! If you want to know anything specific, let us know. I’ll do my best to address it before this post-mortem is entirely wrapped up.

 

See you all soon,

Chris (Klassic, omnipotent programmer)