Well folks, after years of development, and countless hours of testing and feedback from you, Particulars has finally released for PC, Mac and Linux.
On behalf of the developers, and all of us at Surprise Attack Games, thank you so much for your feedback and support. It's hard to believe that back in July 2013, Particulars was voted through the Steam Greenlight process and not long after, made its way to Steam Early Access.
Wow. What a journey this has been! Since launching Particulars on Steam Greenlight on the eve of PAX Australia in 2013, we've seen the game transform from a small narrative-driven subatomic puzzle game, to an ambitious adventure fueled by science. It seemed only appropriate with PAX Australia 2014 looming around the corner that we release an updated teaser trailer, and make a very important announcement.
That's right folks, Particulars is launching on November 19 via Steam and Humble. The full version contains over 100 levels, as you journey with Alison through the dark and sometimes mysterious corners of her life. You'll also learn a tonne of awesome science stuff thanks to our handy Particlepedia that provides information on each particle in the game, the nuances between the real world and the game world and links to other sources.
Of course, you can still buy Particulars today for US$9.99 and start playing the beta version, which contains the first eight chapters for you all to explore. We want to make sure that you have some content awaiting you on November 19.
Also we're exhibiting at PAX Australia, so if you're coming down to the show, make sure you stop by Booth 2708 and say hello!
A consistent problem in Particulars has been helping the player locate the particle they control. You’ll be playing the game, moving some particles around, and then BOOM!, there’s an explosion, BAM!, there’s another, and three seconds later you realise that your eye is tracking a particle that you aren’t controlling.
This becomes especially problematic in the last two chapters of the game. With both the electromagnetic and strong forces turned on, particles can no longer be on their own, and neither is the player: you’re usually part of a group of two or three. If you then change your type (as allowed for by the weak force), it can get quite easy to lose yourself in the noise.
Part of the problem is that the player particle isn’t just a blank player avatar, but a particle which has the same properties as many of the other particles on screen. It’s really important that the player particle look like the other particles of the same type, while also looking distinctive enough to be visible.
Another part of the problem is the sheer amount of stuff on the other particles. In particular, the old decay timers for larger particles (which were, essentially, rings around the particles) made it quite difficult to use rings to differentiate the player (because every second particle has rings as well).
So recently, to help with the problem, we removed the decay rings. We’re working on a new way to represent decay, which is still a work in progress, but it’s making a pretty big difference in finding the player (whose data ring really stands out nicely).
That’s just the latest prong in a four-prong attack against player’s getting lost. The other three prongs are:
Making the player particle’s ‘iris’ (one of the bits that moves when you do) a special ‘player colour’ (green in the first half, purple in the second)
Having a really faint fuzzy ring of the same colour surround the player particle, to help locate the general area quickly.
Turning down the brightness and/or saturation of everywhere else to highlight the player, and doing this more in levels which cause more confusion.
We’re still tuning all of this as we get closer to getting the game done, and think that together, these strategies will help you all to play the game smoothly and easily. We’d love to hear your thoughts though, as well as any levels that you’ve found particularly* troublesome.
*So using ‘particularly’ to talk about Particulars has, for me at least, transcended the pun and just become normal again, which is quite nice. Apologies if it grates for anyone else.
Difficulty curves are, perhaps unsurprisingly, difficult. The theory is simple enough: add a mechanic, teach it, test it, combine with the existing mechanics, slowly ramp up to a climax (or ‘boss’), optionally have an easy level to celebrate the player’s success, repeat until you run out of mechanics or development time.
The problem is that it never really goes that smoothly. Some mechanics are more complex than others, and should therefore need more time. Story and experience constraints (how long you want a player to play before giving them a break) can affect or dictate pacing. The number of mechanics the game needs can be dictated by considerations that aren’t the development time (such as ‘what will make the game feel complete’, and ‘there are 4 fundamental forces of physics’), and players are notorious for being individuals who each approach a given game very differently.
Particulars, as you may have guessed, has hit a number of these hurdles. Specifically, the second half of the game contains mechanics that are significantly more complex than the first half, but for many varied reasons (story, pacing, development time), the second half is essentially the same length as the first. This means we have to get through a lot more content in the same amount of time.
This might make it seem like the second half of the game is doomed, but not to worry - we do have some tricks up our sleeve. If the problem is that the player needs to learn more, more quickly, the solution becomes apparent: we need to treat learning as a skill that the player needs to learn. That way, by the time players hit Chapter 6, players are used to having to work out some of the physics for themselves. The key then is to give them the right tools for the job.
As luck would have it, we’re already doing a lot of this: Chapter 4, in particular, increases the amount of thinking and examination that players need to do. We give a lot less direction there (mostly because we hadn’t gotten to it yet, but I’m not above using serendipity as part of the design process), and players have generally enjoyed the greater freedom that goes with it. With some more work, we’ll be able to smoothly transition into that mode of play (it’s a bit abrupt at the moment).
Which brings us to the other half of the equation: having the right tools available to players. To that end, we’re adding what we’re calling ‘helpers’ - they’re panels of information about each of the forces which help you to figure out how each of them work. These then link into the examination mode tooltips for particles.
Clearly, we need to teach players to use these helpers, but that’s a task for another week.
As of today, we’ve got panels for the Weak and Strong forces in the game. If you want to check them out, just go into a level in chapters 6-8, press control to go into examination mode and try them! We’d love to know what you think.
A few weeks ago, I pushed out a new build of Particulars live - version 0.7.2.1 (we’re starting to run out of numbers before version 1!). It fixes a few bugs, updates the story/voice acting in Chapter 1 (it actually matches the text now!), disables examination mode (more about that below), and makes the win condition rings a fair bit prettier. It also shaves a few precious seconds off the all die-restart flow.
We’ve known for a while that the restart time after you lose a level is too long. It’s important in a game like Particulars, where death can be brutally fast, that the level restarts quickly so you can get straight back into the game. Exactly how we’d shave off that time took a bit more time to work out.
The death-restart cycle before 0.7.2 went something like this:
Flash the screen red A label shows up telling you why you died Flash the screen white, fade out the label, the win condition rings and any barriers Show the level title Fade the win conditions back in, with labels explaining them Bring back the walls Hide the level title and win condition labels Start the level
This was too long, but figuring out how to lessen it was somewhat difficult. Knowing why you lost is really important in Particulars (especially since we have a variety of win/loss conditions), and we have to take time to flag the reasons. It’s also likely that we will, at least for the first one or two deaths, have to show the labels on the win conditions again.
What we don’t have to do is to take the time to fade out the win conditions and then fade them back in. So the new flow looks something like this:
Flash the screen red (and keep it tinted red after this) Show the label saying why you died Flash the screen white, fade the label, reset the tint Unwind the win condition indicators Start the level
It took comically long to actually implement this (the win condition indicators have been changed so often that it created a horrible mess of code that needed to be wiped clean), but the result is definitely worth it. The result in 0.7.2 isn’t perfect (it doesn’t show a lot of the labels at the right times, and doing all of this broke examination mode… but reworking examination mode was my next task anyway), but it’s a massive step forward. The rings now animate as well, which is a nice bonus.
I’d love to hear what you think of all the changes in 0.7.2 (especially the new voice and the cutscene storyboards we snuck in during 0.7.1). Thanks to everyone who’s been sending in comments and bug reports - they’ve been a great help!
<p>And here we are, with version 0.7.0.0! This version brings in a whole raft of changes in two main areas: graphics and the weak force.
<p>The Weak Force, while really interesting, has been a bit of a tough nut to crack. The good news is that I think we’ve got it! The big issue was that the mechanics around the Weak Force were inherently unforgiving: it was far too easy to let important particles decay, and far too easy to get stranded without a way to finish a level.
<p>With that in mind, I made 2 basic changes: decays are longer, but triggered by explosions (allowing both time and control); and W bosons now decay into electrons and neutrinos (rather than up and down quarks, which were much more deadly). Neutrinos (which are new!) give you 2 pieces of data, meaning that it’s now possible completely recover the data from a change.
<p>The other big change you’ll notice is a bunch of graphical improvements, especially around examination mode. We’re using some pretty awesome shaders to help highlight the player particle and whatever you’re examining, and are using this same effect for everything from invincibility to the slowdowns that introduce new particles.
<p>Finally, there’s a bunch of small bug fixes, and some new menu features. Controllers should be fully supported now, and all of our options are nicely in the game menus.
<p>That’s pretty much it for this build - as always, please let us know what you think! - Paul
<h2>Changelog</h2> <p><strong>Version 0.7.0.0</strong> <p><ul><li>Weak force mechanics have changed - W Bosons now decay to electrons and neutrinos <li>Weak force changes - explosions now trigger decays <li>Neutrinos! (they don't have fancy graphics yet) <li>Chapters 6 and 7 updated to deal with this <li>Menu controls (keyboard/controller) work now <li>Activating the Steam Overlay now pauses the game <li>Examination mode, Invincibility and 'Focus' mode use a fancy new shader <li>Mouse-overing objects in examination mode highlights them <li>Resolution options in menu! <li>No more annoying options popup! <li>Off-screen indicators are both prettier and break the game less <li>Small bug fixes</ul>
<p>It’s 5pm on a Friday, and the day’s really just beginning.
<p>Our lead voice actor, Bridie Connell, has just arrived to the SeeThrough Studios offices. Our audio engineer, Byrce Halliday, is on his way. In less than an hour, we’ll have begun the mammoth task of recording 110 lines of dialogue and 108 attribution lines with 11 different actors in a weekend.
<p>But before we can start, we have to construct the blanket fort.
<p>We chose to do the recording in our office simply due to availability - there was nowhere else where we could guarantee access over a full weekend for no cost. But the office isn’t perfect: the air conditioner is noisy, so we have to turn it off, the meeting room we use heats up astoundingly easily, and the ceiling reflects sound like a mirror… for sound (probably not the best analogy).
<p align="center"><em>One of our voice actors, Nick Starte.</em></p> <p>To combat this, we made a blanket fort - the blankets absorb the noise, you see. On the Friday, it was built out of a whiteboard, a chair, a keyboard stand, a rather unstable hat stand and three blankets. On Saturday, we traded out the hat stand for a much more stable clothes rack.
<p>What resulted was a pretty awesome little studio, except for the niggling problem of overheating. Bryce brought an awesome collection of dials and buttons that I got to press and turn on the Sunday, and all the actors brought their A game.
<p>I think what astounded me most was how smoothly it all went. We got all 218 lines done in the one weekend, and had time to workshop everything we wanted. We made up 2 names of characters on the spot, and fixed a bunch of lines as we went. Some of the lines were hilarious to hear (hearing Carlo say ‘Hast seen the white whale?’ about 10 times in a row in a variety of ways has got to be my favourite recording of the weekend, followed closely by Bryce’s attempt at a German author of a Physics textbook), and some were unbearably sad. In the end, we’re pretty confident that we got everything right at least once.
<p>So with one major hurdle down, we march closer to the finish line. Now for the rest... - Paul
Version 0.6.1.0 has just been released on Steam! Changes are:
Chapter 7! More weak force!
Particles spawning on other particles no longer a problem (by magic!)
In-game story for chapters 1-2 updated
Small bug fixes
I ended up not putting the audio changes in this build, coz we haven’t adjusted the volume settings and they sound kinda horrible. If you’re desperate to hear what it’s like, you can check out the Beta branch on Steam (just right click on the game in your library->properties->betas and choose the beta branch)
Next week, we’ll (hopefully) have:
Chapter 8: The Strong Force!
Actual audio changes
Some weak force tweaks (I’m not sure what yet, but I’m sure there’ll be some)
After a longer wait than anyone really wanted, we've finally released Version 0.6.0.0!
The big news is that the new version contains 2 (2!) new chapters, bringing the total to 6, out of a newly planned 10 chapters! Chapter 5 brings in Black Holes, while Chapter 6 introduces the weird and wonderful world of the Weak Force.
You can see a video with some of the new features here.
As always, we're really keen to get feedback on the game, especially the new chapters.
Full changeset below:
Upgraded particle, spawner, spawn point and data graphics
Particlepedia, linked into examination mode
Examination mode now triggered on Control
Shorter chapters (most are 12 levels)
Chapter 5! Black Holes!
Chapter 6! The Weak Force begins!
Level opening changed, you only have to press enter the first time
UI system updated (mostly this has resulted in all the fonts being Arial)
Now that we've got the UI stable again, we're looking to get back to much more frequent updates of the game. Later this week, we're looking to bring you Chapter 7, as well as a bunch of other changes.