Spring Cleaning Update: Focusing on Narrative

Hi all—the past few months have been chaotic to say the least. [For posterity’s sake, we are in a global pandemic!]

But for the Boreal Games team, the abrupt change in routine has given us pause. To put it simply, we’ve been able to take stock and finesse some higher-level issues after focusing on development details for so long.

Since we pivoted to a single-player from a multiplayer format last year, many aspects of development became simpler. On the other hand, world-building needed to become far more emphasized. We realized lately that in our change of focus, we had built something that functioned well without feeling finished or immersive. And after some recent reflection, we’ve made progress on ensuring that the game feels as fun as it is smooth to play.

In this update, we are sharing the first glimpses of the storytelling overhaul we are giving Crystal Companies. We hope this work will culminate in a playable version that we can be proud to show you! Until then, here’s a glimpse into the path we’re taking toward a more story-driven final product.

Who, what, where, when

The idea behind Crystal Companies has always been simple: You lead a prospecting company in a crystal-rich frontier, and competition with other crystal companies ensues. In the multiplayer version of CrysCo, each game instance consisted of a procedurally generated arena where you would battle an opponent in a turn-based fashion.

The single-player version of Crystal Companies, however, lost the competitive novelty associated with a human opponent. This made the abstractions more obvious and the game instances more repetitive. The goal of adding procedural, rogue-like expeditions was to restore replayability through a new means. Item management, overworld route planning, and progressive randomized deck-building were introduced to complement the new expeditions mode. The environment and random events also were new focal points. The new challenge, though, was making sense of this rebuilt world. We needed to answer some basic questions explicitly to make the world feel real.

Who

First off, we decided who the player is: A new arrival to the frontier; naive and with few resources. It turns out, the frontier is past its prime; the news of great fortunes being made there are overblown. You can’t afford to leave, so you are offered a contract position as an imperial courier. From there, you work your way up to running a full-fledged company—if you (quite literally) play your cards right, that is.

What

You begin by essentially running errands for other, more established frontiersman, which as a term is a bit of a misnomer considering more than a few women have established successful crystal companies. You traverse various environments in your wagon, with few companions, to carry news and crystal between encampments and forts. Along the way, you may even gather some crystal for yourself, not to mention alliances that will help you grow your company.

Where

The frontier is a vast place. No two regions within it are exactly alike. The variety of environments is amplified by the fact that crystal itself is an energized material. As crystal is dug up and moved around, the landscape becomes more volatile. Natural disasters and even supernatural phenomena increase as crystal is unearthed. In addition to natural disturbances caused by crystal mining, there are political fights over access to land and the resources bubbling to the surface.

When

Time is a relative concept in the real world; it’s arbitrary in an imagined one. But one big change the in-game storytelling underwent was changing where the named characters—the captains—were in their timelines. Instead of imagining them as at the beginning of their journeys, we put the player there. The captain characters are now in the mid-stages of their development. Not only are they more useful to the story that way, they can also act as mentors to the player as they progress in their quest.

All of that to say…

We are re-imagining every touch point the player has in order to instill storytelling throughout. UI/UX is the main area of change so far. Here is a first look at what we are creating:

Newspaper-inspired UI will enable players to gain context for gameplay within a framework that also serves to advance the game’s narrative.
We’ve mocked up a series of examples, like these, and we expect to integrate this content systematically with in-game scenarios and situations.

Essentially, players will become keyed into current events through a newspaper-like interface. New missions and items can be found within the pages of periodicals, as well as additional context for the events that occur over the course of your expeditions. Paying attention to the news will pay dividends as players plan their expeditions.

On the Horizon

While we are farther away from releasing Crystal Companies than we’d hoped to be at this point, we are excited to be able to share what we feel is an exciting prelude to a promising version of the game. We are currently commissioning some new art in addition to firming up the storytelling elements of the game. We are looking forward to sharing new developments with you soon!

Fall 2019 Development Update 🎃

As we approach the release of a Crystal Companies: Expeditions (CCX) demo, we have a few final updates to share, as well as details on how you can join our community of beta testers! 🕹️

New Explore Mechanic & Incidents

🗺️ Exploration

In addition to playing through common scenario modes, exploring enables players to encounter additional minor events in between. Exploring can provide opportunities to find unique items or trade with a traveling merchant.

However, exploring can result in unintended consequences that derail your expedition temporarily; for instance, bandits can steal your wagon’s wheels!

One example of an incident: Tormented bones show up chasing an unfortunate traveler, and it’s up to you to decide what to do about it, if anything.

💀⛈️ Incidents

During scenarios there are now random incidents, which, like the changing of weather, add layers of strategy to basic scenario objectives. This can include the arrival of merchants, mercenaries, and undead adversaries, as well as natural disasters.

UX/UI

Lots of quality of life changes took place this month, mainly to make transitions easier to understand and give more information about items and contracts in game. Overall we are steadily making portions of the game less confusing (we hope!).

The updated company view on the expedition screen allows you to view all current contracts, and their abilities.
The updated design of the unit detail view enables it to fit better with the overall UI design.
We cleaned up the dialogue view design to make more sense overall and fit with UI design better.
The updated end-of-skirmish experience streamlines the looting/company growing process into several discrete steps as well as incorporating story elements, making it easier to take charge of your company.
Agents now show previews in the inventory view, and when upgrading an agent in the shop you can now view the upgraded agent before you choose to purchase the upgrade.

Bonus Update: Battle Map Studio

Awhile back we received an unexpectedly large amount of love for the map editor our developer, Bradley, created to make generating battlefields in Crystal Companies easier.

Now this tool is getting a full beta release as a standalone application! Dubbed “Battle Map Studio,” the editor makes creating and manipulating 3D, procedurally generated environments for RPGs or other games super straightforward and satisfying.

Find out more on Bradley’s website, including how you can become a beta tester 😊

On the Horizon

Crystal Companies: Expeditions is on the verge of release, and we continue to be optimistic about the progress we are making.

Beta testing for CCX should begin in another month or so (🤞). In the meantime, join us on Discord or follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates, and so that you can be among the first to know about the upcoming release!

And thanks as always for joining us on this journey. 🙏

Summer’s End Update 2019

We’ve been hard at work on Expeditions this summer, and we have a lot to share. In case you missed it, Expeditions is a new single-player mode of Crystal Companies that emphasizes procedurally generated adventures. (We shared details about Expeditions in our previous update.) We have some finishing touches to complete before a new playable demo is ready. But, as you will see below, things are falling into place nicely with the game.

Unit Ability Effects and Animations

Two types of decks will initially be available in Expeditions (each of which will start randomized rather than pre-constructed). Both come equipped with a series of revamped abilities with animations to match.

Imperial deck moveset and FX.
Alomian deck moveset and FX.

UI/UX: Item Management & Tactical View

As items play an enlarged role in Expeditions, the entire system for collecting and using items had to be overhauled. Similarly, we improved the way players can review the environment and actions in a more streamlined way. Below, you can see how looting items and the action viewer have been consolidated into the HUD bar at the top of the screen. Along those same lines, the tactical view has been reinvigorated with a cleaner layout.

Loot, Item Menu, Actions

New item pickup, use, and inventory system.
Looting items from another point of view, which also includes the adjacent actions stream on the left-hand side of the HUD.

Tactical View

An especially optimal time to use the tactical view: when the world is on fire!

Environmental Improvements

Environment generation has received some love recently as well. Both the blending of textures and weather effects were updated.

On the Horizon

As was said in the intro, a new playable demo is on the radar! Hopefully in the next update we will have firmer details to share. But for the time being, you can join our Discord server, which is where we plan to make Steam keys available again!

First Look at Expeditions

This is a preview of the new Expeditions mode of Crystal Companies.

Expeditions is a single-player mode where players embark on procedurally generated missions, dynamically build decks, and navigate hex-based tactical environments, all in an effort to build a successful crystal company.

Expeditions have been in development for a couple of months now—here are a few glimpses at progress so far!

Deck Selection, Overworld & Encounters

The framework for beginning an expedition is now in place 🙌 We are still ironing out some of the visuals, but the basic format of each expedition is as follows:

  1. Players select a captain, which is associated with a semi-randomized deck. Contracts (cards) can also be acquired or sold over the course of the expedition.
  2. An overworld scene with a series of nodes is generated procedurally.
  3. Each encounter has specific win conditions and optional challenges, with the goal being to end the expedition with lots of crystal.

Going Deeper: Items, Agents, and Economic Strategies

Expeditions will bring a slew of new additions—dynamic deck building, new UI, and contract simplification, to name a few. Here are some of the things we’re working on now.

Items

Items, like potions and equipment, have always existed in Crystal Companies as contracts, but in Expeditions, they will have a more distinct function in addition to their traditional role as cards in the deck.

With the addition of an inventory, items can be collected during an expedition and accessed on demand rather than exclusively in the form of drawn cards.

Agents

Players begin each tactical encounter with any agents they control appearing near their wagon or command post. Agents can be movable units or take the form of stationary support operations, which existed in previous versions of CrysCo.

Agents are also special in that they persist from battle to battle—as long as you retain them in your inventory. Agents, like items, can be found, bought, exchanged, and lost. Agents are unique in that they can be upgraded at forts.

Economic Strategy

The monetary importance of items and agents will also play a role in the overall strategy—or “meta strategy,” if you will—of Crystal Companies.

Not only will players have to balance their deck composition with the mission at hand, they will also have to maintain a healthy, sustainable company over the long haul by managing their supplies.

On the Horizon

Thank you for joining us on this leg of the journey! We look forward to sharing a more polished (and playable!) version of Expeditions mode soon. 🙏 Join our Discord server to be among the first to access this new version of CrysCo!

A New Chapter Unfolds

One week ago, our Kickstarter campaign wrapped up. And though we didn’t reach our funding goal, our vision for the future of Crystal Companies has never been clearer.

Image of wagon from Oregon Trail fording a river.
We’re going back to the basics; we’re inspired by the themes of survival from the classics! But we’re blazing a new trail. See you on the other side…

The Way Forward

The near-term focus of Crystal Companies will shift to single-player, procedural expeditions.

Expeditions will be defined by:

  • Dynamic deck-building, with deck archetypes built around central captain characters.
  • Choosing between several procedurally generated overworld pathways for each expedition you embark on; each path will include different kinds of encounters where you will have to decide to fight or avoid enemies, visit or skip forts, and collect different cards and items.
  • Upgrades for your crystal company over the course of an expedition, as well as opportunities to visit merchants, gather resources, recruit supporting characters, or repair your company’s wagon, which causes you to lose your expedition progress if it is destroyed.
  • Skirmishes, which will still form a significant portion of the encounters seen during expeditions; turn-based, procedurally generated, hex-based battles will continue to form the foundation of Crystal Companies‘ gameplay.

The Journey Ahead

Over the next several months, we aim to complete implementation of Expeditions, which will consist of leveraging much of the work that’s already been done on Crystal Companies up to this point. It will also be an opportunity to clean up code and streamline functionality.

Overall, this is a very exciting time for the Boreal Games team.

While we will be reorienting our focus, we won’t lose any of the work we did on the synchronous multi-player version of Crystal Companies that we honed over the past few years; that game mode will simply not be a focus for the the foreseeable future.

For now, we will continue to do our best to complete the best version of Crystal Companies we can.

Thank you for embarking on this leg of the journey with us!