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The Future Proof Podcast 035

Podcast episode

Gregory Avery-Weir  0:21  
Hello, and welcome to the Future Proof Podcast. This is our bimonthly podcast where we talk about what we've been up to, anything cool that we're planning to do, and just general status of the, of the studio. I'm Gregory Avery-Weir.

Melissa Avery-Weir  0:34  
And I'm Melissa Avery-Weir. And we've been a little quiet sort of in the public space lately.

Gregory Avery-Weir  0:45  
Yeah, part of that has been that I ended up getting COVID. 

Melissa Avery-Weir  0:50  
Bummer.

Gregory Avery-Weir  0:50  
I've managed to, to be real careful and dodge it for years, probably got at once near the start of the—

Melissa Avery-Weir  0:51  
Yeah.

Gregory Avery-Weir  0:52  
—of the pandemic. Well, back when we didn't know how and couldn't test for it. And then just, just recently... and it was, it wasn't bad. As far as such things go, it was not pleasant to be sick like that. But never it never got particularly scary. But I was totally unable to work for a while. And, and that, among other things have meant that it's been kind of a slow summer for for Future Proof Games. We've done streaming. 

Melissa Avery-Weir  1:30  
Yep.

Gregory Avery-Weir  1:31  
Pretty consistently. Yeah, at time of recording, I've got a stream tomorrow, although it'll, you'll—it will happen to already when, when this is edited and released. So when you're hearing this, you can go back and see what I thought. But yeah, so things have been decently chill. But we've been making gradual progress on the final job in "Headless Swarm".

Melissa Avery-Weir  1:55  
Yeah, so Exploit: Zero Day. We've talked about it plenty, I think. But our first paid season of content for it is called  "Headless Swarm". It's been in development for a while. It's hefty; it's a new kind of thing for us. So. And of course, we've done other things in that process. But we figured it'd be kind of cool to talk about what it is and how it's structured and some some cool stuff around it.

Gregory Avery-Weir  2:25  
Yeah. So this is... like the rest of Exploit: Zero Day, this is a series of, of Jobs, think of them as like missions, or quests or whatever. Little story bits that are, are introduced by a character, who's asking you to do a thing to help them in the end to kind of try and, try and help people and stop people from abusing power. And each, they're, they're—"Headless Swarm" itself has nine of those Jobs. So it's got missions, many of whom are introduced by a new character that doesn't show up in our previous season of story. And each of those Jobs has at least one cluster of puzzles that you have to solve to progress through and, and then there, there are additional choices that you make along the way through, through that Job interface.

Melissa Avery-Weir  3:18  
Yeah, and there are also—depending on some choices you might make, you might get a little extra sort of narrative stuff happening on the side that doesn't necessarily directly affect the main plot. But some folks may speak up with some commentary on, on what's happening. Compared to "Black Echoes", which was the first free season that we did have story, "Headless Swarm" has a lot more branching in it. It's got, the choices you make... and the choices you make and have made, definitely affect sort of the path that you're taking, which has made for an interesting kind of complexity in terms of tracking the narrative on our side, 

Gregory Avery-Weir  4:01  
Yeah, you, you still get the same series of... You'll, you'll still play the same set of Jobs in the same order. But some details of those Jobs can change both the, the state of the characters who are giving them to you, and even to the extent of, some choices will make certain clusters easier or harder depending on what resources you've left available to yourself.

Melissa Avery-Weir  4:26  
Exactly. And it got to a point where we... Exploit: Zero Day is built in a technical framework called Django, which gives us this like, nice sort of admin system for basic content management that we have used, you know, we're well accustomed to it. But when it came down to writing these Jobs, and we had, again, done it for "Black Echoes", and we started wanting to do this branching and have sort of alternate paths and lots of kind of conditionals starting to stack up. We were like, "We can't do it this way." 

Gregory Avery-Weir  4:58  
Jobs include game messages and message choices, and initial messages and different kinds of choices and hooking those all up together and making sure those are all under the parent Job. This editor just collects all that and does that automatically and lets you edit everything on just one page.

Melissa Avery-Weir  5:18  
Exactly. So you know, a little bit of fancy JavaScript. And you get, like, a visual layout that helps you see the flow of the Job in a useful way, and kind of what some of those conditionals are and stuff like that. So. So our intent is to open that Job Editor up down the road, so that folks can build their own Jobs, and share them.

Gregory Avery-Weir  5:41  
Some time in the distant future.

Melissa Avery-Weir  5:42  
Not going to happen—in the distant future. But much in the way that we've opened up the same tools that we use to build systems and build clusters, this is just sort of like the next layer of that. That's like, you know, you can already put kind of story around each system using the... the sort of... Greg, we call those pre- and post-messages, or they labeled?

Gregory Avery-Weir  6:04  
They're labeled. They're not labeled pre- and post-messages in the UI. They've got they've got—

Melissa Avery-Weir  6:09  
Yeah.

Gregory Avery-Weir  6:10  
—some in-character name. But yeah, they're, they're, there's each, each, each puzzle can have a thing that displays when you open it, and then a thing that displays when you solve it. And so those are already available for story. And we, we'd love to do—at some point in the far future—the ability for players to string those together and make your own Jobs as well.

Melissa Avery-Weir  6:32  
Exactly. It's just currently it's not built for, you know, the degree of stability and security and things like that, we'd have to check so. But it was it, it was, it's always good to build your own tools. Like when you're doing development, any kind of development, game development or otherwise. There's always a point at which you go, "Okay, I've done something twice. Is this enough for me to build a tool to help me with? No, maybe not? Not sure. Okay. Now, five times?"

Gregory Avery-Weir  7:00  
It's almost always worth it.

Melissa Avery-Weir  7:05  
Yes, every time I open it, I'm like, "Oh, thank goodness, we've built this tool!" So yeah, good, good on us; we didn't wait too long, we would have, you know, we would have been even more frustrated than we were. When the when the sort of mechanics of building the story become the difficult part, instead of the actual creative work, it's, it's just, it's just too late. 

Gregory Avery-Weir  7:27  
Part of the complexity for that is the way in which we track, like, your progress through story and the state of various things in the story. It might not be clear even to players at the moment. But all of the... the only thing we use to measure progress and Exploit: Zero Day—outside of an individual cluster, I guess. There's, there's cred, there's what? There's scryp?

Melissa Avery-Weir  7:55  
Scryp. 

Gregory Avery-Weir  7:56  
But there's mostly badges. So when you do a thing in the game, in a Job, you'll earn like little achievement-style badges that are, that are labeled for various things you do. And those are the only thing that we use to track your state throughout a story. So we look at what badges you've earned in order to tell, you know, is should this person be angry at you? Should this person still have freedom? Should, should you know, have you done X or Y? Or do we need to reintroduce this character, etc?

Melissa Avery-Weir  8:35  
Yeah, so I think one might think that we'd look at your sort of technical message history and the buttons you pressed and sort of reformulate this information. But instead of that—which would be a very costly process, like from a, from like, a very technical level of database calls and decision making, it'd be way more complicated to do that. So instead, when you anger someone, you will get a badge that is beautifully drawn by Greg and has a typically very narratively relevant or slightly punny name, that indicates what it means. And you can see those on your account page or someone else's account page, their profile page, you'll see all the badges they made, you can see all the choices they've made. If you you know, know what they mean and what they tie to. 

So yeah, when you add that into the mix, and we're saying like, "Okay, you're in the middle of a Job, this is the message you get if you have this badge and this badge. This is the message you get if you don't have those badges." That makes it all the more important for us to have a good visual editor for this for this process. So yeah, I think it's pretty cool. I think if if you've ever played Fallen London—which is like the immediate one that comes to mind—they have a similar type of system. Like lots of sort of counters and badges and I forget what they call them. They, I don't think they call them badges, but they use a similar sort of system to keep track of like, what has this person been doing? So it's a good system, it's working for us. The logic can get a little, you know, we've had to build some features later to say, Oh, actually, we want to make sure we can say, "no one who has this badge can see this thing," right? Like, there's still as the more you add ands and ors to that logic, the more there's a, there's sort of functionality that has to be built out.

Gregory Avery-Weir  10:36  
Another new little feature that is part of "Headless Swarm" that if you've been playing long as it's been coming out, you've encountered already is that it has situations where characters will prompt you to, like, provide a passcode or solve a little puzzle based on kind of reading the things you've uncovered along the way and doing the puzzles and so on and coming up with an answer. That's been a fun thing to like, have essentially little riddles that, that tend to like, unlock extra side story stuff, or make future situations a little bit easier, because you were able to solve a problem.

Melissa Avery-Weir  11:17  
Right. Totally optional stuff. But yeah, like you said, can, can make things easier and to be a little extra. It was cool. It's... it was, it's not always easy to assess what folks will pick up on, and how much they will care to do so. Like how much do you clue ahead of time that they need to read carefully? I don't know. Right. You don't... You don't necessarily want to assume and if they don't get it, you know, that's fine. So you don't want to make it punishing, necessarily. So yeah, that, that kind of stuff is fun. We even did something that like took you out of the game, like something that we did via newsletter...?

Gregory Avery-Weir  11:58  
I think are the "Headless Swarm" trailer has a little thing in it, that probably we will want to figure out a way to reseed that in a different way once once it's fully released. 

Melissa Avery-Weir  12:12  
Yep. 

Gregory Avery-Weir  12:12  
But yeah, so there's going to be nine main Jobs, like we said, we've got eight done have released seven. And we're currently working on on number nine. So it's almost it's almost done. But it'll take us a while to finish everything off, but, but we're really looking forward to seeing the end of it. And if you want to check it out, for now, it's 4.99 US dollars for the whole season. You'll get the existing Jobs, and then as new Jobs get released, you'll get those as well. And we were... We haven't decided yet what we want to do about like, does it have a different price when it's fully released? But if you, you get it now guaranteed $4.99.

Melissa Avery-Weir  13:04  
Yeah. And it's been, you know, as we, once we finished Job nine, there's basically, you know, we'll keep, we'll release Job eight.We'll start doing testing, basically on the whole thing, right? When you write something piecemeal, you have to go back and make sure all the, all the scenes are stitched together correctly. We did pretty good planning. And we check each other's work. And you know, we think we're pretty careful. But when something takes a long time to do and to write, there are just little things, you know, we've discussed how do we want to do citations of a false, non-existent quote?

Gregory Avery-Weir  13:44  
Yes, some of our, some of our quotes are real life quotes, and some of them are from fictional groups and characters.

Melissa Avery-Weir  13:50  
And fictional sources... but sounds good, right? They sound like they could be real. So you know, we have some decisions to make around stuff like that. So once that QA polish is done, then, then "Headless Swarm"... longtime coming: will be done, so. But it's an exciting, cool project. This is undoubtedly one of the largest or the largest game dev thing I've worked on. So that's cool.

Gregory Avery-Weir  14:19  
So if you're interested in that, you can check it out at exploitzeroday.com, and you can find all of our stuff at futureproofgames.com. If you want to follow us on Twitter, you can go to PlayFutureProof and you can follow us on YouTube if you just search Future Proof Games. There you'll find mainly archives of our Twitch streams, which our, our stream schedule is posted up on futureproofgames.com/streams

Melissa Avery-Weir  14:49  
Oh, you can also find, if you are interested in seeing some Rosette Diceless gameplay, we have some, we have a couple of playlists where we've done Twitch streams with our buddy Jim Ryan. Where you can see us play that. I know there's not a ton of footage of that out there, so it's a cool thing.

Gregory Avery-Weir  15:11  
So check out the playlists on the Future Proof Games YouTube page. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment on our blog on this episode or hit us up on social media. Our theme music is "Juparo" by Broke for Free used with permission.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai