Long time, no see
It’s been a while since we last did a developer update. We’ve had some pretty big game additions since then, most notably Chapter 5. It’s been pretty well received overall, especially considering it’s designed to be a slower chapter. We’re going to have a reflection on chapter 5 as well as look at what’s in store next for Labyrinthine. First off though, SPOILER ALERT for those reading, we will be talking about lore and monsters. Let’s get to it!
As we said, Chapter 5 has been fairly well received overall, at least much better than Chapter 4 was on release. It took a lot longer to get out than first expected, largely in part due to it’s size and open plan.
Designing an open-plan horror turns out to be more tricky than expected. We went through several iterations of how the map should work and how it should play. We put a lot of consideration into the pacing of the map, how players would proceed, the directions they’d be likely to go etc and many of the public_test players are familiar with us changing parts of the chapter several times.
We just want to clear up and address the issues some players have taken with chapter 5, as we think it’s important to see the reasoning why some decisions have been made:
Why isn't it a maze / why isn't it like chapter 4?
Something that we keep having to try explain is the game pacing. We definitely wanted the chapter to be slower paced, and it was the planned to be like that from the start. During the initial planning of the game, we spent a lot of time looking at how to pace a story horror game.
We found that quite a lot of horror games at the time had an issue where they stopped feeling “fresh” and ended up feeling very “same old, same old”. The games that didn’t have the issue, frequently changed the pacing and introduced a period of different gameplay with new environments. There’s quite a few interesting blogs and talks about game pacing, for example this one: Gamasutra Game Pacing.
We also started to look at how horror directors pace their movies. The better movies out there all roughly followed this same pacing where you would have periods of excitement and then periods of downtime. Obviously though movies don’t always translate well into games and vice versa, so we’ve gone with a hybrid. To explain it better, here’s a (very rough) graph of the intended pacing of Labyrinthine:
As many people have noticed, chapter 5 and chapter 3 play relatively similar. You wander around an open, non-maze map collecting items while spooky things happen in indoor locations. Both maps also give you a break from running around non-stop mazes as well as give players a break from puzzles (believe it or not, a fair chunk of people really don’t like puzzle elements being in the game!).
Internally, we’re happy with the pacing of Chapter 5, though it did end up being a bit longer than expected…
Why is it so long!
When we started chapter 5, we wanted it to have more of an “adventure” feel to it. People were able to complete chapter 3 really quick, often taking less than 30 minutes. While it did it’s job as a “downtime” level, it didn’t really feel like players did much exploration.
Believe it or not, chapter 5 was planned to be much larger… The following is the map from above:
The Green area represents Chapter 5 as it currently is.
Those of you eagle-eyed players will have likely noticed an additional path running along the hillside with a make-shift bridge near the dam. This was originally the path to get back to the start zone where you would then go through a newly opened chain gate into the orange area.
The Orange area would have been where you came across the mosquito for the first time, having to move along a series of wooden platforms. This would have then been followed by a much larger swamp where there would be rafts and alligators.
The yellow line was the original gateway into the orange area, before the chain gate and mountain path was added. This was planned to be a leech-fighting mini game where you would be pulled across on a raft while having to dodge leeches jumping out of the water. We scrapped this idea fairly early on however, as players would have been stood around waiting for the raft to come back if they failed it, leading to a lot of frustration and waiting around.
Ultimately, we decided to move most of the planned content into the current playable area to prevent players from having to wander and wade through large swathes of swamp. Even with us taking out 50-60% of the map, the chapter is still very large. In fact, it’s larger than every other chapter combined. Here’s an image to show you just how large Chapter 5 is:
We also wanted to make the collectible achievement require a bit more exploration, so we have hidden the medallions really well in chapter 5. In fact, it’s currently one of the rarest achievements on steam!
In hindsight, chapter 5 may be a little bit too large for most players, we’d discussed reworking it to be more manageable time-wise but ultimately, we’d rather focus on Chapter 6. We hope you can understand the reason why it ended up being so large!
What do I do if I need a break though?
We’ve noticed several people have to leave before finishing the chapter. Just wanted to put a short piece in here to let people know that we do have a checkpoint system coming that will allow you to restart from the checkpoint you last reached. This will also be handy for players who end up being disconnected (poor connection, power outtage, crash etc) as the host will be able to rehost the lobby for them to rejoin.
Why isn't there a main monster?
Many players were surprised that there isn’t a “main” monster in chapter 5. With the chapter being so large, we knew we would need to have more than one threat. We also wanted to introduce both a water-based enemy and an air-based one to try diversify things.
When working on the monsters, we had the challenge of trying to design something that both fit the swamp theme, while also being lore-friendly. We also had to consider how they would work, as we didn’t want to repeat an existing mechanic. Remember, the goal for this chapter was to change the pacing and take players out of the “maze” for a little while.
Previously we had done roaming AI, so we wanted to try something a little different by making an ambush AI for the Leeches. Originally they hid near-silently in the grass, though this was eventually changed slightly to have them move towards you when close, as they were essentially landmines!
We are really happy with the crocodile. It causes players to panic in the water and people love the kill animation. We’ve had a lot of laughs watching people wade into the water on stream to suddenly start screaming because the crocodile has heard them.
Overall, people hate being in water when there’s a threat.
Probably the most divisive monster in this level is the giant mosquito.
The mosquito underwent several “nerfs” as the original AI was much faster and aggressive and a lot of the testers struggled to deal with it.
It’s definitely not perfect, but we think it’s now manageable for most players, albeit a little more tame than we’d planned. At the time of writing, there’s a couple changes on the way to improve the fly.
When we designed the “swamp dog”, we wanted something that felt different to other monsters seen in the rest of the game. The original idea was to have packs of these suddenly appear every so often before disappearing back into the swamp (signified by a some sort of audio indicator). The issue we had though was that players were either left with zero threat or suddenly had a ton of it, which could have been either boring or difficult to manage. We transitioned to a more “stealth” like approach by making them near-deaf so that players could sneak around while keeping an eye on their position.
So in the end, the map is just too big for a single “main” monster to be pulled off effectively. We hoped that by diversifying the enemies throughout, that would keep things feeling different enough while not being too intense so that people could still explore.
What about this "ghost girl" ?!
So this one has been asked about a bunch of times on discord, and it’s likely due to the distance between the notes. To clear up any confusion, the “young girl” is referring to Joan who has just escaped out of the crypts and is now working her way across the swamp. Joan had entered the swamp just as the storm began, so she didn’t directly meet any of the guys there. If you look at the notes in question again, you will see the two directly tie together:
The first note was to introduce the leeches while also bringing Joan’s presence in the swamp to light. The second was to tie into the first to (try) make it clear that the girl he saw was Joan.
Another thing that has cropped up often is the mention of a large humanoid swamp monster being about. There is a note eluding to a large character wandering around the area where the crypt is:
I’m sure most players can piece together which big character would be near the crypt. For those still confused, let’s just say with so much weight on two little hooves, it might not be the best idea to go into a swamp post-flood….
how does this chapter link in with the story, I don't understand what's going on...
If you don’t understand fully what’s going on…. good. Sort of. That’s intended. We wanted to take a more hands-off approach with the story and instead drip feed bits of lore that could be used to piece it together. We have an official behind-the-scenes story that we consult with, but overall, we want to keep it kind of vague and have players speculate about the origins of the monsters and the game world. We will be providing more lore in a “lore pass” down the line, but this will be aimed at adding in more points of interest, lore related objects and maybe a few notes to give players more to speculate on. Basically, for the most part, we will give you the tools to piece the story together without directly telling you the story.
For the casual player, the general story so far should be clear; you’ve followed Joan into a restricted area of a maze, ended up finding your way into a crypt inside the maze and have now come out the other end of the crypt into a swamp town. At the end of the chapter, you set off towards the local mine to try find Joan.
With chapter 5 addressed, let’s have a look at what’s coming up next for labyrinthine!
As we said, you are now heading to an abandoned mine, so expect things to be tight and claustrophobic again like the Crypt. Chapter 6 is planned to be the final chapter to the story section of the game, and is aimed to be high energy, so we will definitely be putting a lot of intensity into this one.
Chapter 6 will take lessons learned from the other chapters to deliver one final hit of fear to players. Work has already begun…
We won’t be going into too much detail just yet but to give you a little bit of a tease, the mine isn’t quite what it seems and the deeper parts hold a dark secret….
Changes coming to Cases
Now we have Chapter 5 out on the live branch, we’re going to turn most of our attention to some of the systems for case files we’ve had in the background for some time. Our aim is to make them much more approachable, engaging and fun for players.
One of the first things we’re going to be reworking is the map sizes. Currently, maps scale pretty rapidly and even “Small” and “Medium” maps can take 30m+ to complete. We want players to be able to jump into a match for 10 minutes and still feel like they gained something while they were there. We also still want the option to play a 30m map, but we feel the 1hr + maps should be only available to those who want them. More on that soon.
A lot of the generation system has been reworked this past year so we will now be able to go to much smaller values, meaning a “Very Small” could be very small indeed once we rework the sizes.
Another system in the works is custom cases. While we haven’t fully decided on the pre-requisites on creating them just yet, we know we want to be able to allow players to pick and choose a map type, which monsters will appear and also choose the size. These parameters will then calculate an xp / currency value that will be a little bit lower than an equivelant random case file.
For those worried about the map size change above, we will be allowing players to generate the giant maps for a big boost of xp, if they’re feeling particularly masochistic!
Yes for the in-game shop. No, we’re not planning on doing microtransactions, this currency can be earned by completing case files and appears as Jonny Honks prize tickets.
While completing cases will earn you some of these tickets, you can also find them scattered around the maze, so those random dead ends that currently have no purpose may suddenly have a trove of tickets hidden in them.
But what’s the point of currency if there’s nothing to buy, you may ask. Well that’s where the lobby shop will come into play. You will be able to purchase some handy items such as maps that record where you’ve been, totems to revive yourself if you’re playing solo (or just ran away from friends), re-roll tokens and also a bunch of exclusive store-only cosmetics.
Of course these are just hats but we also have some other new cosmetics on their way, including flashlights!
Daily Challenges Board
Another bonus way of making increased xp and currency will be via the Daily Challenges board. This board will have a handful of random challenges to do, for example:
- Revive someone
- Complete a case with Pigman
- Complete a case in the cornfields
- Finish a case under 10 minutes
- Pick up 4 seals
- Survive a monster chase
- Complete a case without dying
Each challenge will have it’s own ticket and xp reward, with harder challenges awarding more.
New map types
As a part of this upcoming “case files” update, we will also be releasing 3 new maps together. We were going to release them separately, but we feel it will be better for players to get all 3 at the same time, so that they can have fun with the coming features in new maps and with new monsters.
The Bamboo forest
Each of these maps will have their own themed monsters, safe room sound tracks and more. We will also be bringing in several brand new puzzles which will appear in these maps.
If you’ve made it this far, we hope you like what we have planned! The good news is, we’ve got most of these systems prepped and ready to polish up, before bringing them into the game.
As always, if you want to chat with developers and other players, feel free to join our discord. We often talk about upcoming features on there that don’t get mentioned elsewhere, so if you’re a fan of labyrinthine, it’s definitely the place to be!
One final thing, if you have enjoyed the game and haven’t done so already, please consider leaving a review on steam. We know, we know. It’s one of them things people in the modern day are constantly asked to do, whether on a mobile app or on youtube videos, we’re all constantly asked to review. Here’s specifically why it helps us though:
A lot of people don’t realise, but steam allocates traffic based on the game’s review score. We’ve recently had a bunch of players take issue with chapter 5 for the reasons mentioned at the start of the dev blog. In response, they leave a “not recommended” on the store page, usually with a fairly abusive message that then dissuades people picking up the game. We tend to find groups who disliked the game will leave 4 separate “not recommended” reviews which takes 16 positive reviews to rebalance to “very positive” and we’ve dropped 7% over the past few weeks due to people not liking chapter 5. Everyone is welcome to express their opinion of the game but these reviews probably won’t ever get revised, even if the players love chapter 6. Honestly, we’d much prefer people to come in discord and express their views, that way we can address and discuss it with them directly but sadly this is rarely the case. So if you can spare 30 seconds or so, please consider leaving us a review, thanks!
Despite the above, the overall reaction has been more positive than when Chapter 4 first released, so we’re looking forward to delivering chapter 6 and the case file changes!