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Ranked on top of Steam’s global bestseller list, producer of “Ghost Valley Bahuang”: Making a game is like changing one’s fate

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This dark horse broke the ceiling of domestic indie games.

“Ghost Valley Bahuang” may be the biggest explosion of domestic independent games in the past two years.

Soon after it went live on January 27, this single-player, open-world game topped the Steam global bestseller list. Up to now, the number of player reviews has exceeded 20,000, and the overall praise rate is 87% (particularly praise).

Not only that, two days ago, “Ghost Valley Bahuang” had more than 180,000 people online at the same time, ranking 33rd among all games in Steam history, ranking ahead of “Apex Heroes” and “Jelly Bean Man”, creating a domestic independence A new record for the game.



SteamDB screenshot

Many people may be curious, how did this game that ignites players’ enthusiasm for immortality be made? This week, Mr. Grape visited the Ghost Valley Studio and chatted with producer Zhang San about the design ideas and development experience of “The Eight Desolations of Ghost Valley”.

The performance of this game now far exceeds Zhang San’s expectations. In his opinion, playing games is similar to cultivating immortals, like changing their lives against the sky, and they are still on their way.

The following is Zhang San’s narrative.

1

Before I started a business and did a strategic mobile game, the product ran a circle in the Chinese mainland, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and the United States. The players scored very high, but it was not making money. Maybe our commercialization ability is relatively poor.

At the beginning of 2018, the team disbanded, and I was silent for nearly a year. At that time, I was in a very difficult state materially and spiritually because of the failure of my business. Later, I figured it out. I had to give myself an explanation. I couldn’t be overwhelmed. At least I left something in the game industry. So at the end of the year I started to prepare for “Ghost Valley Bahuang”.

I chose this theme because I really like to read Xiuxian novels, and I have never found a particularly favorite Xiuxian game, so I want to make a product that satisfies myself and can restore the novel experience.

At that time, I had already set the pre-drama framework: the player enters the game and starts from Ghost Valley, meets the mysterious old man, and then transfers to the fairy world. Everyone thinks that the team is simply called Ghost Valley Studio. I named a flower named Zhang San, the surname of the planner was Li, and the flower name was Li Si; the program was our treasure (the team had only one program for a long time), so I named him Xiaobao.

Then we spent half a year to complete the prototype. Because it is a closed development, we don’t know whether these designs can be accepted by the players. The planning and procedures suggest that I post promotional videos at station B to collect feedback, and continue to attract players to join the QQ group in this way.

The fourth video received 200,000 views

I think the most important reason for the performance of “Ghost Valley Bahuang” in the market can be so good. Probably the most important reason is to maintain close communication with players from the early stage of the project, let them deeply participate in game development, and help us move in the right direction.

In addition to the six main story frames of the game, all settings such as adventures, early weather, and fate change come from player contributions.

Someone asked me, would the players write too “white”? I like Li Bai’s romance, but I admire Bai Juyi’s “so that the aunt next door can understand his poems.” Therefore, when developing independent games, the producers cannot live in their own imaginations. They have to integrate with the players, refine their ideas, and do their best. We can do our best.

2

If you have played “Ghost Valley Bahuang”, you will find that the game’s world view incorporates many elements of “Shan Hai Jing”.

I have always liked “Shan Hai Jing”. This book not only introduces a lot of exotic animals, but also familiar myths, such as Nuwa repairing the sky and Kuafu chasing the sun… When we were young, the story may end after listening to it. But there are many things worth pondering over and over again. Why does Kuafu chase after the sun? Is the brain really broken? I want to use this game to let everyone re-examine the core of the ancient myth.

Therefore, “Ghost Valley and Eight Desolation” has determined six main plots very early: Yugong Yishan, Houyi Shooting the Sun, Jingwei Reclaiming the Sea, Drilling Wood to Make Fire, and Kuafu Chasing the Sun and Xingtianwu’s Qiqiu have yet to be further developed. . At the same time, players will encounter many monsters in the Classic of Mountains and Seas through adventures.

At the beginning, our team had a clear division of labor. The planning was responsible for the numerical system copywriting, the program was responsible for the code and actions, special effects, and the world view, art and overall game framework were designed by me.

Mythical stories displayed on the Loading interface

Although I have accumulated good art skills in college, I haven’t done specific game art work for many years. At the beginning, I didn’t even know how to use the artboard software, so I bit my head and looked for some references to paint, scenes, UI, and characters. All went again.

My vision for art performance is based on the national style, and the style outside the battle is more traditional than the traditional landscape painting, referring to the pictures of thousands of miles of rivers and mountains, the visual experience is brighter, there are simple weather changes, allowing players to relax; in the battle, I hope to reflect the joy of fighting, join Some elements similar to famine and darkness were created.

Limited to cost and team ability, special effects are basically bought from the Unity store, and there are only two directions for characters. No way, the special effects and actions are actually done by the program.

Screenshot of battle scene

After trying it myself, I found that there was a gap between the effect and the professional level, so I recruited a few like-minded art students one after another, but this experience allowed me to understand what problems might arise in the art process and how small teams can give full play to their personal advantages.

Although this game does not pinch the face, it allows players to customize the appearance by splitting the vertical painting into components such as eyes, nose, and eyebrows. This requires attention to many details, such as whether the nose should be placed on the top layer? What is the appropriate range of the angle and pixel distance between the facial features?

For planning, it is easy to solve the problem by analyzing the problem clearly, but the art is often not acceptable. They prefer to paint the whole, thinking that it is impossible to disassemble the vertical painting into parts. After the players randomly combine it, the whole can still be It seemed natural, and because I went through the process myself, I knew I could do this.

Appearance custom module

In addition, many artists now think that the characters of Xianxia must be good-looking. I always think that their paintings are too beautiful. The open world must have ordinary-looking people. I strongly asked for the bald head to be included. They always felt that it was too ugly and couldn’t accept it. Later, they slowly reached a consensus.

I have also formulated some principled art standards, such as clothing must not have metal elements. Xianxia games, especially web games, have referenced many European and American designs in the early days, and will design metal edging for classical clothing. However, traditional Chinese clothing has no edging, and the clothes in the world of Xiuxian should be mainly silk, which can express a kind of Elegant feeling.

Furthermore, based on the world view of Shanhaijing, the overall picture should not be too gorgeous. I set the color saturation in a specific interval as a reference standard for art students.

3

The gameplay of “Ghost Valley and Bahuang” focuses on two points, one is single-player cultivation, and the other is an open world.

Most novels about Xiuxian tell the process of a weak person starting from scratch and changing his fate to become a strong person through hard work. We extracted three key questions from it, and designed the gameplay accordingly: How to express the efforts of the cultivator? How to express TA’s adventure on the road of cultivation? And how to simulate the social relations in the world of immortality?

First, how to express the efforts of the cultivator? The growth method of “Ghost Valley Bahuang” is different from traditional RPG. In RPG, the strength will gradually increase as the level increases, and this game is designed to grow in realm. Each realm develops to the middle and late stages with only a small increase in strength. Breaking through the realm is the only way to become stronger.

When breaking through, I will provide players with a variety of options. For example, in foundation building, players can choose humane foundation, tunnel foundation and heaven foundation. The difficulty increases successively, and the numerical growth return increases accordingly.

Three options for foundation building

Many people think that players will definitely pursue God’s way. The other two options are meaningless. I did this to encourage players to pursue heaven and build a foundation, tunnels and humanity are reserved for ordinary NPCs. In other words, if players want to become stronger, they must work harder than NPCs.

Second, how to express the adventure on the road of cultivation? Our idea is to make a side story, where different choices of players will produce different results, and if there is gain, there must be loss. However, due to time and manpower, there are not many adventures that have been done now, and will continue to be filled in the future.



Adventure

The third point is how to simulate the social relations in the world of immortality? This is related to the open world.

Our team is too small, and it is impossible to make an open world as comprehensive as “The Legend of Zelda”. Therefore, two dimensions are focused on, one is the complex social relationship formed by the interaction between players and NPCs; the other is personal build, including skill matching and The choice to change fate against the sky.

The social relationship comes from the interaction between the player and the NPC. “Ghost Valley Bahuang” has made a set of AI architecture to give NPCs specific motives for each behavior. Some NPCs may want to grab your pill for their own use, and some NPCs want to give them to their Taoists. Motivation is determined by the character and background of the NPC. This is actually the inner, outer personality and pre-existing luck that the player chooses when creating a character. This system is shared by NPC and players.

Personality selection when creating a character

On this basis, we combine the sandbox gameplay and randomly combine the character and background of the NPC before the start of each game to derive various character relationships in the world of immortality. With the passage of time in the game, social relationships will continue to evolve according to the autonomous interaction of NPCs.

Cultivation world randomly generated at the start

Players’ game experience sharing

For this reason, at the end of each month, the game will calculate the interactions of all NPCs driven by the current motivation, and derive the corresponding results-that is, the evolution process of the eight wilderness world that the player sees. There are still many shortcomings in this module. We will continue to optimize AI to make this society more humane.

Changes in the open world are not only at the level of social relations, but also in the physical environment. We split the big map outside the battle into small grids, some of the grids will refresh various random events, and some of the grids are blank, because the “blank” of traditional Chinese painting is a very important technique. If the map is full of events, It looks very ugly.



Random events and white space

Through the above designs, we have constructed a world of cultivation where players and NPCs continue to interact and develop based on social relationships and the external environment.

Another dimension of the open world is personal build. Because Xiuxian novels put more emphasis on exercises, that is, skill matching, we did not make equipment systems. We spent almost half a year dedicated to establishing linkages between skills and building a deep Build system.

Recently, some sword repair videos are particularly popular on Post Bars and video websites, because the player has built Build, and the Yuan Ying stage beats the late stage of Hua Shen, and kills the enemy more and more. It feels very cool. In the future, we will optimize the drop mechanism of related skills to make it easier for players to assemble their own Build.

Looking back, the main difficulty in the development of “Ghost Valley Bahuang” is to get through the gameplay process. If it fails, the subsequent development work will not be done. Many teams failed to deal with this part, and finally the project ended. We are lucky.

Many players feel that the current realm breakthrough model is a bit monotonous, but it is precisely the key to helping us run through the process. What I thought before was to use it to open up all processes before talking, so there will be repeated brushing. In the future, we will provide more differentiated breakthrough designs.

4

I chose to cooperate with Thunder, first because I think they talk about cooperation very easily, and second because the relevant person in charge has a deep understanding of this game, and our daily communication is very smooth.

At that time, there was a big difference between the state of game development and the early planning: because we had no money when the project was established, we only wanted to make a small game in one year, and then the continuous communication and exchange with the players made the scale of the game change. Got bigger and bigger.

I thought that now that I have cooperated with Thunder, I would just stay on the sidelines and develop it until the end of 2021. But the players who have a good relationship with us are reminded every day through the QQ group and station B to ask why we don’t open EA (Early Access). Don’t make games for yourself? I was worried that it might have a negative impact on product reputation, so I changed it to EA on January 27th.

To be honest, we have worked so hard to make a product, and it is impossible to have no illusions about its market performance. Before the launch, we expected the game to achieve a middle-to-higher score, but we did not expect it to top the global bestseller list soon after its release. I was very surprised, moved, and then very apprehensive. The players supported us so much that we must not let them down.

There are still a lot of bugs and problems in the game. There are so many group messages that explode, and the computer has to be cleaned up every two hours. The team has been working overtime to fix problems these days, updating three or four versions every day.

After most players can experience the game normally, we will re-plan and update the content. The eight versions announced in the game are estimated to take more than a year to complete. The update sequence and gameplay details may be adjusted based on player feedback.

Version plan displayed in the game

After the Spring Festival, we plan to expand the team size, looking for students related to copywriting, actions, special effects, and procedures (combat). Developers who like to read Xiuxian novels and play stand-alone games can contact us if they are interested.

I still remember that after the game was released on January 27, I took the subway to participate in the producer’s live broadcast. I kept communicating with the players in the group on the way. Every message was returned, and I recorded it before it was too late. Suddenly, Lei Ting sent a message to me that “Ghost Valley Bahuang” reached the top of the global bestseller list and sent a short 15-second video. I watched it again, oh, I switched back to the player QQ group to collect feedback, and after a while I couldn’t help but watch it again.

Then I burst into tears. The feeling was too strange. I thought I was strong, but suddenly I felt fragile. Doing indie games is similar to cultivating immortals. It’s like changing one’s fate against the sky. This road is destined to be very difficult. Of course, given that “Ghost Valley and the Eight Desolations” is far from finished, we can never say that we have changed our lives, and there is still a long way to go in the future.

Author: Dia pineapple buns
Source: Game Grapes
Address: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/AJklSenNTCvDYKtetNw_gg

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