Endless Legend by Amplitude Studios
Published: April 25. 2014
Amplitude Studios’ Endless Legend brings turn-based, fantasy 4X strategy formula to the rolling hills of Auriga
“A long time ago, we were big fans of a game called Master of Magic,” says Amplitude Studios creative director Romain de Waubert. The game promised great things—taking command of a fantasy empire, for one, and conquering the world with it. Later on, reading books and seeing movies like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, de Waubert and his team’s desire to live out an epic adventure as the leader of a fantasy realm continued to grow, until they eventually gained enough inspiration to buckle down on their own project. “We wanted to control big fantasy armies, deal with the politics of our kingdoms and rule the world,” says de Waubert. “That may sound a bit megalomanic, but in Endless Legend it just sounds like everyday life.”
Endless Legend is essentially a fantasy civilization game—close, in many aspects, to the studio’s previous title, Endless Space, and certainly inspired by it. Where space is mostly empty, however, the planet of Endless Legend is crawling with life—a huge consideration in terms of both gameplay and, for the team, production. The team behind Endless Legend is essentially the same core team that was behind Endless Space. “The difference is that now they’re more experienced, and the team has grown slightly in size compared to Endless Space,” says CEO Mathieu Girard. “Endless Legend is a much more ambitious game, so naturally some of its features—the terrain, animated characters—are more complex to develop.”
Unity played a central role in the game, as well as the studio’s subsistence. “I have to say that Unity is one of the things that allowed Amplitude to exist,” says Girard. “Sure we have a great technical director, and I guess we could have developed our own technology, but the extent of the possibilities and features delivered with Unity is simply amazing. It allowed us, very early in the development of Endless Space, to create a functional prototype which served as a deluxe specification for the rest of the game. I think we would think twice—probably three or four times—before we switch to another technology, especially given that the pro version of Unity is a real bargain.”
“I think the greatest part of Unity is its workflow, and how easily you can create, edit, and integrate data and code,” continues Girard. “Building inspectors, editors… everything is child’s play. For Endless Legend we had to develop our own terrain system, but we’ve managed to push an incredible variety of geometry and textures. And we didn’t need to access the code base of Unity for that—we could do with the standard engine.”
In the studio’s early days, however, building the terrain and battle system was hard work. Where everything was fairly ‘segmented’ in Endless Space, with battles happening in a separate context to the main game, with Endless Legend the team opted for a more organically integrated set of systems. “Specifically, we have tried to have any event occurring in a map hex take advantage of or be impacted by the terrain system—like city expansion and battle deployment,” says Girard. “We had to prototype, experiment, playtest, etc., and I have to say that this was one of the most complex projects in terms of features development.”
Not everyone settled into the idea easily. “You should have seen the faces of the programmers when we told them that the battles would be happening on the same terrain where you build your empire, that they would involve dozens of creatures, and that anyone could watch them and jump in at any time if they were close enough,” recalls de Waubert. “To be fair, I was maybe the only one who laughed…”
The terrain itself proved particularly tricky. “We wanted it to use hexagons and have several levels of altitudes, but still be beautiful to look at,” says de Waubert. “The first version were very scary—either too hexagonal or too realistic.” Eventually they landed on a more stylized version, which proved to be both immersive and suitably clear for informed gameplay decisions.
For Amplitude, Unity’s Mecanim animation system was used intensively for character animation, and allowed for smoothly blended transitions between movement and attacks. “We’re also really fond of Shuriken, with which we created terrific special effects on Endless Space, Dungeon of the Endless and now Endless Legend,” says Girard. “Unity is constantly evolving with new tools, features and also new content for the Asset Store. But as a developer, you have to arbitrate what makes sense to integrate and in what time frame, to avoid jeopardizing your game release.”
Interestingly, the Asset Store has thus far remained somewhat outside of the team’s purview. “Maybe we’re old school and do like to reinvent the wheel, because this isn’t a part of Unity that we’ve really exploited,” says Girard. Still, he says, at critical points of the project, the team has used plugins to help us to play back video, trigger animation events, optimize multiplayer, and even consult the state-of-the-art of GUI tools. “I think the Asset Store is great and we should probably dig into it more often.”
Working inside such a heavily established form—the hex-based, 4X strategy game, to be specific—means not being allowed to miss a single mark. “Creating a deep and rich 4X strategy game involves a lot of resources to make sure that the balancing of the game is as perfect as possible,” says Girard. The team turned to the GAMES2GETHER Platform, which allowed them to gather feedback from the community and discuss game features throughout development. “In addition to helping us polish the game in terms of mechanics, they were a terrific support to us in terms of balancing and testing the game, in addition to fine-tuning the difficulty and the gameplay of all the factions,” says Girard.
In addition to Master of Magic, de Waubert points to the Civilization series (I-V), Master of Orion 2, Kohan as other primary points of reference, all of which Endless Legend is “genetically inheriting bits and pieces” from. The game is currently in Early Access on Steam, and is slated for release later this year.
Clans With Big Plans
“Every empire in our world has a unique purpose,” explains Endless Legend’s creative director Romain de Waubert, talking about the game’s progressive approach to clan behavior. “The idea with the Roving Clans is that they control the marketplace; they need to have factions trading as they live through the commissions that other players pay when they buy or sell something.” These clans can also embargo anyone, therefore forbidding them to trade—which can become quite problematic, what with the game’s rather advanced economy. “Ultimately the Roving Clans can be a powerful economic force, using their money to buy buildings, mercenaries and armies instead of raising them slowly.”
That points to something the team tried hard to establish in Endless Legend—that every faction in the game has some sort of special twist to its gameplay that “breaks” some small part of the standard 4X mechanisms. “What’s the point of creating eight factions if they end up all doing the same thing in the same way every game?” says de Waubert.