Hazelnut Bastille, a 16bit Indie Adventure

Created by Aloft Studio

Hazelnut Bastille is a topdown, Zelda-like ARPG, presented in a rigorously-period 16 bit style. Hazelnut is available to back again for a limited time. Our expectation is for orders to be charged when Dawnthorn, the 8-bit sister game to Hazelnut is first released to backers.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

A technical look at some recent animation work for Hazelnut
6 days ago – Sun, Jan 10, 2021 at 03:09:07 AM

Ok, so here is a look at some work for a feature in Hazelnut that isn't quite done, but I figured folks might still have interest in. 

At some point in the story, the heroine gains access to an entirely new form, a river otter. This form develops over time, gaining new abilities as the story progresses, some of which function similarly to how a dungeon item fits into the gameplay sequence in the classic zelda-like scheme. This form has a complete animation set now, more or less:

One unique challenge that this concept has had so far (which I forsaw going into it), is that in this artstyle, characters which concentrate their bodymass into a single tile animate far more smoothly, look way less awkward as they are turning, and look way more believable in collision. Although the heroine is much taller than a single tile, because we as humans naturally understand the human form, and that it occupies only the space under the shoulders, our brains easily understand that in perspective she still occupies one tile. So while otters are quite long in body, I am rendering her as quite pudgy and bulbous. This gives the added benefit that round and soft objects are a boon for classic animation principles, since they are subject to many of the techniques that better sell an animation, such as elasticity, reactive deformation, inertia, and follow-through. 

The run cycle and ground-animations feel fairly successful so far, and is probably the closest of the animations to being complete.

I watched a number of videos of otters in motion to get a sense for how they actually propel themselves. The motion is actually fairly interesting, and a bit different from most other mammals, but shared between their closer relatives like ferrets and weasels, and maybe a variation on what dogs seem to do. The best example I was able to find was an animation study by user "Panimated Sonja" on Youtube and Tumblr (you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH-SsWJfHec ). I capture the 10 frames they drew here, for a reference: 

The things that I take away, are: the front legs and back legs coordinate mainly as like-pairs, with a staggered action that probably creates more stability; there is a big contraction of the long spine, which generates a large amount of the force propelling the otter; the way the motion seems to work is that the back legs hop forward as the spine is contracting, and simultaneously the front legs leave the ground, the back legs push forward strongly, the spine straightens out, pushing the front of the body further still, and then the front legs make staggered contact, and provide the friction to plant the front of the body as the back prepares to repeat the motion. The back legs appear like they are responsible for about 2/3 of the power the four legs provide. I used these concepts as a guideline for my run cycle (the last 5 frames of each row):

The standing pose the otter takes at idle was suggested by a friend, and is a useful device that reinforces the idea that the body mass occupies a single tile. The transition between running and idle also seems to capture the active and somewhat nervous energy that otters have. Because the otter spends most of its frames with the majority of its body mass concentrated in a single frame, it ultimately seems to animate pretty gracefully while on the ground.

The primary purpose of the otter on the ground from a design standpoint is to use the burrow ability we have planned for it as a major feature, although it's not yet clear if the otter should have an attack on top of this- that may either end up serving to make the form more viable as a character controller, or it may also end up muddying the purpose and feel of the otter. The form is intended to feel quite different from the heroine's standard form, missing most of her abilities, but also to have enough utility that it is the best fit for some situations. The moveset must walk the line between utility, but also having it's own distinct experience, and not being redundant with her other abilities.

Another challenge to giving the otter a direct attack is that her body doesn't really lend itself to explaining how an attack with enough range to be viable could be delivered. The current idea, if we gave her that attack, would be for her to propel herself in a lunge, and roll it off as a ball. A rough look at that motion can also be seen in the ground preview video from last week:

It's likely I'd balance the utility of a roll attack with a few recovery frames that give vulnerability, since she is not meant to have the same combat potential as the heroine's primary form. 

The swimming motion has been another highlight of the effort. The way that otters swim is just marvelous, but they are so dynamic that it is hard to immediately understand what they are doing. They are constantly twisting and rolling and flexing different parts of their bodies. User Airin Zhang on Youtube captures that pretty well in their animation:

I wasn't really able to parse what was going on until I saw a video of otters at the Milwaukee County Zoo exhibit underwater behind glass, which pretty much provides the only real way to see what they are actually doing in profile (you can watch that video here, where I timestamped it at the moment I captured: https://youtu.be/mXjE6-Fb53Q?t=99 ). Around 1:40, you can see what seems to be a perfect (rare) example of them using their primary propulsion technique while not turning at the same time. I captured the frames here:

From what I can tell, they seem to use their front legs similarly to how dolphins do- they keep them back to reduce drag, but temporarily lift one or the other in order to steer. Similarly to planes, their primary turning method involves roll rather than yaw, probably beause of the eccentric force their front legs apply against their center of mass. Here though the otter moves without using its front legs at all for a couple cycles. The energy seems to be divided between the otter's tail and their back legs. Otters actually have a broad, paddle-like tail to facilitate this motion. It's not clear if the tail or the back legs provide the majority of the energy. The cycle looks like the otter is creating an S-motion along their spine, and ending the motion through their tail, generating force on both the downward and upward motion. They slowly hook their back legs foward, and then increase their surface area with the webbing, and deploy a back-paddle, flattening them back out against their body. Then after a few cycles of this to generate power, they simple glide through the motion, sometimes adjusting course. Here is my current work to capture those motions:

Everytime the otter turns in real life, it is accompanied by a roll, so I also have the otter roll every time she turns. 

Similarly to the ground form, it's not clear to what extent the otter should have attacks while swimming, but I did give her an animation for a tentative thrusting-roll attack to test. Most of her use is meant to be utility, navigating underwater spaces and manipulating event assets down there, while swimming away from hazards, and trying not to drown. Our intenion for that gameplay takes a nod from the Mermaid fins from the Gameboy Zeldas, where the underwater space is divided into multiple tiers where the player can change levels. The otter will be able to manipate objects by moving them with bubbles, most likely as well. 

Here is the animation  being tested:

The art is of course just prototype placeholder for tiles, so don't focus on that.

So far the motion feels sort of successful, but not yet ideal. The animations are a bit longer than the other ground animations, which feels somewhat hard to avoid, since otters are such a long-bodied animal, and the straighten their bodies completely for this motion. But if she is too long, than she will feel very unwieldy to turn. The turning motion will make her feel like a javelin making 90 degree turns on its center of mass, and over-emphasize the 4-way animation she has. As I finish work on that one, I will probably de-emphasize her length, and the frames that give the perception of her long body to address that issue. The roll she does on the other hand feels really natural to me, and seems to add livelieness and the idiosyncratic character that the motions of otters have. I may shorten her body length in the roll as well, to minimize the current awkwardness of turning.

Here she she is during surface swimming btw, similarly unfinished, but getting there (the scene she is swimming in is technically shallow water by our game logic, but just use imagination for now, lol):

The digging motion feels pretty good as well, maybe fairly close to what may be it's final form:

Otters aren't particularly known for digging, but they do burrow. In the animation, she basically does a shoveling motion with her forelimbs, making downard progress with each cycle. In the surfacing animation, she does a triumphant hop and dismount, which has to happen quickly so it feels responsive and not too control-laggy. I am thinking we might have the surfacing motion be a kind of attack that provides knockback, to reduce the difficulty of finding a suitable time and place to surface.

The utlity of the dig move is planned to be quite extensive, actually. The way it will function is that some surfaces like sand or grass will be diggable. Once she has burrowed, she will be in a new collision space entirely, to represent the unseen underground. She will run into hidden barriers down there, but also be able to dig under other barriers in the main surface playspace, like rocks or walls or cliffs. With enough experimenting, she will find new hidden paths. The ability will also allow her to circumvent some kinds of enemies. Additionally planned is the ability to manipulate some surface objects by mininig under them, and causing them to collapse into her mined path. The trail she leaves as she burrows will also have its own collision that some assets may respond to. Currenly planned to be prototyped for instance are puzzles which would involve creating a path of rails with her dug path for puzzle objects to be guided by. It is possible that some enemies will be blocked from crossing that path as well, but it's not clear if that particular feature will provide either interesting or broken gameplay, so we will have to prototype that concept as well to ultimately know. 

We may have to play with the visuals a bit as well, in order to get the color not clashing with different environments, or for the path to look right when going under non-surfaceable terrain:

Part of the difficulty in prototyping this stuff is that simple ideas tend to have unforseen interactions with other existing features, and especially anytime you create a feature that involves collision as a major driving trait, you can expect something to interact in a funny way with it. Still, these features appear that they won't have too many special concerns in passing prototyping. 

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If you have anything intesting to add about ideas for these animations, or design comments about the concept of the otter form as currently described here, let us know, since this part of the game is under construction and in the process of coalescing into its final form!

More Dawnthorn Level design scenes
30 days ago – Thu, Dec 17, 2020 at 10:51:57 PM

I am currently in the process of working through level design with Dawnthorn, while we wait for stuff that's needed for the Alpha build of Dawnthorn to get worked out- sorry again for the delay there! 

In the meantime, enjoy some of these scenes from that work! 


A puzzle-platforming scene intended for level 4:

A basic introduction to some of the features gargoyles have, as another level 4 puzzle:

A scene where a particular enemy must be faced in a particular way to triumph: 

A simple enemy-fight space:

A tricky encounter intended for one of the last two levels:

A very challenging puzzle (which we aren't showing the solution to here, so no spoilers!) which will lead to a bit of optional content most likely:

Another late-game space that relies on a peculiarity the flame snails have in order to be workable, and which then becomes a kind of cute "minigame": 

And finally, a crew who mean business, early on in the game, and who may be pretty tricky to face due to your initial lack of material provision:

We should have some updates on Shannon's progress with music as well, shortly!

It looks like I will be working on level design for Dawnthorn for another good 30 days or so, at which point I will move on to whatever task makes sense given our collective work. That may be either working more through Dawnthorn boss-fight implementations, finally releasing the first alpha build, or more Hazelnut work, depending on where we are with other stuff!

Dawnthorn gameplay clips from level design work
2 months ago – Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 10:18:44 PM

Ok, so right now we are in the process of finishing up Dawnthorn. The task that I am engaged with now is level design. I am working on implementing the pool of concepts and enemy encounters planned for the entirety of all dungeon sequences, in one giant level file, as I tune and test different experiences, and potentially shift content from one dungeon to another if it is found to be out of sequence difficulty-wise as designed. 

In the process of doing that, I've also added in planned sequences for a special segment of the game where the player is given the opportunity to increase their base states as a reward for triumphing against a series of very challenging enemy ecounters which each have puzzle-like peculiarities to them.

Around the map in Dawnthorn, you will find a set of altars that may look something like this (although they may be more difficult to reach than they appear to be!):

There are around 30 challenge rooms to complete in these sequences. Here are some examples of candidate rooms I thought you guys might dig:

We might tone down the flashing graphics a bit though, since I could seem them being a bit too much for someone epileptic. The visual style is meant to be dazzling and disorienting in these particular sequences, to add challenge by the way of visual confusion and distraction, but it might all be too much.


We also added simple animated grass and flowers to the entire overworld, which is something I've been meaning to add for a while but never got around to:

We will continue to bring content as we create it (should be plenty this month), and we should have the first alpha build for testing Dawnthorn for the backers as soon as we complete some of the last remaining requistes for putting that out! be sure to watch twitter as well, if you'd like to see a few sequences a week, as we post them!

Dawnthorn Gameflow Map and NPCs
3 months ago – Tue, Oct 13, 2020 at 12:15:43 AM

Dawnthorn Gameflow Map and NPCs

Ok, as mentioned in the last update a bit ago, there is a large amount of work just concluded on Dawnthorn that we can talk about now. 

Don't even have to blur this one this time, since it is so big that a simple screen cap isn't enough zoom to read any part of it.  So the core structural element in laying out Dawnthorn is the macro game state. There are 10 of these, and they advance everytime a dungeon is completed. Various things in the Dawnthorn world change each time these increment. Each of the NPCs inhabiting the world changes what they say or how they behave each time. You are not simply able to take the dungeon item from each dungeon and skip completing the full dungeons, as you might in the Original level of Zelda, as we've arranged things to account for that.

The flow of the game is controlled by a gating system, where the player gains access to sets of dungeons in either 2's or 3s, but must complete every dungeon in the set before the next set unlocks. This gives us the opportunity to give the player options about what order to tackle the game's various challenges, while also letting us guarantee that they have obtained certain items and upgrades that we can expect them to have and thus integrate into the design of future levels. We've laid out the mechanics of each level, and which mechanics are central to the experience of each. We've determined which enemies are intended for which dungeons, so we can further specialize the stats of those enemies to fit the experience of where they are supposed to be encountered. We've placed the gating for specific powerups in the overworld to become available. We have every single dialogue crafted and placed in the sequence of the gameflow. On the left side, we have a big board that deals with what is available in each shop at each point, and a plan to probably fluctuate prices for each game state, so the player is encouraged to search out the best deals any given moment. 

Over that we have a system integrated into the shops, which actually offers the player a long list of possible "tip" hints about where they might find the many lesser powerups found throughout the overworld, posed in engaging fashion. (there are approximately 60 of these).  Some examples include:


Just north of the Pool of Jellies in the Central Young Wood, something shimmers in the shallows, near the bridge.  


Near the southern shore where the river doglegs, there is a long-dead bush that caught my eye!


Check the stones just south of the 4 sisters of the Swamp of Regret!


As you can see, they are written in such a way as to provide real information, but also to require real thought about how to interpret them, and fit the descriptions to actual features in the world, and I figured this style of hint would be the most engaging as it actively involves the player's thought patterns. 

Beside that we have the information and assets for a couple minigames. 

On the bottom left, we have a map of how the powerups are distributed around the world. We have a target for what basic power level we expect the player to hit at various points in the game. We've laid them out in such a way that you only gradually gain access to them in the world, and of course they are hidden well enough we also assume you will miss most of them even after they become available. This gives us a general idea of your max, minimum, and likely power level. While I am playtesting the game's main sequence, I will play each segment at both the target and minimum levels, in order to get a feel for how rough / fluid the challenge is. 

And here we have the current worldmap corresponding to the flowchart, full of scrawled notes, powerup locations, and schematics. Unfortunately this is probably as good as we can show you, as it is pure spoliers. 

The NPC's themselves are an area I've had a ton of fun with. Above is the full exhaustive set for Dawnthorn. Each NPC has a particular purpose in the world, which they fulfill consistently. Each them has a modeled personality and background, in some cases so developed they are modeled on real world people or fictional characters. There are also themes and patterns that recur across the entire set. 


The seven Soup Sages (Far left) for instance all have their own themes that connect to one of 7 basic flavor-types, with an Italian name connecting to their individual theme. Furthermore, each of them has an established personality and life outlook that connects directly to their flavor-type, so they see the world radically differently and interact with the player in a way that reflects that. Mela (apple-astringency) focuses on witty sarcasm and modern / existential social critiques. Amaro is bitter, but opportunistic, and runs a moonlighting business around his duties. Peperoncina opts for hot-takes. 

A big part of the joy we have crafted for Dawnthorn is simply interacting with each of these NPC's, as they change throughout the story. It's always worth it to speak to any NPC, and to do so often. 

Dawnthorn Titlescreen Animated Intro, with Music
3 months ago – Thu, Oct 08, 2020 at 12:58:38 AM

Dawnthorn Titlescreen Animated Intro, with Music

That is all! More coming shortly, but it is sort of tied up in a package it makes more sense to present together!

Let us know what you think of this draft, and any improvements we should make!