Road Not Taken on PS4, Vita: Living a Full, 15-Year Life

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Road Not Taken on PS4, Vita: Living a Full, 15-Year Life

Road Not Taken

(This post is about Road Not Taken, Spry Fox’s upcoming roguelike for PS4 & PS Vita. If this is your first time hearing about RNT, check out our trailers here!)

Lately, we’ve been doing a ton of playtesting of Road Not Taken, particularly with fellow game developers. (If you’re ever looking for brutally honest feedback, other game developers are a good place to start.) In general, the feedback has been pretty positive: people love the game’s basic mechanics, art and audio. But one big issue repeatedly crept up in many of our playtests: people weren’t sensing the depth of the game and weren’t feeling a strong sense of progression. This post is all about how we’ve been fixing that.

I like to think of Road Not Taken as an iceberg floating in the ocean: a tiny percentage of the total game is visible above the surface when you first start playing, while the vast majority of the game lies unseen, waiting to be discovered. A large part of that depth comes from all the unusual creatures and objects you can encounter as you explore the enchanted forests of the game. Another large part comes from all the secret tools and boosts you can create if you know what you’re doing. (For example, if you combine the right number of red and white spirits lurking in the forest, you can create a useful magic axe.)

In our previous playtest builds, none of this was surfaced to the player. Since Road Not Taken is a roguelike, we simply expected players to assume that they would encounter different and/or more challenging objects and creatures as they progressed. And we expected players to stumble upon a few of the simpler crafting recipes in the game, and consequently realize that there must be many more recipes just waiting to be discovered. But neither of those things happened, so we realized we needed to do a better job of communicating with the player.

Road Not Taken

We’ve taken several steps to address these issues. First and foremost, we’re adding a “book of secrets” to the game, and we’re introducing it to the player during the very first mission. This book is basically a giant progress meter, in addition to being a very helpful reference guide. When you start out, it contains just a few entries, two of which are simple-but-useful crafting recipes. This unambiguously signals that crafting is something you can and should do. More importantly, the book tells you how many new objects and secrets you have yet to uncover (i.e. “2 out of 100 secrets found.”) This is an unmistakable signal to the player: you’re just getting started! Get to exploring!

There are already dozens of secret crafting recipes in Road Not Taken, in addition to dozens of forest objects and critters, and we hope to add more over time. The book of secrets is, in retrospect, an obvious way to make it all comprehensible to the player.

This sort of problem is common in game development. You build a robust system, expecting everyone to love it at first sight, and then grapple with the brutal reality that people either don’t understand the system and/or don’t understand its depth. Your tutorial might need work. (We’ve gone through at least a dozen iterations of the Road Not Taken tutorial and probably have a couple more left to go before it’s good enough!) Your metagame might be poorly surfaced. Your UI might be confusing. The list goes on and on. There’s only one cure to these illnesses, and that’s lots of playtesting, iteration and polish.

if you are lucky, they might miss you when you are gone

There are a bunch of other things we’re doing to give new players a clearer sense of progression. For example, one interesting thing about Road Not Taken is that your character has a maximum lifespan of 15 years, and each mission you embark upon consumes a year of your life. (This ties into one of the main themes of the game: trying to live the best possible life in the limited time you have on this Earth.) In earlier builds, we never actually informed players of their lifespan limit until they died after 15 missions. This caused new players to feel like the game was somewhat aimless at first, and later upset them when they unexpectedly kicked the bucket! So now we signal your limited lifespan in a bunch of ways. After each mission, we explicitly tell you: “X years remaining.” (14… 13… 12… etc) And NPCs comment about the passing of time. There’s a rather foreboding doctor in town who likes to make not-very-funny jokes about your dwindling lifespan. It’s hard not to get the message.

a not-so-comforting doctor

You can, of course, die before you reach your limited lifespan. This game is a roguelike, after all! We’ve found ourselves tuning the difficulty up over time as we realize that encountering a steep challenge is half of what folks like about a good roguelike (the other half is a deep sense of discovery, which this game has in spades, and which we’ve accentuated with the book of secrets that I mentioned earlier.) High difficulty and death in Road Not Taken are, in their own ways, a signal to players that this game is not going to hold your hand. You need to play carefully, and you need to learn the game’s secrets if you want to survive.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you today! As always, we really hope you’re enjoying these little insights into the development of Road Not Taken. If you have any questions about this post (or anything about the game in general) just leave me a comment! I’ll do my best to give you a decent answer. :-)

PS: If you’re planning to attend PAX East, we’d love to meet you! We’ll be there showing off Road Not Taken (with a playable demo!) and we’ll be giving away a beautiful free poster (see below) to everyone who plays the demo and signs up for our newsletter! Please come by, say hello, and take a free poster home with you. :-)

Road Not Taken

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  • Man, this game is looking better and better each time it’s shown. Absolutely can’t wait.

  • Damn was hoping this would be out sooner. Looking forward to it though.

  • This game looks great. Originally I thought it was just a variation on the “Match 3” type of games but its looking more and more deep and engaging every time I see it. My favorite game right now on my PS4 is Don’t Starve which is a tremendously difficult rogue like game. I love games in this genre because although they are very challenging and frustrating I continue to come back to them day after day and learn new things I never thought possible. There are very specific people who enjoy this genre because it goes to great lengths to make sure and NOT give everything to the player from the start, unlike most games released today.

  • Given the amazing and iconic art style, might I be so bold as to suggest you offer Avatars on the PSN Network? I for one would pay for a bear and a main character guy, at the very least. :)

  • Oh and I’d DEFINITELY buy a Masked Doctor avatar too. ^_^

  • Sick n tired of all the DS quality games they keep shoving onto the PS4! Sure put these mobile hybrid games on the Vita but not on PS4. I try to show off the power of next gen games to friends/family and they just laugh at games like Don’t Starve, and this. Playing this crap on a 50 in is not fun! I guess it truly is becoming the IndieStation 4. This is a Road I won’t be taking any time soon. Just Saying…

  • I am REALLY looking forward to this game. Please keep us updated, PS Blog!

  • excited to learn more and get my hands on this game in the future. sounds like a lot of effort and thought are going into it. hope it pays off!

  • God-Of-Lyf, I feel your pain. Things that I’m not interested in are available for purchase, as well. Orange dungarees! Who would wear those?

  • Will there be a difficulty level setting on Road Not Taken? Also, is there a way to get one of the posters if we can’t make PAX? The game looks like a lot of fun…

  • I wish I was going to PAX! Sadly, I tried to get a press pass too late :(

    Still can’t decide whether I want this game for Vita or PC. Decisions decisions.

  • Can’t wait to get my hands on this, sounds really interesting. Plus the fact that you’re using Robert Frost poem as an inspiration is icing on the cake.

  • Game looks amazing! I really enjoyed Don’t Starve, my only real complaint was that it wasn’t available on the Vita!

    I’m liking the Book of Secrets a lot. It can be a pain sometimes trying to remember every little detail in games, so the Book is much appreciated.

    Is there a specific quarter of the year you hope/expect to have Road Not Taken released on?

  • Can’t wait to buy this! It’s good to finally see a console steamroll into the indie games market like the PS4 has over the past months.

  • Game looks great! When might we expect the release date? Also, I’m curious about the “die after 15 years mechanic.” I typically like my roguelikes to be more or less endless, but I’m intrigued to see how this works out. Keep up the good work!

  • I think I won’t be able to play this, I grow fond of the characters I build and don’t like to watch them die

  • Looks really nice. Was going to buy this for the art style alone but it’s starting to sound like it’s going be a blast to play!

    Will there be a platinum trophy?

    Will buy on Vita, how’s the performance?

    Will there be cross buy or cross save w PS4?

    Is there combat in the game? How does it work?

  • I’m sick and tired of people complaining how there are no games or too many indies showing up on PS4.

    Newsflash: The system has only been out for 5 MONTHS!!!

    Do you really expect a AAA game to come out every month? I sure hope you didn’t because that’s absolutely ridiculous. And BTW for those who bought a PS4 and complaining, you knew it didn’t have many games to start with and yet you bought it anyway. You have no one to blame but yourselves.

    How about playing other games on PS3 or another console? The PS3 still has games coming you know and it still has the IGC. And before anyone tells me they sold it to purchase a PS4, once again that was a decision you made, not Sony. And if it broke, what’s stopping you from getting another? Like I said, the PS3 is STILL relevant and support won’t stop for at least another 2-3 years.

    Stop blaming Sony for the lack of games and stop insulting developers for works they put their heart and soul into. If you’re not interested that’s fine but calling them crap without even knowing anything about the game makes you look like a hypocrite.

    Just needed to say this for a long time now.

  • The more I read about this game and the time the devs. are taking to do it right, the more I want to play it. AAA games are great, especially when they are PS4 exclusives. But games like this are what really make Playstation the the best place to play. I own both a Vita and a PS4 so I hope to see cross saves! Great Job!

  • Answers to a few questions (using my teammate Daniel’s PS blog account since I can’t figure out how to log into mine, doh!)

    * We’re hoping to simultaneously release on PS4, Vita, PC and Mac sometime this summer.
    * We do intend to support cross buy, unless something crazy prevents us from doing so. :)
    * There isn’t really combat in the game so much as “trial by wits.” You will definitely be attacked by a range of creatures. Or maybe the creatures will ignore you and go straight for the children you’re trying to protect. In either case, the only way to defeat your enemies is to be *smarter* than them. You can’t bludgeon them to death.

  • @God-Of-Lyf

    I believe you mean DS quality graphics. This game is beyond the complexity of a NDS game.

    I understand you’re wanting big flashy graphics. This game existence doesn’t cancel the production of any “AAA” game or retail release. It exists for those who will purchase it, as does COD, Killzone, Infamous, etc. You, I’m sure the developer will admit, are not the intended audience.

    Retail titles take years to develop, Sony was slow on the delivery of the SDK to developers. Indies are quicker to develop time due to smaller companies and less burocracy, so you will see those game more until the publishers get a chance to release their games. The yearly franchises (COD, FIFA, Madden,etc) should be coming this fall so you will have the experience you want a PS4 for, just in due time.

  • This Game is so so so weak I can’t,believe y’all, OMG what the Hell.
    This Game really? My Avatar Big nose is even more Interesting, Than that!
    I mean yeah it is Bros ,and my hair . …………..
    Hold up BRB

  • Please don’t listen to the hater comments, they just don’t get it. I like all games and appreciate any effort to put any type genre games up for the people on consoles.

    Games are games and if it’s not your type of game, just let me say” not everyone shares the same opinion”.

    People need all types of games. Atleast, we don’t get weeks where nothing at all appears… ;P

    This game looks fun and I will take notice when it releases. Indiestation lol, people now days.
    Don’t worry bros, your cod will be ready this year, as it is every year… …

  • Super excited for this

  • I’m not a general fan of roguelikes, but this looks pretty cool!

  • looks great!

  • When you’re trying to create a unique piece of art, I normally think it’s a dangerous venture to listen to the complaints of an (often fickle) audience. But I think you did a tremendous job listening and understanding the audience’s perspective on what they’re gleaning out of your painting. The Book of Secrets is a tremendous idea that seems much easier to comprehend, and I think that you’ve done us all a very worthwhile service in choosing to clarify your vision.

  • Now this a another masterpiece that I am looking forward to indie games are one the best!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • every time i read about this game or see pics i get closer and closer to wanting to cave and buy a vita. don’t abandon us ps3 gamers! port this for us too!

  • PrimeroIncognito

    God-Of-Lyf on April 2nd, 2014 at 8:29 am said: “I try to show off the power of next gen games to friends/family”

    Show off what? That you bought it? What a silly reason to have a gaming console.

    “Hey everybody look at these graphics that I had nothing to do with! But I sure paid for it! You’re all envious aren’t you? Yeah!”

    Don’t you play for fun?

  • Woooot! The game is looking good! Will be the platinum trophy?

  • LOLOL all the playstation trolls be like wherez all the elite graphix I bought ps4 over xone for the leet graphixzzzzzzzzzzzz1

  • Can’t wait for this game. It reminds me a little of Adventures of Lolo.

  • Oh my god I’ve been waiting for a good handheld Rogue-like since Shiren The Wanderer on the DS (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon didn’t cut it) and this game looks amazing in its own right. Love the limited lifespan idea!

    Thanks for bringing it to the Vita!

  • I am typically VERY tired or indie games on high end consoles and PCs however Im mildly interested in this game. I the graphics are a HUGE bummer as to what the PS4 can accomplish but the idea on the lifespan is cool, although I think 15 is too short.

    We will have to see how this progresses and how long until it is released to keep me interested before moving on to something else.

  • Ugh, so tired of people whining about indies. Don’t like them? Don’t buy them. Simple.

    Indie games being on PS4, or PS Vita, do not stop “AAA games” from being made. You are literally complaining about more games being available. Which is foolish.

    The game looks amazing.

  • I guess you guys are never going to get rid of PS Plus Vita games Uncharted, Wipeout, and Gravity Rush are you? I am so tired of seeing these games as free. Can’t you guys pick 3 more? Rotate them out? Something?

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