Reckless Squad: The Complete Devlog

Once upon a time, me and two friends made an indie game called Reckless Squad.

We won no award and didn't get rich, but we learned a lot. And because I feel a bit nostalgic, I decided to collect all the blog posts we wrote during the development of the game. I wrote most of them, but Paul and Dax penned a few. I took the liberty to brush up the grammar a bit, considering those posts were written by french guys ten years ago. Comments between [ brackets ] are mine, written in 2020.

Maybe there's something to learn in there. Enjoy!

Announcing Reckless Squad! (January 15th)

Hi! I hope you enjoyed the holidays, and made great New Year's Resolutions for 2010. We sure did.

We are starting this year with great news! We are ready to announce our first project to the world! It’s called Reckless Squad.

What is Reckless Squad ?

Reckless Squad is a real-time strategy game where your only goal is to protect a convoy during its dangerous journey. You have many units with unique abilities at your disposals, and you must figure out how to best use them to face hordes of enemies in various situations across the world. Sometimes you will find places to rest, recruit new units and buy better equipments. And sometimes you will have to defeat or escape from terrible creatures.

Every journey is unique, the game will adapts itself to your way of playing by helping you or by pushing you to your last retrenchments. However, the game will always ensure that you get the most enjoying experience.

It will be released on PC (for Windows and hopefully Mac OS and Linux as well) through digital distribution for a modest price. Unfortunately, we are still far away from the release, so we can’t be more precise.

Development status

The production of Reckless Squad has just started. We wish to be as transparent as possible about the development of the game, showing it to you at a very early stage. We think you will understand that it’s just a prototype, with temporary graphics and that only a handful of features have been implemented at that time. We will regularly show our progression on our blog, and you will be able to see the game coming to life, little by little. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we do!

We plan to make weekly posts about our progression, accompanied by screenshots of the game. Here is the first batch!

Weekly News #1 : Animations, User Interface and Artificial Intelligence (Dax, January 22nd)

Hi everybody, welcome to our first weekly update!

Besides fixing some bugs, we have worked on four major updates this week.

  • Implementation of Chris Hecker’s amazing paper on Spore’s AI (http://chrishecker.com/MyLinerNotesforSpore/SporeBehaviorTree_Docs): Reckless Squad now has a good base for AI!

  • Animations have been implemented to embellish the scenes. We can now see explosions, sword attacks and other cool stuff.

  • The player can change the weapon of a unit class if it’s unlocked. An element can be assigned to a wepon among the following: Fire, Water, Plant, Electricity, Light and Darkness. They have strength and weeknesses related to each other. Use them wisely!

  • Some weapons, like bombs or the fire staff, can do damages on a large area with a beautiful animation. Be careful of the raining fire and terrible vortex!

See you next week ;)

Weekly News #2

Hello everybody!

The game is now a lot more stable. We had made tremendous progress on the technical side, and started implementing units and balancing them.

Let me introduce you to some of them!

Environments

During your quest to protect the convoy, you will pass through many unique environments. A good leader is one that can adapt their strategy to their environment, as each of them affect your soldiers in a different way.

You've already seen the Plains, the Forest and the Volcano in earlier screenshots, so I will show you two newcomers:

The Frozen Mountain is cold. Very cold. If you stay too long without moving, you will freeze! Make sure to always be moving to warm yourself.

If you like hotter destinations, The Desert is a perfect choice. The sun is so strong that you will roast in your armor. Also, the sand will make it harder to move.

Environments are numerous, and have many incidences on your quest. We will tell you more about them later ;)

Units

Besides the convoy, there are 15 units types that the player can use. That’s a lot, and each of them are very different. Today I will present you to two of them:

You've already met the Knight. This brave and experienced soldier in a heavy armor fights with a giant sword. He is a great ally, but such a power and loyalty is both uncommon and expensive. Do your best to preserve him!

When you don’t have the luxury or recruiting valiant knights, you have to deal with what you have. The Peasants are miserables, they are weak, they don’t have any armor and uses farming tools. But they are inexpensive, they will follow your for five miserable pieces of gold. The perfect cannon fodder.

That’s all for today, see you next week!

Weekly News #3 (Dax, February 6th)

Hi!

After a fairly productive week, we are still far from achieving our ultimate goal. But we are on track.

All the classes and most of the weapons have been implemented.

The most important update is the arrival of our new game engine, more powerful than the previous one.

As you can see in this picture, we have a lot of work to do to improve the performances and to optimize the game when there are many units.

That’s not all. Now our Giant Turtle, that I named Enzo, sleeps until somebody goes to wake her up. But be careful because she's hungry!

Now, let me introduce you to two units:

If you have kleptomaniac tendencies, you will probably use this one. The Rogue can stole money from his enemies. He is invisible until he robs someone, and can only be attacked during this time. He can also throw knifes.

If you prefer guns, you will love the Gunner. He owns 3 weapons and can shoot his enemies from a long, long distance.

Weekly News #4 (February 12th)

This week has seen a lot of bug-fixes and optimizations: the game is now a lot more stable and fast. For example, the game engine has received a lot of attention from me.

The slow-downs caused by a large amount of units were reduced to a minimum. I still have some work to do in order to make them disappear entirely.

Dax and Paul have worked a lot on the game's interface and on balancing the game.

Speaking of balance, I must say it’s harder than I expected. Everytime you change something, you have to check for side effects. For exemple, if I want to make the Soldier a bit stronger to better stand up to the Mages, I have to check that he doesn’t became too strong compared to other units.

Anyway, we already decided to soon make a private beta for the game to address this. We aren’t looking for testers now, but don’t worry: there will be other beta in the future, and you will be able to attend.

We’ve reached a point where the changes aren’t visually impressive anymore, so I won’t add screenshots to this Weekly News, because they are almost identical to the previous ones.

However, stay tuned! Because next week, there will be a lot of news. We will talk a lot more about the gameplay, explaining it and illustrating it. And if everything goes as planned, you should be able to see the new look of the units!

Weekly News #5 : gameplay presentation (February 19th)

Hi everybody!

Last week I promised more information about the gameplay. We worked hard to pen a good explanation.

Reckless Squad in a few words

Reckless Squad is a real-time strategy game in which you must protect a convoy at all cost during its journey across a high-fantasy setting.

The places you traverse and the enemies you meet are chosen by the Virtual Game Master, to better adapt the game to you and your playstyle.

The convoy

You must protect it, no matter the cost. There have been rumors among the soldiers about what it contains, but nobody really know. It’s Top Secret, for the King's eyes only. But that must be important, for sure.

The convoy moves on its own thanks to a powerful magic spell (it’s more reliable than horses). This spell also gives it a very strong defense, however that doesn’t means it’s invincible!

That’s the most important unit of the game: if the convoy is destroyed, it’s game over! That’s why you are here, you and your army, to protect it from greedy thieves, jealous enemies, wild monsters, and other unimaginable threats.

Your soldiers are here to protect the convoy against all treats
Your soldiers are here to protect the convoy against all treats

The journey

During your journey, you will travel the world, visiting a lot of different places and facing new threats.

However, Reckless Squad’s world is different each time you play!

It’s because of the Virtual Game Master (VGM for short): an AI whose job is to adapt the game to you and the way you play. It adapts the game’s difficulty by choosing which enemies (and how many) it will throw at you.

It will also choose what comes next, varying environments and situations, resulting in a different story each time you play.

This feature was mainly inspired by Left 4 Dead’s AI Director.

Your army

To face this perilous trip, you have a little army at your disposal. The composition of this army is up to you: you can chose your units among 15 classes!

For some examples, see our previous Weekly News: the Knight and the Peasant and the Rogue and the Gunner.

You can give orders to your soldiers, much like a real-time strategy game. The four basic orders are: move here, attack another unit, protect another unit and heal another unit.

If you don’t give orders, your soldiers will do their best. But an army without a commander is doomed.

You can choose the composition of your army in the different marketplaces around the world. Different places means different soldiers available.

Trying to recruit a bunch of peasants in a tavern
Trying to recruit a bunch of peasants in a tavern

At last but not least, you can buy different weapons for your soldiers, and switch between them during the fight. Choosing your weapon wisely is key to succeeding.

The Archer, trying to decide between a bow and a crossbow
The Archer, trying to decide between a bow and a crossbow

Weekly News #6 (March 12th)

Hi!

As you may have noticed, we didn’t post Weekly News for the last two weeks. The truth is we were enjoying our holidays (we’re students).

However, it doesn’t mean we didn’t work on Reckless Squad! We used the first week to take some rest (even indies need rest!) but we worked hard the second week. Now it’s time to show you what we achieved!

New sprites

Last month I announced that we were working on the final sprites for the game. It’s time to show you some of them!

The new sprites in HD
The new sprites in HD

Of course, they appear a lot smaller in game:

I hope you like them!

Procedural levels

Reckless Squad relies a lot on procedural content: the game adapts itself to the player and we wanted to make sure every playthrough is different. You won’t experience the same journey twice.

Until now, our levels were pretty boring: an horizontal corridor, the same every time.

So I spent the last two days working on procedural levels generation, a system that randomly creates levels on the fly.

Exemples of randomly-generated levels
Exemples of randomly-generated levels

These levels are much less boring than the old ones, and might influence your strategy (to take advantage of wider or thinner paths).

And here is what they look like in game :

We implemented a lot of “less visually-impressive” features, but we will talk about them another day! :)

That’s all for today, see you soon!

Weekly News #7 (March 19th)

Hello world!

Reckless Squad is becoming more and more as we imagined it, and it amazes me! As we progress toward the private beta, the game is taking a more final shape.

Minimap

Even if Reckless Squad’s battlefields aren’t huge, you can’t see all the map at once (except if you have a really large monitor).

To help you manage your troops, we added a minimap. It’s a classic system for real-time strategy games, and I bet you're familiar with it.

The blue dots are your troops, the green one is the convoy and, as you might imagine, the red dots are your enemies.

Weapon’s elemental affinity

Reckless Squad's setting is a magical, and thus magic is everywhere. You can add elemental affinities to your weapons in order to improve their efficiency against some kind of opponents.

For example, a sword blessed by the magic of light is very effective against zombies or undeads. An ignited arrow will deal extreme damages to an ice golem, etc.

You can freely change the elemental type of your weapons using a single button.

Excalibur enchanted with a fire spell
Excalibur enchanted with a fire spell

Formations

Until now, when you ordered your units to move, they all wanted to be at the very same point and a scrum inevitably starts.

Dax worked on formations: now the units will think as a group instead of a bunch of individuals. The group will move to the given position, and the soldiers will organize themselves around it.

Professional soldiers and forced recruits didn’t received the same military instruction, and you can see it reflected in their formation. Peasants, Rogues and Wolves tend to be less disciplined than real soldiers. Their formations won’t be as neat.

It’s a little detail that doesn’t really have an influence on gameplay but contributes to the believability of Reckless Squad’s universe.

Peasants lack discipline
Peasants lack discipline

Here are two (big) screenshots, one from this morning and the second one from the current version:

Weekly News #8 (March 26th)

Hi!

This week wasn’t the most productive for us... We spent a lot of time struggling with hard math problems. We really hate math...

I personally fought against pathfinding to implement the famous A* algorithm. It finally works (yay!), but it still needs some refinements and optimizations. I also made more sprites, like the Knight, Blackmage, Rogue, etc.

Paul worked on balancing and Dax implemented transitions between the screens.

Here are some examples of this (of course it looks a lot better animated):

Hopefully we will have more to show you next week!

Weekly News #9 (Dax, April 2nd)

Hi!

This week was full of April Fool’s jokes, but braving the jokes and fishes [it's a french thing], we have reached the final milestone for the Beta version of the game.

Paul fixed some settings on the Virtual Game Manager, like implementing the stories between the battles.

I improved the weapons balancing, in order to fix some obvious problems. The soldiers can now defeat the archers in a 1-to-1 meelee battle, when they couldn't before. Dri worked on a lot of stuff, like pathfinding, optimizations, bug fixing, and last but not least, he helped us fix a monstrous bug involving transitions.

Finally, we added new foes to the game: Pirates, Ninjas, Goblins and Dark Knights (not Batman-related).

Here is the first picture of the brand new menu:

Weekly News #10 (April 9th)

This week was really intense because we need to be ready for the private beta.

After two days of fixing important bugs and implementing the last details, we are totally exhausted but also very proud of what we achieved. Planning a play test session is a lot of work, you need to decide what content you want to feature, focus on making it fully playable and then prepare feedback forms. We will tell you about it in our next Weekly Update, but for now, here is our progress: The Lava world The Frozen Moutain world

As you can see in those screenshots, new things appeared:

  • The little sparks tell you when an attack is very effective.
  • The new tiny buttons: the first one to focus the camera on the convoy, and the second to switch to fast forward mode.

One of the problem with the previous version was that the enemies looked like player’s units. It’s really confusing for new players or spectators: it’s hard to tell your friends from your foes. So we took the time to add new enemies, let me introduce them to you!

The Pirate, based on the Gunner:

We could’t star a Pirate without adding a Ninja as well... he is based on the Assassin:

The Black Knight is a twisted Knight:

The Goblin is much like a Soldier, except that he is... well... a Golbin:

The Virtual Game Master tells your story as you play, providing you with a reason to fight (even if it’s not always a good reason...)

Finally we’ve implemented the units’ animations.

Bonus, here is how we work at D2P Games: we write a list of things to do on a “shared paper sheet” and everyone look at it and write their name before each tasks they're going to carry out. It quickly became a mess, as you can see, but it’s effective.

Weekly News #11 (May 7th)

It’s been a month since our last no-so-weekly news: we spent all our time on the private playtest.

Looking at other people play your game is the most informative experience possible. Seeing how they act and react, what they enjoy, what they don’t understand, etc. The way those new people play is very different than the way we play, and this fresh and objective look helped us addressing a lot of issues.

What we learned so far:

  • Not every players are familiar with RTS mechanisms, even the simple ones like left-click and right-click.

  • The players that ARE experienced with RTS have some habits they want to carry from game to game.

  • Some players don’t rely on the AI and click all the time, something the game didn't handle very well.

  • Differentiating the units is hard for new players.

  • A lot of players skip the explanations and the story to jump straight into the action, and then find themselves lost and unprepared.

  • Players have different tastes and experiences that lead to contradictory feedbacks. As developers, the final choice is our to make.

  • If there is a weakness in the balance, you can be sure the players will discover it and exploit it!

  • Seeing a player enjoy your game is very motivating! :)

The main problem being accessibility, we spent a lot of time adding feedback to the game.

Feedback is information that the game gives to the player to inform them about what happened. It can be audio feedbacks (like an "Okay!" bark when a unit receives an order) or visual feedback (a sword-shaped icon when you move the cursor over an enemy, for example).

Those are very little things, almost details, but they can make all the difference for a new player.

On a more technical note, I’ve managed to move a big part of the AI from Lua to C++ to address performance issues, notably pathfinding and line of sight update. I made sure the pathfinding is running in a separate thread to take full advantage of modern dual core processors. The game is now a lot more fluid, even if we still experience framerate-drop with a lot of units. Don’t panic, we have solutions.

To finish, here is a batch of brand-new screenshots:

Weekly News #12 (May 14th)

Hello there,

We continue to work on our giant “To-Do list”. We have a much clearer vision of where we want to go with Reckless Squad, and some changes are on the way.

First, we want to improve the player immersion and make sure the different situations are really different.

A first step to improve the mood of the game was to add weather effects!

Like most of the variables, the weather is controlled by the Virtual Game Master.

Another problem was that apart from killing all baddies on the map, there wasn't much to do. A solution was to add treasure chests. You can find money and even weapons (if you’re lucky enough) in them!

The game’s ending was really abrupt: you just saw a small story indicating you that you won (or lost). We already planned to add some story-related animations, but we thought it would be nice if you could see a summary of your journey.

Further plans for the future

A recurrent complaint about the game was that the maps were almost identical. Sure they were procedurally generated, but that wasn't enough.

I’ve totally remade the way the maps were generated, with a new algorithm. Here is the result:

In blue you can see the chosen path for the convoy:

As you can see there are large areas ignored by the convoy. This doesn’t mean they’re empty. They hold treasures, with rare items guarded by fierce monsters.

It’s up to you whether you want to face danger and send your units there to retrieve the treasures. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Weekly News #13 (May 21st)

Another week, another weekly news!

We reworked some parts of the game. Last week I showed you the result of our new map-generation algorithm. I improved it to add some stuff to it, so let me show you an image of the program I made to visualize the maps:

The red dots are the possible positions for enemies and the gold ones for the treasure chests. The Virtual Game Master will choose which ones should be used.

The blue line represents the road. As you can see, the ground gets greener as you move away from the line : the Virtual Game Master uses that information to place better treasures and stronger enemies farther away. Getting those treasures will require you to detach some units from your escort, weakening the convoy’s protection... it’s an extra challenge :)

The dark green dots are tiny obstacles standing on your way : rock, trees, etc. Here are their 3D models in high resolution:

weekly13/may21_trunk.jpg
weekly13/may21_trunk.jpg

Of course, I will add more of them to make environments very different.

The maps weren’t the only things to be redone, the marketplace where you can buy soldiers and weapons beneficed from a total makeover to make it easier and clearer:

Honestly, I can’t even say how much better this version is!

Weekly News #14 (May 28th)

14? Already? Time sure flies!

It’s been a very, very productive week. I like this kind of week, and I like the fact that I unconsciously start Reckless Squad just to play around with it. Good sign.

I think you will like this Weekly News, because we have a lot of screenshots for you. We improved the graphics, and we want to show you the result! Almost all our playtesters reported that the cliffs were too square, the seams too visible. I think we fixed that, do you agree?

If you played a real-time strategy game before, you may be used to assign your units to groups in order to select them faster. This feature was suggested by a playtester during the beta, and we finally added it to the game:

Do you remember when we posted the screenshot of the main menu? We also improved it, to add some polish. Have a look:

(Once again, those screenshots are from the French version, because it’s the one we use when we develop. Don’t worry, an English version is planned)

Weekly News #15 (June 18th)

Long time no see! Sorry about the lack of updates the last two weeks, we were crunching for a school project and couldn’t work on Reckless Squad.

However, we’re now free of all school-related obligations for some months, so we can work full time on Reckless Squad. Good news!

Despite the distraction provided by E3, we managed to implement a lot of features. I must say that watching items in the To-Do List being striked left and right grants a lot of satisfaction.

All the planned units are now added to the game (you can see the Pyromancer on your left) and I added extra animations to all of them:

We are currently working on the user interface (the blue frame on the bottom of the screen) and we're adding content to the game (stories, enemies, etc).

If you look closely at the screenshots, you may notice that the convoy is a bit different this time. What’s this thing on top of it? Could it be a legendary animal? Who know, maybe I will tell you about it next time ;)

Weekly News #16 (June 26th)

We had school exams this week. It took most of our time, but still we managed to implement Missions. In Reckless Squad, Missions are small objectives that you can achieve to gain rewards.

It’s like achievements, trophies, or whatever you call it.

Here is a screenshot of the menu listing all the missions. We are currently brainstorming new missions, so we will add a lot more of them before release.

Weekly News #17 (June 30th)

Hi, it’s been a while since our last update!

I want to thank all the playtesters that played the game and sent us feedback. It's been really useful, and it helps us understand what you expect from Reckless Squad.

It’s now time for us to go back to work, and we have some news for you!

First, our team grew to include Franck, one of our classmate. He will help us with the programming for the 3 months to come. Please, say “hi” to Franck!

Franck is currently working on the tutorial for Reckless Squad, the most-wanted feature from playtesters.

We also added an infinite mode, because those things are trendy these days. But it’s amazing how well it suits the gameplay of Reckless Squad. Basically the convoy stays at the center of a big arena, and you must protect it against endless waves of enemies. After 10 waves, you can buy new units and the fight resumes, with even more opponents!

Last but not least, the composer John Imbler is working on Reckless Squad’s soundtrack. He’s very talented and dedicated, and the music of the game is coming along nicely. You should be able to hear a sample of it soon, and be as amazed as I am.

See you next week!

Weekly News #18 (August 6th)

Development continues !

The first, big news, is that the trailer is available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_Ab6R0sTDI

In this trailer you can hear one of the songs from John Imbler. You can also see some new environments, like the forest.

We continued to add content to the game, here are the main game modes:

  • New game: the normal mode chooses a random story, generates random maps and uses the AI Director to create a unique adventure based on the way you play. See our previous weekly news for more information.

  • Missions: some hand-crafted situations where you must complete given goals. The purpose of the first few missions is to learn how to play. But the others are more difficult and require strategy.

Defeat the enemy's champion while protecting your king
Defeat the enemy's champion while protecting your king

  • Arena: we talked about it last week, you have to survive against endless waves of opponents. The longer you stand, the better your score.

  • Achievements: again, we talked about it before. They’re little objectives that reward you upon being completed. You’re probably already familiar with them.

  • Library: the center of all knowledge, contains articles about the different units and the world of Reckless Squad.

As you can see, there's a lot of things to play with. We also added a lot of new enemies, like emo-Vampires, Witches, Werewolves, Bigfoots, Fire Spirits, etc.

Working on the actual content instead of the technical subtleties feels good and inspiring.

Weekly News #19 (August 13th)

We are currently polishing the game and adding more content to it. It means new missions, new enemies, new situations and new achievements.

The AI Director was given a complete overhaul and can now handle 3 levels of difficulty. The units’ AI and the way they move was also improved.

We implemented the final boss of the game, the deadly Dragon. You must attack it to distract it from the convoy. But if you’re skilled enough, you may even be able to kill it.

This Dragon is angry (and hungry)
This Dragon is angry (and hungry)

Of course, doing so is rewarded by an achievement. There is currently 37 achievements in the game and we’re not short of ideas yet.

The hardest (or longest?) one is the trendy “Zombie Genocider”: you have to kill 53,597 zombies to achieve it. Yeah, it’s one more than Prototype. [We're petty like that :p]

37 achievements, and counting!
37 achievements, and counting!

Other than that, I’ve managed to optimize the game significantly, to the point it can now handle a huge amount of units at once (just give a look at the minimap):

Looks like I'm surrounded
Looks like I'm surrounded

Weekly News #20 (Paul, August 20th)

Because we're currently working on the last milestone for the game, all our weeks are alike. When we don’t investiguate a bug, we're working on new content. We added some new situations, missions and achievements in order to provide the best experience possible.

Dri designed a new boss, some kind of post-apocalyptic-middle-age biker. Although he doesn’t have a motorcycle (yet?), he’s really badass!

Dax added a very useful feature, allowing the player to know the convoy's position when it’s off-screen.

This bubble show you the position of your convoy even when it's not on screen
This bubble show you the position of your convoy even when it's not on screen

Franck worked on a mission that means a lot to him. He designed a Tower Defense-like mission, with all the characters of the game. You can expect a very hard challenge! Take a look:

I’ve spent a lot of time on PR. I’ve sent some e-mails, improved the website design (helped by Dri) and updated Twitter, Facebook and IndieDB. We've had good results. For example, the last article “Generating maps procedurally” has been read 325 times the first day. It represents half of the last month visits! We still have many things to do in public relations. Building a community around our game is my main goal for the next few weeks.

Weekly News #21: Mac OS X Version! (Paul, August 30th)

The last week was dedicated to fixing bugs. We’ve finished the whole game and fixed all the bugs we’ve found so far. The next week will be for localization and public relations.

I wanted a break from PR, so I started working on the Mac OS X 10.6 port of the game engine. As all the gameplay is written in Lua, the bulk of the job was to tame XCode and Mac OS X. In order to get the game to work, I had to compile some libraries. I used Macports for Lua and Boost, it saved a bunch of time. For the other libraries, I created my own project in XCode and built Luabind, and SFML manually.

And the result is a fully working version of the game engine, and Reckless Squad on Mac OS X :

At the end of the week, we plan to contact Valve Software to try to publish Reckless Squad on Steam. Fingers crossed. [It was before Greelight or Steam Direct. Spoiler: they said no. Twice.]

First glance of Reckless Squad 1.1 (November 22nd)

It’s been 6 weeks since the release of Reckless Squad, and we’re happy to announce you the first update!

Of course, this will be a free update for those who already purchased the game. For the others, it will be the version you get after purchasing from GamersGate [a lesser known digital store, unrelated to the shitstorm of 2014] or our website.

So, what’s planned?

  • There was a bug (sorry!) preventing the last mission (Tower Defense) from working properly. Fixed.

  • Some small other bugs have been fixed.

  • The main menu was totally redone.

  • The environments’ graphics have been improved as well.

Have a look:

Nice improvement, right?

Stay tuned, the release of this update is imminent!

Wrap-up

And that's it! I may try to sort through the postmortem discussions we had back then to add them here, time will tell.