Rivals of Aether: 2017 Developer Recap - 2018 Developer Preview

Hey there Rivals fans. We’ve been having a blast continuing work on Rivals of Aether and wanted to update you all on the year and how we felt things went. We’ll also give you a sneak preview of what we are working on now and how we expect the rest of 2018 to go. So without further ado let’s get into it!

Developer Recap 2017

Last year was a huge year for both the game and its competitive community. We had a ton of great events and releases so let’s dig into what went well and what didn’t go so well.

What went well?

Full Release: Exiting Early Access and Game Preview

Last year we finally reached a 1.0 for Rivals of Aether. After 18 months on Steam Early Access, we completed the game with a roster of 8 characters. We released Story Mode which has a speedrunning leaderboard as well as Abyss Mode which has an awesome leveling and customization system and can be played locally with up to 4 players. We launched on Steam on March 28, 2017 and then on Xbox One on August 23, 2017 both with Achievements and Leaderboards. While the buzz of Full Release did not quite match the launch of Early Access, the press we did receive was very positive. Including a 9.0 review score from Destructoid.

New Characters Join the Roster!

We didn’t stop at 1.0 though. Because Rivals of Aether has been such a hit with its fans, we decided we wanted to keep playing in the development sandbox and add some new character designs to the game.

We started with our first guest character — Ori from Ori and the Blind Forest — who released on August 23, 2017 on both Steam and Xbox One. We worked directly with Moon Studios and Microsoft to bring the best version of Ori that we could. Nearly all the abilities that Ori possesses are taken directly from the game and it is especially fun to use his signature Bash ability in the world of Aether. We also added the Spirit Tree stage which features both a basic and aether version.

Next up was the character two pack of Ranno and Clairen, which released on Steam on October 17, 2017 and will arrive on Xbox One later in January 2018. Internally, we jokingly referred to these characters as our “Melee Pack” as both characters brought gameplay that fans of Super Smash Brothers Melee have been waiting to see in Rivals of Aether. The first was Ranno who has a similar style to Sheik in that his poison darts help him fight opponents at range while his quick aerials allow him to play both offensively and defensively. The next character was Clairen who possesses a powerful plasma sword that is stronger at the tip which was inspired by the Melee staple Marth from Fire Emblem. While both characters draw inspiration from Melee, they also both offer awesome new mechanics including Ranno’s poison Bubble Trap and Clairen’s projectile destroying Plasma Field.

Incredible Live Events

In 2017, Rivals of Aether’s online community continued to have great life with our monthly RCS tournaments and the MSB run amateur brackets. We were one of the most entered games on Smash.gg. 2017 was an even bigger year for Rivals of Aether local events as the game graduated from a Side Event to a Main Event at multiple Super Smash Brothers tournaments. We also had a ton of great compendiums where we raised pot bonuses and flew out players by creating skins for events. We as developers would create the skins but rather than take any of the proceeds, all of the funds went into tournaments. This allowed for some awesome events including a $10k Pot Bonus at Genesis 4 ($5k raised and $5k from us).

Genesis 4 — January:

First up was Genesis 4 which was a smashing success in terms of the top level talent that showed up in San Jose, CA. The top 8 at Genesis 4 was basically the same as the top 8 players in the game at the time. A big storyline at Genesis 4 was the passing of the number #1 player torch from Ralph to Fullstream, a title which he would have to defend for the rest of 2017. The #1 torch was arguable for Fullstream before G4 but was his alone after the huge event.

CEO Dreamland — April:

Next up was CEO Dreamland in sunny Orlando, FL in April. This event was huge for Rivals because we were invited to be a main event in this platform fighter themed tournament along with Brawlhalla. The Rivals community did not disappoint with a ton of its newly sponsored players flying to Florida to compete. In the end, Fullstream was able to defeat the worthy Kisuno in grand finals protecting his #1 title.

Super Smash Con — August:

Super Smash Con was a huge east coast event featuring the largest local bracket that Rivals had seen up to that point. When 160 players duked it out to see who would be crowned champion, 3 familiar faces sat at the top. Top player Fullstream was able to take the crown while Smash Con 2016 Champion CakeAssault and top Kragg player MSB both rose to the occasion placing second and third. We also revealed Ranno at an SSC Panel and talked through his design and inspiration.

Shine 2017 — August:

Shine 2017 will go down as one of the most exciting Top 8s in Rivals of Aether history. Once again top players rose to the occasion with West Coast heros DolphinBrick and LBO both flying out to Boston, MA to compete. The biggest story-line was when top Zetterburn LBO double eliminated #1 Fullstream giving him his first (and only) non first-place finish at a local event. This opened the way for Forsburn main CakeAssault to display his dominance in one of the craziest Winners Finals you will ever see. Cake took first place and cemented his claim of #2 heading into the end of the year.

Heatwave — September:

Heatwave took place in Arizona in September and was notable for two reasons: it was the most successful home grown Rivals event to date and it was the first time that Ori was playable in a major local tournament. Fullstream returned with a vengeance using the new character to have a perfect tournament not losing a single match. We also saw Enetick have great results with Ori while the rest of the top players competed with their trusty mains.

GT-X — September:

GT-X was a huge Rivals of Aether event for a few reasons. First the event itself was massive. It took place in the Utah Jazz’s stadium in Salt Lake City, UT. Players could watch matches from the stands on the megatron. Secondly, at this event we revealed Clairen on the giant screen as well as the release date for Ranno and Clairen on Steam. Thirdly, this was the first event where top player Fullstream was playing under his new sponsor Panda Global. This was a huge accomplishment for the game and its community as Panda Global is a very successful esport team that now has their own Rivals of Aether player.

New Features and Events

We also released some new features and a new Zetterburn Plush in 2017. One of the coolest features that we added was Money Matching where players can wager their Abyss Coins in online matches in a best of 1,3,5,7 or 9 series. We also ran an Esport Icon Competition for Ranked Mode where players could use their favorite team’s icon to increase its ranking. The top team at the end of the competition was going to have a skin made after them and released in Rivals of Aether with half the proceeds going to the team and half going back into the community. The winning team was Burrito Esports and you can support them by picking up Burrito Kragg.

What didn’t go well?

Delayed Characters and Xbox One Releases

2017 was a great year for development but we also had some issues sticking to our schedule of releasing 4 new original characters in 2017. Most of the blame can be placed on me personally for not being as organized and strict as I needed to be. But we also have been increasing the quality with each new character and skin which makes new pieces of content take longer than expected. We also added new stage skins for Ranno and Clairen after players wanted to get their music and atmosphere in the game which delayed development of new characters by a couple weeks. Now two of the original characters have been pushed into 2018 but we are still grinding on making them as awesome as possible for you all.

On the Xbox One front, the delays can also be placed on me. As a super small team we don’t have the ability to compile and test on Xbox One frequently so we need to wait until we have fixed as many bugs as possible on PC and then submit the build to Microsoft for review. We also had some bugs at launch on Xbox One that we needed to fix before pushing an update which has delayed the Ranno and Clairen release to January 2018 on Xbox One until we can get them sorted.

Where is Rollback Netcode?!

One of the goals we set in early 2017 was to update the netcode for Rivals of Aether from synced input to rollback input. We enlisted the help of an experienced Game Maker programmer YellowAfterlife to assist in the reworking of our netcode. We did make progress early in 2017 as YAL got into our engine and worked on a state saving / loading system. However we ran into issues when the save/load of the game state was taking longer than a frame of code so it was not possible to run at 60 FPS. We also had issues prioritizing the netcode revamp with our new content. Every new player article (all the stuff that characters can put on stage) would need to be tracked as part of the netcode rework and since we were adding characters throughout the year, the netcode build we were working on was becoming more and more out of date. We haven’t eliminated the goal of revamping the netcode to rollback but we would have to revisit it once the roster is complete as overhauling it while adding new content has proved difficult. We cannot say for sure Rivals will have rollback netcode in 2018, but can say we definitely haven’t forgotten about the goal.

Fatigue and Negativity

One aspect of development that we hadn’t anticipated was the fatigue of continuing on a game for as long as we have now. The engine of Rivals is a terrible mess at this point. Just ask Trevor if you want confirmation. Fixing one bug creates 4 new bugs in other places. Some bugs are as old of the engine itself which was first created in 2014 now. We are getting on older tech as time goes on so Steam and Xbox One builds on Game Maker Studio 1 are becoming scarier and less supported. Rivals in its original design was never meant to have such a long development tail so we are now working against the clock as the project becomes an overwhelming behemoth of intricate interactions.

Another aspect that we had not anticipated was the amount of negativity we experience as being developers of a live game. Balance is always a heated issue especially in a fighting game but we have had pretty much every character complained about as being either too strong or too weak in 2017. Add in the DLC characters with their own balance and cost and the negativity starts to swirl. The characters past the original 8 in Rivals of Aether cost additional money. Ori and the Spirit Tree Stage cost $4.99 as a pack while Ranno and Clairen along with their 2 Stage Skins also cost $4.99 as a pack that comes with both characters. The reason for these costs is for us to continue development on Rivals of Aether. The game sold very well at the launch of Early Access and has sold moderately well since that time. There are now 5 full-time workers on Rivals of Aether and 5 part-time workers so our burn rate in 2017 is the highest it has ever been. If we had not been charging for the additional characters then we would be losing money in 2017 as even with sales the cost of development is more than the game itself is making at this point. Yet many gamers expected new characters to be free even though we said before development was finished that players can expect them to be paid. The negativity is hard to ignore when it crops up in the online places where you work. It can also impact the game as it becomes harder to work on something when you feel that people will just be angry or disappointed when you do release new features.

With that being said, we are still extremely excited to be working on Rivals of Aether and are grateful that our fans give us the chance to expand the game and keep making awesome content. We’re not done yet as we have some awesome things in store in the future.

Developer Preview 2018

It is already January 2018 and this year is going to be huge for Rivals of Aether fans and competitors. We already have a giant event taking place at the end of the month with Genesis 5 and new characters are just around the corner. Let’s dig into what is coming!

New Content!

Since the release of Ranno and Clairen on Steam, the team has been hard at work on multiple projects involving new content. First we have been doing animation and implementation on the next character which is set to be revealed sometime in January 2018. We also have been working on our first Alternate Skin which will completely overhaul one character’s visuals into another character. We hope to reveal and release this new skin sometime in January 2018 as well. Next we have been doing concept and initial sprite work on our next original character who is set to be revealed in February or March 2018 and will be released soon after. This character is a ton of fun to work on and we even did a poll asking players which animal they would want to see for it. Finally we have also begun working on our next guest character. We have drafted up 4 different designs and pitched some to prospective partners already. We have gotten good feedback and are 90% sure which character we will be creating as the last character. I can say that all the characters that we have created designs for are huge indie game characters and I would be excited to see any of them playable in Rivals of Aether. The next guest character is set to arrive sometime in Spring 2018.

Definitive Edition

While adding characters, we are also planning on the designs for our Definitive Edition and what improvements players can expect when that releases. We are currently targeting Summer 2018 for it to release and the Definitive Edition will come with the base game and all of the characters. Players who purchased the original Rivals of Aether will also get all the non-character Definitive Edition features and we’ll have a way for them to upgrade to the Definitive Edition if they don’t already have all the characters.

The main improvements we hope to add to the DE are to Abyss Mode. We have plans to add Abyss Runes to the 4 original characters and possibly even the 2 guests. We also have plans to add some online functionality to Abyss Mode including an online Abyss Versus as well as a Co-op Abyss Mode for 2 players connected via online. We feel that the Abyss Mode is a great original part of Rivals of Aether and will feel even better for players when it is fleshed out even more.

New Live Events

Coming up on January 19th in Oakland, CA is Genesis 5. The Pot Bonus we have raised is already over $10,000 and we will have not only Singles but also a Doubles event on Friday. This Genesis is gearing up to be even more competitive than G4 with players flying from all over the world including Australia to compete. Will Fullstream be able to retain his #1 rank?

Then on February 9th, we have Frostbite 2018 coming up. Which will be a huge Smash 4 and now Rivals of Aether major. Top players have already signed up and we expect to see a good amount of buzz after the fallout from G5. Check out their compendium and grab a very cool water themed Rivals of Aether shirt to support getting more players to the event.

New Features

While we can’t make any promises past the roster expansion, we do hope to add some new features to the game as we finish with the main content. As discussed earlier, we have hopes to re investigate rollback after the content is complete. We have also been inspired by the great modding community and want to look into Steam Workshop to see if it would be possible to support custom characters and stages in Rivals of Aether. Both of these tasks would happen after the Definitive Edition and would depend on our time available (especially if we haven’t already moved onto a new project).

More Platforms

Finally in 2018, we will be looking to bring Rivals of Aether to more platforms. These won’t be happening until we have completed the Definitive Edition as that is the version we plan to bring to consoles. Right now we are prioritizing the Nintendo Switch as we are currently looking into developers who can help us port the game out of Game Maker Studio so we can release on the Switch. We also have plans for both Mac and Linux for late 2018 but may or may not release with netcode support. That depends on if we can get help on programming that aspect. Finally we have plans for a Windows 10 Store release for Rivals of Aether sometime in 2018 but that has a similar issue as Mac and Linux as we do not currently have a netcode solution for Windows 10. Make sure you follow Rivals of Aether on Twitter to get the latest news on what platforms we are coming to and when you can expect to play them.

And that’s it for this Recap and Preview. If you have any questions about Rivals of Aether or its development feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @danfornace.

Game Director and Designer. Creator of Rivals of Aether. Worked on Killer Instinct (2013) and other games at Microsoft Studios.

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