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Abtohka: Kingdoms of Despair

Platform: Windows, Mac

A dark fantasy 2D action/adventure puzzle game

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Embark through the ruins of fallen fantasy civilisations, slip through the cracks of time and reactivate an ancient device that will change the past forever. Swap between four distinct characters as they each carry their own burdens, yet strive to work together, in Abtohka: Kingdoms of Despair.


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Designed and Developed over a 6 month period, Abtohka was a passion project of four like-minded individuals, my role being sole Programmer and Technical Designer for nearly all combat based systems and abilities.

This project was our first actual stab at indie game development, and we were all heavily involved with each stage of the process from core concept and design pillars to the narrative design, yet my most notable contribution was making the AI - a custom 2D A* pathfinding algorithm with complex and unique behavioural trees for each character.

This was by far the biggest project any of us had ever worked on, and after completing it we eventually presented it at Brunel's Digital Design Show.

Pre-Production

Abtohkas initial idea revolved around the unique preferences of four individuals working together, our aim to make something we could all enjoy, from puzzles and action roleplay, all the way to RTS mechanics. The choice to work together came after the intense Game Jam that resulted in Star Opera, and we were all looking forward to what we could create next. After many conceptual design meetings, sleepless nights, and a house filled with post-it-notes and scribbles on the wall, we managed to end on a dark fantasy, 2D action/adventure puzzle game called Abtohka.

Throughout its early design, and even later in its development process, I took charge to bring these characters to life by starting to prototype and create their core concept in Unity. As a group of designers, we valued quick iterations of concepts, the earlier in development you change and adapt your core design, the less time will be lost in the future. This responsibility fell on me, the sole technical designer and programmer, to then take these rapidly adapting ideas and create technical versions to test them, their success depending on my confidence and ability to then expand their design through the upcoming six months.

This swiftly moved on to creating high-fidelity prototypes, focusing on the AI and how each character behaves within the world to further exemplify their realism; when controlling one character within Abtohka, the other three can follow, attack, and even investigate the environment by their own accord. These distinct personalities opened up each character to behave in unique but predictable patterns, allowing us to explore more complex puzzle designs whilst letting me explore AI at my own pace.

As I was so intimately involved with the technical side of the design, the responsibility to not only program and implement numerous mechanics but likewise make sure they're enjoyable for players fell upon me. This resulted in me working closely with the Lead Designer to make sure the tutorial allowed each character to truly shine, letting the players embrace the magic circle to fully immerse themselves, whilst allowing them moments to breathe as they descend into this whimsical dark fantasy world.

Character Abilities

As covered earlier, instead of having a character selection screen, or being forced to micro-manage each character manually, Abtohka prides itself in its AI and Pathfinding, allowing each character, enemy, and even puzzle in the world to function seamlessly without player input, even with something as simple as going through doors to another map, or fleeing combat; instead of waiting for direct commands, the AI will actively follow the players choices.

Lettings the players solve each encounter by themselves while not getting hindered by the AI was a challenge, and it ultimately resulted in the creation of "Stances", a direct way for players to influence each action the AI makes. This transformed each each puzzle into a more enjoyable and predictable experience.

Combat, however, was a completely separate experience, one where I could truly let the AI wreak havoc upon the enemy, and depending on whether they were in the Attack or Support stance, had vastly different outcomes. This resulted in each character having numerous uses for their abilities, from a healing/damage toggle, to a slow down/speed up debuff, and based on their stance, the characters would update their playstyle accordingly.

Each object within the game contained the same variables, from custom physics to elements such as weight, health, and resource points, with each character possessing different weight and movement attributes based on their appearance. This also allowed each ability to have vastly varying effects based on who its used to, for example, the Brute throwing the Oracle into the air would make her fly, whilst him throwing the Warden would be much less impactful.

The Oracle

The Oracle has a supportive role within the party. Whether she's crawling to hidden areas while the party holds off adversaries, or using her time magic to buy more time, with her distinct playstyle and ability to die rather quickly allowing for a tendency to avoid aggression, you better hope her passive activates in tight spots. In terms of puzzle solving, The Oracle’s time magic allows for adept manipulation of the speed of moving obstacles and physics.

[Show Abilities]

The Brute

The Brute has the tank role within the party. Able to withstand constant assaults from adversaries, the Brute can buy precious time for the other party members to complete puzzles and maneuver complex obstacles with his assistance. He doesn’t enjoy fighting, but has a proficiency at it, instead knocking back Adversaries rather than cutting them down. In terms of puzzle solving, The Brute’s Abilities allow for destructive effects on the environment.

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The Warden

The Warden has the primary damage-dealing role within the party. Able to devastate groups of enemies with his rapid attack speed and vast utilisation of different weapons and Abilities, the Warden can be useful in various ways, whether that’s opening up pathways covered by Adversaries, or dispatching Adversaries to allow his party more time. In terms of puzzle solving, he has multifaceted abilities using his equipment (weaponry, shields, hookshot, etc).

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The Apostle

The Apostle is a jack-of-all-trades within the party. Whether he’s healing the Travellers, or damaging the adversaries, the Apostle can adapt to whatever kingdom he’s currently in, utilising the power of their Altars to pick up a certain mechanics to help the Travellers in their journey. In terms of puzzle solving, the Apostle is notably able to view the hidden bits of the level that exist within other dimensions, as well as utilising his broad variety of magical powers.

[Show Abilities]

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