Thomas Henshell’s Archmage Rises is a D&D-style mage simulator in which players roleplay with all the freedom of a tabletop RPG, in a fully procedurally-generated and simulated world. There’s even 20-sided dice rolls there on the screen!
I pre-ordered the game at the Indie Game Dev level a couple of years back. Since then, I’ve followed the game’s development by way of Thomas’s video updates as they pop up on my Facebook feed. The game has come a long way.
Archmage Rises is in Alpha and is being worked on by a small, indie team of up to seven people.
Let me briefly list the game’s features for you:
Given this list of features, I think it’s easy to see the huge potential for emergent gameplay here.
For a while, I watched most of the Archmage Rises updates as they were released. At some point, I missed some, probably after the updates changed to a monthly schedule, as opposed to weekly. Couldn’t say.
Anyways, I saw Update #117 for Build 12.1 in my YouTube recommendations so I watched it. Thomas’s game didn’t go all that great in the video I’m afraid but I still came away excited about the current state and the sheer potential there.
I’ve had Archmage Rises on my list of games to write about since I started the site. After watching the Update video I knew I needed to get Archmage Rises on my editorial calendar.
I didn’t realize this until I was writing an email to Thomas, but you might have noticed the names, “Archmage Rises” and “Emergent Mage” share at least one word and conjure a very similar image. I assure you that it is entirely happenstance.
Coupled by the fact that both the game and website concern themselves with procedural generation and emergent narrative is somewhat astonishing, though not inconceivable.
With the urge to write something about Archmage Rises, I decided to email the developer and designer, Thomas Henshell. I thought it might benefit the game’s promotion if the article were released along with an upcoming milestone. Thomas responded the next day.
Thomas was super nice to share details about the game features that he and the dev team are working on with me. The excitement in his response was palpable. He loves this game and loves to share it with others. I’m going to relay those details to you and I just hope I can convey the same excitement.
The current Build, Build 12, has been all about 3D dungeons. You can move through dungeons in the first-person view, clicking on objects, pick-locking doors, and fighting enemies. What makes this feature fairly unprecedented is the fact that Archmage Rises does not use previously-created set piece rooms; rather, everything is carefully placed with artificial intelligence (AI).
Every shelf, torch, table, and chair that decorates the room is placed with AI. Not only that, but the candles and books and various other objects are also placed on the shelves, tables, and bookshelves with AI. That means that if you see two bookshelves in front of you, they will almost certainly not match, and have different objects on each shelf.
Thomas described the room creation as follows:
We look at how much space is available in the room, what the “wealth level” is of the room’s creator, the age (we have 3 Ages in our lore of when these dungeons were made), and then place a bed, then a fireplace, then put down a couch or chair, then angle them towards the fire, then put in a rug to make it cozier, then maybe a bookshelf, then put beakers, papers, books, ink wells on each shelf of the bookcase. It’s insane, but this level of detail means every room is totally unique, never the same room twice no matter how many times you play. I like that.
The team’s next step is to make the dungeons feel more lived-in with real grit and grime. They will achieve this using Perlin noise and dynamically-generated shaders to stain the walls and floors. Thomas figures that the layering of the dirt, along with added blood and slime, will achieve a more realistic dungeon look. I agree.
Here’s a work-in-progress image that was just posted:
The Archmage Rises team recently finished updating the game engine from Unity 5.6 to the latest 2019 version. Doing so has enabled the team to use the latest technology, like shaders and the Universal Render Pipeline feature. Thomas says that this upgrade “means better workflow and better graphics, especially in the 3D dungeons and upcoming combat.”
Unfortunately, this upgrade has not been without its challenges. Thomas had meant to record another gameplay update this week but had to postpone due to an unforeseen UI issue. That sort of stuff is typical in software development. As Thomas said in his email, “the smallest bugs can have the biggest impact.”
Oftentimes, in order for developers to work more efficiently, they need to step back and develop tools to assist them. These software tools aren’t often seen by the public but they can be necessary for getting things done and doing them in a timely manner.
The Archmage Rises team recently added a dev console to the game to make debugging easier. Looking at it, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how this feature will help.
Thomas quipped, “Who knows, maybe we’ll let players monkey with things the way Quake did!” We’ll see.
In a rare move for a game company, Thomas has posted the Combat Design document for Archmage Rises, which includes the goals, design pillars, monsters, items, and spells. The document not only coordinates and communicates the direction for the team, but it also opens the doors for discussion with the community. If you are interested you can join the discussions on Steam.
The following are some highlights of the Combat Design:
Thomas described the following scenario in regards to companion NPCs:
The simulator nature of Archmage means the player can literally befriend anyone and take them adventuring with them. What happens when Will the innkeeper dies in a goblin lair with you? This is the emergent nature of the game where the NPC’s family will hate you, a funeral will be planned, the inn will close for a while, and someone new (a son/daughter or if there isn’t one, someone else) will start running the inn.
You can watch the Update #120 video to hear Thomas describe Build 13 and the combat design.
As I understand, Build 14 will be about bringing all the game data together and putting it in front of the player in such a way that he or she can interact even more with the game pieces. Thomas says that they “have a ton of data and capability” and they “just need to pull it all together into something clear, actionable, and fun.” The object is for the player to have fun and participate in the emergent gameplay going on around them.
Thomas provided some examples of what he means.
As you can see, the Archmage Rises dev team has a focused vision and forward momentum. The game is really coming together.
Special thanks go to Thomas Henshell for pulling back the curtain and letting me share this game update for you. I truly appreciate this opportunity to get to know Thomas, spend more hours with the game, and write this article.
When you pre-order you’ll be able to play each Alpha build as they are released. The game is still rough and there are bugs, as expected. However, every game will be different and you’ll have fun feeling the simulated world move around you as you try various ways to progress as a fledgling mage.
KeeperRL Alpha 30: Gnomes, Biomes, and Hell
KeeperRL is also a mage simulator. The recent Alpha 30 release features gnomes with automaton minions, kill lists, and a “Hell” dungeon. Read more about the new features here.
Thanks for reading this feature article on Archmage Rises!
If you’d like to watch a playthrough of a full quest and the current work on 3D dungeons and combat, check out the latest Update. Thomas invited me on as a guest for the episode (!).
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