Rivals of Aether: 2018 Developer Recap — 2019 Developer Preview

Dan Fornace
Jan 7 · 15 min read

Hello again, Rivals fans. It has been a year since our last recap and preview. 2018 was another huge year for both the Rivals of Aether game and community, and we have even more coming in 2019. Let’s dive in!

Developer Recap 2018

This past year had some challenges when it came to development, but there were still some awesome updates and live events that brought the hype. Let’s dig into what went well and what could have gone better.

What went well?

The Rivals Direct

This elaborate April Fools joke was one of the coolest things we did all year. We collaborated with the infamous youtuber Adam Carra to create something quite special. We decided to make a parody of the “Nintendo Directs” where Nintendo reveals new games and content. We reached out to Twitch and managed to get it featured on the Twitch Frontpage on April 1st. While the Direct was filled with jokes, a fake character reveal, and even a trailer for fellow indie fighter, Indie Pogo, the end of the video is what truly excited Rivals fans. At the end, we showed the longest character trailer yet for the final original fighter in Rivals of Aether. Not only was the character revealed, but it was set to be released the following day on April 2nd. Fans weren’t even sure if the release date was a joke or not and had to wait to find out. I wonder if we’ll do anything for this year’s April Fools Day…

Sylvanos and Elliana Release

Sylvanos and Elliana came out on April 2nd, 2018! Elliana was fresh out of the oven but Sylvanos had been revealed in January. The release of these two characters shook up the competitive scene. We consider both of them to fill the zoner archetype, but they go about it in completely different ways.

Sylvanos leaves grass when he moves along the ground and uses it to trap his opponents. He also features some powerful and long-ranged tree based Strong Attacks that help him close out stocks.

Elliana is the aerial arsenal. She has a giant mech and uses missiles and steam to keep her opponents at bay. Her combo game relies on her trusty mine to trap opponents and let her close the distance.

Both of these characters have had a good bit of changes since their release, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more tweaks before we’re completely done with them.

Shovel Knight Reveal and Release

What could easily be considered the highlight of 2018 for Rivals of Aether happened in August at Super Smash Con. We teased to fans that we would be revealing the final character to join the roster and that it would be a guest character from another videogame. While there was speculation in all corners of the internet, fans had to wait until our panel on August 10th for it to be confirmed. The crowd’s reaction was extraordinary and I have never seen people be so excited for something that I worked on. It was a pretty amazing feeling.

Shovel Knight later released on Steam in September along with the Troupple Pond Stage. It was incredibly fun to work on this character and collaborate with Yacht Club Games. We went through multiple designs and came up with something that we feel was unique for the genre.

Shovel Knight knocks treasure out of his opponents when he attacks them. He can collect the treasure by running over it or using his Neutral Special to attract it. Once he has collected enough, he can taunt to open up his shop and buy either Relics or Armors and upgrade his abilities.

Shovel Knight is a lot of fun to play and we definitely saw an increase in players on Steam around his release. He’ll be coming to Xbox One sometime in 2019.

Ranked Mode Updates

In November we released an Overhaul to our Ranked Mode and reset the Ranked Leaderboard to go along with it. The update replaced our previous ELO display with a Ranked Tier system. It also introduced a Character Mastery system that allowed players to level up each character when playing Ranked Matches. We have some more plans for this mode and hope to squeeze them in before our Definitive Launch.

We also introduced a new emote system with this update that we use in all the online modes. It is a great way to converse with your opponent during a set. We even added special character based emotes that you can unlock by leveling up your character mastery.

Live Events

2018 was the biggest year yet when it came to Rivals of Aether tournaments. We broke our largest event record 3 times this year and had the most Rivals Championship Series events to date. The year kicked off with Genesis 5 in January, where the young and upcoming CakeAssault knocked off the number one seed FullStream in an epic grand finals set that went the distance. After the tournament, CakeAssault went on a tear, winning every local event that he attended until finally being bested by Penguin at GT-X. We also announced our first Make your Mark event at Elemental Rivalries. At these events, we work with the winner to develop a skin inspired by them. Penguin won this event and we released the Penguin Absa skin on Steam for free. We were also at EVO 2018, the biggest fighting game tournament in the business, as a Side Event and had a ton of fun doing our Top 4 on one of their stages. Finally I had an amazing time attending Heat Wave 2, which was the biggest grassroots Rivals of Aether event of the year. I even wrote a piece about attending the tournament. Check below for the results from the biggest North American tournaments from the year.

What didn’t go well?

Where’s the Switch Port? Do you guys not want my money?

The most-anticipated news in Rivals of Aether land now that Shovel Knight has been revealed is “When are you coming to the Switch?” In a perfect world, we would already be on the system. There are a ton of reasons why we want to be on the Switch. It‘s a great indie console. We have fans who already picked up a Switch to play Ultimate. And you can use a plethora of controllers just like on PC. However, while we are still working hard on bringing the game to Switch, we are not at the stage where we can announce anything definitive regarding a release window.

Why has it taken so long? All game development takes longer than expected but when it comes to consoles, it takes even longer. As indies we have gotten used to the Steam development path of pushing updates and fixing any issues that creep up as quickly as we can. However on Switch, we’ll need everything to be perfect for launch so we’ll have to do a lot of quality assurance even after the title is fully functional. We know that on console, your launch is critical. We want to make sure that we are launching a game that works both online and offline and we won’t be cutting corners. For us to get to the step where we can be testing and polishing the Switch version we need to get past our current roadblock: the Netcode Overhaul.

Where is the Netcode Overhaul then?

What happens when you forget to clear the Asset Cache in Game Maker Studio 2

There have been a few roadblocks that we managed to cross over this year but took longer than we expected. The migration from Game Maker Studio 1 to 2 was simple in some ways but challenging in others. We have finally migrated the PC build over to GMS 2 which will allow us to export to Switch as well. But the change has also put delays on the Xbox One version as we won’t be able to update it again until we have the new netcode up and running.

Is that Sandbert in GMS 2?

The netcode update is our current task and to tackle it, we have nearly all hands on deck. We have four programmers working on netcode or netcode UI with myself, YellowAfterlife, flashygoodness and ampersandbear. We are currently at a stage where we have a rollback system functional with mostly visual bugs left. Once we get it stable, then we’ll be increasing the features. You can read more about our plans in the Developer Preview. Ideally we would have liked to have the update out on PC by now, but unfortunately it needs some more time in the oven before we can release it to the world.

Competition was hot!

It is hard to deny that 2018 was a huge year for the platform fighting genre. It’s something that we as developers are very excited to see because we love the genre and want to see more games in it. However, it does open the door to developers competing against each other for eyes and communities competing for active players. Our goal has always been to make the best game possible and ignore what is out of our control. We also think that strong games in the genre lift up the others. But as we become one of the older games in the scene, we do understand the challenge in retaining players.

This year we saw the release of Slap City, Roof Rage, Indie Pogo, Icons: Combat Arena, Lethal League Blaze and of course Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. While games like Lethal League, Roof Rage and Indie Pogo distance themselves a good bit from Smash Bros, both Slap City and Icons came out on Steam with gameplay that reminds people of the Nintendo fighter. While I think players can and do play multiple games, we have to work on keeping excitement levels high around Rivals of Aether even as we are no longer the new kid on the block.

We need a better Dan

George, our Community Manger (Left), Me (Center) and my brother, Chris (Right) at PAX West 2018

As 2018 came to an end, I realized that a big reason we have missed some of our goals comes down to me. The challenge that I have been facing is that my role on the project has changed. This game is no longer a solo development effort or even a handful of people. We are up to a 10 person team that creates Rivals of Aether.

Me at PAX West in 2015. I went to a lot of events by myself from 2014 through 2016.

When I started working on the game in 2014, development was very different. Only flashygoodness and I worked on the game initially. He would deliver audio assets and I would handle the rest. When I woke up, I didn’t need to check in with anyone, I just continued where I left off the night before and I got to work. I was handling animation, coding, design and everything in between. As time went on, our team expanded and people started getting more responsibility. However, I tried to set up our team so we always had a fallback. If anyone could not work, then someone else would be able to handle it. We have multiple pixel artists and Trevor and I often bounce around on programming tasks and assist each other when we can.

Marc, our concept artist, doing some work on Zetterburn when he visited Seattle in Fall 2018

However, as time has gone on, our dynamic has shifted. We now have more team members and they each have a specific set of skills we need. For the team to function at full speed, we need to have everyone cooking. That is where my challenge comes in. I have been adjusting to being a producer or director instead of a developer. We also have many projects and side tasks happening all at once now. We have to juggle these smaller chunks while making sure all of them are progressing.

In 2019, I need to be more organized. I need to track the tasks and the people and make sure we all know the deadlines. While my most important skill when starting Rivals was likely design, now it has to be communication. We are working on getting to the finish line, but I have to do a better job of making sure it is in sight for all of us. In 2019, we need a better Dan.

Developer Preview 2019

It’s January 2019, so let’s go over how we foresee the year going for Rivals of Aether. We already know that the biggest live event of the year will be happening at Genesis 6. But what else can players and fans look forward to?

Definitive Edition

Everyone (from Rivals of Aether) is here!

The upcoming Definitive release is what our team is most excited about! The update is going to come with a ton of little improvements and will turn Rivals of Aether into a single product when it comes to characters. One complaint that we see online about Rivals is that the DLC characters end up costing more than the game. We have paid DLC characters because we need a way to sustain adding content, balance updates and other development. But it will be very nice to finish up Rivals of Aether and wrap it with a bow as one product that contains all the characters unlocked from the get-go.

Hey Kragg, do you look different or am I imagining it?

I know what you’re thinking? When? When can we experience the pinnacle of Rivals gameplay? Unfortunately we can’t tell you just yet. And there are a few reasons for that. The first is that we would like to simultaneously ship this update on as many platforms as possible. So when we update the PC version, we would like to have the game available on Switch on the same day. The second is that we’ll want to have the netcode changes tested both behind closed doors and with open beta testing before we switch the PC over from our current system to our new system. Finally, we aim for this to be the last major content update for Rivals of Aether, so we’ll want to squeeze in as many goodies as possible. Ellian has been doing some awesome work behind the scenes when it comes to new sprites, while Alex has been chugging away at VFX updates. You’ll have to wait and see what we have in store!

Netcode Improvements are coming!

YellowAfterlife’s Avatar

As noted, we are working on updating our rollback netcode to a new system. Since Rivals of Aether launched on Early Access in 2015, we have been using a system that was developed in partnership with the game studio Code Mystics. With our migration over to Game Maker Studio 2, we have been working on overhauling our netcode system with the help of one of the best Game Maker programmers in the world, YellowAfterlife.

Our new system is designed to have multiple improvements over our current implementation:

  1. Lockstep to Rollback: One improvement we have been working on for over a year is migrating the netcode from a lockstep based system to a rollback system. The goal of this is to have lower latency matches feel nearly identical to local matches by decreasing the input delay. With all the crazy interactions in platform fighters, rollback isn’t as clean as it is in traditional fighters. So we’ll have to balance the combination of the two solutions to avoid the “teleporting” that you see in laggy matches with rollback.
  2. 4 Player Lobbies: One of the other biggest improvements that we want to bring to Rivals is increasing the lobby maximum from 2 to 4 players. This would enable online Free-for-Alls, online Doubles, online rotation lobbies and spectating 1v1s. This is a huge change so will take a good amount of testing and fixing before it is ready.
  3. Matchmaking Improvements: We plan on adjusting the matchmaking logic to allow for more parameters and restrictions. In Ranked, we want to adjust the logic to match around your Ranked Tier. In Casual, we want to allow players to adjust which regions they are willing to match against.
  4. More Online Options: For Definitive Launch, we want to increase the online features we already have. This includes adding more emotes and allowing players to play on Aether stages in Casual or Friendly matches.

Abyss Mode Update!

Is that all the characters in Abyss Endless?

Another feature that we have been working on for a year now is updating Abyss Mode. We enjoy the mode as it separates Rivals from other fighting games. With Definitive Edition we have a few improvements lined up for this mode:

  1. More Runes: All the DLC fighters will get their own Abyss Levels and Runes in the Definitive Edition. Trevor is working hard on making them as cool as possible. We are also working on updating some of the old runes that have either become redundant due to changes or sorely need a fresh coat of paint.
  2. Online Abyss Versus: One goal of updating Abyss mode is to bring the mode online. Our goal is to introduce them into Casual and Friendly matches as an option that players can agree to similar to Random Stages or Money Matching.

More Live Events!

The year has just begun but we already have some amazing events lined up for Rivals of Aether in 2019!

First up is Genesis 6 on February 1–3, 2019 in Oakland, CA. This is on track to become our largest event of all time and our most stacked tournament once again. We have players flying out from all over the world as the finals of the Rivals Championship Series unfold at the event. You can also check out the Genesis Compendium to snag some exclusive Genesis themed skins for the Steam version of the game.

Next up is Frostbite 2019 on February 22–24, 2019 in Detroit, MI. This will also be another huge event for both Rivals of Aether and Smash Ultimate. We’re working on some cool Etalus themed merchandise so keep your eyes peeled on the Rivals of Aether Twitter to learn more!

Another event that we are already very excited about is Smash n Splash 5 on May 31 - June 2, 2019 in Wisconsin Dells, WI. This will be a giant event for Rivals of Aether and kick off Season 4 of the Rivals Championship Series. You don’t want to miss this event as the venue is possibly the coolest in the country when it comes to videogame tournaments.

And that is everything for this year’s Recap and Preview. If you have any questions about Rivals of Aether or its development, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @danfornace. Until next time!

Dan Fornace

Written by

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

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