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Witchfire Road Map Update, Ghost Galleon Post-Mortem

What's next?

What's next?

Let’s have a short and sweet Ghost Galleon update post-mortem and then reveal what is next for Witchfire Early Access.

At the top level, Ghost Galleon brought a couple of huge reworks of the core systems.

Originally, when Witchfire Early Access started, the higher the player level, the more difficult the game got. On paper, this made total sense. You get better, the witch starts to treat you seriously and throws more and more powerful undead at you.

But — the players did not see it that way. We are all used to the game increasing difficulty only after a certain clear feat, like killing a boss. A new area then opens up, and it’s understandable that enemies over there are now tougher and the challenge is greater. In Witchfire, leveling up did not feel like something that justifies the difficulty slowly ramping up, no matter how logical it was.

Enter Gnosis.

Gnosis is the new system that you level up separately from your own stats. The level of Gnosis determines the difficulty, like what enemies and traps are present on the map. It’s not all just danger — increasing Gnosis also means that new paths, secrets, and gear open up to you. So it’s a double-edged sword: you gain great powers, but the challenge grows as well.

Which is exactly like what happens when you kill a boss in other games. So yes, in a way, Gnosis is our own equivalent of killing a boss. Actually, to increase Gnosis, you have to do some tasks, and killing a boss is often one of them. This way it is clear for the players that increased Gnosis is the real deal, a true achievement — and this is why it works so much better than the previous system.

From the player’s perspective, things are fairly simple. To progress in the game, you do need to increase Gnosis sooner or later. But when? That is 100% up to you. Meanwhile, you can level up as little or as much as you want. New maps and higher Gnosis offer more witchfire and thus faster leveling, but again, it’s up to you what, how, and when.

The other big deal was the Calamity system. Calamity is a powerful curse that the witch throws at you when you make a series of mistakes. The curse presents itself as basically an epic gameplay event in which you have to fight hordes of the undead or a ghost galleon.

There were quite a few issues with the Calamity system in the original Witchfire Early Access release. Balancing was off, and Calamities could launch way too often, one after another. We fixed that relatively soon, but it turned out it did not solve the biggest issue we all had with the system: its unpredictability.

There is nothing wrong with unpredictability as such, but there is a big difference between surprising and random. Calamities felt random. They broke the flow, and often not in a good way. Calamities are supposed to be something the players avoid, especially new players, afraid of the witch yet, but how do you avoid something that feels random?

So we went completely the opposite way and made Calamities deterministic. In a regular video game, the punishment for your mistakes is usually things like a loss of health. This is also the case with Witchfire, but we have added an extra layer: the Calamity bar.

The witch wants to catch you at your lowest, when your confidence is lacking. So, if you did not see a trap and stepped into it? The Calamity bar grows. In the heat of the battle, if you tried to use a spell you did not have charged and ready? The Calamity bar grows. If you did not dash away in time and the Swordsman hit you? The Calamity bar grows.

Different mistakes grow the bar by a different amount, it’s not like everything is plus one. Big mistakes cost you a lot, small mistakes cost a little.

In general, think about the Calamity bar like the Wanted bar in GTA. In that game, you misbehave and the bar grows, and then shit hits the fan. In our game, you make mistakes and the bar grows, and then shit hits the fan.

To make life a bit sweeter, we’ve also added ways to lower the Calamity bar, thanks to the new vendor, The Collector. But we’ve also added ways to provoke Calamities early, as veteran players know that these are a great source of power…

Anyway, among some other nice changes and updates like profiles and classes and more, Gnosis and the new Calamity system were the highlights. But we could not know for sure if they were the right solutions. We hoped they would, we used all our knowledge and experience to design them, but we could not guarantee they would solve everything we needed solved. Mike Tyson said that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” and paraphrasing this to game design, “everybody’s design is great until players actually experience it.”

But it seems like the Ghost Galleon update did work as intended.

Does this mean we are done with Gnosis and Calamities?

Short-term, yes. There are more important features to focus on for now. Long-term, no. We have big plans for both. We want to actually expand the whole Book of Gnosis thing and make it more mysterious, occult, challenging, and rewarding. We want to spice up Calamities even more, both as a spectacle and as a source of top-tier rewards.

In other words, we are happy with Gnosis and Calamities, and while we want to make them even better, for now, we want to focus on other things.

There are two big areas where we feel the game is not quite there yet. Understandably, we are in Early Access. But it is high time to take care of the two.

I am talking: Arcana and storytelling.

Let’s start with the latter. We consider Witchfire an RPG shooter. It started as one game, then for a while we called it a roguelite, but then we kept adding elements of soulslikes and extraction shooters… Looking at the game now and what we have planned for the future, I think that the RPG shooter is the proper way to call it. Certainly takes less space than “a dark fantasy first-person shooter that incorporates the elements of roguelite, soulslike, and extraction games.”

But RPG is not just build-crafting and other gameplay elements. It’s also the world, the lore, the characters, the story. We do want these things in the game, but for obvious reasons, we wanted to nail the gameplay first. We’re getting close, so after an update or two, adding the elements of the story right into the game will be our next big thing. We already have some environmental storytelling in the game, and quite a few bits of lore — be it the description of areas when you enter them, or the gear info — but that is just the beginning. We want to have many more layers of storytelling in Witchfire.

That is for much later, though. It is a big task, lots of preparation needed.

Our next feature to improve, then, is Arcana. And improving Arcana is indeed the focus of the very next update, the one we are already working on.

Why do Arcana need an update? What’s wrong with Arcana?

A well-known roguelite mechanic is that during a run, you get a choice of a booster, a buff. In the most traditional of games, it’s usually something like “here are three to choose from, choose one, the rest gets discarded, move on.” A variation of this basic solution is present in most roguelikes and roguelites.

We also have something like this, and we call it Arcana. Our version is a bit more complex, as it does not discard the unused buffs, and you can still earn them during a run, aiming for the synergy between them. You can also re-roll the buffs, ultimately ending — during a good run — with a matrix of power-ups and boosters that make you so much more powerful.

Sounds good enough, but it’s not that simple. In most such games, your weapons and spells and whatnot are quite basic, and it’s the buffs that change them and make them spectacular. In our case, your gear, assuming you unlocked its Mysteria (magical perks), is already spectacular… and requires a lot of space in the cognitive buffer. Juggling three guns, two spells, and three magical items, all with unique perks and behavior — it’s not easy.

This is why a lot of our Arcana are of the “fire and forget” kind. I got a much faster reload? Sweet. My headshots do more damage? Sweet. My ice spells freeze minor enemies indefinitely? Sweet.

Even with such passive Arcana, insane game-breaking synergies are possible. Bread and butter of roguelites, right? If you’re lucky, with the right gear and Arcana, you can have a run that makes you almost invincible.

Except… That is too rare and not good enough for us. In roguelites, you usually have two types of buffs: ones that make you more powerful, mostly in a passive, “grab and forget” way, and the other kind that changes the way you play. For example, if you love playing it safely but found a buff that adds 300% damage to your melee attacks, you may decide to go all in and start aggressively attacking everyone. It’s a new experience.

We prefer the latter type of buff as it keeps things fresh and is more engaging.

Another thing we like are synergies. Currently, due to the randomness of our Arcana, these synergies are too rare. It’s frustrating when you have a Water spell and a Fire spell, but the game proposes an Earth spell buff. It’s useless, right?

Finally, we enjoy minmaxing, mental games, building, and theory crafting. While we appreciate randomness, we also like to be able to influence the game world.

Can we have a new Arcana system that makes all three of these things—playstyle redefining buffs, synergies, and minmaxing—possible? In addition to the good old regular Arcana?

Yes, I believe so. Karol has already submitted an Arcana 2.0 proposal that has me all hot and sweaty. If this proves successful in a prototype, it will be phenomenal.

If not, we will still be reworking Arcana for the next update, but in a safer way. Kacper has already created a simple simulation of the improved Arcana, and it feels significantly better. And I do appreciate what we currently have in the game, and in my runs, I always aim to collect all seven Manifestations before facing the boss!

But let’s be brutally honest here for a second. Many people do not care about improvements or new features on the gameplay or story fronts. What they want is more content, specifically new maps.

However, creating new maps is the most challenging task. The amount of work required to construct a map like the Scarlet Coast or the Irongate Castle is immense. We have already hired three (!) additional level artists to make sure we can keep the quality but it’s not like we can do make maps three times faster. Things do not work this way in game development, just like nine women would not give birth to a child in a month.

On the flipside, the very next big map is going to be mind-blowing. I would love to share some images with you but I also know that the impact will be way bigger if we keep it secret for now. The wait will not be too extreme, as the release is planned for this year — and we’re halfway through already.

Does that mean the next update won’t feature any new area to conquer?

No, we’re not crazy. We do have a brand new smaller map planned to the next update, and it will be the heart and soul of it. It just will not be as expansive as the ones we already have. That is impossible.

But — it actually shouldn’t be, as its purpose is special. The map will be sized to support a certain type of gameplay. It will lean more towards horror and terror than anything we have done so far.

So yeah, you read that right — it’s not just a new environment, but also a new gameplay experience in a sense. The bonus interesting thing about this gameplay is that what you achieve with it, colors the entire game…

Okay, so the focus of the next update is the Arcana rework and a new smaller map with impactful custom gameplay. Anything else?

Yes, but I guess that is expected. The update will include a new weapon or two, a new spell or two, and so on. There will be new toys to play with indeed. Cannot imagine an update without these.


Next update:

  • Arcana 2.0
  • A new (smaller) map with custom gameplay that is unique to the map but affects the entire game
  • Content pack of new stuff


If you followed the Ghost Galleon saga, then you know we promised to never ever offer a date unless we are 100% sure this is it. So, no date, and we’re going with the good old “it’s done when it’s done” (c) id software. But — the goal is to deliver the update noticeably faster than it took us to make the Ghost Galleon.

And then?

The top-level roadmap did not change. We still plan on making exactly what is described in the original post. Check it out here.

However, how to get there is another story. So we are already thinking of the next update after the one we are already working on. It’s going to be one of two things, and the choice will depend on the feedback to the current update.

Last but not least, we teased the Ghost Galleon update by calling it GGU before the reveal. The new update is called TWT. As you can see, we dropped the “U,” it’s not needed, you know it’s an update. I can also say that the first T is for “The”. The rest remains a mystery until the day comes.

Next week we’ll have a favor to ask of you, this will happen on our Discord. Meanwhile, the Epic Megasale just started and Witchfire is 10% off. If you know somebody who might be interested, please let them know. The game is in good shape and we believe it’s worth your time and money. And great things are coming too!

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