Return to the Shadowlands

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Multimania
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Multimania »

Okay — I've finished my playthrough on Easy (still on version 1.0, as I couldn't be bothered copying the newer version across to my Keen Machine).

Overall, I loved it — I particularly like the way it really does feel like an extension of the Shadowlands area. Little details like the Bounder village having tall houses cracked me up. The tone of the story is spot-on (if you'll forgive the pun), too. I think the Pyramids and the Islands were my favourite levels, but a lot of the "gate" levels like Backwoods Blockade were great, too.

Minor quibbles: a couple of the larger levels were particularly easy to get lost in, and when I did finish them, I sometimes didn't feel like I knew how I'd done it. The "optional area hand signs" helped a lot, though. And some of the one-tile-high platforms looked a bit off, as the bottom of them didn't have the normal border.

Some bugs I noticed — which are probably fixed in a newer version — are:
  • a platform in Backwoods Blockade which didn't appear to be blocked from below, and seemed to render the level impossible to complete if you let it disappear.
  • Also, in Pyramid of Footsteps, the bounder can get stuck in the blue door pit if you leave it and come back later, which isn't necessarily a bug, but does mean you might want to restart the level.
  • And in Pyramid of Fear theres an Arachnut which can get stuck if stunned on a slope.
  • Where there were jump-throughable tiles which connected to the ground, the rightmost tile sometimes looked "off".
Otherwise, it seemed to work great! I'm looking forward to finding the time to try another playthrough!
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by proYorp »

This sounds exciting! New content from the one and only Ceilick! So much for "Sign of the Vool" being your last Keen project, eh?

Hopefully I'll have a chance to play this in sometime less than several months. :dopekeen
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Ceilick
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Ceilick »

Minor quibbles: a couple of the larger levels were particularly easy to get lost in, and when I did finish them, I sometimes didn't feel like I knew how I'd done it. The "optional area hand signs" helped a lot, though.
That's a great way to describe the feeling of wandering big levels, not knowing how you'd done it. I knew for sure this would happen is Reflectalus and probably Isle of Caves but opted to keep the maze like design. Were there any other levels that were particularly confusing or had you prove to losing your way?

I'm glad the warning hands were appreciated! They were actually a last minute design choice due to working on the keen 6 sequel tiles and contemplating how I would use the warning sign in that episode.

Thanks for posting those bugs! I believe at this stage all jump through platforms have been fixed. I'll update that goplat and the arachnut tonight when I'm off work. I think I'll make it more difficult for the Bounder to get stuck down there was well.

Did you find the secret level?
So much for "Sign of the Vool" being your last Keen project, eh?
Well it may still be my last project, it's just some other ideas are sneaking their way in before that happens :lol
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Roobar »

OK since the game is already out and people have played it, now this will be a funny thing to show here.

In the beta I tested, you could do that:

Image

I was able to put all the bounders in that pit and that was the most fun and hilarious thing to do :). In the latest version, the pit is one tile shallow and bounders can escape. Why did you changed that? Please revert.
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Ceilick »

I actually assumed players would enjoy herding all of them wherever without getting any stuck somewhere, but if corralling them all in a pit is more fun I'll change it back.
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Syllypryde »

Ceilick wrote: Mon Jun 07, 2021 13:04 ......Did you find the secret level?......
I found it. I really liked what you did in order to reach the path to the inchworms. It is was rather clever, challenging and tricky. It took me awhile to figure it out. Even when you know what to do it is still not too easy to execute. I only have 3 levels left to complete... Jungri-La, Reflectalus and Sunken Sinkhole.
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Ceilick »

I found it. I really liked what you did in order to reach the path to the inchworms. It is was rather clever, challenging and tricky. It took me awhile to figure it out. Even when you know what to do it is still not too easy to execute.
Sweet, hopefully the effort was worth it!

Version 1.04 is up, semi critical update includes:

-Changed slopes to flat surface in Arachnut hallway in Pyramid of Fear
-Extended platform in Pyramid of Footsteps so Bounder is less likely to fall to its doom
-Fixed goplat blocker in Backwoods Blockade
-Removed backup/unused level
-Reverted the pit in Bounder Town
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Multimania
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Multimania »

Ceilick wrote: Mon Jun 07, 2021 13:04 Did you find the secret level?
I did, though not quite on that first playthrough: I'd worked out how to get to it, but getting that Bounder to behave took long enough that I finished the game and came back to it later.

I really liked the secret level: there's something special about it looking different from all the other levels which gave it that "forbidden knowledge" feeling. And it wasn't ludicrously, unfairly more difficult than the rest of the game, which secret levels sometimes can be.
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by DarkAle »

I finished my gameplay at hard and I have to say this levelpack is very nice. :love My favorite levels were Bounder Town, Whispering Woods, Reflectalus and Frigid Fortress and I liked a lot the new creatures and their behavior. I'm looking forward the next episodes :D
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Ceilick »

Multimania wrote:And it wasn't ludicrously, unfairly more difficult than the rest of the game, which secret levels sometimes can be.
I'm glad to hear this since, in general and despite the larger levels, one of my goals was to keep the difficulty level true to the original games (with maybe the exception being getting to the secret level). I hope this has been everyone's experience on their preferred difficulty setting, and that none of the new elements I introduced had too significant a learning curve.

A goal related to difficulty was to prevent Keen from gaining ludicrous amounts of ammo, something that is hard to balance across difficulty settings. Hopefully ammo felt relatively scarce but fair.

Other goals include:
  • Using more doors than I typically do, with the theory that if they lead to small rooms the player is less likely to get lost or feel confused.
  • Using enemies in new and creative ways and combinations. I feel I only really succeeded with the Mad Mushroom and Bounder.
  • Including more secrets, which I feel I did to some extent, but with that said, I'm really bad at including secrets, so I still want to improve this in my design.
  • Creating new enemies that blend seemlessly into the setting. The Badoing is one of the best creature ideas from Keen GBC and felt necessariy to bring to the pc. The Stingaru, which began as Keen GBC's Arachnu, was intended to be a counterpart to the Lick and Poison Slug, forming a kind of triad of most common inhabitants. Also I wanted something purple in the shadowlands lol. The Gnostiki Witch Doctor began with the intention that someone wears those green blow pipe masks lying around (You can see the first iteration in the downloadable Extras), but evolved into the rare, secretive jungle inhabitants you see.
  • Creating what feels like a genuine extension of the Shadowlands. Included in the extras file is a complete map of the original Shadowlands joined to this new map with a few additions to blend them more seemlessly and interestingly together.
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Soul Monster »

Hi Ceilick, I just finished playing through your mod on normal mode, and I really enjoyed it! My favorite stages in the game are Bounder Town, Dunesville (which, in my opinion, felt like a lost id stage), Whispering Woods, and the secret level, whose name escapes my memory at the moment. In fact, I ended up replaying The Pyramid of Footsteps 3-4 times in order to find the correct way to access it once I figured out what you're supposed to do (The bounder wouldn't cooperate either). I do have to agree with Nisaba that I enjoy the smaller levels more. Not saying the bigger ones are bad, but like others are saying, it's easy to get lost pretty quickly in them.

As for the new creatures, I like them! The Stingarus and the Badoings (the latter of which caught me off guard many times) fit in nicely with all the classics, and the Gnostiki Witch Doctors were genuinely terrifying at times, especially when I found out that they can jump onto other platforms.

And of course, the music. The music in this game is awesome! It's not every day we get new music in a Keen 4 mod set in the Shadowlands, and it was nice to hear some new tracks that were able to successfully replicate Bobby Prince's style. By the way, if it wasn't mentioned already, where was the leftover Robert Prince song used?

If I had to nitpick, maybe this is just me, but there were a lot of times where I was running very low on ammo, and often worried that I would run out.

Overall, This is a great mod, and I look forward to the sequels, whenever they come.
Last edited by Soul Monster on Wed Jun 16, 2021 0:12, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Ceilick »

Thank you for the full review, Soul Monster!

I'm actually surprised Whispering Woods has been a popular level; it underwent several revisions and in the end I still felt the design would be boring. I'm glad I was wrong about it!

I must have been really lucky when I tested the Bounder, I didn't seem to struggle with it nearly as much as others have mentioned, but I also knew exactly what to do.

Creatures are one of my favorite things in Keen games so it makes me really happy to hear that the additions were liked! I'm really glad you wrote out your experience with the Witch Doctors; I purposelly designed the level so that players wouldn't learn about their jumping behavior until after an encounter or two.

The Bobby Prince outtake is in the Sunken Sinkhole, it's titled 'Dopey'. The 'Extras' downloadable folder includes this track as well as all the other songs composed by Xky Rauh.

Regarding ammo, did you ever get stuck because of it, or was it a case of needing to be more careful with how much ammo you spent? I actually hoped to create a situation where players needed to be more consciencious and actively manage their ammo.

Lastly, I've already begun work on the sequel and I'll probably create a thread about it later this week :D
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Soul Monster »

I reloaded one of my save games and replayed the parts where I ran into the ammo situation (The Whispering Woods). Playing through those stages again in the same order (Reflectalus, Bounder Town, and Whispering Woods), I didn't run into that problem this time. I think what happened is that while navigating Reflectalus for the first time, I ended up doing a lot of backtracking which meant stunning the Arachnuts multiple times, and while playing through The Whispering Woods, some of the Treasure Eaters beat me to the extra ammo in the stage. Even on my first try, I didn't run out, I just had to leave some stuff behind because I had to save my ammo for where it was required over what was optional.

Also, that's exciting news that you've already started work on the second game! I'll certainly be on the lookout for the thread regarding it.

By the way, I'm new to the forums, and I just want to say, thank you so much for the Universe Is Toast trilogy! I have a lot of fond memories playing those games ever since I found out about them back in 2010/2011, and even if it's an unofficial ending, it finally provided closure to the original series. They were also my introduction to keen mods, and I've been playing mods like these ever since! So Thanks!
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by NY00123 »

So, I finished playing this level pack on hard difficulty a few days ago. It's quite clear that it was intended to bring new life to Keen 4. For one other example I recall, Keen 9.5: The Eight Accumulators also did this, albeit in different manners.

Despite the presence of the ruins of Sand Yego, as well as the appearance of the Pyramid of the Moons in the world map, the geographical connection to the Shadowlands as shown in Keen 4 was unexpectedly less clear to me at first. Maybe the location of the BwB confused me.

I eventually compared the two world maps, right after completing the level pack, thus clearing things up. Of course, it was only after figuring out how may they connect together that I already found an extended world map in the level pack's "extras" archive! I'm now wondering if I'm the only one who thought about the idea (just an idea, no execution) of combining Keen 4 and Return to the Shadowlands into a single level pack / mod; Possibly with modifications of original Keen 4 levels and/or more uses of RttS' soundtrack.

Keen 4 is known to have just a few music tracks. As expected, there was no change here, and with the possible exception of Sunken Sinkhole's music, you can actually make a 1-1 mapping of tracks between Keen 4 and RttS. Ignoring the re-use of "In a Land of Wonderment and Awe", these mappings should be clear:

"Shadows Don't Scare Commander Keen!!" -> "Returning To The Shadowlands"
"Welcome to a Kick In Yore Pants In Good Ole Hillville!" -> "Outskirts of a Good Time"
"You've Got to Eat Your Vegetables!!" -> "Keen 4 Song For Ceilick"

In particular, Dunesville, despite occurring in an environment with dunes and less vegetation, is an obvious take on Border Village, which also makes use of the matching music track. It makes sense that Soul Monster wrote that the level felt like a lost id stage, given that there was originally a plan to have a desert town in Keen 4. In fact, it looks like the unused world map desert town graphics were eventually used (with a modification) in this level pack! https://keenwiki.shikadi.net/wiki/Keen: ... esert_town

For the remaining tracks, the following mappings make the most sense to me:

"Too Hot to Handle" -> "Slow Roasted (Not Too Hot)"
"Tropical Ghost Oasis" -> "Cul-de-Slack"

There are still a few major differences in the ways the tracks are used. "Too Hot" is the most commonly used track in Keen 4; Not as much as in Catacomb 3-D, but it's used in a total of 8 levels, plus the scrolling story. "Slow Roasted" is similarly used in RttS' scrolling story, but when it comes to the levels, it's mostly used in the pyramid levels, and more generally, in levels surrounding the ancient. "Cul-de-Slack", on the other hand, is significantly more commonly used than "Oasis". Other tracks are also used at times when you'd expect a non-matching track, given earlier experience with Keen 4. This was obviously made on purpose.

I also got caught unprepared for the badoing in Sand Yego (and other levels)! I suppose it's somewhat close to Keen 6's Ceilick, only that it pops up from the floor, can be harder to spot, and there are a few more differences.

The Stingaru was another surprise when I stumbled upon it for the first time, in Jungri-la. So was the re-use of Keen 6's water graphics in the same level. I did identify the hut graphics from id's cancelled Keen 7 prototype, too.

Getting to the secret level was indeed tricky, albeit the relevant level has a clear hint. Of course, after additionally taking into account a variation of a hint originally present in Keen 4, I figured out the way. Truly, as someone else mentioned in the PCKF Discord, initially, I mistakenly assumed the secret level to be in a different location. In my case, this was the Pyramid of the Moons. Nevertheless, it's clear that the secret level gave a new theoretical background and perspective, applying also to Keen 4.

To finish, bugs are expected. One example is the name of "Pyramid of Footsteps" as shown while the level is loading. I also had one instance in which the game froze while in Sunken Sinkhole; I realize that it can probably not be reliably reproduced, and my guess is that it was related to two dopefish which were more-or-less overlapping beforehand. There were also possible minor bugs with tiling, albeit I'm unsure how many of these were intentional. I can send screenshots in some way, say via Discord.

Regardless, other potential players who are familiar with Keen 4-6 can give RttS a try for sure!
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Re: Return to the Shadowlands

Post by Roobar »

NY00123 wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 17:28 I'm now wondering if I'm the only one who thought about the idea (just an idea, no execution) of combining Keen 4 and Return to the Shadowlands into a single level pack / mod; Possibly with modifications of original Keen 4 levels and/or more uses of RttS' soundtrack.
I was thinking of combining the world map of this mod, the Eight Accumulators and the original Keen 4 either in photoshop or in Keengine. The world map that Ceilick included is really neat and can be used as a starting point. But the top left part of the original Keen 4 map is perhaps too much altered to fit with the new map, which is understandable. But I always thought that if an expansion of the original Keen 4 world map is to be done, the original has to stay the same with bare minimum changes needed for connections outside of it.

I was also thinking of combining all Keen 4, 5 and 6 tilesets in Keengine, but never really went too far. And maybe even to combine all the levels in one big level, which also was only an idea.
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