How Nightingale will change during early access, including UI fixes, combat updates and new biomes

Inflexion’s fantasy survival sim Nightingale releases into Steam early access today. Our pre-launch impressions? Well, the procedurally generated landscapes are engrossing, a blend of British fairytale influences with many a hushed forest, spidery swamp and tempting ruin. We’re also pretty keen as a team on the game’s Realm cards system, which lets you shape those fairytale worlds both before and after you portal into them. But we were less enthralled by HUD and user interface elements such as the crafting menus and hotbar, which we found ornate and circuitous to the point of confusing.

Speaking to me after our co-op hands-on – in which guides writer Kiera made friends with a tree monster only for somebody to shoot it – Inflexion’s CEO Aaryn Flynn explained a bit about how the game will evolve during its early access period, which Inflexion estimate will last 9-12 months. Thankfully, it sounds like fine-tuning the UI is a priority, though Flynn is “cautious” about committing to a full-blown roadmap.

“When it comes to the UI and the mechanics, I think those are the things that we’re really keen to keep improving, keep working on, keep making deeper,” he said. “Those are often, you know, exercises in calendar time. You know, the best games out there now have had years and years and even decades of developers just refining and improving those things, right?

“And good for them. That’s the bar for the entire industry, because why would you play something funky and awkward, if you could go and play something that’s silky smooth and bug free. And it’s other things that attract you, like maybe it’s the world, maybe it’s the storytelling, maybe it’s seamless co-op, whatever it might be. But we’ll keep working on those things and keep improving. And for sure, the UI one was a fascinating exercise.”

The backpack inventory screen in Nightingale
A screenshot of one of Nightingale’s menus from our pre-early-access hands-on – bear in mind that the latest version may look different. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Inflexion Games

Flynn then brought up Rock Paper Shotgun’s aforesaid piece on Nightingale’s UI layouts and hotkey assignments. He took our criticisms in his stride, though I did get the slight impression he wanted me to go poop on James Archer’s lawn. How much were our comments in line with those of early players during the game’s stress tests, I asked?

“Directionally, it’s 100% right,” Flynn said. “I think tonally, you guys are a little harsher than I would like to see. I don’t know if that means that maybe we just aren’t going to hit the bar for players who feel that strongly about some of those things. And so therefore, it’s like, well, is that a place where we should spend a lot of our time chasing something we may never hit? That kind of creates that feeling of, I wonder if it’s a lost cause. But directionally? 100%.”

The game’s somewhat knotty menus and hotbar design are partly owing to Nightingale’s “gaslamp” setting, which is towards the fancier end of fantasy, with objects consisting of intricately worked metal and lots of luxurious clothing patterns. Flynn conceded that Inflexion have struggled to find a balance between creating a clear interface and devising one that feels at home in the world.

“We took a very aesthetics-first approach to the UI as you might have determined, rather than a usability one,” he said. “And so now, we just have to recalibrate ourselves and focus very much on usability.” Inflexion have already made significant changes to the HUD since the stress tests, Flynn added, as discussed in the devlog below. “It’s cleaner, it’s simpler, it’s very straightforward,” he promised. “And it’s more readable and more understandable that way. But it still looks like it belongs in the world.”

“That was our challenge, and where I think we did get miscalibrated off some things,” Flynn went on. “Nightingale’s world does have a really strong aesthetic, and that that bled too much into some of the places where people were like, look, I got enough aesthetic! I just need to understand what my health is at. That was the kind of wake-up call that the stress test gave us. And again, it was a quick turnaround to adjust it, because the functionality is there, the software is there. It’s a question of, again, putting usability first in some of our priorities, which is again, a very healthy evolution for us.”

Cover image for YouTube videoDeveloper Update: Server Stress Test, Realm Card Updates, and More!

If UI improvements are definitely on the menu, Flynn shied away from laying out some kind of Nightingale early access roadmap, suggesting that other early access games have gotten themselves into difficulties by promising too much in advance. “I’m of two minds when it comes to the roadmap,” he said. “One, obviously, is we have to do our own internal planning, and we’ve got to understand what people are going to work on – we have to know and commit to some of those things, otherwise they don’t get done. By the same token, though – what’s the expression, everyone’s got a plan till they get punched in the face?

“As we go to launch, I’m going to be cautious and conservative about sharing that roadmap, because I’ve seen that other studios do get ahead of themselves. And before you know it, you’re spending as much time trying to re-communicate the roadmap as you are actually working on it. So I want to be cautious about that. We’ll leave a bit of time to let the dust settle, and learn a bit more from our players. But I do think between the playtesting we’ve done, the stress test and everything, we’ve certainly narrowed our focus.”

A fae creature twirls in a desert forest in Nightingale

The player fires a gun at a monster in a desert in Nightingale

A dead elephant in a desert area in Nightingale

The exterior of a small stone player-created house in Nightingale. The player is holding a red umbrella and a knife.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Inflexion Games

Flynn did share some broad indications as to how Nightingale might evolve. “In the bucket of Better, I would say we’ll continue to iterate on the UI and make it more usable, more streamlined and more functional for players,” he said. “I think there’s some combat improvements that we want to work on, invest in and spend our time on. And then in the bucket of More, there’s just more Realms, more biomes, more stories that we want to lead players on, more characters, all those fun things.”

Nightingale is built around solo and co-op play, but when we spoke during our hands-on earlier this month, Flynn said he’d like to introduce some kind of PvP duelling functionality down the road. During our subsequent interview, however, he gently steered the conversation towards asynchronous multiplayer scenarios, such as “borrowing” some ingots from somebody’s home Realm while they’re offline. “I think one of the strengths of this genre and one of the things we feel when we play ourselves is the social cooperative gameplay in this environment, really works well in both a synchronous and asynchronous sense,” Flynn said.

Nightingale, again, launches today. We’ll have an early access review for you in a little while, which will of course run a microscope over any changes Inflexion have made to the HUD and user interface since our last hands-on. Hmm, perhaps a monocle would be more appropriate than a microscope, given the alt-Victorian setting. Or maybe a spyglass? Look mate, I’m not an optician.

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