This week resumed the standard rate of 3 things done. To compensate for last week’s failure, two things were struck down to lower priority, allowing it to again be on schedule. To say that this was by “the skin of the teeth” would be an understatement given that I completed the last of the 3 tasks an hour or two before the weekly blog deadline.
I added the fundamental part of the new combat system this week. Not much real game testing or sample battles were performed beyond checking basic functionality, but if nothing else this new system seems to be much more immediately “readable” than the old attempts at penetration types and elemental affinities were, judging just from basic testing.
This week also saw the completion of the initial class list. The idea behind this sampling of classes was to basically have a kind of basic, not-too-complicated class list of basic archetypes to give an idea of how it all fits together. It also simply had to excluded some of the more complicated classes I have planned just to cut down on the work required for the deadline. We’re only here to see if the basic systems work well together, not necessarily putting the entire game together all at once.
And this week was… 1 completed item. So officially behind schedule now (by more than expected- though another item will be completed tonight or tomorrow). Getting back on schedule is going to be crazy difficult, but I have plans to try to manage it. Realistically, 2 items per week would have been a more doable schedule.
This week, outside of getting things functional, saw a lot of interface design time optimization. At first there was going be a dedicated “you won the battle!” screen detailing experience, gold, items, etc. Eventually gold/experience/levels gained got reduced to a relatively quick animation getting played on top of the player- reducing necessary player clicks by one.
There was also initially going to be two item gain screens- one to pick which item you want from the total pool available to the party, and then another where you picked what you wanted to do with it (sell/equip/take) as well as which specific item when given a “choose one from”. This was reduced to a single table screen with the item information and each action mapped to a button, reducing a worst case 3 clicks down to 1 click. This kind of minor quality of life stuff gets glossed over a lot, but in a game that’s trying to streamline the required play time as much as possible it’s absolutely critical (plus it’s just plain nicer to play with regardless).
Ah! Have we hit this point already? Yes, only 2 things done this week. But still on schedule since I was ahead last week. We’re entering into the rough patch here. Almost every thing left on the list involves significant UI work, significant changes to multiple existing systems, or large amounts of content to be both designed and implemented. If I were betting money on it, I’d say next week is when things will truly get off schedule.
Some of the work this week was about revising how rewards were dolled out. Previously enemy experience and gold were manually specified by hand to the specific amounts. What this led to was looking up a chart of appropriate values for different levels and tweaking based on how hard the enemy was relative to its intended area. One of the changes was switching to a reward level system- ie a level 5 gold reward results in 50 gold. Selections are still made relative to how difficult I feel an enemy is by setting its level, but the exact value comes from elsewhere. Now it will be much easier to tweak the reward pacing. Rank is still taken into account (each rank of the world is intended to be a big jump in costs to prevent players from gaining much value from grinding previous areas), so a rank 1 level 8 reward is still less than a rank 2 level 5 reward.
Something very similar is happening to equipment. Previously every single piece of equipment’s stats were manually specified. Naturally this led to a whole lot of looking up a chart for appropriate levels, which then led to clerical balance errors since equipment was in the format of “this style of equipment has versions 1, 2, 3 which are just straight upgrades”. The new system will simply define an entire family of equipment’s growth across levels- with some options for additional flavor at certain levels if desired. Balance will now be much easier to tweak to perfection, though I suspect more will have to be done to equipment later to make it more interesting.
I was a little loathe to implement stuff like this because this kind of pass-the-balancing-off-to-the-computer stuff can easily go too far. For instance take this once popular (heck, maybe it’s still popular judging from most games these days) perception of how a difficulty curve should look:
The idea was that you constantly want to be challenging the player just a little bit so that they feel like they’re overcoming things, but not so much that they get frustrated and quit. This concept is, in fact, complete bullshit. The end result is that players feel bored and pandered to because the game never gets in their face and tells them that they suck, nor does it ever reward the player for getting significantly better. The game becomes forgettable because no part of it stays around long enough for the player to reflect on it. It gets even worse when you apply it to a game with even the slightest bit of non-linearity because it reduces player options to being meaningless- the cave or the castle? doesn’t matter, they’re both the same! Wouldn’t want you to get stressed and quit because we think you’re too dumb to try the other one if the first one you choose is too hard.
Moderation is key.
With 9 weeks (including last week), and reducing the Things To Do Before Year End to 25 creates a desired schedule of doing roughly 3 things a week. I did 4 this week (close to 5!) so I am technically ahead of schedule. But when you factor in that I started with some of the easier goals and that I probably forgot things that also need to get done, I ain’t getting comfortable with this schedule yet. The list is composed entirely of changing existing systems rather than building new ones so I don’t expect any single item to take longer than one week. But 3 a week is still pretty ambitious. I’ll need to build up a bigger lead this week.
So I was sitting down to work on one of the items on the list, dividing it up into sub-tasks that needed to get done. And it was looking pretty gnarly, having to add significant new parts to make it work. Then one of the greatest pleasures occurred: I figured out an alternate way to do it that was both easier to build and significantly more interesting to play with. Words don’t really describe how good it felt. And I probably never would have thought of it if it weren’t for a deadline pressing in on me. Limitations, man, limitations.
I’ve been worrying about having stat bonuses/penalties with classes. Outside of classes players can have theoretically equivalent stats from buying the same equipment. Then, classes largely introduce new options and ideal directions to players rather than direct advantages. But having some classes sacrifice options for greater power in remaining options seems potentially too powerful since players have a total of 3 class choices- losing a few options with one or two of them isn’t a huge deal when your other classes can make up for it. Might have to stick to stat penalties. Or bonuses and penalties.