Even a week out it’s hard to digest the new version. Most of the week was spent stabilizing it (which we’re getting pretty close to now), which makes it somewhat difficulty to form a cognate impression of it when most of the time was spent replaying the first third of the game again and again. The other thing that throws it off is simply that the numerical balance of a lot of things is still all kinds of off. But what’s clear is that pacing is going to need a lot of work to cope with the changes- getting to about the halfway point took an hour for 3 players. Not entirely surprising since a lot of the new map stuff adds thought overhead to the game (among other things). The first move to fix it will probably be cutting it down to 6 difficulty ranges instead of 9. I could even see dropping it all the way down to 3 if necessary.
As predicted, the new combat system seems to be extremely effective at making player vs player far more interesting. It has even made 2v1 matches more balanced than before which is a somewhat unexpected side effect. Having rewards tied to location combined with many areas having low-risk actions for players to earn from has also created an effect where it’s relatively easy for players behind the level curve to catch up to everyone else.
Presently the biggest question of where to go with this thing is how to deal with enemies in the new battle system. Right now when they have static patterns there’s a big advantage to players who have fought the same enemy in previous games. There’s two ways to fix this: either let players know about the enemy’s next move, or partially randomize monster patterns each session. The latter is the far more likely solution to go with- trying to predict a pattern and then exploiting it has proved far more enjoyable than I expected. Lots of exciting player gambling. The biggest win, though, is that randomizing the patterns means players have reason to pay attention to other player’s turns to learn about enemies ahead of time (along with having a minor element of memorization to keep players focused on the game).
So really the big question is where to go from here. At this point the work branches off in several directions: enormous amounts of content needs to be planned and implemented, additional interface functionality needs to get added (and then the interface presentation needs to be overhauled entirely), optimization and clean up desperately need to be applied in a few areas where all the radical changes left scars, fundamental basic features are still missing, support for expected configuration options needs to be added, and plenty more! Right now my priority is still to get this second draft stabilized, balanced, and paced correctly so I can start evaluating feedback, but after that a whole lot of big picture planning is going to have to get done for the next year. Right now I’m not sure if I want to dabble in each, or focus down on one category at a time. As I said before, there’s a ton to do but I’m no longer worried about it.
Well I barely managed to get the playable version out the door. Like most of these early releases, we haven’t actually played it that much thanks to the slew of new bugs stemming from the new features (partially because I don’t test multiplayer by myself as much as I should, partially because I rushed it out because I can’t wait for people to try it out) so there’s not a whole lot to say about it yet. Initial internal feedback is universally positive towards the new map features, though not enough of the battles have been played to say one way or the other for them.
So that feels pretty good. Actually, it feels really good. There’s still a long road ahead of putting in required features, balancing things out, making it look good, building content, etc. But that long road seems a lot shorter when you know you have a good base to work from- the game is only going to get better from here on out, there’s no worry of all that work going to waste.
Expect a more thorough analysis of what went right and what went wrong with the new alpha next week, assuming anything gets done through the holidays.
Amusingly after discarding the old todo list I think I got like 4 items done on it this week, plus a ton of miscellaneous things that weren’t on any list. So things are going great. I’ve got two items left on the short list and I’m going to try to push to have them done this week. Not necessarily easy to do since one of them is an issue with the map generation that completely wrecks the intended balance, so it really must be dealt with before testing.
The main reason for the sudden increase in productivity is that I’m really pumped to see whether these changes are actually going to work. It’s so close I can taste it. Even now I can kind of get a feel for how it plays and get the very slight impression that this just might work. And I hope it does. This has been our darkest year, so if we can go out on a win that would make all the difference for morale.
There’s a question that has been on my mind for awhile now: what if the revisions don’t work? Doing another year of just rebuilding the foundation isn’t really acceptable. But it might not be impossible if necessary. A big reason why I altered the game the way I did is because it allows me to make some sweeping changes to it without necessarily programming a ton of new stuff. There’s a fair chance of being able to really mine down into the potential space and finding something better in there. And if it doesn’t end up sucking, it’s still a great way to make the game feel different between each scenario.
So a long hard look was taken, and I’ve decided to drop the majority of the list in favor of a goal of “get the game playable by year’s end”. I just want to test out how it’s coming along already. The list has been reduced to a mere 3 things with 3 weeks to do ’em. It consists largely of building necessary sample content, with a side dish of finishing required features. There’s only really one thing on the list that has been delayed that I regret having to delay since it’ll make the content a little harder to balance, but overall enough major features got done in time that it isn’t a huge deal. I always worry a little bit when producing these tests, because I’m never sure how much the lack of quality of life features affects tester feedback. Even from myself.
So this week was spent largely on planning and building new side quests. It’s also where some doubt began to creep in. It’s a little inevitable for that to happen when you make the tenth variation of the same basic things happening over and over again. Several months ago I talked about quest context mattering more than what you actually do on a quest. Part of the problem is I can’t shut off my game designer brain here that is annoyed that so many of these objectives are so similar. The other problem is my context really, genuinely isn’t that interesting yet. Most of these sample quests are going to end up thrown out anyway, but I’ve really got to work on my technique here. It’s rough trying to come up with a story to tell that takes place in the span of two text boxes.
Then when I start to actually put them in the game proper and the map starts populating with so many different things, I start to feel a little better about it as a whole. Maybe this really is going to work. Just maybe. Now to take a few more steps and find out.
This week saw 1 item done, calling in the triumphant return of being behind schedule again. Not terribly surprising given holidays and the like. One thing to note is that a pattern of “get 2 easy things done early in the week and then 1 hard thing at the end of the week” seems like it’s probably the ideal way to schedule- when you start with a hard thing it’s easy to let it take up the entire week. More than likely I’ll be pushing several items off the list to compensate for this.
Right now I’m mostly worried about rushing design things that really shouldn’t be rushed. I’m not entirely sure how to cope with that. Either I’ll change this year’s end goal to be to create a solid framework to start hanging sample content on next year, or I’ll move several more features down to low-priority to give me more time this year to work on sample content. It really depends on how many more features I deem required to start building on, and how long they take.