Update 11 Test Report

Changes

  • Added 3 new scenarios, totaling 4 (out of a goal of 10).
  • Several new classes, many balance changes, removed classes, etc.
  • Changed role system: players can now have any combination of roles instead of being locked into 1 tank/damage/heal/support per player.
  • Designed traps to fit in the new map style (triggering when moving away from them, providing a disarm opportunity).
  • The RPS(RockPaperScissors) that an enemy is using is now usually visible, though some enemies hide it.
  • Monster HP is now visible.
  • Streamlined quest scripting conditionals to be consistently used everywhere in the data instead of separate ones for quests/battle.
  • Stabilized data editor to no longer crash every 20 minutes (after ignoring this for years it ended up being a trivial error).
  • Added an autopatcher for tester convenience.
  • Continuing UI layout tweaks.

Test Results

Testers seem to be actively enjoying the game at this point. One who hasn’t tested in several years was surprised by it, even. Various UI nuisances are still a major hindrance, though. There are also balancing factors that are starting to crop up. One factor is the move from fixed role counts to free roles makes battles far more challenging to balance- all-damage parties need to be hindered by no recovery, all-tank parties need to die fast enough to deter players from getting into miserable battles of attrition, etc. This is pretty solvable problem, though the game is harder to balance in this regard since the system is deliberately built around avoiding focus fire (whether through aggro build up or front/back lines).

My bigger concern when it comes to quality at this point is the writing. Testers don’t give much direct feedback on it, and my own gut says it probably sucks. It won’t kill the game, but I wish I could find a means of getting feedback on it so I could improve.

With this test, “is this game good?” is no longer the driving concern (for the first time). It is finally just, “can we get this done fast enough?” (with a side of “can we make it polished enough in that time?”). This should be a relief, but it doesn’t feel like one. If anything there’s more pressure now because we’ll be wasting potential if we don’t pull this off.

Next

While my original plan was to focus entirely on content until all of it was complete (for art production efficiency), I seem to be making a pit stop of cleaning up the UI further since we have a boatload of tester feedback on it now (I honestly didn’t plan on running a test this early but, uh, the testers wanted to play some more). In some ways this is good because we’ll have more time for testers to give us feedback on the UI than if we waited longer (and get more feedback focused on the content instead of the UI). But it also feels really bad in terms of slowing down production. No way to win.

There’s also a content question that I’m a little worried about. As it stands I can either make the average scenario length 1hr or 2hrs. The issue is that the number of battles in a 1hr scenario are so few that it pretty much has to be linear to work. While testers haven’t complained about the 2hr scenarios, the limited lives nature of the game makes me reluctant to ship it with scenarios where you can lose 2hrs worth of progress. Given our incredibly limited amount of time I’m inclined just to have a mixture of both scenario types rather than having to edit down existing scenarios (plus the brisk linear scenarios are good palette cleansers between beefy nonlinear ones). Things like simultaneous turns may reduce length as well.

Update 10 Test Report

Introduction to Rooms

Since I haven’t been posting regularly, I’ll do a quick catch up on the biggest change to the game. After the success of the previous test having a more traditional co-op format, it became clear that the old board game style map view no longer fit the game. A lot of alternate approaches were considered such as just making each node on the board game map its own much bigger space space and stitching them together as one huge map. But that would generate a great deal of artist work (transitioning between areas), and our map engine was struggling to deal with large maps and I didn’t want to take any more time to optimize it. So we came upon a much more efficient solution: the room system.

The first concept sketch for the room system.

The basic idea was that we’d move the overworld into a simple minimap, and make the battle display a permanent fixture even when outside of combat. As such, every space on the old game board became its own room. From there it became obvious that we could fill rooms with objects with various interactions- talking, opening, etc. This added a lot of missing context from the previous builds where it was often unclear who was talking or where the treasure just came from.

The final result (for now, anyway)

The end result is far more suitable to the more traditional RPG format that the game has mutated into, letting players explore and interact with an actual world.

Changes

  • Map style shifted from linear sequence of events with optional sequences on a zoomed out overworld to freely moving between connected rooms.
  • Objects in rooms are interactive with specific actions related to them (use, break, unlock, talk, etc), and NPCs can move around in patterns.
  • Text boxes now stem from their speaker’s sprite.
  • Basic cutscene support with NPCs moving around and animating in response to events.
  • Created a new scenario involving a haunted castle.
  • Various usability improvements (a more prominent turn indicator, shifted UI elements around, etc).
  • Various balance improvements.
  • Built an entire tile map editor (unimportant to players, but a required time-consuming step due to the system shift)

Test Results

Due to tester availability, testing wasn’t as extensive this go around- using fewer groups and only progressing part way through the scenario in some cases. As such data is pretty limited: people seemed to like the new map system, some old UI failures still haunt us, some UI improvements worked perfectly (players rarely fail to notice it was their turn now). It kind of doesn’t even matter. It’s painfully obvious this is the correct direction even without external validation, we just need to keep going.

Next

There’s one major feature left on the table: simultaneous turns (along with several larger features like saving/options). It’s tempting to get the last of these system-level tasks out of the way first, but in the interest of laying the foundation for graphics production (and giving myself a break from system code) I am instead moving on to content production and furthering our mechanics along. Update 11 likely just looks like a new scenario or two, a larger plan for the story as a whole, improving how our classes play, cleaning up status effects, giving a final pass on how our stats look, etc. A real hodgepodge of finalizing things to make content production smoother.

It’s terrifying to be committed to a system (what if people don’t like it?), but also relieving that we’re finally moving on.

Update 9 Test Report

Changes

  • Shift from board gamey roll-to-move and heavily random events to a more static, dungeony, linear approach to map design (including removing the deck based event system). New map style features days that get drained by resting/dying rather than turn timers.
  • Completely dropped support for a PVP mode to focus entirely on co-op.
  • Switched back to a diverse set of classes that fill very specific roles (partially based on previous versions of co-op classes)
  • Complete redesign of user interface more in line with PC-style hotbars rather than vaguely console-styled submenus, as well as including information menus accessible even when it isn’t your turn. Switched types to Rock Paper Scissors and a more visual display of types breaking other types during attack animations.
  • Equipment Point progression system changed to primarily feature upgraded versions of core class abilities rather than entirely new abilities.
  • New equipment with more synergistic abilities for the classes.
  • Completely new art style (including new map tile style).
  • Honestly since this update took over a year, probably things I’m forgetting.

Test Results

It’s hard to even process the response at this point, I guess. Testers who play rarely were still initially confused. Some of them seemed to get over it far quicker than they used to (whether from new UI or experience is another question). That said, I’m not drawing too many conclusions from it since part of the problem was the test scenario’s difficulty being cranked up fairly high since I wasn’t originally planning on wider testing, which makes the learning curve frustrating. Most confusion problems can really be placed into one of 3 categories: UI needs an artist pass to be pretty and also emphasize what’s actually important, missing effects (sounds, visuals, etc) create confusion, and no learning curve in the game’s content. These are all things that just need done, rather than requiring an overhaul.

While the response wasn’t overwhelming, the smaller details of how testers played were far more encouraging than previous tests. Players discussing the equipment they wanted, actively seeking out EP abilities without prompting, refining party builds between playthroughs, hunting for secrets in the choices, reacting to some of the bigger surprises, wanting to play again until they beat the demo, etc. It was a lot like watching people play a game. It’s pretty clear the co-op focus was the right choice. Timing wise the games consistently hit 1hr 20mins for experienced players, which is still higher than the target time of an hour. Additions like simultaneous turns will probably speed it up, and beyond that I don’t care quite care as much about perfect lengths now that co-op is the focus.

Next

Reading the last update report’s next section is distressingly like looking in a mirror. A year later we’re still miles away from finished, yet still purporting a “get it done” strategy. The reality is that 80% of 2016 was spent on the UI overhaul. That remaining 20% has been frantically spent changing our course to get the game finished.

What has changed is that we’ve fully dumped the PVP mode in the name of focusing on what the game is doing best right now (which is pretty much combat). From there we’ve vastly simplified the map to create a more traditional RPG experience. For all the years spent trying to make the map work, the reality is that it had too much going on which made it vie with the also complex battles. One had to die for the other to live, and we chose the one that’s already good.

What’s next, then, now that we have a working prototype with Update 9 is to change the map presentation to fit its new systems. A change I loathe doing when we need to get the game done, but necessary. It fits alongside the other major architecture change of making the map support simultaneous turns. From there, it’s a matter of finalizing the mechanics, planning the complete content of the game, and then implementing it. Once the foundation is rock solid we can finally start full production on the assets, add missing features (saves, settings, etc), and generally just GET IT DONE.

We’re not in a good state, but it’s better than it was.

Update 8 Test Report

(In case you’re wondering, Update 7 only really changed the internal UI systems so it didn’t really merit a test report. It did have some minor gameplay tweaks like letting players continue movement if they defeat a battle in under two turns. )

Changes

  • Shrunk map down to 1/3rd its size while keeping existing quest size intact. Lowered level cap to 5 from 15.
  • Added Quest execution to abilities (allowing abilities that create objects, alter tiles, etc) and designed new classes to take advantage of it.
  • Removed random events
  • Changes to healing (free potion refills, more potion abilities)
  • Implemented fate deck system: players draw from treasure/trap card decks to select an event rather than being determined by the tile itself.
  • Implemented EP Equipment system: single equipment slot, major effects from equipment, absorbing equipment grants EP to be spent on.
  • Single town with evolving equipment stock, random equipment is also added to the decks.
  • Monster encounters are now constant: if player B goes to the same gate as player A did, they’ll fight the same monster type.
  • Implemented rest/battle charges.
  • Simplified stats: Strength/Intelligence folded into Attack, new Defense stat that reduces neutral damage but amplifies strong damage, etc.
  • Stripped classes down to two basic classes so that future classes can use them as a base line measuring stick
  • New items, new equipment, etc to match new systems.

Test Results

Probably the worst received version of the game by testers in the entire history of the project, especially by new players. The new systems have tipped the game past the point of “incredibly confused by the wonky interface for 20mins, followed by understanding” that the previous builds had. In this version the systems are impenetrable enough that some players will just plain give up on understanding them (partially amplified by the impression that their initial fumbling has lost them the rest of the remaining game). Meanwhile the more inquisitive players who do end up figuring out most the systems aren’t exactly bowled over by the game.

Despite cutback measures game length still seems quite high in 4 player (2hr and 1.5hr games), but I’m actually pretty sure these lengths are more due to new players adjusting to the game and asking lots of questions than the game itself necessarily being all that long (the movement system also contributed to this, with the princess often ending up lying on the ground after two players exhausted themselves fighting to reach the end).

Next

Way back in Update 6 (which was March 2015) I said I was finally happy with the basics and it was finally time to move on to polish. But then we look at this update and we’re right back to a ton of new systems. It certainly started towards that purpose, with the next several months and Update 7 being focused squarely on setting up the new technical foundation for UI. But the PVP mode still haunted me with its inadequacies. The smart thing to do would have been to cut PVP and focus squarely on co-op. Instead I delved into one last major system overhaul- the primary system being that of a deck representing random events that can be manipulated by players, allowing players to tilt fate in their favor.

The result is that I’m pretty satisfied with the PVP personally now? Only in theory since I haven’t run enough tests with the same players for people to pick up the mechanics to really start using them (and really most testers don’t want to do that many sessions anymore since the game is so offputting). The closest has been with one of my longer term testers who started picking up what I was throwing out during the second test. But I can sit and do a quick test session with myself and go: ‘Yeah, This is good stuff. this is really good. Probably.’

Was it worth it? I don’t know. There’s still a lot of game to make. I like hedging my bets by having two very different modes, but the time cost is undeniable (and now an added cost in making these new things clear).

For now the big goal is to clean up the usability mess I’ve created, and hope there’s a game under there that other people can appreciate. If it turns out there is, then I can move on to the issues of adding required functionality and the rest of the content. I think we’re collectively adopting as a group more of a “Get It Done” mentality so I still feel ok about this thing despite the reception to this update. I want to push out a major update every month from here on out.

Update 6 Test Report

Changes

  • Completely changed the format of the map to be closer to a linear board game with a well defined end point goal.
  • In response to the new map format attacking players, joining battles, forming parties, etc became ranged abilities rather than requiring players to be on the same tile.
  • Created 6 new classes for PVP to fit the single class format, themed around multiplayer interactions.

Test Results

It’s a success, I guess? I’m burnt out in a way where I can’t really gauge the quality of my own product right now. Tester response was fairly muted, so it wasn’t as big of a leap as the jump to required battles. The pacing dragged in parts, but that was partially down to players getting used to the new format and other attention grabbing problems. I don’t think it was a step down or anything, at the least the racing nature of the game is much clearer to players now.

The main thing that feels off to me is that there are two things in the game that dilute the excitement of rolling the dice to move. Gates (basically, battles) interrupt movement entirely and by necessity have to occur at a regular interval. Branches where players have to pick their next route aren’t as disruptive, but are also necessary for the player positional games to really play out. Right now my thought is to merge the two interruptions into one thing- after clearing a gate, players can choose what lane to branch to with their remaining movement. It’s a good solution, it just has a lot of nasty details (ie you don’t want players transitioning lanes straight into another gate so gate positions become tricky, if a player lands with 0 moves remaining the branch has to give them an extra move point to transition to another branch, etc). The good thing is that this is probably the last fundamental system change that needs to happen.

One thing that I learned is that the new format for designing PVP classes finally seems like the right way to build classes. Each class gets a primary attack/defense type that their regular attack and most of their utility abilities use. For the other two types they end up getting abilities that tend to have MP costs or cooldowns associated with them, so they have to be careful with the application of them. This benefits PVP by adding a tension to predicting your opponent’s moves since your options will get smaller if you choose wrong as well as giving your opponent certain degree of predictable behavior, and it benefits PVE by adding an appropriate amount of resource management and a similar tension for prediction as in PVP.

Haven’t been able to get a group together to test Co-Op yet, so I have no idea how it fares in the new system yet. It’s probably fine?

Next

The main thing right now is to clean up the gate problem I mentioned above, in addition to some other bugs that popped up. After that I’m probably going to do some tests with a slightly wider audience of testers to get a better read on the state of the game. At this point I think most of the fundamental issues are settled. It’ll finally be time to move on to the detail and polish work. A daunting proposition to be starting on it so late, but in a weird way I feel confident about it. Getting the fundamentals right has been a tedious process of throwing away piles of past work. The next phase isn’t likely to be such a wasteful process, so with enough effort it won’t be impossible to get it done in a relatively short time period.

Update 5 Test Report

Changes

  • Added a co-op mode, including a new main quest for it.
  • Implemented new Lane battle system to keep damage output steady between 1v1 and 4v4 battles as well as updated monsters to cope with it.
  • Created all new co-op classes designed around playing specific roles.
  • Switched to new class system where players choose only one class that progresses across the entire game, instead of mixing 3 classes.
  • Limited party movement to be roughly comparable to a single player, randomized turn order for each round.
  • A multitude of functionality improvements (Sharing shop access with party members, expanded battle ability lists, displaying possible enemy attack types, monster encounters scale to party size, monster transformation/spawning, controlling more than one character on a single computer, etc)

Test Results

Early results seem to indicate testers being largely positive about the changes so far. In particular engagement seems to be higher in co-op due to the fact that every player gets to participate in every battle most of the time, and every map turn is directly related to them (so there are few opportunities to wander off and lose focus while waiting for your turn). Some small issues with the rock-paper-scissors system being harder to follow with 8 characters being involved (and not so important that you will die by ignoring it), and potential power issues with debuffs given the current battle speed. Nothing to act on until further testing, though.

On my part I’m worried that the game length is possibly way longer than an hour in co-op and may need to be trimmed down further (Either by reducing the number of battles or the progression length). But this, too, requires further testing to be sure.

Next

At this point combat is about as good as it’s going to get. To help out PVP I’ll probably add a limited number of quest objectives that force cooperation (as well as PVP), to make sure it doesn’t stagnate with just 1v1. I have a number of 1v1 enhancing features for the lane system (slot traps/effects etc) I’d like to implement, but they won’t be a priority for the time being since there are bigger issues. Likewise allowing players to control monsters may add a degree of “always playing the game” to PVP as well, but just isn’t high enough priority to add any time soon.

The remaining Big Problem is simply getting the map game up to snuff. The new monster den system sets up a reasonable foundation, but I need to put meat on those bones already. My long-established guideline for it has been “the map should play like a dungeon” and that’s basically the angle I intend on build on though I don’t have any solid plans for it yet. In addition to the map itself, I want to finally implement player abilities that interact with the map (place down healing stations, put up traps for other players, warp themselves around the map, etc allows for interesting classes and more interesting map play).

I still want to get the fiddly RPG bits (more interesting equipment choices, more customization class progression, etc) to be more satisfying as well, but the map comes first. It may also turn out that these fiddly bits end up being part of the map as well.

Aside from that I also need to get PVP operating again since the co-op changes pretty much broke it. I mostly just need to rebuild the PVP classes to work in a single class system, but there are a few other improvements to the basic PVP formula that I want to add (mostly just killing other players to clear monster dens). Getting PVP up and running again will likely be the background task I work on while designing how the new map needs to work.

As you can tell by this laundry list, finalization certainly isn’t happening by year’s end. But I also don’t think it’s unattainable by February or March, as long as improving the map doesn’t require too drastic of changes. At any rate, I’m just glad that the game is visibly improving with each update.

Update 4 Test Report

Changes

  • Entirely new main quest prototype. Highlights include the ability for any step of the main quest to potentially win the game, timed objectives where all players lose the game if they expire (time limits often so low that players are forced to team up or lose), and escort missions where you go into new areas instead of back to the starting area.
  • New Monster Den system where every player has to fight a battle to unlock each tile on the map.
  • Switched to a hand made map instead of random (possibly temporary for testing), switched map to open world instead of locking areas based on the plot.
  • Revised most of the classes in the game to have more attack abilities, generally stronger attacks, and removed most class stat losses.

Test Results

I think one of the testers said it best: “It’s like playing a game now, instead of avoiding playing a game”. The new monster den system is basically the update we’ve desperately needed for awhile now. Battles actually feel like part of the game, and as a result it feels like there’s a complete game now instead of half of a game. It also dilutes the number of luck-based events that occur since the battles act as a mostly static constant of progression, instead of relying on the more heavily randomized events.

There’s still tons of problems to solve (pacing is screwed up because of so many battles, battle system flaws are way more obvious now, balance is a long ways off, etc) but this is basically the start of a base game that we can finally start to expand on instead of pulling out the carpet over and over again.

Next Up

One of the more prominent issues is trying to make the mid-game victory conditions feel a little more earned instead of anti-climatic. Even in cases where two players defeat the final boss, it’s difficult to determine a victor in a satisfying way. I’m currently considering stuff like having the two players duel for it. It’s a tricky problem.

Now that battles are actually part of the game all of the problems with them are much more obvious. I’m a little worried that the RPS system won’t stay entertaining in the long term with the AI. Having other players control the monsters might help, but I still don’t think there’s quite enough depth to make it last. The biggest thing is that since players make only one choice in battle, there isn’t much room for satisfying combos. There’s a lot of potential workarounds for this (and not just adding more battle commands, the brevity of choice is helpful for pacing), but I haven’t really decided which one is right. Something I can implement quickly is especially important at this point.

I’m kind of shocked that an idea actually worked for once. So much so that I don’t really know what exactly I’m going to work on next. I’ll probably start by trying to restore the pacing back to where it’s supposed to be (which probably just requires shrinking the map).

Update 3 Test Report

Changes

This update was more about adding features for the future than it was about accomplishing any specific goal. As a result it also had an above average testing period to iron out all the new bugs.

  • Status Effects on the map. Just what it says! Allows for a lot more long-term consequences.
  • Passive Abilities on the map.
  • Death timer instead of instant respawn.
  • 4 new classes and several new traps to take advantage of these systems. (With a theme towards allowing more movement manipulation)

 Test Results

I think the new classes are probably the most interesting classes we’ve had to date. They all theoretically change up how people play a fair amount. Taking place on the map instead of battles just makes them feel way more significant. I may need to start moving their abilities into other combat classes to make class choices more interesting. That said, the movement boosting/hindering abilities haven’t actually gotten that much in the way of use yet, largely because the only times where you might know you want them (such as a stat boost node) are often not visible until it’s too late. They will likely become more important in the upcoming Update 4 which makes movement more important. The new status effects haven’t had that major of an effect yet either.

This update was a bit of a bummer to work on since it didn’t do much to fix our core problems. Sew proposed changing the map to have only a few points of interest that are sandwiched between nodes consisting of traps and battles. It fixes some current issues with the maps being so overpopulated that no one really wants to sort through the mess to figure out what they want to do. It also gives a bit more of a journey feel to getting around the map, and more importance to general positioning. I worry about it backfiring in some fashion but it’s a simple change that might turn everything around. And that gives me a lot of hope.

Update Report 2

Changes

You might recall the previous changes to node difficulty:

difficulties new_layout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update 2 introduces a new difficulty per area format where difficulty zones are instead scattered throughout each area.

newer_layout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previously the difficulties were balanced such that battles within them were nearly impossible unless within the correct level range (so roughly 1 for easy, 3 for medium, 5 for hard). In the new balance all difficulties are possible at any level, but the harder the difficulty the more risky the battle for a low level character. This is accomplished by making all enemies in an area have roughly similar stats, but harder difficulty ranges have more complicated attack patterns. (Easy enemies use only 1 damage type, Medium use 2, Hard use 3- your chances of an incorrect pattern guess or not having the right types go up as the difficulties go up).

Test Results

Not an incredible change. You still don’t need to think too hard about where you go. But players are no longer uncertain about whether a battle is going to kill them without giving them a chance now (there really isn’t room in the pacing for warnings-by-death). I think it’s a subtle positive change that will probably bear more fruit as we add more to the game. It’s also probably a bigger win than we realize when it comes to new players.

The one major downside here is that the riskier enemies don’t pose much of a threat to even a 2 man party due to their stats. The experience splitting makes this not a huge power balance issue, but it does make the game rather boring when partied. Might still be okay in free for all where being partied all the time isn’t always in your best interests while co-op specific scenarios could have their own stronger enemies. Still, part of me is tempted to give enemies some sort of health bonus when fighting parties. It’s a delicate issue.

Update 1 Report

Update 1 Changes:

The primary goal of this update was to start fixing up the issue of moving around the map being boring and largely free of important decisions. I started with the lowest hanging fruit in terms of effort to implement.

-Passive traps: Traps that have a chance of occurring when trying to use an action, rather than when walking past them. Makes the risk of doing things clearer, has high potential number of combinations.

-Stat Boost Objects: Locations on the map that permanently boost a player’s skill when used. Meant to promote competition to get there first.

-Attack Objects: Locations on the map that attack all other players in various ways. Meant to make it strategic to hang around them to knock people out at strategic times.

-Changed battle turns before going to the next battle from 2 to 3 (trying to make battles less pure loss for players)

Update 1 Test Results:

Game has not significantly improved from the changes. The presence of mostly Warp attack objects and Stat boost objects in general highlighted a long problem with the game’s PVP in that it’s basically impossible to significantly manipulate other player’s movement. This goes double for the incredible power of combined movement in a party. There are numerous ways to start alleviating this problem: player-created traps, items/skills for slowing other players down, items / skills allowing for temporary boosts in movement, allowing players to attack other players who are passing by them, changing how party movement works, and potentially reducing general mobility. Bears further exploration in a future update.

Unrelated to the changes, testers demonstrated the need for a timer after death to prevent PVP stalemates that drag down pacing.