Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Pursuit of a Trial mode

As I work towards tying up all the loose ends and applying a layer of polish to Dark Delve, I have started looking seriously at its Trial experience. To be blunt, it sucks. After starting a new game, the player is asked to make the characters that will be part of their group. There are not too many choices (Class, Portrait, Name) but for someone just starting, this is going to take a bit of time.

Then the player is shown a small story intro and placed into town, where they must absorb the different town locations, figure out how to apply each character's starting skill points, purchase a few supplies, and head to the dungeon. Once in the adventure proper (assuming they make it that far), the random dungeon stocking nature of the game could mean the first initial rooms are empty by chance, and it is also entirely possible to run into a mini boss who would be difficult or impossible for a new party and player to defeat as one of the first encounters experienced.

I must swallow the tough pill and admit that the above sucks as an intro to a game I am very proud of. I have 8 minutes to show what my game is all about and show what makes it fun. What I have is not going to cut it, so I started brain storming.

First off, having a new player sit through building a character, assigning skill points and equipment is not really a good use of the trial player's time. So providing a default party to use for trying out the game is a must. I would also like to show off several different aspects of the game. A bit later I came up with the concept of adding a Challenge mode to the game.

This is still a work in progress, but my current thought is to include 3 different challenges that are unlocked in sequence. Trial mode players can only select this mode, keeping the more involved and newly renamed "Campaign mode" for those that are not restricted by time. The first challenge is my chance to show what the game is about, and I want to allow it to be beaten within the 8 minute time frame of the trial. Though perhaps not on the first attempt, as there is a certain amount of absorbing required with a new RPG that is tough to predict.

Currently the second challenge puts the player in charge of 2 powerful characters who attempt to uncover as many hidden keys (or rescue as many slaves as possible) and make it out alive, all the while assaulted by hordes of enemies, that while weak, are numerous enough that it is a game of resource management. This challenge I am aiming at taking 20-30 minutes to complete.
I am currently basing the final challenge off the most excellent Desktop Dungeons game (you really should click that link if you have not already heard of it). Consider it a tribute, the player chooses a single character who begins at level 1, and must navigate a dangerous level teaming with enemies of all levels, picking their fights and leveling up to enough power to defeat a boss enemy. Trying to have a lot of randomness in this challenge to allow a lot of replay. This challenge is being aimed to take 40-50 minutes to complete.

Each challenge is scored, and the best scores kept in a local leader board, so players can attempt to beat their best time as a continuing challenge. I am very pleased with how this is shaping up, though it will likely add 1-2 weeks of extra development time, despite the tools I have already developed. In the long run I cannot think of a better use of time, the first couple minutes of a game are its most important parts, and I am rather ashamed to have taken so long to see this glaring problem.

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