Saturday, August 17, 2013

But is it any fun?

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot of lately.  Is the game any fun?  It can be a very difficult question to answer yourself, elbow deep in the guts, a tweak here, a kick there.  I have been building the campaign scenarios, and in play testing them, I have started to get very nervous.  Is it too complicated to make sense of?

That is a funny question to have, as the game is much less complex than the original plan, which included a global morale mechanic in addition to upgrade-able settlements.  There is one major mechanic that sets Shattered Throne apart from similar games, the combo star system, in which every attack against the same unit in a row becomes more powerful.  This idea was born a long time ago when I wanted to make a formation based war game that modeled units losing coherency as they engaged in battle, while at the same time being enamored of how playfully fun and engaging of a game Peggle was.  It seemed a perfect solution, and it has come to define Shattered Throne.

I think the Combo system as a whole is solid, what I am worrying about is all the other structures I built up around it.  Specifically the various unit traits and leader powers.  Each unit in Shattered Throne has 2 traits that make it unique.  A lot of these traits interact with the combo system and each other in significant ways.  It may be that the traits have grown too big, and will cloud the player's ability to make meaningful choices.  I must admit, that even as the game's designer, I sometimes cannot easily know how much damage a unit will take in an attack.  Now that is a rather large red flag.

So what am I to do, rip everything apart and find a better way to put it back together?  I really should, but I would lose a lot of momentum and risk the project never getting done.  Though I also do not want to release something I am not really proud of.  Again I might just be over reacting, being too close to the project.  But I do not feel as proud of the game as it currently stands as I did when dreaming it up.

What I have decided to do, is to finish up with the first pass of the campaign game, a task that has been very difficult.  Then get it some play testing, see what other people think.  I need some serious brutal honesty.  I think that I also need to play Advance Wars again, with a more analytic eye, pick out why exactly makes me love that game so much, and whether I am missing a key ingredient.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A little here, a little there

This is more of a stream of consciousness post, something a bit different, but something I want to try to do more of. It seems the longer I go without posting something, the more I feel that my blog post needs to be extra special, which is a bad feedback loop the ensures I do nothing at all. Hoping that making it a point to regularly post updates, even of small relevance will make it easier to keep up to date.

As far as this hobby goes, I typically work in cycles, in which I get a whole lot done on a project in a short time frame, and then it fades into the background for a while. I suppose I should at least be thankful that I have been able to suppress the urge to constantly start new projects, a tendency from the past that has sealed the fate of many half finished projects.

Shattered Throne had reached the point in development that I absolutely needed to nail the story down, something that has proven to be very painful to put together. I am not a story person. I know a lot of developers see the story as one of the primary areas that drives them to make games. Not this guy, I love tinkering with the game mechanics and getting the engine up and running.

I really wish I knew someone who was passionate about writing stories, and not so much into the mechanics. And major bonus points if they could draw and/or design UIs. As well as being both responsive, and relaxed about the project, seeing it as just a hobby like myself.

That said, I finally was able to put together a story script. I had a few requirements:

  • Must be concise, I hate endless walls of text to read through 
  • Must progress in such a way that the player has a chance to play each of the 3 factions against all the others in a roughly equal amount 
  • Must work around the Kingdom map I currently have, with battles spread out nicely 
  • Must not be too generic (or else why bother at all)
  • Must work in all the character and map art I already had commissioned and done (a big no no, the story should have been done first, but in my defense, I had a story before commissioning the artwork, it just ended up not working out when moving from outline to detail form. A lesson learned for the future)

So I finally got something working that mostly fits, sent it out for some feedback.  And it does not really appear to be exciting anyone.  I am starting to think that a generic approach might be best after all...

I also added in a slot machine mini game, because I needed a mini game and had a short obsession with Slot Machines and the desire to program one.  So took advantage of the desire to belt it out.

Who doesn't like mini games?

I have also turned some attention to balancing the factions, leaders, and units out.  Some of the comments I received from the beta build, was that the scenarios in which you build up an army by spending gold, didn't work out so well.  They just dragged on.  I increased the costs and power of the higher end units, such that instead of a cost range of 10g to 40g, after several rounds of tweaking, I ended up with a range of 10g to 100g, which feels better.  The higher end units are much rarer, and worth saving up for, but each unit retains its niche and purpose, and none ever become obsolete.

The change has also resulted in creating the type of game I was hoping for, one of large lines of infantry using formation to control the map.  Of course, it could just be my own desire for playing such a game that has biased me.