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More action, just for you

My last post contained a description of the map, including the players and their objectives and the physical design. Now, we delve a bit into the guts of gameplay. I present the core aspects in bullet points:

  • The heroes can select from a number of characters.
  • The Keeper can select a hero as well, evil of course.
  • Minions will flow from the top of the map to the bottom, and attempt to destroy the town.
  • Players must balance their time between protecting the town and killing bosses.
  • The Keeper must balance upgrading his minions to keep them at the same level as the heroes, while making sure his ‘Bag of tricks’, as it were, stays potent as well.
  • The Keeper receives gold every 45 or so seconds, the amount determined by the amount of bosses still alive. He also receives gold when one of his minions is killed. The amount of gold received is: Creature Level x 2.
  • Heroes receive gold for killing minions. They also receive a small amount of lumber for killing bosses. This lumber, in combination with gold, can be spent on items. The small lumber quantity makes sure the heroes don’t access the more powerful items straight away (a pacing mechanic).

The original plan for the map was to allow the Keeper to select his hero along with the other four players. As I worked on the map it became the first thing I cut. The effort it would involve to add it didn’t seem time spent wisely considering I had the other heroes to balance as well.

The Bag of tricks is essentially a catch-all for any upgrade unrelated to improve the strength of minions. For instant, one researchable ability is called ‘Manifestation’ and allows the Keeper to teleport in, anywhere on the map, for a short period of time and cause havoc. Combined with a long cooldown, it would be up to the Keeper to use this ability strategically – say, when the heroes are about the engage a boss, or when they’re just barely beating back a wave of mobs.

I have to admit I didn’t plan all this out at the beginning – a mistake on my part. I had a rough idea and just went to work. It had been some time since I’d used the World Editor, and I had vague memories of exactly what was possible. Sufficed to say, one should learn the flexibility and power of their tools before wielding them. I got the hang of things through trial and error.

Early on in the piece I figured out a few problems with the gameplay of the map. Tom Cadwell’s game balance essay (http://www.gamedev.net/reference/design/features/balance/) was a huge help in this regard. Hunting for bugs was enlightening:

  • The players had no incentive to traverse the map. By hanging back, they could farm creatures, increase their level, and then squash each boss (as boss strength remains static in relation to that of the heroes).
  • Not that the first problem really mattered, as the Keeper had no reason at all to send out minions. Minions provide experience for the characters and, without it, the bosses beyond the third or fourth would pose too great a challenge for Level 1 heroes.

Both these problems were rather substantial as they not only resulted in a stalemate, I had already invested a lot of time carving out the systems they supported. In the end, I stared at the wall until I regained my will to continue. The solution, I knew, involved a major rework of the minion upgrades.

Originally, no minions would flow through the two ‘lanes’ of the dungeon – it was up to the Keeper to decide if his strategy would involve minions at all. He could choose to simply stuff his bag with tricks and deploy them as he willed, placing the burden of victory on his cunning. My previous design had four minion types, each with their pros and cons, and the Keeper could pick which would suit his style of play. For example, he could build lots of small Kobolds and overwhelm the players with a wall of weak creatures, or go for Orcs and Dragons and count on them pounding the heroes so badly they’d spend most of their time regenerating health and mana.

Ultimately I discovered this would simply not work – at least for my map.

The solution I settled on was to remove the ‘piecemeal’ creature upgrading and replace it with a ‘attack group’ system. Instead of sending each type of creature out on their own timer, a group of creatures would be sent out in waves. In addition, a basic group would be on by default, meaning the heroes would be gaining experience regardless of the Keeper’s actions. It made a lot more sense thematically as well. I whacked in a time limit for the heroes to prevent them from farming and bang – I had a working risk and reward system to motivate both the Keeper and the players.

Next: Hero power balancing, and other things that are painful to do alone.

~ by Logan on July 12, 2007.

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