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Randomly Interesting Combat - Pre-Beta Devlog #2

January 22, 2015 1 Comment

(~6 minute read) Post-Alpha we looked into how players engaged with the creatures of the world through combat. Our combat system required learning the unique move of each creature type, which provided an interesting first-time experience. However, over the course of hours of gameplay, players felt the single-move combat mechanics of creatures grow old and boring. This is how we addressed it without going too HARDCORE.

Combat design in crafting games is frequently an extension of the harvesting system; the only difference is that the object being harvested is moving and damages the player on contact. This is the case in games like Terraria, Minecraft, and Starbound. With little exception, it is the rule in the most popular of crafting titles that killing an enemy bears a striking resemblance to mining; You’re mining living entities that don’t take well to drilltips.
Combat and harvesting in many crafting games feel quite similar.
We wanted Crashlands’ combat system to engage players at a high skill level, but still maintain enough ease of play that it wasn’t exhausting to repeat. It had to be accessible, allow for player mastery, and offer another dimension to the play experience not found in harvesting activities.
Don’t Starve has many of these qualities, short of accessibility. It’s unclear how far the Bunny Man’s bite reaches, something a new player would have to discover the hard way.
Combat, as it was Each creature had a single move at its disposal. Once engaged, the creature would place a large overlay on the ground, showing the range and size of their move. Players would then have to “Dance” around these overlays to strike at foes. We called this the “Dance of Death”. In the case of the Glutterfly, it went like this:
The Glutterfly’s overlay gets more solid as it prepares to unleash its projectile, which has its own overlay style to show the danger radius.
It was simple for new Players to pick-up and lent each creature, with its separate timing and effect types, a feeling of uniqueness. It also gave combat a distinctly different feel compared to harvesting. This combat system stayed enjoyable so long as the flow of new Creatures was refreshed fast enough. However, for the Game-at-Large to remain interesting, the rate at which the player moved from one set of Creatures and Resources to another had to slowly grow longer as new recipes became more complicated to produce (see Seth's Loops and Rockets talk for why this is). And here lies the culprit; Combat was only interesting so long as there were new creatures to learn from, but those creatures were limited in supply and arrived at further and further time intervals as the game progressed. The system we devised offered Mastery potential, but not enough to weather those longer stretches between new creatures. We needed to make the combat more interesting and for a longer duration, but without busting the accessibility and ease of it. The Spice of Life For new players, the sense of bored Death-Dancing seemed to be setting in around 4 hours into the game, a scant 10% of the way through its intended duration. Seth, on a hunch, changed the attack code of the Wompits to have a small randomization in landing accuracy. Immediately we saw what we’d been missing;
The three Wompits here land in slightly varied locations, rather than completely on top of the player.

And just the tiniest bit. Over the following day Seth added some “wobble” to every Creature’s attack, but we found this slight variation in the existing moves to not be enough. While it created variety in creature-attack-execution, it didn’t deliver a variety in player-response. In a small creature overhaul, we generated a list of secondary attacks: Glutterflies, the one-shot poisoners from before, could now fire a 3-shot burst; Wompits, the one-stomp fatties from above, could now perform a second, larger stomp in rapid succession after their first; etc.
The Glutterfly now occasionally fires a multi-shot volley, requiring a change in player combat approach.
The end-all effect of this is that combat is more consistently interesting, because while you may know what the Creature is capable of, it’s a roll of the dice in determining what it’s going to choose to do. It’s a subtle way to boost the Mastery potential of combat while keeping it accessible, and distinct from harvesting. We think you're going to love it. Stay tuned for parts 3 & 4 on the updates to Crashlands, and get your BscotchID. You'll need it to enter the Beta...SOON. :D

Looping Recipes - Pre-Beta Devlog, part 1

January 14, 2015 2 Comments

At the conclusion of our Alpha test we found that there was something very WRONG with how Player’s experienced Crafting in Crashlands. In short, the system we had constructed alternated between being boring and overwhelming. To solve this HORRIBLE problem we first had to examine why this might be the case.

Crafting, as it was
During Alpha, crafting a “Station” (the thing that shows a set of Recipes and lets you craft them) gave players immediate access to every Recipe that particular station had at its disposal.

The result of this Bulk Recipe-Delivery was that Players would begin the game overwhelmed by the breadth of what they could build. As they progressed, Players began to optimize their build path to access Stations as quickly as possibly, skipping the 350 other Recipes along the way.

The game was intended to be an exploratory adventure, more about the journey than the end-goal, but we inadvertently designed it to be entirely about crafting the next station!

After a lengthy design discussion, we realized we had ignored something essential when putting the Crafting system together: the importance of Recipes in the Game Loop.

Back it UP -- WTF is a Game Loop?
Loops make up the underlying structure of all games. A Loop in its barest form is an Action combined with a Reward, where the Reward goes on to reinforce the next repeat of the Action (see Seth’s awesome talk on the subject, "Loops and Rockets").

Let’s take a familiar example. In Role-Playing Games players defeat monsters (action) and are rewarded with Experience Points and Loot (rewards), which make their characters more powerful, which in turn lets them defeat even bigger monsters, which grants them even more Experience and better Loot, which lets them fight even bigger monsters, ad infinitum (Looping).

There can be many little loops within the overarching Game Loop - in Crashlands, the general structure of the Game Loop looks like the following.

Players find stuff, break it, and use the parts to build stuff, which let's them find and break better stuff, which let's the build better stuff, ad infinitum.

Crashlands is a crafting game: the core driver of the Game Loop (and the sense of player progression) is the BUILD STUFF aspect of the game. Looking at the diagram above, we can see that BUILD STUFF feeds back to the other two parts of the Gameplay Loop (finding stuff and breaking stuff), making it the linchpin of fun. The FUNPIN, if you will.

The Gameplay Loop shown above is the skeleton of every well-known crafting title: Terraria, Don't Starve, Minecraft, Starbound, etc. So why don’t these games feel exactly the same?

Well, the differences in play don’t come from the Gameplay Loop at all, but rather what the player does in each Node in the Loop (the Find Stuff Node, the Break Stuff node, etc) and how fast each of the Sub-Loops turn over.

From the expanded Crashlands Game Loop below, we can see what the gameplay itself actually consists of at any given Node – the moment-to-moment player-actions that make the Game Loop flow.

Each "Node" in the loop is moved through using a series of interactions unique to the game.

Using the Stations as a sort of BULK RECIPE DUMP, we had inadvertently removed Recipes from the Looping aspect of the game. The Loop that they were intended to create was instead absorbed by the Stations, which gave the Stations an undue weight in driving player behavior.

Shedding the Pounds
To remedy this, we have decided to stop giving the players all possible recipes the moment they unlock a station. Instead, recipes can now be found out in the world when breaking down resources. Stations, once built, only house a few key recipes at first -- just enough to give the player some gameplay direction -- and are otherwise left to the player to fill-out by exploring and interacting with the world.

A Recipe crate flies out of a Sawgrass plant. The Recipe inside uses components from the Sawgrass.

Players then unlock additional Recipes by loot-drops from harvested resources. Many of those recipes will make future harvesting faster or allow access to higher-level resources. Players therefore break down resources to gain recipes to break down even more resources to gain even better recipes to break down still more resource... ad inifinitum.

In other words, Recipes got their own Loop!

The subsequent impact on the Crashlands' Game Loop looks like this:

The addition of Recipes as a findable item enhances the Find Node and creates a new Loop with the Build Node. The system grows more robust!

Not only does the new loop empower the actions within the FIND Node in the Game Loop, but it creates a greater driving relationship between the FIND and BUILD nodes!

We think you're going to love it.

Stay tuned for parts 2-4 on the updates to Crashlands, and get your BscotchID. You'll need it to enter the Beta...SOON. :D