Windshields and Pacing

 

Decisions, Decisions

I first heard the term from Darren Grey of Roguelike Radio fame. I seem unable to find the tweets now but he was trying to convince me that “Windshield Enemies” were good for game pacing – that is, enemies that the player can basically smash through with little expenditure of time, effort, or resources.

Aside: As mentioned below in the comments, Darren feels a bit misrepresented here as he was not so much advocating windshield enemies as opposed to commenting on their design purpose. Apologies! (Still no hex tiles, though.)

I did not care for this idea. I wanted every enemy to be some sort of non-zero challenge. I wanted every step, every action to be thought out in advance or DOOM, DOOM shall befall the player for their carelessness. I feel like I more or less achieved this in Steam Marines, and I thought it made the game interesting and replayable.

Aside: Some quotes about Steam Marines that I enjoy to this day.

 

“There are a lot of tactics. It’s such a brutal game and it makes it even more brutal that you didn’t realize how brutal it is when you start. Then you realize you died because you made one, literally one, wrong move.”

– Joe Fisher, IndieGamesAAA.com

 

“Steam Marines is a dark and compelling game, which will force you to learn to play the hard way and make you deeply regret every mistake you make.”

– Kevin Read, TheIndieHut.com

 

Players must control their Steam Marines and try to get as far as possible through the ship’s elaborate, procedurally-generated levels. When I say “try”, I really do mean it.”

– The Wargamer

 

“IT WAS A DOOR. IT CAME OUTTA NOWHERE.”

– Jesse Cox

But enough of my gloating. What if I’m wrong?

 

What is Best in Life?

To win or die trying, I think most permadeath players would say. Or something close to that. It is central to procedurally generated, permadeath games that your deaths should be meaningful and of the player’s own doing. Some people do enjoy being instantly and fatally messed with by the random number generator, but I sort of feel that type of design is degenerate. I’m on team “It Has To Be Your Fault.”

But back to windshield enemies. The reason I resisted Darren’s argument was because I didn’t like the idea of the game letting up. (Permadeath) games are supposed to get harder as the player progresses, correct? The player gets stronger, the game gets meaner. Power curve et cetera, et cetera. But what if windshield enemies are a tool to lull the player into a false sense of security?

You’ve killed a Big Baddie, and you’re on a high. You got some great loot and your character is stronger than ever. Next level. Ah, crap what is this? New enemies? Gotta be careful… and you steamroll them. Huh. Fluke? You steamroll them again.

Okay, okay, okay maybe the developer didn’t balance this part that well. Maybe that loot was randomly above the curve. Maybe you get a little complacent. And then you die miserably.

That does sound like an experience I’d like to inflict on people who paid me money.

 

Hard, Hard, Hard, Easy, Harder, HARDER

If this is a tool for pacing, then it’s linked to time. Time to overcome the hard stuff, time to get complacent, time to smack the player in the face at that critical point. But shouldn’t a game be filled with interesting decisions? That’s what I’m told and I think I believe it. Offering easy challenges seems to run contrary to that idea. What are windshield enemies if not uninteresting decisions? Whatever you do, you can just squash them; failure rate essentially zero.

I think I’m in the minority here, but I really love the idea of bonuses and penalties coming hand in hand. It didn’t poll very well in Steam Marines – players were adamant in their pursuit of strictly superior upgrade paths – but I think there’s design space there left unexplored by my acquiescence. I think you just have to approach it thematically as opposed to mechanically to get players on board.

Steam Marines 2 deviates from its forebear in that ammunition is a single value shared across the entire squad. Your Support class marine rips off with her machine gun? Squad ammo deducted. Your Leader class marine fires her shotgun? Squad ammo deducted. Marines can no longer melee. If squad ammo gets too low marine damage and accuracy suffers.

This makes easier enemies still a bit of a hassle because you must still expend ammunition on them. Boss/elite units typically crop up later in missions and this will be a consideration. Is maneuvering around enemies a better idea than engaging? Maybe this is not appealing to all players – moving is generally less satisfying than shooting in move and shoot games, after all.

It also begs the question of is it better to constantly force the player to regulate their ammunition or not. Is that simply micromanagement and tedium?

 

Gears Within Gears

I wanted to remove class talent trees from Steam Marines 2 for months. I finally did this year and it felt great. The system was overly complicated, had too many builds, and made the UI a mess. XCOM EU/EW/2 has soldier talent trees and they work well in that game. The difference, I think, lies in the way they approach microdecisions.

XCOM asks you a question per soldier per turn: Where is my best position with regards to cover?

Steam Marines 2 asks you a question per marine per turn: Where is my best position with regards to retreat or hitting multiple enemies?

Both questions are driven by the same overarching tactical considerations of player unit survival and enemy unit destruction. The main differences are that XCOM has a streamlined action system with regards to movement, attacking, and weapon reloading. Steam Marines 2 has a bit more granularity with movement and attack since they operate on separate resources and there is no weapon reloading mechanic.

There is a much higher chance of death in Steam Marines 2 because there is no cover system – a marine simply relies on 1) enemy accuracy stats, 2) her armor, and 3) range and line of sight to survive. But marines can dance. Marines can move, attack, and retreat behind a corner all in one turn. This is something XCOM does not have – everything is rolled into the cover system and flanking. The class abilities are there to bolster that single impactful thing a soldier can do each turn.

Steam Marines 2 has single tile corridors and doorways and terrain that cannot be destroyed. This means marines can guard chokepoints more effectively and can even completely block pathways entirely by standing on specific tiles. XCOM is much more open, as anyone who has winced as a Thin Man dodged three reaction shots, jumped into high cover, and spit poison can attest to.

XCOM EU starts off relatively easy. It throws a few Sectoids at you and on lower difficulty levels this should pose no real challenge. XCOM 2, I feel, learned from this mistake. It starts off with a brutally hard first mission where a revamped Sectoid can singlehandedly wreck your squad. It establishes what kind of game it is right off the bat and let the rest roll in. Granted they may have had the luxury of that because it is a sequel.

Steam Marines 2 starts off… well, I don’t want to say, really. Let’s just say there are no windshield enemies as of yet…

 

Downtime

… which is not to say I ignored Darren. There are pacing elements in Steam Marines 2, just not within the tactical combat. There’s a ship interior/roster area where players can review their squad. There’s a Universe View where you can control a human steampunk spaceship and engage in marine dialogue. I also have further content planned for that little game branch.

Aside: Steam Marines did not take place anywhere but inside ships. Having access to human ships, alien ships, robot ships, and being able to fly around in the universe? That opens up a lot of potential content. It makes me a bit giddy.

*Is promptly eaten by the scope creep monster.*

So the player gets a chance to breathe, relax, and retool before heading off on a new mission. Steam Marines did not have that – it was just 30 levels of more, more, more, New Game Plus! GO GO GO!

So there you go, Darren. I took your advice a little bit. I hope you’re happy. No hex tiles, though.

Square Tiles. Sorry, Darren.
Square Tiles. Sorry, Darren.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below!

Visual Clutter

 

Out with the Old…

Steam Marines 1 had some issues with visual clutter. Lots of tiles, lots of colors, sprites overlapping sprites – it was a bit of a mess, in retrospect.

Steam Marines 1 - lots of sprites on other sprites.
Steam Marines 1 – lots of sprites on other sprites.

 

More than one player complained about the doors. Visually speaking to a lot of players it looked as if the marines were actually one tile higher than they actually were from the doorway. The red-cloaked marine in the upper left of the screen? He can step onto the tile directly left of him – that’s an open doorway tile.

Yeah.

Beyond that I had flashlight and laser sprites with transparency, fog of war tiles could slowly fade away to reveal their tiles, marines had cones of vision that depended on their facing direction, and items could be on chests and there was animated flashing explosives on doors and and and… it was a lot. Too much, probably.

I’ve tried to rectify that in Steam Marines 2.

 

… In with the New

The one thing I did like a lot about Steam Marines 1 (SM1) was the black around the playing field. It made for some poor screenshots, unfortunately, but it helped to focus the player on the actual game. This is what Steam Marines 2 (SM2) looks like in the tactical field:

Steam Marines 2 - Tactical Field
Steam Marines 2 – Tactical Field

 

As you can see I’ve retained the black edges, all around the tactical field and even on top of environment walls. Differences include:

  • Fog of war is binary now. In SM1 fog of war had three levels: 1) unexplored, 2) currently seen, 3) seen before, but not currently. Having only 1) currently seen and 2) not currently seen has a lot of benefits. For one it’s easier to render! Another is it keeps all that lovely negative space around the player. And a third is it keeps a sense of mystery and oppression the entire time because you’ll never have enough marines to see the entire map at any given time.
  • Almost no visual clutter. There are a few item pickups that spawn, and there are details and some grass in the Alien Temple level, but it’s not visually cluttered like in SM1.
  • The doors are a lot more clear now. Unlike normal environment walls doors are not black topped and the level lighting slices into the top of the doors, in this level giving the doors a hot purple look. They are also taller than the surrounding environments.
  • The UI is overall a lot less intrusive. There’s the portrait, name, and stats of the currently selected marine in the upper left, the squad ammo bar on the bottom center, and an action panel in the bottom right corner. There are some contextual UI elements such as the green cog under the currently selected marine, and the blue tile overlays showing where that marine can move to. There are also a few text boxes and such that pop up during attacks and other such, but by and large it is much less cluttered.

Part of that is because I shoved some stuff into a submenu. Another is that I removed squad inventory. Squad inventory, as I’ve noted before, is not a great addition in permadeath games. By tradition most roguelikes would beg to differ on that point, but I’ll maintain my position: Players frequently try to save items because the nature of the game is to place you into holes you have to dig yourself out of. Then, they forget they have them because they spent hours refusing to use them unless they felt the situation was dire enough. In other words, their behavior slowly gets molded from “Okay, don’t use powerful, rare items until I REALLY need to!” to “Don’t use items!” to “What are items?”

Aside: Have you ever ended a (non-permadeath) RPG and noticed you have an inventory full of super-powerful items you saved up and never, ever used? Did you die at all on the playthrough? Yeah, that.

SM2’s fog of war is also soft and blurry at the edges, not hard and discrete like in SM1. Mechanically it’s the same, though marine visual and weapon ranges are by discrete tile and not partial tiles.

I think overall this is the correct direction to go in, although I do have some misgivings about the marine action camera when aiming at enemy targets:

Targeting System.
Targeting System.

 

That is A LOT of black on the upper half of the screen. I’ve been thinking of putting something there, although it begs the question: why is there no roof in any of these interior environments?!

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below!

Things I Don’t Care About

I’d like to address something things I don’t care about and I think if you want to make games for a living you should also not care about. Please note that I’m generally referring to small indie devs here: trying to make the next Halo is going to run your face into some serious issues this post isn’t really trying to tackle.

 

First to Market

This was sparked because I recently read a game postmortem bemoaning missing the “local multiplayer train.” Ignoring for the moment the many other issues that make that comparison disingenuous, first to market for video games barely matters at all. The entire premise of an advantage for first to market involves being able to stay ahead of your competition; You’re not doing that in games barring some enormous technological advantage or something like a mountain of cash.

There are successful video game companies, big and small, that make a living polishing the heck out of their products and being good at customer service. I don’t want to say Blizzard never innovates, but they’re widely known for taking pre-existing ideas and polishing them to a mirror shine. They’re also known for taking their sweet, sweet time.

 

It’s Too Nichey!

Unlikely. You’ve just not managed to convince those players your game is worth paying for. You’ve got to be really, really narrow in focus in order to claim your potential market is just too niche. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that if both Firewatch and Papers, Please can do well so can your game, although perhaps not on that scale.

 

You use MMOFPSRPGRTSMOBA! It’s Super Saturated!

Your game is not getting priced out of the market because there are too many games in the same genre. Do you know why we have these large genres? Because they’re popular and people keep making things in those genres and people keep consuming them. I’ve never met a gamer who loved a particular game who would refuse to buy a game similar in genre and quality. There might be some friction due to pricing, but I think it’s fair to mention that gaming is increasing in popularity; there’s a whole lot of people willing to spend a whole lot of money on games they would enjoy.

Aside: There is something to be said about standing out, and being unique can make you stand out. But being in genre X is not going to be the primary factor in a game’s failure.

 

Visual Arms Race

Don’t care. Couldn’t care less.

I don’t mean visuals don’t matter – they do. But in an aesthetic sense. Not a photorealistic or graphical fidelity sense. Not a can-I-burn-your-latest-graphics-card-to-the-ground sense. There is a general expectation that games should look better as time goes on, and fair enough, but graphics are time consuming and expensive. As a small developer your advantage is not in competing with AAA or middle tier “AA” budgets. Your advantages are being nimble: you can pivot faster for cheaper, focus on details that those massive open world games can’t, and generally do a better job polishing your game because your scope is smaller and your marketing message tighter.

Aside: Ever notice that games aiming for photorealism don’t age well? Super Mario World still looks great. Just sayin’.

 

UE4 versus Unity versus C++/SFML versus…

Use. Whatever. Can. Make. Your. Game.

There are considerations regarding technology, your personal/team’s experience and so forth, but overall for the kind of your games small developers make it does not matter.

Aside: Someone’s going to get on my case about performance on a specific framework on a specific platform, and my response is I don’t care. Find a solution and use that. Don’t waste months debating.

I use Unity/C#. I think coding in C++ is significantly slower than C# and that’s a massive negative. My current game could be made in UE4. It could be made in the 3D version of the engine I used for my last game.

Did you make your game? Yes? Good, I don’t care what you made it in. You made it work so give yourself a pat on the back.

 

Launch

I know that this is traditionally a point of concern for game developers. I once ran a sale in the middle of a big game developer event and other developers were like, “Huh?” Sale did great.

Timing is important; Anyone who grew up on console platformers knows that. But overall I prefer a long, slow marketing burn. It’s great for four reasons:

  1. It provides you with a long time period to simultaneously develop and market.
  2. It reduces the overall impact of one specific launch date on your game sales.
  3. It gives you data on who your core users are and what they want, and how to retain those who are not.
  4. It gives you time to adjust your price.

Aside: Pricing is very important. VERY. IMPORTANT. Set up experiments and collect data. Perform your due diligence. Do not listen to people who tell you to just go lower because more people will buy and it will “obviously” result in more revenue. Also don’t let these ding dongs convince you they are not ding dongs:

Let-the-people-who-don't-like-it-price-it

In case it’s not abundantly clear, it makes no sense to let people who don’t like your product determine its price. Crocs are worth zero dollars to me; if you sell Crocs you should not price them at zero dollars because of that.

Similar to my last game I’ll be soft/alpha launching my current game. I don’t expect the initial months to be amazing, sales-wise. That’s fine since this is fact-finding and community building. The money will come, but later.

Aside: This may not be applicable to all types of games. Short games, or games not designed for replayability will most likely suffer from this marketing and development approach. In those cases your launch is significantly more important and you should not be taking this section’s advice. Uh, except that middle bit about pricing. Take that advice.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below.

Cover Systems and Overwatch

 

Cover me – I’m going in!

Ostensibly a cover system, within the context of a generic turn-based tactics game, is to provide positional play options. It can also provide a mechanism for regenerating health (more common in shooters) and encouraging indirect confrontation of obstacles. If not the latter it can also encourage turtling: whereupon the player chooses not to move because there is no risk the player is willing to take to improve her position.

Games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown cover provides passive benefits, such as 1) stopping enemy units from flanking, and 2) reducing the probability for enemy units to hit them with ranged attacks.

What I find interesting is that a simple cover system can be replicated mechanically in other ways – cover is just frequently chosen because it passes both the realism/simulationist test as well as providing for some thematic tension.

There is no traditional cover system in Steam Marines 2. Instead units can directly suppress other units which apply ranged-to-hit debuffs. There are a number of benefits to this system over a cover system despite both affording a player’s units probabilistic defenses against attack:

  • Unlike traditional cover a player can stack her unit’s suppression, whereby a unit suppressed by one marine might receive a -15% chance to hit, two marines suppressing the same target might confer a -30% (or non-linear stacking) chance to hit.
  • It encourages units to be more proactive in terms of movement and fire, the core tenets of the Steam Marines series.
  • Expending ammunition to suppress a target is more costly than simply finding cover; Waiting too long to advance once suppression orders are given is a drain on ammunition (which is finite) as well as still allowing the reduced chance to take damage. Even if ammunition is not finite turn-based tactics games generally have weapon reload mechanics which should be taken into account.
  • Since suppression acts as an active cover system there is more granularity to the power scale of employing it tactically; Having a marine get -30% chance to be hit in cover is different from having a marine that can suppress a target for -30% chance to hit. In the first situation the mechanics encourage the marine to be on point and reduce the chance for all shots from all enemy units to land. The second situation encourages more positionally-minded play since the marine can only suppress one target, and it cooperates better with units that perhaps have a higher chance to hit but a less powerful suppression debuff. Thus getting all marines increased cover evasion in the first scenario breaks the power curve much more than buffing suppression for all marines.
  • It really emphasizes that Steam Marines 2 is about squad cooperation. A lone marine is very vulnerable, much more so than a lone marine in a traditional cover system.
  • It doesn’t have any finicky edge cases with melee units. A traditional cover system doesn’t provide any offensive debuff for melee units, but an active suppression system does – and should!

You don’t have to have one or the other, or even either or – you could have a hybrid system or something completely different. I just personally prefer a more active tactical system.

Aside: Suppressing a target who auto-retaliates and kills your marine completely fits in the theme of a brutal, challenging game. Auto-reprisal systems that trigger on direct attack as well as suppression also add a lot more decision making to the process. Low health, high suppression marines might not be the best unit to lead suppression with, after all!

Active suppression systems also work well with a lot of units crammed into small, line-of-sight breaking level layouts. Steam Marines 2 does not have the destructible environments of its predecessor and this makes choke points like hallways and doors deadly. Leapfrogging by advancing, suppressing, and repeating is preserved from a traditional cover system except you don’t have to rely on the environment cooperating with you.

 

We can’t see shit, sir.

Overwatch, or any mechanic that allows interruption or interaction for a side when it’s not their turn, provides for both varied gameplay and tension. If I send a marine through that tile is he going to get cut to shreds? This is largely an information war more than anything else for two reasons:

  1. The opposition has to know about your plans in order to avoid/counter it.
  2. You have to have a hunch that reaction is more beneficial than a similar action performed on your turn.

The problem with Overwatch, or Guard Mode as it’s called in Steam Marines, is that it’s frequently a “default” action. It’s just something you do when you don’t know what else to do. It’s a safe action. As with cover and turtling, I prefer to dig that out of my systems.

The other appeal of an Overwatch mechanic is that, in a traditional cover system, you don’t have to really move around much. Again, it’s playing it safe. As mentioned above in the cover section Steam Marines 2 has an auto-engage target. Whenever a unit attacks or suppresses another unit, the defending gets to attack the attacking unit – order depends on circumstance.

This makes attacking similar to defending. You need to suppress and move to good positions and you (should) suppress and attack targets to avoid effective retaliation. There are pros and cons to this. Pros include a depth of tactical decision making and much more active turns.

A rather large con includes the potential for “samey” feel turns, where you suppress, move, attack, repeat. This is, on its face, only marginally different from move to cover, attack, repeat. The main difference from that gameplay level is the micro decision is who suppresses whom as opposed to who moves to what cover. It is arguable that the traditional cover micro decision is superior because it can be made hastily, without too much thought, and be reasonably effective. Whereas picking bad suppression targets can really doom you in a suppression/retaliation system (given a high enough damage-to-average-unit-health circumstance).

Therefore Guard Mode in Steam Marines 2 provides a very different mechanic from the first game. Instead of acting as an Overwatch marines in Guard Mode have increased accuracy, damage, and initiative when retaliating against attacks but not suppression. The key difference is the positional play element – you actually want to push marines forward and place them in Guard Mode.

 

Wait, what about turtling?

You don’t actually want to turtle with Guard Mode because enemy units can dogpile suppression and then rip your marines apart individually. You need to be actively taking them apart with both your rear and forward units rapidly otherwise you’ll lose due to attrition.

It gets particularly hairy when you factor in that attacking/suppression/Guard Mode are now in their own resource pool and no longer related to action/movement points. A unit with two attacks per turn who can attack then suppress or suppress then enter Guard Mode is a very different beast from a unit with only one attack per turn!

It’s not quite a weapon triangle, but it can help to (sort of) order it in that kind of cyclical fashion:

  • Guard Mode > Attack
  • Attack > Suppression (on non-attacker)
  • Suppression + Attack > Guard Mode

Or, combined:

  • Suppression + Attack > Guard Mode > Attack > Suppression (on non-attacker)

Simple, right? Right?

 

Of course, the effectiveness of such a suppression/Guard Mode system is highly dependent on the numerical balance of the game with regards to weapon accuracy, range, damage, armor and health on units, et cetera. So far the results are promising and I hope to keep refining the current system.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below.

Steam Marines 2 – State of the Game

 

State of the Game

Steam Marines 2 has been in development for about eight months now and is still in pre-alpha. The first game was a straightforward dungeon crawler. It was very no-frills, just clear/escape each level and kill the baddie at the end. The sequel is a bit of a different beast.

 

Frills

Steam Marines opened by making you pick a difficulty level,  bringing you to a squad creation screen, giving you a blurb about awaking from cryo-sleep, and dumping you unceremoniously in a procedurally generated level.

Steam Marines 2 shakes that up a bit. For starters there’s no difficulty level to choose from. Instead starting a new campaign brings you inside the interior of a spaceship. What, where’s the squad creation? Well…

Mission Briefing
Mission Briefing

You can just jump right into the first mission by hitting the Launch Mission button, or you can hit that suspicious looking Squad Loadout button in the upper left portion of the screen…

Roster Selection
Roster Selection

This isn’t fully fleshed out yet, but the general idea is that from the interior of your steampunk spaceship you can flip between your ship base and galaxy view, look at and gear your marines in roster/squad lists, and view and accept missions. Don’t worry, I’m aware that font is terrible for displaying numerals.

This is great because Steam Marines was all about an intrepid squad of four marines, huddled together trying to survive a hostile boarding of their vessel, whereas Steam Marines 2 is about receiving missions from the Steam Marines Corps directly, while trying to engage in directives from the Earth Council and balancing the needs of the system you’re in. Safeguarding civilians and gathering resources to aid your primary goal constitute the new strategic layer.

Gear is now modular – you can mix and match helmets, chest plates, gloves, et cetera. Marine classes have semi-randomized pools of talents that generate different talent trees once marines are promoted. Enemy units return in robotic and alien flavors, but have separate faction goals, and you’ll learn more about their motivations. Maybe you’ll even find some new allies?

 

Marines, MARINES

Steam Marines 2 is still ultimately about turn-based tactics. The old square grid has been retained, but the action and movement and aiming system has been overhauled:

Squad Ready
Squad Ready

I’m still playing with fog of war, but I’m leaning heavily toward either a very dark layer of fog for already explored areas, or simply blacking it out entirely, meaning you can only really see what your squad sees at any given point. It has the benefit of making the game feel more claustrophobic and introducing even more imperfect information since players are unlikely to remember the exact layout of the map once they’ve moved on.

Marines can see and aim in a full 360 degree arc and facing is no longer a factor in game mechanics. While the environment is in 3D for eye candy, the same ruthless mechanics of turn-based combat apply. This is not a hide-behind-a-corner-and-fire tactics game. The universe of Steam Marines is brutal, life expectancy is short, and losing all your marines still a very real possibility.

Since facing has been removed, this makes positional play even more exacting. There is no facing action cost (default on in the original game), and you cannot sit back in a wide area and take potshots in Guard Mode – ranged enemies will be able to pick you off at any angle!

Environments are not destructible this time around, however, and this opens up new avenues of attack and defense. Choke points become much more contentious, and units both in the Steam Marines Corps and on the side of the robots and aliens will have unit-specific tools to rush and otherwise break up that layered tactic.

Escape via blasting a hole in the wall and running away used to be an option. Now if your back’s against the wall you’re forced to fight. Or plan ahead so your back doesn’t get against a wall.

You’ll also have a full roster aboard the I.S.S. Delhi, as well as a larger squad size to play with.

 

The I.S.S. What-Now?

The I.S.S. Delhi is the first human controlled ship you get at the start of a new campaign. It’s a small Corvette-class steampunk military vessel, complete with a skeleton crew of Fleet officers and a handful of marines. You’ll have to obtain more resources and personnel on your journey – Earth is very, very far away.

Steam Marines 2 is not a 4x by any stretch of the imagination, but you don’t just control a squad of four marines anymore. You manage a roster, you manage squads, you manage Fleet personnel, and you manage… ships?

 

Ship Designs
Ship Designs

Oh snap – ship upgrades? Ships? Almost certainly ship upgrading. I’m not sure about managing a fleet yet, but I’m mulling over some possibilities. It will depend heavily on how the strategy layer shapes up over the next few months.

 

Also don’t let me get sidetracked with scope creep, please and thank you.

Third Person Shooter
Third Person Shooter

I had this idea where if you were down to one marine the player could have the option of running and gunning in third person mode. I mean you’d probably still die but it’d be a cooler way to die.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below.

Game Development Videos to Watch

Obsessive-Compulsive Development: Retro/Grade Postmortem

GDC Vault video link (~33 minutes).

Matt Gilgenbach discusses what went wrong with the development of Retro/Grade and (perhaps) common pitfalls between developers and their labors of love.

 

Guy Kawasaki: The Top 10 Mistakes of Entrepreneurs

YouTube talk at UC Berkeley (~84 minutes).

Guy Kawasaki is probably best known as former chief evangelist of Apple. He refers mostly to software startups/entrepreneurs in venture capital stages, but many of his points and lessons are relevant to game development, especially with the rise of crowdfunding.

 

Brenda Romero: Jiro Dreams of Game Design

GDC Vault video link (~57 minutes.)

Brenda Romero, known for her work on the Wizardry series, talks about making great games. She speaks on deliberate and comprehensive design, draws connections between the culinary arts and games, and failure.

 

Juice it or lose it – a talk by Martin Jonasson & Petri Purho

YouTube talk with demo game and code links (~15 minutes).

Martin Jonasson and Petri Purho of Jesus vs. Dinosaurs fame talk about bringing your game’s attention-holding capabilities to the next level. Filled with salient demonstration and a real-time generated audience laugh track.

Budgeting

(Note: This is primarily aimed at indie game developers because of recent Reddit and Twitter conversations involving costs, budgeting, and valuing people’s time and efforts.)

 

Funding

I’m firmly against “flexible funding” like IndieGoGo allows. Flexible funding means the campaign receives whatever funds it has raised regardless of whether the “goal” was reached.

The two main reasons for this are:

  • Flexible funding means the creator(s) don’t have to think hard about what they actually need to accomplish the project goals.
  • Flexible funding means they’ll get an inadequate (according to them!) amount of money to try to accomplish the project goals.

Like any other commercial venture one of the biggest risks is simply that the product will not be delivered. This is why a prototype is so significant to have in a crowdfunding (CF) campaign. If you have an early, but working, product in hand that people can poke at and use it greatly mitigates this risk.

Technical and creative chops are requisites for shipping games, but something else can also derail an otherwise on track project: funding. This is why crowdfunding has exploded in recent years after all; people need money to create games.

Aside: Savvy readers will most likely notice a venture capital (VC) undertone to this blog post. While there are lessons one can take away between VC and CF, please note that they are not the same. CF, despite what many people say loudly and repeatedly, is not investing outside of an obtuse, layman definition of the term.

 

Budget

You should have a budget. There are many kinds of budgets but revenue, costs, and profits should always be a part of them. For a game development budget you should have, at the bare minimum, these items:

  • Labor and asset creation costs (e.g. cost to model, rig, and animate a character.)
  • Capital expenditures (e.g. cost of a development computer and two monitors.)
  • Marketing/PR/Advertising costs (e.g. buying Google ads.)
  • Tech support costs (e.g. paying someone to respond to irregular issues.)
  • Quality assurance costs (e.g. pay tester to regression test.)
  • Distribution costs (e.g. platform X takes Y% of gross.)
  • Unit price (e.g. $9.99 per copy of the game.)
  • Projected sales/revenue (e.g. gross $50,000 six months after the game’s release.)
  • Tax/legal/other fees.

In other words you need to create the game, market the game, sell the game, support the game, and collect your money.

If at any point you read one of the above bullet points and thought, “Well I’ll do that myself so it costs nothing” you need to pay more attention to this blog post. None of those costs are zero. They all cost something. You may not personally pay the cost. The cost may be intangible. The cost may be tangible but is not measured in dollars and cents.

But they all cost a non-zero amount.

There was a Reddit post in /r/GameDev recently that highlighted the primary problem: people do not understand what constitutes a cost. I’ve chosen some in-context quotes without attribution to demonstrate:

“Not everyone works on their game full time. If I work on a project after work in my spare time, then that is a 0 budget venture. I’m not spending any more money than I otherwise would have just sitting and watching TV.”

“If I worked on a project for a year in my spare time, it would be exactly the same financially as if I just played video games instead. Therefore, its not cost me anything.”

“Doing game devNas a hobby, you can’t count something thayt would be there regardless as an expense. Ill have a job and pay living expenses whether I work on a game or not.”

“I have a full time job and just work on games in my spare time. As for whether I value my spare time, what does it matter? If I’m not coding, I’ll be playing video games, or watching TV, or playing a game with my wife. I’m not spending any money doing game dev that I wouldn’t be otherwise.”

“It’s called ‘free time’ – you do whatever you want with it and don’t generally put a price on it.”

“For people who are developing games on their own, and have no outside funding, adding their own time to the budget is useless. They are not spending any money on themselves to make the game. Obviously, things would be different if I had a crowd funding source like KickStarter I would probably start budgeting my own time.”

“The purpose of a budget for independent devs is to figure out if you have enough money to complete your project, and if not how much you have to raise or how much scope to cut.
A high school kid working evenings on his game reasonably could have a budget of zero.”

I think you get the idea. You should have winced very hard at every single quote above. They all demonstrate a lack of understanding of opportunity cost and the far less complicated idea that time and effort are not free.

The last is true on its face, but if you need further convincing a simple counter-example is that if your boss asked you to work overtime for extra pay, and you agreed, you surely would not consider the overtime pay as free money. Despite the fact that you worked in your “free time”. Despite the fact that you didn’t need to work overtime. Despite the fact that you did not out of pocket spend more than sitting down watching television.

You certainly would not appreciate your boss forcing you to work overtime for no extra pay because of those facts.

So you should have a budget. A budget with even rough estimates will give you an idea of whether you can afford to complete a project (assuming nothing goes wrong!) A budget lets you know the lay of your costs so you can better determine what can be cut or extended. A budget is what a professional makes because whether it’s your own money on the line, or someone else’s, you can be confident that you can deliver within the constraints and specifications of the project.

Aside: There are serious ethical considerations involved with failing to understand opportunity cost and cost in general. This kind of financial incompetence manifests in vaporware, ridiculous CF campaigns, and, perhaps most insidiously, the poor treatment of freelancers.

It is no secret that there are many clients (game developers) that undervalue the time and efforts of artists, musicians, sound engineers, writers, et cetera. Grab a hold of any freelancer and she’ll be able to tell you horror stories; she’ll also be able to point at all her freelancer friends with similar stories to share.

Financial competency is not just a project management necessity, it’s also required to not swindle yourself and others. The stakes are raised in CF campaigns when other people’s money is involved.

 

Real World Costs

Hopefully by this point I have convinced you that time and effort are not free and a budget is useful, if not completely necessary. The same Reddit thread I pulled the quotes from also had some developers who kindly posted general overviews of their own costs:

“We’re a team of 4. We spent roughly $100k developing Shattered Planet for Android, iOS, PC, and Mac, paying ourselves $2k a month for 9 months, from an incubator/accelerator. We’re officially incorporated, but currently we’re hosted by a university as “visiting researchers” because we get free rent and computers/software for doing so.

It was our first game together, and I anticipate we’ll be more efficient for our next one, Moon Hunters, which has a budget of $150k (mostly from an investor, but partially from Shattered Planet sales). One of us has gotten a raise, but it’s not due to skill/value, it’s due to being deeper in debt than the rest of us and being unable to continue any quality of life at $2k a month. This will be coming out of his bonus from Moon Hunters sales.”

Tanya X. Short

 

“$17,475 after spending 1,382 hours over the past 385 days, with at least another 6 months to go before 1.0 (though it will be released before that).

I don’t have a budget, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have expenses, because I certainly value my time which could have been spent doing something else like watching TV. (Not sure why, but that example seems to be brought up every time one of these threads gets discussed. That I haven’t owned a TV for more than 15 years is beside the point 😉

I value my time based on the hourly wage I’d need to get by assuming full time work (i.e. 40 hrs/wk). That comes down to $12.50/hr. Sure I could (and do) make more doing other work, but I’m willing to drop my rate as low as possible since I get to follow my passion.”

Josh Ge

You can also refer to an older blog post, Commercial Indie Games & Risk, where I discuss the development costs of my game Steam Marines as well as Braid, N+, and Dustforce.

 

Valuation

There can be a gray area over what constitutes fair remuneration for their time and efforts depending on skills, experience, and geographical location, but the overarching principle is the same – it’s not free.

I’d like to draw attention to 1) Tanya’s comment about rent, computers, and software since her team was categorized as “visiting researchers”, and 2) Josh’s comment about his $12.50 hourly wage.

While Tanya describes the goods and services as “free” they’re not literally free. I’m not 100% familiar with her team’s academic arrangement but generally speaking visiting researchers are required to lecture/research while they are visiting; the academic institution is simply spreading the cost across its faculty/staff/services/capital structure. This is a value proposition exchanging salary for amenities that have an economy of scale.

I suspect I would consider the budget valuation on the low end with regards to Shattered Planet, and that seems in line with one team member’s raise in Moon Hunters development.

Aside: If you work from home (in the US) you can claim home office deductions. Further if you are a student who is dependent on your parents, there are still tax incentives to file rent/food/et cetera as business expenses if the student is actually running a business from the home, even if the business has a net operating loss.

In Josh’s case he lives in Taipei, a fairly inexpensive location as far as international cities go. Moving to, or already being in, an area with a low cost of living can be an effective cost cutting measure.

 

Opportunity Cost (again)

Opportunity cost is, generally speaking, not intuitive to most people. Even people who should understand opportunity cost may not. Please understand that “I would have done <insert zero financial value activity> instead” does not imply zero opportunity cost. In fact it is very, very difficult to incur zero opportunity cost – some might say that for all intents and purposes it is impossible to do so.

Aside: Away with your PPF graphs, economics students!

As mentioned earlier cost, not just opportunity cost, does not have to be measured in dollars and cents. Cost can be intangible.

 

Closing Thoughts

Opportunity cost is real. Time and effort have value, although not necessarily positive value. These are true for everyone – yourself, yourself when you’re hired to perform a job, and others whom you might hire. Do not deceive yourself into thinking your time and effort cost nothing. More importantly do not deceive yourself into thinking other people’s time and effort cost nothing.

There are zero reasonable circumstances under which time and effort are free. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, if you’re already financially secure, or your primary useful skill is licking stamps.

Aside: I pointedly observe that even your corpse has value, which is why people can be body donors.

So spend some of your valuable time and effort and determine how to use the rest of it efficiently and effectively.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below.

7 Day Roguelike (2014)

Jam, Jam, Jam

7drl is my first game jam, possibly being paired with Procedural Death Jam. I had an itchy feeling to make a Judge Dredd type of game (in terms of mechanics, probably not atmosphere or environment.) It will probably be called Crime Central (I can change it later if I want to!)

Due to some real life time restrictions I won’t get the full 7 days worth, but that’s okay; I can always think about it when doing some other, non-game related stuff. My main objective is actually to sit down and railroad a full game so I can get the full taste of Unity 3D for future projects. To that end this is a rough schedule I’ve got for myself:

 

Day #1 – Plan and design (~9 hours)

Determine main mechanics and aesthetic. Create some music so I can loop it over the next week and determine whether it’s annoying or not!

Get going on the core gameplay. Generate levels, spawn the player and enemies and obstacles, and get some basic interaction going. Write this blog post.

 

Day 2 # – Flesh out (~6 hours)

I probably made a bunch of mistakes in Day One. I will wake up feeling irritated and make a lot of coffee. Make a main menu. Make a death screen. Make a victory screen. Maybe make a boss. Save state?

Game options or alternate control schemes? This is supposed to be a full game, not just a tech demo!

 

Day #3 – Tweak and polish (~6 hours)

The game balance is probably non-extant at this point. Start to fiddle with resources, turn management, enemy spawn count and positions, et cetera. Is the game fun? Is it challenging? Is anyone going to play this pile of crap?

Think about open sourcing the code while eating candy.

 

Day #4 – Oh crap! (~3 hours)

This is the authorized time to panic. Last day to work on this so squash any remaining showstoppers, run through the game a few more times to make sure nothing obvious was missed, and build for Win/Mac/Lin.

Let the roguelike community eat my face. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find myself with more days/time toward the end. But 24 hours should be enough to slap something playable together, for sure!

Aside: Those are some famous-ass last words.

I’ll be updating this blog post as I progress. Interestingly if I succeed then Crime Central will be the first roguelike I finish, not Steam Marines.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below!

 

——————————————————————————————————————–

Updates

8 March 2014, 12:41 a.m. EST
Finished the main music loop for actual gameplay. Still need main menu music. May wait to do that later.

8 March 2014, 1:10 a.m. EST
Finished a basic level generator with placeholder graphics. Pretty easy to knock out if you’ve made more complicated level generators before. The real meat is ahead!

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Level Generator
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Level Generator

8 March 2014, 1:55 a.m. EST
HUD elements! I hate (G)UI so I figure throw some elements and slave everything to them rather than the other way around. Keeps feature creep in check, too.

Added basic enemies. Don’t let them catch you, or they’ll.. keep catching you? Added an event log (only one line – the last action taken.)

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Basic HUD
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Basic HUD
7drl 2014 - Day 1, Enemies
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Enemies

8 March 2014, 2:12 a.m. EST
Surprisingly easy to setup a basic minimap in Unity. Less than 100 lines of code, and only that many because of the weird nature of the player/enemy art. On the other hand it seems non-rectangular minimaps are a bit of a pita.

I felt a minimap in this kind of turn-based, first-person game is fairly necessary. As a lesson from Steam Marines players really want to know what’s around them. I actually had facing/turning cost an action point and people really didn’t like that. I eventually caved and added an option to make it cost 0 AP. This is my attempt to head off that issue.

Aside: I believe Eben, in Roguelike Radio Episode #68, referred to spinning in a circle to see around you as “lighthousing.” I think it’s a fairly accurate term.

Unhappy with the message log on the lower left. Not sure what to do about it, though. Not even sure what exactly I don’t like!

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Minimap
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Minimap

8 March 2014, 2:23 a.m. EST
Added a RogueTemple post to be updated with progress and build links once available!

8 March 2014, 2:31 a.m. EST
Enemies can now melee the player. Built an action point system for each enemy and the player. Current action point pools act as speed, meaning more AP = act before lower AP units.

Added death screen with fading to black, music fade out, and screen shake. Everyone loves screen shake. Screen shake was probably the hardest part. It’s also not very good xD

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Death Screen
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Death Screen

8 March 2014, 2:38 a.m. EST
Cross-posted to Reddit’s Screenshot Saturday!

8 March 2014, 3:24 a.m. EST
I’ve been practicing pixel art for about an hour a week for the last few weeks. It doesn’t show xD Still, this is the Enforcer. He’ll punch you in the face when he looks like the left side. He’s ready to be arrested when he looks like the right side. He is NOT crying. Really.

I will do better on my next enemy…

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Enforcer
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Enforcer

8 March 2014, 3:58 a.m. EST
No sexy screens this time. Fleshed out basic movements, attacks, and resource mechanics. Looking into combinations and chaining.

Put together a main menu. It’s two text buttons – not sexy.

8 March 2014, 6:53 a.m. EST
Implemented those resource use combinations I mentioned earlier along with some action chaining. Gameplay actually requires some thought now – huzzah!

Gang Member. Rude. Violent. Stabby stabby.

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Gang Member
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Gang Member

8 March 2014, 8:32 a.m. EST
Almost winding down Day 1 and Crime Central is almost playable. Well, you can play it, but it has no ending and no goal aside from “don’t die.” Three resources tied into combinations to use/regain each other, action chains for special abilities, three enemy types in increasing difficulty, and some placeholder tiles shamelessly ripped from Steam Marines. Will work on changing those tomorrow xD

Enemies are 2D and rotate to face the player and flip around when killed. Current status:

7drl 2014 - Day 1, Mostly Playable
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Mostly Playable
7drl 2014 - Day 1, Current State
7drl 2014 – Day 1, Current State

9 March 2014, 1:27 a.m. EST
After struggling with this for about an hour I don’t know wtf I wanted xD Was supposed to be a Techno Witch end game boss. Will probably make the surrender/arrest version later and stick it in after fiddling with it more.

But for now I’m going to cut my losses and go back to code!

7drl 2014 - Day 2, Techno  Witch
7drl 2014 – Day 2, Techno Witch

9 March 2014, 3:42 a.m. EST
Squashed a bunch of bugs. Tightened up the joystick axis controls; itfelt very sloppy when trying to execute commands quickly. In terms of making it a “completed” game I pretty much just need to implement the end goal and have a victory screen – huzzah!

I also have a design problem where it’s best just to dash for the elevator on each level. Need a sub-goal so the player may wish to explore/clear each level. Score is a possibility, but I’d like to avoid that if possible. It can be a lazy solution.

9 March 2014, 5:51 a.m. EST
Got quagmired in making the main menu fancy. I am an idiot.

9 March 2014, 6:48 a.m. EST
Some Win/Mac/Lin/Web builds!

Win x86 build.

Mac x86 build.

Lin x86 build.

Webplayer build (Note: This version is awful xD)

11 March 2014, 12:11 a.m. EST
More time to work on this! Going to finish that Techno Witch and add her as a boss – maybe with ranged attack or aoe?!? Implement an ending – and a secret ending? Also I want to add another chain combo.

11 March 2014, 2:20 a.m. EST
Implemented the Techno Witch as the end boss. Opted to keep her melee but give her power up abilities. The level generation also changes on the last level where she spawns.

11 March 2014, 3:28 a.m. EST
Added end game status and victory counter to the main menu. Added shotgun upgrade option after the player dies ten or more times. Game is essentially a complete (beginning/middle/end) product! Huzzah!

11 March 2014, 6:48 a.m. EST
I think I’m done? Polished some assets and UI. Added some sound effects for interaction confirmation. Pushing final builds soon.

11 March 2014, 7:30 a.m. EST
Some (final) Win/Mac/Lin/Web builds!

Win x86 build.

Mac x86 build.

Lin x86 build.

Webplayer build.

Unity 4.3.4 project with license file (Fairly certain I used no Pro-only features.)

 

That’s all for now! ^_^

 

 

*Lick*

(Note: I understand that communities are not singular. They are composed of multiple individuals. It can still be instructive to observe general sentiments and responses because they all blend into a singular sense, a vibe, a taste.

This is what I taste after licking the indie game developer community for the last few years.)

 

Sweet – Willingness to help other people

I don’t mean just other indie developers. As a group there seems to be a large portion of people willing to dedicate time, effort, and other resources to help others. Whether it’s raising money for specific needs, promoting other people, lending an ear or some motivational words, you can find it all within the community. While this isn’t unique to the indie dev community, I’ve found that it’s pervasive and that’s great.

The obvious examples are from crowdfunding campaigns via Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, Patreon, et cetera. The less obvious examples are the micro-communities that develop around engines and other resources (e.g. Unity 3D’s user community is very friendly and helpful.)

 

Bitter – Willingness to destroy others

This manifested most recently regarding Flappy Bird, an app that grew extremely popular and apparently made the creator a lot of money – who then turned off that tap because of all the hate and threats he received. In some cases there was also a racial component.

This can also manifest in the Indie vs. AAA mentality. I’ve never seen an AAA dev shit on an indie dev for being indie, but I see the reverse on a daily basis. More to the point very few indie devs will even attempt to defend AAA. A lot of this is passive, tacit agreement.

 

Salty – Friendly rivalry

This may be my own bias at work regarding turn-based strategy games in particular, but I’ve also seen it in platformer devs, space sim/stragey devs, FPS devs, and others. The concept that we can all go far together is stronger than in many other entrepreneurial communities.

There are certainly people who still sabotage for eyeballs. I’m most familiar with Reddit’s Screenshot Saturday posts which recently underwent changes to combat this behavior.

 

Sour – I’m right, you’re wrong

The unwillingness to accept that people doing different stuff, or doing stuff differently, can be okay. This manifests in the more traditional language, engine, tool chain arguments, but also the types of games, production values, aesthetic choices, and design choices. The worst of this seems to come from developers who want challenging and compactly designed games hating on casual or simulation type games.

I am forced to admit I’ve fallen into this category on occasion although I try to rein it in. Being critical of games is good. Saying there is only one supreme type of game (that happens to be the kind you’re making) is just an act of masturbation.

 

Umami – The IDGAF attitude

Despite all the hate, despite all the naysayers, all kinds of stuff still gets made. Why? Presumably because people want it. They clamor for it, and sometimes they end up making it themselves. So no matter if people snort at Skyrim’s combat mechanics, or applaud Super Meat Boy’s controls, or cheer for more voxels or less.

Whether it’s meat and potatoes you’re looking for, or a nice garden salad, you can find it here.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below!

Why Shelve a Game?

The Concept

Wolves of the Dull Moon (WotDM) was intended to be a real-time horror/comedy roguelike. You would be dumped in a procedurally generated forest a few minutes before the sun set. No instructions, no direction or indication of what to do. You could wander around, harvest berries, and pick up rocks or sticks. Curiously you can also urinate and defecate. You also have a fear meter.

Then your time was up. Night comes and werewolves start spawning. You can’t fight; you can only flee. Werewolves would track you by scent, sound, and sight. Cross streams to cover your scent. Piss on a rock then throw it away from you to lead them astray. Eat berries that make you less stinky. Eat berries that make your piss more stinky.

Werewolves coming too close to you would cause your fear meter to rise. Full fear meter would cause full blown panic and almost certainly cause nearby werewolves to rip you to shreds.

Try to survive till sun up.

 

Itchy Feelings

I made a prototype in Unity 3D and liked it – mostly. It was fun to sneak around increasingly large packs of werewolves all sniffing around, trying to suss out your location. You could cover yourself in mud and swim through streams. In one build full panic would cause you to piss yourself, allowing werewolves in a wide radius to track you via scent for quite some time.

WotDM AI Detection
WotDM AI Detection

Maybe it was good enough to pursue, but I ran into three big problems I couldn’t resolve to my satisfaction:

  1. Displaying scent and sound propagation clearly and succinctly to the player.
  2. Having close sight range be powerful (werewolf will sprint toward the player and melee) but still maintain close range tension (werewolf walks right by the player who is hiding in a bush.)
  3. Map design and balancing evasion tactics and resources so the player can’t just run around collecting a bunch of stuff and sit in a bush using them throughout the night.

So of course I prototyped some more.

 

Play it again!

People pretty much told me the same thing – make visual marker trails. Of course this was the first solution I tried. It’s really the most obvious:

WotDM Scent Trail
WotDM Scent Trail

But the problem is that the tension in WotDM comes from not knowing what the werewolves are doing. Is there a werewolf just behind that hill sniffing your footprints? Should you have swam just a little bit farther upstream before coming out?

The scent trail visual is okay. What’s not okay is that the player has no information about how werewolves are using that information. You might want them to pick up that trail and other times not. How would the player know and react accordingly?

It’s all an information problem. You want to give the player enough information to go on, so he/she can make smart decisions. You don’t want to give the player complete information because that sucks the tension from the gameplay.

It’s even worse for sound. If the player throws a rock or splashes in the water or trips over a tree stump, what information should the player get regarding werewolves hearing the noise?

You would think that sight would be the easiest. Just hide in a bush or dark shadows and it counts as being effectively hidden. I’ve found that this is a pretty bad solution for WotDM because the goal is to survive for X time, not to accomplish some other Y objective.

 Aside: I find many stealth games to be poorly designed in this aspect. Sitting in the dark for a minute while a guard with an arrow in his back thinks it’s all clear is a terrible system. It’s just a mini-instance of wait for X time within another Y objective. Not that I have a good alternate, game-balanced solution.

This dovetails with werewolf melee and permadeath. Werewolves should basically be able to instakill the player in melee, and that’s how I made it. Health bars have no place in WotDM. And yet this exacerbates the “sit in the dark and wait” issue. No means of direct confrontation means the player must evade, evade, evade.

Werewolves of a necessity must move faster than the player. It is possible to have them move slower and just ramp up the number of werewolves on the map, but this is an inelegant solution that simply drags out a foregone game if the player is forced to constantly run from a poor mistake, a trail of werewolves all sprinting slowly after their quarry.

So they move faster. This in turn means that in melee if the werewolf spots the player it’s game over. This means that situations where a player can sit in full cover is almost a necessity because distance and distraction is the player’s game – melee and tracking is the werewolves’.

Aside: I say almost a necessity because it could be that the player just has to maintain a farther distance from all werewolves in line-of-sight. “Melee” is a rather arbitrary term when describing distance between the intended objects. But melee meaning “very close” is a better descriptor than “sort of close” since players will more intrinsically understand being too close rather than “slightly too close to some arbitrary circle in the sand.”

The two general solutions are unfortunately the most complicated – competing human AI units and game changing milestones.

 

Shadows and Shouts

WotDM wasn’t really intended to be a stealth game. Sure you hide and evade, but the shadows aren’t intended as the primary method of evasion. Actively casting false trails and erasing true ones are supposed to be the primary tools of the trade.

Other human AI units can be a really good, or really bad, monkey wrench. Is there cooperative interaction? You help me and I help you? Maybe there needs to be two humans to perform a task? What about antagonistic AI that flings poo at you? Can they yell to attract other werewolves to your location?

Aside: Can you tell I like the scat mechanics?

WotDM Pants Pissing
WotDM Pants Pissing

It does add a lot more dimensionality to gameplay, enough to make up for information shortcomings regarding werewolves. And humans can’t attack, so maybe the player gets so involved dodging an antagonistic human AI unit that a werewolf gets them both.

Game changing milestones are the other solution. For example the moon could cast shadows and the player might be forced to move, at least a little bit, to stay within an object’s shadow which might in turn cause nearby werewolves to hear him. Werewolves could spawn faster or slower. Werewolves without a scent trail might start congregating on a random position, or others would call them to hunt a human AI unit that was more exposed and actively being tracked.

You get the idea – mix up the gameplay by adjusting werewolf and human AI behaviors. And yet when I started adding all this the gameplay got more complex. It wasn’t just you in the woods being hunted. It was this torrent of information about other units that couldn’t directly hurt you, werewolves with unpredictable and non-deterministic behavior – I felt it lost the essence of tension, even comedy, and turned into a slog.

 

What now?

Well, I shelved it. I’ve repurposed the name for my next game but essentially I’m not touching WotDM again until I come up with a better solution set to the problems I’ve described.

There are, of course, other solutions. And other problems. Multiplayer is a two-for-one sale. But for now I’ll probably just focus on wrapping up development of Steam Marines and designing its sequel.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at yjseow@worthlessbums.comTwitter, or leave a comment below!