Oh dear, what now?
Eh. Well, the thing is, the plan has always been to evaluate my progress after each month and see how things are going. Had my first one at the beginning of this month, post-Christmas/New Years festivities, and came to an unfortunate conclusion.
That being, that I need to drop multiplayer. It’s slowing me down too much. It’s not that it is hard to do, it’s just time consuming. To develop, to debug (I have to run the client and server locally, try to play against myself, debugging one at a time) and it’s inevitable that it will increase my test cycles. After a month, I wasn’t as far along as I wanted to be, and coding for proper multiplayer was a big culprit. If I had a year to do it, I’d not be worried. But I’m trying my best to stick to the 6 month timeline, and 1 month has passed.
Time to triage.
So, dropping multiplayer. BUT! This is a battling card game, it seems a bit lame without the option of actual human intelligence to play against. AI doesn’t really cut it. So what can I do to make singleplayer more engaging?
There are different types of challenges in video games. Depending on the structure and mechanics of the game, AI can become more or less significant. For example, you don’t need a chess grandmaster AI for a first person shooter enemies. Chess is purely tactical, so all the challenge is going to come from the intelligence of your opponent. For an FPS, the focus is more on reflexes, so the intelligence of your opponent is not as significant.
It’s obviously desirable to have intelligent foes, in general. But when a game has other forms of challenges in it, the lack of a masterful AI is not as…noticeable. Think about your favourite RPG. Would the enemy AI give Deep Blue a run for it’s money? I don’t think so. In fact, any decent RTS AI is a lot cleverer than your standard RPG foe. This can work because the RPG system itself offers part of the challenge. The interaction of skills and powers, and how the game designer lays out the encounter, add challenge to the game that doesn’t rely on the Orc King having a sophisticated AI algorithm driving it.
How does this relate to my problem. Well…I can make the lack of a real human intelligence to play against less of a blow if I add mechanics that introduce other forms of challenge.
So I’m making it an FPS. You run around throwing cards at your opponent, Gambit style. 😀
Just kidding. I’ll cut to the chase, I’m adding RPG elements. A character system, level ups that make your ‘ability’ cards stronger, equipable items, etc. This adds the fun of the RPG fight-loot-level cycle. You’re level 1, that level 5 creature is going to be incredibly tough. Because the RPG mechanics make their ‘numbers bigger’, not because they are 5x smarter.
It sounds a bit cheap, I know. But hey, I love RPGs, and that cycle is fun and addictive, if you get it right. 😉
Now, you may be thinking “But Gareth, haven’t you cut work in one area only to add it in another?” To some degree, yes. But it’s not that much work. A lot of people think that the hard part of making an RPG is coding all those mechanics. Nah, that part is not hard or time consuming. You can whip up a basic character system/inventory in a week. It’s the art and content. Fuck, you’ve gotta create so much content. You don’t fully grasp it until you try make one, just how much content is needed.
I’m not adding that content here. You’re not going to be wandering around in 3D. It’s basically the same, you click on nodes on a map to start the ‘adventure’, which consists of a series of little narrative screens followed by a combat (card duel) ‘encounter’. The closest thing I can compare it to is Puzzle Quest 1, but with card duels instead of match-3.
There is one other…significant…change. I don’t think the setting and ideas I had for Street Sorcery are a good fit for these mechanics. The whole item treadmill of ‘wooden training sword->rusty sword->common sword->fine sword->enchanted sword->vorpal sword->godslayer blade’ just doesn’t work for me, in the world I was imagining. Not only that, because of the new focus, I am going to need more cards/item graphics than I planned. Which would be as big a problem as the multiplayer, if I kept the same art style.
Long story short, I’m changing the setting to Steampunk and making the art style a bit more cartooney. I’m aiming for something like Penny Arcade’s amazingly cool Automata :
So that’s the state of things. Luckily, the art/story/theme stuff is all in the planning stage, it’s easily changed right now. I’ve torn out the multiplayer stuff and begun adding in the RPG elements, it’s progressing nicely. I’ll show you more when I have something to show. In the meantime, who wants to help me come up with an appropriate name for the game. Something that says Steampunk+CCG would be good. CardPunk maybe?
Grab your Top Hats and Aviator Goggles, everyone!