Howdy everyone and Happy New Year!

First off, I'm bumping the update schedule slightly -- instead of posting in the middle of the month, we'll post at the end. New Year seems like a good time to make that change. Also, my entire family was sick two or three times so I needed the extra two weeks :)

In any case, what's new in DQ2 land?

First off, I've just uploaded the Windows, Mac, and Linux builds of version 0.0.7 to Steam for our alpha/beta backers as well as testers. I think 0.0.6 saves should be compatibile, but if you run into weird glitches try nuking your saves and starting from scratch.

A few structural design updates:

Goodbye Star Coins, Hello plain ol' Money

One of the natural consequences of development is that cool ideas you have on paper just feel weird in practice. We had this idea that to really encourage people to go after advanced challenges, we wanted a special currency ("star coins") for beating them, which would let you upgrade unique items. This made sense on paper according to a certain theory, but the more we messed around with it the more we felt it didn't fit.

We're going to stop overthinking things and go back to good ol' fashioned money being the way you buy and upgrade things. This isn't fully emobdied in build 0.0.7 just yet, but we've gone ahead and started removing star coins from the UI, and we'll be overhauling rewards and items in February. Items are a mess right now, by the way, along with a few other things, but them's the breaks when deadlines hit!

Getting a Handle on Items

Items are also getting another design pass. We were going with the philosophy of no "stat sticks" -- ie, every item is unique, and every one has special abilities in addition to a plain damage/defense bonus. Turns out doing this for every item is a pretty tricky design burden to fulfill, especially when you've already poured as much energy as we have into the skill trees. And you know what? Sometimes what the player really needs is a stat stick. I like the idea of having lots of unique items with special powers, but I think this was another system we were overthinking. It's getting simplified into something more like DQ1's item system (but frontloaded with more of the stuff you didn't see until New Game+). So we'll still have unique items with special abilities, but also some regular items.

Also, designing items before levels just doesn't work very well. Items need to solve an actual problem, and it's hard to tell what that will be without designing them in the context of specific levels.

Black Hat Balance Insights

I've been doing a lot of spreadsheeting to figure out what I want to do for balance, and finally cracked the nut that what really matters is summon cost relative to power. If someone costs twice as much to put down as someone else, they should feel at least twice as powerful, because you could have put two other units down for that cost and thus have the same average utility but more coverage of the map. In general the way I manifest this is that in terms of raw "effective DPS per unit of summon juice spent", the more expensive characters should be "more value for your money." This is offset by the fact that you have to commit to a higher sunk cost.

But the bottom line is, I found that whatever the stats need to work out to, I really need to nail down how much each character COSTS and make that super clear to the player. I've just done this for the Black Hats in 0.0.7, and 0.0.8 will go back and make sure the White Hats get the same treatment. But basically:

Power Tier Power Level Cost to summon
1 1x 25
2 2x 50
3 4x 100

Most characters are Power Tier 1 or 2 -- right now the only tier 3 character is the Black Hat Ultimate. The costs to boost are in line with the initial cost to summon. Once I got my head around this, things started to feel a bit better. No more "this character costs 25, and this one costs 35, and that one costs 60" -- clearly stratified power expectations clearly signalled by costs.

Characters need to drive Level Design more

All eight major characters have pretty dialed in designs now. The last two we mostly finished noodling on in 0.0.7 where the Ultimate and the Collector (both Black Hats).

It's becoming clearer to me that what's been wrong with some of the levels so far is that I really need to be hyper aware of what characters you have in the party at that time. Every time you get a new character, the level right after that really ought to a) require you to use them in order to win and b) make what's special about them that isn't immediately obvious, immediately obvious.

Some examples: the collector with their new behavior has two roles: ranged attack, and ranged healing. We previously had a fairly generic level to introduce them that neither tested nor showcased either of those abilities. We redesigned that level so that it requires you to understand their capabilities as a ranged unit. Likewise for the Ultimate, whose chief ability is that they are a) ridiculously powerful, and b) a combo melee/ranged unit, we created an intro level for them where you need both their range and their concentrated firepower to defeat certain waves of enemies in time.

Once we start designing levels around characters like this, it breaks the "designer's block" because things just cascade:

  • Since the Collector is a healer, we need to think about levels that test comboing the Collector (as healer) with an attacking partner, by pushing attacking enemy units into your melee killboxes.
  • The Jumper is the only unit that can literally leap away from danger, so why do they have the same super high regeneration rate as the White Hat Zerk? Perhaps they should be more of a glass cannon, so you either need to jump them away before they get overwhelmed, or pair them with a collector specced for healing, or both.
  • The Eliminator is designed around a "Place early or place late?" dichotomty. Abilities like Slay are great for goal-tending, but abilities like Poison work great early on the map. And the Eliminator gets a bonus when placed near the ship (the end of the maze). BUT, in many of our battles we don't give the player any legal tiles to stand on close to the ship, so we're effectively eliminating that choice. Then the Eliminator becomes a defacto "place early" character just about all the time, which is less interesting.

We'll be fixing a lot of these sorts of things in 0.0.8. The 0.0.7 that we're uploading today has made some progress on these, but we're not done yet.

Mastering Minions

We've alluded to a "minion" system throughout development, and we've redesigned it a bunch of times. Now I think it's finally getting nailed down, and the answer is "stop overthinking things."

Here's where our minds are at right now:

  • There are several types of minions
  • They are simpler characters that can only be boosted to boost 3 (heroes can go to boost 5)
  • They can only equip one kind of item (heroes can equip 2)
  • They are non-human (heroes are human)
  • They have skill trees, but without as many skills as heroes do
  • There will be several types
  • You'll get your first minion of each type from a story event
  • You'll get additional minions of each type by buying them from the store, with plain 'ol money
  • That's it

There's probably still a level or two where minions are listed as a level reward, but we'll be moving away from that and towards the above in 0.0.8 and onwards. Probably will still do a fair bit of unique items as advanced level rewards.

Working out the Art Pipeline

The art pipeline is slowly coming along behind the scenes. For the past few months we've been nailing down color palette, environment, and character designs, and will be moving onto actual game assets when that's all done, but we don't yet have anything to show just yet. Nevertheless, it's moving along.

Changelog

Here's all the stuff we did in January in bullet point form:

  • Removed star coins from the shop interface
  • Removed star coins from the overworld interface
  • Removed star coins from battle rewards interface
  • Modified shop/equip UI to put back basic stat bonus field for items (WIP, still buggy maybe)
  • Fixed some bugs with thorns
  • Updated handling of oil/water/fire/ice
  • Collector:
    • Fix bug where heal balls with "inspire" were not being used efficiently
    • Fix bug where some projectiles appear offset
    • Fix bug where some projectiles get "stuck"
    • Fix bug where projectiles that have to seek a new target were doing 0 damage
    • Fix null crash
  • Simplify burst (move it away from starburst to normal explosion)
  • Categorize flavors for easier logic
  • Clear general cruft
  • Fix skill display
  • Fix bug where jumping doesn't want to "click" under rare circumstances
  • Fix improper rounding on boost doodad
  • General Defender Balance pass
  • Messing around with items a bit
  • Remove some old tutorials
  • Make a proper intro level for the collector (first draft)
  • Level design pass (Black Hats)
  • Character balance pass (Black Hats)

Thanks as always for your patience, interest and support!

Direct any questions to leveluplabs@gmail.com