Bug Hunt -- DQ2 Progress Report for August 2022

A month's worth of bugfixing, bigger portraits, and path tracers that won't give you a heart attack.

Bug Hunt -- DQ2 Progress Report for August 2022
"soldier fighting against a giant bug," digital art, generated by Dream Studio

Howdy Defender's Quest fans!

DQ2 build version 0.0.35 is up on our private steam branch for our testers and early backers in the usual place.

This is the month I settled in and just churned out a bunch of bug fixes for things that have been piling up.

To wit, one thing I did was kind of consolidate my bug tracking efforts. We still have the public bugtracker, but I realized I'd been neglecting it, so I just went ahead and archived a lot of stuff that had gotten stale. I'm actually using some internal professional QA to just keep myself honest and motivated it's been going pretty well – I cleaned out several dozen bugs this past month. Feel free to keep using the public bug tracker if you see something and I will try to get to it when i can.

With bugfixing, it's easy to leave a bunch of small and trivial bugs hanging around because you'll fix them "later," but once you finally swoop in and do it, it has a kind of magical effect, sort of like making your bed every morning. "Wow, this place can feel clean and nice rather than just sort of always trashed?" I'm gonna chase that feeling :)

But we made some progress on features too. Level design continues apace, and we've gotten some crucial feedback that the overall difficulty is just cranked a wee bit high – sort of an inevitable place to wind up over development as you get increasingly familiar with your own game – but we've dialed it back a smidge in the new build, out today.

One big change is skill points. TL;DR – in the last build, you were just getting too few of them, with too much wait in between. You only got a point every other level, rather than every level, like in DQ1.

Also, embarrassingly, I had accidentally nuked this crucial post-level-one tutorial. It's back now.

Here's how that happened. We had originally designed this system such that you would never be able to max out your skill tree, by "end game" it was supposed to be maximally 2/3 filled, so you're still specializing. However, over the course of development we drastically changed how far away "endgame" is, without updating the skill tree! The original DQ1 originally had a level cap of about 30 or so. Then we added a whole New Game+ mode as a free update later, and raised the level cap to 60. But then we later decided we wanted fewer skill points, with each one being more meaningful. So that means reducing the skill point gain to every other level.

But...in DQ2 we are not going to ship with a New Game+ on day one (It's still TBD whether that will make sense as a future update or not — we'll have to see how well the game sells, and I think there might be other stuff I could do that might actually reach more players, but that's a discussion for another day). So why were we balancing the game to make sure you're not overly maxed by level 60?

So now one point per level up is back in the game. And with the lower level cap, endgame should still mostly work out. It's important to sometimes review all the decisions you've made that are contingent on stuff you've revised since and clean house like this.

This issue with skill points was a major issue we flagged when testing, because being so stingy was sucking a lot of the flexibility out of the game and increasing difficulty. It also sidelined the whole "RPG" part of the experience and pushed each level towards being more of a pure tower defense "puzzle" with a narrow range of solutions.

Naturally, the other half of that equation is the item system, long-neglected. We haven't fixed that in this build, but it's still on our radar as the obvious next thing to just get our designer heads around and lay out. Hopefully that (and a few key tutorials and an extra pacing battle or two) should shore up the flow of the early game and make things work better.

The other major change in this build is that we've put in full-sized portraits. They're just silhouettes for our tester & early backer facing builds for now, but we have actual assets on the internal side that drop in to replace them. I'm still working with layout and placement, so some text boxes might be in weird places, but I'm trying to get things sorted so that all the cool art the game will have isn't confined to tiny little floating head boxes. But unlike DQ1, we're trying to get better bang-for-our buck by putting more effort into varied and expressive facial variants rather than trying to create elaborate scripted puppet shows with multiple characters on screen and having to get their feet placement exactly right (that sucked up so much unnecessary time in DQ1 without being particularly visually impressive).

Bigger portraits for out-of-battle cutscenes
...and bigger portraits for in-battle cutscenes, too!

Another small but very noticeable change is that the little "tracer" indicators are now arrows rather than circles. Given the placeholder art style is still abstract, people were getting "miniature heart attacks" when the tracers would "hit" the ship at the end of the maze. This even happened to me a few times, so hopefully this addresses that issue.

Next month, we're really focused on dialing in the level design so that we hit the difficulty better and make the game more appropriate for a variety of skill levels, as well as get more art into the pipeline so we can hasten the day of our big reveal, and also dial in the item design system.

Thanks for hanging with us. Getting there one month at a time.