Elements and Leeches: DQ2 progress report for May 2021
The presence of a leech in a battle gives the player a choice: 1) Dedicate defender(s) to killing the leech, taking them off the front lines? 2) Focus on the battle lanes and let the leech steal half your juice?
Howdy Defender's Quest fans!
The past few months we've been focused on minions, now that those are all mostly designed and roughly balanced, we're moving back into level design and filling in other parts of the game's content. Here's a few interesting things we've released in the new update:
We wanted to introduce more challenges that were specific to levels themselves. Furthermore, an ongoing challenge is how to balance the amount of "juice" (what we used to call "PSI" in DQ1) available in the battle. If you put in more enemies you make the level more challenging, but you also give the player more resources. Ideally you want to make sure the player always has just enough juice, but not too much, or the battle becomes trivial.
One way to shake this formula up is by adding leeches – stationary enemies with tons of health that steal a portion of all the juice you earn by defeating enemies:
The presence of a leech in a battle gives the player a choice:
- Dedicate defender(s) to killing the leech, taking them off the front lines?
- Focus on the battle lanes and accept the juice tax?
Of course, when you kill a leech you will get back all of the juice it has stolen:
This should be especially fun to use in tandem with boss fights and should make the next set of battles a little more interesting. We haven't designed any particularly brilliant levels making use of these critters yet, but we're working on it.
Leeches will show up first in White Hat battles. The Black Hats will have their own special species of leech to deal with, Blood Leeches, which we'll describe once they've actually been implemented.
Some people have pointed out that one of their favorite things to do in games is to have lots of elemental interactions that cause fun chain reactions.
We agree! So I've been looking for some natural opportunities to put those into DQ2.
One easy change was making it so that "freeze" will degrade into the "wet" status (which increases vulnerability to cold & electricity). Formerly enemies could only get "wet" by stepping on water tiles, but now they'll become "wet" for 30 seconds whenever any "cold" status effect terminates.
We also have a new effect, "Flash Bang" which will be available as a cannon (DQ2's replacement for "Spells."). Flash Bang will both blind and confuse enemies, causing them to miss when attacking Defenders (blind), as well as stumble backwards and attack each other (confuse).
Speaking of cannons, we need some more of those. I've been going back through and adding some so that each party will have at least 3 each by the end of their first sequence. Still working on that, but here's what we've got so far:
The Laser Cannon is the first one you get as the White Hats, and replaces Azra's lighting from DQ1. Later you can pick up the Ice bomb cannon at a store; it's a targeted AOE spell that freezes enemies. The white hats have some abilities that synergize well with these (particularly electricity), so that should be fun.
The Black Hats start with the Firebomb Cannon, and can purchase Tar Bomb and Flash Bang later. We just described Flash Bang above, whereas Tar Bomb will be the first of a new kind of cannon – one that actually alters the game's terrain. This doesn't affect enemies directly, but "paints" a patch of sticky tar on the ground. Enemies that walk over this will get the "tarred" status (a variant of stun), that turns into the "oily" status when it wears off. As you might expect, tarred and oily enemies are highly flammable. This should synergize well with the many fire-based skills that the Black Hats have access to.
I should note that the Tar Bomb cannon doesn't actually work yet. Next progress report hopefully.
Another thing worth noting is some adjustments to our minion drops. It feels a little overwhelming to just dump these specialty units on you and I'm remembering the golden rule of Defender's Quest design:
The first way you introduce something will be cemented in the player's mind as its central purpose.
Example: Early in DQ1's life, in the first level we gave you the lightning spell before the ability to summon defenders. So the player's first encounter with any game mechanic was manually zapping enemies. Then in the next level you get Slak and are supposed to place him, but playtesters just kept zapping enemies manually, wasting precious PSI and failing the level. But it was our fault! By presenting lightning first, we taught players "this is a game where you zap things all the time." The solution was simple: introduce defenders first (as the primary mechanic) and spells second.
We had this problem with minions in DQ2. There's a lot of weird concepts being introduced – defenders that aren't quite the same as heroes, and they explode on death, and this one has a weird attack pattern, etc? Like, "what is this thing for?"
So we redesigned the Penetrator's intro level to make it abundantly clear. We even start the unit off pre-summoned (so you'll probably be "finding" them in the story).
We also adjusted the default penetration level of the base attack to 3 units. Why make the player pump a few points in just to discover the unit's basic identity? After playing this level it should be obvious, "Oh, the penetrator is great for concentrating damage along straight lines."
Later in the battle we spawn a bunch of highly aggressive enemies that will quickly take out the penetrator, which makes for a natural showcase of the detonation ability (which then takes out said enemies).
So that makes this unit's purpose clear. The other three White Hat minions are a lot more straightforward, and you'll be able to purchase/recruit/assemble (whatever verb we settle on) for those at a store spot down the line, with new ones becoming available as you progress through the game.
As a final note on pacing — we originally had the Penetrator introduced on the very first White Hat mission you play after finishing the last Black Hat sequence, but this proved to be a little jarring. Given you haven't used these characters in a few missions, it makes sense to have a nice gentle "reintroduction" mission to get a feel for them again before we start introducing new units.
The game will continue to be in flux like this for a while, but it's nice to iron out each problem as we see it as we await that fateful day when it all snaps together into a beautiful game.
Until then, thanks for sticking with us, Defender's Quest fans!