February 19th, 2015
Once again it’s been a little while since the last update’s gone out, and once again I’ll try to make up for it with a nice, big breakdown of what’s been going on.
After the last update, the first build containing a slice from the game’s opening went out to our alpha backers. I’ve also been spending lots of time attending local developer events to playtest the game. Finally watching and hearing from people play was pretty nerve wracking but incredibly helpful!
Feedback overall has been very positive, but looking back, I realize I fell into the trap of trying to over-polish certain features before putting the game in front of people. Following the first alpha release, I planned to shift to regular updates incrementally extending the game’s content, but watching people play made it clear that I’d need to go back and make some core changes first.
First, the combat UI had some issues. As you know from earlier updates, I’ve already invested a lot of time in polishing up the UI, but watching players made it clear that I over-committed to making things as minimalist as possible at the expense of ease of use and functionality. Eventually I decided to scrap a lot of what we had and give it another pass. Here’s a quick comparison of the old vs. new combat interface:
I’m still trying to keep things as clean as possible, but I’ve changed a few things to be more readable and flattened the menu hierarchy so actions are more easily accessible. The art still needs to be polished up, but layout-wise this is very close to the final version we’ll see at launch. Hopefully this is the last time I need to talk about it here!
Over the past few months as the combat system continued to develop, I couldn’t shake the nagging worry that it all felt a bit stale. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like it was shaping up to be much fun.
Clearly, this is a big problem. I told myself it was all in my head, that I’d just been looking it too closely for too long, that adding new classes/abilities/polish would change things, but finally watching people play added to these doubts. I suspect that many of you who played the alpha will agree with me on this, but were just too nice to say so!
The game met all the criteria for the genre, but something just didn’t feel quite right. To some extent, I think the issue was an unexpected outcome of updating the graphics. HD characters standing around idly in a melee, waiting to be killed felt odd and immersion breaking. I also think the genre and our collective tastes have evolved; mechanics and pacing that worked 10+ years ago just don’t anymore.
After struggling with all of this for a while now, watching people play drove me to make the tough decision to implement some pretty major changes to how combat works.
Here’s what’s changing:
- Players can now queue up entire sequences of actions
- Action sequences can be edited and their outcomes previewed before being executed
- All units in a faction execute their turn actions simultaneously
Here’s some video of what it looks like:
I think this works much, much better. It took some time to sort through a bunch of tricky design issues to make these changes work (hence the delay). Everything from the AI, to the interface, to the animation system needed significant rework.
For those of you with concerns on such big changes at this late stage, things are still every bit as tactical as before, and everything from a decision-making perspective actually remains exactly the same. Since the mechanics were always designed to be completely deterministic, players don’t gain any advantage or disadvantage from these changes. The difference lies primarily in presentation.
At a higher level though, these changes mean:
- Faster overall pacing
- Better control of unit turn actions
- More clarity on action outcomes
- Shift from unit level decisions to party level strategy
- Much more satisfying execution of turn actions
Most importantly, I think it’s just much more fun to play now!
Alpha backers, the next build with all of the above changes will be uploaded to Steam in about a week. Non-Steam users, the build will be updated at the previously shared URL.
I’ll also be at the Game Developer’s Conference, PAX East, and some local NY/NJ events with builds of the game. If you’ll be at any of those and are interested in giving it a spin, let me know!
Thanks again everyone for your support, feedback, and patience. Player feedback is guiding the game in a really exciting direction, and has given me a second wind as we move closer to finish line. It’s been a long road already, but we’re getting there!