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Making Games is Hard, Act 1

This is going to be quite long. It goes into some rather drastic changes for DT3's later content.

It seems a lot of you have dabbled in game design before on some level, be that through your own original works, stuff like DT, rom hacking, or tabletop games. Not even limited to games, but the creative process itself is laid with challenges and tough decisions for any media. DT3 has been coming along really nice and I'm super happy with how it's turning out. I'm most happy with how the ability sets work well together. It's seeing these abilities work so well together that I've seen many other design flaws and issues that just don't mesh well together. I've had this thought for some time that I've been uncomfortable with, yet feel is necessary to maintain a core balance with the game. These are one of those tough decisions that I really don't want to make.

If we take Claire out of the game and leave Jerry with his first 2 ability sets, Zelda and Megaman. We're left with a close range attack supplimented by a limited use arrow and quirky bomb. This set alone works well, but falls short at various times against the challenges presented in the game. The Megaman one is a set focusing on 3 different ranged attacks with somewhat limited energy bursts. Again, this set alone doesn't hold up against what DT3 wants the player to do. Putting them together though, they work together really well and compliment one another. If we take Jerry out and focus on just Claire's first 2 sets, Castlevania and Metroid. (Which you all have already seen the signs for.) It's the same as Jerry's first 2 sets. Her Castlevania set focuses on her melee attack which is supported by 2 weapons with different quirks. The Metroid sets gives her access to similar abilities Jerry has, but with a different approach. Claire's weapons (cannon and missiles) can be fired up or down, while Jerry's cannot. However, Jerry's special weapons allow for things like stun locking and can linger.

Focusing on just the 2 character's first sets, Zelda and Castlevania. Jerry's melee has shorter range and is faster, while Claire has much better reach, less arc, and a bit slower. Things that don't work with Jerry's melee, Claire at times, can handle better, and this works the other way around as well. The game doesn't forces you to play with any one set nor does it force the player to constantly switch characters, but it does point out these differences. These 4 sets between the 2 characters with their mobility differences is the core gameplay. If one set can't do something, another one will take over and help the player trump whatever obstacle is in their way. Even further into these sets, Jerry's Megaman set gives you a hookshot, which adds to Jerry's mobility options and lets him get to places that Claire can't. Claire's Metroid set gives her the morph ball, doing the same as Jerry's hookshot, but again, taking a different approach.

As you know, the game has 1 more set per character to add to this mix. Each one being fairly quirky in nature, yet trying to fall in line with how the existing abilities work. Herein lies the problems that I've been seeing as I test content working with all 6 abilites together. DT1 made the mistake of being overly complex (and wasn't clever with it) and lets be honest, had useless abilities. There were a lot of mid to late game abilities in DT1 that were entirely situational and had extremely limited practical uses. Who used Inferno or Zephyr? Wildfire had maybe 1 or 2 places where it could come in handy over something like Fireball, but any other time, it was an MP waste. The 3rd set for both characters doesn't add anything to the core gameplay that the first 2 sets do, and further, it adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. It breaks the flow of the other set's melee/range priorities. It creates the problem that DT1 had with too many button presses to get to what you want. The abilities themselves are too quirky to be useful in comparison to what's there with the first 2 sets. Making them closer to the DT3 core makes them useless. They feel tacked on as well.

So what does this mean for DT3's later chapters? Gameplay wise, it's going to be completely changed from the initial plan. Story-wise, the Gates have side stories which feed into the main story. These 2 final Gates can be condensed, as some of the story content feels like filler. (Another prompt for me to have a look at these on the gameplay side as well.) This means some content that I had planned will be cut, which I feel is very necessary to keep the game's core set going as well as keep it from going stale. I had only planned for DT3 to be about an 18-20 hour game, which is all ready pretty large for the type of game it is. At the end of my playthrough of chapters 1-9, I have 11 (almost 12) hours of gameplay time. This is gameplay time not consisting of bug finding, this is just a straight shot through the content. (100% of the items available) That's only 42% of the chapters, this is getting to be a bit much. Something needs to be condensed, and I've found useless content that doesn't mesh well or add anything to the game.

I've been keeping Gates 6 and 7 a secret and will continue to do so for now. The details on the changes will be kept the same. But of what I will say is those 2 ability sets will no longer be there as previously mentioned. Something else will be replacing them, that I feel, is better. This also means that the game will have 19 chapters as 2 of them will be condensed into another. Each chapter is always a turning point in both the story and gameplay and I'd like to keep that consistent. This doesn't change the 7 McGuffins. Nor the 8 instrument quest as that is essential to what happens later.

To the testers; As it says in the channel, I'll be away till probably the week after Thanksgiving. Got some changes and happenings going on in the real life as well. I'll be getting another build to you guys somewhere between then and now. I'll still be working on the game, but internet is going to be a thing the next 2 weeks for this computer. (I'd go wireless, but this laptop refuses wireless.) You might be able to catch me on steam when my roommate forces me to play games with him. (That's a different machine.) To everyone else; My response time will be very slow to questions/bugs till that time. I'll also be out of town for a few days.

So has anyone else ever worked on a game and had to either make the decision, or seen decisions that made major changes to the game? If so, what did it feel like to have to do/see that?


NegativeZeroZ said...

Knowing what one of those later ability sets is, I'm slightly disappointed it won't make the cut, but at the same time, I had to wonder what it could have added to the table that wouldn't already be there after Gate 5.

As I see it, people either didn't use DT1's full range of abilities because of the aforementioned "too many buttons" problem, or they don't use all of them because of sheer saturation. To use an underrated example, Inferno can hit anywhere on the screen, and you only have to concern yourself with your horizontal positioning. Couple this with Flood, which only cares about vertical, and you can already kill anything in the game. It's not that Wildfire, for example, sucks, it's that it's redundant by that point. Rock Drill, in my opinion is the only "useless" ability, since you don't want to use it, but the game forces you to use it in a couple of levels.

WhattayaBrian said...


So, first of all, Wildfire is friggin' amazing. Am I wrong in guessing that you made all the hard bosses weak to Wind and Water *because* Wildfire and Rupture exist?

In addition, I think confusing lack of purpose with lack of control. While there are certainly spells that could be removed (Soothing Spring and Hurricane come to mind), I think the main problem there was that you couldn't just *use* a move. You had to "select" the element and then you had to "select" the spell. There was so much overhead to using anything that it was often easier to just...not.

I think you've realized this. Both 2 and 3 have adopted more of a Smash Bros-style command interface, giving you a wider breadth of abilities for any one "stance". But now we've got switching characters *and* movesets and maybe we're right back where we started.

If we look at DMC3, we see that even though there are an order of abilities numbering similarly to DT1, they force you to specialize per mission. You can just 1 style out of 6, 2 melee weapons out of 5, and 2 guns out of 5. The key there is that 2 of something has no order. It's a toggle, and you don't need to micro-memorize where your selection will go next.

There's also no progress for spells. That is to say, they don't level up or evolve in any way. This of course isn't necessary, but players tend to be willing to experiment with things that change.

But yes, game design is hard. :)

LostSoldier20 said...

I know the feeling of having to cut big chunks of content out of a game. And man, it sucked big time. It was a major addition, and changed a lot about the game because it had to be removed. That's the worst part. Now if it was something that improved the game by being removed, I wouldn't be able to complain. I hope for better luck in the future of your DT3 creationisms.

Space Odin said...

One of the marks of a good designer is the ability to constantly re-evaluate their game mechanics in light of other mechanics, as well as the game as a whole. As you progress through a project, mechanics you once thought were good can become stale in the light of subtle shifts to your philosophy or desires. Don't be afraid to jettison content, as long as it is either not needed or set to be replaced with something that feels more appropriate.

Game design is hard! But the DT series is awesome, so good luck on finishing 3!

NegativeZeroZ said...

Those of you who don't check raocow's talkhaus might be interested in what I'm doing here:

This run is complete, it just needs to be edited together and uploaded. I'm also doing an "LP Archive" sort of thing in the talkhaus thread, which I'll link to in the video descriptions.

It looks like "years down the road" came a little sooner than expected.

WhattayaBrian said...

Haha, nice. I definitely see actual skill in your play, as opposed to my simple bullheadedness.

I'd be curious to see how I end up doing if I allowed myself rerecords and such, but I imagine the frustration would have completely overwhelmed me by the Shady Woods.

Cause seriously, fuck that place.

Now I'm Sky Base mission deaths count as deaths?

ZephyrBurst said...

Thanks for the kind words and encouragement you guys.

To Hawk:
Changing it all to 2 so it's a toggle was another of my thoughts. There's only one thing in the game now that has an order of 3. If in the future I find a suitable control scheme that can cut that, then even that will be changed.
Also the Sky Base deaths don't count.

To LostSoldier20:
Now that sucks when you know a big change is taking away from something and you don't have a choice in it. I can really only use my best judgment and hope that decision really was the best choice for DT. I found myself needing to alter other earlier mechanics in the game to fit the big change. Such as the MMX abilities natural recharge speed being boosted. All inactive abilities in DT3 will auto charge at a slower pace, but since the previous speed for the MMX set was based on the player having more options and it being inactive more often... Well it was boosted, which I know everyone would enjoy anyway since based on the feedback on that short segment of the demo, everyone saw the point of limited ammo for the X-Buster, but no one really liked it. Still can't be infinitely spammed, but it can be used a buttload more without fear of energy running low.

I'll be checking out your S rank run, NegativeZero.

Dan Spence said...

This was a lovely bloog post