So there has been a bit of a disruption on here due to a fun experience. I decided right after the tournament to fall and tear a ligament in my ankle. Yay! But back in the saddle (cowboy pun!)
The Beat, The Step, and The Cowboys Tournament was an awesome success! First we must give recognition to our finalists
1st: Larry Chang
2nd: Abhishek Singh
3rd: Shantanu Daas
4th: Ariel Kuo
And thanks to all of the participants. So the most important this: What did we learn?
There is a big difference between how a skilled and less skilled player plays. In fact, as a developer of the game, I can’t beat Larry, ever.
Likewise, there’s a big difference between play styles. In post tournament interviews, we found some players described aggressive, defensive strategies, as well as strategies that relied on making themselves unpredictable
The way advanced players use bombs is different. Players used bombs not to kill, but to force movements and control the board.
Level Balance. It may seem obvious, but balancing a level so neither player has an advantage is extremely important.
Level Flow. Players tend to want to make opening movements to position themselves,
Finally, Awesome announcement: Beatstep Cowboys will be showing at GDC!
Beatstep Cowboys is a Pitch Project at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Studio, and we will be showing our project on their booth. More info soon on that.
We’ve moved to using the Tiled Map Editor this week, which has greatly sped up the levels we can create. While we don’t have a variety of art assets yet, we do have the ability to place mechanics. We are also testing with two new character classes: A character that can place hazard tiles, and a character that has a backshot (more on this later).
We started throwing together a large variety of levels. Some of these levels were rather silly:
But by quickly creating and testing a large variety of levels, we learned several things.
Long horizontal areas are bad, as they tend to end a match very quickly. It’s better to require a player to maneuver into a potentially strategic position.
Conversely, levels that require a lot of movement into position are boring, as it takes a long time to get to where you can fight each other. While there should be opening moves so players can make choices before they get into the thick of fighting, long barriers to move around is unproductive.
Little “cubby holes” are also bad, particularly with the backshot class. This class can easily get into a cubby and camp, since they don’t need to turn around to shoot.That said, if we introduce a mechanic to limit this (cooldown, reload, etc), this configuration may come back…
Similarly bad are areas with only one entrance / exit, especially with cactus. These can also lead to camping.
One thing that does work are ‘circular’ configurations. Configurations that guide a player in a circle give the options for strategic positioning
Part of design is to try things, even if they might fail. Over intellectualizing the design process can often lead to gridlock, as the designer trys to think their way to the best solution with no actual evidence.
So the lesson: try things, and then analyze, rather than the other way around. Even a Lava Death Level can teach you something about the player experience. And you may stumble on something unexpectedly fun.
As we have worked on our game, there has a been a vague feeling that we were not making progress. We weren’t doing anything new. JD had done a lot of work restructuring the game code. I’ve written pages of design doc and made decisions about necessary features for the game. While King Kong has created beautiful concept art. But everything still vaguely seemed like retread.
And that’s when we realized, despite everything about the game being new and different, the one thing that was still the same was the game’s current art. Everything may have been different, but it all felt the same.
See, since we had developed a prototype of the game first, it was only natural to reuse the art assets while we developed, which we would later sub in with completed art. But somehow, subconsciously this was binding us into feeling like we weren’t making progress.
Quickly we drew some programmer-art style rocks and cacti and toss them into the game. The game was now much better! It was clearly new work, and our previous weeks of work hadn’t been for naught. Instead of retreading ground we were clearly in new territory. Progress is truly in the eye of the beholder.
We’ve rapidly moved out of the pre-production phase (where JD has been working to develop a stable version of the game) and into rapid prototyping. We are now experimenting with arena setups, and seeing what mechanics work well to build designs.
All of the designs we create are driven by the core pillars mentioned earlier, but it’s hard to know how well something will work until we actually try it out: a case well illustrated by our recent experiments with hazards.
It seems like a simple concept: a hazard tile that causes death upon touching. Many games have instant death tiles, and it requires the player to maneuver in a more thought out way – randomly bashing keys will get you killed.
Trying it, however, revealed some problems. Namely, the death caused by a hazard tile is extremely anticlimactic. On further examination, the tile violates our “That was close” pillar. There is nothing close about hitting an instant death tile. When this death happens, the reaction is “Oh. Ok.” on the part of both players
Upon reevaluation, we changed the tile to a Quicksand tile. The tile is still a negative effect that players will try to avoid, but the consequence is much more forgiving. While the player is stuck, there’s inherent suspense about whether the other player will reach and kill him in time. While quicksand may often end up leading to death, the feel is quite different.