December Update

We just wrapped up our December sprint and playtest. We’ll probably have another before January! Things that have changed since the October playtest…

  • Entirely new area to start the game, with new and improved geometry to define the process of teaching the player to navigate the core gameplay loop. This was a big project and the culmination of many months of planning and lessons learned from years of iteration on the old environment.

  • New opening cinematic, still pretty rough, as required by the new opening play start area. Still unfinished.
  • New spell study tooltip: a very tricky interface problem has been dogging us: how to clearly signal to the player that a glyph is available to be studied. Our stubborn desire to avoid non-diagetic interface elements at all costs finally gave way, and we implemented a “press F to study” popup that appears as you approach a glyph you don’t know yet. Our attempts to solve this diagetically weren’t nearly so successful. /sigh. Also changed the spell study mechanic so you don’t have to look directly at the spell, increasing it’s flexibility and making it hopefully more intuitive.
  • Various small tweaks to the first few cave areas to improve the overall gameplay experience, tighten the iteration loop for players as they learn the skills, and make navigation easier. In particular, care was taken to reduce the number of places that the camera boom bumps the wall geometry, as this can make players uncomfortable in a sort of nameless dread kind of way that they don’t know they’re even feeling but still hate. Lots of work still needs to be done on that point.
  • Some changes to spell experience costs.
  • Tweaks to 3×3 to (hopefully) make the secret chest more noticeable. (Didn’t work).
  • Complete redesign of the Siphon Heat spell so that it pulses three times instead of just once. This makes it a defensive installation that protects an area for a brief window.
  • Changed mana gem spending on Aura slots so that the aura slot is unlocked all at once, with the full gem cost paid all at the same time. This prevents players from spending fewer gems than the slot needs and therefor having fewer gems and also no new slot.
  • Lots of new etchings in the tower, including three new experiment etching sequences with lots of implied story.
  • New “lookout” areas in the divider zones to help you feel a sense of accomplishment as you scale the tower and can look out at the world to see how high you’ve come.
  • Lots of usability and quality of life code improvements, and some stability fixes to the level loading system.

General thoughts on the playtest: the new zone and learning mechanics worked very well, but our tutorial spaces are dragging on a little. We need to tighten up the presentation of the hors d’oeuvres so that we can serve the main course to an audience that’s not too full to enjoy it. The lack of a save system continues to haunt us. That piece needs to go in somehow.

As always, the biggest challenge for us as game developers is balancing the fine edge between healthy frustration (which maybe should be called ‘challenge’ and is what gives meaning to attainment) and unhealthy frustration (which leads to wanting to quit playing or, worse, table flip). Our next set of design discussions is likely to consider our spell casting interface. We need to lock down that core gameplay mechanic before we do any further iterations on level design with spells in later zones.

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