Super Glyph Quest Dev Diary 08

In which we re-visit early ideas, meet up with some old friends and generally get excited about the future.

The Story


Who needs wallpaper?
We've finally sorted the story out. Well, okay, the main story arc has been finalised - we're still adding side quests and fleshing other bits out. Having the whole thing mapped out really helps though. In theory, we could set up the entire game now - the only thing missing are the actual quests themselves as the vast majority are place-holder things in which the player kills a test rat.

I've never been a big fan of speccing everything out beforehand. I like a spot of emergence or evolution to the production process. That said, we needed the main bit of narrative to be sorted out before we could make a move on the rest of it.

Upgrades


Speaking of evolution, remember that upgrade system that I talked about before? We've binned it off.

Not upgrades themselves, but the way we had it laid out. Thing is, there were an awful lot of upgrades you had access to at any one time and the screen looked incredibly daunting - especially for mobile and the kind of entitled gamer you get these days. Hell, just the idea of having to write a tutorial for it was enough to put us off the idea.

I still like the upgrade thing and it's never easy to get rid of something that you've already implemented, but these things have to be done. There's a phrase that gets used to describe it - 'killing your own babies'. Horrific, eh? But it's a vital skill for any designer. By all means, fight your corner and push for the vision, but you shouldn't be afraid to admit that it might be wrong and there would be a better way of doing it. There's a time and a place for it, which is ideally towards the beginning of the project, but there's no way we could ship this with that in place.

After some more judicious Post It notes, Leanne and I have come up with a slightly different system. Okay, the system itself remains largely untouched, but the player's interface to it will be changed dramatically.

Instead of having access to the entire tech tree, the player will instead be presented with three random 'cards' each representing a different upgrade whenever he levels up. The cards will be face up and the player can pick one to upgrade. This means that the player is only ever picking from 3 manageable options rather than scrolling around and choosing from anything up to about 15 different things at any one time.

Sure, you lose a bit of fidelity and player authorship, but it also encourages replaying whilst keeping everything flowing a little better. Think of it like the Arena mode in Hearthstone where you build your deck on the fly.

Once we'd come up with that as the basic idea, we spent a bit longer thrashing out the details and trying to pick holes in the design. This seems to involve moving Post It notes around.

To give you an idea of how long these posts tend to hang around before I publish them, I've finished updating the upgrade system. The cards work out very well and they all have a tarot vibe which fits very nicely with the art style. The upgrade screen is a lot cleaner. There's still some stuff to do on the icons themselves - showing you how many times one of them has been upgraded, for example, and maybe a tweak or two to the colours.

We're both a little concerned that it means your character build is in the lap of the random number gods, but that's only because we've peeked behind the curtain and know how it works and what other upgrades are possible at any given point in time. I guess the way to think about it is like a game of Agricola - sometimes Family Growth appears at the start of Stage 2 and other times it appears at the end, which can have a huge effect on the tactics but doesn't make it any less fun.

Spell progress


As with the last game, I have a spreadsheet that shows my progress on each spell in the game. Over the course of the project, I gradually colour it in as the effects are completed.

It is rather depressingly lacking much colour right now.

This somewhat daunting task is obviously made a little more concerning by the fact that it's just so much bigger than last time. In the first game there were 18 regular spells, 6 summons and 12 combos - 38 in total. This time around we have 2 extra elements and another level of regular spells. This makes for 32 regular spells, 8 summons and 24 combos - 64 in total.

The vast majority of the spells are functionally in the game. That is to say they do what it is they're supposed to do but with a generic placeholder effect. Actually, just the effect from the Ignite (Fire, 2 glyph spell). As I finish off each feature, I can devote more time to the effects and fill in the rest of the spreadsheet, but it still looks like an awful lot of work.

Now I'm just bouncing back and forth over whether or not to enable area of effect with basic spells or to save that as a feature of combos. I think we're going to end up going with 5 glyph basic spells providing an area attack.

Early game


One of the criticisms of the original was that it took too long to really get going and you had to be the other side of the paywall to really appreciate it - a paywall that people didn't really understand.

Hopefully we've already addressed these points by:

  • More front loading. You start the game with both 2 and 3 glyph spells. Matching 2 was just never really fun enough. 4 spells follow pretty soon and you should be slinging combos around the point where we would have had the paywall last time.
  • Premium. We feel the shareware model is still the best and fairest play but the extra work in entails coupled with a lack of support for the language means that premium is just simpler. I guess you can imagine that Glyph Quest remains as the 'Lite' version and you can upgrade to Super Glyph Quest if you like that particular taster.
There was talk of pulling a Metroid or Need For Speed where we give you a taster of phenomenal power early on then contriving to reset you back to basics. The problem with that is that a full board of glyphs and access to combos straight off the bat would rather overwhelm quite a few people. Or they'd have to sit through the mother of all tutorials and that's just not fun at all.

The narrative should help out though. The characters all point you in the direction of the next thing you should be tapping on in the meta game before we let you explore the map yourself. It also allows us to introduce features bit by bit - talking to people, fighting monsters, the upgrade system, exploring, shopping, crafting, etc.

Develop and charity


Also on the time table was the Develop conference - where devs from all over the world descend on Brighton for a week of talks, drinks and fish and chips. I've been to Develop many a time but, as yet, have never attended a single talk. Instead, I use it as an opportunity to catch up with old friends that I haven't seen for a very long time.

This year was also an excuse to introduce Willow to a whole bunch of people - primarily Shin from Chorus Worldwide so he can see just what's at stake with this whole venture. She handled the noise of the expo very well indeed. Also, for future reference, the giant bean-bags at the Unreal stand made for excellent breast-feeding stations.
Simon did not last long. Nor did his trousers stay dry.

Another of the features of Develop week is the charity poker event run by Mark Ward and hosted by the G Casino for GamesAid. Last year, I went out just before the final table. This year I did much better and finished in the heads up against Jon Hare. The resulting goodie bag contained all manner of nice things - most of which were duly traded to the local CEX to cover the buy-in. But, since one of the prizes was a copy of Rocksmith, it looks like I'm going to have to fork out for an electric guitar, much to my brother's amusement.

To wrap it all up, Simon Barrett of Four Door Lemon hosts his birthday party at the end of the week. Each year he takes donations for Special Effect - an incredible charity that enables disabled people to play games using some pretty innovative solutions. This year, Leanne and I stayed off the sauce and just chatted to people.

I think there's a rule somewhere that states whenever 3 or more ex-Bullfroggers get together, they must sit down and talk at length about The Good Old Days. For anyone else within earshot, this must be an incredibly boring experience. In fact, one of the things to come out of Develop this year was the feeling that we really must organise a proper reunion soon. Time to hit up Les and see if The Parrot is available...

All in all, we came out of Develop week absolutely buzzing. We're* very stoked about the next project yet terrified of the work yet to do on this one and the current state of our bank balance.

*I'm very stoked about the next project. I'm still working on Leanne.

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