The Value of an Action

Welcome back, Conash here to give another big talk about whatever game design thing has been on my mind lately! This one may seem a bit out of the blue to many of you, but I’m sure that both testers and time travels will probably have an idea about why this is on my mind recently. For the rest of you all I have to say is you might have something to look forward to in the 0.44 release in a couple of months!

So, I hope that most of you here are familiar enough with turn based RPGs like Pokemon, Final Fantasy, or this really obscure game called ‘Collect Harems’ or something to be able to understand the idea of having a certain number of things you can do in the time that enemies get their own limit of things they can do. Now I may only have personal experience to go off of, but I wanted to talk about the value of ‘actions’ as a whole, and what you have to be careful about when you ‘give’ an action and when you ‘take away’ an action as well as why not all actions are equal.

To start with, I think it’s important to mention that to me there seems to be 3 types of actions which a player can take while in ‘combat’ of some form, actions which influence ‘Damage Output’ like doing damage or buffing themselves to do more damage, ‘Damage Mitigation’ either by reducing total damage taken or making sure the damage/status effects are inflicted in a way that’s less detrimental to you, or ‘Recovery’ which is putting in effort to actively undo either damage or some other detrimental effect on you. While I can certainly see arguments that these might seem rather arbitrary, this distinction typically gets at the heart of the philosophy behind things as while choosing to have Therese use Martydom then guard is different than having Meline try to daze all your enemies both of these actions are done because you expect the damage that they’ll prevent to outweigh the damage you could have done instead if you brought Kyrie or Yamamaya instead, as you value the chance of wasting time and resources that have the fight be longer that is unneeded to prevent having to put in the resource investment that ‘Recovering’ from what might have happened would have been. Understanding this decision making process and what goes into it is fundamental when trying to give players options as if you make an easy to use ‘Recovery’ option that’s more potent than a ‘Mitigation’ option, then people will never use the ‘Mitigation’ option as it’s unsure if it’ll be useful but you do know that you can output more damage which is progress and if the bad thing happens anyways you can recovery for a similar price.

On a related note, I do believe that this decision making process applies to all games, as say a racing game would exchange the ‘Damage Output’ with instead getting farther in the race, maybe when you stay in last place until the end to have the computers rubber-band in your favor before you overtake them to ‘Mitigate’ the damage they’d do if you were in 1st the whole way through. Granted some game types don’t always have an in-built way to ‘recover’ but every game calls for the players to make decisions and take actions and the player will have to constantly assess their situation and come to a decision one way or another, regardless as to if the game waits for them or not. Though it is important to remember human limitations, even if players are entirely familiar with the situation the speed at which they have to understand their situation, remember their options, and come to a conclusion plays a big role in how much you can ‘expect’ from them, but turn-based games give players a lot of room to make decisions should they choose to make use of it, but enough of this little tangent!

Right, back to the original topic, the value of an action. The value of a single action is going to be relative to any given situation, for example if both the player and enemy has 2 actions per turn and you take away 1 of them you’ve removed 50% of the damage/healing/mitigation that either side can do, but when there’s 4 actions per turn and you take one away you remove 25% of what they can accomplish per turn. That bit is pretty simple (and deals a lot with why I’m not the biggest fan of how we have several accessories that give extra actions as those are numerically the strongest accessories in the game, giving 25-50% more damage/healing/mitigation), but it’s also important to remember that two actions even if similar aren’t always the same as I briefly touched on earlier. See if you have two identical characters except one has a 10% higher chance of getting a critical hit (which in Harem Collector means x3 damage), then that person’s attacks are on average 20% more valuable than the other character (because 10% of the time you will do 300% damage instead of 100%, meaning +200% damage every 1/10 attacks), anyone who’s overcome the third bonus boss should be familiar with this sort of concept as I went out of my way to make sure that you could not win if all your actions only had an ‘average’ output. Honestly a lot of this stuff just really gets down to math at the end of the day.

See, you may not realize it but just about everyone is crunching a lot of internal math when they play HC. I for example may go on a whole lot about how bringing Meline to inflict daze (a -60% hit chance on physical attacks that lasts for 3 turns, an average of -60% physical damage for up to 3 turns per use) helps a lot more than using Magic Missile at least early game (a 30% chance to deny the enemy 1 turn, an average of -30% damage every turn it’s used), and I came to realize this not just through theoretical number crunching but from experience when I noticed how often I didn’t get hit by an enemy that was dazed. That said, players who aren’t as interested in these numbers are usually more focused on how they only have 4 party members so bringing Meline would limit their options for the party as a whole. The players who spam attack to win? They’ve determined the time and effort to think of more complex tactics doesn’t have enough of a reward to it. This might not seem like quite as relevant, but it is actually very important when evaluating the worth of any given action, the perceived value a player’s options are.

Let’s have a little thought experiment here. Let’s say that you had a character with 2 spells that cost the same amount of MP, the first spell does twice as much damage as the second one in all cases except one fight near the end, where the second is 4x as effective. If you don’t go out of your way to hit your players over the head with this knowledge, they will expect that one fight to follow the unspoken ‘rule’ you had for the rest of the game where the first spell is stronger, and so most of them will have a harder time with the fight. See, players learn to associate a value with all their various options as they see how effective guarding is when they’re hit by a powerful attack, vs how effective it is when the attack targets someone else, or how much consistently enemies get deafened when you use sonic magic and so they decide how often to use it. You’ve gotta keep this in mind when you introduce new options to players because if you give them a new option that seems weaker, or the same but more expensive, if it doesn’t give them the same rewarding feeling as their existing set of skills then they won’t choose it even when it’s 10% better than their existing options because it’s not worth the brain power to access that memory, to make that connection, you’re exhausted from your jackass boss chewing you out for their mistake so who cares if you are only reaching 91% of your potential in this video game, you’re still stopping the evil overlord! Make sure to keep that in mind as you try to give players more ‘options’ so that they can make each action more distinct, if you give them too many choices or they aren’t as good as others they’ll probably forget them.

That’s about it… Sorry if things weren’t very clear, I’ve been having a hard time trying to string all the ideas in my head in a way that flows together for these more introspective blog posts. Hopefully there was enough meat to each of these ideas here that even if some of the connections about them are more vague or missing you can still make sense of this week’s bunch of nonsense!

A Difficult Discussion

So Conash and I had a little discussion about this “difficulty menu” idea he had, and we’ve started to give it some serious discussion.

My original vision for Harem Collector was to have the dungeon exploration to relatively streamlined, but for combat itself to be reasonably challenging. I don’t really enjoy the sorts of RPGs where you have to grind for hours to proceed, or get certain items or skills. I much prefer games where enemies are limited in supply, or there is some other constraint meaning you have to balance grinding with something else. If I were to pick some of my favourite RPGs, I would select the latter SMT: Persona games, where grinding comes at the expense of time in the game’s very limited calendar, or the early-mid Bioware games where enmy encounters don’t respawn. This is also why I prefer to play Pokemon games Nuzlocke-style– grinding becomes a pretty dangerous prospect when an unlucky crit can kill one of your “party members” forever.

Not everyone is like that, however. Some people prefer to grind, they find the process to be relaxing or even soothing in a way. Others prefer the simple knowledge that if they encounter a challenge that they can’t overcome, they can just keep at it and eventually grow powerful enough to steamroll whatever is in their way. Still others might not care to grind, but they’re just playing Harem Collector for the sweet, sweet pornography, which I totally understand. Others don’t mind the combat, but don’t care for the economy side of the game. My policy for a long time has been to stick to the original vision, but I’ve come to see the wisdom of having various, multi-faceted difficulty levels.

If you’ve been paying attention you may have been able to suss out that I’m a huge horror fan and one of the greatest horror game franchises of all time, Silent Hill, is well known for having separate combat and puzzle difficulty levels. I am totally cool with this idea, and honestly a little disappointed with myself that I didn’t think of it sooner.

The idea, for now, is to divide difficulty between economy and combat, with independent easy-medium-hard levels for each. As Conash mentioned last week, we’re cooking up a “hard” difficulty for combat right now, and we intend to re-examine “easy” mode to make it something more than just “permanent stat growth potions are everywhere and you start with a huge amount of cash”. For economy, I think we’re mainly looking at playing with the return on investment of the various investment opportunities, and dialing down the amount of money that selling items (including vendor trash) gets you. We’re also looking at a third option, to replace the existence of the Timeturner, for whether or not you want to advance a day whenever you like.

Well, there’s a lot to do before the backer release next week, so I’d better get going. See you all later!

Updates with Conash!

Hey everyone! Next week is going to be the start of Tester’s Week for the upcoming PRINCESS update, and since I’m more or less entering the home stretch with what I’m doing I thought that I’d get you all up to date on the various things that I’ve either been working on or keeping my eye on.

First and most importantly, I’ll have to tip my hat to RomeoPapa, lostone, and everyone else who’s been helping out with the new wiki (found here)! It was really disheartening when we were given the two week notice of being shut down, but thanks to their efforts the new wiki had finished a complete transfer with about a week to spare! Which we promptly decided to get it taken down early it seems.

See, turns out that even if you move somewhere new you’re not allowed to turn any pages (especially the main one) into just redirect links to the new wiki over at Fandom, so they weren’t too happy to wake up one day and find out that the entire wiki was replaced with redirect pages. I have no regrets, as there were still a few people visiting the old wiki and making changes or leaving comments even after there was nothing but redirect links left, so I think that even though it hastened the deletion of the old wiki, it was important to try to get as many people over to the new wiki that we could.

By the way, feel free to let us know what you think of it over there or in the discord, and if you’ve got some new things you’d like see added we might be able to accommodate since we now have full control over it!

Now in terms of game development stuff, let’s have a little talk about a new feature I’m excited to add- dual-elements! You see, there’s been several issues in Harem Collector that have irked the mini-perfectionist in me ranging from how the mages with various ‘Anti-‘ elements on their weapons had no effective use for that element to being able to being able to equip a demon slaying charge and all of a sudden even though you’re attacking an enemy with a shield, their piercing resistance isn’t reducing the damage on your arrows! Not to mention with how useless using magic with the Newts is due to how they only have good damage thanks to their unique ‘Newt’ element….

So, that’s why I thought to basically take our current ‘one element’ system, and turn it into a ‘dual-element’ system, where not only attacks but even magic can have both a ‘physical’ element and a ‘racial’ element. It’d work basically how the current system works, but if you say give Felix the Necronomicon and Manhunter Poison, his attacks will do both necrotic and anti-human damage, multiplying the effectiveness of both (so still be careful of immunities). I’m even going through and making a lot of attacks like Therese’s Smite with a hardset ‘physical’ element still able to take into account whatever her current ‘anti-‘ element would be!

As for the magic end of this system, it will only consider the element of your weapon, so even if you throw Manhunter Poison or the Beastslayer Ring on someone their magic will not gain the ‘Anti-human’ or ‘Anti-beast’ properties, and I think this is fair because if your mages didn’t use their weapons to help channel their magic in some way, then they wouldn’t have a reason to hold a weapon in their hand instead of a buckler or something and mechanically speaking this helps create a bit more uniqueness as now you can use, say, Chimei’s Anti-Demon element to it’s full effect! Newts during the ‘Send Newts’ quest will have their unique Newt element moved over to their weapons so that spell-casting newts can benefit from this too.

Oh, this will only apply to magic that targets enemies though, so you won’t be able to use Yeon’s Anti-Mage element to boost her healing!

Next, let’s see… Well we’re working on getting the 4th solo tournament into this release! The enemies are coming along quite nicely, and I’d like to take a moment to thank our testers for putting up with my nonsense with all the test releases I’ve been putting out this past month, hope you all have been enjoying it!

Oh, players should also expect hard mode in this release, the only real update that’s been made to it is that now when you are in the save menu, your save files will now put a bronze star on any saves in Easy Mode, silver for Normal Mode, and gold for Hard Mode, to help keep track of what mode each save file is in. Oh! Easy Mode! I’ve also added in a new item so that if you’re in Easy Mode you can change your party anywhere while you’re outside of battle! Don’t worry about starting a new game to get it, when you load your save file the game will automatically detect if you’re on Easy Mode and don’t have the item, and if that’s the case one will just show up in your item list!

Hmm… The only other thing that I really have to talk about would be the Yamamaya revamp, and while everything is looking good so far, I’d rather wait a few weeks and then give that it’s own blog post, no matter how much I like to talk I do like to keep secrets sometimes! So I’ll wrap things up here, see you all later!

Let’s talk Hard Mode

Conash again! This time I’m here to talk about a new feature I plan to introduce in the 0.43 release that I’ve been talking about for awhile, hard mode! So for anyone who’s interested in hearing about it, and why it’s coming up so suddenly, this is the post for you!

So to start this off with I would like to give a bit of a brief (hopefully) background to why Harem Collector will be getting a hard mode. The short of it is, that the difficulty of Harem Collector has been very important to me. See, while I’ve got nothing against the people who don’t care to sit down and potentially spend hours focusing on how to make a perfect route or setup your equipment or whatever, with how my brain is I regularly get this kind of ‘build up’ of mental energy that if I don’t get regular outlets for actually brings me pain, and well the best that doctors and therapists have been able to figure out thus far is that it’s the result of my ADHD.

Normally I can deal with this sort of constant mental energy with like puzzles, or listening to podcasts while I play games, but when it starts to get really bad I feel that I need huge problems to solve that require me to consider variables from all directions that play into one another, and well, Harem Collector was one of the few games that could accomplish this to make it so that I wouldn’t end up in pain from not having something to thing about. Just planning routes to find the optimal route for collecting the girls while getting all love quests (not really the biggest concern with how many days there are), managing all the grinding spots in order to maximize my money and experience keeping in mind that if I killed a bear too early that many of the girls would miss out on some experience (though now they respawn every day), figuring out good ways to handle some of the higher level quests early on with weaker teams that way I could get Gargan, Yeon, and Kyrie earlier to begin working on them sooner, along with figuring out the optimal way to invest my money and save some sil here or there with the items you could get.

It was great, though I don’t need that anymore since I can also deal with the issue now by just working on more complex scripting projects or enemy designs for HC, but given the dozens of times that HC served effectively as medication for me I can’t help but look back on those challenges I had to overcome fondly, several of which have become non-issues as the game has progressed. That’s why ever since NoMoshing added in Easy Mode, I’ve wanted to make my own Hard Mode, to capture all of those challenges for anyone who wished to experience them without putting a burden on players who don’t want to put in that much time and effort.

Now, I’ve been talking about Hard Mode for awhile, but I kept putting it onto the back burner until I could implement the entire thing… Except it’s been a few years and so far it’s all concepts. It’s been eating at me to tell some of the people who’ve been looking forward to Hard Mode that it’s coming soon(tm), so a couple weeks ago I said fuck it, let’s put in what I can and expand it as we go. Worst case scenario? Some people might avoid playing it until it’s more fleshed out.

So what does this Hard Mode skeleton entail? Mostly combat stuff, like for starters all those dungeons that you can clear out every day for more experience and loot? First priority was to go back to the original system where if you kill them once they’re dead forever as that was a part of balancing experience that has since been lost even in the challenge runs that some people who share in my insanity engage in. If you’re worried about having no options if you don’t have enough experience, I did make sure to leave the daily dungeons and vacations untouched by this, as I felt that the unique equipment from the daily dungeons was too important to cut out, and you should be allowed to trade money for experience in the form of vacations.

Next on the plate? Well that’d be the main problem with challenge modes, the fact that with how much experience HC gives you that once you complete one challenge, you’re usually too high level find anything of similar ‘difficulty’ challenging so you’d have to start a new playthrough to be challenged by everything, so to fix that I cut down all experience gained in Hard Mode by 30% (so enemies give 70% of their normal experience). You can potentially still end up a bit on the higher end of levels with this, but thanks to extensive testing from RomeoPapa I can safely say that unless you get a lot of vacations you won’t be getting much higher than the level recommendation for quests in general.

Finally, a common thing that I’ve found based on the information from the players who do seek out combat difficulty from Harem Collector is that you can just about do any quest safely at 5 levels below the recommended level, and the ‘challenge’ comes from pushing things lower, so in order to try to turn this into the ‘standard’ difficulty without further reducing experience (and thus risking players not having the skills needed to win some quests), I opted to give all enemies a passive +20% to all their stats, we have also made sure that the most challenging tests did not reach a point where this felt unreasonable. So yeah, players looking for a combat based challenge look forward to all of that!

That said, I don’t intend to stop there but it may be awhile before I come back and touch up on Hard Mode again. See, one of my biggest priorities when I revisit and touch it up some more is that I plan to add some more skills for bosses or changes to the fight or something so that when you’re in hard mode every fight feels a bit more unique (to an extent the boss fight at the end of “Princess Bride” has gotten this, but it’s more that the boss was taking too long which slipped past our testing due to a bug, as such the length of the fight will be shorter in normal mode, and even shorter in easy mode, while Hard Mode will retain the original length), because while giving the enemies a statistical advantage will require that you think on your feet if that’s the only difference then each quest is going to eventually end up feeling the same. Adding in some new moves, new mechanics, changing up the existing mechanics to better reflect ‘hard mode’ for the bosses will help shake things up and add in a more nuanced difficulty that I know I at least appreciate.

Another thing that I want to add into hard mode down the line is changing up the day end process, see one of the important things about the old HC meta is that you had to plan out your days very meticulously in order to make sure that you got all the character’s love quests at the right time, but with all the content Harem Collector has now, planning such things out is a bit silly, so once I’ve got a firm grasp on how many days will be possible along with all pitfalls that a player may run into, I’m going to want to change things up so that instead of the day passing as often as it does currently that you’ll need to finish anywhere from 3-5 quests to get a proper day end in it, thus helping bring back yet another element that was critical to the former meta but has long since been made irrelevant.

The final thing that will be important for me to consider ties a bit into the last one, see a big reason that I’m not yet comfortable lowering how often a day ‘ends’ in Hard Mode is because if you only got your daily income at 20-33% of the time as before it’d harshly impact the economy as you go through items and get new ways to spend your money without getting the same amount of money as before, but as things stand I don’t have a comfortable grasp over the HC economy, and with every quest we add into the game my grasp gets looser. Currently we do have plans to revamp the HC economy down the line, and well I’d like to go through the numbers for that and get some play-testing on how it works out before I make any big changes to the economy in Hard-Mode, though I do have a few ideas for what I might do like either stopping the loan or changing it along with making a few of the special vendors not buy your vendor trash.

That said, I may also try finding a way to have more customizable difficulty, such as if I can think of a menu or something for determining difficulty, I might allow players to be able to create experiences where the combat is the same as normal mode, but they get the economy of Easy Mode (like those gold and silver bars), and the time passage of Hard Mode, or something like that so that players who enjoy combat challenges don’t feel like they must decide if they want the stress of a more challenging economy or give up on their dreams of taking on Slenderman at his strongest… Hmm… You know a menu system does sound a bit fun…

Anyways, that’s more or less all that I’ve got to say on hard mode. Squires, look forward to the mini-release next week, we’ve got several things in the words other than just the bare bones Hard Mode that I put together! For those of you who are looking forward to it though, please send a Thanks to RomeoPapa for all his hard work going through the entire game in a week and giving me the feedback I needed to fine-tune the experience! If you’ve got any comments, questions, or concerns feel free to contact me, I’m most active over on the BKG discord found here: https://discord.gg/3eEnXpT

Character Revamps

Conash here to once again ramble on about mechanical design stuff as I understand it. For those of you who haven’t been keeping a close eye in the BKG discord, the 0.42 release includes a revamp to a lot of Gargan’s skills, and I’m hoping to give Yamamaya a revamp for 0.43, so I thought that I’d take the time to try to dissect the mindset that’s gone into all of this, maybe it’ll be useful for some of you!

So let’s start with Gargan, the intention behind Gargan’s moveset is to mimic that of the Arkham games, aim for trying to manage and switching between enemies but getting in big damage in-between. If you examine Gargan’s original move set you can really see this in play, cape-stun to setup an enemy for a lot of damage, the ability to counter incoming physical attacks, and an ability that has a chance to stun two enemies at once. The problem with these skills however comes down to cost vs pay-off, consider for a moment using cape-stun followed by Stun-break which should be Gargan’s bread and butter at lower levels, originally you had to spend 5 momentum to use cape-stun and then 10 momentum to use stun-break which removes the stun status and does about twice as much damage as a regular attack. This means that you first have to build up 15 momentum with 3 attacks first, then you spend 2 turns to do the same damage as two attacks? From a damage point of view it’s not worth it, now stunning the enemy could be worth it on it’s own but then you have to consider that stun-break ends it at least one turn, if not two, earlier than it would otherwise be so if you just want to stun the enemy you’re better off just using cape-stun. Later on though Gargan gets ‘Throw’ which has a smaller chance of stun but hits two enemies and does 2 attacks worth of damage in one action, even if you don’t get the stuns you it’s worth it to use two attacks instead of one, the 20 momentum cost makes it not that great but as long as you don’t use momentum for 4 cape-stuns you’ll get there. Coup De Grace on the other hand cost 30 momentum, did about as much damage as 2 attacks if the target was knocked over, oh and it also removed stun, when you compare these skills side by side and consider how players can typically rely on 5 momentum per turn and you win battles by doing damage, it’s no wonder that Throw was Gargan’s only offensive move that got used consistently. Cape-stun was nice for stuns but when players could bring Raina to use her knockdowns instead while still doing good damage even if a lower chance of knockdown it’s easy to see why Gargan wasn’t considered as stun king/queen in parties. Counter wasn’t a ton better, as it cost 15 momentum (so 3 turns work to build up to it) and only lasted until Gargan’s next action, which meant that if you didn’t have a good way to guarantee an attack by Gargan’s next action you could easily feel you wasted that momentum, and in many cases you may only get 1 free counter attack from Gargan meaning you spent 15 momentum to negate damage from 1 attack. Back to Back, the unity force skill, was very useful with it’s 5 momentum cost and 3 turn duration on top of hitting both Gargan and Hero, but it required Unity Force so it’s not something players could rely on in battle. You may have noticed that I was trying to compare things to using a regular attack, and that’s important because that’s your bread and butter, if the skills aren’t more valuable than a regular attack or aren’t worth the time it takes to get enough momentum to use them, then there’s no reason for players to think about the skill rather than use an attack, whether players actively think about it or not they notice how these numbers turn out and it impacts their decision making.

So then the question becomes how do you fix these issues if most of Gargan’s skills aren’t worth the time it takes to attack? Well, since it’s important to make sure that you stay creatively in line with what’s intended you want to take your time and examine how to approach things. For Cape Stun, the problem is largely that it’s the first move in one of Gargan’s two combos but it makes the total combo more expensive while not doing damage, not to mention it runs the traditional risks of hit rage, evasion chance, or even enemy counters. To combat the problem of it making combos more expensive I took some inspiration from Raina, players who use her a lot never have a problem with using Phalanx because even though it doesn’t do damage and only lasts one turn, it gives Raina momentum just like if she used guard allowing players to feel comfortable using it as a bread and butter instead of regular attacks, as the utility it brings (not to mention increases damage on some of her skills) outweighs the marginal damage you’d get from a regular attack, so if Cape-stun was set to generate more momentum than it required it would help further set players up for a combo by making it easier to continue the combo afterwards instead of having to work have the entire combo ready up front. On top of that, I remembered that common enemies were basically unable to do anything about your cape stun in the Arkham games, so in addition I gave it some utility that would allow it to be competitive with ‘Throw’ by making it so that enemy evasion, taunts, counters, or reduced player accuracy wouldn’t impact it by turning it instead into a certain hit instead of a physical hit, allowing it to always have a place in the player’s arsenal even if they are able to inflict stun through other means. Stun-break got some changes to the damage formula to make it more rewarding, but the biggest problem it had was that it removed stun, making it so that a lot of times players would rather not use it to keep the enemy stunned, this however was fixed by giving it a base 100% knockdown chance if the enemy you hit was stunned, now you’re just trading Stun for Knockdown while doing better than 2 attacks worth of damage, it still has the 10 momentum cost to it but when combined with Cape Stun giving you more momentum this combo is very easy to pull off, making it worth the net loss of momentum (which prevents you from using other skills). For Coup De Grace I could have done the same thing as Stun Break, but I instead thought to handle one thing that felt kinda funny with Gargan, see Gargan is based largely on inflicting stuns then doing big damage off of stunned enemy, but every other character with similar abilities use knockdown, and well it just feels odd that Gargan can benefit from stunned enemies but not enemies on the ground, this left Gargan feeling like Gargan’s core loop existed on another planet and couldn’t synergize with other party members, so for this I took more inspiration from DnD and Pathfinder, instead making Coup De Grace be based off of ‘helpless’ enemies in the sense that they had the ‘knockdown’ status and gave it a 60% crit chance on top of Gargan’s base crit chance, along with some tweaking of the numbers here and there and now Gargan has a fantastic 1-2-3 combo, it’s hard to maintain the full combo but if you wanted to jump around from enemy to enemy with a 1-2 combo or just cape-stun everyone, well, that bit is very easy. Counter was also retouched to last 2 actions instead of 1, so it’s still not as good as ‘Back to Back’ but many players are reporting that it still lasts long enough to more than justify it especially as it allows Gargan to do some pseudo-tanking.

Well, I probably got a bit ahead of myself there going into the specifics, but general point is that when you want to give players abilities you should try to keep in mind first what is their bread and butter, what does it give them, how does it contribute to the ‘win’ condition, and then any special ability needs to be able to have a reason to use it instead of that bread and butter. If an enemy is knocked down and Gargan has 60 momentum, sure you could use a regular attack, but Coup De Grace will probably do 6-10x the damage so unless you’re saving up momentum to use throw 4 times in a row when some more enemies show up, there’s no reason not to. Sure players could just leave an enemy stunned and go for a regular attack that gives them 5 more momentum, but Stun-break will probably do 2-4x as much damage and set them up for Coup De Grace, that 5 momentum won’t help me win the battle unless I use it to do more damage but that’s exactly what Stun-break is for. Players may not be aware of the the details or heck they may even come to wrong conclusions, but when they’re looking at 400 damage for a regular attack and 800 damage for stun-break, they know which one will win the fight faster.

Yamamaya’s issues however are a bit different, see many players already know how to get damage out of Yamamaya to keep her competitive, and while some of her skills also need to be made worth the cost (like Shockwave) I strongly believe that her biggest problem is that her skills are competing with each other to be the ‘best’ skill instead of working together to give her a good ‘arsenal’. Now, not everyone should be based around setting up a 1-2-3 combo or anything, but with Yamamaya you’re looking at using Strong Attack, Mountain Lion Rage, or Polar Bear rage, not all three. The nature of the rages are going to make them be competing with one another as she won’t ever be able to use more than one at a time just like Diadira with her songs, but well, we’ve got some plans to help her Techniques stand out as a lot more valuable than they currently are so that they don’t need to be better than Yamamaya’s best rage. We’ve also talked with fans some and liked some of the ideas that we got, so do expect to see Yamamaya’s rages changing up once her revamp is done. I can’t promise that Mountain Lion rage is going to be as good as it currently is, but my main intention is to try to make her other rages feel a lot more useful and like there is the right place and time for them, even if it doesn’t come up too often. It may get a bit tricky at times since ‘Mountain Lion Rage’ makes Yama do a lot more damage which contributes directly to winning a fight so other rages like ‘Polar Bear Rage’ may struggle to find as much usage, but we’ve got idea and I trust in the tester’s we have to give me effective feedback on how well we hit things like this! So you have that to look forward to!

I hope that my talk this time was useful to some of you! My intention here was to try to explain the process of how you figure out what to do, identify problems and try to solve them, though looking back I think that’s going to be a bit hard for me since my process is largely finding new ideas and connecting them together, but you never know when talking about your own problems and solutions may end up giving someone else the idea they needed to solve their own! Feel free to ask any questions or share your comments wherever you find me!

Influencing players with mechanics and you!

Hey everyone, it’s Conash again giving you another blog post so that NoMoshing doesn’t have as much on his shoulders today, and oh boy has this development cycle not been kind to us. To start off with, we had a malware issue come up on our forums today so if you have have visited the forums in the past 48 hours it’s recommended you run a scan on your computer, then afterwards change your forum password just in case. Next, I am sorry to say but the new backer release will be delayed until Friday. We will continue working on it and bring a complete backer’s release to you all ASAP, but as of right now there are significant portions of the new content unfinished- too much for us to be comfortable making a release right now.

Now onto the actual topic for today, how game designers can manipulate players by using the dreaded magic known as math! Now, you may not have noticed it, but a lot of games are designed in a way to deliver various emotional experiences and can even sorta ‘convince’ you how you should behave. Sometimes this is more obvious than other times, for example when you’re playing HC and you get your first dual-element spell you’ll basically never use anything except it, because it does twice as much damage as anything that mage has, not only that it does both status effects, so of course you’re going to use Revelation instead of Crystal Rays! Now theoretically the MP cost may be a reason to avoid using it, but by the time you get access to it getting 2 actions at once is just so much more valuable than the additional MP you lose if they’re weak to radiant but only neutral to fire, this however is pretty obvious to anyone who plays HC.

Games however can get similar results in more subtle manners. Let’s take Sengoku Rance, since the official release came out recently. I have almost never used the option to increase my battlefield preparedness before a battle, on top of that I’ve read many guides, talked with many players, and at the end of the day I’ve never seen anyone recommend you do this over the course of a normal game, and when you break it down you can generally see why. First of all, in the game you are very limited in the number of actions you can make per turn, at the start you can only do 2 per turn, but you eventually get to 3-4 actions per turn, meanwhile you have to invest roughly 3-4 actions to capture any given territory assuming every attack you make is successful and the enemy never successfully defends. Meanwhile, you have a lot of other events going on, ranging from ranking up your troops, exploring dungeons, getting new sex scenes, recruiting new units, you name it, which you also have to balance with your war path and so taking the time to get an extra +10% battlefield preparedness for [b]one[/b] fight just doesn’t feel that good, you’re looking at spending 1 action to turn your next attack to be worth 1.1 attacks. I can, conversely, choose to scout before the fight, which usually has a lower check, and get +6% battlefield preparedness without using a separate action for it, and comparatively the return on investment just isn’t worth it. This creates a situation where if I could choose one of my units to get +1 more to their scouting or the max level of construction (9), I would choose the +1 to scouting every time, and despite encountering numerous play styles that I’ve seen and talked with people about I don’t know of a lot of people who wouldn’t value scouting at least twice as much as construction, because whether we realize it or not the game is designed in a way that additional points in scouting (which is needed for a couple of story events, on top of being a barrier that a lot of the best items in the game are hidden behind) will feel rewarding to players, while smart gameplay can render the construction stat useless.

So now that I’ve talked a lot about various examples as to how game mechanics can influence gameplay, and maybe you’re not quite sure about things, so let me work to get to my point of all of this. When it comes to designing a game you should keep this idea in mind as it is what some people would refer to as the ‘tactile feel’ or the ‘game feel’, because (while it can be hard to describe) they’re basically referring to how you feel good when you make a smart play (such as choosing the spell that does two spells at the same time) and how you feel bad when you realize you made an inefficient or detrimental play (ie, the battlefield preparation action). A lot of this stuff comes down to investments and pay-offs, if you invest time into something you want the game to say “You did good!” with progress towards something, when you invest thought into your armor choices you want to see you getting hurt less or not having to worry about status effects the ruined your run. Conversely though, you can discourage players from doing those actions by going in the reverse, which is a big way of how games that let you buy a premium currency work to get you to spend money. They use various methods to increase the time to earn the free money so that even if you do earn that one item you need to proceed, you’ll look back at all that time and energy investment and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it deep down. It’s not something that I like, and I do my best to try to play around with this idea a lot in HC, I try to use enemy weaknesses and strengths to encourage players to use more effective strategies, or I’ll try to adjust the difficulty to feel if the testers come back and tell me that they have to invest so much time and effort into fighting the common enemies that the quest as a whole just causes too much stress. Granted, my enemies are still known to cause stress even after this, but based on the feedback I typically get it seems that players generally never feel that it’s unfair, which is a very important part of things.

You can even do this in more creative ways. An example would be in one of the new quests we’re adding in this release, because of what’s going on with the story I decided that I wanted to add in a boss that feels like you’re leading a siege, and if I didn’t get it into this quest then that’s one possible boss idea that I don’t think I’d be able to fit anywhere else into HC, so I sat down and tried to think what does a siege feel like. To me, I’d imagine that a siege is slow as they can take days, it’s also huge as the between the armies, the weaponry, and the target you’re looking at big attacks or lots of small attacks. Throwing in stuff like ladders to get up the wall, arrows, boiling oil, and battering rams would help add a lot in really setting the scene and help bring the scene to life! I spent a lot of time thinking how to work in elements like this, and eventually game to the conclusion that to do it perfectly I’d have to basically invent a second combat system (something akin to the various giant battles they eventually added in the Mario and Luigi saga) just for a single fight.

Now, we might get a bit bloated in scope and features, but even I have my limits on how off the rails I’ll get with development, so I decided to scale back and create a boss where it’d feel like you’re sorta breaking down the walls of a castle while it defends itself, so that means a very slow fight where the boss occasionally attacks but can do a lot of damage. Then after realizing that didn’t feel quite like a ‘boss’ in design, I managed to work in a few other things to be able to help make sure that the quest wouldn’t finish off with one giant slog of a fight that doesn’t feel rewarding at the end, including a way to get some support, like getting a battering ram that does good damage! I’m pretty happy with the results as I do think that boss will feel very unique, but conversely I’ve also given players the tools so that if they don’t want to deal with something that’s basically antithetical to engagement like that then they’ve got some options to undercut it while still feeling thematically appropriate. It’s kinda hard to really quantify how any given aspect of things ‘feel’, a lot of it just sorta comes down to figuring out how would things feel relative to you. One example from ‘Hell to Pay’, “So I want to make a boss that players actively want to avoid hurting what would I do? Well firstly they should be immune to traditional death, otherwise players with ‘enough’ damage will just kill them off. Next players need to be punished, so I’ll have they inflict increase as they take damage, and I’ll hide high-powered skills behind high momentum costs so if you hurt them a lot they’ll be able to hurt you a lot for a limited time period. Players aren’t psychic however, so we’ll need to make sure that they get the idea to use alternative methods on this boss somewhere… and well, I imagine most of you who have completed that quest can see a lot of what all went into that enemy. Now a lot of this stuff typically requires a firm understanding of how the combat works, what is effective and what’s not, so my time as a fan who used to min-max HC has helped me a lot in understanding how various systems fit together, but it’s been quite awhile since I’ve done that so I’m very reliant on both tester and player feedback in general to refine things. So yeah…

Haha, I guess that was a pretty big ramble. Hope that was at least semi-coherent to some of you, and useful in exploring the idea of what ‘game feel’ is, and how it influences player behavior. I’m probably not the best person to be able to explain it, but I know that when I see big numbers I’m happy, and even more so when I win. I know that when put a lot of time thinking up a complicated strategy, getting to pull it off and having it be successful makes me feel smart, and if when I go to face a boss that I’m left feeling like the game thought I was having too much fun and makes all enemies immune to my strategy two bosses later. Balance can be a hard thing to maintain, but sometimes it’s not about making something ‘balanced’ and more about making it feeling ‘rewarding’.

How I became a Unicorn

Hello there! Conash here, and today I thought I’d talk about my experience with Monster Hunter games, and why it is that I enjoy them and keep referencing it in various discussions, and I promise you that my click-bait title will be explained beyond me finding it amusing.

So, my history with Monster Hunter began with Tri, I had heard good things about the series so when hunting for a new game I decided to pick it up. My older brother loved it, he made some long-time friends playing it and really got into the series, I on the other hand appreciated it for being a well made game but just hated the controls. It felt sluggish, and the only weapon that I was comfortable with took a long time to kill the monsters, and I just could never really understand it. Now, I did have some experience with action RPG games before like Kingdom Hearts, Tales of games, and a few of the Final Fantasy spin-offs, but Monster Hunter Tri while I enjoyed sitting down and figuring out what armor or weapons to get in order to prepare for the monsters, actually fighting them felt a bit like a chore to me so I wrote off the series as not for me at that point.

Then Monster Hunter 4U came out, and one of my closest friends was going on about it and was looking forward to it, my older brother was also talking about how he was planning on getting it and how I would enjoy it. I was a bit doubtful at first, but when I looked into it I saw that they were bringing back some weapons that were cut from Tri, so I thought that I’d pick it up and give ‘Dual Blades’ a go because I was convinced it’d fix my issues, and it definitely did. See, in Monster Hunter every weapon is very different, they’ve got unique strengths and weaknesses and feels to them, a ‘Sword and Shield’ feels very different from ‘Dual Blades’, and well without having a good weapon that really clicked with me trying to get familiar with Monster Hunter’s unique systems just wasn’t fun, but that little slide when you’re in demon mode? Perfection. It was quick, effective, responsive, and allowed me to work on learning the monsters, as if I messed up and went in for an attack at the wrong time I had a way to quickly escape. Eventually though, I started to get bored with them as the core loop became pretty repetitive, so I tried out Hunting Horn and it opened up a whole new world to me. My movement options did become more limited without the slide, but I still had good base movement and the ability to constantly have a ‘puzzle’ in figuring out what songs to queue up, paying attention to their duration, preparing horns with different setups to cover different situations? It brought a whole new depth to the game that I still enjoy, to the point that I don’t ever want to play another weapon. I’ll still pull out DBs against some monsters that HH is a really bad matchup against, but well, being basically one of the 5ish people playing Hunting Horn I’ve come to embrace my inner unicorn (you can find run into people who use it in the right circles, but good luck running into them randomly online).

Now, that’s my experience with Monster Hunter more or less, but probably the more important question here is why do I enjoy it? Well, I do enjoy these sorts of Action RPG games like TWEWY, Crystal Chronicles, Tales of, or Kingdom Hearts, so Monster Hunter does fit right nicely alongside those games, but you don’t see me trying to push NM to dress up an HC character in say a Sheena costume or something, so I should probably explain what it is that Monster Hunter offers over many of those other games. One of the big things I did sorta get into while talking about my history with Monster Hunter is the vast variety of options, see in Kingdom Hearts you may be able to change your keyblade and skills to get some different combos, but you will always have the same basic options available to you, you will typically have similar timing to your attacks and defense, and you’re always ultimately playing the same character. In Monster Hunter however each of the weapons are so unique that their play styles greatly differ from one another, the philosophy behind the weapon changes entirely, the difference between a ‘charge blade’ (a giant sword and shield that lets you put the shield onto the sword to become an even bigger axe) and ‘sword and shield’ isn’t as simple as one is bigger and stronger while the other is faster and can use items all the time, when it comes to sword and shield you are paying attention to when to get in mounting damage, KO damage, what element sword you want to use, when to throw a flash pod, when your teammates need a life powder, what have you, while with a Charge Blade you’re paying attention to charging up your vials, you’re paying attention to how long your shield buff is active, you need to be aware of when to guard vs when to dodge, not to mention when to throw out your ultimate attacks or assess if you will have a big enough opening for your next attack, it’s a fundamentally different mindset and while the enemies and a lot of the core systems are still the same it’s feels more like comparing a rogue to a magus rather than a warrior with a sword to a warrior with a bigger sword, and because of this variety you’ll almost always be able to find a weapon that matches your play-style, and all of them are good weapons, even the ‘worst’ weapon generally will really only see any significant difference if you’re competing for world records (and even then the biggest difference comes not from the weapon but how people who compete for that stuff will gravitate to the weapon with ~5% higher DPS in optimal circumstances). Giving players a nice variety of choices that all feel so vastly different while still being competitive makes a huge difference in just keeping the game accessible in general to people like me who get tired of say just following the same pattern, to me the Hunting Horn offers a constant barrage of mini-puzzles where I have to pay attention to the team’s buffs, the duration on the buffs, what we need for this enemy and what we don’t, and what would be the best way to work in those songs given the enemy we have to fight and I just love having to constantly juggle all of these ever changing variables in my head, while other weapons are far more straight forward. Each weapon is incredibly distinct from one another and there aren’t any ‘bad’ weapons, just ‘bad for you’ weapons.

That said, variety alone isn’t the only thing that sets Monster Hunter apart, after all I use Hunting Horn as much as I can, so that doesn’t explain why I will gravitate towards pulling out Monster Hunter for some fun fights instead of Kingdom Hearts or some other game that I’m comfortable with, and to that end I’d honestly say that probably the biggest difference is the interactions between the players and the monsters. See, in the Tales of series one of the key things that you need to pay attention to (on the harder difficulties) is knowing when you can safely attack and when you can’t, knowing not only how but when to stagger an enemy to stop their attacks, and in some rare cases knowing the attacks in question to respond in kind, but a big problem is that with how fast the attacks are rarely ample to respond to specific attacks and have to just drill into yourself reflexes on how to respond when ‘this’ enemy guards, when ‘that’ enemy is staggered, and it just makes the challenge of the fights generally boil down to muscle memory rather than any real thoughtful exchange between you an the enemies. Kingdom Hearts goes a bit above this by having a lot of the enemies telegraph their actions more, or visually display when they’re immune to attacks from the front or when they’re weak to the fire element, but even then it absolutely pales in comparison to the level of detail that you find in the interactions in Monster Hunter. See, Capcom has just put so much detail into the monsters AI, their movements, their movesets, all of it, that in some cases when you see them shifting their weight to their back legs you know they’re going in for a pounce, so if you’re a Lance user you might need to guard to avoid taking the hit, or maybe you need to dodge out of the way. Did Teostra just suddenly jump into the air and you hear that sound effect for him gathering in power? Well then you need to decide right then and there if you’re going to run, block, or throw a flash pod to not only interupt his super-nova but also knock him out of the sky so that everyone can get some free hits on him. See, Monster Hunter telegraphs the enemies movements well in advance that you can respond with the options that you have, but you need to pay attention to how they shift their weight, the sound effects around you, the attacks they did recently, the distance between you and them, and then it comes down to your ability to respond quickly. In Tales of Symphonia, it’s incredibly frustrating when I made a guess to back-step from an enemy to dodge their attack but they were quicker than me so I should have guarded instead because I had no way of knowing which attack the enemy would use in advance, in Monster Hunter when I get hit it is always my fault, maybe I got overeager and I dodged too soon, maybe I got greedy and was attacking the monster when it wasn’t safe, maybe I thought that I was out of reach of it’s attack but I was in reach (though Lunastra’s tail swipe should get it’s hitbox checked). Heck, I’m looking forward to the Iceborne expansion coming up where they’re going to bring back a monster who was infamous for having an attack that hit roughly 80% of the screen you were on for massive damage, because even if that one attack could easily fail you the mission if 3 of your teammates didn’t know how to survive it, learning how to deal with that massive attack (which had a big wind-up to it) was a lot of fun in of itself, and when you managed to learn how to dodge it? It felt amazing to walk up to this monster and know you would be walking out with some new boots that boost your handicraft (assuming RNG provided), because winning is never about RNG, it’s never about ‘guessing’ if you’re safe or not, you know when you are safe once you learn to read the monster. Sometimes hitboxes are a little wonky, sometimes damage is bullshit, but the game always tells you what to expect, and whether your response is to have the Insect Glaive user get onto the monster or your SnS player to drop a pitfall trap in the middle of battle, there are always tools at your disposal to respond, and that level of telegraphing goes a huge way in making sure the game always feels fair. This plays a big part into why I try to make sure that players are always given information to respond with, why I try to make sure if a huge attack is incoming that the enemy is ‘focused’ first, or why when I got the go-ahead to put in a Monster Hunter based enemy I went out of my way to make sure they only ever got 1 attack but the end of the turn you’d get a message telling you what they did so that you could respond to it in kind (granted I need to add in more ways for players to respond to these telegraphed attacks), because that’s the biggest advantage Monster Hunter has over it’s competition if you ask me.

Well I also really enjoy sitting down and planning out new armor sets, figuring out how to get really good skills that take advantage of what I want, that sort of puzzle solving is a really big draw of Monster Hunter to me, but the core gameplay loop focuses on ‘Hunting’ the monster more than anything else! Hope all of you were able to get something out of this ramble, whether it was maybe getting an idea if you want to try out Monster Hunter sometime (I’d suggest getting Iceborne if you’re interested, World is a lot friendlier to new players but the lack of monsters can really hurt it after awhile) or if you might be able to take a few of the things that I talked about and bring them to projects you may work on!

How to encourage 5-minute adventures.

Man, I really never know how to start off these blog posts… Well, first let me start by saying that the v0.42 mini-release is on it’s way, and should be out to Patreon supporters in a matter of minutes! Anyways, today I wanted to talk about a little viewpoint that I think is very important to remember when it comes to designing enemies and encounters in any sort of game, the sort of idea about how the enemy you face never ‘dies’ but rather ‘transforms’ and how it encourages players to play ‘optimally’ whether they realize it or not.

So to start out with, let me explain for anyone unaware what the ‘5 minute adventuring day’ refers to, see in DnD and several tabletop games characters will typically have various resources or abilities that have limited uses per day, but are otherwise infinite and depending on the encounters they face, how they play, how their characters are setup, and the luck of the dice players may decide they want to end the day a lot sooner then perhaps they should, in the worst cases wanting to end each ‘day’ after every single encounter. This is obviously frowned on for the most part as if your characters setup camp, have dinner, put up a watch, and sleep, after every set of goblins then it’s going to stretch immersion a lot as well as make it hard to balance against as the players are effectively treating every encounter like it’s a ‘boss’ by being willing to throw all their resources at it, but since the rules typically don’t really have any rules directly stopping you from doing this it’s hard to argue against how effective it is.

This little habit that players might form can be curtailed to an extent by putting them on a time-limit, letting the enemies replenish their forces so it doesn’t really reduce their abilities, making those 8+ hours of sleep be more dangerous than the 2~ish hours of being awake clearing out this dungeon would take, whatever, but one thing that I’ve seen sometimes go unnoticed is that whether you realize it or not, there is always an enemy ‘party’ on any given adventuring day that’s competing with resources. If you would, let’s say that your party of a thief, warrior, wizard, and cleric go up against some bandits that mirror your party but are one level below you on all fronts, and you will have 3 more similar encounters before you get to the boss fight who’s equal to your level, in this situation it might look like you’re up against 20 different enemies, but as long as you can only encounter each group separately you actually only have 4 enemies and this enemy party will be fought on 5 separate occasions, the main difference is that the enemy party has exactly X amount of resources that they must either use or lose in any given encounter, sure the lower level enemy wizards might only have 1 fireball to your 2, but there’s a total of 4 wizards before the boss so that means that there’s 4 fireballs on the enemies team to your 2, the difference is that the enemy ‘knows’ that they only have to worry about this encounter while you’ve got to worry about the next encounter. This puts players in a bad position, as they are less familiar with the terrain than the enemies, they don’t know what’s coming next much less what resources they can safely spend on this fight, but their bad luck is persistent while their good luck is instanced (if you crit an enemy at 1 HP, you do 1 damage, the next iteration of that enemy doesn’t take the excess damage, meanwhile if the enemy crits against you, you DO take that damage into the next encounter).

Good strategy and luck can overcome this, but the only real advantage the players have is that as long as they can win this encounter, if they go and sleep they can regain resources they spent, meanwhile the enemy can’t because the iteration of the enemy you fought in the first encounter is gone permanently, while the second instance hasn’t lost any resources. Taking on 2 enemies with 75% of your health one after another is no different than taking on 1 enemy with 150% of your health unless you can use the time between enemy 1 and 2 to recover resources (like health or abilities) that you otherwise couldn’t. That said, designing encounters in a way that encourages mass-resting is very often advised against, where you’re supposed to design things in a way that the drain from several encounters eventually match up to what you want to drain from the player, which is good as that’s how you help make sure that players never feel like they need to rest unless they made mistakes in managing their resources or are really unlucky (in the former case a single rest will usually solve it as they learn to better manage their resources which isn’t a huge problem usually, while with the latter it’s more understandable and a GM is probably more likely to take pity on you if the dice want the campaign to be done with while no one at a table does).

This little ‘instance vs persistent’ issue can also run in the other direction, and you can also begin to understand where having a 100% even playing field begins to fall apart. One time I saw someone propose a magical item that could give players the regenerative abilities of a troll, but would have some drawbacks if it kept you from dying, which was said to be designed with the idea of ‘if the enemy has it then it’s fine for the player’ in mind, but the problem with that line of thinking is that typically you won’t be fighting a troll in every battle, so having one instance of the warrior from my hypothetical example serve to have regeneration isn’t anywhere near as potent as giving the player warrior this regeneration, because now instead of having 5 regeneration for let’s say 3 rounds of combat (potentially up to +15 HP), it’s now 5 regeneration for 12 rounds of combat and the boss battle (potentially up to +60 HP not including the boss fight or time between fights). This isn’t to say that such an item can’t be given, after all that kind of a safety net to help prevent player deaths could be very useful in helping to adjust the difficulty by adding in several states of failure rather than just living/dead, but it’s important to keep in mind that how potent an effect is on an enemy can vastly differ from how potent it is on a player due to how the two live inherently different lives. Enemies can spend expensive resources far more readily than players can, but persistent effects on them effectively end once players finish off this ‘instance’ of the enemy while persistent effects on players can go on indefinitely.

All that said, I’m not always the best at tailoring the enemies of HC in a way to be balanced around this idea, as I don’t always have a firm understanding on the number of encounters in a dungeon or their placement when I’m designing the enemies, which means that I have to rely largely on tester input on how my enemies turned out effectively, but I do at least try to remember this principle when I get their feedback, no matter how unique I might think this idea is for an enemy, no matter how much I may want that boss to stand out from others, at the end of the day if my design is asking for the players to invest a lot of resources then the quest as a whole will suffer if I leave it be.

Importance of Feedback

Hey everyone, Conash here! First on the table, backers, the new release is available now, and we managed to get on top of a lot of things this release, way more than we thought we’d accomplish, which is nice! With that said, I’d like to discuss a bit about feedback.

So, I’ve been a bit open about how I’ve changed my mind on the AoE change that I mentioned in my last blog post, so it won’t be coming in anytime soon, but I’d like to mention it and what went into that whole process here for a bit. So, for a long time we’ve had a few of our long-time fans complain about any enemies who have the spell ‘Force Barrage’ as they point out that it’s broken. This has been a complaint that I’ve tried to handle in various ways over the years that I’ve been here, ranging from reducing how often it was used, to making it a lot harder for both players and enemies to utilize permanent stunlock strategies (old fans may remember how the mimics in ‘Research Materials used to be very frustrating back when sleep would target your entire team). These changes seemed to have at least reduced the complaints but anytime that I specifically ask about those enemies it’s made clear that they’re still a very big issue, but I was at a point that I didn’t really know how to better deal with it so I put it on hold until the grand re-balancing we have planned. Then more recently when working on ‘Crystal Clarity as I was designing the boss I had come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t fit the situation unless I made it so that they would use an AoE force attack a lot, ‘Force Barrage’ made more sense as throwing out the control version would only serve to exaggerate the issue, so I couldn’t put it on hold much longer, and that is when I realized that I could potentially kill two birds with one stone by focusing on giving players a good counter.

Another complaint that I had gotten for awhile is that AoE moves basically rendered tanks useless, this was very easy to see as AoE completely ignored the mechanic that we used for tanks, but I’ve gone into that quite a bit in another blog post. The plan then came to be that putting in the blocking mechanic alongside ‘Crystal Clarity’ would help give players a way to properly deal with ‘Force Barrage’, and heck since if you guard you become immune to the knockdown status, for that turn, it’d further help the guard option be a lot more effective (I find guarding in a lot of games to usually be a waste of an action, as you spend an action that could reduce the time of the battle to take 50% damage, meanwhile now your enemy will live 1 turn longer meaning that overall you took 50% more damage, so unless you know for a fact that a super attack is coming it’s usually not worth it), so I put forward the blocking mechanic, worked with testers some to get some feedback and thought that everything was good.

Once the release came out though, the feedback I got ran contrary to my expectations. While I knew that tanks could get overwhelmed by the amount of incoming damage and end up getting killed if players weren’t careful, the feedback I was getting had left me of the belief that it was basically impossible to keep tanks alive if you went in with roughly the same power as enemies, but the blocking mechanic itself I still found to be important as AoEs are going to be becoming a bit more frequent, just as players use better skills when they level up so too should enemies as it continues the sort of balance. This is were I made a bit of a mistake, as the blocking mechanic was less than a month old so I should have given it some more time than put in effort to collect more direct feedback to make sure this wasn’t just some ‘growing pains’ if you would, instead I did my usual thing of viewing this immediate feedback as indicative of a problem and ultimately resigned myself to the simple fact that AoEs just flat out break the action economy, which is true as they’re effectively a 400% damage multiplier on top of their ability to stack secondary effect rates. This lead to me coming to the conclusion that a nerf to AoEs as a whole needed to be rolled out ASAP in order to fix this entire broken situation rather than hold onto it. I had worked out a lot of details with NM and well, it ultimately lead to me briefly mentioning it in my last blog post since I didn’t want it to be completely out of nowhere even though it was still largely in conceptual stages. The feedback I had gotten from that blog post was generally mild discontent, no one particularly seemed happy about my proposed changes but I’ve certainly gotten much bigger blow back for some of my ideas before, which lead to me thinking that maybe players understood where I was coming from.

Now, I had been spending a lot of time refining the math in my head, working out all the details of this stuff, but there was always this nagging voice in the back of my head that it wasn’t right. I’m sure several of you may have noticed that some of the quests in the game can start to become a large time investment between the quantity and quality of enemies lately, and while we have gotten complaints about it, it’s usually pretty minor and I like to try to resolve these issues by giving players savepoints during the quest so that they can tackle the dungeons in increments rather than all at once, but savepoints can only do so much. The prospect of reducing your AoEs by half their effectiveness would cause these dungeons to become all the worse as you have to spend probably double or more time in each of them just didn’t sit right with me, so when this nagging feeling got to it’s worst I decided that I should talk with backers about the issue, they’ve been putting their money and time into this game so if I’m going to make a change like this they should get a voice in it. So I went to the backers and talked about my concerns, the issues with keeping tanks alive, the issues with AoEs being too powerful, and the feedback I got surprised me. As it turned out, we had several players who were able to effectively use the blocking mechanic to help deal with the boss of ‘Crystal Clarity’, to the point they were using single target buff items to make their tanks able to tank which definitely stood out to me as that kind of a shift in the meta is something that I hadn’t anticipated and is something that I do want to encourage typically. Honestly my biggest take-away was that I needed to put in more items and equipment to allow tanks to tank, not to reduce damage across the board (though we did get a few backers who expressed they were looking forward to the AoE nerf, so between that and the raw math of how much more effective they are then alternative options one will be added in eventually, but it’s been slated for a general ‘in the future’ time-frame). Guess that’s what I get for trying to rush to fix a problem based on the people who spoke up rather than actively seeking out comprehensive feedback.

Man this turned out to be a lot more of a rambling mess than I had expected, but well the ultimate takeaway is that feedback is important but you need to make sure that you’re getting a full perspective of the feedback, when you put in something new make sure to give people time to try it out, and make sure that the people who enjoy it aren’t left out of the discussion just because they don’t think the ship is sinking. I’ve got a bad habit of looking for problems to solve where there are none myself, so feel free to let me know your thoughts about anything that sticks out to you whether it’s big or minor, whether it’s a problem or you like it, because who knows maybe you’ll be the voice that stops me from jumping the gun in the future!

A Different Kind of Key

When I was in high school, and started playing AD&D, I had a bit of a struggle with a section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide where it described the idea of “keyed” encounters- encounters that only appear in a given area of a dungeon once certain conditions are met. This was the kind of concept that was simultaneously too simple and too complex to grasp- of course I understood basic causality and was confused as to why the DMG would mention something so obvious and simple, but I struggled with the realization that, fundamentally, any interactive quest/dungeon/cyoa story/whatever could be realized in the form of a flow chart.

Or, if you prefer, as a sort of program.

While I struggled with it at the time (described a quest or a dungeon in those terms seemed to rob D&D of some of it’s magic, I suppose), it helped me realize something which you might have found I like having a little fun with in Harem Collector: A key can be anything you want it to be. Sure it could be as simple as flipping a switch, or actually having a physical key, but it doesn’t have to be. In Resident Evil, a key could be a mechanically unlikely art installation. In metroidvanias, skills like double-jumping or the ability to roll can act as keys. In RPGs, having spoken to a specific person frequently acts as a key, or having a certain party member if that particular game has field abilities.

So I try and have fun with it. The Golden Tomb “Knight of” enemies are just a mechanically interesting (I hope) way of presenting a “guess which key goes with which lock” kind of puzzle, and I really like moments like the Expanding Foam/Foam Key and the Wyld Seeds, but my personal favourite is the bench from “Hall Monitor From Hell”. Especially that meaty thunk of having the Hero slam it down. I don’t know why, but it feels very satisfying to me.

Now, I’m not just mentioning this randomly- you can look forward to a couple interesting “keys” to show up in the v0.41 update to Harem Collector, one of which I went out of my way to grab some special assets for. So, get hyped- it’s only a week away for backers!- and get ready because I think you’re really going to like this update!