Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Valley 2 Beta .715 "Gimme Shelter... From Monsters" Released!

This one adds a massive twenty new monsters for your enjoyment.  I thought that last time having eleven monsters was a huge update, but this one certainly tops it. 

We're now up to a total of 53 monsters in the game in general, and I'm pretty sure that makes it so that Valley 2 now has more monsters than Valley 1.  In that ballpark, anyway.  And we've still got a lot of monsters left to add; around 60ish.

The effect that all this variety has on the game is surprising even to me; as some players have pointed out, it really makes you consider your tactics and loadouts for each area differently.  With each of these releases with monsters in them, the variety of challenges you face and how you deal with them really increases.

A few existing monsters were also improved a bit.

This release is a big one on the strategy front, too -- our third major round of strategy updates for this game during beta. 
  • Round 1 made the game harder and more condensed; basically a more intense experience.  
  • Round 2 vastly improved the flow of the interface, and laid the foundation for a more in-depth strategy game.  However, it also temporarily over-simplified the game; merely a byproduct of us not being done yet, not an attempt to "dumb down" the game (though definitely an attempt, and I think a successful one, at making it more surface-accessible).
  • Round 3, aka this release, is focused on building back up parts of the strategy game that got a bit stomped-on in the interface redo of round 2.  In general there's a lot more clarity here, and the difficulty and interestingness of the strategy situation has also gone back up.
This version also gets rid of the "population cap" mechanic, which was something from early in our strategy game designs that really just didn't fit anymore after the evolutions the strategy game had during our internal alpha.  Your resistance members are constantly on the move -- when do they have time to care about housing!?

In place of the population cap, there's a new "shelter" mechanic.  This mechanic, plus the fact that you can no longer stack NPCs on one tile, basically changes the whole focus of the strategy game.  The details are in the linked release notes, but I think it's pretty cool; it's a good example of the sort of "depth, not breadth" we're going for in the strategy design.

The problem with the strategy game before we went into Round 1 of the changes was (aside from interface irritations) that it was too easy to get into a rut.  Aka, you learn that when the overlord does A, you do B.  When he does C, you do D, and so on.  It's the sort of system that is interesting to learn because it's complex enough to be satisfying, but once you learn it you're basically done with it.

It's the sort of thing I think is the worst thing that can happen to a strategy game, and with AI War we have a lot of practice at avoiding the issue (people are still playing AI War after nearly four years, after all).  In the case of this game, it was clear that the threat from the overlord against your buildings and survivors, and the constant "rebuild after he trashes the place" was not enough. 

There needed to be more long-term consequences (so no building reconstruction), plus more things to weigh against one another: so now the ambient threat and shelter; the way the overlord only attacks useful-to-you tiles once you start using them; and the way that buildings no longer passively generate income but instead have to be worked by NPCs.

Cumulatively, these changes make it so that instead of just super-stacking your NPCs and dragging them around on missions, you now have to really weigh how much they go out alone versus in groups.  You can't stack them, but NPCs on tiles near to one another help shelter each other -- safety in numbers.  That's good when attacking the enemy, but what if you need those same NPCs back at your farm or clinic?  And so on.

There is inevitably more that we'll need to do to really polish the strategy side of the game, but it's hitting a point that Keith and I are both really pleased with, pending further playtesting.  Sometimes the only way to really iron out all the logical kinks is playtesting, and that's a big part of why we do betas in the first place!

Lots of art updates in this one, too.  Mainly the backgrounds to buildings, but some enemies also have updated art (aside from all the new enemy art for the new enemies, of course).

Mouse Support In Menus!
We've re-enabled mouse support for menus, which we know a lot of people were wanting.  I felt it was annoying to be tempted to constantly switch back and forth between being keyboard-only and using the mouse, but it's something a lot of people wanted.  And to be honest, I kept finding myself reaching for the mouse in menus, too.

Enemy Names!
When you kill enemies, it now pops up the name of the enemy you just killed (like it does the amount of damage to them).  Now people can actually know the names of enemies and refer to them by their real names, rather than calling Snow Wererats everything from "monkeys" to all sorts of other stuff.  It's so much clearer for all of us when we're all using the same names for things, especially with so many enemies!

The henchman boss rooms have been improved a lot to no longer cause issues with their AI or exploits with cover for the player.  The physics for the henchmen have also been improved such that they are now a more interesting threat in how they move.  Hopefully this will help boss battles feel more well-balanced than they have been, although more refinements will come later; right now it's mainly a push to get all the base content in there so that any issues with any of it can be identified.

More to come soon.  Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have any version of the game.  If you have the beta on Steam, it will automatically update for you.  When you launch the game, you'll see the notice of the update having been found if you're connected to the Internet at the time. If you don't have the standalone game, you can download that hereIf you already own the first game, just use your existing license key to unlock the sequel for free!

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