Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Valley 2 Beta .717 "Strategory 64" Released!

This one comes almost a week after the most recent release, so you know it's going to be packed to the gills with stuff!  As an aside, if you missed it I recently posted an update on our status and plans for Valley 2 and Shattered Haven.

So, let's see -- this release has a lot of new stuff.

Strategy Improvements Round 4
This version really takes several leaps and bounds ahead, building on what we did in the prior three rounds of strategy improvements. 

The overlord now gets spells that he can use on the overworld, including summoning monsters that your survivors can then defend against.  This makes it so that the overworld isn't just that "invincible steamroller of inevitability" anymore -- now there is more give and take and strategizing like a proper strategy game should have.

Your survivors now come in one of three classes, each of which is a slightly different flavor with different strengths and weaknesses.  And survivors now also have a power level (as do monsters), which is just a single number that is shown next to them right on the world map -- this is used in monster vs survivor combat, among other related areas.  We happened to notice that this is very vaguely Stratego-like, hence the pun of this release's title.

At any rate, the details on all this are in the release notes here, but the short of it is that we've increased the depth of the strategy game by quite a bit without increasing the surface complexity at all -- the first few turns of the game play out the same now as they did last release.  However, as your familiarity with the strategy game grows, the game inherently grows more complex as you have more pieces on the board and the overlord is also getting more pieces and threatening more at once.

One of the problems with the strategy game prior to now was that it started out intriguing, but then got boring once you figured it out -- it was too easy to fall into a rut.  With the new system, the complexity grows alongside your capabilities in a similar manner to a lot of board games -- not by adding tons of pieces or lots of "breadth" to the game, but instead by focusing on depth when you reach advanced board states.

There's still inevitably more for us to polish and balance here, and we do have another five or six overworld spells planned for the overlord to make for even more variety (these are things he'll gain access to as the turn count increases).  But I'm quite confident in the direction this is heading at this point; the shape of the final strategic game is becoming increasingly clear, which is very satisfying to see.

I suppose it goes without saying that, while old world upgrades are perfectly acceptable, you may find all sorts of oddities in the balance depending on just how old the world is.

Twelve New Monsters
This latest batch of monsters brings us up to a total of 64 out of the planned 116ish monsters for the game.  Only 52 left -- that's well more than half at this point!  It's looking quite likely for us to have all of them in there by the end of this month.

I'm particularly pleased with this batch of monsters because they really introduce some very different monster movement or attack mechanics compared to the other monsters that were already in the game.  And considering that this release is heavy on the robots and clockwork machines, it's fitting that they should have a bit of a different "feel" from the more magical monsters elsewhere.

The monster planning for this game has been an interesting process, starting three or four months ago:

1. First of all I sat down and designed 11 different "monster groups" with the help of Josh (things like Small Walking, Large Walking, Leaping/Crazy, Wall Crawler, etc).

2. Then I divided this into 12 different biomes, each of which would have a unique feel and mix of monsters.  All in all, that would be 134 monsters if we were having a unique monster in every slot of every biome.

3. What I did was actually come up with 114 monsters to fill those slots, with some monsters for more minor roles (like the Carp in the Small Swimming, for instance) filling their role in a number of biomes.  At this point it was just a thematic name and the plans for where reuse would be so that we could shave 20 monsters off the total.

4. Next I had to come up with detailed designs for each of the monsters, so that the artists could actually start working on them.  This also came with having to know a fair bit about how the monsters would act, although there was a lot left to interpretation at this point.  We needed to know if a monster would walk or fly, if they would use ranged attacks or if they'd be melee, if they'd have any obviously armored spots, etc.

5. At this point I handed this off to the artists at Heavy Cat, and work on the concept art started in earnest.  Some of the concept art wound up being so good that later we were able to animate directly from that -- some of the best-looking monsters in the game fall under this category.

6. Next I handed off the list of monsters to Josh, so that he could design the spells in detail for all of them.  In a lot of cases this included progressions for spells becoming more powerful and/or complex as the game proceeds.

7. All of the above was completed by sometime back in October or November, it's hard to remember exactly when.  Next came the implementation phase, which of course is the hardest -- some of the original ideas that I had had weren't all that great, some of the specific spells that had been laid out turned out to be less interesting than new things that occurred to me at implementation time, etc. 

8. All in all, the implementation makes for something of a third major draft of the monsters, as they all change substantially as they are implemented -- this has been really rewarding, because it allows for a lot of latent creativity to get in there at the last minute.  Sometimes new groups of monster mechanics occur to me, and then I'll implement some variant of that across several monsters in different functional groups in different biomes with different mixes of other mechanics.  You can see several examples of that in the twelve monsters of this release, for instance.

9. Finally comes the balance and polish.  I playtest all of the monsters thoroughly before they are released, of course, but there's a difference from playtesting them in a test arena with mostly just you versus that monster, and in seeing them "in the wild" with other monsters around.  And on various difficulties, at various points in the game, etc.  When it comes to numerical balance in particular, Josh is again point man -- he's keeping track of all the details of how things feel and what people are reporting, and doing plenty of playtesting himself to make sure that all the numbers come together in a cohesive way without making the game overly hard or any monsters tediously sponge-y.

And that's how a Valley 2 monster comes to life -- the implementation process alone (step 8) takes me 1-2 hours per monster on average.  When you add in all the rest of those steps, you're looking at one to two thousand man-hours to bring you the monsters of Valley 2.  Given how this is affecting the feel of the game for the better, and given how the lack of monsters was such a drawback to Valley 1 in its early 1.0 days in particular, that's a decision that sits easily with me.

Anyway, I thought that those who follow the blog might find that to be an interesting insight into the monster-creation process!

There's other smaller good stuff in this release, too -- and 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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