Die and Try Again (and Again, and Again)
This blog should really have been Configuring Things Out pt. 2 but I thought ‘Die and Try Again’ was more appropriate really.
Now all the enemies and weapons are finally done I’ve been going back over the game worlds, playtesting and (re)adjusting all the various character/weapon stats and levelling rates. The only way of balancing the weapons is to simply play the game a lot, and if I feel I’m either avoiding particular weapon because it’s too weak, or that I’m constantly gravitating towards a particular weapon because it’s too overpowered, I tweak the stats as appropriate. It’s been a very time consuming process and I have to say I’ve been at something of a low ebb whilst doing it.
Unlike fixing a bug, you don’t ever get to the point where you think something is ‘done’, and I know I’m going to have to go through this whole process again at least one more time to refine things further before the game is complete. It’s really getting to me now.
The thing that’s made this phase so much tougher than the first configuration ‘pass’ is that I’ve been through every single boss and mini-boss fight in the first four worlds and attempted to adjust the difficulty for each. There are over fifty of these and, by nature, they are supposed to be tough, so this entails a *lot* of failure both in terms of dying in-game and in terms of setting the difficulty level either too easy or too hard.
Most of these challenges are mini-boss battles featuring the Guardian enemy and a new weapon unlock or upgrade. To maintain a certain amount of narrative ‘flow’ (and to stop me being lazy) I’m having the enemies guarding the unlocks armed with the same weapon they are protecting. The strength of the enemy is heavily dependent on the strength of the weapon, therefore a tweak to the stats of said weapon (because I think it’s too weak or too strong in-game) has a knock-on effect in every single battle that features it. It’s a cyclical process and one that I’m starting to think could go on forever, like painting the Forth Bridge. On a good day though I see it more as a kind of gradual ‘whittling down’ with every pass getting me nearer to the ideal balance.
Here's one of the many mini-boss battles, and a small glimpse of the 'die and try again (and again, and again)' process I've been going through...
It also makes a difference what weapons are available to the player during these battles. I was choosing these weapons completely randomly (but based on a consistent seed) though towards the end of the process I realised this wasn’t working and I needed a better balance of weapon choices. Consequently I’ve divided the weapons into four categories – long range, short range, wide range and explosive, and I make sure a balance of weapons from each category is chosen. I think I may ditch the consistent seed as well so each time you enter a level the weapon choice is a lottery, albeit a balanced one.
There’s also been a myriad of bugs and other gameplay tweaks I’ve made along the way though at this stage I’m trying to restrict myself to fixing bugs/tweaks that actually affect the balance of gameplay and noting everything else down on Trello cards for later attention. There’s currently around fifty of the Trello cards (groan) and there’s at least another ten things I haven’t noted down yet!
I’ve also been back through the first four major boss fights and made a proper attempt to balance the difficulty of these with the (rough) stats the player should have achieved by that point in-game. If you’ve been following this blog you’ll remember how much time I’ve spent on these boss fights already, so it’s been doubly demotivating having to go back to them, debug them again, run through the fight procedure again and again AND again whilst discovering yet more bugs and issues that need fixing. On a positive note though, it’s been nice to revisit them in different colour palettes... couple of examples below...
Lastly, and I know this is going to sound like archetypal first-world moaning, I’ve been surprised how physically exhausting this process has been. Basically playing (often ludicrously difficult) boss fights for eight hours a day for eight or nine days straight takes its toll. I try to be as careful as I can be about posture but my shoulders ache, my wrists and elbow joints ache, and my back is fucked. Yes, I know it’s not exactly working down a mine, but being physically in pain doesn’t do wonders for one’s motivation. I can’t wait to finish this game and take a break from this shit.
Oh yeah – one thing that’s kept me going through this process is the fact that I can just turn the game sound off and listen to music. I’ve finally succumbed to subscribing to Spotify and have been listening to a lot of Tangerine Dream. Strange coincidence – I finally got round to watching Netflix’s enjoyable Bandersnatch interactive movie at the same time and what does that feature? A ZX Spectrum game developer slowly going insane trying to finish a game whilst listening to lots of Tangerine Dream! Weird…
Right, on to those Trello cards…
Dev Time: 8.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 268 days
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