Game Development

Devlog #7: We accidentally made a multiplayer version of Soul Reaper. Yup.

If you’ve been following Power Level Studios’ stories, you know we’re working on a game called Soul Reaper. Soul Reaper is a not-so-serious retro rogue-lite RPG with monster-catching mechanics and deep loot and skill systems. You can play the prototype here: http://powerlevelstudios.com.

Making games with limited resources

Some of you may remember us mentioning that the game would be released in Q4 2018: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/how-long-does-it-take-to-make-soul-reaper-11e0d9cc0f82. In that article, I explained the main reasons why the game would take that long to make. In a nutshell, content, game balancing and polishing are what takes up the most time and resources.

The problem is, as with any startup and indie game developers, resources are scarce. Money and time are limited. For Power Level Studios, I’m lucky that I can do many things due to all my previous experiences, but I still can’t draw professionally or create music, so I need money to hire people. It’s not a bad thing to have a team though and I’m very grateful for people helping me make this game a reality.

Team and collaborators

Team and collaborators

The purpose of this paragraph will make more sense as you read more)

So what’s this about accidentally making a multiplayer version of Soul Reaper?

Again, if you’ve been following our stories, you know we make happy accidents sometimes. See this story where we accidentally created a game that was played by 3M+ players: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/how-our-first-game-project-accidentally-reached-3-million-players-3d16b55f349a.

That’s a lot of fish eaten in one day!

That’s a lot of fish eaten in one day!

Now on to this “accident”. 2 months ago, I was working on a feature to simulate combat between units/monsters in order to see how well they do against each other, for game balancing purposes. Sure I have spreadsheets that show me the results, but I wanted to see in practice that everything made sense. When I finished the prototype for the combat simulator, something struck me: “that feature would make a great asynchronous multiplayer game!”. And it really does in my opinion.

Almost everything is already in place for it. The combat, loot, souls and monster-catching systems are all done and are pretty solid already. All that’s really missing for a minimum viable product is the server part. But it’s simple: combat happens locally, and the results are sent to the server. Players are then ranked in leaderboards. At least, that’s the gist of it.

So what’s next? Does that mean Soul Reaper will take even longer to make?

Maybe. It may set us back by a month or two. December 2018 would be too competitive anyway.

BUT! Here’s where it gets interesting, and potentially unexpected:

We’re making a second game!

“The f***” you say? Hear me out. We’re actually splitting Soul Reaper into two stand-alone games:

Soul Reaper: Rise of the Unreaps; and

Soul Reaper: Unreap Commander.

(More info on what “Unreap” is: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/new-and-exciting-feature-reap-and-unreap-summon-reaped-monsters-in-combat-726b80d089fd)

Rise of the Unreaps (RotU) is the game we all know and love. It’s the original idea for Soul Reaper. It’s a single player game with a big emphasis on exploration, combat and story.

Unreap Commander (UC) is an asynchronous multiplayer version of Soul Reaper, focusing on monster team building as well as Soul Reaper’s signature fast turn-based combat, and loot and souls systems. Alpha is scheduled for release in January for PC and potentially mobile too.

UC is almost done already. Both games share the same assets: monsters, souls, sounds, music, etc. It even has enough content to be released as an Alpha version.

So why not release Unreap Commander already?

It’s not as fun as it could be yet. It’s missing some key features to make it fully enjoyable.

One of the most important missing feature is party management. If you’re fighting monsters against monsters, you need a way to organize how you want your team to be arranged for combat.

WIP: Team Selection Screen

WIP: Team Selection Screen

The server-side stuff is not done yet. Frankly I don’t think this is going to take too long since most of my profesional experience lies in backend development.

It’s not strategic enough yet. A higher level team will mostly always win at the moment. That’s no fun. I don’t want the grinding to be the only way to success. We’re working on key features that will make combat and team building more strategic.

Think of it like a Tower Defense game. You upgrade your units and place them on a map to defend something. The game sends units to attack you and you watch how well your strategy worked. For the next round, you tweak it based on the results you saw. It’s very rewarding to see your strategy succeed. That’s the idea here. How well you build your team, based on different factors, should define your success. And not all builds will be good in all scenarios. In fact, most won’t. You’ll need to adapt based on your opponents.

So the focus is on Unreap Commander then?

Yup! We’re aiming for a very ambitious January 2018 deadline. Surrender your soul to Soul Reaper at soulreaper(at)powerlevelstudios.com if you want to be part of the pre-alpha.

We’ll have more information in the coming days on how Unreap Commander will work. And no promises yet, but we might make our Trello board public so that we’re completely transparent on everything we’re doing.

What do you think?

Are you looking forward to Soul Reaper: Unreap Commander? Do you think it’s a good idea? What do you like/dislike the most about this idea?

Have you ever made similar happy mistakes?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-7-we-accidentally-made-a-multiplayer-version-of-soul-reaper-yup-46a56f052ff

Story #2: Balancing work/life for nomads

Hey all!

In my first post for Power Level Studios, The life of a nomadic game developer (https://medium.com/power-level-studios/story-1-the-life-of-a-nomadic-indie-console-game-developer-5ffd373f68a8), I talked about some tips I had for saving money, making the lifestyle work in general and what to bring/leave.

It’s been 4 months since that story and I’ve got more to share!

The Gear

In the first post, I showed what my camera bag looked like: full of gadgets! Here’s the photo again:

1_mVTAMOnEVl4untEOZzcvuw.png

Well, I changed my mind on the important stuff to bring.

I left my camera, Nintendo Switch dock and controller home. While it’s important to have hobbies, like photography, I couldn’t find the time to actually do it. I ended up not using it; it was taking considerable space and adding weight. For the Nintendo Switch dock, I do miss it sometimes, but most of the time I don’t have access to a TV anyway. And again, it takes a lot of space.

So with all that gone, I switched to using a single carry-on bag to travel. It’s so much more convenient. Gadgets are in the bottom section, clothes in the middle section and the other lighter stuff are in the upper section.

Oh, and I now carry a 1080p Asus USB-C powered monitor (on the right)! It’s only 800 grams (not counting the case, which is actually heavier…)!

Oh, and I now carry a 1080p Asus USB-C powered monitor (on the right)! It’s only 800 grams (not counting the case, which is actually heavier…)!

Oh, and I now carry a 1080p Asus USB-C powered monitor (on the right)! It’s only 800 grams (not counting the case, which is actually heavier…)!

1_Ely1L9cu5VkDURf6axVH5g.jpeg

On work/life balance

So how as it been so far? Have I been productive or have I spent most of my time travelling and enjoying myself?

Well, a bit of both, to extremes.

Starting in August I stayed in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for 2 months. I was staying a AngkorHUB (http://angkorhub.com)/, an awesome co-working/co-living space. There, I was incredibly productive, working from 6am to 8pm most days, including weekends. A lot of stuff got done during that time.

Now, was that sane? Not quite, but the cool thing is that the others there were just like me. And then in the evening we would always go out to eat and have a bit of social life. Obviously that’s not sustainable in the long run, but it was one great marathon!

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m the bearded dude with the Hurley shirt on the left. Photo credit:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BZ3y6XFBHHH/?taken-by=angkorhub

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m the bearded dude with the Hurley shirt on the left. Photo credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZ3y6XFBHHH/?taken-by=angkorhub

And then after the two months, a friend of mine joined me to travel for a 2-week vacation. We went to multiple places Thailand and I used my computer like 0 times, except for some trip planning. It was refreshing and a good way to disconnect. I ended up taking an extra week off because I caught a cold near the end of vacation. Oh well!

Most incredible sunset I had ever seen. — Ao Nang, Thailand

Most incredible sunset I had ever seen. — Ao Nang, Thailand

James Bond Island

James Bond Island

Some insane rock climbing by Railay beach.

Some insane rock climbing by Railay beach.

Classic Danny sleeping in transportation (left) and Nick taking selfies (right)

Classic Danny sleeping in transportation (left) and Nick taking selfies (right)

So was that a good way to balance work/life?

I think it really depends on personality. For me, yes, it was perfect. I could never have done as much in 3 months if I didn’t have complete focus for two of these months. And when you enjoy what you’re doing, working 14 hours per day is not even that hard.

But then after the two months, I was really exhausted. So going to Thailand and focusing on enjoying life helped me resource my energy for the coming months. Not being restricted to certain dates and hours to do/visit things is great. Doing/visiting things while working is distracting I find personally.

Is that what you’ll be doing next?

Yeah, more or less. I’ll try this pattern for the next little while and see if it’s a good solution for myself. Feel free to try it yourself and give me a shout if you need some advice!

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/story-2-balancing-work-life-for-nomads-69eb7e45957a

Devlog #6: Prototype 3.1 is out!

It’s only been 1 week since the release of 3.0, but we’ve got another update for you: 3.1. Download it now on http://powerlevelstudios.com.

As you can expect, it’s not a very big update, but it does have some nice improvements:

A Title Screen

Starting the game from outside the vault was always a terrible experience. Like most games, we added a title screen. The background is a video of the game playing. We’re experimenting with the idea. Currently, it’s only a placeholder video.

As you can see from the screenshot below, we also added a Latest News section. That way you’re always up to date with the latest development.

We’ll add an Options menu there in the future.

1_KnpHG5PYN-K-UREd3dNiRw.png

Much better Saved Game selection

We’re showing the player’s level, their equipped loot and the top 10 souls they own. The equipped loot will obviously look better once we have actual icons for each loot.

1_erRiZ3_gDtR-ItEXS81Ffg.png

Timeline Target Highlighting

By moving the cursor to select a monster, you can see where they sit in the timeline, making planning your attacks much easier (see how the Bubbly Fish’s timeline icon is coloured green?).

1_bzPop2oyHWZD8iawhUvUvg.png

Sounds!

We finally put sounds in all the menus. The game feels a lot more polished simply by adding those. The sounds are not final yet though.

What do you think?

Are you looking forward to the new changes? Do you prefer weekly little updates like this one or big monthly updates like the previous 2 months?

What improvement would you like to see in a small weekly update like that?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-6-prototype-3-1-is-out-cbace0475a0b

Game Guide: Soul Reaper featured builds part 2

If you haven’t tried the prototype 3.0 yet, make sure to download it here: http://powerlevelstudios.com.

The changes in 3.0 make it really interesting to experiment with different Legendary Loot and Soul Gear to become quite powerful. Below are builds we think are valuable to graduate from wannabe reaper of soul to a real Soul Reaper!

If you missed the previous guide for 2.0, here it is: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/game-guide-soul-reaper-featured-builds-1ab3bb077f11

The Builds

Stayin’ Alive

This build boasts incredible health bonuses due to the synergy between the Undead King Crown (Windy Fish) and the Nutty Band. Stay healed thanks to all the Life Percent On Turn bonuses. Plus, the Paw Pendant and the Sharpener Soul Gear synergizes really well due to increase Life On Kill, which now also gets applied on Hit.

Nutty Band: Life Percent On Turn, Health Bonus

Undead King Crown (Windy Fish): Doubles vitality received from the Windy Fish soul gem

2 slotted armor: Holy Shield (Shield Turtle, Saint Squirrel): Life Percent On Turn, Life on Combat End

Paw Pendant: Life on Kill gets applied on hit

3 slotted weapon: Sharpener (Stabby Squirrel, Bubbly Fish, Feline Clawer): Life On Kill, Life on Kill gets applied on hit

Party Player

The Carapace Shield’s bonus is really incredible. Slot any soul gem that does buffing or healing and it will target all your allies. The increase in Intelligence from the Undead King Crown with Bubbly Fish makes it so you can cast more often!

Carapace Shield (Saint Squirrel or Shield Turtle or Burning Worm): Heal all party members.

Undead King Crown (Bubbly Fish): Doubles Intelligence received from the Bubbly Fish soul gem.

Better Together

Similar to the Party Player build: deal damage to ALL targets. Take advantage of this by slotting your most effective single target soul!

Carapace Shield (any single target Soul Action): Deal damage to all targets.

Undead King Crown (Bubbly Fish): Doubles Intelligence received from the Bubbly Fish soul gem.

The Frequent Unreaper

You basically get two meat shields and damagers for the price of one. Take advantage of enemy weakness that way. Beware of spirit expenditures though!

Undead King Crown (Bubbly Fish): Doubles Intelligence received from the Bubbly Fish soul gem.

Worm Threaded Necklace: Slotted Soul gets unreaped twice

The Cheap Unreaper

Using the Red Rose, you can now cast Soul Actions for free while having a meat shield.

Red Rose: Slotted Souls have their spirit cost reduced to 0 when unreaped.

Beef Up!

There’s no better way to level up a soul of your choice, all the while beefing up the Soul Reaper thanks to increased exp.

For extra efficiency, combine with the Better Together build and fight the largest possible groups of monsters.

Beef Up Belt: Gain way more exp and reap two souls of the same type as the slotted soul for the price of one!

You die I die

The main idea here to have a 2 slot head piece. Red Rose usually comes with 2. With the Disgusting Mask, an attacker receives a large percentage of the damage back to them. Plus they get a burn effect that damages them every turn. Amplify the burn effect using Drakey Toothey with Scorch Blade Soul Gear, the Ring of Fire, Burning Man and Hot Wrap.

It’s a good idea to not equip that in areas with monsters with high resistance or absorption of fire damage.

Red Rose: Disgusting Mask (Burning Worm, Octoblader): Burn On Turn, Thorns

Drakey Toothey: Scorch Blade (Flame Bee, Stabby Squirrel, Burning Drake): Fire Damage Bonus

Ring of Fire: Fire Damage Bonus

Burning Man: Fire Damage Bonus

Hot Wrap: Fire Damage Bonus

You wait, I act

Apply a slow effect to all targets thanks to the Carapace Shield’s unique attribute. Power up the fire damage more with all the legendary fire-based loot.

Carapace Shield (Octoblader): Slow effect gets applied to all targets

Drakey Toothey: Scorch Blade (Flame Bee, Stabby Squirrel, Burning Drake): Fire Damage Bonus

Ring of Fire: Fire Damage Bonus

Burning Man: Fire Damage Bonus

Hot Wrap: Fire Damage Bonus

How to get the loot in these builds

We’re only going to cover the loot that’s new in 3.0. For the 2.0 loot, follow this link: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/game-guide-soul-reaper-featured-builds-1ab3bb077f11

Paw Pendant

Trade  Level 100 Feline Clawer  Soul Gem

Trade Level 100 Feline Clawer Soul Gem

Red Rose

Very rare treasure drop

Very rare treasure drop

Carapace Shield

Trade  Level 100 Shield Turtle  Soul Gem

Trade Level 100 Shield Turtle Soul Gem

Beef Up Belt

Very rare treasure drop

Very rare treasure drop

Worm Thread Necklace

Trade  Level 100 Burning Worm  Soul Gem

Trade Level 100 Burning Worm Soul Gem

What do you think?

Have you tried any of these builds? Which one worked best for you? Have you found any other great build?

First published here: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/game-guide-soul-reaper-featured-builds-part-2-6e32d91ee671

Devlog #5: MASSIVE Prototype 3.0 update

Ok, ok, we’ll try not to put MASSIVE for each of our updates. But it’s true though, it is a very very big update, focusing around a very important feature: Combat. It will be available on http://powerlevelstudios.com at the end of September, or early October. In the meantime, you can try 2.0!

Here’s a summary of what you can expect from 3.0:

Vault-ful of improvements for you, reapers of souls: much improved combat, complete with AOE attacks, buffs and debuffs, and Unreap!; arm yourself with new unique legendary loot and soul gear, and reap new exciting monsters’ soul!

Warning

This is very much still a prototype. It still has LOTS of bugs.

Changes

Here’s a full list of changes:

Combat:

  • Grid system for better tactical combat and Area Of Effect (AOE) attacks

  • AOE: Double, Line, Column, Cross and All

  • Unreap feature: summon monsters in combat to fight alongside you

  • Controls instructions

  • Much improved UI

  • Soul Reaper talks

  • Shows all types of damage separately

  • Buff/Debuff indicator

  • Random visual objects in combat background

  • Even faster combat flow

  • Fixed many combat-related bugs

  • Fixed Burning Drake attacking 3 times instead of one

Loot:

5 new, game changing, legendary loot:

  • Carapace Shield: Slotted Soul Actions get applied to all targets;

  • Worm Threaded Necklace: Slotted Soul gets unreaped twice (summon twins!);

  • Paw Pendant: Life on Kill now also gets applied on Hit;

  • Red Rose: Slot Soul Actions cost 0 spirit; and

  • Beef Up Belt: Slot Soul levels up twice faster.

5 new Soul Gear:

  • Sharpener (Stabby Squirrel, Bubbly Fish, Feline Clawer): Life On Kill On Hit, Life on Kill;

  • Holy Shield (Saint Squirrel, Shield Turtle): Life regen per turn, Life on Combat End, Armor);

  • Disgusting Mask (Burning Worm, Octoblader): Burn on Turn, Return Damage Percent;

  • Spirit Sucker (Bubbly Fish, Saint Squirrel, Cursed Snake): Spirit Bonus, Spirit Steal, Spirit on Hit, Spirit on Combat End; and

  • Slow Death (Octoblader, Burning Worm, Cursed Snake): Burn on Turn, Poison on Turn, Slow Chance.

3 new monsters:

  • Shield Turtle (Heavily protected turtle boosting its own defenses (buff))

Burning Worm  (Dangerous worm returning physical damage dealt)

Burning Worm (Dangerous worm returning physical damage dealt)

Feline Clawer  (Deadly assassin dealing LINE AOE damage)

Feline Clawer (Deadly assassin dealing LINE AOE damage)

1_-bVGvs3rgXc53v9CW0SRww.png

Other:

  • Game balance tweaks (still a lot more to do here)

What’s next?

Prototype 4.0 will mostly be about the intro of the game. This means better story, a tutorial and a main screen. But also UI improvements.

What do you think?

Are you looking forward to the new changes? 3.0 will come out in the coming weeks on our website. We’ll leave 2.0 and 1.0 up so you can compare versions.

We think 3.0 is a major step in the right direction. Do you agree or disagree?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-5-massive-prototype-3-0-update-e6b89f710c84

Devlog #4: MASSIVE Prototype 2.0 Update

Download Prototype 2.0 here: http://powerlevelstudios.com

In the middle of grant applications this month, we managed to squeeze some time to put up an incredibly big update, which we call Prototype 2.0. It deserves the 2.0 versioning! Here’s a summary of what you can expect:

Vault-ful of improvements for you, reapers of souls: much improved exploration, arm yourself with unique legendary loot and soul gear, and reap new exciting monsters’ soul!

Warning

This is very much still a prototype. It has LOTS of bugs. Probably even more than before.

Changes

Here’s a full list of changes:

Vault

  • Walk in any direction (works great with a PS4 Joystick)

  • No more room switching (it was frustrating)

  • Dash! (R1 on PS4 controller, or “1” on keyboard) (dodge monsters more strategically)

  • Can now also go upstairs (combined with the feature below, it makes it much easier to farm souls you’re looking for)

  • Floors are not random anymore (combined with the feature above, it makes it much easier to farm souls you’re looking for)

  • You can now jump to any floor you want (combined with the feature above, it makes it much easier to farm souls you’re looking for)

  • Improved monster movement AI (makes exploring the vault more eventful and exciting)

  • One new, nicer layout (but still could be much better with more time)

Combat:

  • Basic support for Debuffs (no visual cues yet) (poison damage each turn, slow target for x turns).

  • Monsters now drop treasure (makes winning combat more interesting)

C 1.png
Description of the loot after combat

Description of the loot after combat

Loot:

  • 10 legendary loot (there were zero before) (changes how you play the game)

  • More better trading recipes (trade level 100 souls to obtain guaranteed legendary loot)

Some epic loot you can get for trading max level soul gems.

Some epic loot you can get for trading max level soul gems.

  • Lots of new Soul Gear (game changing combinations of souls on multi-slotted loot)

Very powerful fire based Soul Gear, you need to farm the Flame Bee, Burning Drake (boss) and Stabby Squirrel.

Very powerful fire based Soul Gear, you need to farm the Flame Bee, Burning Drake (boss) and Stabby Squirrel.

3 new monsters:

  • Octoblader (Bladed spider throwing speed-altering spider webs. (debuff))

Volcadillo  (Armadillo with a volcano on its back. Catapults meteors for AOE damage)

Volcadillo (Armadillo with a volcano on its back. Catapults meteors for AOE damage)

  • Volcadillo (Armadillo with a volcano on its back. Catapults meteors for AOE damage)

VOLC.png
  • Cursed Snake (Spits poisonous saliva, dealing DoT. Acts as “turret” in the vault)

SN.png

Other:

  • Game balance tweaks (still a lot more to do here)

  • New Game Icon (chosen by the community)

SW.png
  • You don’t lose your levels anymore (we want to dissociate Soul Reaper from Roguelikes)

  • You can reset your stat points.

The Bad

  • We broke the lava in the vault. It may be fixed in the next major version.

  • Debuffs from the Octoblader and Volcadillo are NOT shown on the screen currently.

What’s next?

Prototype 3.0! 3.0 will mostly be about improved combat.

Here’s what to expect:

  • Unreap feature! Summon monsters to fight by your side!

  • 3 new unique monsters. Feline Clawer, Burning Worm and Shield Turtle.

  • Combat buffs. More armor for x turns, more resistance for x turns.

  • AOE actions. — shape, | shape and + shape (line, column and cross)

  • Much improved combat UI.

  • Much improved flow and stability of combat.

  • More better maps.

  • More legendary loot

  • More Soul Gear

  • More Trade Recipes

  • Ongoing game balancing.

What do you think?

Play the prototype 2.0 and let us know what you think. We’re leaving prototype 1.0 up for download as well so you can compare. We think 2.0 is a major step in the right direction. Do you agree or disagree?

First published here: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-4-massive-prototype-2-0-update-2e421081e532

#Devlog #3: Soul Reaper Talks! Now he can’t it keep it shut!

For people who have been following the development of Soul Reaper, you have a pretty good idea of what kind of character he is. To say that he’s not a very serious guy/being is putting it lightly. If you haven’t seen him in action, you can check out our social media pages below or download our prototype from our website.

Why make him talk?

That wasn’t part of the plan actually. And we don’t even know if we’re going to use it in the game. We don’t currently have good enough equipment to produce high audio quality.

I don’t remember what led to it, but I was looking for a software to change my voice so I could talk as the Soul Reaper. After a few failed attempts, we stumbled upon Voxal and it worked great. I played around with the settings for a few hours to find a voice I think is suitable for Soul Reaper.

When writing the dialogues for the game, I would always narrate it out loud as if I was the Soul Reaper saying it. I think it’s much easier to write dialogues that stay within the theme if I can act it out. If it doesn’t feel right, then I re-write it. But with my own voice, it was always harder to judge if it was still “in character”. I haven’t re-written anything yet since the Soul Reaper has a voice, but I have a feeling things will change for the better when I do.

Why the current voice?

The current voice is not at all what I had in mind initially. Since the game is inspired in parts by Castlevania, I thought it would make sense to try something similar to Death in Symphony of the Night.

                                Original inspiration for Soul Reaper’s voice

After playing around with Distortion, Pitch, Reverb, Chorus, Amplification, Low/High pass, Echo and 3 Band Equalizer, I came up with a top 5 settings, all in Low/High pitch variations. Death in SotN has pretty high pitch and Alucard has pretty low pitch.

Initially I was aiming for high pitch since the Soul Reaper is a funny character. But when I was showing people, they didn’t get the high pitch. Granted, they were not players of the game, so maybe I shouldn’t have listened to them, but I thought they were kinda right though.

So we tried low pitch, more like Alucard. I think the result is much better. Like Alucard, Soul Reaper is a badass. He needs a badass voice. And his smart-ass comments seem even funnier with a deeper voice.

So where are you going with this?

Nothing certain.

If we get access to better audio equipment, maybe we’ll put voice-over in the game. Currently, it’s a great tool to stay in character when writing the story line or anything else related to the game really.

Another thing I’m playing around with is face motion capture to animate the Soul Reaper’s face. I’ve had pretty good results so far, but it’s very taxing on my CPU. The software we’re using is still in beta, so we’ll see if that gets resolved in the final version.

We also have other promotional ideas, but we’re keeping this low profile until we know for sure that we can pull it off.

What do you think?

What do you think of Soul Reaper’s voice? Do you think it matches his character? Have you used Voxal or other software before? Have you had success with it?

First published here: https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-3-soul-reaper-talks-now-he-cant-it-keep-it-shut-9c96a758d50b

Game Design: Not just another stat roll

So, you’re designing a game too, aren’t you? Congrats! It is, in my opinion, the most fun aspect of game development. Brainstorming ideas for new monsters, items, etc, isn’t it so much fun? And we’re getting paid to do that. And it’s so easy, right? Right?

Wrong!

Game Design is hard work

Or I should say: “Good” game design is hard work. How do you make a game that’s entertaining from start to finish? How do you balance the game so that it’s not too easy or too hard? How do you introduce new items and monsters that feel new and exciting? There’s no easy answer! Heck, it really changes on a project by project basis. I’m not even going to try to answer that question in this post, or probably any post for that matter.

Am I, however, going to tell you one important thing I’ve learned over the years as an RPG game designer. The concept should apply for most types of games. Here it is in all its glory:

Don’t design your game content around stat differences.

What’s the different between a weapon that does 2 damage and one that does 5? 3. Freaking boring!

Now, what’s the difference between a weapon that has its power increased by another main stat, like agility or intelligence, and a weapon that deals more damage to enemies in the back row? The way you use it! Both are good, but it depends on the circumstances. If your agility or intelligence is high, the first weapon could be really strong, but sometimes you gotta kill the enemies in the back first, so the second one might be better. As a player, finding a good strategy around content feels great.

Some of Soul Reaper’s unique legendary attributes

Some of Soul Reaper’s unique legendary attributes

The same goes for monster design. What’s the difference between a monster that does 2 damage and one that does 5? 3. Freaking boring! Now, what’s the difference between a monster that does fire damage vs one that does water damage? The way you protect against them. If you’re in a section where you know there’s a lot of fire monsters, you may want to equip an item with more fire protection, even if it’s other stats might not be very high. Try to have each of your monsters have their own special thing, not just another palette swap with different stats. The way you fight each enemy should be different. Players will feel good about themselves when they discover ways to defeat or survive against monsters.

STU.jpeg

In Soul Reaper, there’s going to be between 80–100 monsters, each of them with their own unique ability. If you try to apply the same strategy to defeat all monsters, you’re not very likely to succeed, or even have fun doing it.

Conclusion

Think about that concept when designing your game. It applies to any genre and content. Make your game fun by designing not around numbers, but around diversity and new experiences. Make sure your next item or monster is not just another stat roll!

What do you think?

How do you design your game content? Any strategies you used that worked really well?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/game-design-not-just-another-stat-roll-c3026761428d

How long does it take to make Soul Reaper?

On July 28th, on InstagramZulkan asked us a very good question:

Why have you decided you need a year to finish the game?

I’ve always known the answer to that question but never really shared it with anyone, until now!

The short answer I gave him/her is as follows:

Short version is because of content creation, feature building, polishing, testing and unforeseen events.

I think the main reason why people wonder is because we do have art assets that look final, and our prototype looks like a semi-final product, at first. But trust me, it’s nowhere near final! For those who haven’t played it, you can get it on our website here: http://powerlevelstudios.com

Content Creation

The prototype doesn’t really have any content right now. It has 6 monsters, 10 soul actions, 40+ regular loot items, only 6 different “floor plans”, 1 boss monster, no tools, no legendary loot, only one section of the vault (Lava), etc.

1 S.png

We’re aiming for 100 monsters, 250+ regular loot items, 400–500 floor plans, at least 6 bosses, 4–5 tools, 40+ unique legendary loot, 5 sections of the vault, etc.

This obviously takes a lot of time. On average, we can produce 5 monsters per week, so that’s 20 weeks right there. Loot is much faster so it’s pretty much just a flat image. On average, it takes about 1 hour each. We can produce one boss fight in about 5–10 days depending on the complexity. The floor plans currently take about 3 hours each. We need to get better at it. At 400 plans, that’s about 50 days of full-time work. One legendary loot probably takes about 1 day to make, depending on complexity again. Art assets for one section of the vault takes about 2 weeks. And all that doesn’t include any of the Soul Gear combos, which sometimes gives unique stats to loot and uncover new soul actions.

So yeah, content creation is a big reason why it won’t get released until later next year.

For more information on floor plan/level building, see: Opinion: Are procedurally generated levels all that great?

Feature building

1 M.png

Soul Reaper is at prototype level right now. Most of the features were built/hacked together in 1 day each. Not all the code is bad, but in order to validate that an idea was fun, we aimed to “just do it”, test it, and trash it. Overall, we probably have to re-write about 60% of the code. And that’s actually really good. We now have a good idea of how the different systems interact with each other and we know we can write something solid, maintainable and scalable.

So, in addition to re-building the current feature-set, there’s more we want to do: Loot Trading with Ryder, Diablo-Style shrines, Disgaea-style geo panels, Reap & Unreap (summon monsters in combat), Vault customization before going inside (like the Hacker in Disgaea or the Grim Reaper in Rogue Legacy), quests, a tutorial, etc. And of course, the actual storyline!

For more information on how we built our prototype, see: Tried and True: 5 tips on building a game prototype

Design and Game Balancing

Soul Reaper is no simple game. Being a Diablo-style game, at least in terms of loot, the math is not the simplest, to put it lightly.

Thankfully this is a single player game, and players will be able to adjust some aspects their liking, making the balancing a little easier. Needless to say, we’re not taking this task lightly, and expect to spend at least one month full-time over the course of the development of the game.

Polishing

This is where a lot of developers don’t spend enough time. That last 5% of development is likely to take about 90% of the full development time. Luckily we have Unit Tests for most features, which should help, but still. There’s always things to polish with controls, UI, levels, etc. And there’s plenty of bugs to fix!

In the end, without polish, no one is going to play your game for very long and your reviews are going to be bad. We don’t want that, so we’re scheduling about 3 months of full-time polishing, across all disciplines (programming, art, animations, etc.).

Testing

Most of the testing will happen around the same time as the polishing, but will continue until the release of the game. We’re planning to start internal testing early; at least 6 months before the release. Alpha and Beta will come shortly after and will last as long as it needs.

Unforeseen Events

A lot of shit goes wrong during game development. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Easy stuff to predict includes people getting sick, people taking vacation, people attending events, etc. But sometimes you may lose a key employee, break a computer, lose important assets, etc. Some of these things can greatly impact the development. We want to be ready for that.

KI.png

Conclusion

With all that said, we think Q4 2018 is reasonable. Maybe even a little tight in my opinion.

What do you think? Have you built a content-heavy game? Or a design-heavy game? Or both? Did you release on schedule? If not, why not?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/how-long-does-it-take-to-make-soul-reaper-11e0d9cc0f82

Dev Update #1: A little more like Zelda

Shortly after getting featured on Square Enix Collective (http://bit.ly/2urN5hy), we decided to add two little Zelda-like “features” to the game: a dungeon mini-map, and tools.

The Mini-Map

For those who remember old-school Zelda games, you’ll remember the mini-map that would show up in the top-left corner of the screen when you found the map object in the dungeon.

We decided to integrate that in Soul Reaper. It helps with exploring dungeons and know where you are and where you’ve been.

In a previous post, we talked about how we’re building dungeons in Soul Reaper. Each floor has a pre-defined layout made of different rooms, not unlike a Zelda dungeon. For those familiar with Unity3D, we store the floor in a prefab object and instantiate it at runtime when going down a floor.

Building the mini-map object turned out to be quite simple for us. In fact, here’s the code:

BL.png

The “hardest” part was to convert the localPosition of the rooms in the canvas into a Transform child object index. Simple math did the trick (see GetIndex ()).

Tools!

Don’t get too excited here, we haven’t actually implemented it yet.

Currently, Soul Reaper can swing his scythe in the dungeon. It does nothing yet. Just like mentioned in this post, it’s just to show a glimpse of the future. You also see the other tools in the top-left corner, and how to use them, once they’re available.

The scythe can be swung to have the first turn when going into combat, cut down plants and trigger barrel explosions.

A bomb can be dropped and explodes on a timer. If a monster gets hit by the explosion, they start combat with reduced health. It can also blow up objects in the vault to lead to new, previously inaccessible, areas.

The grappling hook allows Soul Reaper to traverse to other platforms, leading to new treasures and other bonuses. It can also freeze monsters in place, preventing them to run after you or going into combat, for a limited time. This is similar to the grappling hook in Lufia II.

The mighty shovel is the ultimate tool. Seriously! You get it by defeating the final boss. It allows you to dig yourself down one floor. No need to find the stairs anymore. It’s a great tool to go to the exact floor you want to go to, find the monsters you want to farm and repeat!

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/dev-update-1-a-little-more-like-zelda-56710684fa8d