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?


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.


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.


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:

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:

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.

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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

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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.


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.).


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.



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:

Devlog #2: End of July 2017 Updates

July has been a pretty solid month for Power Level Studios. After all the hard work from the past few months to build a solid prototype, we were ready to share Soul Reaper with the world, and the response has been pretty good.

The Square Enix Campaign


It has been going strong with 80% Like. It started out at 94% for the first few days but dropped almost consistently the days after. The reason is likely because we heavily promoted it in our channels first, which were already favorable to the project. And then came the new people who were not familiar with Soul Reaper yet. It is a niche game after all.

New features!

Announced during our first devlog on Medium, we added exploration tools and a minimap. More info here.

New promotion channels

We added GameJoltLikeMindedd and to our promotion channels. Previously, we only had IndieDB. We try to be active daily on all these channels.

Lots and lots of Stories on Medium

We try to be creative, original and helpful. We wrote 8 posts (9 including this one) this month on Medium. Here they are:

Story #1: The life of a nomadic indie (console) game developer

BIG NEWS: Square Enix is featuring Soul Reaper on their Collective platform!!!

Opinion: Are procedurally generated levels all that great?

To Kickstarter or not to Kickstarter in 2017

Tried and True: 5 tips on building a game prototype

Opinion: How important is the story in RPGs?

Dev Update #1: A little more like Zelda

Tried and True: 5 tips on working with a fully remote team

We filmed a Kickstarter video

We’re not putting the video together yet, but we assembled the team, rented professional-quality equipment and did our best to film a good Kickstarter video. See our previous post on why we are not doing a Kickstarter yet.

What’s coming up in August?

The main things happening in August will be wrapping Square Enix Collective up, designing new monsters for the lava section of the vault and applying for grants!

First published here:

Story #1: The life of a nomadic indie (console) game developer

TL;DR I left a well-paid job in Toronto to roam the world while making an ambitious console game: Soul Reaper. It’s dumb but I would not have it any other way.

On June 1st (2017), I left my well-paid software engineering job in Toronto to focus on two of my biggest passions: traveling and building video games. “Dumb move” some might say and they would mostly be right.


I don’t consider myself to be a good employee. It’s not that I don’t work well, it’s just that when you’re an entrepreneur at heart, you have the desire to create something bigger than yourself for a group of people you care about, and when you work for someone else, it’s hard to make that happen. For me, creating a super ambitious game for gamers like me who miss the way games were made back in the SNES and Playstation days is what I care about, and it’s definitely bigger than myself!

Now, I did say it was a dumb move. After all, until I release a game, I’m not getting paid. And I even pay people to do art for the game. Thankfully I was awarded a grant by the Ontario Media Development Corporation to work on Soul Reaper. But that money is not nearly enough and doesn’t pay for myself. Dumb indeed!

Traveling to save money

Good Nomad Cities

Good Nomad Cities

Now, that’s where traveling comes in play. For a lot of people, traveling is considered an expensive hobby. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Traveling is expensive when you’re moving a lot, pay for visas and expect comfort. The key is to find cheap visa-free countries that are comfortable enough and have great wifi. I traveled around the world from June 2015 to May 2016 and experienced amazing places to work from. Thailand (Chiang Mai and Bangkok) is very high on the list of great places. Cambodia (Siem Reap), Croatia (Zagreb) and Spain are also places I’m strongly considering in the near future. I’m sure other digital nomads have found other great spots as well. In Chiang Mai, I can live for $406 CAD / month with everything included including great wifi. And I’m sure there’s cheaper places. And there’s an awesome community of digital nomads there and is very comfortable. In Toronto, my rent was $1850 CAD, not counting utilities like electricity and internet. Oh, and I can eat for $2 CAD for an incredible dinner (it would be over $15 CAD in Canada)! So money-wise, being a nomad is pretty much the only way I can imagine being able to pull it off with limited budget.

Building for consoles while on the go

Soul Reaper is aimed to be released on consoles during Q4 2018. How do I heck am I building a console game with limited luggage space? It also doesn’t help that I’m an hobbyist photographer with camera equipment!


Nintendo to the rescue!

In October 2016, Nintendo unveiled their next generation of consoles and they called it the Nintendo Switch. It was released on March 3rd, 2017. It changed everything… for the most part! As you may know, the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid console/portable gaming system. You can hook it to a HDTV or play on the go like you would with a Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita. And it works incredibly well! It’s as if it was built for me; as a gamer and developer. Plus they support the engine Soul Reaper is built on: Unity3D. Needless to say, I purchased a Switch and carry it with me everywhere. I’m currently carrying the dock and play on TV when my Airbnbs has one, but otherwise I play in my hands. And for those who haven’t held or seen one, it’s really thin and light! It takes up about 20% of one compartment of my bag. It would take less than 10% if I didn’t carry the dock and cables.

PS4 development

Soul Reaper was first designed to be released on a Playstation console (PS4). I don’t want to change that. I’m carrying with me my PS4 controller and only playtest the game using it. Carrying a PS4 is obviously out of the question since it’s too heavy and would take pretty much 100% of my luggage space! But it’s easy enough to test the game at 1080p from the computer or by hooking a monitor up. I just can’t test the PS-only features, of which there are none yet. We’ll see what I’ll do then.

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