Is it really February 2014 and this game still isn’t out?! Pretty crazy. We’re doing everything we can to get this thing out the door, and things are progressing smoothly. Bugs are being fixed, long-standing structural issues are being ironed out. Lots of old code is being cleaned up.
The bigger thing that’s exciting that I want to talk about is that recently, we’ve been making huge strides on the gameplay. Despite the fact that this game has already been super awesome to play for… probably over a year now, we’re continuing to make it better and better. I should note that this isn’t a Duke Nukem Forever style “polish the game eternally!!!” madness sort of thing. Our lead programmer Mike just has a ton of technical stuff that he has to do, and alongside him I’ve been making these changes – so it isn’t pushing anything back.
Besides, most of these gameplay changes I’m making are sprouting out still from the loss of Match Mode. Dropping Match Mode is a decision that I’m increasingly happy with. It just wasn’t even close to worth the amount of effort and resources it was going to take to do it right. And once I dropped it I realized that I can achieve almost all of what I wanted without all the multiplayer stuff anyway.
The thing that satisfies me most is that AURO is now not a toy, but a game – at least by my own prescriptive (and I think super useful) definitions for those terms. What I mean by that is that AURO now has a clear, achievable goal at all levels of play. The gameplay modes we have now are Story Mode – where the objective is simply to beat the final boss, and three difficulty levels of Normal Game, with increasing point thresholds to beat. When you reach those thresholds, you win. The game tracks wins and losses, and you gain and lose experience in a meta-game for them, so there isn’t any “oh, I don’t like how this game is going, RESTART!” business. Also, the player actually has something to be shooting for, instead of the classic solitaire videogame problem of “you decide what you’re trying to do, at whatever point, and at the end you decide if you achieved that or not!” To me, games that do this feel very incomplete, forcing the player to play designer when he should be free to just play. So overall I’m really excited about this feature.
This is definitely a delicate issue, however. If it’s not framed and balanced properly, it could feel like “the game was abruptly ended at some sort of random point”. Logically I don’t think there is any reason that this should have to be the case, though – plenty of games have a “target amount of points” you have to reach to win, particularly European board games. You could also say that a fighting game like Street Fighter is a “first to deal 100 Points of damage wins” contest, but I don’t think anyone thinks of that as like, “oh what the hell, I was playing and having fun and suddenly my opponent reached 0 HP and the game ended?! LAME!”
So I think that just by making sure the difficulty is right, the metagame is there to support it, and the feedback for scoring is clear (like there should be indicators showing how close you are, when you’re 10% away, 5% away, etc), we should be fine. But, if we’re not fine, we can start looking at other thematic answers.
The Brashness Bar
To go back to the Street Fighter example, people are OK with that because they get that “HP” is like “life” and when it runs out, that’s that. So what if we did score in a way somewhat similar to that?
For example, right now the target score for Hard difficulty is 150 points. So what if we do some thing where some “boss creature” or something has a “bar” of some kind, and it is depleting as you go? It’s still just points out of 150, but it’s subtracting rather than adding and when it reaches 0, you win.
Perhaps in Normal Game, it’s not Quillsh who talks to you, but instead Argo. And maybe Argo has a CONFIDENCE METER, or BRASHNESS BAR or something like that, and every time you do something awesome – like kill a bunch of monsters – this meter goes down. He talks to you frequently throughout the game, and when his BRASHNESS BAR is full, he’s like a full on jerk to you, trash-talking you, intimidating you, and saying that he’s coming to attack the castle again today to break all of your toys! Then as it reaches half-ish, he’s kinda like… less confidently making fun of you. When it approaches 10%, he starts getting worried, and at 0% he’s like “OK you know what this is stupid, LEAVE ME ALONE!”
To make it even more videogame-acceptable, we could even have it be that once you reach 0 on the BRASHNESS BAR, Argo freaks out and teleports in to attack you, and then you have a little “boss fight” against him (nothing particularly hard, he’s just a little harder than a Lich) – then killing him wins you the game. Because videogames end with someone dying, that much I know for sure!
What do you think? Work wise, this amounts to “creating a little bar graphic”, implementing it, and then me writing a ton of lines of dialogue for Argo, which I would love to do. I think this would also make the game more generally charming and help characterize Argo, who you don’t really see much of anywhere else anyway.