It’s been awhile since I posted a real nitty-gritty game design article about AURO and what’s going on. Right now, AURO is stuck in development hell, as we’ve mentioned, largely due to two factors: the fact that we didn’t build the game with serialization in mind from the get go (we’re a bit bush league), and the fact that we are using Haxe, which it turns out has caused a ton of technical problems. Anyway, this isn’t a technical programmer-y post, because I’m not a programmer and I really don’t know enough about that stuff to speak in more detail about it.
What I want to talk about today is AURO’s game modes. Partially, I’m writing this for my own benefit, so that I can clearly state it out loud for myself and make sure that everything makes sense. With AURO’s development being held up, I have some time to think about these modes and hone them. In particular, I’m proposing a change to TRIALS mode – the other two modes are pretty much locked down and have been for months.
This mode is probably the easiest to explain and understand, which is great, because it’s also the first mode players should play. It functions as both a tutorial (actually, there is an optional hand-holding tutorial in there too), and also an easy, explanatory mode. The player has to travel through nine dungeons, meeting monsters who talk, getting advice from Quillsh, with several cutscenes along the way. There’s a final boss battle at the end, and then a final cutscene. If you’ve played videogames, you know the drill.
The goal in this mode is completion, and it’s designed to teach you how to play the game, be the most visually impressive (you see the most environments, special monsters, cutscenes, etc in this mode), and generally introduce you to the world and mechanics of the game. Therefore, once these things have been accomplished, it makes sense that you’d move onto other modes. So Story Mode, while still technically infinitely replayable (it still has randomized maps and such), is designed to be played once or twice, and then moved on from.
This is the primary way to play AURO. In Match Mode, you start a game on a randomly generated level. The levels generated by Match Mode can be really crazy – they can be something as simple and benign as a few rats, or something as horrifying as 2 Yetis, 3 Liches, 3 Curse Kids and a Troggle. That sounds pretty unfair, until you realize that this mode is actually a multiplayer mode – well, sort of. It’s multiplayer in the way that golf or bowling is multiplayer. The randomly generated map that the game makes for you is saved, and the game uses a match-making algorithm to find an opponent of similar skill. Then, it sends that opponent your same game, and he plays on that map as well. Your scores are compared, and a Round Winner is pronounced. Then you do this again, with the 2nd player now going first. The first player to get 2 Round Wins is the winner of the game.
The game has an online leagues/ranking system similar to that of other popular online games. You can challenge friends for fun, play pass & play games, or even play a Practice Game that isn’t recorded.
The goal in Match Mode is competitive. You’re trying to beat another player, and rise through the ranks, just as in Starcraft or Street Fighter or something. Also pretty simple and easy to understand.
It’s interesting. Trials Mode is actually the classical mode that we had always envisioned being the primary mode of the game, but ironically it’s actually the hardest system to develop good rules for. What I had been planning – and what may still ship with version 1.0 given that we’re already like 1,000 months behind schedule – is that it’s a simple “beat your highest score ever mode”. So if 3 years ago you got a score of 379, you’re still sitting there now trying to beat that high score. I have a few problems with this approach, though, which is why I’d like to change it.
For one thing, I don’t think “beat your highest score ever” is a reasonable goal. Once you get a super-high score, you may simply just never be able to win again. Also, there’s actually a bit of a weird thing where any points you get above your previous high score, are actually just kind of screwing you over in future games. One person pointed out in some forums the fact that it’s kind of optimal in a weird way to beat your score by 1 point and then kill yourself. I agree that’s weird.
I also think it’s bad because it necessarily means that players who get better get punished by having longer games. A long, long game isn’t a problem because AURO isn’t a blast to play. It is – but the fact remains that games tend to have some ideal length based on the length of their longest arcs… and AURO’s arcs are generally very short. AURO is a super tactical game, and not a very strategic game. So we want games to last somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes – not hours.
So because of this, a much better solution is actually to have the goal always be “Get 100 Points”. But how do we do that in a way that’s evergreen? Once the player gets 100 points, what else is there to accomplish?
Introducing the Single Player Evergreen XP System
I’ve designed a system, which I’m using in AURO, EMPIRE, and also another unannounced future project, which uses an RPG-ish experience points system to turn a single-player, score based game into an evergreen competitive thing.
Basically, the game generates a really easy game for you, and says “get 100 Points in this!” If you do so, you gain experience points. If you reach a certain threshold of experience points, you “level up”, and then the game starts generating a harder game for you. Basically, there are infinite Difficulty Levels, which you don’t get to choose, but you move up through by playing and winning games. Losing – failing to get 100 Points – also will result in losing experience points, so if you lose a few games in a row, it might de-level you to an easier Difficulty Level. So basically, it’s like “dynamic difficulty adjustment”, but before the game begins, so none of that silly punishing-you-for-doing-well business.
The game gets harder as you level up by increasing the number and variety of monsters – not by increasing the target number of points. In addition to this, points that you get above 100 will give you some bonus experience.
Interestingly, I learned this lesson after releasing EMPIRE, another game I designed for another company, and we’re working on that problem for version 1.2 of that game. You can read about that over at the EMPIRE blog.
Anyway, them’s some thoughts on the matter of AURO and what’s going on with it. In other news, I’m working on some of the last music I have to make for the game, and Blake is as well. He’s also re-doing our title-screen art, crazy enough, to make something more dynamic, since we have a bit of extra time.