You finally did it! You made the game you always wanted to make, and now you get to play it!
It’s funny that the reality can be quite different, at least for a certain kind of developer and/or project.
Many worthwhile game ideas start out with a simple “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, so you spend forever making it a reality, and the end product is a work of passion that hopefully doesn’t betray the previous months or years of sweat and tears.
I bring this up now because for the past few days I’ve been actually playing Cogmind, and am again reminded that playing your own game is a very different experience from playing someone else’s. Even if it’s that “dream game” you’re making because no one else will, while it may be fun (Cogmind definitely is!) it’s difficult to fully immerse yourself in the game world and play it for what it is. This is true of any work of art (yes, games are without a doubt works of art), though more so with games because they are often very long-term ongoing projects.
One can’t help but notice every little feature that could be fixed or improved. There’s simply no time to “play.” I recall Tarn Adams (of Dwarf Fortress fame) having said something to that effect before, and suspect the bigger and “dreamier” the project the more likely this is to be the case, given the depth and all the moving parts. Stopping every few moments to jot down notes, dive into the code, or think about what’s going on behind the scenes is not what the player should be doing!
You’re also so close to the project it can lose that appeal of “new content discovery.” Fortunately with roguelike development some of that appeal is regained through the randomness of procedural generation. Repeatedly playing the exact same maps when developing a static game would be pretty boring.
These recent sessions are a bit of an exception to the topic above because at this stage I’m playing specifically to examine balances between the various systems. I was fooling around with spreadsheets for a little while (more on that in the next post), but there’s no substitute for straight up playtesting considering all the factors involved. So in the past few days I’ve played more than I ever have before. Back in the weeks following 7DRL 2012 I started up the game thousands of times to test features, but only truly played two or three full games!
This round of playtesting used the good old 7DRL data set. The purpose was twofold: Check which stat ranges needed major adjustments, and decide more specifically how to properly fit melee combat into the gameplay experience.
The primary known issue, and the target of most of the tweaking, was the somewhat broken propulsion system. The mechanics work fine, but the data values made hovering and flying rather infeasible compared to the other forms of propulsion. They’ll work now, though flying fast will still require careful management of resources, and may only be an intermittently available option since you may have to refit yourself with heavier gear to survive certain areas depending on what the RNG throws at you. Light builds will be a lot more viable with allies around, but I’m not testing the game with allies just yet.
In a normal game you were also overweight almost all the time regardless of your propulsion, which made that status fairly meaningless. All propulsion now supports a lot more mass, but most also have a slower base speed to keep the system balanced.
Melee combat, a.k.a. “Cogmind gets bump to attack,” should be pretty fun. It’s slower and limited to close range only, but quite powerful with some special effects/mechanics that have been described before. A good volley of guns and cannons will be preferable in many cases, but certain builds could emphasize melee combat, and it is always good to have a melee weapon as backup for the low resource requirements and fact that as less intricate systems they are more likely to survive to the last when your other weapons are being targeted and destroyed. The last couple test games were spent hacking pieces off enemy robots using weapons with cool names like “MELEE_S4″… (since the 7DRL had no melee combat).
For the record, my first run after more than a year away from playing Cogmind took me 80% through the game, all the way up to the impenetrable difficulty barrier that is the research level (due to poor balance that was never fixed--the 7DRL didn’t have any significant content updates, just fixes and new GUI features). That’s another thing about playing your own game: You’re generally really good at it because you know how everything works. (I’m betting that Thomas Biskup not being very good at ADOM is an exception to the norm here ;)
The next step is to finally generate some templates for handling item stat progression, then start designing those items! That’s another practical reason to insert a period of playtesting at this point--to refresh my memory and give some context for assigning suitable values.