Design Blog 4 - Card Garden
Glorious afternoon friends,
We have eclipsed the midpoint of this semester and are happy to share our build 0.3.0 with the world. As always, it will be attached to this post for playing and our spectacular producer, Alex, has written a production blog post detailing all of the work we did leading up to it. Our new prototype offers a more balanced combat loop along with significant upgrades to player feedback and clarity. In addition to improved clarity and feedback for the game, we did a lot of tuning and worked on a plan to solve our upcoming problems.
My favorite thing about our game, other than the people I get to make it with, is that we used a tools-centered approach for creating content that I have not had a chance to do before in a student project. Our level designers can create levels using a grid tool set up by our programmers that allows them to create a grid and then select a tile type for each spot on the grid. All of the gameplay elements required are then automatically loaded and it only takes a single button press for the navmesh to be updated. We also use a scriptable object pipeline for creating waves, delays, and encounters that can be fed into a spawner that can assign them to branching lanes. We have a similar process using scriptable objects for cards and adding spells, towers, and minions to the game. Using tools like this has freed up our programmers and our level designers to focus much more on decision making and quality over having to think about how to make something. However, our reliance on these tools also proved to have a down side in that our loading tools worked in the editor but would cause a fatal error any time we tried to build our game out to an executable. At first, we were very dissuaded as there have been a lot of stumbles with some of these tools that made us consider abandoning them for the sake of time and lack of resources to dedicate to fixing them. We were able to find a solution this issue, which was to use the grid tool to build our levels and then to create a copy of our level layout in Unity using the prefabs. After that, we could disable the grid tool for our build and keep an instance of our level in a game scene and in our project files for when we needed them. Character health bars, elemental damage types, and stat scaling have all been iterated on in this sprint, allowing us to quickly assemble pieces of content where and when we need to.
Another great addition to our efforts this semester is that we had the opportunity to sit down with our professors after they had a chance to playtest our game. We were instructed to create a detailed plan for the remainder of the semester in Sprints 5, 6, and 7 and then to compare notes with the plan of our instructors. Our highest priorities initially were to implement additional levels, finish any in-progress content, and then revamp our user interaction systems to be more readable and more usable for the players. Our card interface, in particular, has been using default Unity UI assets for a while and we wanted to update it to feel better and more intuitive.
The advice we got from our professors, on the other hand, was to place heavy focus on our How to Play section and work better to introduce the game to the player. They then suggested much of our original plan in reworking the card system and focusing on readable and easy to drag and drop cards for placement. This was a huge relief as both myself and Alex were extremely nervous leading into this meeting. The major issues for our game were not gameplay related, but primarily focused on readability and interface. That said, I cannot stress how invaluable this meeting was for us. The reassurances we received on our existing designs and to press forward with improving our systems for the new player experience gave us a clear goal for how to proceed in the next few sprints. In addition to revamping our "how to play" screen, we intend to add an interactive tutorial to the first level with pop ups that trigger on each of the player's firsts. The additional interaction and ability to juxtapose this bite-sized information with the action to do something should give a longer lasting impression to the player than a single screen to read. We also want to make sure that the player proceed at their own pace and will be tuning our first level's introduction down and adding more acceleration as the game progresses. The goal with this is to allow thee first level to hold the player's hand but for the second and third levels to be tests of mastery of these game mechanics and more.
As a designer at this stage of production, I found myself occasionally running around trying to fight fires and struggling to know our scope. My producer has done an excellent job of keeping our scope in check, but I found that I was always asking for more and designing solutions for every potential problem, even if we did not necessarily need them. Having that moment of guidance as a reminder and an opportunity to check the state of progress in a project is by far the best thing that could have happened. It allowed me to focus on the bigger picture of the game and to prioritize what really matters, which is the player experience. I am able to focus on my strengths in systems rather than focusing on the minutiae of certain content pieces that I was originally worried about.
As always, I would like to thank our playtestes who helped to give us feedback this sprint. Their feedback was incredibly helpful in understanding which types of visual feedback was best for the player and how clearly information was being presented to the player. We are cresting the final version of our first level and hoping to use this sprint to introduce new levels and a completely revamped new player experience along with a UI overhaul and continued balancing efforts. Once those components are done, our testing needs to become a lot more specific and we are going to be needing more playtesters than ever before. Every sprint so far has felt like it is the one where we make it or break it, but I am personally most looking forward to the results of this one.
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