This time I talk about some redesign work that’s come up in the current gameplay section, and how combining and frontloading two characters is helping out some balance problems.

I finally managed to set aside another few hours this weekend to throw at this project. Unfortunately, as I began implementing my plans for the next section I realized they don’t work quite as well as I’d like. I’m now looking at about between five and ten hours of rework as I get the next bit of gameplay started down the right track.

What I had been planning (and begun implementing) was as follows. After acquiring his initial spell (Blood Strike), I had Kal stumbling into a town and being yelled at by a stern female NPC… let’s call her Alendis. She identifies him as Highborn and doesn’t want to let him and his companions enter the safety of the town. But Marius, a Forest Keeper (a sort of patron elemental or demigod alligned with the Lowborn night elves) appears and belays Alendis’s orders. A conversation takes place between Marius and Kal where the creature takes the mage to task and assigns him a series of quests as penance for his people’s trasngressions. Kal then runs off to get started on these assignments.

As I discovered, there were problems with this approach. The first is gameplay-related: Kal at this stage is still leaning on the remainder of his items and sidekicks (replacements can be purchased/hired in the town) as he’s really not strong enough to fight anything on his own. These things felt fine as a crutch for the opening area, but moving on from there I’m not sure they’re such a good idea. I have other options, of course, such as buffing Kal’s low-level stats or weakening the early monsters, but doing so undermines the sense of Kal’s vulnerability and weakness I worked so hard to achieve. In essence, reaching level 2 and gaining Blood Strike is simply not enough of a difference over being level 1 without. Perhaps I need to make Blood Strike more potent.

Another problem was the narrative. I am treating Kal as a somewhat reluctant hero… not that he is selfish or cowardly, exactly (although at times perhaps he is those things), but more because he doesn’t believe he has anything of worth to contribute to other people’s lives. Marius’s quests are an attempt to push Kal to discover some self-worth, but I can’t just have him dive single-handedly into big important challenges right off the bat. To take on that level of agency and responsibility so early in the story just doesn’t make sense for his character. On the other hand, sticking the player with boring, less demanding or important-feeling quests don’t make for interesting play experience. Nobody likes a “kill twenty boars” type quest.

I hit upon a potential solution as I was getting ready for bed last night. I had already drawn up designs for two supporting heroes who would have been introduced later in the campaign. One of these, a “Mage Hunter” (a sort of demon hunter/ranger hybrid) has quite a few similarities with the character of Alendis (the huntress who bars Kal’s entrance to the town in the scene discussed above). Both are independent female characters who hate magic-users (and by extension, Kal) on principle. They both even weild a bow as their weapon of choice. Once the similarity of the characters occurred to me, I realized how superfluous Alendis was in the first place: she was being wasted in the role of gruff quest-giver, a role which Marius already well fills.

So I will be combining the characters of Alendis and the Mage Hunter, and redesigning the secondary gameplay section as follows: Rather than carrying out missions for her on his own as part of his penance, Kal will be assigned by Marius to accompany Alendis on her own tasks. This helps me in two ways: First, it lets me tell the story I want to tell by keeping Kal’s initial questing somewhat reluctant, while still pushing the player forward into the story. Second, and more to the point, it allows me to make the initial questing more demanding without making Kal feel too powerful. Instead of leaning on disposable units or items, he can lean on this other hero. The Mage Hunter is more of a supporting hero type anyway, with mostly automated DPS and some disruption effects; so the player’s attention will still mostly be on Kal. 

So I have a large map area, three cutscenes and two quests’ worth of triggers to revamp. For the most part I’ll be scrapping those parts and redoing them from scratch (although the confrontation between Kal and Marius will probably remain mostly unchanged). But these things happen. Playtesting is starting to get to be kind of a hassle, so I’ll have to put in some more debug/jump points soon, too.

I’ll talk more about these things in my next update (and maybe go into some detail about the Mage Hunter hero design). For now, rework ho!