Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Project Update

It's been a while since I've said anything about the game I'm working on. So let me share with you what's going on.

This has been a big learning experience for me. I always thought that the difficult part of game development was the implementation, but that seems really easy now next to game balance. I recently read a great article that talked about how balance is the maximizing of player choices. An unbalanced element is one that removes player choice. For example, there used to be little difference between the riflemen and the machinegunners, the riflemen cost less, so there was no need to ever use anything but the riflemen. That's a choice the player doesn't need to make because using anything but the riflemen was stupid.

I've been focusing on differentiating the different classes, and giving the player reasons to use them. I think I've made some good strides in the right direction. I introduced a new zombie type, the armor zombie, that takes very little direct damage from attacks. Then I made the riflemen do very little direct damage, but they poison the zombie they hit. The armor zombies are just as susceptible to poison damage as any other zombie, so the riflemen are very effective against them. It takes two or three machine gunners to take down the same number of armor zombies that a single rifleman can handle. But at the same time the riflemen don't do enough damage to take down the other zombie types on their own, so you can't rely on nothing but riflemen.

Another change I made was to make the snipers very bad at tracking fast moving zombies, so they can really only hit a zombie that is coming towards them, or walking away from them. They do a lot of damage though, they can do about as much damage as three machine gunners, but they only cost a little more than two, the drawback is that they aren't any good in tight streets, so you can only use them in a few limited areas. This also gives you incentive to create long straight shots for the zombies to run down so that the sniper has a good shot.

Another problem I ran into was resources. Most tower defense type games have you gain resources by killing enemies. The problem I ran into with this was that I had the amount of money dropped by an enemy tied to how tough they are. This lead to situations where the zombies drop money, which means that the player's defenses improve, which means the zombies need to get tougher, which means they drop more money. It was really giving me fits trying to figure out the optimal rate of resource growth versus enemy strength growth. I finally decided to decouple the two, and made it so that the player gets resources from the buildings. Also the player can gain more resources by building factories on the buildings to boost their production. The trick about the factories, is that they improve their own production, and the production of surrounding buildings, but the effects don't stack. So the most economical thing to do is to spread your factories out over a large space. This whole setup does a couple of things, first it increases the players incentive to keep the zombies from capturing too many buildings, because each lost building cuts into their bottom line. Second it encourages careful placement of factories to maximize the number of buildings that they boost. Third, it encourages the player to hold onto large contiguous groups of buildings, they need as much real estate as they can get to maximize their earnings. Finally, it adds more choices, because the player has to decide, will they buy more defensive units, or more factories, or try to hold out in hopes of winning when they finally amass enough money to win.

Overall these changes seem to really be improving things. At the moment I'm reworking the path finding logic. It's a bit clunky, I set it up so that the zombies would favor exploration over building capturing, unfortunately this means that on smaller maps they never get around to capturing buildings.

I'm feeling really good about where things are headed. Once I get the gameplay nailed down a bit more, to where it's fun and challenging, then we'll be able to start work on the artwork again. Then maybe I'll have some pretty screenshots to put up.

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