Ok, quite some time has passed since I had anything substantial to write (or the ability to do so). So today we're going over some thoughts on my development of the current game. Entry #2 in my 10-game series is called "Rehgräten" and will be a arena-fighting game (brawler? I'm bad with genres.) where you get progressively weaker, the longer you play.
This is a made-up word, that has been lingering around in my head for a couple of years now. It's like a heavily "germanized" version of the word "regret". In fact, some of my earliest notes and doodles about random game concepts (before I even knew how to code or do anything really) mentioned a project called "Rehgräten".
So what does it mean? Deer bones. Rehgräten means deer bones. Take the german word "Reh" for "deer" and add the word "Gräten", which is a word specifically designated to fish-bones. We have "Knochen" for bones and a separate word for fish-bones, "Gräten". Fun fact: there are no separate words for "flesh" and "meat" because german is a made up fantasy-language designed to confuse everyone. But it's a cool language when it comes to describing gruesome shit, i guess.
If you want to pronounce the game's name as a non-german person, here's some help:
Take the 'é' in "gourmét" and attach it to an aggressive 'RRRRR!'. Réééh. Now you take the word "waiting" and replace the 'w' with an even more aggressive 'GRRRR!!!!11!1'.
Make sure to pronounce both 'r's as if you wanted to kill someone. Sehr gut!
The approach this time is less passive than with huebris, but acting impulsively in Rehgräten can lead to failure as well. You play as one of four characters and your objective is to survive against waves of enemies. After each level you have to sacrifice a portion of your strength to obtain the key to the next level. I have changed the exact procedure for one level a lot of times. It will probably be similar to the Greed Mode of the Binding of Isaac. You press a big button in the center of the arena, a timer starts and when the timer runs out, a new wave of enemies spawns to kick your ass. However, I had to reconsider a lot of things. The current status is that after each wave the player gets to choose between an upgrade, that changes your stats or a potion, that heals you to full HP in exchange for a small portion of your strength, yet again. Contrary to Isaac, my favourite game of all time, where the whole fun comes from getting progressively stronger, I want to explore if it can be fun to get progressively weaker as well. There will be 4 stats: Melee damage, Ranged damage, Speed and Max HP. As of now every character has a strong advantage in one of those stats and a heavy disadvantage in another. Over the course of a game, your stats might radically change, mostly for the worse, until you lack the power to defend yourself and die inevitably. Yep, I'm gonna make another unwinnable game.
So, making a game where the character gets progressively weaker comes with a lot of weird design questions. You will be at your lowest, when you face the endboss/last level. You have to make smart decisions about the paths you take and the sacrifices you make. There's always a catch or a drawback and the odds are never in the player's favor. Than can lead to frustration quickly and is a hard thing to design in a fun way. But I'm here to learn and experiment, so there's nothing to lose as well. One of the first decisions I made was that every character starts with one of their stats maxed out (The color coding should be clear by now). Taking a little of my experience with competitive pokémon into account, I quickly decided, that every character should come with one "disposable" stat, that is bottomed out. This will greatly affect the decisionmaking of the player, since they have one stat, that can not get any lower than it already is. Taking the pokémon Gyarados as an example: This beast comes with an Attack stat of 125 and a Special Attack of 65. So It's very clear that we're dealing with a physical attacker here and don't have to worry about lowering our special attack any more, since the pokémon will most likely use physical attacks like Waterfall over special attacks like Hydro Pump. After most Levels in Rehgräten you get to choose between two keys, which downgrade your abilities. This is where the "regret"-part of "Rehgräten" kicks in. The Up- and Downgrades you choose stay with you for your entire run. At least I haven't come up with ways to remove them from you and I'm hesitant to implement them. This is where I am at the moment and this model of characters with isolated talent works really well for 3 out of 4 characters so far (more about the 4th one later)
I swear I'm not a fraud, I didn't even think a little about Hollow Knight, I swear T_T
At some point I got the idea, that the characters could be bees with deer skulls. That was probably because I imagined the arena to be hexagonal. I don't know, reconstructing my exact thought processes is kinda hard. I remember jokingly thinking about bees mixed with deers would be beers. And I remember making the first rough sketches during an evacuation, where somewhere in Germany yet another WWII bomb had to be defused. I remember there was a insultingly little amount of information provided for my fellow non-german-speaking citizens, which led to many people just refusing to leave their home, because they didn't know what was even going on, which led to, you guessed it, germans complaining about foreigners and cops being probably unnecessarily aggressive. It was one of those situations where german-ness kinda pissed me off and that the vast majority of people you're surrounded with are kind of shit. To be fair, I'm a cynical misanthrope shut-in, so maybe I was just annoyed that I had to leave my home for a day. Anyways, all this background noise played into the creation of the bee-deer-beer characters. I wanted to make a game where you had to fight a overwhelming majority of your own guys with little prospect of success. Like, say, a bee fighting itself through its bee-hive until it slays the queen ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) (omg holy shit I forced a politics into my game wow please clap)
Anyways, apart from being annoyed that the allied forces threw malfunctioning bombs on my neighborhood and the underlying wish they would do it again, I managed to use my time in the evacuation shelter to brainstorm most of the game. 4 characters: Rico the drone-brute. Riza the worker beer with the crossbow. Riley the ninja-deeragonfly and Ricci the heavy bumbleboar. An octoberfest-themed bee-hive where you kill other beers, good times. Except no, because accidentally ripping off Hollow Knight because bugs with horns. Whatever...
Smart enemies and auto-difficulty
Like in huebris with the rgb-stats-system, which got completely overshadowed, by combo-chaining and move-timing, Rehgräten has its very own new idea, which kind of throws the old idea (getting progressively weaker) under the bus: auto-difficulty. I think they did something like this in Hellblade - Senua's Sacrifice, and there's probably more examples for it. Hell, I played around with auto-difficulty in huebris. Food tends to get more sparce, the higher your score is if I recall correctly. In Rehgräten, I tied a lot of things to this new difficulty-system. Enemies get beefier, quicker, smarter, more precise and deal more damage, the higher the difficulty is. Upgrades tend to turn into Downgrades at highter difficulty. On the other hand, Low difficulty tends to favor the player a lot more (duh). That way the player can change the difficulty-slider at any point in the game to explore the game how they please. If you like to give up control, let auto-difficulty adjust the game for you. I haven't yet decided, how I am going to determine whether difficulty raises or falls, but it'll be fun. And maybe a little random (like a lot of things in the enemy AI, which I had a loooot of fun programming). This is huge, because I might have solved the problem of players getting frustrated too quickly, because the game just changes itself accoring to the player's skills. It's something I have a lot of fun exploring right now and might be the second-biggest reason why development take much longer this time. The biggest reason why development is slow is, because I keep playing around with a lot of gamefeel-concepts etc, which involves a lot of pressing-the-same-button-over-and-over-again-for-hours. Let's just say it's easy to get lost right now. But I'm fine with that. Making the enemies progressively smarter and deadlier, the more I play around with difficulty also takes a lot of time. Time I'm very willing to spend right now. And even though I have to hurry up a little, because I still want to make 8 more games this year, it feels good to dedicate myself to something after a 3-week-long hiatus. However, that doesn't mean that I decided to cut an overwhelming amount of stuff from the game...
Enemys tend to approach you from behind to avoid your melee range. While you're shooting, they form an alley to avoid bullets.#madewithgodot #GodotEngine #gamedev #indiedev #watchyoass pic.twitter.com/M85qO1NFve— meloonics (@meloonicscorp) February 8, 2021
About the bumblebee...
Like I said, the isolated talent-model works for 3 out of 4 characters. Ricci, the slow character with the insanely high HP needs a lot more work unfortunately. They move way too slow and hitting enemies feels like such a chore. I have to rework a lot of things in the animations and fine-tuning to make them work with their current base-speed. Which is why, as of now, Ricci has to be cut from the game, because I don't feel like forcing them into it right now. The original plan was to give Ricci both a big hitbox for their body, so that they're more vulnerable to attacks (contrary to Riley, whose hitbox is tiny) and a big hitbox for their weapons, which gives them the advantage of having a large area of effect. One more quirky thing I implemented was to link the max_HP stat to the amount of knockback a player deals with their attacks. It seemed fun at first, but knockback is really buggy right now and needs a lot of work as well. All in all I don't feel like I can make Ricci work with the prototype I have right now.
Also, I have planned to implement a bee-queen-like boss, to really get back to the Isaac-inspiration (where your mom is one of the final bosses), but I'm uncertain if I can pull it off. I always planned to make the game run infinitely, with the player just starting over at level 1 after beating the last level, so I don't even know if it makes sense to add a final boss. We'll see.
The last piece of content i have to cut is a variety of enemy-types. For this prototype, I have to stick with brutes and archers, unfortunately. I just want to conclude development at some point and adding more enemies with complex behavior seems like way too much work right now. But I'd be happy to revisit Rehgräten at some point in the future to add more content. Right now, the game's version 1.0 will be some sort of "proof of concept", just to see how my ideas worked out. It's a shame, that the game will look more like a prototype than a finished game in the end, but it do be like that sometimes.
That being said, I hope I will find the time and motivation to finish and release Rehgräten by the end of March 2021. I have very little free time right now and still have to get used to that. Needless to say that I need to reconsider the scope of my projects, but that was to be expected kinda.