Recently I was at a crossroad in the development process of Dungeon Scroller & its game mechanics (combat, loot etc). This blog post was a way of putting my ideas & thought processes into words and structuring the way forward!
As mentioned before, the game is a RogueLite, heavily inspired by Diablo. I want the gameplay to remain light, whilst also offering some depth for advanced players;
- Loot is integral to the game and needs to feel rewarding
- Game mechanics, such as combat must keep the game challenging and interesting
- As the game is primarily aimed at mobiles, it still needs to be enjoyable for quick playthroughs
I don’t think any of the above is incompatible, but I need to strike the right balance between fun & complexity. Challenge accepted!
Current Mechanics & Problems to Solve
Since I started this project, my approach has been to cautiously implement new systems and build content incrementally as the game takes shape. Dungeon Scroller already has a working loot system, hero upgrades & combat mechanics.
Combat is currently about dodging and attacking. Depending on the weapon equipped by the hero, attacks are either close or long range. The same goes for the enemies: there are only two types for now – ranged and close.
The loot system is basic on purpose, as I want Dungeon Scroller to have many hero classes and things could easily become complicated! Different classes use different weapons and armours; e.g. a barbarian can use a axe, but not a bow. If the game starts dropping weapons, does it drop weapons relevant to the particular class the player has selected? Or random ones regardless of the class played? Let’s take a look at that specific case:
- Weapon drops correspond to the class being played, e.g. barbarian. The game needs to have enough weapons coded so that the same ones don’t keep on dropping. For a barbarian, this means the game needs to have a range of weapons of increasing power. Low levels drops could be clubs, maces, short swords, daggers and whatnot. High level ones would be great swords, war hammers etc. Every class in the game needs to have a large number of choices to maintain some feeling of randomness. Ultimately most weapons would end up very similar to each other.
- Weapon drops do not match the class being played. E.g. the barbarian might get a bow as a drop, a weapon he cannot use. This then calls for inventory management, so that the weapons can be sold or stored somewhere to be picked up by the relevant class. Players might get frustrated for not getting drops relevant to the class they are playing. Also, should weapons be dropped for classes that haven’t been unlocked yet?
If you add magic into the mix (i.e. drop weapons with magical properties), things can easily become very complex. Magic would increase the number of possible drop combinations, players might get frustrated they get the wrong drop combos, which could only be addressed by adding a shop in the game to exchange unlucky drops for weapons the player really wants. More coding to do!
When in doubt…
This is where I followed my rule of thumb: when in doubt, go for the simplest approach! For Dungeon Scroller, I opted for the simplest approach to loot I could think of:
- Limited & class specific range of weapons: each class has three weapons to choose from. Each class & weapon combo will be very distinct and promote different gameplay styles. They will also have to be unlocked, which contributes to the reward system and motivate players.
- Magic is a separate system, working in parallel: weapons do not have magic properties. Instead, touchstones are dropped by monsters and can be “equipped” by the player. Equipped touchstones provide bonuses, and are not bound to weapons or classes. Since touchstones can be used by all classes, this removes the combinations dilemma & balancing issues!
Furthermore, the above system fulfills my objectives for the game:
- There is a reward loop system (purchasing weapons & looting for touchstones),
- Combat mechanics is kept interesting by the various gameplay options (multiple classes, weapons & touchstones combinations)
- The system is simple enough for casual play (since touchstones are shared by all heroes, the player can come up with interchangeable combat strategies).
This lays the core foundations of the game mechanics. Now let’s spend a bit more time on touchstones!
I originally wanted to use gems for Dungeon Scroller’s magic system. This is what they are called in Diablo II, where they are a keystone to the loot system & game mechanics – the player can tweak his/her arsenal by slotting gems onto his gear.
However, I am prejudiced against the word “gem”: on the mobile market it is usually associated with in-app purchases! I have no intention of releasing Dungeon Scroller as a freemium game (or to be considered one), so have decided to dissociate from the word gem altogether. Touch Stone has a nice ring to it, so I went for that term instead.
So, we have Touch Stones. They share similar properties to their Gem counterparts in Diablo:
- Touch Stones have types, which grow in power as the player progresses
- Common Touch Stones are elemental and provide extra damage or defense accordingly (fire damage, poison etc)
- Depending on where on the belt they are equipped, they provide either offensive or defensive bonus. This is similar to Diablo where gems would boost depending on whether they were attached to armour or weapons.
How gems differ in Dungeon Scroller:
- Unlike Gems in Diablo, Touch Stones are not bound to weapons or armour – they can be equipped and un-equipped as the player wants.
- No horadric cube, although I do plan to allow players to merge stones to increase their bonus!
My hope is that touchstones will enhance the gameplay, b y adding variety to hero builds available to players. To make combat more interesting I plan to code elemental defense/resistance to monsters, forcing the player to tailor his equipment accordingly. Past the first few levels, monsters will start to have strong resistance to physical attacks, and also deal magic damage.
Since touch stones are interchangeable, the player will always be able to adapt his arsenal. Entering a new dungeon later in the game will also require some trial & error on what combination of touchstones works or not – hopefully keeping players on their toes!
Last but not least, Diablo also had unique items. Which brings me to…
Trinkets are another way to spice up the game play. Where touch stones follow a structure (defensive & offensive powers depending on where they are equipped) trinkets can pair up to three different powers & bonuses.
Caveat: only one trinket can be equipped at a time, and some might provide a bonus for a given stat but a malus for another. Trinkets will be visible on the hero, i.e. a skeleton mask will appear on the hero’s face!
I still need to figure out how trinkets will be integrated in the loot system, but that’s something for later!
Writing on this topic was very useful – shortly after starting the post, I revamped the whole inventory system! Putting my ideas in writing certainly helped me work out the key points I was targeting with Dungeon Scroller.
It also made me revisit past decisions. My original intention was not to implement trinkets – I wanted to keep the mechanics lean and coding simple. However, I realised that since I was implementing magic to make the gameplay richer, once the touchstones structure is in place I might as well go all in!
Besides, masks look way cool hugging the face of these little pixelated heroes 😉
As usual, feel free to leave a comment below!