This last year I've been so swamped by the various projects that I've been working on behind the scenes, that I've almost forgotten to clue everyone in on exactly what it is that I've been doing! Now that you've read my previous blog on a bit of the story on how Destined Legends begun, I thought I'd take some time to expand upon my actual involvement in the development and what it took to get this thing made.
Before we even started looking for artists, we had to make sure we had a pretty solid concept worth our time. I'll tell you one thing, when Ali and Shawn (the games creators) first approached me about this game, I was super intrigued and I couldn't wait to try it. The first play through of the game though was rough. The concepts were definitely there but coming from years of playing JRPGs, MMORPGS, Adventure Games, and so on, the amount of influence we could pull from was enormous! The original version of the game had Boss battles, armor, accessories, high level HP and so on. In a video game this is ok, you slowly learn and find new things as you explore the vast world you've entered into and can spend over 20+ hours of game play to figure it all out. This, in a card game however, is a huge barrier of entry for most people and can quickly turn a new player off before they even give the game a chance; me included. It can be daunting if you are expected to understand everything before you even get a chance to play and we quickly learned what things were over complicating the game. For example, using hit points that equal 1, 5, and 20 is much easier to manage of than numbers above 1000 (it's over 9000!). It's not that the math was overly difficult, but when you are expect to also keep track of maintaining magic points and remembering what accessories have what skill for certain attacks, the game becomes more like dealing with your accounting books before tax time than an enjoyable way to relax with friends.
Even after taking out some of the extraneous mechanics, we learned the hard way that not everyone has the same learning curve or understanding of what you assume to be common gaming concepts. After several months of "in house" alpha testing we began to introduce the game to our first round of people outside of development. When we hosted our first play test and focus group, we were rather surprised by results. As pictured above, the first two people who tried out our game had never played a card game like this, let alone RPGs before. What was really interesting for us as developers was to watch people who didn't know any gamer jargon what-so-ever start to not only understand phrases like "you take 10 HP" but use them and even get excited when they get to say it! This first test went surprisingly well, not because the game was in any way perfected, but more so because the two people were genuinely having fun! The downfall however was the time it took for them to learn the games core rules and be able to complete the game in a reasonable time. If I remember correctly this particular play test exceeded 3 hours! 3 HOURS! Thank God for good beers and great company.
Mind you, our goal was to make this game playable in under an hour, not a several hour endeavor. We understood that the above case was based on the players lack previous knowledge of these types of games, but from the notes we took we were able to re-evaluate why certain aspects of the game took so long, even when we played it between the development team. I think in these first 6 or so months of development we scrapped, added and refined so many aspects of the game that by the time we were ready to enter Beta Testing the game was barely recognizable from the original conception.
The way we went about introducing the game to focus groups was sort of interesting to me. Instead of starting with "mega gamers" who would no doubt understand the game with out a problem, we started in reverse. The group above consisted of my girlfriend at the time and a good friend from college, neither of which played games often (if they did it wasn't the hard stuff). We then expanded to groups of intermediate/casual players and then people who considered themselves gaming experts. I'm not sure this was intentional for any of us. It may have been an unconscious comfort thing to make sure we wouldn't embarrass ourselves or perhaps we just wanted to challenge the mechanical skills of the game as we got more confident in it. It was likely both reasons, but either way, it worked out to our advantage. This fact forced us to immediately cut out the fat that made the game way too hefty of an idea for the casual player, finding the essence of what was important to the core game then rebuilt it from the bottom up, challenging and improving it each step of the way.
Once we got to a stage that we felt the game had all the elements we wanted in it and that the game was getting close to production we began our most intensive section of testing! At this point we started having multiple games going at once with people who really understood all the rules and asked them to do everything possible to essentially break the game. When we said this, the true creativity of some of our more advanced players came out. They would try layers of different strategies, things that we probably would have never came up with on our own and really challenged us to make sure every rule made sense. I'm really glad that we requested this from our testers because it helped us weed out some really odd ball loop holes from that came from the particular phrases of our rules and little mechanical glitches that worked well in most situations but wouldn't in the very specific situations they would discover.
One thing I must stay that I'm incredibly proud of about this game was how diligently Ali worked on the game's core structure as a whole. He would show me algorithms he developed to keep game play balanced as a player would level up, probabilities that certain attacks would succeed and ratios to insure that cards would be pulled out of the deck at decent rate. I'm not sure that I would have the know how or even have the patience to come up with these things on my own. Ali however had a dream and was determined to make it work. I wasn't there for all the building of the game's mechanics (that was made from Shawn and Ali expertise) but I know seeing how important this endeavor was to them keep myself and all the people who volunteered their time testing this thing, motivated.
In the next blog I will discuss the artistic development and overall creation of the game's design.