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  • Design Insights We Learned At Dreamhack Dallas 2019

    - Ross Przybylski

  • What if we cut our derivative features and put our focus on what makes us unique? 

    We built an engine that supports seamless transitions between levels. Why aren't we doubling down on this?

    Our second breakthrough was asking ourselves what underlying motivation as players made us feel the most compelled to move forward.

    Making a choice was the most prominent factor - but, not just any choice. It has to be a meaningful choice. It has to be a fair and informed choice. The choice must contribute to sense of progression and development of the ultimate character destiny we aimed to play out in our fantasy. Once we realized our mistake and let go of it, other pieces of our design started falling into place and got us excited about how we can deliver on choice:

    • Provide Choices: The world is generated procedurally by placing tactical grid maps that connect together to form a continuous landscape. Key objectives such as treasures, new characters to recruit, and bosses to defeat are scattered throughout the world. 
    • Make the outcome of choices mean something: We assume players desire to explore the entire world - but if they do, their choice on which path to take becomes less meaningful (since they are not choosing to lose something, simply the order in which to see everything). To give weight to player decisions, we add a survival modifier: The longer you explore the world, the more difficult enemies become until they ultimately overwhelm you
    • Learn from the consequences of choices: You get only one life and your resources (health, cards, number of rest points) are limited, so you have to make careful choices about where you want to explore. Make a wrong turn and stumble on a dragon? That's ok. Retreat and fall back, but remember that the longer you take to find the right path, the more imminent your defeat as the doomsday clock ticks down.
    • Design choices that contribute to progression of player's fantasy: Players progress their Summoner by over-coming challenges one room/area at a time. Upon completion, you make a choice about how to develop your character by picking a new card to add to your deck, choosing a new companion to join you, or resting to recover health or used cards.

    In retrospect, these insights seem obvious, but it's easy to forget how clouded our judgment can become working in isolation from the creative input of others. I highly encourage setting aside time to play other games at conventions as a catalyst for creativity.

    Our Key Takeaways

    Exhibiting our game continues to empower us with new insights that we learn and grow from. Here are three takeaways to consider for your next expo:

    1. Track your game demo data so you can learn and improve.
    2. Take short videos (10 seconds or less) of player reactions to your game and compile them together.
    3. Talk to other indie devs (particularly those with similar games) and play their demos. You'll recognize almost immediately where your own players are likely encountering frustration and experiencing the most joy.
    4. Double down on what makes your game original. Avoid features derivative of other games not essential to supporting what makes your game unique.
    5. Choice is a powerful motivator for players when the choice has consequence, the player can learn from their choices, and when the choices progress the fantasy the player is attempting to live out in your game.


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