One week later, one more topic to talk about. Sorry in advance, it got a bit long.
This week I'm going to zoom out a bit and explain the general structure of my game.
This will be a mechanics based article, the story itself will be kept a surprise for the actual game, so it might seem a tad dry, but it does keep the article focussed.
For reference, when I say a dungeon in this post, I mean any Isolated space, with enemy encounters, with a clear beginning and end. They might be a slums district, a volcano, or a space station.
When I say an ability or skill, I mean one that can affect the environment ( push boulders, nullify blizzards, ...).
It is divided into 5 chapters:
Chapter 1: Intro (lvl 1-10)
Chapter 2: Gathering the team. (lvl 11-25)
Chapter 3: Seeking for power (lvl 26-50)
Chapter 4: Seeking perfection (lvl 51-90)
Chapter 5: Finale (lvl 91-100)
The first chapter is spent as kind of a mini version of the whole game, introducing all the aspects I will be using.
Because there is no use in waiting for halfway through the game to introduce core elements.
This is something I gleaned from a design motto they use in Magic,the gathering :”If your theme is not at common it is not your theme. “
Translating for video games : if a mechanic is only introduced halfway, or used sparingly, can you really call it the cornerstone of your game? FFXIII suffered from this enormously i found.
So my intro will have you gathering team members, quickly switching PoV's in dungeons, introduce quickly the 3 main realms of my game, and will culminate in a small scale 2 party jailbreak.
Except for the first and last chapter, each chapter consists of a series of dungeons,
organised by level into groups of 2 to 4, but seperated by physical location. Each group will usually have a dungeon in each realm. The realms are Fantasy, Sci-fi and Action ( not real names, just placeholders for a general idea and tone).
Each dungeon in a group gives physical acces to a dungeon one group up, and
gives a character or ability needed to traverse a different dungeon one group up.
So for example, the first group of dungeons is (lvl 11-13) :
Wizards tower, Dictators palace, and the aztec pyramid.
The group 2 dungeons (lvl 14-15) are the Supersoldier labs, and the Volcano.
Completing the aztec temple gives acces to the volcano level, but you still need
the ice mage to cool certain lava parts, which you recruit in the SciFi-Dictator's palace.
Finishing the Sci-fi dictator level unlocks the supersoldier lab dungeon,
but you need the magic-draining character to nullify the energy fields,
which you can find in the wizard's tower, and so on.
Now when I say physically unlock a dungeon , this usually means you get information on the location of the next dungeon, or it might literally mean that dungeon is on the other side of this one.
The information on the next dungeon will usually include enough info to know what or who to bring to the next dungeon. This will be consultable through some sort of adapted quest log system.
Two small addendums :
1. you make your party when entering a dungeon, and the maximum party size is 4.
2. Xp is not shared, but the away team gains xp equal to a full dungeons' worth upon completion as it is considered to be doing something useful while you are in the dungeon. (Fending off pursuers, gathering intel on something, ...).
That means you can't just have 4 characters worth of gear, because the away team might get some quick cut-away segments, requiring you to do some battles, or a small set-piece.
Each group of dungeons is balanced around a central level, with each dungeon raising the characters level by about 1 or 2, determined by the level range and size of the group, with a lot of the xp being bound up in the end of dungeon boss.
This ensures that each new set represents a difficulty spike, while still allowing some sequence breaking.
As an example the 11-13 dungeons are balanced around level 12.
So a character that just starts chapter 2, being lvl 11, will find the first dungeon he does a little harder then average (11vs12), and the third one he does quite a lot easier (13vs12).
If the player really wanted to, he could skip a dungeon and go and do a group 2 dungeon (13vs14.5). The game will however eventually require him to go back and do the third dungeon,because eventually he will need the location and the character/ability it opens up.
Now, with the non linear acquisition of characters, you might imagine cutscenes being a mess.
I plan on doing a full blog on this topic later, so for now, just know it is something I still need to hammer out.
Now, back to my game structure.
After a set level of dungeon groups, eventually the final dungeon of that chapter is unlocked, requiring all of the then available characters to have been obtained.
These I intend to be the big setpieces, with a multi-party assault with multiple parties each doing their part.
By the time you start the first one, you will have acces to about 20 characters, so that means about 5 different parties, each doing their part.
These might be :
1. The home team, keeping the escape vessel safe
2. A strategic support team, attacking key points ( taking out snipers, alarm blowers,...)
3. A stealth team, stealing passwords to unlock certain doors
4. The main team
5. The cavalry in case something goes south for any of the other teams.
The smaller dungeons will have this too, but not on this scale, mostly a quick splitting up and reconvening.
Once again, more specifics are for a later blog, as this one is still about the big game structure.
After having acquired nearly all characters by lv 25, and having finished the big chapter ending dungeon, Chapter 3 starts.
Here dungeons will be unlocked by having the right abilities, and the right team member, as each dungeon is attuned to one specific party member. You still have to physically reach them by completing other dungeons.
So the party will be the main character, the attuned character and a character there for his ability, with one additional character being free choice.
During each one, the attuned character gains a new ability.
For example, we want to empower the lightning mage to become a lightning/water mage, able to call a storm to stop fires, but the dungeon is an underwater temple,
necessitating bringing the wind mage long to create an air bubble.
Once again , this chapter climaxes in a multi party siege of the chapter ending dungeon.
In chapter 4, the gloves come off.
Like in chapter 2 and 3 there is a linked sequence of dungeons, with rising levels, but they will require ever more arcane requirements, often requiring 2 parties with each a specific set of abilities.
Now, this might seem like it really restricts player choice, but as the previous chapter was spent getting each character a second ability,
there will be, by design multiple correct solutions. Some abilities might also be substituted by others.
Once again, there will be an ability earned per dungeon completed, allowing further dungeons to be attempted.
An example of this in practice : There is a polar research station that requires a team to enter some ice caves, and a team to get into the command HQ.
The ice cave team requires : someone with fire powers to melt ice boulders, someone who can nullify the biting cold magical blizzard, either through a heat aura, a regenerative aura to nullify the damage,
or wind powers to stop the blizzard. The other team needs a stealth person , and at least someone who can overload security circuits, control electronics, or someone who can absorb energy barriers.
As the main purpose of the dungeon is to empower the ice mage, she too has to come with either team A or B, as these reconvene to actually defeat the boss, with a party of 4 chosen from those 8.
There might be some cutbacks to the home team fighting of yeti's from assaulting the ship.
Once all the abilities are achieved, chapter 5 can commence.
Chapter 5 is the big final dungeon, testing everything learned up to that point, a multi stage dungeon requiring multiple party formations to split, reconverge, and finally face the big bad in a 5-way boss battle.