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Dev Notes, October 11

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I'll be brief this week because I'm in crunch-mode!

The hurricane came and went, and our neighborhood is now covered in leaves and fallen branches from the wind but we're otherwise unharmed. We lost some time from all the drama (power outages and such), but nothing too big.

But I did run into a more serious delay in getting this update out the door: basically, treasure sucks too much and has to be improved. This will take time.

Well, let me step back. I got the new combat systems up and running, and they work pretty well. Abilities are a little slower, solo monsters have a bit less health, Power costs and regeneration rates are revised (for instance, combat is now balanced around the idea that you have eaten a level-appropriate Meal, which now gives significant in-combat regeneration), armor stats are higher, Combat Refresh is more potent, and base ability damage is much higher. That last one is a big help in the early levels when you don't have a lot of treasure, and in general makes it more plausible to use abilities without a ton of specialized treasure for them.

It works great, time to ship it! Except... as soon as I tried to broaden the scope to apply to all skills, I had to face the fact that most treasure effects suck. We knew that already, and I've discussed it, but I was hoping to put off rewriting all the treasure until a later update just to get this one out the door. But I don't think I can postpone it, because the changes I've made actually make already-sucky treasure suckier.

As an example, there are a lot of treasure effects that give, say, a 66% chance to do something. Those effects aren’t very fun (and were scheduled for eventual replacement), but they worked okay if you had two copies of them -- odds are very good that at least one of them will activate each time. But with two-skill builds, you're much less likely to be able to fit two of each effect into your build. And a single percentage-chance effect by itself is just frustrating, especially if it does anything important (like stun or heal), or if it's on a slow reuse timer.

Another problem that was made worse by my changes is that treasure effects aren't distributed across equipment slots well. Hammer has 16 main-hand treasure effects, and only 8 effects for most other slots. This makes it pretty hard to build good two-skill gear sets with Hammer.

And a lot of treasure is just not very useful. The older skills like Sword and Fire Magic suffer the most from this, because they have effects that were added as prototypes while I was fleshing out all the things that treasure can do. Taking a good honest look at them, many are unsalvageable. Nobody wants a fire-magic buff that deals extra damage to "creatures that are inherently on fire" because there's only three or four monsters like that in the whole game, and I'm not really planning on adding tons more. So that's good tech to have, but a bad treasure effect. And when you have split-skill treasure, a single really shitty treasure effect feels more damning to the item's overall quality.

The bottom line is that I need to overhaul the treasure effects themselves in order for this plan to work well. I wanted to postpone that, but it ain't happenin', so fine... I'll do that too! So the bad news is that it will be a while yet. I'm not yet sure how long it'll take. Let's say "before Halloween".

The good news is that this is the most fun that treasure has ever been, by a LARGE margin. I've finished revising the treasure for sword, fire magic, and mentalism so far, and they are a blast. If the others follow suit, this will really be a lot of fun to build gear suits with.

So what sorts of changes am I making? Well, I've added a lot of ways for the skills to interact. I used the existing "ability categories" (like Epic Attacks) and added some new ones, like Core Attacks and Nice Attacks. Most attack-centric skills have several of these categorized abilities, and there are lots of new treasure effects that do things like: "Debilitating Blow deals +32 damage and causes your Core Attacks to deal +50 damage for 10 seconds". This effect is useful by itself -- it boosts the Core Attack in Sword, which is Many Cuts. But it also boosts the Core Attack in, say, Shield, which is Disrupting Bash. So there's some synergy to find depending on what skills you're using. There's also more effects that boost damage by type, or enhance entire classes of abilities (such as all Burst attacks) for a few seconds.

I'm also adding more treasure that applies to several abilities in the skill. This is really important for helping players make broad gear sets that aren't too specialized on one or two buttons. There's lots of new treasure effects like: "Scintillating Flame and Fire Bolts boost your Core Attack Damage and Epic Attack Damage +33 for 15 seconds". That one's a mouthful, but it has broad applicability, and while +33 doesn't sound very great, it's actually pretty potent because it stacks with itself -- Scintillating Flame has a short enough timer that you can get two uses in, let alone adding in Fire Bolts, and possibly doubling the stacks by having a second copy of the treasure effect.

I've been mostly tossing out the classic "combo" treasure effects, instead creating sort of "organic combos", like the one above. The above effect means that you should use Scintillating Flame and/or Fire Bolts before you use your Core and Epic attacks. The game doesn't have to hold your hand and give you a little GUI -- you can figure it out based on which abilities you're using.

I'm also being much more liberal with effects that significantly alter how an ability works -- changing Power costs, reuse timers, even damage types. This works in both directions -- some of the most overpowered treasure now has negative effects on the ability (such as slowing down the reuse timer). Do you want your Fire Breath to hit everybody within 5 meters? Yes, of course you do -- that's a no-brainer, it's a treasure effect that's so good you'd be dumb not to have it... but now, it also raises the Power cost and reuse time by 20%. Still a good deal? Yes -- on paper it's still a phenomenal trade-off in the player's favor -- but the down sides mean that for certain builds or playstyles, the effect isn't necessarily a no-brainer.

Using negative effects in a few places lets me fit in treasure that I was having a hard time justifying before. Stuff like the Fire Breath AoE effect is really cool and I want the game to have it, but without some down side, it's just too potent.

But most treasure effects don't have any drawbacks, of course. Instead, I've used things like cheaper Power costs and faster reuse times to give new ways to improve your abilities. Do you want your attack to do 25% more damage or have a 1-second faster reuse timer? That's going to depend on a lot of specific details. Which is good -- it means there are choices, interesting choices, and at higher level, those choices are what treasure is supposed to be about.

I'm still trying to figure out how long this work will take, but I really don't know. Each skill I've done so far has needed some new unique tricks and code tweaks to give it the distinctive flavor I want it to have. When I revised Mentalism, I ended up throwing out an ability and replacing it with an entirely new one. When I did Sword, I had to throw out almost half of the treasure, replacing it with some interesting new tricks. These older skills are probably in the worst shape, so I'm hoping that skills like Knife and Druid are going to be faster to revise, but I won't know 'til I get there.

But I'm excited about it. The changes seem to make treasure much more interesting to me. Not all of these new ideas are going to pan out, but I'm confident that enough of them will work that treasure will feel a lot more interesting.

There are lots of other fixes in this update, and Halloween is coming, so I do feel a lot of pressure to get the update out the door. But in this particular instance, I feel like treasure quality has to come first, or the other changes just won't make any sense. And I mean, it's alpha. We missed Halloween last year and did the event in November instead... and it's not really the end of the world. But I'm still optimistic that it'll be done before Halloween... I know there's Bat players waiting to reach level 60 so they can make fun of the battle chemists, who still can't level up. Don't worry bats, I've got your back. Soon. Ish.

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