Posts in Development
Chopping Block - 'Standard' Character
 
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Hello Everyone!

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts that we will be calling the ‘Chopping Block’. As you can see, we even have a nifty image reserved for this feature. Chopping Block will be a discussion over an element of our game that didn’t end up working out for one reason or another. As with most game development, a lot of stuff hits the cutting room floor for all sorts of reasons and we wanted to shed some light on some of our thought processes regarding these cuts. Some of these chopped ideas were definitely removed from our game entirely, while others may have been recycled into something that better fit our game.

In today’s post, I will be talking about the very early days of development when I was pulling together ideas for characters in Sigils of Kairos.

Idea

When conceiving the basic framework for this game, there was always one character idea that was sure to be a lock.  Some may be thinking of Otto the tank or Diam the healer, as they are iconic tropes that fill ‘pure’ roles, but they would be wrong.  One of the original characters envisioned for Sigils had their moveset completely planned before being cut. Which character? The ‘Standard’ character.

The idea of the ‘standard’ character is one that’s used across the board.  For any Street Fighter, it’s Ryu. For Overwatch, it’s Solider 76.  For any Mario game, it’s-a him, Mario. Although each of these characters are unique, they also have the most straight-forward tools for their respective games.   For our game, the ‘Standard’ character was supposed to be the baseline for all the other characters to bounce off of. ‘Standard’ was set to be the jumping off point for new players, introducing the basics by using a generic play style.

Reasoning

Standard would have been the face of our game from the beginning. This tutorial-ready character that would’ve been a normal-looking human for skittish players to ease into the world we’ve built.  In contrast, other characters like the Khurn (the blacksmith) or Lynx (the cat) involve a bit more knowledge of the game as their moves use lesser known mechanics such as defense buffs or provisional damage. For new players, these characters can come off as overwhelming or even underpowered if not used correctly.

In terms of moves, ‘Standard’ would have had a mix of a little healing, a little damage, and a basic trap/disarm to touch on main mechanics.  Originally envisioned as a typical RPG reluctant hero, Standard would wield a sword and fall back on some of the RPG tropes for her/his move list:

Standard Moveset:

  1. Damage Card (A special move that attacks the front opponent)

  2. Potion Heal (Standard uses a potion to heal target ally)

  3. Splash Damage (A special move dealing damage to the front opponent and minor damage to the back opponents)

  4. Disarm (Remove a trap, Laying a trap was also considered here)

  5. Ultimate: Discard up to 3 cards, Deal 3 attacks and a crit to the front opponent

Card Draw – Medium / Base Damage – Medium / HP – Medium

Removal

As you can see, the character would have lived up to the name ‘Standard’.  By all accounts, the character would have been fine in the game, but there was one vital flaw.  Standard… was boring. With no discernible hook, the character’s mediocrity far outweighed the appeal of being relatable to the player base.

Another big reason why we ditched this character, is that the Paladin (Garric) seemed to lean in the same direction as ‘Standard’. It was Jacob that recognized this and basically cannibalized ‘Standard’ into our ‘Paladin’ moveset.  By converging the two characters, we made a single character that was a lot more interesting both mechanically and narratively. Looking back, this change was bound to happen eventually.  With a limited roster, each character needed to shine. Constructing a character for the sake of filling a slot will always be less interesting than an organic creation.

That’s it for this week. Hopefully you enjoy the new Chopping Block feature as we’ll have plenty more coming your way in the future. My hope is that ‘Chopping Block’ will give a better understanding of our design thought process.

~ Cedrick

Initial Worries #2
 
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Hello Everyone!

This is another development post following up with the one last week. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can check it out here to get a bit more context. Just as a brief reminder, the issues presented in this post were some of the worries that I had going into Sigils of Kairos, even before I reached out to Jacob. Though I had a good idea of the core loop of the game, I was thinking through some of the design problems that came with an innovative genre bender like Sigils. So without laboring the intro…

Lack of Options

It may seem strange that I originally saw Sigils of Kairos as a fighting game at the beginning of development, but the genre has a lot of strategy in high level play. From a design point of view, well crafted fighting games become like a game of chess. Though I am personally not that great at fighting games, I’ve played enough of them (and watched some breakdown videos) to catch some of the nuances in a match.  Watching veteran matches in games like Street Fighter or Dragonball Fighter Z shows a fascinating dance of attack/counter-attack. Each player has a ton of options for attacking like dashing, jumping, projectiles, fake-outs, poking, or even just standing still and swinging.  If an attack lands, great! but if it misses, the player is left helpless to a barrage of counter-attacks from the other player.

I wanted this feeling for my game from the very beginning.  I knew that Sigils was going to be a competitive game so every choice had to build up that combative tension.  Unfortunately with cards, the broad range of actions and attacks gets reduced significantly. I saw this lack of complexity as a potential game-killer for a competitive game and was worried that the game wouldn’t offer enough strong and interesting options to players.

Over-Complexity of Play

The other extreme to the design challenge above is the over-complexity of the cards.  Sigils of Kairos was a strong concept because it marries a few strong game genres together, which opens up a huge well of potential directions to go. With so much to work with, it is very tempting to take up as many game elements as we can, but this would be disastrous.  Not only would the scope be out of hand for a two-person team, but every mechanic we add creates a barrier for casual gamers. These barriers make it harder for newer players to compete and become veterans over time.  

Card games have justifiably been correlated with complexity from the beginning. With a turn-based game, players have a chance to familiarize themselves with the rules and cards so they can plan out optimal plays. In a real-time setting, however, every moment spent reading a card or figuring out a mechanic is a big handicap.  Because of this, we tried to avoid adding any overly-complicated mechanics and wanted things to stay pretty straight forward. This is a very delicate design challenge as we have to find the perfect balance between an easy-to-understand accessible game and deep satisfying experience.


As with any project, we hit a slew of other unforeseen challenges in the making of Sigils of Kairos.  Still, I hope these posts show some of the hesitations going into Sigils of Kairos and sheds some light on some of our design choices that mitigate these problems.  Also, keeping these potential problems in mind still allows us to avoid pitfalls as we tighten up our gameplay.

Naturally, you’re probably wondering how we went about addressing these problems. The answer is: a lot of things. A big reason why I am posting these initial worries now is to help set up future posts on design elements that we’ve put in or taken out of our game over time. I hope that by doing this, it shows how thinking things through early on helped shape our design philosophy going forward. This might not be a very satisfying way to end the post, but please bear with us as we go forward and post more about our development.

~ Cedrick

Initial Worries #1
 
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A few weeks ago, I spoke about the origin of Sigils of Kairos. I knew that I was onto something unique with the game from the beginning, but the following days were filled with thinking through how the game would feel. Originally, I had seen Sigils as a mix of a Fighter game and a Collectible Card Game (CCG) and this is how I framed my ideas for development.  When I put some thought into the actual game loop, however, I realized there were going to be some glaring design challenges not native to either of those genres.  By adding a real-time element to cards, Sigils had to introduce a new way of pacing that was foreign to the turn-based CCG landscape. Also, by limiting actions to randomized card draws, Sigils removed a great deal of the freedom that makes fighting games so intense.  Below I'll discuss these design problems that I saw going into the game development process.

Hand Dumping

This is the first and most obvious issue that a real-time card game like ours would have.  In a standard CCG like Magic: The Gathering, the player has a resource pool (mana) that builds gradually turn by turn.  These resources are limited, so players have to choose what to play carefully. Every turn gives access to more mana, allowing the player to use more expensive and powerful cards later in the game.  This keeps the game in check by limiting the amount and type of cards a player can use early on, while slowly ramping up the power.

With our game, there are no turns and so I didn’t feel a resource system would work. If resources entered into a real-time game, both players would be sitting around waiting for resources before they could play a card.  I felt like this would break the flow of a game as players would end up waiting around for resources for most of a match. This style of real-time card game did end up being made years after Sigils of Kairos was conceived, and can be found in games like ‘South Park Phone Destroyer’. Though these games are fun in their own right, they still don’t have the same action-pacing that I wanted for ‘Sigils of Kairos’ due to the mana system they use.

By turning away from the mana-system, the issue of hand dumping became a worry. With no turns or resources to wait for, there is nothing stopping a player from just unloading all cards in hand from the beginning of the match to the end.  This would make for horrible matches as it would remove all strategy and the game would be a glorified dice roll.

Hand Size Limits

This is a design challenge that I was really worried about, that seemed like less of a problem as the game evolved.  Using a sheet of paper as a rough for dimensions of the screen, I wanted to give enough space for readable card descriptions without eating up a lot of the room.  This gave about 6 or 7 cards maximum, which would normally be a decent sized hand for most CCG's. Unfortunately with our game, a team would be comprised of three characters with their own distinct cards.  Instead of having all of the cards available for use at all times, a players hand would get clogged up with all the different character cards. This was on purpose, as it encouraged players to switch up their characters, but with no actual demo to play, I wasn’t sure if the 7 cards would be enough buffer for players to build a strategic hand.

And that’s where I think I’ll leave it for today. Next week will be the second part of this post where I’ll chat about more of the initial design problems that I was anticipating with the game.

~ Cedrick

In the Beginning
 
The original sketch for a game that was to become ‘Sigils of Kairos’. See if you can notice all the design changes made since this was drawn.

The original sketch for a game that was to become ‘Sigils of Kairos’. See if you can notice all the design changes made since this was drawn.

 
Image from the original Plants Vs. Zombies from ©PopCap Games

Image from the original Plants Vs. Zombies from ©PopCap Games

As this is one of our first posts talking about our actual game, I suppose I will delve into the genesis of Sigils of Kairos.  The idea that would turn into Sigils actually began from a minigame in Plants vs Zombies. In this minigame, cards would scroll onto the screen and players would use them as they became available.  Having played Collectible Card Games like Magic: The Gathering, I felt like this would be an interesting twist on the genre.

The idea kept burning in my brain for the next few days and I was scrambling to find a framework to incorporate as many of my ideas as I could.  I strayed away from summoning minions and complex mechanics because I was hoping for a faster paced game. I settled on having cards played as attacks using a set character for the player.  After a while I realized that having only 1 character for each player wouldn't work for a few reasons.

  1. Each player would run out of cards right away and it would turn into a spam-fest of cards as soon as they were drawn.  

  2. Both players might draw at the same speed (negating the need for the real time)

  3. If one player picked an avatar that draws faster than another, it would be infinitely frustrating for the slower player.

Instead, I looked at games like Marvel vs. Capcom, which swapped characters in and out.  I also incorporated class roles, which would give players reasons to switch characters often and for strategic reasons.  

It was now time to get a rough layout of the game.  I drew out my idea onto some scrap paper, and it hasn't changed much throughout the entire development.  Obviously inspired by the old JRPG games of my youth, this rough drawing became all of the inspiration I needed.  Weeks passed and the more I stared at it, the more everything seemed to fall into place. This of course brought on unique design challenges which I’ll delve into on some upcoming posts. If you’re reading this as I’m posting and are in the Ottawa area this weekend, please drop by the Ottawa Geek Market happening at the Nepean Sportsplex. It will be our first time running a booth and we would love any support you can give.