Posts tagged Complexity vs Depth
Trap Cards
Trap Cards.jpg

Hello Everyone!

Time for yet another discussion about design choices for Sigils of Kairos.  Today’s post I will be talking about trap cards.  I’ll start by discussing the reasons for including them, how they’ve changed from that original idea, and then touch on the different traps available.  Let’s go!

First off, one would assume that trap cards came about from playing Yugioh or Hearthstone.  This is probably subconsciously true, but it is important to note that I played neither of these when they were included into Sigils.  Traps were actually a natural and obvious solution for one of my initial worries, Hand Dumping.  Even before my initial mock-up for the game, I knew that there had to be something in place to make players think twice about throwing down a card.  In fact, I liked this idea so much, that I left three spaces for traps for each player!  Thankfully, when Jacob agreed to take on the project, he quickly noted that this is overkill and would serve only to frustrate.

Touching on a design philosophy so wonderfully explained in an Extra Credits video, traps were a perfect way to add a lot of depth with very little complexity.  By this I mean that the traps added a lot of strategy and thinking through plays without having players learn any difficult-to-grasp rules.  Any player can understand how a move could get blocked by a trap, but good players know to bait out a trap by throwing out a weak attack before unloading their special moves.  As our game evolved to include the forge mechanic, this became even more important.  Forging powerful cards meant that a player was putting more eggs in one basket.  If that move gets blocked by a trap, that player didn’t just lose one card, but 2 or 3.  That being said, let’s take a look at the traps that we’ve included in Sigils.

Otto’s Ward

This is probably the most important of the traps as it cuts right to the main purpose of traps.  When triggered, the tank shield doesn’t just prevent one attack, but three!  Throw in the ability to upgrade this to a 5 shield trap, and it’s easy to see why this card defines Otto’s role as a tank.

Skrill’s Ward

The most standard of the different trap cards, Skrill’s bone ward blocks a single attack and throws a bit of damage their way via poison damage over time.  This move (as well as Bone Cage) helps classify Skrill into the support role and pushes back against the idea that support roles are simply just healers.

Stalagg’s Ward

Another seemingly standard trap card, Stalagg’s frost ward (Pictured above) blocks a single attack while slowing the attacker’s draw speed.  Though this may not seem very useful this move serves to slow down the entire game, which was a major goal when designing Stalagg. This allows the player to breathe and plan out their moves against an aggressive enemy team.

Amyth’s Ward

One would have thought this would be the most boring of the traps, but Amyth’s flame ward comes with its own unique mechanic.  Unlike the other traps, the flame ward actually runs on a timer.  This means that over-zealous players can hit this trap twice.  We don’t extend this prolonged trap time for very long because Amyth doesn’t fall into the tank or support roles, but it opens doors for future trap designs.

Lynx’s Ward

Last but not least is the trap for Lynx.  I had planned for this to be another run-of-the-mill trap, but Jacob took this in a completely different direction.  When he had first brought up the idea, I wasn’t sure how it would play out.  After seeing the animation, however, I was instantly convinced it should be in the game.  Mechanically, Lynx’s portal ward ended being a very powerful tool.  Perfectly suited as a strong support move, the stakes for falling into this trap are very high.  By losing a key character like a tank or healer for a short time, the player is now left very vulnerable.

That about does it for this post. Though I don’t post on a weekly basis, I do hope that you find these insights worth reading when I can get them loaded and ready to go. Though I would love to engage more with you all, please remember that for now we are a small two man team working between our regular jobs. Our saving grace is that our build is very far along and playable, despite needing a bit of fleshing out and balancing. We would like to express our ceaseless gratitude for showing interest in our small project in our grassroots days and we look forward to bringing you all the very best gaming experience we can. Until next time.

~ Cedrick

Forging #2
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Hello Everyone,

A couple weeks ago, I went about describing our ‘forge’ mechanic. If you missed that one, click here and give it a skim as it sets up for this week’s discussion.

One of our basic tenets when building Sigils of Kairos was to keep it as accessible as we could while still providing a rich playing experience.  Introducing a mechanic like ‘forging’ comes with more decisions which in turn adds complexity. Though complexity is not inherently bad, we had to make sure that adding these mechanics it would add enough depth to the gameplay to be worth the steeper learning curve.

How did we do this?  First off, we had to reduce confusion by ensuring we had a clean UI and limited what could and couldn’t be forged.  These topics will be touched on in later posts, so for now we will focus on the ‘depth’ side of this depth vs complexity.

The key to adding depth was to make sure that the decisions presented to the player were meaningful.  First, we wanted the choice of forging to have different outcomes. We wanted to give a player reasons to not only forge a card, but to also choose not to depending on the situation.  A great example of this can be seen with Lai’s move ‘Blitz Strike’, which disarms an opponent’s trap (ward) if one was laid. Players can choose to merge two ‘Blitz Strike’ cards to turn it into ‘Frenzy Strike’. Doing this adds high damage on top of the disarm effect, but the cost is a second disarm effect.  Depending on who the player is facing and the state of the game, it might be wiser to not forge ‘Frenzy Strike’ so that more traps could be disarmed. Conversely, it might be better to forge ‘Frenzy Strike’ for a spike in damage to finish off an enemy hero. Discovering what choice is best for any given situation is vital for the gameplay of Sigils of Kairos.

Lai performing the forged 'Frenzy Strike’. Useful as a high damage finisher.

Lai performing the forged 'Frenzy Strike’. Useful as a high damage finisher.

Secondly, we needed the forge mechanic to make a difference in the game.  This basically comes down to balancing, forged cards needed to be strong enough to be worth playing without being overpowered.  Though this seems straightforward, there were some subtle factors that we didn’t anticipate at first. Originally, we looked at the power output of a card and used a standard multiplier for its forged version.  This didn’t pan out when we actually ran the prototype of the game. Sigils is a game of class roles, and as such, players try to protect weaker characters from harm. This results in critical windows of opportunity where weaker characters are only brought forward for short periods of time.  Players take advantage of these windows by spiking damage using forged cards. When we loaded our baseline set of damage, we didn’t factor in how impactful these damage spikes would end up being. As such, early versions of the game had squishy characters absolutely destroyed before seeing much play. This ended up being a valuable lesson to learn and is a constant consideration as we balance the game further.

With the forging mechanic adding so many meaningful decisions that involve so many quick calculations, our game became much more competitive and interesting.  Forging increases the skill cap that allows good players to shine and gives room for new players to grow. With more meaningful decisions to make, players learn what the most optimal play is in any given situation.  This road to mastery is not only great for Sigils of Kairos, it is the end goal that gives the game longevity and replayability.

Please keep checking in for more design discussions regarding our upcoming project!

~ 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