At the heart of much of the content of Roche Fusion stands the design. Ships, upgrades, enemies, and bosses all have to be designed before they can be put in the game. Especially since the gameplay in Roche Fusion is completely procedurally generated, a lot of thought has to go in the design of the single elements and the synergies between them to get a consistent and fun mix.
Today I will take a quick walk through the stages we go through from a design perspective. We don't follow a fixed design path for all content, since every bit of content is approached differently, and sometimes content is introduced to the game based on an epic idea of one of the team or community members. Still we can recognise a general path most designs follow before becoming a permanent part of Roche Fusion.
1. Determining the goalsThe first step in designing a new piece of content is determining the goals. We often try to look for gaps in the content currently in the game and determine how these gaps could be filled.
Let's look at a few examples: the fatboss that will be introduced in the next update for example has as goal to provide the game with a boss fitting with the theme of blue enemies; the green enemies were introduced in the game to generate a group of enemies that could cause the player to consider not firing at everything at the same time; the Arrow was introduced to create a ship that forces the player to fly more in the top half of the screen to actually kill enemies.
Most content in Roche Fusion is designed around a set of goals. Sometimes the goals can be really loose, if we for example just want a new ship or upgrade and can't find any content gaps they have to fill.
Some goals can also be very generic. For most upgrades for example we want to design them in such a way that they synergise well with one or more other upgrades. This makes the game more interesting, as there is more depth to choosing more upgrades.
2. Exploring mechanicsWhen we know where we want the content the go, we have to look for ways to get it there. We have several large documents filled with interesting ideas we can pull ideas from, but sometimes we need to think of new ad hoc solutions to fit better with the goals.
This stage of the process is the most creative of all, as we have to come up with interesting mechanics that feel new and refreshing that fit within a certain set of restrictions. While this can be a lot of fun to do, it is also one of the most challenging parts of developing content for Roche Fusion.
3. Create a consistent wholeFrom the previous step we often get a decently long list of mechanics we can use. Just throwing these mechanics in a huge mixing bowl and implementing them does not always great good content though, so that's why the next step is looking at the mechanics and try and find a way of combining them in an interesting way. For upgrades there is often a single mechanic, but ships and bosses often have several mechanics that need some work to be put together.
If often happens that we have to scrap mechanics, and it can also happen that we need to revisit the mechanics and add some more ideas to link mechanics together. In rare occasions we have to go back to the drawing board and come up with an entirely different combination of mechanics.
In additional to making sure the design is internally consistent, we also have to look at the design in the bigger picture of Roche Fusion. The design might clash with another piece of content, or make old content obsolete. With Roche Fusion growing bigger and thus also more complicated all the time, it is really important to get a good feel of the game and stay aware of the features the existing content has to offer.
4. The two I's: implement and iterateAfter we have decided on the design of the content, we start implementing it. We often start out with a rough framework and then work our way through the details. Once we have implemented an MVP (minimal viable product), we immediately start testing. Sometimes we find that a mechanic doesn't work as well as we wanted, or that some mechanics interfere with each other. In that case we revisit the design, make some changes and go from there. Sometimes we have to go back further, and we might be set back to as far as step 2.
For more complicated designs, several iterations are usually required to get a piece of content we are happy with. Green enemies for example went through three major redesigns across a full year of development, while the blue enemies have barely changed since their original implementation.
5. Polishing, playtesting and balancingWhenever we are happy with the complete package, we start polishing it. At this stage, we often add the content to the main game already, so we can test it a lot along with the existing content of Roche Fusion. During this stage, we often make small improvements to the graphics, and make sure everything feels fluent and smooth. We consider it very important that every piece of content feels as complete and polished as possible.
This is also the part where the sound effects - and sometimes final graphics - come in.
Of course the new content also has to be balanced to fit with the rest of the content. This comes down to tweaking a lot of parameters to make sure the upgrade is similarly destructive as other upgrades or enemies are as lethal as you would expect them to be in the stage of the game they appear.
Having a basis of content to work from makes it difficult to anticipate how new content fits in, but it also sets a baseline for balance. Being the first ship of the game, the description of the Beard is very accurate in that most of the other ships have been balanced around the Beard. The difficulty level has been established over months of extensive beta testing, which makes it relatively easier to fit in new content with the rest in content updates.
LivestreamIf you are interested in how we approach this final stage of the design process, you can tune in for a live playtesting session on Saturday April 25 at 16pm CEST over at http://twitch.tv/tomrijnbeek. I will be playing the game for several hours, testing all the content we have been working on for the first free update during the past couple of months, so this is a great moment to check out what we have in store for you. Of course there will also be ample opportunity to ask questions about our design process, the game, or anything else you would be interested in (my favourite colour is lawn green by the way, so there is no need to ask that any more), or leave behind your feedback based on what you are seeing.
What happens afterThe final step often takes until the update is actually released. At that point a lot of different people get access to the content we have created. Our players often find different ways of consuming the content, or even behaviour that we had not anticipated. We always keep a close eye on videos and forum posts to check out what people think of the new content and how they are using it.
During the beta stage of this game we worked closely together with our beta players. Due to our short release cycle we were able to quickly make changes to the content. Since the game is now released, it is more difficult to make large changes to existing content. If we feel something doesn't work or is imbalanced, we have to consider carefully if and how we want to change it, since it could have large repercussions throughout the whole game, and eventually affect the overall game balance. This is why we have to assume the content immutable after we have released it, unless we notice major design flaws.
I hope you found it interesting to learn about our design process and the challenges we face along the road to developing new content. As always, if you have any questions or comments about what you read, don't hesitate to leave behind a comment or get in contact with us in some other way.