« on: November 22, 2011, 01:07:57 PM »
I've been following the development of AVWW for a while. Like many people, I was disappointed when Arcen made the switch to a side-scroller -- a decision based almost entirely on art assets. Nevertheless, I trusted Arcen's instincts and had high hopes. I've since played the demo many times, trying my best to get into it, and I have a lot of feedback. I've waited a long time before writing this post to make sure I wasn't the only one with this opinion -- it's easy to become overly subjective when you hold a strong opinion.
First, there are a few things I want to warn Arcen about. I think you have a great forum here, but I think it's not giving you enough constructive criticism. This is a really big problem. Everyone here is gushing about how great the game is, but not enough people are saying what they don't like about the game. Or maybe they're expressing their opinion on Mantis -- I'm not sure, but I am sure that this forum isn't the kind of forum I'm used to in a beta.
I also think there's another problem, and that has to do with the way Arcen is partly gauging the popularity of AVWW -- via sales. I think there are quite a few people who bought AVWW because they like AI War and they sporadically followed AVWW's development, but after buying the game became quite disappointed with it and don't necessarily plan to keep playing it. I can't tell how big this group is, but I suspect it's not insubstantial.
Now to the problems with the game itself. I understand that it's beta and everything, but I think the core mechanics have serious flaws that need to be addressed. Adding more monsters is not going to solve the problems. The way the game plays right now is just too boring -- really really boring. I've tried to analyze why that is, and I've come up with a few points as well as a few possible solutions.
1. The areas are too large. Arcen is approaching the size of this game as if it's AI War. In AI War (from what I understand) there was good reason to make a huge galaxy: you were hunting for the location of the AIs. Also, space games by their nature lend themselves to being overly huge. In an exploration game, though, if exploration is tedious, then something is very wrong. And exploration in this game is very tedious. Here's my reaction to finding a house in one of the first areas for the first time: "Wow -- a house! And I can enter it! Sweet! And there are rooms! My there are lots of rooms... lots and lots of rooms... and they're all fairly similar... OK I gotta get out of here; this is too much. But it was cool that there was a house there I could enter. I'll remember this as 'The Region With An Awesome House'. Wait, there's another house... and another one... and... 12 more houses! In this one little area alone!" You basically take the natural curiosity/sense of exploration of gamers and trample it to death with the amount of areas and rooms in this game. And let's not even mention the caves -- they go on forever and ever.
I understand you've tried to cover up for the size of areas with warp potions, colored maps and such. But I think this is just avoiding the main problem. I shouldn't need a colored map to tell me there's a huge stash of stuff in the room 2 doors down if I head in this or that direction. It should be the palpable feeling of seeing that stuff that surprises me.
2. Monster nests. They're really not a good idea as they are. Why? Aside from the fact that 3 skulls spawning all sorts of mobs is ridiculous -- that's obviously just a cosmetic issue -- the problem is you're teasing players into smashing every one of them. Time is not a resource in this game. So if you give the option of destroying monster nests, players get a feeling like they should destroy them -- they have no reason not to except that it's tedious. And tedium should not be a limit on doing things. If you give players tedious ways to do things that have no other disadvantage, they'll carry those things out and just get bored. You could try telling them not to do those things, but they'll get a funny feeling in their stomach that they should do them anyway. Indestructible nests, which is what you had initially, is not a good solution, as could be seen by the objections that came up.
3. Allowing the player to go everywhere. You guys keep mentioning Metroid, but one of the coolest things in Metroid was seeing some tantalizing powerup, not being able to get to it, and then finally getting the movement powerup needed to get that other powerup. You used this gameplay element in the tutorial, but for the rest of the game we have at least ride the lightning and storm dash, which albeit cool, allow us to go anywhere we want. The best side-scrollers limit where the player can go so that later on the player can finally get there, and you're just not making use of that at all.
4. Rinse, wash, repeat. Every game has a repetitive core, but the best games hide it. By separating out the caves as the place to get weapons, and the above-ground areas as the place where you fight the main bad guys using said weapons, you've created a very obvious cycle and essentially separated the game out into 2 mini-games (aside from the strategic and action part) that have to be iterated over constantly, whether the player wants to or not. I may be enjoying myself on the overworld area, but here I go again heading into the caves to improve my weapons. It's not even a matter of how often I need to update my weapons. Just the fact that weapons can only be improved in the caverns means there's a strong incentive constantly pushing me to go there to see if I can improve them. Contrast this to the way standard ARPGs do things: you find loot wherever you are. Some could be worse, some could be better. If you want to make sure you get better weapons, all you have to do is visit the shop. It's trivial, and the way you find enough money to buy better weapons is simply by killing mobs ie doing the main activity. So the game rewards you for a)planning ahead and b)just playing it. Imagine if every time I went to the shop I had to solve 10 puzzles to be able to find a better weapon, and imagine that was the only way to get better weapons. I'd hate going to the shop, but I'd be forced to do it repeatedly. It would become a chore.
5. This one isn't a criticism: I just want to say I love the art. I think it's what draws me back. I see that random opening shot every time you start up the game and I just want to be in that world again.
OK now for some possible solutions:
1. Area sizes should be reduced dramatically. The way areas are now, they're way past what can fit in players' memories. Right now players can really only remember the boss rooms because those are relatively few. I should be able to recall: this is the area that has this building with cool stuff. This is the area that has that really deep cave. That's how dynamic stories are woven in the player's mind. But it's all just a blur because there's too much stuff. With the decreased sizes, tedium will be reduced and areas will be more fun to explore. I suggest you try to initialize a world with much fewer and smaller areas/houses/caves/rooms etc and see if it helps the experience.
2. Turns should advance every X minutes. There could be a countdown on the screen to remind you. X could vary by difficulty level. With time turned into a precious resource, suddenly it makes sense that I can't destroy every monster nest -- it's a waste of precious time. The goal of the game now shifts to finding the best stuff I can to equip my settlement/increase my strength before the inevitable invasion of the overlords and their minions. With time as a resource, a large world suddenly makes a lot more sense -- I need to sift through it to find the best stuff I can -- though I still suggest reducing the size. Building wind shelters would also be a real strategic choice: should I waste time trying to build this thing, or should I instead head straight for the resources and take my chances? I think this change alone would make the game far more interesting.
3. Since the game is infinite, movement powerups such as ride the lightning have to be severely limited. This allows you to construct areas where things are out of reach unless you use a movement powerup. I recommend turning all movement stuff into time-limited potions. There could also be a very rare permanent version of one of these movement methods, but it should have serious negative consequences attached as well, so that activating it has a very real cost. Another possibility is to only allow one movement powerup at a time, but that would still allow reaching virtually every place.
4. You have permadeath on your side in a very cool and fairly original way. Don't neglect to use it! Caves should be hazardous, and difficult to go down, with appropriate rewards. Perhaps you could make it such that if you die, you lose only the (town) supplies you gained since the last time you visited a town, unless you spelunk back to go back to retrieve your latest possessions. Wooden bridges should be rare. I also recommend adding in a suicide button in case the player gets stuck with no way out.
5. Get rid of the lather/rinse/repeat cycle. Weapons (crystals) should be available everywhere. Perhaps in the caves you can get bigger amounts since they're the source, but surely other people stashed rocks away as well if they're so precious. You then get to explore what you want to explore rather than being told by the game that it's now time to head to the caves because you need new weapons.
I don't expect people -- especially people on this board, who are enamored with the game as it is -- to agree with my criticisms. I do think, however, that they're shared by a not insignificant number of people who used to be very excited about this game. Hopefully at the very least my comments will allow the devs to take a step back and re-evaluate some of these points.