Thematic Design: I need a Hero!

Hello Everyone!

Van here again aftar a long hiatus of not writing posts, but now I am back and we will be talking about Heroes today.

Heroes in State of Wonder has been an awesome addition, they are pitched as big scary finishers, that you play to change the tides of war. Examples are the Master of Venom which kills 2 units of your choice when you play him. Or the Wandering plague, that deals 1 damage on each enemy unit when he enters play. These are cool, large effects in SoW and the more we played them the more awesome it become to play these guys.

The problem is though. That they stop feeling like heroes after you play them. Due to several issues, with how they work. The biggest one is that heroes has progression, meaning that you win if your hero is on the table for a specific number of turns (Generally between 6 and 10 turns). This makes heroes into things you have to protect and with many heroes being heroes of war (The Iron Champion and the Golden Terror as examples) this makes them feel thematically weird.

Play the hero and then don’t use the hero under any circumstance! This is what we are telling our players. It is weird seeing that our heroes, our strongest units and fighters, does not want to be in combat, as they generelly just get killed by 2 random units on the battlefield.

So do we have a solution? We believe so, but it requires testing as everything else in design. The solutions we have thought up are the following.

Giving Heroes protective Key Words if they are combat based, for example adding a keyword named brutality to a hero, which allows him to deal his damage to all other combatants in that combat. transforming that hero in to a massive sweeper or giving a hero a “Duel” keyword, allowing it to attack one specific unit and not allowing other to stack upon it, turning it into a removal of sorts.

The other solution is to give the Hero typing a new rule, that protects them in combat, for example giving all heroes the duel “keyword” inherently in their type.

Lastly we discussed removing progress from heroes, to just make them into superpowered units that you don’t really mind them dying if their doing their purpose. I personally do not enjoy this design, as it strays away from “Everyone can win in 2 ways”

This does though open up for each player having both a hero and a wonder which can be nice!

So now that we have talked a bit about heroes. An update on the rest of the project!

As we are looking at it right now, art is progressing as well as the design and setting of the game. Colours are being decided, factions are being fleshed out and everything is going in the right direction.

As you might have heard (and we have been talking about) we are making a digital prototype. The digital prototype has gotten a major revamp, as we shifted from 3d to 2d. (Easier to manage for our team, that is composed of primarily 2d artists)

So stay tuned on the digital prototype, heroes and the card game! To get into our playtesting community and try the game: Go to our play testing group on facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/189288624843135/?fref=ts

Artwork Insight & Process

Hello folks, the main artist Addis here to share the process I go through while creating all the card artwork for SoW! To show it off visually (seeing how that’s my jam) I’ll be using the Warmonger art to break down the steps that it went through from start to finish.

1: A rough sketch is made to pinpoint the general look and posing of the character. The time spent on these can range from 5 to 25 minutes, depending on how many sketches are done before finding the best shot.

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2: The rough is cleaned up into a clearer sketch, with shadows applied to show where the light source is located. Some detail is added in as well, but the sketch is still kept fairly loose to allow for further edits. Usually, this stage takes about 30-ish minutes.

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3: Lineart time! The shadow layers are kept hidden throughout this process. As inking is my specialty as an artist, editing and adding in content is done on the fly during this stage through trial and error to create differences in the line work. The time spent on this varies greatly depending on the complexity of each piece, but usually lands within 1 – 2 hours.

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4: The shadows enters the battle field… And define the character details to their fullest. Heavily inspired by a retro comic book style (think Agent X9, Judge Dredd, Axa, etc.) the shadows are thick and dominating, creating shapes and depth with large swaths of ink. Once again, depending on the complexity of the image itself, time spent varies ranging from 1 to 3 hours.

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5: Bring out your colouring books, it’s time to paint it up! As of now, colour schemes for each faction are being decided upon, so not too much time is spent on this final stage (roughly 20 minutes), as it’s only meant to show where the differences in hue are located.

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And that wraps this step-by-step up! For those of you interested in hardware/software specifications, here are the tools used throughout the process:

Paint Tool SAI
Photoshop CS2
(An old yet still kickin’) Huion H610 graphics tablet

Seeya folks next time!

Lore tidbits

HEY YO NEW YEAR AND ALL! To kick things off, here are some previews from the world-building our lore lead Exa (that’s me) is working on!

One Thousand Years of Winter

One thousand years of winter have ravaged the land, laying waste to whatever civilizations, whatever technology, whatever gods and beliefs held sway before the sky grew dark. It is said that the sea spewed fire, one thousand years ago, though how or why is little understood. All that is known is the how the firmament was flooded the atmosphere with black ash in the months that followed, ash that choked the sun out of the sky. The sun faded. The heavens darkened. And the winter never ended.

Until now.

The Crux Militem

The highly militarized, wandering crusade known as the Crux Militem is a plague-infested warband on a witchhunt. Their conviction lies in iron, unity, and the unshakeable belief that the Thousand Years of Winter were divine punishment imposed upon the lands by the vengeful gods of the sky.

Their tactics tend toward the straight-forward and effective, though their use of biological warfare in the form of the Scarlet Plague makes them thus far unique among the warring states.

The Militem is led by three siblings known as The Golden Terror, The Iron Champion, and The Wandering Plague.

The eldest, called the Golden Terror, is famed for his ruthless tactics, as for his exceptional armour – fashioned from a unique metal of a yellow-gold hue, said to have been found in a fallen star.

The middle child, Arsenius, known as The Iron Champion, is a reknowned warrior seemingly immune to The Scarlet Plague.

The Wandering Plague is the youngest of the three. A man so frail he is said to be a corpse, ashy skin stretched over gaunt limbs. He contracted the Scarlet Plague as a child, but did not die to it.

And did somebody say FLAVOURTEXTS? Our goal is to set the mood and tone of each card and their relevant faction in a card’s flavour text – and, ideally, to pack as much of a lore-punch as we can into one little sentence. Below are a few examples!

Ritualists Flavour Text Samples

“They sent their armies against us. We sent them back.”

– Fortification: Cadaver Cannon

“Like the First Martyr before us, our blood shall water the earth.”

– Unit: Innocent Sacrifice

“His words were a whip. With each lash, he drove them into a frenzy.”

– Unit: Hardened Lieutenant

Frifolk Flavour Text Samples

“Money is a construct, my friend. But desperation? That’s what really makes the world go round.”

– State: Moneylender’s Empire

“Welcome to the Frifolk. We have two rules. One: there are no rules, and Two: don’t piss Nanna off.”

– Wonder: Nanna’s Tavern

Mercenary (neutral) Flavour Text Samples

“You can buy and sell anything at the markets of Kvikeld. Swords, supplies. Loyalties. Lives.”

– Building: Market

“Some of the Cult’s best warriors came from the farmlands of Lubgorod. And when their loved ones were sacrificed, some of them returned..”

– Building: Garrison

“Take a deep breath, Tacitus. That’s the smell of fifty-four hard-working men. Sleeping, eating, fucking in one wooden shed.”

– Building: Barracks

We’ll be updating with some annoucements in the coming week, so stay tuned as always, and let’s kick 2017’s ass worse than 2016 kicked ours. ^^

Digital Prototype Coding, Business Plans, New Art!

Hey y’all! November’s come and gone with us busy working away on card art, new frames, our own digital prototype for State of Wonder, 3D assets for the same, and business plans and budgets.

Don’t worry, we won’t make you read our spreadsheets. Suffice it to say we’ve gotten some excellent professional start-up advisers and are continuing to polish our business plan.

legacy-code

Actual photo of Exa after 30 hrs of working on business plans and budgets

A Free-to-Play Digital Prototype is being developed for State of Wonder!

Perhaps the biggest announcement is we’re almost a month in on development of a digital prototype for State of Wonder. This means we want players to be able to test our game online for free in a digital format. We also want the digital version of the game to function as a tutorial for new players, and, eventually, a fully-functional digital version of the card game. As soon as the digital prototype is complete with single player versus AI tutorial play, we will begin implementing features to take it to the next level: that means net-code and online pvp support.

Our digital prototype is being developed in Unity, coded primarily by Kuri, soon to have Exa swell the ranks. Ponyus is developing 3D art assets to the prototype, with support from Van. We’re using C# and Kuri has been going for a heavily object-oriented, moddable base code that will be easy to expand upon as we add more cards and abilities.

Below is a clip of how our digital prototype is coming along, showcasing “stacking” in combat – that is to say, the player selecting multiple units to attack the same enemy card with.

All of the graphics are placeholders in this clip, of course, where the red and gray circles will be replaced with icons representing a “fight” (at least two cards locked in combat).

Of course, our Tabletop Simulator version of the game is still available and will continue to be, download the mod here!

We’ve also got a lovely new card frame designed and developed by Van:

previewcardframe

Templar faction card frame update. Each faction will have a uniquely coloured card frame – the positioning of icons and text, however, will be consistent!

We’ve gone for a more intuitive design by Van: rather than having multiple text fields where the player has to memorize what positioning on the frame relates to what stat, the use of bold, illustrative icons for attack value (mid left), defense value (mid right), and cost (upper left) as well as progress (upper right) will hopefully mean a more intuitive learning curve for new players.

As always, lead artist Addis is busy working on card art – below are two new tidbits for you, the Templars’ Warrior Priest and the neutral faction Standard Bearer.


The Warrior Priest, a 1/1 for 3 Gold, Exhausts and Delays a target unit when she enters the battlefield, making this card particularly attractive as a control option, to buy the player some valuable time or prevent a specific enemy card from acting.

The Standard Bearer is a 3/2 for 4 Gold, which gives all other units you control gain +1 attack  while they are in the same zone as Standard Bearer. This makes the card a powerful support choice. Can you picture it combined with a Heresy bonus? xD

Tomorrow BetterBuilt has another internal moot scheduled regarding our business strats going forward. We’ll give you a Twitter and Facebook update afterward!

Catch you again soon!

/Exa

Tabletop Simulator Version Now Open to the Public!

Good news, everyone! Last night we released the State of Wonder Steam Workshop mod for Tabletop Simulator! This means anyone can now digitally test-play State of Wonder via Tabletop Sim.

Click here to download the State of Wonder Tabletop Simulator mod!

Don’t forget to join our Facebook testing group, to find players to meet in battle, or chat with us devs!

You can read and print the game rules below:


Currently you can only test as two versus players due to Tabletop Sim limitations, though State of Wonder in physical form is playable for up to eight opponents in a match.

To round off the week, enjoy some gorgeous new card art sketches from our Lead Artist, Addis! Catch you next week!

New Cards, New Wonders, New Testing Opportunities!

Hey y’all! Exa here to give you a quick update on our goings on here at BetterBuilt this past week. We’ve been meeting with local start-up assistants Science Park to work out some details of our burgeoning new enterprise, and continue seeking council from professionals like previous Senior Designer Adam Mayes with regards to our plans moving forward. We’re working on our Kickstarter campaign, which we’re aiming to open in January/February, after the holidays. So keep an eye out – and don’t worry, we’ll wave the banner to remind you! 😀

The Tabletop Simulator Workshop Version of State of Wonder will be available to the public starting this weekend!

If you have Tabletop Simulator via Steam, you’ll be able to test our prototype at any time with our team, your friends, or previous testers! We’ll post the download link and ruleset document when we announce. We can’t tell you how HYPE we are to open to a new testing public. We are hungry for your feedback like a pack of tiny screeching volerats. I don’t even know what that means!

36 New Cards await you!

We’ve expanded on every faction, so that each has two states, three wonders to choose from when constructing a deck, additional powerful cards, as well as a number of new neutral cards, for offensive, defensive, control plays, secure as well as insecure economic cards, and a new keyword, Worker.

Worker units have health and damage, just like any other units. However, this keyword enables them to be Exhausted in order to make your next building or fortification cost 1 less resource to build. This effect stacks.

Some of the most pushed cards we’ve introduced are the Drug Den, the Iron Champion, and the Dark Executioner.

The Drug Den is a card designed for the Outcasts faction (thieves, beggars and bandits).

drugden

NOTE! This center art for this card is currently a placeholder, we do not own the rights to it. Source

The illicit substances provides powerful benefits to all the defenders of the State that use it. But their dependency is fatal, and should the Den ever be destroyed, so are its users..

The Iron Champion is a heroic figure among the Crusaders, and one of the three Wonders this state can create. This powerful figure brings with him reinforcements, and declares Heretics when he arrives.

iron-champ

NOTE! This center art for this card is currently a placeholder, we do not own the rights to it. Source

The fanatical Cultists’ Dark Executioner demands a sacrifice of blood to wreak destruction on his state’s foes.

dark-executioner

NOTE! This center art for this card is currently a placeholder, we do not own the rights to it. Source

In combination with Innocent Sacrifice, the Cultist player can reap incredible power at the cost of the innocent lives.

innocent-sacrifice

NOTE! This center art for this card is currently a placeholder, we do not own the rights to it. Source

We’re always working on fine-tuning balance among the cards and deck combinations, and with that in mind, we need still more fresh testers to refine the experience State of Wonder provides!

Our lead artist is burning the midnight oil knocking out the art to all the new cards, so we’ll soon have some goodies to show off.

Catch you in the publicly accessible Tabletop Sim version of State of Wonder this weekend!

/Exa

Balance and Affordances: Designer Notes 4

Hey y’all! We had a blast at Wiscon, Visby’s local gaming convention last weekend! With some fresh tester blood, we realized we needed further tuning to our Bandit starter deck, and got some really useful data for what kinds of new neutral cards would make a good fit to buff out our base game. Let’s take these items in some semblance of order.

The Bandit Starter Deck Needs Tweaking

One of the first things I started noticing during the three days we were at Wiscon was that new players were almost always losing to the Bandit starter deck. Even when a new player would lose to the Bandit deck, swap decks with their match mate, and play again, the Bandit deck would still win. This means even with the opponent knowing what was in the deck and how to win with it against the Templar deck, the Templar player was still losing. This was a problem to me, as it happened to every single new player during Wiscon. Sometimes multiple times in a row.

After discussing with Van, the Lead Designer, we quickly identified some key facts complicating this issue. The Bandit deck is not over-powered. In fact, if both players play “correctly,” ie using build order to its fullest and playing the right counters at the right time, the Bandit starter deck cannot win against the Templar starter deck. I know this is true because we tested it amongst the dev team multiple times. We tweaked some cards and variables and still the Templar starter can beat the Bandit starter every single time.

So why wasn’t this happening among new players? Even if they played rematches or swapped decks?

Some more observations were made. New players tend to play the game with very passive, economic starters. They’d usually open with a Gold Mine. And then build another Gold Mine on their next turn, followed by a defensive Fortification. Sometimes even a third goldmine! Now, the hyper-aggressive Templar starter deck is not designed for passive play (trust me, I was part of the inspiration for it!). The gold-thieving Bandit deck, with its dual Highwayman’s Hideouts, isn’t meant for passive play either.. but benefits from such a starter, particularly the opponent doing such a starter, far more than the Templar deck does. So what was happening was players weren’t utilizing the Templar deck as it was meant to be. They never found out the Templar deck was a trump to the Bandit deck because they didn’t seem to change their strategy. Why was this happening?

Affordances.

In game design terminology, an Affordance is using non-verbal, non-explicit indicators to suggest actions to your players. Gamasutra describes affordance as “the quality of an object that communicates a way to use it.” Extra Credits did a great video explaining the details of this powerful design tool:

Basically what Ponyus and the team deduced was State of Wonder’s affordances were suggesting players play that goldmine, build a wall to defend it. We attribute this first of all to the existence of gold mines in the starter decks, our visual and gameplay parallels to Age of Empires, the experience of many card players with lands/mana in MTG, the importance of early game economy in RTSes, and the structural set-up of three rows of card placement in our game: your city state, your fortifications, and the front line. I feel that there is a compounding of learned and suggested indicators tricking players of State of Wonder into thinking they should build gold mines, then a wall around them, and then units.

The fact of the matter is that only after your fourth turn after playing a gold mine have you gone plus in gold. They cost three, so it takes you three turns to just break even. At the start of your fourth turn you have gone plus one gold. That is a lot of dead time for very little effect – at least for these two starter decks.

So at this point in discussion we’d identified a couple likely reasons for this phenomenon during Wiscon, but we still had two problems:

  1. The Bandit Starter Deck was actually underpowered
  2. But new players kept losing to it.

We couldn’t just buff the Templar deck – remember, it was actually a complete ace in the hole and the Bandit starter could not win against it if played to its potential.

We needed to improve the Bandit deck so it was viable against the Templar deck for experienced players – but at the same time help new players not lose repeatedly to the Bandit deck. Balance is a complex issue, my friends!

Van and Kuri had the same suggestions for tweaking the Bandit starter: firstly, paring down the two Highwayman’s Hangouts to just one, and removed the Rough Riders from the deck. This would prevent new players from being rushed or locked down as easily. We replaced the cards with Footmen, Mauraders and Garrisons.  This change actually worked with a new player as soon as we tested it – he won with the Templar deck facing the augmented Bandit deck. This change was also intended to make the deck more viable against the Templars for experienced play, placing two Garrisons with the ability to spring 1/3 Veterans if besieged. But the Bandit deck still would need a powerful 2-cost card to make it more of a force to be reckoned with for those savvy in the ways of combat and build-order.

Why don’t you just remove the gold mines from the Templar starter deck?

A few reasons. Firstly, our basic design of the starter decks utilizes a structure that combines secure income cards with uncertain income cards. It’s true that the Templars should never really have to rely on a goldmine to secure a win. However, Van raised an interesting point. The Templar starter deck demands players really have a tight grip on combat. Morseso than the other starters, it’s what will win or lose them a match. Van liked this aspect of the deck: making players learn the finer points of build order and combat, rather than having us as designers really force their hand, “preventing” them from making any build order mistakes at all. We don’t want to mislead players – but we don’t want the game to prevent them from making any wrong calls entirely.

And it’s not necessarily always wrong to build a gold mine as a Templar player. It really depends on circumstance – it just may not be the best opener against the Bandit starter.

Another reason is the deck-building component of State of Wonder. We want players to go over to our stacks of cards on the adjacent table and build themselves a new deck, or tweak the starter. We had great success with this during our own local playtesting session at the university: seeing new players go off after a match and build a custom deck, play a rematch, then return to tweak their deck some more is a great pleasure to us as designers.

So what did you do about those Affordances?

This is a bit of a tricky one, since a large portion of this we feel comes from a player’s learning history with other games. Not to mention, as Van pointed out to me, losing with the Templar starter deck is sort of part of the learning curve – that ah ha! moment, where the new player realizes they’re actually sitting on a bomb, and now that they’ve gotten down combat and build order, they can paste the deck that had been defeating them six ways to Sunday? We do want that.

But we are still keeping our potentially misleading Affordances in mind. It’s not an issue that can be hot-patched away.

What’s next?

We’ve got a long list of new cards posited by Lead Van, and I’m really eager to start testing them tomorrow. Duelists, Hedge Knights, Spiked Moats, Standard Bearers – the list goes on, and even a new keyword: Worker, a unit that can fight or defend.. or be exhausted to drop the cost of the next building or fortification constructed.

Stay tuned for our next blog post to hear more about these new cards, and how they pan out in testing!

/Exa