Monday, April 7, 2014

The Final Stretch

Though it feels like I've been saying this for a while, we're in the final stretch of Battleheart Legacy's development!  I wanted to take a few minutes to give people a candid explanation of where we're at, how much is left to do, and how long it'll take.

Up until around December of last year, we'd spent nearly two years making piles of content - weapons, armor, spells, enemies, environment tiles, music, and systems design.  Most of this had only been implemented in small test levels which were not balanced or intended to be played by our users.  This is how we always make our games: you might be surprised to hear that Zombieville USA 2 was barely even playable until about a 1-2 months before release.  The rest of the time we'd been building enemies, weapons, player costumes and perks, but it wasn't until the last 6 or 7 weeks where we tied it all together into something resembling a game.

Anyway, it's a lot easier to operate this way when the final game loop that people are going to experience is pretty random/procedural.  All of our games so far have relied on simple environments (a scrolling background, a static arena) within which you're assaulted by waves of guys, either chosen by us in pre-constructed waves (OMG Pirates, Battleheart) or selected at random via some math and junk (Zombieville).  But with this game our environments and overall game flow is more complex and varied, and therefore it's been taking a bit longer than the usual 6-8 week "tying things up" period.

Therefore, since the turn of the year we've been in "ship it" mode, tying things together, building dungeons and quests, and testing them with the help of friends/family.  Along the way there have been some surprises and speed bumps, but we've been keeping to a nice regular pace, steadily expanding the game in order of difficulty.  We started with a tutorial and some low-level areas to explore, and now it's possible to learn every skill and level up to around level 15-20 before you run out of challenging stuff.  I'd say the game is getting close to as long as the original Battleheart already, but I still want to add around 15-20 more dungeons, and a few more side quests.  The goal is that the final game will offer challenges all the way up to level 30, along with a survival arena not unlike the original game, and a "new game plus" which allows you to start from the beginning again but retain the skills you learned on your first play through.  It's a lot of fun to try different character builds, and since it's not realistic to learn every ability in a single play through, there's some replay value in starting over with a different setup.

Given the fairly short and specific list of stuff left to do, you'd think it would be easy to put a specific date on it, right?  Well, we're about to add a wrinkle to that pretty soon - the Mika Mobile team is expanding by one.  We're having a baby very soon, after which I really have no idea how many hours I'm going to be able to work any given day.  We're very close though, and I expect that by the time our lives are transformed Legacy will be almost entirely in the bag.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A quick holiday update

We've been getting lots of questions about Battleheart Legacy's release date as the new year approaches, since the last time we spoke about it we said something vague like "early next year".  I'm afraid we don't have anything concrete to share yet, but I can say we're knocking things off the to-do list pretty regularly and expect to easily ship this winter.

I apologize for the vagueness of our release dates, but that's just kinda how things go when the product is mainly being put together by 1-2 people.  If one of us gets the flu, or just a creative block, the release date slips by a day or two.  If I work through a weekend (which is pretty common these days) then we get that much closer!  And sometimes, we just end up changing our minds and spending an extra week here and there making something better.  For example, in December we ended up spending an extra couple weeks making more unique models for weapons so we'd have a really satisfying variety.

We'll announce a specific date as soon as we can.  Thanks for bearing with us!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The intersection of accessibility and fun

As we approach the final stretch on the production of Battleheart Legacy, we're getting into tuning all the numbers - damage and health, how quickly you gain levels and money, etc.  We're also spending a lot of time massaging the first few minutes of the game to ensure that the controls and elements of the UI are easily understood.  It's all about making sure the game is readily accessible to someone who has never seen it before, which can be a challenge when you've been looking at the game and testing it for almost 2 years.

That said, there's definitely such a thing as being TOO accessible.  There's a trend in game development towards focus-grouping the crap out of your product until you're sure you're not alienating anyone.  This can lead a game down the road of extreme hand-holding throughout the entire experience.  In many modern games, failure is rare or nonexistent because many players quickly become bored or frustrated if they aren't constantly rewarded for their actions (and achievements have further reinforced that expectation).

I think this is why Dark Souls got such a warm reception from a lot of the gaming press, and many life-long gamers like myself.  It's unapologetically true to it's tone - one of danger and uncertainty.  It reminded many of us of a time when games didn't really educate you beyond "this button makes you jump", and you had to learn the rest through experience.  And yes, experience means failing.  A lot.  But there's fun to be had in failing and adapting your strategy, which personally I prefer over being handed artificial victories without any effort.

So in short, I think there's plenty of stuff on the app store that appeals to those looking for 30 seconds of fun here and there, Zombieville being among the lot.  But I think there's an appetite for something with a little more depth, complexity, and yes, the potential for failure.  So we're approaching Battleheart Legacy with the assumption that our clientele has played a game or two, and doesn't necessarily need every single thing spelled out.  We'll show you how the controls work, but beyond that we'll stay out of your way.  We're not going to stop you from attacking town guards and getting yourself slaughtered.  We're not going to stop you from building your character in a really weird way.  I don't intend the game to be aggressively difficult, but for all of the 150-ish skills you can learn to actually matter, the world you're set loose in will need to put up a fight.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Battleheart Legacy

If you've heard me talk about Battleheart "2" at all, you've seen that I'm reluctant to actually stick a "2" on it.  The reason being, it's really different in a lot of ways, since we're never really content to just make the same game over again.  It carries Battleheart's DNA, but it isn't just Battleheart refreshed with a couple tweaks and some new graphics.  It's a new game with new design goals.  With Battleheart, the goal was to distill party-based combat popularized by MMO's (namely Warcraft) down to it's essence.  With our next game, I wanted to make my own take on the vast, non-linear RPG's that have given me the fondest memories and greatest inspirations as a gamer.  In series' such as Fallout or The Elder Scrolls, you are exploring a world and writing your own story through the places you visit and choices you make.  This is core of what we're trying to do with what we're titling Battleheart Legacy.

When we started development in early 2012, the game wasn't intended to be a Battleheart sequel.  The game was actually concieved as a sci-fi adventure at first, though we quickly changed gears when we realized how much of the gameplay overlapped with Battleheart.  And as we worked on it further, it became clear that it was essentially the offspring of Battleheart and our favorite western RPG's throughout the last couple decades.

As I've mentioned before, there are some significant departures in Legacy.  The game is 3D (though still in our lively style), and is a non-linear experience, more focused on exploration and storytelling than simply leveling up for the sake of leveling up.  The controls have been redesigned, from line drawing to simple taps which are much more precise and easy to use in the heat of the moment, especially considering that the levels are now large, scrolling 3D battlefields rather than simple, static arenas viewed from the side.  It's kind of a cross between Diablo/Torchlight, and RTS or "moba" games like League of Legends.  Basic attacks are still performed automatically after "locking on" to a target, while powerful abilities with cooldowns are activated via on-screen buttons.

Where Battleheart's DNA shines through is in the combat - like it's predecessor, it's a game of assessing threats and utilizing the right skill at the right moment.  Enemy healer sitting in the back of the room?  Blow him up with a meteor, or put him to sleep while you slaughter his allies.  A powerful cyclops closing in on you?  Raise your shield to deflect his attack, or unleash a colossal melee strike to knock him down.  This brings me to a departure from the original game which may surprise you - it's no longer about micro-managing an entire party.  Instead, like its primary inspirations (fallout, elder scrolls, etc.) the game focuses on a single main character, though they will grow to command as much power and versatility as your whole party did in Battleheart.  When you begin, you'll choose a gender and basic appearance, and then be set loose into the world to grow your character as you wish.  You may encounter NPC allies on the way, or summon pets or minions, but the game is primarily about controlling a single hero who can master any of the game's 12 classes, or mix and match abilities among them.  Like Battleheart, striking a balance of defensive abilities, crowd control and pure damage should provide lots of opportunity to experiment and define your personal combat style.

We can't wait to show you the game in motion, and hope to finally be able to reveal first media of Battleheart Legacy this fall!  We are currently targeting a holiday release, though as always it's done when it's done.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Development News

It's been a while since we posted anything, so I figured we should give you guys a brief update so you know we're still alive.

I appreciate the patience of anyone who's been watching and waiting for details regarding out next game since we first started talking about it - this has been a pretty slow and excruciating development cycle for various reasons, but chief among them is that the project is just really ambitious and huge.

That said, we've made some really great strides lately.  Our overworld map is now operational, and functions a lot like the map screen in the old 2D fallout games as far as how you navigate the world and find new places.  Where Battleheart was basically a linear string of arenas, it's successor is intended to be very non-linear, allowing you to explore a big map and discover villages, quests, merchants, dungeons and so on.  There will be various independent storylines to unearth, factions to align yourself with, and hazardous places to delve into - the hope is that most people who play it forge their own unique path, and that you can play it from the beginning many times and find new things, or make different choices.  We're in the process of populating that map with lots of stuff for you to find!

We've also been busily creating tons of unique art for armor and weapons, as your equipment is now visually represented on your character.  This has proven to be a pretty huge time sink, but we're already pretty invested in the idea, so there's no turning back now.

One other thing which has recently hit the 100% mark is our skills/equipment menu system.  Players of Battleheart will be happy to know that we've streamlined the process of equipping items and skills on a character over the somewhat clumsy, segmented system of Battleheart.  Instead of separating items and abilities across an "armory" and "academy" page, everything has been brought under one neatly designed roof, so customizing a character is much quicker and involves far less tapping and fishing through sub-menus.  Further, this character sheet includes an insane amount of data that used to be under the hood.  We frequently got e-mails before asking us if the effects of similar trinkets stacked in Battleheart (fyi, they do) since none of that was really visible in the UI.  Now, things like critical hit chance, movement speed modifiers, cooldown reduction and other mechanics are all exposed to the player, so they aren't left guessing whether their build does what they think it does.

One last thing that's been wrapping up is our music.  Once again, our composer who did some awesome stuff for Battleheart is returning with a new original score, the last of which is expected to be wrapped up in the next couple weeks.  It's always inspiring to get some of the finished music in our hands, and it's great to be able to check one more thing off the endless to-do list!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Latest news from Mika Mobile

Since it's been quite a while, I figured I'd spend a little time talking about how things are going and what we've been up to with Battleheart's pseudo-sequel.

In general, Mika Mobile is doing well.  We relocated our home and business recently, which was a pretty big distraction, but we're getting back into our comfort zone again.  We recently released iPhone 5 resolution updates for our two most popular games (ZV2 and Battleheart) and Apple gave both games some nice featuring back in October as a result, which is always welcome and helps invigorate downloads.  It amazes us how people are still discovering/downloading our games, often years after their initial release, and it definitely helps keep our spirits up between releases.  In fact, as of this posting ZV2 is back in the top 100 apps again in the US, which is just crazy.

Battleheart "2" is our most ambitious project by a long shot, so its development has naturally been taking longer than any of our previous games.  We've been on it close to a year now more or less, and it's definitely starting to feel like forever since we released something!  Much like Battleheart before it, this is a big project, so we knew there would be a pretty large gap between releases this time - some of you might recall that OMG Pirates! and Battleheart were separated by more than a year too.  There's still plenty left to do, but I'm very confident in where it's going.

Due to the fact that our games are frequent targets of cloning, I'm still not prepared to give a lot of fine detail about the design, and how it differs from the original Battleheart, but I can share a couple things.  As I mentioned in a prior blog, we're trying to focus more on exploration, rather than the game simply being a series of static arenas.  Towards this end, we decided early on to build the game in 3D, with more of an isometric camera perspective (Think Diablo, any RTS, or old Zelda games), and make this our first game which uses 3D polygonal art/animation so that we can have great variety in characters/animation without having to make a trillion sprites.  This doesn't mean our art style has been abandoned - in fact, we've reproduced all of the baddies from Battleheart in glorious 3d and their charming designs made the transition nicely.  The aesthetic is definitely different, but I think it's still quite appealing.

Another thing we're pretty stoked about is the new class system.  I think one of the things that gave Battleheart a lot of replayability was the potential to try different classes, see what their spells/abilities were like and play with different party combinations.  This time around, we wanted to allow more customization beyond simply picking between two mutually exclusive skills here and there.  The current design (always subject to change, but its working so far) is to allow you to kinda create your own classes by drawing from a pool of active and passive skills that are designed to complement each other.  There will be some requirements/restrictions for this or that, but there's a lot of potential for mixing and matching, ensuring that almost no two players will build their kit exactly the same (hopefully).  Hypothetically, you could have a wizard who swings a claymore, or a rogue who can whip out a bow to do some ranged attacks when foes are out of dagger range.

Hopefully we'll be able to share more with you guys soon.  In the mean time, enjoy the holidays!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lessons from Diablo 3

I've played a whole bunch of Diablo 3 since its release, which I partially legitimize as "research".  There's a fair amount of gameplay overlap between what they're doing with Diablo, and what I'm hoping to pull off with Battleheart 2.

Like the original Battleheart, our next game is going to involve selecting from a pool of available powers to help you manage the battlefield.  We're currently aiming to have nearly 100 different active abilities in Battleheart 2 (up from Battleheart's 50), many of which are coming over from the first game, with a whole slew of new ones too.  These all provide different benefits like healing, single target damage, splash damage, defense, mobility, control, etc.  Choosing your toolkit, and using that kit to stay alive is the heart of what makes Battleheart fun, and it's pretty much the same concept powering Diablo 3 as well.  Across Diablo's five player classes exist an insane variety of powers and "runes" which modify those powers, sometimes into wholly different abilities.  As you level up, you gain access to a broader and broader toolkit, and it's pretty fun to experiment with different combinations of offensive and defensive powers.

Where I think Diablo falls short is in it's difficulty curve, and the way it forces the player to use certain abilities and gear in a specific way.  Around level 30 is the game's sweet spot - you have most of your toolkit available to you at that point, and you can freely use most of it without feeling obligated to play in any specific way.  But afterwards, it steadily becomes more and more punishing as you approach it's hardest difficulty setting, "inferno" mode.  Combat becomes so fast paced and brutal that you are forced to use several of your limited skill selections on defensive buttons and passive buffs.  As a barbarian, for example, you simply have no hope of survival without relying on specific tactics - you MUST use a shield, you MUST use a defensive battle shout to raise your stats, and you MUST equip as much health and defense raising equipment as you can find, otherwise you'll be splattered like a fly on a windshield as soon as you run across your first foe.

To me, this totally pisses on what the whole game was building towards.  I feel like I have very little freedom in how I build my character, because the enemies simply hit too hard and move too fast for any other tactical options to be available.  It's really sad too, because earlier in the game the whole system is in full bloom, and you could freely experiment with different abilities and feel like you were refining your own unique playstyle.  It works great, and then gets broken in an entirely avoidable way.

These observations haven't really changed how I'm approaching Battleheart 2, just reaffirmed what I've already been doing.  Our combat is much slower than Diablo's, and you're never fighting huge unwieldy groups of 20+.  This gives the player the time to parse what's actually happening and make decisions, rather than every engagement being over in the blink of an eye.  We also don't have a ludicrous stat curve- in Diablo 3, you might start the game striking enemies for 10 damage, and be hitting for 100,000 damage by the end.  A curve that steep will inevitably lead to rough patches where a little bad luck with loot drops will put you miserably far behind, or conversely, a little bit of good luck will trivialize hours of game play because you're doing twice the damage you're supposed to.

Overall, Diablo 3 has glimmers of greatness, where your gear level and the monsters difficulty meet at an ideal level, and your tactical options are at their peak, allowing you to feel powerful, challenged, and a little clever/creative with your character's build.  I hope my next game captures some of that too.  It just seems to me that Diablo is smothered by a few strange decisions, and held back a bit from its potential as a result.