Chaintanks Devblog 6 – Feature Cutting

Since my last post, I’ve been wrestling with a couple more game design problems with Chaintanks. These, plus the recent Ludum Dare have made for slow progress lately.

Going Full Nuclear

I decided that the best way to fix some of the fundamental problems with Chaintanks is to limit all chains to 6 vehicles. I might tune that number as I test the game, but not by much.

I dug deeper into the problems I found last time, and found that the biggest out of all of them is simply in the numbers. Even if friendly fire is removed from the game, chains of 20 vehicles or more have a combined damage output that will wipe out individual segments of an enemy chain in less than a second. This makes the game a LOT less fun in the later stages when enemies will usually remove half of your chain almost instantly. It isn’t possible to balance even if higher tier segments are made insanely bullet spongy – that would only make the game even less fun and more punishing when you lose vehicles.

The original version of Chaintanks was a cool concept, but it just doesn’t work when it’s made into a full game.

This new design will fix a lot of issues. The camera will no longer have to try and fit the entire chain all at once, the artwork will look a little better as it will be larger on screen, players will be able to dodge much more effectively, the enclosed areas I’ve planned will work much better, and of course damage will not be out of control in the endgame.

More Problems

The next problem I had was with the new mission system I recently implemented. Picking up scrap used to add a segment to your chain (or upgrade an existing one) and heal you. With the new system, scrap will be used to upgrade each of your 6 segments manually between missions. You’ll be able to pick which turret you want and add or remove vehicles at will.

Damage will also be permanent now, and picking up scrap will no longer heal you. For now at least! I want to play test this before I commit to it, but I think making damage a little more punishing will reward skilled play. I could be wrong though; this is something I need to play test before committing to it.

The biggest problem I’ve run into so far is that balancing scrap drops against mission difficulty is a huge challenge. Since enemies drop scrap proportional to their strength and the number of segments they have, the difficulty of the mission directly determines the mission reward. This is because I’ve implemented ‘difficulty’ as a number that scales a bunch of things like enemy chain size and the number of enemies that spawn during a mission.

I spent a few hours plugging numbers into a spreadsheet in an attempt to get scrap drops balanced against difficulty. I ran into a problem with higher level missions rewarding far too much scrap. If I wanted to have missions scale nicely in difficulty, the economy would suffer. Alternatively, I could compromise in the quality of missions to fix the economy. The worst part was that I had no way to test this without a lot of work up front, and the rewards from each mission would make this even harder to balance.

Cut it out!

I finally realized that the only reason I had currency tied to enemy kills was because of the scrap drops in the original Chaintanks. In this new version, they only make things enormously complex for me to balance. The worst part is that the player won’t be able to see how much scrap they’ll be rewarded with until the mission is complete. In order for their choices to be meaningful between missions, they need to know how much scrap they’re going to get beforehand.

The solution is really simple: eliminate scrap drops entirely! I can scale the difficulty however I want this way and hand tune the mission card values to balance the economy. The mission cards should be much easier to work with than scrap drops that require spreadsheets and a bunch of weird math to figure out.

If I were a better game designer, I think I would have seen this problem much sooner and not wasted hours on fiddling with those spreadsheets. But this sort of thing is the exact reason why I’m making small free games before moving on to anything bigger. Even a small game like this has so many hurdles and challenges that I can learn a lot from.

With smaller vehicles and simpler rewards, Chaintanks will be a lot easier for both me to develop and for players in the future to understand. I’m looking forward finding new problems to tackle, and maybe finishing this thing someday!

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