Iteration is both wonderful and terrifying. It is the place where you take delight in the designs that are working out, and weep for the designs that sounded good but aren’t. It would be nice if I could sketch out a perfect plan, implement that plan and have an amazing game. But it takes work.
One of our initial concerns when we started to playtest was that the game felt like War of Magic. Despite the changes, many of which wouldn’t be really apparent until 100-200 turns in, it still had a WoM vibe to it. My solution was to create custom quests for each sovereign to start with. You would have to earn some of your sovereigns starting bonuses and treasures. That way the player had a motivating objective for his first 100 turns that would get him in and playing.
It helped answer the questions of “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”. It gave some flavor and personality to the starting sovereigns. And it made the starting game feel different. I pitched the idea to the rest of the team. We hashed out the pros and cons. We could make it work with custom sovereigns if we tied it to their history (so if you picked Adventurer as your history you would get Relias’s starting quest). And this solution had some limited replayability (in that you might want to play the different starting quests) but in the long term it could get redundant (off to fix the corrupted mana shards with Procipinee again…).
But the best feedback came from Brad. I don’t recall the exact quote but it was something to the effect of, “If it feels too much like WoM don’t make superficial changes, change the game.”
That was the impetus for the change to the production system. We didn’t like the old production system, but it was a lot of work to change. The code changes are only a small part, the UI and rebalance challenges are considerable. I requested an extension on the timeline and Brad approved the change.
This is the process of video game iteration, and I suspect it is the same for movies, books, and other creative endeavors. You leave your ego behind, it will only get in the way. You walk through fire and in the end you have a game that is so much better because of it. Be open to change, listen to other people’s opinions and evaluate them within the specific vision of the game. Focus on the things that matter.
I am very excited for Fallen Enchantress. I am, of course, biased. But it is a beautiful game and it does some things that I have never seen done in a TBS game. But the change to the production system, random worlds, increasing the population of cities and some new features (outposts) requires work.
It's not implementation time, Stardock has an amazing team. Implementation is only 25% of the way there. The real focus now is in balance. Not perfect balance, not if a short sword should do 8 or 9 damage. But how quickly you gain research, what things modify that, how is that balanced for small empires vs large empires? How much does a fire shard affect your fire spells? What is the difference between a city with good production capacity and weak production capacity (and how long should it take to train a medium army in each)?
Random worlds are another big part. I love crazy randomness, in general I'm probably too far on that extreme. I'm amused if I start a game right next to an Ogre lair and he wipes me out on turn 4. It's a little less funny when I'm 200 turns in and I walk into a wildland and every monster in there streams out in a civilization crushing tide of doom. Randomness must have some control.
Unwilling to give up our random worlds we implemented controls on how close to starting spots certain things are allowed to be. You will never start right next to a quest you can't accept (which is frustrating) or a monster that can wipe you out. The farther out you go the more interesting it gets. A treasure chest won't be within 8 tiles of your starting location, a Hoarder Spider won't be within 12, and if you get far enough out there you may find dragons.
But it all takes balance and we aren't ready for a public beta on it while we still know what the issues are. We need to get those in and smoothed out, we need the game to play as it should so that when you start to play your feedback can be useful. It doesn't mean much if you think you are too weak if we know we are going to push some monsters away from the starting area, or if you think tech comes too slowly if we are going to be raising population (which affects everything).
So I asked Brad to postpone the public beta (sorry) and he agreed. We need time with the features set to play and tweak, to go through our games so that when you have a chance to play we are ready for the feedback you offer.