Design and Prototyping
When we started this project, we knew that making a turn-based strategy game within the constraints of a capstone project would be ambitious. As such, we began physically prototyping StormRend late November 2018, with the goal of having the entire game’s mechanics and levels finalised by July 2019, when production officially started.
Our physical prototype using board game pieces and D&D dungeon tiles
We were both heavily inspired by Into the Breach when starting this project. As such, we decided early on that one of the core pillars of our game was to be deterministic combat.
Into the Breach
We realised very early on that by removing random chance, we were making our game hardcore and unforgiving. We initially toyed around with other styles of turn-based tactics – including more mechanically focused combat with quick-time events – however, we decided that we wanted to explore the design space of a turn-based tactics game with no random chance.
Were we to make this game with the intention of selling it, then we most likely would’ve moved away from this direction, and made it more accessible to a wider audience.
When designing the combat systems, we went in with the following assumptions and goals:
- We wanted a party of 3 units, each with very distinctly different playstyles that would synergise together
- By extension, we wanted players to be able to set up and execute team plays
- We wanted the player to have access to all relevant information at all times and be able to make informed decisions
As part of this, we made decisions early on about the core systems of our combat. We went for alternating party combat, where each player would have an entire turn to freely control all their units, rather than alternating player-enemy-player units.
We also decided to use a Move+Attack action system, rather than a more flexible but complex Action Point system. We figured the barrier to entry would already be quite high because of the deterministic combat, so we wanted to simplify other aspects of combat to balance things out.
Initial Prototyping: Directional Combat
During our prototyping, we toyed around with various mechanics to build upon the deterministic combat. In early iterations, we had a strong focus on directional combat, similar to Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis, where the direction a unit was facing when they were attacked had a large impact on combat.
Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis
We initially had units with shields, that would block damage from the front, and units who could backstab (strike from behind) for extra damage. Our initial playtests seemed promising, and it was from there that we settled on the average values for health and damage – we kept numbers low to make mental calculations easier to do.
In-game mock up, made using our own assets and placeholder assets from Darkest Dungeon
We ran into some issues though; we had a difficult time balancing abilities because we didn’t want to use cooldowns or a resource system. We also found that our unit designs didn’t quite achieve our goals of differentiating the units from each other enough, or creating room for synergies and team play to come into factor. We also found that ranged units and directional combat got very messy: it wasn’t immediately intuitive how being ranged interacted with direction, and it was hard to predict whether a ranged unit would be backstabbing, or if their attack would be blocked by another units’ shield, etc.
Finally, we also weren’t very happy with the setting anymore. Originally, the project was set in a dark fantasy setting, similar to Darkest Dungeon. We went back to the drawing board, explored some different ideas, and we settled on a Norse-inspired setting.
From Dark Fantasy to Norse Saga
With a new setting, we re-evaluated the current design of our mechanics. We found that directional combat didn’t quite fit: backstabbing didn’t feel like a very “viking” gameplay mechanic. We knew that we still needed a little “something” to our combat, and through brainstorming and testing we created our Glory System. Glory is a resource that can be used to enhance abilities for a single use. Glory needed to be earned first before it could be spent, and was shared between the whole team.
With this mechanic, we were able to add a layer of depth to our combat, and also open up a variety of options for the player to express themselves through combat.
Our unit design went hand in hand with this new system. Each unit has a very strongly defined role within the party, has things they do really well, things they are weaker at, and abilities that synergise with each other, letting each unit set up other units. We’ve found that the current system meets our laid out design goals and aligns with our core pillars of gameplay.