DevDiary 15 - Evolution of Gameplay
Hello friends, and welcome to 15th DevDiary for “Knights of Honor II: Sovereign”! For this one we have chosen to take quite a different approach and tell you about changes in gameplay features we’ve already presented. The idea behind this is to keep you up to date in regards to the features, but more importantly, to let you in on how we iterate over the game, what kinds of reasons make us add, scrap or rework stuff, and overall give you a better look at the development process.
Let’s start with one of the major features that we covered many months ago – the Armies (DevDiary5). When we presented it, the default number of squads a non-marshal knight could lead was 6, marshals could lead 9 and there were additional bonuses on top of that as well – for kings, crusaders, pagans (depending on traditions they follow), etc. The absolute maximum was 18 or 21 in different versions of the game, and we should have in mind that often two knights per each side participate in a battle.
However, we decided to reduce the number of squads to 5 non-marshal / 8 marshal and these numbers being the maximal ones. Why? Well, first of all, by playtesting we found out that players usually use 1-2 unit types per army and having too many squads didn’t lead to actual gameplay variety. Also, we found that 12 or more squad was trickier to handle – the UI was busy and it required a lot of micromanagement to check your troops – e.g., how many exactly are healthy, wounded, dead; to merge or abandon some squads, to refill them, to check out their experience and levels. As we want our tactical battles to also be a bit more dynamic, compared to other grand-strategy games, controlling 20 squads in a battle (or even more if you have garrison or other additional troops) felt too burdening.
Having less squads makes the choice and handling for each one more significant. Of course, we didn’t want to lose gameplay features, so instead of the “additional squads” bonus, there are now bonuses on “units per squad” and on army morale. The gameplay choices are just as interesting, but everything is neater and tidier and easier for the players to grasp and control. As of now, one squad can vary quite a lot – depending heavily on the province the army leader governs (how many “levies” it has), his skills, kingdom’s traditions and other factors, you can double or even triple your squad size.
Moving on to DevDiary7: Rebellions. We iterated a lot over the rebel features over the course of development and when we presented them, we felt that they were quite good. Since then, we’ve made several changes, though. One of the bigger changes was determining Rebellion zone, and allowing rebel armies to cross borders and affecting nearby kingdoms. It felt quite reasonable as an effect, and depending on other gameplay features, sometimes it felt fun too. However, players started complaining about rebels more over time, though, and for mostly two reasons. First, it doesn’t feel fair. You make great efforts to keep your citizens calm, you maintain high Opinions, crown authority, take care of religious and cultural assimilation and in the end – rebels are still coming, because your neighbors are chaotic. Is it realistic? Kind of, it is not unimaginable that some rebels and bandits will date cross in the other kingdom and pillage whatever they can there. “Life isn’t fair”, you might say, but in the end, this is a game and user experience and fun is what leads us (one of our pillars we talked about in DD1, if you can remember). The second reason is that this feature didn’t scale too well. Rebel spawn in neighboring kingdoms, which you cannot control, is still manageable for small or medium sized kingdoms and it creates interesting situations, but do you know what happens if you control 150 provinces and have 50 neighbors? We assure you that the rebel swarm could get very, very ugly.
We didn’t totally scrap this behavior, though. We made it more rare, exclusive to “famous rebels” and we might include it to some extent as an element for higher difficulty settings for players, that want more challenging experience.
So, saving the big one for last… let’s go back to something we talked about in DevDiary4, Invasions. Here we basically scrapped the “occupation” state, which had a connection to diplomacy, pacing of the game and the way wars are led in general. At first everything about it looked very in-depth and interesting, but (as with number of squads) the numerous stages of overtaking a province seemed confusing for some players and (as in rebels crossing borders) it didn’t scale too well, getting a bit tiresome after you do it 50 times in a single game.
The process had three stages – taking political control (in the end of a war or before it), dealing with the disorder state of the locals and then the long process of cultural conversion. Of course, we didn’t want just to dumb it down, so we tried to simplify it, without losing essence.
Without having the “occupied” state, we moved some effects to the “disorder” state. Forceful establishing of order by an army now has a political effect and it can be harder to achieve the peaceful establishment of order while the war continues, unless the local population was loyal to you in the first place. In a way, the disorder state behaves as “occupation” while wars last and like the previous disorder state after they are over. The kingdoms that owned these provinces can also demand you to return their lands as a part of a peace treaty or even at some point later in time, and thus we represented that they still have a claim of ownership and the diplomatic part is well preserved.
Of course, changes like these three are just the tip of the iceberg – surely, we change smaller stuff every day and make much more drastic changes for features we haven’t yet presented. Naturally, we are trying to make blogs and streams for the “finalized” ones and yes, this is one dirty word in the industry. Our policy is to rework something as much as it needs to be reworked, allowing the time for features to mature and grow to create the best experience we can craft. At Black Sea Games we believe that this is the right path for making really great games. However, we are getting close with KoH2:S and are very satisfied with how most of the things work as they are now.
We will talk more about the evolution of the gameplay systems and the dynamics of developing and iterating over them in our DevStream on Thursday, February 11th, @ 4:00 PM GMT / 11:00 AM EST. The Twitch stream will be hosted on the THQ Nordic channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic and we’ll be grabbing responses from this post as well as answering questions live during the stream.
Next time we will talk about one of the main goals of the game – Prestige – how do you gain and lose it and the effects it has in the course of the game and in its end. Until then, we bid thee farewell. Go forth and conquer!