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Balance and Difficulty Sticky

A topic by Jonathan Whiting created 207 days ago Views: 835 Replies: 26
Viewing posts 1 to 13

Hey folks, I really want to talk to you about how difficult this game is!

So, balancing a game like this is pretty important, and I'm the person responsible for that bit. Getting this stuff right is difficult, so I'd really welcome your input! Is something particular to hard? Did something feel unfair? Do you waltz through the game with no difficulty? I want to know!

A note on where I'm coming from balance wise. I want this to be a game that you have to work to get better at. A game that remains interesting (challenging), even for reasonably experienced players. Converse to that, I want the game to feel 'fair'; when you die I want there to have been a better way you could have played to survive it.

What I'd most like to hear about are:

  • Recurrent problems i.e. "this monster always kills me!"
  • Bad seeds i.e. "I played seed 51251555, but I'm pretty sure it's impossible"
  • Feelings about the ebb and flow of the game in general "Getting to World 3 more or less guarantees I'll win the game"
but I'll listen to everything, and do my best to get it right (I make no promises we'll actually agree on what 'right' means!)

Thanks!

Would you rather have this discussion on the itch.io forums or is submitting through the game ok too? Probably here so you can give us questions too right?

Thanks for asking! Either is good, and I should see it either way, but:

If it's just a quick observation, the in game feedback might be easiest (for you).

If it's longer form, or something you'd like to chat about, that'll work better here.

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Seed No.:132644864

A lot of healing special cards! At one point I had 5 but lost some due to blending. I thought I was invincible but then stepped on a carrot who knocked out my blended 14 defense card and killed me in one hit...I think I may try the seed again to see if I can make it through this time aware of what the carrot does.

In a different run I got an Escape! Now to find the use of the Mysterious Artifact...also I hate carrots! I'm not sure how they work just yet.

First impressions are I would say the first level is pretty hard unless you send yourself a card in the rocket then it's much more managable. I would say overall the game relies heavily on your card managment and board strategy. The only thing that I think makes it a little easy is the frequency of health powerups. I usually end up with a ton of tokens because I don't spend them much on healing. I may have just had health power up heavy seeds though.

Yeah, it does sound like you've been pretty lucky with the health cards! Five in one run is seriously lucky, frequently there's none.

I've been having some doubts about the difficulty of carrot myself lately. Maybe just a bit too much. Would be keen to hear your thoughts on them after you've interacted a bit more.

I'll type up something more comprehensive later this week, but for now, I just wanted to say that our user impressions of the game's difficulty and its curve across zones might be biased, since we're totally in the dark with respect to the final zone, facing The Thing Below.

Whether that final stage hits like a sledgehammer or feather-duster remains to be seen (or rather, felt). Lotsa roguelikes require the player keep in mind that final skill check, as it were. This usually means deft tactical maneuvering on the player's part towards some end-game, end-boss viable build (*ahem FTL*).

Final Boss aside, though, I'd say the difficulty curve feels pretty good for a one-setting-fits-all build. Lotsa small interactions and cues to learn and streamline into a best-practices mindset. Not sure how much room there is for individual experimentation without just feeling suboptimal.

I tend to hit a sweet spot, usually in the middle of the second area, during which my confidence in the that runthrough's odds surges as I feel the build coming together.

Again, I'll pen a longer and more specific, itemized account of my experience so far later on.

Yep, you're totally right. Without playing the boss, you're definitely going to be missing the final punch. I'm trying to tune it towards "a solid final challenge" but not "the place where your otherwise perfect build is now useless". Success in FTL always felt a bit luck-based and arbitrary (maybe because I never figured out the end game), so I'm definitely hoping to avoid that.

Yep, I think there's a respect to which this game will end up a little "here are your cards, now play them right" rather than "here are your cards, how do you want to play them", at least at high skill levels. I think I've made my peace with that; there's certainly no changes I can think of that will clearly disrupt that.

A prime influence for me is nethack, and I think my ideal curve is influenced by that, a challenging (but low investment) early game, that eases a little when death is scarier, but with sharp "do this right or die" moments punctuating the regularly. How close I can get to that remains to be seen.

Thanks a lot for the insightful commentary so far. Looking forward to your fuller account!

I find that whether or not I'm going to do well in a run is based on the first few enemies I face. If it's a bunch of woms out the door I'm gonna do alright but if it's the ergons (sp?) then I'll take quite a bit of knocks straight away that usually means I'm prob not gonna last that long.

To be fair though, I play a lot of binding of issac and crypt of the necrodancer and it's not dissimilar to how their systems work to a point. If I don't pick up enough decent items early game in BoI I'm pretty much screwed late game unless I get very lucky, so I'm used to that kind of dynamic. I found in my last game I spent much more time at the end trying to balance my cards out for the most effective use of att/def points.

I picked up a revel map card early on in my last run which is how I ended up with such a good score and actually make it to the end. The maps can get crazy spawling at times. Was able to pinpoint some good cards and go straight for the escape pod.

Yeah, we've been gradually softening the introductory turns. I'm dead set against removing all difficulty from them, because the challenge of playing with low stats is interesting, so there's a balance to make here. For what it's worth, I find a single full heal is enough to recover from a slightly rocky start, and we've just made that first heal cheaper.

The reveal map card is super powerful, especially in the boss-less game we're currently playing. It's a bit more expensive to use now.

The healing skills feels pretty game changing every time i get it. I think I'd remove it as a drop and instead offer it as the world 1 quest reward. Would make it less overpowered to stack them, but also give it more consistency. I never reached world 4 yet, so i don't know how valid my thoughts on balancing are atm.

Healing is definitely the strongest of the ability cards, but we try and compensate by making the charge time really very slow. A seed with a whole bunch of them is definitely helpful, but I'm not convinced that it's completely dominant.

"Increase cost of Reveal Map card to 3 tokens."

Shouldn't this increase with the world you're in, like the health machine?

We definitely want to keep the cost of token uniques fixed throughout the game. The alternative would be too weird and confusing.

Ok, but then I really like 3 tokens more than one. It's a pretty useful ability, especially later when the maps get bigger. 1 token is nothing by then.

Yep, exactly why I made the change :)

For me the weird thing right now is that attack feels OP relative to defense. Largely because a tactical player will rarely if ever engage when they don't have first-strike. So I find myself running the later levels with 40 ATK and 4 DEF (of course if I screw up, I die in one hit)

I think this will change when you are going for relic pieces and time is of the essence. You don't want to dance around for 5 turns to get the first hit when you can have defense and have a good chance to not get hit and save turns.

For sure a 40 ATK 4 DEF build is faaaaaar more useful than a 4 ATK 40 DEF build; but you wouldn't find me running either. Sometimes you just can't help but take a hit, so all attack builds are hella risky.

About the ratio in general, yep, attack is generally more powerful than defence. I've come to think of this as a positive though, if the two were balanced the answer to "which do I want more of?" would always be "which do I have least of"; this way, you need to decide how much more valuable ATK is to DEF for you.

(Edited 1 time)

More substantive commentary will be coming later: I'm new to both the game and to the Itchio service in general, and it's a late evening for me. My commentary will be based on my own experience and video I've seen (such as the recent Polygon preview of the PS4 version).

First major balance concern: I'm finding it interesting (in a bad way) that this game is missing the Roguelike staple of a 'wait one turn' function. There's no way to idle without moving, which combined with the erratic enemy movement makes the time-cycling mechanic punishing without benefits.

Looting taking a turn is more good-interesting than the above, but still doesn't feel great. There's not a notable risk-reward element caused by it 99% of the time, and the 1% where it causes issues it's a frustrating nightmare.

I personally like both of these mechanics, but I've also played quite a bit of Crypt of the Necrodancer, where waiting a turn is a special skill as well.

Yeah, but with Necrodancer it makes a lot more sense because the game is based on the musical rhythm and the timing of things outside of the turn order. Here it's just frustrating, especially when combined with the unorthodox hex-based map.

While looting takes a turn, decompiling from the ground does not. So I now make sure that I need to pick up a card before I loot it.

(Edited 3 times)

I've just completed my first run. I am aware it's not the whole game.

The game felt a tad easy. However, it might be because I was lucky? I don't know how the average generation turns out, as I completed on my 3rd attempt (I think? roughly, bad at counting). I'll have to play much more to know. Here are some of my thoughts so far:

Healing seems too strong. I feel like it trivialises certain aspects of the game. This is especially so when acquiring more than 1.

Being immune to bomb also feels really strong too. I only had to fight a few enemies that exceeded my attack because I would just dance around bombs when I encounter something that is too strong. Many other items are also strong, however, they require tokens to utilise. Perhaps deducting a token for each turn it protects you would be a viable balance?

Additional health never feels worth a slot. Although this might be because I'm not experience enough to understand why it's good?

First world is feels a little too easy. Hence, it might run the risk of feeling repetitive/tedious because it's the stage where you always need to get through. I feel like there is a difficulty bump from world 1 to 2? And if world 1 is very slightly more difficult, it will balance be a smoother curve. Edit: I take back what i said about first world being too easy. As someone else mentioned it really depends on the first few enemies encountered. It can be very hard, or very easy. Hmm :)

Edit Edit: Still not quite sure how i feel about the first world, there is something about it that I kind of dislike, maybe it is because the decision tree isn't as varied? And as a result, it feels like I am not making enough meaningful decisions.

This might sound silly but, I feel that the "escape" thing which looks like a sandcastle isn't communicated well: I ran around the entire map looking for the exit before realising it's the sandcastle I need to get to. It will probably only affect first play-through but still...

Turns seem like a weird metric for leaderboard scoring, but then again, it's pretty hard to come out with good metric for randomly generated games. :\


It bugs me that walking into dome takes a turn while pressing E doesn't. :P

Additional health never feels worth a slot. Although this might be because I'm not experience enough to understand why it's good?

I agree, if it gave you the extra health at the point at which you equip it, then I could see it having uses - sometimes you just need an extra health. The game would need to remove that health if its unequipped, and maybe not let you kill yourself... but it would make the extra health cards relevant...

(Edited 1 time)

Just got my first escape. It was on my second seed, probably 4th attempt. I was testing this seed (214171648) because after my first seed I thought this one seemed much harder.

My first seed I made it to the second world pretty easily, because I managed to get a heal card, a zap (electric) card, and a blast (explosive) card - all in the first world I think, if not all on the first then at least two of them. So I thought getting three powers was pretty standard, but I died on the second world due to lack of experience.

My second seed I found no powers at first, making it much more difficult, and the card drops weren't as great. However with about 4 attempts, and searching the entire map, I managed to find a teleport power and get off the first world. Also, the second world started with only a single narrow path out of the hub, with a night wizard standing on the exit tile (constantly making it night when I'd approach), a bomb behind him, and an eagle behind that. So there was really no safe way out of the hub. Luckily I had the teleport though - so I could teleport onto the eagle, otherwise I would've had to take a hit or two just to get out of the hub.

So my main piece of feedback would be to make sure that the player always has a safe way out of the hub (or can at least leave without taking damage), and maybe because I had the teleport this setup was safe. I guess I don't know if it'd be the same if I didn't have it. I'd have to try again without it.

The interesting thing was once I got past the first world and beginning of the second, it was fairly smooth sailing. I managed to combine all my defense cards into a single 19 defense card, and that really helped.

I know the standard game won't allow players to play the same seed over and over, so it's hard for me to judge the difficulty that way, but I would say with my limited time with the game it did feel rather forgiving. I didn't find an enemy that was too difficult. There were quite a few health pads, and plenty of power recharge squares, so I was able to heal the mistakes I did make.

I wouldn't mind it being a little more challenging personally, but maybe I need to play more of the standard mode before I commit to that comment (I've really only played two seeds) :)

I think it had a great learning curve. I beat the game on my 5th or 6th playthrough I believe and made it a little further each time. There were some uncertainees while playing, but I felt like the consequences each play wasn't so high that I couldn't just test things out to better understand the systems. I loved the game, particularly the aesthetics and cutscenes, This is one of the first rogue-likes I've played since I was a kid.

I just want to wholeheartedly agree with this comment. Game is so fun and good looking that it is fun to play, winning is just one of a many rewards. In fact I still didn't finished it ;).