When less is better

First of all PSA: in case you missed the news in social media and newsletter, the beta of Planet Stronghold 2 is finally out (with all the content). To know more, visit this page: https://www.winterwolves.com/planetstronghold2.htm

Lana and Kayla’s interactions are always conflicting but rather funny

I had started coding this game long time ago. I made first a sort of prototype of a volleyball match (of course, within Ren’Py capabilities so no animated characters on screen or anything complex!). Then a scheduler, training, etc.

Then the writing of the story began, and after it was done, I resumed putting things together. But simply, they wouldn’t work. As I was playing it, I kept skipping the volleyball part, and I found the training/scheduler more an annoyance than something fun.

I thought: well, I already planned a “Visual Novel Mode” like in my RPGs, so worse case people would play like that. The point though was that – I really think nobody would ever want to play the “simulation part” because simply wasn’t fun!

The reasons

With this becoming clearer and clearer in my mind, I started to think about the reasons. Surely, having done the gameplay myself and then hired a writer to do the story wasn’t a brilliant move (and that’s why all future games with gameplay need to be written by me first) but the thing is that in this specific case, even without a story, the gameplay part was just not that interesting to play!

I mean, one match was OK, even fun. Maybe, two, three. But after the fourth or fifth match, I had already enough! Something I couldn’t say about my RPGs for example (I kept playing PS2 fights over and over, I think overall during my testing phase I played over 100 battles!!). So in this case, this was the real issue: the gameplay itself.

And that’s OK. I mean, you can’t know if something is going to be fun until you try it. For established genres, like RPGs, but even more simpler games like match 3, you already know more or less how it’s going to be. But for different gameplay types, there’s no other way to know than to build a prototype and then play with it. That’s what I did with the volleyball match sim and it didn’t work out.

I have many indie friends, and one of them is a very successful one, with multi million hits behind his name. When talking with him privately, he always told me that he does a lot of prototypes first. He spends months doing prototypes until he finds one that works. It’s normal, it’s not wasted time, it’s part of the process of making a game.

In my case, I think a fun way would be to have an actual beach volley game to play, in an arcade mode style, but of course that’s definitely outside the scope of this game (and probably even outside of Ren’py capabilities!!). But a simulation is just not going to work.

Conclusions

So that’s why I decided to remove completely the gameplay part from the game. On the negative side, I spent time and some money (I made several short volley animations sequences to be used in the match) but on the positive side, it means that the game testing should be shorter and we also won’t need to worry much about some reflections of the match to the story, which is now determined by the overall team alchemy/relationships.

This is how I replaced the match sim. Simple, but effective!

It’s of course a very simple system, but it still gives players a reason to keep the relationship with the four players as high as they want (if you want to win all matches!) and while in the first stages is rather easy, in the latter pats of the story becomes hard (there won’t be a game over anyway even if you lose all matches!).

I’m sorry for those who wanted to play the sim part (though not sure how many there were out there!). In future, beside established genres like RPGs, I will be carefully doing prototypes before announcing that a game would have certain features. Because if I have to add something to a story based game, it needs to be interesting, fun to play, and mix well with the story. Otherwise it’s better to just keep it a pure visual novel game!

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6 Responses to When less is better

  1. Franka says:

    Sounds like a good decision. If you put gameplay bits in there, they should be fun. (Hint: Card game)

  2. Andreas Podgurski says:

    Nice insight – and brave, but most probably the right decision. Killing your darlings is a general rule of thumb in the game design process, but if it isn’t even a darling, that must be the right way. Nevertheless – I would encourage you to make a short video with the gameplay, to bring this very intersting blog post more to live. I really would love to see, how the gameplay would have looked unaltered. Nothing fancy, only the stuff itself, linked to this post. With that, the assets are visible at least once!

  3. Sorcha Moore Smith says:

    Question, as I can’t purchase the game on the ito system, when will it become available on Steam? I’ve been waiting for Planet Stronghold 2 for aaaaaaggggggggeeeeeeessssssss and I can’t wait to play it!!

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