Game Development Reference
used his name to secure funding for your cheesily titled project, Talmirian
Gods: The Journey of an Age.
The project is almost over. Content lock is in a month, after which
only bug fixing will be allowed and you won't be able to do any meaning-
ful design work. Since he comes from a writing background, McRae has
taken an auteur approach to the game, so there haven't been any playtests
until recently. You think McRae did a great job on the writing. You're not
totally happy with the combat mechanics since you didn't get much itera-
tion time, but you think you've done all right considering how narrative-
focused the process was.
The game includes a key enemy called the Walrog. This giant beast
is the centerpiece of a number of combat encounters. You've been sure to
combine him with other enemies as often as possible to elegantly create
combat variation, and you've tested the Walrog yourself to try to ensure
that there isn't a degenerate strategy against him.
But you failed. Without systematic playtesting earlier in the project,
you were forced to test combat encounters alone. Once you started run-
ning playtests of the whole game, though, a playtester quickly found a
degenerate strategy. One of the first upgrades available in the game is the
Elixir of Speed, which permanently increases a character's movement
speed by a small amount. With this upgrade, it becomes possible to circle
the Walrog endlessly without ever getting hit. Combats degenerate into a
circus as the player runs round and round the Walrog, slowly pecking him
to death. Testers laugh out loud as the fearsome Walrog gyrates helplessly.
Then the testers descend into boredom as they execute the same repetitive
tactic again and again.
A quarter of the playtesters choose the Elixir of Speed, and most of
those naturally find the degenerate strategy. What do you do?
An obvious choice is to make the Walrog more nimble. Your best
guess is that a faster turning speed would fix the problem. However, this
is a risk. The game's immature monster animation code doesn't allow you
to stretch and shrink the current animation set arbitrarily. To change how
the Walrog turns, you would need new animations. You're not sure wheth-
er this would really solve the problem, how much adjustment is needed, or
how this change would affect the balance of Walrog fights for players who
don't have the Elixir. The Walrog is a key element of many combats and
rebalancing them all would be a challenge. Furthermore, the animation
team is overworked as it is because of some emergency corrections needed
to bring the game art in line with the topics the game is based on, and
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