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INPUT NEEDED: The Big Question!


Joanna, the lady of the hour herself.


To toss or not to toss?

So here we are, at the end of December 2016, and @JRL's development has all but halted. Since making this game page, I've produced, completed and released several other games. I've learned a lot of lessons in that time. I've given @JRL a graphical overhaul once already, and I've definitely improved as an artist and am more than willing to give it another big overhaul.

But the question is this: is @JRL worth keeping?


My initial vision for @JRL

My initial vision for @JRL, and the reason I made this game, was to create a game that handled a bit like a Roguelike, offering a new experience for the player each time they played it, with a bunch of ways to interact with the environment. I figured out a good bit of randomization for items and whatnot, and it was "good enough" for a non-scripted system. The maps were all the same, but the items would change, and the scenarios would be different each time you played. The NPCs all had different personalities, and would wear different gear, and you could interact, trade and fight them at will.

The context menu was a big edition which really helped to open things up: every item was interactive!

It was a lot to take on, and I could handle quite a bit of it. However, there's a big problem.


Why @JRL isn't going anywhere

Even after my first overhaul, there was a big problem with @JRL, and it's the sole reason why production has not continued. Simply put, it wasn't fun. Not to me, at least.

It wasn't that I couldn't pull off these things: my Halloween Board Game shows that I can pull of randomization and multiple scenarios, each with different items, obstacles, encounters, and so on.

I did it here in @JRL too, but I didn't enjoy playing it. And that, to me, was a big indicator that YOU wouldn't enjoy playing it, either.

1. The context menu problem

The context menu seemed nifty, but it changed from being a "let's find ways to interact with things", to simply, "let's check this thing for items, then break it, then use the shovel to gather the rubble". Not only could all of these be condensed into a straight forward event, but the point of the game wasn't to run around with rubble bulging out of your pockets.

The crafting that this lead into was pretty cool. I did enjoy that, and I had some ideas that I believe I'll use in future projects. For example, it's possible for Joanna to stumble into some cyborg technology, install it into her actual body, and craft different improvements for her using the crafting system. Like I said, cool stuff, but the means to get there simply wasn't fun. Perhaps I'm wrong and people would really dig the gather and crafting system, but the overall gameplay wasn't supposed to simply be this lather-rinse-repeat system.

2. The battle problem

I can make a far better battle system now, but the one I had in place just wasn't that good. There were some neat ideas: you could dive behind cover in combat and increase your evasion. The enemy could grapple you, limiting your melee attack, and you had an option to try and fight through or try and break the grapple. The injury could cut you with a sharp object, and you could spend a turn to patch up the wound.

You may think that's a lot of fun. When it worked, it worked. However, the randomness of the design resulted in Joanna getting completely destroyed all the time. An NPC in one time could be a push-over. Joanna may find a 4x4 and crack them open, no problem. In the next play through, Joanna may only run around with a stick of gum, and run into an enemy that's dual wielding Colts 45s and completely blows her away. Sure, a lot of roguelikes will introduce the player to brutal difficulty like that, but that wasn't something I found enjoyable.

3. The scenario problem

These were awful to program. I bit off a bit more than I could chew. There was, simply, too much going on. Because of the randomness of the scenarios, the game lacked appropriate pacing. In one scenario, the town would be infested with zombies. In the next, it could be crawling with burglars. In the next, robots could be patrolling the streets, neutralizing everyone it sees. Again, seemed cool in concept, but it was far too big and disruptive to the pacing of the game. "This kills the game."

4. Joanna was never fully realized

The randomness killed Joanna's personality. Joanna, to me, was a great character I really, really liked. She was rough, she was neurotic, she had unhealthy habits. She had a lot of problems, but boy did she toughen up and pull through. She was, to put it simply, cool. However, the create-a-character really seemed to mess with this. You could choose to play as Joanna, or choose to make another character.

The end result, however, was that the player character had no personality, in order to create a blank slate that players can relate to. This means that Joanna went from being a rough and tumble hero, to a mute with no personality aside from what the player gave it. Yeah, you could choose the character's profession to a small degree, and it did affect the story in a minor way, but did you really need to? Was it important to shift Joanna from a mechanic to a retail worker? Did it truly add to the game? Sure, for player choice, it's great: but it lacks direction for a fully realized character. Because of so many different scenarios, Joanna would forever be directionless, lacking development.


What was good

@JRL wasn't a barrel full of suck. It had its good things. I enjoyed breaking and scavenging. I liked being able to find NPCs that are all diverse. I enjoyed running around and dodging zombies in the city streets. The crafting system was simple yet really fun, to me. I think there's some good things here, and it's not a lost cause. In fact, I think that there's potential for a game all of you will enjoy. But while there is potential for a lot of fun, there's a lot of other things that stand in the way between the player and that fun. I feel all of the extra stuff that detracts from that fun needs to be cleared out.


The way forward

So now the question is, which way do I go forward? There's a couple options.

1. Scrap it
Basically I can just scrap it, call it a loss, change the status to Cancelled, and eventually remove the game page. I can save my talents for other projects, and live to tell Joanna's tale another day, in another manner.

2. Remake it into more of a not-so-roguelike Dungeon Crawler
I can go forward and remake it once again. The graphics will look FAR better, and I will be able to take a fresh look at the game from its bare minimum state. I can make it a bit of a dungeon crawler (perhaps Joanna is the main character and she has random party members?) and go from there. Instead of being more in the vein of a roguelike where random stuff occurs, the world itself will be a bit of a dungeon crawler, both the town and its other areas. Maybe I could even change the name of the project to @JDC.


So what should I do? Leave your feedback below. Is there no hope for @JRL, or should @JRL become a dungeon crawler? Are you interested in seeing this become a modern Dungeon Crawler? Let me know!

Posts

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(After Archstone, I'm checking out all your stuff now.)

I personally like the idea of having a defined main character rather than a blank slate, especially in this type of game, where I think a strong character would help to anchor the player within the randomized environment (still applicable to a dungeon crawler too, I think). You already have a personality mapped out for her. I think it would be interesting to have her personality come out through the random encounters, so she is fleshed out the more the player does and witnesses. And multiple playthroughs would only serve to realize her more and more. She could drop little hints of her backstory through remarks made about certain objects or landmarks, interactions with NPCs, that sort of thing.

Joanna potentially finding robo-parts and turning herself into a cyborg SOUNDS COOL, DUDE.

I suppose the only thing I have to offer on the "too expansive for its own good" problem you seem to have with @JRL is to reduce the number of events/scenarios, or the size of them at least? Maybe some are huge and daunting for the player/Joanna, but others are small and muted, like her coming across an empty house that has some clues about the world state, or a mortally wounded person, or an injured animal - little things, in between all the zombies, and burglar epidemics. That might help to balance the pacing a bit?

As for the roguelike mechanics being too unfair to be enjoyable, maybe the items themselves will have multiple uses? Maybe she can do something cool with that gum, (I have no idea what) and incapacitate the attacker long enough to steal their gun, or something. Maybe she sticks it on the ground and they get their shoe stuck. The possibilities are... limited, for that particular item. Well, I might not be particularly imaginative, either.

From what you've mentioned, it sounds as though this game still has a lot of potential. If you are still wanting to work on it, then I'd say follow that feeling and see if you can't salvage the things you like about it.





Thanks for your feedback! (And thanks for checking out my other games too, though they're not all quite up to par as Archstone!)

I decided to go ahead and remake the game. Your feedback helped urge that, as well as a couple people on slack, and the fact that I got one new subscriber after posting my blog!

I've been working out the story and gameplay quite a bit. Right now, I'm leaning towards making it a lot more story driven, but still including a lot of those random events mentioned before. It's in the early stages of the remake, but I've got a new image of the remade graphics going up.
I may go deeper in this in the future.

You had troubles with random scenarios destroying your main character and you found that not so fun. That's an issue I find with a lot of roguelikes myself. But there is nothing stopping you from a more "controlled" random approach. Find the middle ground. Doesn't have to be pure random.

Example: If it's the start of the game and you have weak weapons. I don't think you should find a super strong enemy. Try to consider ways to make it possible to live by strategy and possibly give subtle/not so subtle warnings of harder areas.

There are tons of ways to go about it.

Maybe you should start on a MUCH smaller scope for a demo or something. Try to figure out clever ways for a weaker character to still somehow survive by struggling. Or it could be ways for a stronger character to lose by being too confident.

A small roguelike done right is still quite hard to pull off. You can still have a tight level design be randomized. You just have to be a bit of a mad scientist and make sure it all works out. Find that healthy mix of balance and unbalance. Something I learned is that unbalance is sometimes as important as balance. Just don't let one lean much more than the other.

I hope some of this babble helped a bit!
author=zDS
I may go deeper in this in the future...
I hope some of this babble helped a bit!


Thanks! Due to all of the encouragement I've gotten, I'm definitely remaking this game into a much more... narrative-driven approach? What I'll end up doing is leaving many things to the player's choice.

Right now I've got a good starting point in place, and a bunch of graphics and animations made (it'll look pretty nifty in the end, I think). Definitely feeling good about this one! Maybe I'll even have a demo in a month.


author=suzy_cheesedreams
Awesome to hear! Glad to be of any help!


You were, thanks again!
Gibmaker
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
9244
Gua I keep typing responses and then deleting them again. When you start to get buffeted by the noxious winds of disappointment and waning interest there's not much you can do. But at least you're capable of seeing how your game would look and play to an outside party, which already puts you ahead of Hello Games.

In terms of the randomization making it too hard, the "starter area" can always be insultingly easy to the point that you'd have to try hard to die there. Players have no issue with an insultingly easy beginning area since after all they are still learning how to play this game and also they haven't yet invested in the story and setting so it's best to make it very easy to move along.
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