In this series of articles, we track the development of Seventh Cross, our upcoming cooperative adventure game. Inspired by metroid-vanias, rogue-likes, and dark fantasy adventure, it is planned for release sometime in 2018.
Last Time on v25...
Version 25 introduced updated castle wings and an exciting new Karma/Anathema system. There were still a few things that I felt were holding the game back, however. The Gear Grid was becoming a bit of a mess.
Overhauling in a Big Way
Through versions 26-29, I tried out four different variations on the gear grid that provided interesting gameplay, but were ultimately just a bit too fiddly and didn't contribute enough to the experience of the game to justify their existence.
In general, you want to make simple decisions at the start of a game and complex decisions at the end. Since the Gear Grid asked players to lock in a build, then execute it later, it created an decision funnel that was the exact opposite of this paradigm. Examined it like this, it was clear tjat there was really no way to work this mechanic in its current form into the final game. So, after about 10 versions of exciting development, the Gear Grid was shelved. Perhaps I'll be able to bring this mechanic back and refine it for a future project, but I'm now pretty convinced that it is not right for Seventh Cross.
We also tried various forms of monster fights, hazards, castle builds, and story formats in these versions, but nothing felt quite right to me. It was always a goal of this game that the enemies in this game would have a lot of personality and lead to tough and memorable fights. The direction that the game was headed with roaming monsters just wasn't in line with that ultimate goal. I needed to try something different.
Still, a lot of great innovations appeared in these versions. We introduced Sanctuary, a zone where hunters can upgrade their gear, interact with NPCs, and acquire story advancements. We also worked out the rudiments of a campaign structure that have developed nicely in the time since. And of course, the karma/anathema choice system mentioned in our previous updates was something too good to throw out, even if the systems it fed into weren't optimal. Overall,
I'm happy with what we learned in these versions, though I think that if I had focused a bit more on development and less on content that they would have gone more quickly and more smoothly. Developing a game while being the content author for that game has been pretty tricky, as every time you get a new idea, the temptation is to build an entire game around it. In the latest updates, I trimmed down all the background work I was doing in order to get solid prototypes more quickly.
My Own Thoughts
Although each of the versions 26-29 individually functioned well enough, they weren't up to my own standards and goals for Seventh Cross. Most importantly though, I didn't feel that these versions added much to the existing genre, even with the novelty of the Gear Grid. You could play Descent, Mansions of Madness, or Gloomhaven and get a very similar experience. This distress eventually brought me to the point of making drastic changes one again.
It's not enough to make a game that just works–I promised myself that Seventh Cross was going to be something really unique. In version 30 we introduced Episodes–our next major innovation towards what the game is going to be. Look out for an update on that soon!