There have not been any updates in a little while, as I've basically been building and rebuilding for the past month without any break. But it's all been worth it, as I'm more confident than ever in the design of the new Seventh Cross!
I'm excited to announce that we've finally done it! Seventh Cross v20.1 was a big success, and I believe that this version of the game is very close to what the final will be! After nearly a year of development and design, I've assembled a prototype that puts all the pieces of the game into play, and I think we're finally happy with what it is and what it does. So here's a quick overview of what's happened in the versions since my last post, v17!
v18 - Deckbuild-y Adventuring
Version 18 combined an improved combat system and deckbuilding mechanics with the castle traversal mechanics from v17, while also improving on these a little bit. We introduced a different method of Traversal (non-combat challenges) that drew more on the player's own deck. There was also more of a focus on how characters would grow in skill.
In this game, you would proceed through the castle, using the cards in your deck as stamina, drawing as many as you felt you needed to complete a challenge as presented. The excess cards would be lost, and the only way to reset your deck was to return to a checkpoint and rest.
v16 had introduced a system of symbol-driven combat and encounters, and v18 expanded upon that by introducing a number of new symbols used for exploration and non-combat encounters.
A weapon in this setup could be played in either direction, presenting a simple choice to the player with each card drawn. The words in parens, like (Slash), are damage symbols, and are used to attack enemies. The words in carats, such as <Roll>, are Traversal symbols, and are used for non-combat applications.
This version tested well, but there was still something missing. The skill and weapon cards felt a bit forgettable, a little too easy to leverage, and the encounters we faced were a little too generic. I realized that I needed to put a little more interesting behavior into the monsters, and a simple choice into all the traversal encounters, in order to make things memorable. v18 tried out longer and more complex scripts, but I discovered that events like NPCs needed to be both short and very memorable. Dark Souls definitely did it right, with a silent protagonist and NPCs that can carry an entire (brief) conversation by themselves. With these ideas in mind, I moved on to v19.
v19 - Structured Wings
In v19, things began to get a bit more interesting. I got the impression that we wanted to guarantee that monsters and story events made sense based on where you were exploring in the castle. The larger wings would enable me to write a number of paragraph encounters that encapsulated the story of the wing itself. These would enable interesting choices and the kind of "interactive story decisions" that I wanted to capture. I also expanded the types of encounters to include puzzles. I'm very excited about puzzles.
For the intermediate development of the game, I built a description of each of the wing tiles. In order to visualize how these would look in-game, I asked Fábio Fontes to do some illustration and show us the castle tiles fully realized! Let me make a clear point that it's important not to start on the art for a game too soon. I knew once I saw the way the Castlevania screenshots looked on the tiles in v17 that this was absolutely the way I wanted the game to look on the table. With that certainty in mind, I felt alright to go ahead and commission the art test.
Here's a look at the process behind those...
The tower design document helped Fábio to get a plan for what the area would look like and what features would appear in each tile.
After that, sketching began, giving a general shape to the rooms, and a level of detail.
Elements are blocked out in base colors.
And finally, the detailed touches are painted in, giving the area its final look.
Here's a look at how detailed the individual rooms are up-close. Each tile is one and a half inches of real table space, so there's room to really get in close and observe these minute details. This particular room (with the statue of Sethi, the founder of the Church) is the equivalent of the Dark Souls bonfire in Seventh Cross. In these rooms, players can rest, re-equip, and alter their character loadouts.
Version 19 is what I like to call an "Intermediate Version" in development. It was envisioned as a direct upgrade to version 18, but it never hit the table in its complete form, despite having a complete rulebook and a number of cards designed. After a few small combat trials, we hit upon a much more promising idea, and immediately dropped work on v19 to begin work on v20.
v20 - Gear Grids
The big idea that made us drop everything and move on to v20 was Gear Grids. The main problem in v18 and v19 was the availability of resources. You needed certain resources to complete challenges, but because of the nature of deckbuilding, they weren't always at your disposal. We didn't want to give the players all their tools all the time, but we also didn't want things to be arbitrarily hard to use when they shouldn't be. Instead of deckbuilding to see your way through challenges, it dawned on us to let the players actually equip their gear directly onto their characters.
Weapons, subweapons, armor, and tools all provide symbols to your character, so we decided to reduce them to just that, and let players arrange these symbols on their character grids. When activating your grid, you turn certain symbols on, providing them for the sake of finishing challenges and fighting monsters. After activation, a Stamina Marker is placed onto your grid to clog it up, costing you some of those resources.
Furthermore, each character has their own sort of traversal puzzle. Galdred here uses a Tetris sort of play, where he can only activate in the downward direction, but each activation puts a new piece in his grid, making him stronger even as he runs out his options.
This worked out very well, but there were a few too many symbols to deal with. In version 20.1, we got rid of the Traversal Symbols altogether, reducing the game down to just Stat Symbols (the ones in the circles), Damage Symbols (the ones in red), and Assist Symbols (the ones in Blue, which are used to aid allies during their turns). This worked out much better.
In addition to a gear grid, players have access to Skill Cards. These can be utilized by activating certain combinations of symbols. For example, Galdred's Eviscerate card here allows him to convert all of his "Strength" Stat Symbols into "Slash" Damage Symbols, turning his raw stats into an alternate way to deal heavy damage in combat. Acquiring gear and building an engine with your skill cards are now the primary ways to explore and prepare for big boss battles in Seventh Cross.
I had to do a lot of manual work to assemble this prototype, and it's the most tactile game I think that we've ever made. It's good! Even though my hands hurt now, it was worth it to cut out all these pieces in order to understand what the real game would feel like when it was complete. In the future though, I may use Gamecrafter to make my prototype tiles! :D
Version 20.1 wasn't perfect. The ordinary monsters were a bit too complex, and the bosses were a little too tough. The game's exploration phase wasn't properly punctuated by the boss fights, with players instead doing all the exploration, then all the boss fights. I'll work on these pacing issues, as well as expanding the engine building, reintroducing transformation mechanics, and improving the flow of combat in our next version! Look out for reports on that as they become available! :D