Over the past few weeks, as our team has been designing and developing Collusion, I’ve been working on a “Design Manual” for the game. This is the first in a series of Design Manuals that I hope to write for each of our ongoing games. My hope is that it will be of use to playtesters, fellow designers, and fans who want to extend the game with their own content.
Many of us are familiar with the classic Johnny/Timmy/Spike archetypes shared by Mark Rosewater in his now-famous article for Wizards of the Coast. While these archetypes work great for Magic, every company is a bit different. One of the exciting truths about being game designers is that we get to choose who we serve and who we build our games to attract.
Most of Level 99 Games’ fans fall into one of these archetypes, or are split across two of them. Aside from the three main archetypes, there is one additional meta-archetype, for a total of four. To describe them, I’ve used familiar characters from Millennium Blades, who were designed with these motivations in mind. Unlike the Rosewater archetypes, our archetypes are less about what players engage with in the games, and instead focus on why they engage with the games in the first place. And of course, we have a bit more ground to cover, since we’re designing entire game experiences and not just cards and expansions.
After version 21's action system proved to be a bit too obtuse, I worked to refine it v22. Version 22 of Seventh Cross led us to try and improve the encounters by simplifying them–making things a bit less narrative-heavy.
For version 21, I created a simple scenario, the Tower of Ascension. The story centered around a sorceress who built a machine that would allow her to become a god. Now, centuries later, the machine has come to life once again... We enjoyed the tower, and I hope that some version of it will show up in the final game.
In my most recent article, I mentioned that we had a great breakthrough in the form of Gear Grids! We expanded upon that idea in the next few versions of the game, as well as refined the way that castles are laid out, how events are triggered, and how characters' monstrous forms come into play.
After my most recent post, showing the changes and updates that we've made to Seventh Cross, I got a comment asking about many of the mechanics and paradigms that we had been testing in the boss-battle focused versions of the game, and what would happen to those segments. I started to put together an answer, but it got detailed enough that I felt it deserved its own post.
In designing a game, as with any kind of art, you don't know exactly where you will end up when you start. In my designs, I build a rough outline of the feeling that I'm trying to capture, and then I throw different colors against that canvas until the idea starts to take shape in a way that I want it to. In the Seventh Cross design diaries I've posted so far, you can see how the game's scope and focus have shifted as we develop, and how one core idea can mean a lot of different things.
With Seventh Cross, my goal is to create an immersive adventure game. For many versions of that game, I put a heavy emphasis on boss battles. However, that portion of the game grew and grew to the point where it eclipsed the other elements we wanted to introduce. When the boss battles were the most fun and interesting, the exploration had to be heavily reduced due to time and mechanical constraints (as learned in the v10-14 versions). With a compromise between both, I would only achieve a half-baked battle system and a lackluster adventure segment (as we tried in v15 and 16)
It became clear that to do battles on a scale and depth that I wanted, I would have to cut out much of the exploration and adventure gameplay that I had in my original scope, or end up with a very lengthy and disjointed experience as I tried to force all of the disparate mechanics into one game. It wasn't possible to make a full adventure game, and a full boss battle game, and keep things fully cooperative, and keep the legacy aspects I had in mind, all in the same box.
This faced me with a difficult decision. Which game was the real Seventh Cross? In the end, I decided to step back from the boss-rush version and produce the game that I felt was more resonant with the original adventure/exploration path I had set out on. This game would allow me to keep most closely to the vision expressed on the project's overview page.
These kinds of tough choices come up fairly often in design. As many elements are added and removed, it's easy to forget the original vision behind a game, to decide that your plan is obsolete, or simply to succumb to the temptation to go in a new direction from your first intentions.
The important thing to take away from these culls is that as long as you keep your good ideas on reserve, nothing is truly lost. All the knowledge and innovations we gained from testing out the boss-rush game will come in handy for upcoming projects. It's much better to deliver two focused, complete, and tightly built games than one all-encompassing hodge-podge, after all.
I have big plans for the boss-battle game as well, but I have to tackle one thing at a time. I'm confident that both of these two games will turn out better for not being forced into one another's molds.
Also, I want to say a special thanks to all of you who have been following along with these updates and who have been leaving comments, encouragement, and questions. It's good to know that people are interested in what I'm working on. It really pushes me to think hard about the choices I make, and to make sure I'm delivering on all of your expectations.
I look forward to sharing more complete versions of both of these games with you in the near future!