Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Talk about anything related to Druidstone here.

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Quantomas
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Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Quantomas » Thu May 16, 2019 8:45 am

[A few more details to what I said in your blog.]

From what I have seen so far, Druidstone is not a you-do-what-you-know-and-use-your-resources-best tactical RPG but rather it plays like a boardgame that throws surprises at you. Ctrl-Alt-Ninja may get away with this misrepresentation because many gamers value this gameplay more than the hardcore tactics game, but many players drawn to the tactical squad genre do not know this.

Druidstone is fun and more like a great adventure. Well done!

Naturally you don’t need an AI for this gameplay style, but in the long run you will realize that the game would gain much from a fully realized AI, if it is only to avoid cheap tactics and exploits.

Anyway, I like it, there are enough games in the tactical squad genre, but a truly fun adventure, in which you have to improvise as best as you can, is a rare treat.

Kudos!

It's difficult to say how you can make the most of Druidstone and the situation. A lot will depend on how Druidstone is initially received, the user reviews will tell you.

Maybe it will help to recast its description and to focus on its true strength: a great adventure that requires your best skills to survive the surprises that are thrown at you, much in the vain of great table-top RPGs with a creative DM.

More importantly, don't stop to upgrade Druidstone, particularly the AI. If you envision Druidstone with a fully realized competent AI, you will see that it could become a true gem, a one-of-a-kind game.

I know launch time is stressful, but if you can, from time to time sit back and reflect on the opportunity that is here.
AI wizard. Tesla's mind.

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petri
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by petri » Thu May 16, 2019 12:30 pm

Thanks Quantomas for the wise words! You are right that it's hard to communicate what kind of game it is. Hopefully the gameplay videos help with that.

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Quantomas
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Quantomas » Fri May 17, 2019 1:48 pm

The representation of the game is in theory the part that is most easy to fix.

The real issue is to align (a) how Druidstone is respresented, (b) what you envision Druidstone to be, and (c) what the current state of the game is. Not that easy.

Looking at the key description that you give on Steam:
A tactical, turn-based RPG from the makers of Legend of Grimrock games. Every action, every turn counts as you control your party of heroes through challenging, handcrafted missions in the ancient, mist-clad Menhir Forest.
This quote gives prospective buyers an impression that they get a game with tactical combat like the Firaxis XCOM or the battles in Heroes of Might & Magic, in which you know what you have, what to watch out for, and then develop a strategy to win with the resources at hand.

However, Druidstone doesn't play like that, it's more like a creative DM who throws challenges at you to nudge you in the right the direction. Likewise hearing the term turn-based RPG invokes memories of ToEE and D:OS2.

So you could fix that:
A tactical, turn-based challenge from the makers of Legend of Grimrock games. Play through handcrafted missions that offer surprises at every turn, for you to use your wits and make every action of your heroes count in the ancient, mist-clad Menhir Forest.
In general it is always best to be honest upfront, so that the players of your game know what they get, and you get a high approval rate. But the presentation is only the surface, and it cannot be solved properly until you have aligned (b) your vision of the game and (c) the current state of the game.

It appears that one of the big influences in the design of Druidstone is Into the Breach. Its hallmarks are an outstanding UI that gives you complete information of what can happen on the map, helped by a deterministic combat system. It has only a minimalistic AI, essentially one turn targeting of objectives by the monsters. This works fine in the base game, as there are tight rules of what you have to defend, making for intruiging challenges. But Into the Breach falls a bit apart in the endgame, as the tactical game squad against squad is too easy with the straight-lookahead AI. That is its main shortcoming, and during replays I often wished that even in the base game it would be possible to adjust the difficulty by having the monsters act more intelligently (= more challenging).

This is relevant for Druidstone as well because you applied the same principles, a minimalistic AI and a combat directed by immediate mission goals. To make this design work, which gets much more difficult the larger the maps are, you had to come up with limits and challenges that keep the player in check.

Naturally that feels arbitrary for the players who play tactical games for the strategic challenge, but those players who can look beyond that may discover the fun that such a game design can also provide if it is done well. The aspect of a boardgame that throws challenges at you like a good creative dungeon master.

Either by choice or by necessity, i.e. limited development resources and keeping the game challenging with a minimalistic AI, you ended up with two competing visions, the clarity of Into the Breach that gives the player every information needed at the one hand and the fun of a creative DM casting you into difficult situations so that you need to improvise at the other hand.

That raises questions. If you design a mission with a goal to keep all party members standing and the battle introduces a new opponent who explodes on death and takes nearby members of your party with you, then you have a choice: do you tell the player this upfront, e.g. by providing a tooltip for the enemy that lists this special ability, in order to maintain the tenet of Into the Breach to provide complete tactical information, or alternatively do you hide this special ability from the player until he kills the opponent, and if it is with a melee fighter cause a "Gotcha! Objective failed" experience? The same goes for spawn points and other unpredictible opposition skills. Do you want a game that requires the player to discover and remember every such turning point within a mission and then to figure out how to win in consecutive mission replays?

Either way you answer this question, it's a valid choice, but considering how the game is represented and how it currently plays, Druidstone would significantly gain from clarity in your vision what you want Druidstone to be. Do you want it to be like a grand tactical strategically sound game like Into the Breach, but with more scope and story? Or do you want it to be a truly challenging journey with surprises at every turn that require you to improvise the best you can? Both games could be great.

That brings us to the current state of the game. It's obvious that Druidstone has a ton of potential, but it is somewhat marred by it seemingly not entirely sure what it wants to be.

Spawn points, unpredictable resurrection of opponents and special skills plus unforeseeable changes in the environment, make Druidstone currently a game of improvisation, not so much a strategic execution of tactics.

If this is indeed your intention, the logical route is to present and sell the game not so much as a tactical/strategic experience but rather as a surprising and rewarding romp that is a great adventure. A lot of game elements could be improved to focus on this, along with the representation. Celebrate it! Why not make the spawning of opponents and other obstacles an event? Don't let players think of it as an excuse.

Anyway, I am not sure whether that is what you want. It is also perfectly doable to go the Into the Breach route by clarifying all the effects in the mission briefing in advance, plus providing a clear UI for spawn points and other environment and opposition features, that give accurate information about their timing and location, providing full enemy descriptions in tooltips and so on. However, it appears that you introduced the time limits and the tough punishments as the missions progress in order to keep the tactical element limited.

Technically, the size of Druidstone's mission maps offer a perfect opportunity for a rich strategic experience in the vein of HoMM and AoW but with the determinism of Into the Breach, if you wouldn't enforce time limits but have the gameplay determined by a sound balance of forces.

If it is merely lack of development resources or specialist skills that kept you from going this route, it may make sense that we speak about how it could be done, because I have worked more than ten years on tech required for this.

In any case, I recommend that you envision Druidstone clearly going into one of the two directions and adapt its respresentation, and then keep going to develop the strengths of your chosen design further. The other thing I would recommend is to do this as part of Druidstone. It is better to expand the game step by step and then release it as a sequel with some more improvements, instead of going back to the isolated development mode for a sequel, if that is your plan.
AI wizard. Tesla's mind.

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Quantomas
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Quantomas » Sat May 18, 2019 9:29 pm

Having played some more I think that the way the spawning events are signalled works fine.

In principle the missions play initially like a grand adventure where lots of things happen. If you don't win them outright and go through replays, you learn what the critical issues are, e.g. things like dont' examine X before you have defeated Y. It's like a puzzle where you have an increasing number of hints with each successive attempt. I am not sure whether this is conducive to making the game fun.

I'd prefer either missions where you have all knowledge beforehand so that it is a truly strategic battle of wits, or alternatively a mission that is always new on each replay, not necessarily entirely new but that different events happen, a bit like a Spelunky level is always unique.

I have to think about it whether the latter is possible with handcrafted levels, and play some more ...

Still, all in all, Druidstone is a highly enjoyable experience with lots of good design decisions, like that the consumables don't transfer to the next map, because this would defy their true purpose.
AI wizard. Tesla's mind.

Ravenwoods
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Ravenwoods » Sun May 19, 2019 4:09 am

Honestly, just as Grimrock games were not outright dungeon crawler RPGs, and more like puzzle games, similar thing can be said for Druidstone. I'd call it tactical puzzle RPG lite game or something. As the fan of the Grimrock games (mainly because of the twist of the genre), I almost hesitated to buy this game thinking this would be full fledged tactical game like X-Com and I'd suck at it real hard. Not until I watched a preview on YouTube that I realised it was a bit more boardgame like, encounter solving game. At its core, it still kind of plays like a puzzle game that you need to solve.

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Isaac
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Isaac » Sun May 19, 2019 5:28 am

Ravenwoods wrote:
Sun May 19, 2019 4:09 am
As the fan of the Grimrock games (mainly because of the twist of the genre)...
What was the twist?

I ask only because I didn't see one; as far as I could tell it was spot on in the genre, lock-step with Eye of the Beholder, and Dungeonmaster. :?
Given 2nd edition D&D rules it could easily pass as an EoB #4.

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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Ravenwoods » Sun May 19, 2019 9:30 am

They didn't have as deep or complicated ruleset like those dungeon crawlers and less focus on the combat capabilities and RPG elements but more like room by room puzzle solving and encounter managing. I call it RPG lite puzzle game. They stripped the genre elements to its core essentials and re-focusing on specific elements of the genre. It didn't try to be the most sprawling and deepest RPG imo. I felt those games were less power fantasy, more of mind challenges. I may be wrong though lol. I think it not having DnD ruleset is exactly the thing that made the drastic difference for me. I like not having to worry too much about min-maxing and able to manage encounters via just playing the game.

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Quantomas
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Quantomas » Fri May 31, 2019 12:49 pm

Now that I have seen a fair amount of how Druidstone plays, here is my feedback to help you, hopefully to make it a longterm success. It may also help to give prospective players an overview.


PRESENTATION

Druidstone does very well to invite the player to a grand adventure. Installation and launch is very smooth, with the start screen already setting the right mood, with lush visuals, tempting music, and an intuitive interface. Dispensing with the need for a manual is a plus, the player gets into the game immediately while the tutorial is kept to a minimum but covers everything the player needs to know. Which also says a lot about how good the UI is.

The visuals, art and animations do a great job to immerse the player into a lush and thematically apt fantasy world. The same can be said for the presentation of the game's systems and UI, it is always clear, functional and gives the impression of great care.

The sound effects and the music are mostly outstanding. The one exception may be the occasional switch to Metroidvania-style music during combat, which may appear jarring for some players, because it changes tone completely.

WRITING

The story of Druidstone is mostly presented as text bubbles during conversations which works well because it draws the player in. What is said by the characters presents the story well. Though it is not your epic D&D style fantasy plot, it provides ample motivation for the player. The characters feel a bit like metaphors, but that does not diminish their deeds and struggles to do right.

User reviews do criticize the story, but this is not necessarily a flaw of the writing. It is a valuable skill to appreciate a story and the art of the writing for what it is, to get the most out of it. Today too many people, particularly Millenials, have become too attached to their own preconceptions of what a story is supposed to be, and feel entitled to criticize it. Though in truth, it is very difficult to satisfy these people, and even harder to come up with a story that reaps universal acclaim. Druidstone's story works fine for what it set out to do.

PLAYER AGENCY

In principle the player proceeds through Druidstone's story by fulfilling missions which are relayed through an overland map. You can pick any mission that is available, and as the story proceeds more missions are added.

Between the missions you have the opportunity to upgrade your characters' gear and skills from the experience, gold and gems you acquire on the missions. The loot depends on how good you do on a mission, so the player is incentivized to perform well.

The difficulty is freely adaptable and missions can be replayed to improve the outcome.

CORE GAMEPLAY

The meat of the game is in the missions you perform. Each is a handcrafted map of a location. The maps are divided into tiles and you proceed in typical turn-based fashion by spending movepoints to move and action points to interact with objects and fight opponents.

Though there are no shrouded areas that you have to explore, the game frequently throws surprises at you like new enemies spawning and new mechanics adding to the gameplay. Thus you can't plan your way to victory in advance at the begin of a mission. Druidstone plays much more like a boardgame of a dungeon crawl during which you are subjected to unforeseeable rigors. You have to manage your combat resources smartly and on the higher difficulties make best use of the skills your heroes acquire.

Users' experience with turn-based tactical combat matters a lot here, with many users already reporting that they find the game on NORMAL difficulty already unforgiving.

DESIGN OF THE CHALLENGE

All missions are handcrafted and offer challenging opponents from the get-go. The tactical options available to you are enormous, with your heroes possessing a variety of skills that allow you to tackle challenges in many different ways, from a simple guard mode that spends your last action point to attack the next opponent that moves into range to intricate spells and teleportation, position swapping and similar feats. The list of your skills grows as you progress through the game. In principle the game demands that you use your skills effectively, as the opposition has the upper hand in numbers and strength. Opponents are dumb in the sense that they beeline towards you, but their numbers make the game challenging nevertheless.

All missions are winnable by design, and if you were up only against the opposition present on each map at the beginning, you would breeze through the game. To make the game challenging, Druidstone spawns enemies frequently during your mission, opens hidden passages with more opponents if you pass a trigger, or throws other surprises at you throughout the game.

In principle it makes for a nice, unpredictable experience, like a dungeon run with unpredictable rigors at every turn. It's definitely no strategy game, but a truly challenging dungeon run has its own merits.

But as things are, the surprises the game throws at you can easily make your mission a failure. By design this is only a small setback, because you can replay the mission immediately or come back later with better skills, or gear that will help you succeed. The enemy spawns and surprises the game throws at you are identic each time you play one mission. So you learn what you have to avoid and watch out for. It's like a puzzle that you repeat with an increasing number of hints at your disposal. This sounds nice on the drawing board, but the experience you get from repeating missions feels like a grind that gets weaker each time, because the spice of the mission, the surprises that add challenges, play out the same and thus have lost their appeal. It feels like a grind with diminishing returns, because you merely memorize the mission design. What it lacks is the grand feeling of a predictable strategy game, where you have to assess the challenge, refine your approach, and ultimately can revel in having mastered a challenge by learning to play better. It would be better if repeating a mission would play out differently each time, or if the mission would be challenging without additional surprises. This is Druidstone's biggest design flaw, that the replay of missions feels like a diminishing grind, like a puzzle that gets easier with each try, not because you have learned to play better but simply because you know how it plays out.

Instead Druidstone offers elevation by mastering the challenges that it throws frequently at you, if you are smart enough to win each mission on your first attempt. That is where Druidstone is at its best.

I play Druidstone on hard difficulty and after realizing that mission replays are not desirable, I do my best to complete all mission objectives right away. In principle, if you make smart choices at level-up, preferably to select the skills that offer structural benefits, and choose high quality gear with an eye for the best combat options, your power curve vs the difficulty of the missions is improving to your advantage as the game progresses. You also learn what type of surprises the game throws at you. A third through the game, it feels if you use your limited skills conservatively and proceed with circumspection, you can succeed mostly always right away, though some missions seem not to provide for this playing style without a grind (for example in the mission for the Seldanna flowers, you have to grind through 100+ spawned infectors; doable but not fun).

VERDICT

Druidstone is no RPG (we should stop calling a game an RPG only because you can customize your combat build) and no strategy game, because it is unpredictable in its challenge.

Instead Druidstone is at its best if you love a dungeon run that throws challenging surprises at you, and if you manage to proceed without fail like a roguelike.

MARKETING

Marketing the game as an RPG or a strategy game where each turn counts misses the mark. Technically you draw visitors to your store page that look for a game like Temple of Elemental Evil or D:OS2, or possibly even Into the Breach, only for them to read in the user reviews that this game is no RPG and no strategy game. This means you only sell the game to those prospective buyers who look for an RPG or strategy game AND also happen to like the type of game Druidstone truly is, which is probably just a small fraction of the visitors. People steeped in marketing will tell you, don't confuse your customers. Prospective buyers who feel unsure what they will get, will most likely defer a purchase. It will work much better to market Druidstone to its true core audience, possibly vivid board gamers who would like to try a computer game.

In general the market has become very competitive, with gamers having huge backlogs and increasingly realising that buying a game at release is not the best deal for them. These days a game needs to be outstanding and ideally unique. Druidstone is a unique game and offers a rare treat, but it needs to be marketed to its true audience.

I'd recommend to get Druidstone on the Epic Store asap while the current Epic Store Sale lasts (until June 13). With the Epic sponsorship during the sale (€10 at no cost for the developer), Druidstone could sell for €11 without you discounting it, possibly giving Druidstone the exposure it needs.

BUSINESS

In principle Druidstone is a smart product with great potential, if it is leveraged properly. The modular design of the campaign, with missions to choose from the overland map, plus the fairly straightforward way to add lore and deliver the story, in addition to a mission editor, could have an appeal to modders like Neverwinter Nights once did. But it will require a critical mass of interest from the larger community, and possibly devs to use the platform. Recently For the King tried this approach, the platform is good, but the game never gained widespread traction.

FUTURE

My recommendation is to fix Druidstone's biggest flaw, the way the replay of missions is handled. There are various ways to do it.

The most straightforward fix would be to provide alternative events to make the missions play out differently each time. But it would make sense to address this together with an improvement of the game balance and difficulty by addressing enemy behaviour and event flow. There are suitable methods available that go beyond crafting and balancing each mission manually, without requiring random generation, but an intelligent hybrid approach could make for a truly outstanding game that offers excellent dungeon-run-like qualities.

I do know how to make the required improvements, but that would exceed what modders usually do. However, a licensing deal could work. Maybe many more developers could see the potential that Druidstone offers.
AI wizard. Tesla's mind.

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Quantomas
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by Quantomas » Fri Jun 21, 2019 1:03 pm

Now, after completing my playthrough of Druidstone: The Secret of Menhir Forest, I have to say that I enjoyed it more than Into The Breach, and that says a lot.

The story is actually very good.
AI wizard. Tesla's mind.

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petri
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Re: Kudos for an adventure that offers lots of fun!

Post by petri » Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:42 am

Thank you! Glad you liked it! :-)

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