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In fact, we’ve never been dead.
Since the last post we’ve been busy with distilling the game, starting our collaboration with Fatshark to bring Cobalt to Xbox and we’ve been to Minecon.
Being a small team with the main focus to have fun, the development of Cobalt has always been a bit haphazard where we’ve added stuff as we go with less focus on the bigger picture and more attention spent on what felt right at the moment. This has led to, in our opinion, a great platformer but it has also resulted in a lot of features that remain hidden to the average player. When a new player starts up Cobalt, he or she isn’t really introduced to what the game is about. There’s nothing to hold their hand and present them with the experience that is Cobalt, especially not as a single player. I’m not talking about a next-gen like dumbing down of game play, but a coherent presentation of the actual game.
What we have now is a whole bunch of puzzle pieces hovering in the air waiting to be placed in the correct spot. Since starting our collaboration with Fatshark we’ve been busy trimming and arranging all pieces in order to put them down in a presentable larger picture and an enjoyable gaming experience from start to finish.
Hit the jump to read more!
The first step in this process has been to polish the game modes that we have. Below is a short expose of what we’ve been working on.
Even though you can choose to play Deathmatch in teams we felt that Cobalt was missing a proper team VS mode.
We had Capture The Plug and even though it was fun at times it felt too chaotic and wasn’t really focusing on what Cobalt does best – combat. Being avid Counter-Strike players me and thewreck started toying with the idea of adding a round based mode where at the end of each round you get to upgrade your character somehow.
Enter Team Strike and the philosophy of locking down characters into classes instead of focusing on equipment drops spread throughout the maps. In Team Strike, each team is presented with a character selection screen at the start of each round. After each player has chosen a character suited to their playing style the round starts. Each player gain funds from kills, combos and team wins during the round which in turn allows the player to afford higher level characters. The team that reaches the goal amount of rounds wins.
We tried this game mode with 8 Mojangstas in the office and it was an instant success! We realized that simplifying things might be exactly what Cobalt needs.
We started looking into bringing some of the things we’ve learned from Team Strike into the other game modes.
The original Survival mode was added as a stand-in mode for single player while Adventure mode was still in development. Since the very first play-through it has had some serious game design issues.
First of all – choices – there were too many of them! As a first time player you were introduced to a lot of new concepts – shops, upgrades, recycling, re-spawning and so forth.
When we observed others playing it for the first time we noticed it could be a bit overwhelming at times.
Secondly, the objective wasn’t clear enough. Sure, the game mode was called Survival so you could sort of guess that that was what it was all about, but there was never any feeling of progress while playing. You were constantly barraged by a never ending stream of foes and all you could do was try to survive for as long as possible. At the end you got a score, but you never felt like you had actually achieved anything. It was very much an unclimbable mountain.
We decided to try a tower defense-esque wave approach to Survival instead. In the current Survival mode the player is presented with a finite number of enemy waves of increasing difficulty, some containing bosses. If you fail to complete a wave you can choose to continue where you fell but with a sort of penalty to your overall score. Between each wave we added a buy screen similar to the one in Team Strike where each player chooses their character class and level depending on their taste and economy.
The classes can be custom fitted to match the theme of the map.
Again, while testing this game mode with Mojangstas and at Minecon it has reassured us that we’re on the right track.
In version 122, the Challenge maps were presented as map packs were the common goal was to complete the maps as fast as possible. When playing through the maps we felt like some of the maps were focused more on combat related strategies rather than speed which led us to redesign the whole philosophy behind challenges.
Instead of presenting them as map packs, we’ve put the maps into categories. Currently there’s a Combat and a Speed category.
The Speed category is pretty straight forward and focuses on just dashing through the map as fast as possible while the Combat category tries to challenge the player to engage obstacles, puzzles and enemies in the map. Like Team Strike and Survival, before each run the player gets the option to choose a class of character which in turn affects the end score. How exactly the scoring system works or how the different classes are unlocked is something we’re still working on solving.
The common denominator for the new design in Team Strike, Survival and Challenges is the equipment handling. Instead of presenting the player with a buffet of equipment and choices to be made while playing, these modes now present complete equipment choices in one phase, while in the gameplay phase lets players focus their attention on using that equipment tactically. Since each player chooses their own equipment outside of the gameplay phase, a larger variety of items can be in play at any one time, while at the same time reducing the amount of items any one player has to worry about. You as a player only have to focus on one ranged weapon at any given time which gives you more time to focus on your specific weaponry and your specific strategies.
Deathmatch is not the same as the other modes though, and splitting up class choices between phases might not be the correct path here. We still would like to get some of the same positive effects. To achieve the higher variety while lessening complexity, our idea is to instead of having a fixed set of weapons spawn in any given map, the map designer places equipment spawn-zones throughout the map and selects a default equipment theme. These spawn points then spawn crates of equipment for the player to pick up. When you pick up a crate containing a ranged weapon, you discard the ranged weapon you’re currently using. This makes sure that you never have to worry about too many different weapons, which again puts the strategic choice to the moment of pickup. “Do I want to use rockets, or my current gun?”, and the tactical problems to later, “how should I best shoot my rockets?”.
Indicators will appear with a timer showing where and when the next crate will appear, giving players ample time to relocate and fight over control. This changes which locations on a map are of interest at any one point, resulting in a more dynamic and shifting game.
To add increased variety to the mode, at the start of the map, the game randomly selects the starting equipment which is shared by all players (Defender Hulls with jet shoes, or Stealth Hulls with shield belts?), making each match unique.
Our hope is that this will introduce a sort of controlled chaos to the game mode that will enhance the experience.
What we’ve been talking about so far is a part of the game that is best experience with a friend or two to play with. This has always been the core strength of Cobalt. However, not everyone has a second controller to hand over to a friend, especially not on a PC or Mac.
Our biggest challenge with Cobalt has always been to create a cohesive, progressive and non-repetitive Single Player mode. It’s been a challenge because each approach taken so far has entailed A LOT of content creation.
Our current approach is to include all the work put into multiplayer game modes, Challenges, Survival and the Adventure mode in one continues experience. Our plan right now is to have them presented in a Super Mario Bros. 3 style world map in which the player can progress and discover the game and the story.
As mentioned in the beginning, we’ve started working with the excellent guys over at Fatshark to bring Cobalt to Xbox. This is of course a challenge in itself and will involve a lot of work on both our and Fatsharks part, but the work put into the port will also benefit the PC and Mac version of the game.
If anyone of you saw the Cobalt panel at Minecon we mentioned something extra that has to do with our collaboration with Fatshark – Fatshark is going to give online multiplayer a go for Xbox. IF it would become reality it’s definitely something we would want for the PC and Mac versions as well. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome to make it a reality but the collaboration with Fatshark has definitely breathed new life into the idea.
Last but not least I would like to thank everyone who visited us at Minecon! Both me and thewreck had a great time playing with all of you and the experience infused us with a lot of ideas of how to improve the game even more.
Next post we’ll be talking 123!