All of our seasoned players from beta already understand this since they’ve had a lot of time to sit down, play the game, and let everything marinate in their brains. For our new players (welcome and thank you for your support!), I’m sure y’all are asking for a boarding feature
More after the jump…
Even though my official title is that of game designer, I’m always thinking about the bandwidth of our team. Do we have time? Can it be balanced? Can we really polish it so that it’s fun? And then of course there’s the actual designing of it too. With boarding in questions, we definitely have the talent to make it work but the real problem is the time, polish, and how it will interact with all other systems. At the end of the day, boarding does not complement our ideas and goals, and timeline, for the game.
We want the game to be about airship to airship combat from both a scope and gameplay focus perspectives. Airship combat is supposed to offer a multitude of tactics and strategies that players can craft, learn, and explore—we think it successfully does that in a lot of ways. There is no one way to win a battle. Depending on what you equip, which ship you choose, how you fly that ship, how your crew operates, and what skills everyone is carrying will effect the outcome of combat and overall meta strategy. We feel that with this there’s already a lot going on. In other words, gameplay focus is already saturated. This is by far out biggest influence on this decision. Sure, another system or method of gameplay can be cool but you have to ask yourself how much it really adds to the experience vs. how much time it will take (both playing and working on) everything else.
Let’s first explore how boarding will interact with other systems.
In order to board a ship, you’ll need to get your ship really close to another and jump over (let’s ignore other methods of boarding because those would involved entirely new systems that just automatically puts the task way out of scope). This already dictates a drastic change in common strategies in the current state of the game. Furthermore, the fact that people want to board needs to be supported by the fact that boarding is a good strategy even if it’s high risk high reward. This puts us into a little bit of a problem depending on how we balance it. If we make boarding very powerful, then everyone is going to be doing it. If we make boarding not so powerful, then not many people will be doing it. You might be thinking “No shit, Sherlock” but this distinction is very important. So if boarding is really powerful, then ship combat devolves into driving up to each other as quickly as possible to board. When it’s not powerful no one will give a damn and play the game like normal. That’s the broad analysis of the situation.
Now let’s explore how these two different stories affect team bandwidth.
If boarding is really powerful then the airship combat we have now won’t be used. If boarding isn’t powerful then no one will board. In both cases you see an entire system being more or less ignored. In a lot of other circumstances like, whether or not to use a particular ship, gun, or skill is doesn’t really matter so much because those are all sub-systems. They are all in a larger group of other objects that share similar effects. However, the differences between boarding and airship mechanics is vast and both require a lot of time to get right.
You’re probably thinking that there must be a place where these two things, boarding and airship combat, will come to balance and you’re probably right too. Now the question now involves how boarding and melee combat will actually work. This is both a time, talent, systems interaction, polish, and basically everything under the sun issue. We have two systems and we want them to be used equally. Balancing the two is definitely not trivial, if fact it’ll probably take a longer time than balancing the current set of guns and ships… by factors.
I haven’t played all the games out there but I’m going to say that most First Person Melee Combat isn’t as you hoped it would be. The last one I played was Skyrim and that was pretty entertaining but I didn’t think there was all that much depth to you. You had a very small subset of moves and equipment didn’t do a whole lot… it was basically just stat pumping. Not a whole lot of skill involved. First person combat skills are only really found in First Person Shooters, the way in which you move the most and position your character is much more important than it was in Skyrim.
We then get into Third Person Melee games and there are plenty of these from the Batman Arkham series, Sleeping Dogs, and other 3rd person RPG’s. There are just too many to name. The thing in common with these games is that there is an explicit combo system. The combo system afford for a very rich and complex decision space as well as opportunity for player skill. The timing of your button presses, your reaction speed, and the positioning of your character all becomes paramount in these kinds of games. And this all boils down to the fact that a good combo system entails another detailed system to implement.
Now this becomes a question of polish… and also time. We have these two very different system, which already need to be balanced against each other (airship combat vs. boarding), but each of these systems also needs to be polished on their own as well. It took us two years to get to the airship part. Y’all have played it and while it’s not perfect, it’s definitely getting there. Can we afford to work on boarding? I don’t think so. If you want something janky, sure we can throw something together. If you want something that has depth, it’ll take a us a while. But the biggest question of them all is how to marry airship combat and boarding into one happy family.
It has always been a tough decision for us to make. Ultimately, it comes down to what our own capabilities are and we believe that this is the right direction to go in. There are plenty of other games that may have parts of what you’re looking for if you want boarding. Whether or not they’re as polished or properly integrated with other systems as we would want to do it is another matter.
In other words…. SAY NO TO BOARDING.