Devader has just been released on Steam!
Finally. It took a lot longer than expected. 4 years. I was very close to releasing a year ago, but decided against it. I was promising 17 endings, but it all felt the same. So why was I offering so many endings? It seemed more like a chore. This forced me to rethink. Instead of going the sensible route of just scrapping the alternate endings, I did the opposite.
Just so that you understand what I am on about in the next section, I need to explain. Devader is a one room game, there are no levels in the common sense. You are defending a hexagonal matrix in the center of the game world. At your disposal are your standard guns, a crowd control weapon, turrets and some other cool stuff. The enemies attack in waves and each level/section of the game is built up out of 6 waves and a boss wave. All in all there are 7 levels -> 49 waves for one full run. There are 8/12 different upgrades to chose from at the end of every level. If you chose the same upgrade every time, you can maximize it and this will give you an alternate game ending.
So I made all these alternate endings (short animations), but there was no reason to play the game other than to see them. What could I offer to make it worth while? What does a game need in this situation? New final bosses of course! As I enjoyed making bosses, that felt like a no brainer. But it should not have been. Making bosses is a lot of hard work, as I should have already known.
So I started making bosses, 12 alternate endings meant 12 new bosses. So far I had only made 7 in 3 years. To be fair, I was also working on the game engine (custom WebGL/js engine) and many other things during that time. I soon realized, that just adding new final bosses, only changes the very end of the game. As that realization hit me, I knew I was in deep. I was kind of commitet now after making 4 new bosses. So what could I do about the rest of the game? Easy!!! Add alternate bosses for each level, so that the game offers more variety. That meant I needed 6 alternate bosses, one for each level.
Final boss + 12 special final bosses + 2*6 level bosses = 25 boss monsters. Not bad.
But... was that enough? The levels before the bosses are kind of still the same. Obviously I needed alternate waves too... and what about the game mechanics? If you are always doing the same thing, it gets kind of boring. I needed more mechanics/special abilities aka stuff. I was beginning to realize the advantage of random drops so prevalent in many games (Isaac, Gungeon). The randomness keeps things fresh, as you never know what you will be getting + it adds a layer of luck and a reason to try again. "It was just bad luck, next time it will go much better."
The thing is, I don't really like games using too much luck. It feels unfair to me. As if I only win by luck and only die by because of bad luck. So this was not an option. My eventual solution was to link the new stuff to the default upgrades. Players are in total control of what they will get. This gave the slightly boring upgrades new life and gave me a lot more work to do. I ended up adding 23 different special abilities. Many of which I based on games being made by friends of mine. The special abilities unlock after 2-4 levels of one upgrade. Some simply change the behavior of your weapons, others force you to use an entirely different play style. Not everything is beneficial, but if you want to see all the endings...
About a month ago, I released a demo for Devader on Steam. It was mostly well received. But I also got some strong negative feedback from one player. He was not at all impressed by the demo and had some valid feedback. It was rather harsh, but I befriended him and managed to get some more in depth detail on his thoughts. It did turn out that he had played the demo on easy. This did relieve me quite a bit. I gave him a key to the full game, told him to play on Hard (the special mechanics only appeared then) and he did say it was better. His main feedback was that the early game was always the same. Kind of boring. Unfortunately he never tried Hard. But the criticism did strike me as valid. Many people were going to play on Easy and Normal.
So... you might have guessed it, I had to change the early game. This time it involved adding an additional button, something I had been opposed to for a long time. I was already using too many buttons in my opinion. But it was worth a shot. Skills were born. I came up with 8 new skills in an hour and pretty much spent the next 2 days adding them in. It was a lot of fun. The new skills included 3 new structures, a sort of dodge roll like mechanic called phasing, bombs and a drone that can be moved around like in an RTS. Some ended up taking a lot of time to integrate properly. The new skills changed a lot. Instead of upgrading and discovering new stuff later on, you set out on your journey with one of 8 skills that have a strong influence on your play style (if used correctly and thoroughly).
So what have I learnt? I now know what I should have done last year, but I also know, that I am not the person to make that correct decision. I was thinking about changing my middle name to "Feature". "Feature Creep" would be a bit weird as a middle name.