"Shardpunk: Verminfall" is an upcoming tactical squad-based survival strategy game, based in a steampunk setting. Gameplay-wise, it is a mix of XCOM and Darkest Dungeon games, mixing all the best features from both. All of this is presented using great pixel art graphics.
Backstory: there has been an unexpected breakthrough during long and exhausting siege of The Empire's Capitol. Rat Swarm managed to breach the walls and flooded the city with vermin. Group of survived city dwellers are trying to escape - and possibly rescue some additional people, if necessary. They will need to scavenge the destroyed city for resources, fight off rat vermin and make their way through the Capitol - all of this to finally get safely out of the city.
Similar to new XCOM games, there will be a combat layer and a strategy layer.
Turn-based tactical combat (which is present in the tech demo) makes use of cover and flanking mechanics. Due to the characters having to cope with stress and having their own quirks there is a fair chance that something will go wrong during the playthrough. Additionally, characters need to scavenge for resources during combat in order to survive.
The strategy layer will allow the player to plan their next missions, handle upgrades etc. Characters will be navigating through the destroyed the Capitol in a prototype airship that requires repairs and maintenance. Character themselves need to be taken care of as well, as they require basic resources (e.g. food) to survive.
Ah, the ideas. They seem great when we think about them, but as soon when it comes to execution, it turns out that they are not that good. This is exactly what happened to me and my idea of how the tactical layer in Shardpunk should be (which I described in the previous blog entry).
I have set up the basics of the tactical layer and had some test playthroughs of the game. And I didn't like how it felt.
The airship management thing (so handling slots, making sure that every character has an activity) was not very amusing. It might have worked in Darkest Dungeon, where the player had a lot of active characters (in Shardpunk, it will be a small number), so most of the slots were taken.
What is more, Darkest Dungeon had plenty of stuff that could be upgraded (after all, the home base was basically a city, not a small prototype airship).
Additionally, the missions were getting tedious and boring. Even if they’d have an extra objective other than just “gather stuff to survive”, the main goal would always be about filling the backpacks with lots of stuff. That does not sound very bad, but now that the evac points are placed by the player, there is too much freedom and too little pressure present.
You go down, you gather a lot of food, you get back. Then you go down, gather other stuff, you get back. You heal in between and create some equipment. You make sure that the engine is working There is *some* feeling of pressure here, but it’s simply not enough.
What is more, initially I was pretty hyped for the combat preparation screen. You know, we will be having all the characters standing next to each other, the player will be able to choose the loadout, etc. Pretty much XCOM. The thing is that this is not XCOM. This is not about a group of guerrillas going on another mission to kick some alien ass. This is a group of people that try to get away and survive. I am not saying that having a mission loadout is a bad thing – it is just it should feel different.
That’s why I decided to pivot and change the gameplay idea.
The whole airship thing will be gone. Characters will travel on foot. Basic gameplay loop will look as follows:
1. The combat phase. Your goal is to reach the next shelter and gather supplies on your way.
2. Find and secure an exit point to a temporary shelter. Enter the shelter (here is where the combat phase ends).
3. Manage your team in the shelter. Distribute supplies. Depending on the type of place, you can manufacture stuff, heal deeper wounds, restore more Sanity. Make the team rest a little.
4. Get out of the shelter (through one of the possible routes, thus allowing the player to choose the next location type) and continue your way out of the city.
This is a major change to the gameplay loop. There is no central base right now. It means that only the resources being carried by the team are the ones at their disposal. Well, maybe the shelters will hold some stuff as well, but you should not rely on them. It will change the way how each resource type works - but I will write more about it in future releases.
All of these changes add more of the "hopeless escape" vibe to the game. Also, as the slots management thing will be gone, the UI design will go in a different way.
This pivot will surely increase the time necessary for me to release the next tech demo in which the tactical layer is presented. However, there is good news as well! There will be the Digital Dragons Indie Showcase event happening in May in Poland. I am planning to submit Shardpunk there. It means that I will be releasing a new tech demo around March 2020 (as March 15th is the deadline for submissions).
This 2nd tech demo will obviously still not have the tactical layer. It will be a more polished version of the previous demo, including some new graphics and a new enemy type.
It means that I have a month to flesh out, test and release that tech demo. The schedule is pretty tight, but I will shoot for it.
So what's next?
Well, you already know that. I will be putting the game together, making sure that the combat layer can again work independently from the tactical layer (which will be remade later) and that it looks even nicer than before.
And here's a bunch of in-game gifs, to make this entry more amusing.
New devlog entry for Shardpunk, holding some initial information about the design of the tactical layer.
First devlog entry for Shardpunk in 2020, holding some insights of the level generation mechanism I have prepared for the 2nd tech demo.
New devlog entry for Shardpunk. I'm writing about new ways I approached the combat evacuation mechanics. And the gifs are there.
First devlog entry for "Shardpunk" #steampunkratgame after the release of the tech demo.
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