Hot Sauce Bread Studios is an indie game developer located in Ottawa Ontario. Our current project is Sigils of Kairos, a strategic card game
This blog has been around for quite a while and I am very happy to share our design discussions with you all. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth re-iterating that we are a small two person operation and as a result we have been working on this project for quite a while. This explains why pretty much all of the blog posts on Hot Sauce Bread have been retrospective takes on our design process.
In a way, I really like this format as it gives us the advantage of hindsight to unveil some hidden consequences of our design choices. Unfortunately, this also means that our game often looks like it’s at a standstill when it very much isn’t. Today we take a peek at what is happening with Sigils up to this point.
If you’re an avid follower, you might have noticed a twitter post with the new victory screen. Though there are going to be some tweaks to the design of the font, we are both really happy with how this looks and feels. I personally really like the arcade aesthetic, and I feel like our game really benefits from it. Unlike other card-based games, Sigils plays much more like an arcade game which I don’t think comes across well when looking at our screenshots.
This is our crack at the character select screen. We needed a way to showcase the characters while still lumping them into their respective roles. I think Jacob made the right choice on this one because it looks pretty straight forward and clear.
This is a mysterious shot posted on our social media accounts a few weeks back. What does this mean for our game? Well, I think it’s clear that we’ll be adding cosmetic items, but I will likely go over this more in the future. The only thing I can say now is please don’t jump to any conclusions, especially in regards to how we plan on monetizing. In all honesty, we aren’t completely sure of which route to take, but we have a few different ideas kicking around.
We have some more things we’re working on, but this is a general look at some of the updates that we’ve made. Unlike a lot of our other devblog posts, this one seems more similar to what a ‘normal’ dev blog looks like. I hope you all enjoyed a peek behind the curtain, and please help us out by giving us a bit of feedback! You can reach us via the Contact page or making a comment directly on this post. If you want us to get back to you, you are welcome to leave your email address or sign up for any new updates. As usual, if you want to see some of these screens before they hit the blog, you can also follow us on our social medias like twitter or Instagram. This summer is wrapping up at an alarming pace, so we here at Hot Sauce Bread Studios hope you make the best of it.
Time for yet another discussion about design choices for Sigils of Kairos. Today’s post I will be talking about trap cards. I’ll start by discussing the reasons for including them, how they’ve changed from that original idea, and then touch on the different traps available. Let’s go!
First off, one would assume that trap cards came about from playing Yugioh or Hearthstone. This is probably subconsciously true, but it is important to note that I played neither of these when they were included into Sigils. Traps were actually a natural and obvious solution for one of my initial worries, Hand Dumping. Even before my initial mock-up for the game, I knew that there had to be something in place to make players think twice about throwing down a card. In fact, I liked this idea so much, that I left three spaces for traps for each player! Thankfully, when Jacob agreed to take on the project, he quickly noted that this is overkill and would serve only to frustrate.
Touching on a design philosophy so wonderfully explained in an Extra Credits video, traps were a perfect way to add a lot of depth with very little complexity. By this I mean that the traps added a lot of strategy and thinking through plays without having players learn any difficult-to-grasp rules. Any player can understand how a move could get blocked by a trap, but good players know to bait out a trap by throwing out a weak attack before unloading their special moves. As our game evolved to include the forge mechanic, this became even more important. Forging powerful cards meant that a player was putting more eggs in one basket. If that move gets blocked by a trap, that player didn’t just lose one card, but 2 or 3. That being said, let’s take a look at the traps that we’ve included in Sigils.
This is probably the most important of the traps as it cuts right to the main purpose of traps. When triggered, the tank shield doesn’t just prevent one attack, but three! Throw in the ability to upgrade this to a 5 shield trap, and it’s easy to see why this card defines Otto’s role as a tank.
The most standard of the different trap cards, Skrill’s bone ward blocks a single attack and throws a bit of damage their way via poison damage over time. This move (as well as Bone Cage) helps classify Skrill into the support role and pushes back against the idea that support roles are simply just healers.
Another seemingly standard trap card, Stalagg’s frost ward (Pictured above) blocks a single attack while slowing the attacker’s draw speed. Though this may not seem very useful this move serves to slow down the entire game, which was a major goal when designing Stalagg. This allows the player to breathe and plan out their moves against an aggressive enemy team.
One would have thought this would be the most boring of the traps, but Amyth’s flame ward comes with its own unique mechanic. Unlike the other traps, the flame ward actually runs on a timer. This means that over-zealous players can hit this trap twice. We don’t extend this prolonged trap time for very long because Amyth doesn’t fall into the tank or support roles, but it opens doors for future trap designs.
Last but not least is the trap for Lynx. I had planned for this to be another run-of-the-mill trap, but Jacob took this in a completely different direction. When he had first brought up the idea, I wasn’t sure how it would play out. After seeing the animation, however, I was instantly convinced it should be in the game. Mechanically, Lynx’s portal ward ended being a very powerful tool. Perfectly suited as a strong support move, the stakes for falling into this trap are very high. By losing a key character like a tank or healer for a short time, the player is now left very vulnerable.
That about does it for this post. Though I don’t post on a weekly basis, I do hope that you find these insights worth reading when I can get them loaded and ready to go. Though I would love to engage more with you all, please remember that for now we are a small two man team working between our regular jobs. Our saving grace is that our build is very far along and playable, despite needing a bit of fleshing out and balancing. We would like to express our ceaseless gratitude for showing interest in our small project in our grassroots days and we look forward to bringing you all the very best gaming experience we can. Until next time.
A couple weeks ago, I went about describing our ‘forge’ mechanic. If you missed that one, click here and give it a skim as it sets up for this week’s discussion.
One of our basic tenets when building Sigils of Kairos was to keep it as accessible as we could while still providing a rich playing experience. Introducing a mechanic like ‘forging’ comes with more decisions which in turn adds complexity. Though complexity is not inherently bad, we had to make sure that adding these mechanics it would add enough depth to the gameplay to be worth the steeper learning curve.
How did we do this? First off, we had to reduce confusion by ensuring we had a clean UI and limited what could and couldn’t be forged. These topics will be touched on in later posts, so for now we will focus on the ‘depth’ side of this depth vs complexity.
The key to adding depth was to make sure that the decisions presented to the player were meaningful. First, we wanted the choice of forging to have different outcomes. We wanted to give a player reasons to not only forge a card, but to also choose not to depending on the situation. A great example of this can be seen with Lai’s move ‘Blitz Strike’, which disarms an opponent’s trap (ward) if one was laid. Players can choose to merge two ‘Blitz Strike’ cards to turn it into ‘Frenzy Strike’. Doing this adds high damage on top of the disarm effect, but the cost is a second disarm effect. Depending on who the player is facing and the state of the game, it might be wiser to not forge ‘Frenzy Strike’ so that more traps could be disarmed. Conversely, it might be better to forge ‘Frenzy Strike’ for a spike in damage to finish off an enemy hero. Discovering what choice is best for any given situation is vital for the gameplay of Sigils of Kairos.
Lai performing the forged 'Frenzy Strike’. Useful as a high damage finisher." id="yui_3_17_2_1_1564104105793_1556" style="line-height: 0; text-align: center; position: relative; overflow: hidden; padding-bottom: 270px;">
Lai performing the forged 'Frenzy Strike’. Useful as a high damage finisher.
Secondly, we needed the forge mechanic to make a difference in the game. This basically comes down to balancing, forged cards needed to be strong enough to be worth playing without being overpowered. Though this seems straightforward, there were some subtle factors that we didn’t anticipate at first. Originally, we looked at the power output of a card and used a standard multiplier for its forged version. This didn’t pan out when we actually ran the prototype of the game. Sigils is a game of class roles, and as such, players try to protect weaker characters from harm. This results in critical windows of opportunity where weaker characters are only brought forward for short periods of time. Players take advantage of these windows by spiking damage using forged cards. When we loaded our baseline set of damage, we didn’t factor in how impactful these damage spikes would end up being. As such, early versions of the game had squishy characters absolutely destroyed before seeing much play. This ended up being a valuable lesson to learn and is a constant consideration as we balance the game further.
With the forging mechanic adding so many meaningful decisions that involve so many quick calculations, our game became much more competitive and interesting. Forging increases the skill cap that allows good players to shine and gives room for new players to grow. With more meaningful decisions to make, players learn what the most optimal play is in any given situation. This road to mastery is not only great for Sigils of Kairos, it is the end goal that gives the game longevity and replayability.
Please keep checking in for more design discussions regarding our upcoming project!
To begin this topic, I’ll discuss what ‘forging’ is in Sigils of Kairos. In short, there are cards that can be upgraded by merging them with a similar card. The simplest example would be when a basic attack card. When one basic attack card dragged onto another, they are replaced with a single card that does more damage. Each individual character also has a special move that can be forged with duplicate itself to create a more powerful version. These character-specific cards can’t be mixed and matched with other types of cards.
When we came up with the idea of forging cards together, it felt like a very natural extension of our core game idea. Originally conceived as a ‘combo’ attack, the forge mechanic served to fix some fundamental issues with the game and add to the meaningful decisions for players. Where we are currently in development, it is difficult to even imagine Sigils of Kairos without the forging mechanic as it is so integral to our game.
As briefly discussed, there were some projected issues with hand sizes early on. Throughout the game, the player is dealt a hand with cards from all of the characters in the party. Since the player can only play cards that belong the active character, their hand would get gummed up until they risked putting a more fragile character out front. Although a risk-reward dynamic adds to the game, we also wanted players to hold cards for specific openings as opposed to playing cards for the sake of getting them out of their hands. Though this hand crowding is bound to happen, we wanted to minimize it and make sure decisions are both distinctive and impactful.
By merging cards together, players are given more space for new cards to come in and amplify the card effects already in their hands. This doesn’t just allow cards to be held for specific openings, but highly encourages it. This leads directly into the next and more important outcome of the forge mechanic, decision making.
Please drop by in a couple weeks and I will dive into some of the decisions that stem from this mechanic.
This is another development post following up with the one last week. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can check it out here to get a bit more context. Just as a brief reminder, the issues presented in this post were some of the worries that I had going into Sigils of Kairos, even before I reached out to Jacob. Though I had a good idea of the core loop of the game, I was thinking through some of the design problems that came with an innovative genre bender like Sigils. So without laboring the intro…
It may seem strange that I originally saw Sigils of Kairos as a fighting game at the beginning of development, but the genre has a lot of strategy in high level play. From a design point of view, well crafted fighting games become like a game of chess. Though I am personally not that great at fighting games, I’ve played enough of them (and watched some breakdown videos) to catch some of the nuances in a match. Watching veteran matches in games like Street Fighter or Dragonball Fighter Z shows a fascinating dance of attack/counter-attack. Each player has a ton of options for attacking like dashing, jumping, projectiles, fake-outs, poking, or even just standing still and swinging. If an attack lands, great! but if it misses, the player is left helpless to a barrage of counter-attacks from the other player.
I wanted this feeling for my game from the very beginning. I knew that Sigils was going to be a competitive game so every choice had to build up that combative tension. Unfortunately with cards, the broad range of actions and attacks gets reduced significantly. I saw this lack of complexity as a potential game-killer for a competitive game and was worried that the game wouldn’t offer enough strong and interesting options to players.
The other extreme to the design challenge above is the over-complexity of the cards. Sigils of Kairos was a strong concept because it marries a few strong game genres together, which opens up a huge well of potential directions to go. With so much to work with, it is very tempting to take up as many game elements as we can, but this would be disastrous. Not only would the scope be out of hand for a two-person team, but every mechanic we add creates a barrier for casual gamers. These barriers make it harder for newer players to compete and become veterans over time.
Card games have justifiably been correlated with complexity from the beginning. With a turn-based game, players have a chance to familiarize themselves with the rules and cards so they can plan out optimal plays. In a real-time setting, however, every moment spent reading a card or figuring out a mechanic is a big handicap. Because of this, we tried to avoid adding any overly-complicated mechanics and wanted things to stay pretty straight forward. This is a very delicate design challenge as we have to find the perfect balance between an easy-to-understand accessible game and deep satisfying experience.
As with any project, we hit a slew of other unforeseen challenges in the making of Sigils of Kairos. Still, I hope these posts show some of the hesitations going into Sigils of Kairos and sheds some light on some of our design choices that mitigate these problems. Also, keeping these potential problems in mind still allows us to avoid pitfalls as we tighten up our gameplay.
Naturally, you’re probably wondering how we went about addressing these problems. The answer is: a lot of things. A big reason why I am posting these initial worries now is to help set up future posts on design elements that we’ve put in or taken out of our game over time. I hope that by doing this, it shows how thinking things through early on helped shape our design philosophy going forward. This might not be a very satisfying way to end the post, but please bear with us as we go forward and post more about our development.
A few weeks ago, I spoke about the origin of Sigils of Kairos. I knew that I was onto something unique with the game from the beginning, but the following days were filled with thinking through how the game would feel. Originally, I had seen Sigils as a mix of a Fighter game and a Collectible Card Game (CCG) and this is how I framed my ideas for development. When I put some thought into the actual game loop, however, I realized there were going to be some glaring design challenges not native to either of those genres. By adding a real-time element to cards, Sigils had to introduce a new way of pacing that was foreign to the turn-based CCG landscape. Also, by limiting actions to randomized card draws, Sigils removed a great deal of the freedom that makes fighting games so intense. Below I'll discuss these design problems that I saw going into the game development process.
This is the first and most obvious issue that a real-time card game like ours would have. In a standard CCG like Magic: The Gathering, the player has a resource pool (mana) that builds gradually turn by turn. These resources are limited, so players have to choose what to play carefully. Every turn gives access to more mana, allowing the player to use more expensive and powerful cards later in the game. This keeps the game in check by limiting the amount and type of cards a player can use early on, while slowly ramping up the power.
With our game, there are no turns and so I didn’t feel a resource system would work. If resources entered into a real-time game, both players would be sitting around waiting for resources before they could play a card. I felt like this would break the flow of a game as players would end up waiting around for resources for most of a match. This style of real-time card game did end up being made years after Sigils of Kairos was conceived, and can be found in games like ‘South Park Phone Destroyer’. Though these games are fun in their own right, they still don’t have the same action-pacing that I wanted for ‘Sigils of Kairos’ due to the mana system they use.
By turning away from the mana-system, the issue of hand dumping became a worry. With no turns or resources to wait for, there is nothing stopping a player from just unloading all cards in hand from the beginning of the match to the end. This would make for horrible matches as it would remove all strategy and the game would be a glorified dice roll.
This is a design challenge that I was really worried about, that seemed like less of a problem as the game evolved. Using a sheet of paper as a rough for dimensions of the screen, I wanted to give enough space for readable card descriptions without eating up a lot of the room. This gave about 6 or 7 cards maximum, which would normally be a decent sized hand for most CCG's. Unfortunately with our game, a team would be comprised of three characters with their own distinct cards. Instead of having all of the cards available for use at all times, a players hand would get clogged up with all the different character cards. This was on purpose, as it encouraged players to switch up their characters, but with no actual demo to play, I wasn’t sure if the 7 cards would be enough buffer for players to build a strategic hand.
And that’s where I think I’ll leave it for today. Next week will be the second part of this post where I’ll chat about more of the initial design problems that I was anticipating with the game.
It has been almost two weeks since the Geek Market, and I thought it would be a good time to break down the event and share what we learned. It was an especially eye opening experience for us, as it was our first time running a booth.
Ottawa Geek Market is something that has been on my radar well before our game got started. I actually attended some of the early shows over 5 years ago, back when it was still a small trade show. Fast forward to last week and we were there showcasing our game to a packed house. In this post, I’ll talk about what we did to prepare for the event, how we went about displaying our game, our takeaways and how they will inform us for future shows. If you saw us for the first time at the event, welcome! I hope this is an interesting peek behind the curtain for everyone.
First, when we reached out to the Ottawa Geek Market folks, we did it politely and professionally. Be nice. This point cannot be overstated. We actually ended up applying late, but there was a waiting list for latecomers in case there were any cancellations. It was only a little while later that we got picked to exhibit, giving us only a few weeks to get everything ready to go for the show. With this in mind, we took a step back to take stock of the situation.
The Ottawa Geek Market is at its core a festival for all things geeky. This vague classification actually tells you a lot about the people going. Unlike focused gaming conventions like the CGX show we attended, the Geek Market was going to have an audience with much broader tastes. This isn’t a bad thing, but it told us that we needed to cater towards a casual crowd. The attendees were going for a more pop culture driven show and weren’t all necessarily gamers. Also, being held near the subarbs of Ottawa, we also anticipated a lot of families passing through.
So the question became, how do we get started. Luckily, I had come across a GDC talk called ‘You Suck at Showcasing Your Game’ which was an immensely valuable resource for start up exhibitors like ourselves. In the video I got some great tips from how to stand out as an exhibitor to a checklist of things to bring to a show.
We began by discussing how our booth would be set up given the 6x8’ space that we secured. We settled on having two monitors, each with its own mouse for players to use. Behind the monitor would be one large screen in the back running a continuous AI vs AI game loop. To really push our name out there, we logged onto Vistaprint to get some T shirts, mousepads and a large banner ready to go. This was relatively inexpensive considering we could reuse all of these for later shows.
Our nearly-completed booth
As we began working on that, we started to review the build to see what needed an update and what could be showcased. With most of the core game done, our demo was actually be quite robust. We sketched out a new simplified UI that had an emphasis on the Tutorial game mode. There was also a Practice Mode, a CPU match, and the ability to have a LAN match for any players that wanted to delve deeper into the game. To offer more information, Jacob implemented a move list that could be triggered just by right clicking. I think this was a crucial feature for some players and avoided a lot of confusion.
I want to give a very special thanks to our friend Tareq, who did us a major favor by helping us out at the booth. By helping us out, he allowed Jacob and myself to rest up or check out the rest of the show. Also he’s genuinely a great guy.
What we Learned - The Good
Diving right in, the show was a real success. We had heard that the show was going to be busy, but 11,000 attendees came out!!! That is a huge number for our first venture out and it got a lot of eyes on Sigils of Kairos. I won’t bore you with the quick and dirty estimates from our game stats (which were being tracked during the show), but each computer had about a 50% downtime overall. Since we had two machines, that means we could have had someone playing on one machine non-stop for the entire 15 hours of floor time!
The one thing that surprised me the most, was how many kids gravitated to our booth. Now when I say kids, I mean truly young elementary-aged kids. With Sigils of Kairos being a card game, I thought that it would be too intimidating for children. To our delight, kids as young as 5-6 were jumping into the tutorial and picking things up with minimal to no help. This was really great to see considering how much work we put into the tutorial and UI overhaul. All of our effort towards becoming more accessible definitely paid off.
Without going into the nitty gritty, we met some absolutely amazing people that weekend. All of the people who stopped by were very nice and supportive, which we are truly grateful for. Also, we made some great connections with people excited for Sigils of Kairos, and saw a lot of repeat players coming back for more. Our booth mates were very nice and I personally began to feel a kinship with the other exhibitors. The icing on the cake was the fact that it really was great to see so many people enjoying the project we’ve spent so much time on.
What we Learned - The Bad
With the overall show being a success, it should be mentioned that it was incredibly exhausting. With a constant stream of people in a loud space, my voice gave out halfway through the first day. I brought two bags of lozenges for the show, and went through a pack and a half almost completely by myself. The post-show wiped us out, with con bugs and con drop being a real thing.
In terms of the game’s stability, there were some small bugs that reared their heads really early in the show. Only a couple of hours in, we realized that anytime a LAN game was finished, we would have to reboot the game on the host computer. When watching people play, we also found a snag point in the tutorial that confused a lot of players. Though most people figured it out, the confusion lead to a break in the flow of the tutorial.
Lastly, we had pretty positive feedback for the game overall, except for the name. This has been causing us havoc in the past week as we have been bouncing back and forth on the pros and cons of revisiting the name ‘Sigils of Kairos’. Being so close to the game we naturally fell in love with the title, but it became pretty clear to us after the show that it is really hard to remember or latch onto.
Looking back, we got off pretty lucky with nothing close to being a disaster. The system was overall very stable, and the LAN issue was not much of a problem since the game loads pretty quickly. The tutorial confusion is an easy fix, as we can touch up a small part of the UI to fix the problem.
The game title not being liked seems like a negative, but really it was much better to get this feedback now as opposed to later. If it had come up after we reached out to media outlets, we’d basically be too far in to change the name if necessary. At least at this point, we have the option to switch things up.
If get to do this show again, I think we’d change very little. We brought plenty of food/water and had everything we needed to showcase strong. We could definitely jazz up the booth next year, and I’m thinking it would help to have more interesting cards. I know for sure that I would pace myself out more to try to preserve my energy and my throat.
Overall we took a lot away from the Ottawa Geek Market. Building a game involves a lot of speculating what the player would like. We have confidence that Sigils is fun and engaging, but with no feedback there’d no way to be sure. This show proved to us that our project is on the right track and it was very heartening to see people enjoy our game.
Lastly a big special thanks to all of the organizers and volunteers that put The Ottawa Geek Market together. The entire process was very easy for the exhibitors and everyone was incredibly accommodating. It is no small task to run a show for upwards of 11,000 attendees let alone doing it with everyone involved still liking you after it.
Today I would like to take some time to introduce Sigils of Kairos!
This is a passion project created by the two man team Hot Sauce Bread Studios. Sigils is a project that has been in the works for a while and is finally ready to be displayed to the world. But what is Sigils of Kairos?
Sigils of Kairos is a strategic card game that is played in real time. This forces players to think up strategies quickly in an action-oriented match. Players build a team consisting of three heroes, each with their own role to play.
To avoid messy card collections each of the three heroes have a set of moves which get shuffled into a deck together. The gameplay in Sigils of Kairos thrives on how these moves interact with each other and asks players to constantly shift their gameplay on the fly. Adding to this depth, only one of the three heroes can use their moves at any given time. This pushes players to shift characters frequently and find openings throughout the match.
To keep things simple in this fast paced game, Sigils of Kairos strips away the complicated rules and keywords you’d find in most CCGs. Instead, Sigils sticks with interesting and easy-to-understand mechanics. This allows Sigils to be a fun skill-based game without becoming overwhelming or frantic.
We hope this has piqued your interest! Going forward this blog will become more focused on developmental aspects of our game. Please stay tuned or even better, follow us on Twitter/Instagram under @hotsaucebread for more screen grabs and updates.
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