The swarms update mainly tackled combat, balancing and performance aspects related to it. We made the combat more fast-paced and with a better flow to it, mainly through the use of weaker, faster enemies that come in much larger numbers. In this update we also added a major UX change that better separates city-management tools from combat controls, allowing us to show more information and simplify the UI for each phase.
Below are some of the main changes in this update. I hope you enjoy it, and as always I am really looking forward to getting your feedback. The full list of changes can be found below that.
As always, I'd like to thank all our early supporters and all of you who sent us feedback. If you haven't joined our alpha yet, check out our supporters page to find out more.
We also spent several weeks since our previous update working on a demo version that was available for a limited time during the Steam Festival. It is no longer up-to-date, however, and keeping it so would consume additional resources - so the demo is no longer available.
Below is a list of the most significant changes in this update. You can see the full list of changes in this link.
Note: Since the change is so significant, saves from previous alpha versions are not supported. If you wish to continue your old games, you can still play the older version by selecting Alpha 1 or 2 from the betas tab on Steam.
Swarms - faster, better flowing combat
My original direction regarding steambot combat while exploring was to give it a feel of survival - where every shot counts and every hit hurts. But I also didn't want to put too much emphasis on quick reflexes, since this is after all primarily a strategy/building game.
The result was some kind of hybrid, where enemies attacked in medium numbers, so there was no intense 1 on 1 combat against strong bosses, but neither were they quick and simple combat encounters. We were not happy with it. I came to a realization that to create proper survival-style combat we'd have to put a lot of resources into combat alone - with many unique enemies, each with a different set of behaviors, and complex AI. This would be almost like making a whole new game, and we prefer to spend the majority of our valuable time and resources on improving the city building aspects, adding more content, and making an interesting world to explore.
So I decided to simplify the combat mechanics, make them faster, simpler, and more rewarding. The solution came in the form of swarms. The vast majority of enemies you will enounter following this update are weak enemies that can be killed with a single hit. They attack in much larger numbers, making the whole fight quicker and more action-packed. Skill is an important factor, if you manage to get yourself surrounded by tens of dream plagues you'll get hurt bad. That said, you don't need to be an expert player in order to fight well, as long as you have decent equipment on your steambot and city defenses.
With the change from a few stronger enemies to swarms of hundreds of weaker ones, there was a lot of balancing that needed to be done.
Melee was pretty much worthless because you could only hit one enemy at a time, at short range, while being surrounded by tens of them. So we made all melee attacks into area attacks that could hit multiple enemies. This introduced a problem with the special melee weapons that had splash damage - they became unecessary if all melee attacks dealed damage to a whole area.
Heavy crossbows were totally useless, with a very slow firing rate that would hit a single target and deal 10x more damage than was necessary to kill it. So we made them shoot explosive shots that hit several enemies for high damage. The light crossbows were better, firing 5 shots in succession, but even they were a bit too slow for the swarms, so we increased their combo to 10 shots, and slightly increased their fire rate. We also added upgrades that increase ranged attack speed even further.
We faced similar issues with turrets. These had a more interesting solution. We have 3 turrets (wood, tarbomb, and copper tiers). So the basic wooden turret now has slower firing rate but deals explosive damage that can hit several enemies, and kills the weaker ones in a single shot. The tarbomb turret has a very long range, deals even more explosive damage with double the explosion area, but fires even slower - perfect for defending a large area against weaker enemies. The copper tier turret, we gave a single-target attack, but they fire at much faster rates with much higher DPS. The high DPS makes it perfect against bosses and stronger enemies, while also efficient against swarms of weaker enemies due to its high firing rate.
Which brings me to the next issue - with hordes of weaker enemies, at some point, the numbers stop mattering. If there is a choke point that allows a limited amount of enemies to pass through, at some point your defenses with 3-4 turrets can destroy any number of enemies faster than they can pass through. Increasing the amount of enemies makes no difference. So we needed some stronger enemeis to add to the mix, which required a slightly different strategy, and allowed us to better control the difficulty curve. There are now 4 sizes of each enemy - small, regular, large and boss. small, regular, and to a lesser degree large enemies can show up in the map while exploring. Bosses only show up in higher difficulty raids, and can challenge your low-DPS area of effect towers.
This is step one, in future updates we'll add more weapons, defenses and abilities - each better suited against different enemies - which will also consist of more unique types. We'll add special bosses in the map guarding unique treasures, and other goodies to make combat more interesting.
There's a lot going on in Dream Engines. You have a city to manage, a world to explore, enemies to fight, and a steambot to customize. Each of these requires different controls, and mixing them all together is a challenge that could get confusing for players. Most city-building games let you left-click a building to open it, but fighting and exploration requires left-click to attack. So, to make things easier and less complex, we decided to separate them.
In comes management mode. Previously, pressing space-bar opened the strategic view, which changed the camera angle and added some info and buttons on the map. Now, space-bar toggles between combat mode and management mode, and each mode behaves very differently.
In management mode, left-clicking does not trigger an attack. Instead, it can be used to open a building's interface, and lets you manage these buildings without having to move your steambot near each building you want to open. Management mode is now the only mode in which you can build, move, and demolish buildings, and we added keyboard shortcuts to select buildings and categories.
In combat mode, left and right clicking are used to attack with your Steambot's weapons. The keyboard shortcuts that would let you select buildings in management mode now let you activate quick-bar items and abilities. Re-using the same keys like this was not possible before when there was a single control scheme.
After a lot of thought and uncertainty whether adding ammunition to the game will make it more interesting or just add micromanagement, we decided to add it in a fairly simplified manner, another small consideration into how you fight enemies with your steambot. Ranged weapons now have an additional drawback compared to melee, in the form of using up ammunition.
At the moment there is only one ammo type used by all weapons, it is a global resource (so you don't need to deal with inventory management), and it is fairly easy to produce. It does cost some resources and Flux, so players will be a bit better off economically if they use less ranged weapons and more melee, but it's not a blocker on using ranged weapons.
In the future, we are considering different ways to expand on this - exotic weapons that are very strong but use more expensive ammo, maybe even some that use ammo which you can only find, and can't produce or craft. Another option is switching ammo for the same weapon, with different costs & beneifts.
The management/combat mode separation also freed up some screen real-estate to show currently equipped weapons & their ammo in the HUD.
Title screen & music
We have a brand new title screen, that comes with a new original music score by Alon Kaplan. This beautiful piece will serve as Dream Engines' main theme.
You can see it in action here:
Youtube Video: Youtube.com