We’re here to shoot bullets and have fun, but we’re all out of bullets…
Today, we go over the discovery of a game design flaw found in a WIP build of The Sixth Sun, and the several considerations we’ve made in the path towards fixing it. Here we will explore the possible solutions we proposed and why we decided against them, in the end presenting the – current – final solution.
One of The Sixth Sun’s characteristics is the dynamic between the player’s offensive abilities – the shotgun and lightning – and how they feed each other.
The only way that the player can get shotgun ammo is by calling down lightning strikes, with these leaving ammo to be picked up when they hit the ground. The lightning is an ability that steadily regains energy over time, up to a certain value. However, the player can then accumulate even more energy by killing enemies with the Shotgun. Greater lightning energy when this ability is summoned, means a more powerful lightning strike.
Disruptor enemies are the name we gave to units that can in any way affect the player’s lightning ability. Currently, as shown in the article The Sixth Sun: Enemy Roster, we have two units who fit this description: the Shaman and the Totem. The Shaman can drain the player’s lightning energy when they have a direct line of sight, and the Totem creates a shield above itself that stops the lightning from reaching the ground.
Through play-testing sessions, we would quickly identify the lack of carnage in the room, due to the abilities of these disruptor enemies, the player was losing access to the lightning, meaning that ammo would soon follow and the player now had no ammo or energy to use.
The Shaman drained the player’s lightning energy and kept it there, and if the player was unable to kill it with the ammo they still had, suddenly the character had no ammo and no lightning energy, loosing both its offensive abilities.
The Totem stopped the lightning ability from reaching the ground, meaning that if the player ran out of ammo, they would still be able to use lightning, but only to see it sheepishly disappear, as it was absorbed by the Totem’s shield.
Both issues had to be fixed, the Shaman’s was more common and frustrating, but the Totem issue was simply demotivating to the player. So, the mission was to make sure ammo was in some way accessible, while still maintaining the disruptor role of these enemies, as they were a good challenge and created a push for priority assessment during the combat.
At first, we intended to keep the enemies as they were, since they became a very high threat and sometimes left the player in a scenario where they were forced to close combat, since they couldn’t really use the lightning. Therefore, we explored possibilities for a workaround, another way the player could get their ammo, though at a heavy price (since it undermined the Lightning ability).
Here we developed the idea for Blood Lightning, the player could now sacrifice a part of their life to be able to summon a special lightning-strike that delivers a static amount of damage and a good amount of ammo. Since the player can hold the Blood Lightning until actually using it – not being able to use the gun or normal lightning while that happens, the Shaman would be unable to stop it by draining it. This special ability would also be able to ignore Totem shields.
This seemed an interesting proposition, yet we found that since the player can still fail at using this lightning (throwing it somewhere where the ammo would be inaccessible), it was not fair. The ability better work if the player has to pay with – some of – its life.
Since the lightning version was deemed too risky, we tested the possibility for health to be directly converted to ammo. This was a much better option in terms of guaranteeing that the ammo reached the player, and it left them in a situation where they were more vulnerable (with less health), but with a chance to fight back. It seemed a really interesting solution, the player now had a chance to do sacrifice their health to the gods for a final chance to fight, and either they killed the enemies stopping them from summoning lightning or died trying.
We were very excited with this concept; however, it started to raise too many questions (a bad sign for a game functionality):
Can the player die from using this until reaching zero health? If not, does this mean that there is a point where the player can no longer use the ability, or can they always do it (and is there a difference/change)?
We even considered making it so that the conversion would start at the lightning energy, and if the player did not have enough of it for the transfer, the remaining ‘price’ would be paid in health. We quickly stopped this as it would begin to conflict with the Lightning ability and was way too convoluted.
After scrapping the Blood Lightning/Ammo ideas, we considered that even if the Lightning hit the Totem, the ammo would pass through the shield and ‘plop’ into the ground
This was a short-lived idea as it confused the player, didn’t look great and did not fix the problem with the Shaman, since this unit prevented the Lightning from being used entirely.
Finally, we decided that the enemy units were the origin of the problem, and that the player should always have access to the lightning. And through this decision we reached our current solution.
The Shaman unit would now stop the player’s Lightning energy from going above the value that it can grow to automatically, meaning that even if the player is killing enemies with the shotgun, they will not be increasing the Lightning’s power. Besides this, we buffed the Shaman’s healing abilities, switching its main role from a disruptor to a healer.
This way the player could still use the Lightning, but at a weaker state than it can often reach if the player is killing enemies with the shotgun.
With the Totem, now, the Lightning is absorbed but the ammo will appear close to the totem as it ‘overloads’ with the electric discharge, with the player having access to it.
This version is not as weird to see in action as the ammo appearing in the air and falling into the ground, and is guaranteed to leave the resource in an accessible space to the player.
While we believe the issue with the Shaman has been successfully taken care of, by keeping it an interesting high-priority unit while at the same time not giving it game-breaking power, we feel the Totem is not as solid, though we believe the current solution will look a lot more convincing – both to us and eventually the player – once more detailed visual effects are implemented (stay tuned for when that happens).
That's all for today, we hope you enjoyed this recounting of a game design adventure!
Thank you, and stay tuned for a new article on the weekend!
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Additionally, we were interviewed in an episode from a Portuguese podcast series by Café Mais Geek, where we talk a little bit about ourselves and The Sixth Sun! You can find the podcast here.