Teddy's Thursday: Some Words on the Final Dungeon

 Today it's time for something a little bit different, namely a post written entirely by Teddy on our design decisions behind the final dungeon! Here goes:


So a while back we shared an intention of overhauling the final tower quite substantially, shifting from a large surrealistic "travel through the game again but weird"-type dungeon, to having it be a boss rush of sorts.


Nearly all feedback we received on this has been negative! We actually were expecting some feedback like that, but not of this magnitude. The main worries were: 


* Shorter dungeon = less content

* Without a proper dungeon there won't be storytelling

* It violates the game-design philosophy of a final dungeon being an exam on the rest of the game (think Wily's Castle in Mega Man)


All these things are very reasonable, and because of this feedback we sat down and talked it all over again. But to even our own surprise, we've decided to stick to our guns! We'd like to share our reasoning, since it would be pretty weird to invite feedback, get it, and then ignore it silently.


First off we completely get that it "feels off" that there isn't going to be a huge old-school dungeon at the end of the game. On paper, it is pretty much objectively weird, considering our primary sources of inspiration! 


That said, after designing the dungeon two times now, we fear there is an uncomfortably high risk that it wouldn't become a very good one, and we really don't want to end on that note. 


So why would we say that? Well, we feel the best "dungeons" of our game were those with the most engrossing context, and we weren't satisfied with what we came up with for this dungeon.  


A "go-to" strategy for us has been to load the dungeons up with story. But we neither want nor need to give any more exposition on the main plot until you reach the top of the tower, and having a side-plot at this stage felt off-beat.


So the first iteration was a plotless chimera-design where we just made random rooms based on old areas in the game, sometimes with combined themes (like season change + time travel in the same room). This was in spirit of the "exam"-philosophy, combined with a tribute to old mechanics. But when going through potential room designs, it felt hollow and without the charm that made our best dungeons good.


So as a "plot substitute" we decided to design a version that's a surrealistic recap of the entire game. It ended up very similar to the "Curse of the Moon", but much much longer. We felt this version had more character, but it had some glaring holes design-wise, and when we imagined playing through it we got very worried that it would feel a lot like treading water. 


For us (including you guys) a recap might seem like a cool nostalgia trip, but looking at it from a new player's perspective, it might just feel like weird filler. And while we've seldom cared about workload, we also saw that to make this version enjoyable would take a huge amount of work. If we had been in love with our design that wouldn't have deterred us, but while we felt optimistic about some of it, a lot felt shaky.


So having recently played some very well-received games that actually had done away with giant dungeons before the end (a couple skipping them entirely), the blasphemous idea struck us: how would that feel in our game? Thinking back on playing those titles, our hope and belief is that in the context of an actual playthrough, the player will likely go along with what's presented, too focused on playing to analyze and compare (though we don't doubt some players will react).

 

Another thing that weighed in favor of the light-weight path is thinking about the Catalysts in the context of an average playthrough. Many of our Early Access players have undoubtedly gotten these already as part of full completion, but seen holistically, it's probably quite a small percentage that will get all three catalysts before going into the tower.

 

For such a playthrough, getting the (remaining) Catalysts will in fact serve quite well as the Wily Stage of our game: one catalyst for combat, one for quest/puzzles, and one for grinding.

 

Now, about the boss rush: we're planning remixes of some iconic battles, and we'll make sure they all bring something new. One commenter came up with a pretty interesting idea that we'll likely try out, namely having the elevator stop at some point, during which a short puzzle-section could play out as a change of pace.

 

We're quite optimistic that we'll be able to make this feel like a cool transition to the finale, that will keep the tension of the latest story-beat fresh.


That said, we totally understand some of you still would've preferred a classic big dungeon. We hope we'll be able to win you over when it's all said and done!


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1 comment:

  1. interesting to see your design insights I'm 100% sure no matter the outcome the dungeon will be the best is can be for the game. That is confirmed even more after reading this

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