Development Diary #24
A LOOK BACK AT 2018
As the new year starts to gain traction, I wanted to take a look back at the development of Kingdoms of Immacus (KoI) over the course of 2018. As I go back over my notes and blogs about the game, what jumped out at me immediately was how much the game was in mechanic flux. If I dig deeper into previous years, the game was very much in the conceptual/rough stages of development where cards hadn't existed and were merely ideas to be explored. The mechanic changes felt like a natural progression for a game finding its own voice in the development process, and I'll go over the highlights from the year, where everything currently stands, and what are the plans for 2019.
REAL KINGDOMS HAVE CURVES
The power curve in Kingdoms got adjusted upwards, meaning you get more bang for your resource bucks. This is something that is more clearly seen at the higher-end of card costs, but it also allows for more mechanically interesting cards at the lower end of cost. My curve is numerically straight-forward to help prevent power creep, however, I may add more gut-check values in as playtesting increases. There are already gut-checks in place when cards fall below or above the curve, but this may get looked at more in 2019 as more kingdoms see playtesting. From what I have seen so far, the power curve is less of a factor to address than the resource system.
The Problem with Gold
I was so excited when I implemented Gold in KoI, and I really thought having a wild type resource would be helpful in alleviating the minor resource starvation some games had. The jury is still out on this only because of the way I implemented it in the game. Basically, because of the domain changes, the domains produced an insane amount of gold. Combine that with converting gold into usable resource, and that made for too much math and not enough fun. So we may see gold in a future expansion, but for now, it's too much to keep track of for the base game. Three resources is enough, I don't want four., and I definitely don't want the like seven that were in the original concept.
Spin Me Round and Round
Like I mentioned above, part of the problem with gold was the way it was implemented on the domain cards. If the card was stationary, you gain the resource pictured (which was gold). With the domain changes, when you spin the card back from and exhausted state to the resting position, you gain that resource again. Ultimately, as long as you are exhausting 90° every turn, that resting position is going to get you more goodies. This might be fine if there were less domains generating resource (hint hint domain cap changed), but in previous playtests it was too much. Cashing in stacks of gold felt fun, but it was to buy resource that in turn bought the useful thing. It was a roundabout way of doing things. When gold was scrapped, tribute took its place, which caused the same problem but with a different resource. Suddenly, players were drowning in tribute, which is good for playing cards, but tilted the focus way too much on units and not other aspects of the game.
Oh Lord Diamondus ... Enhanced Resources
For one playtest maybe two, I played with the idea of enhancing your resources to make them worth more. This ability replaced the gold conversion on the domains, and it was received with a lukewarm response that became ignored mid to late game. Though enhancing your resources was mathematically better, taking the extra time to do the enhancement felt clunky. With everything going on in the game, it also felt less important to focus on that as opposed to your opponent invading your domains.
The Magic Dilemma
Magic as a resource started to become problematic towards the end of the year as the other resources were getting tweaked. The game was leaning towards unit production, leaving magic in the dust. This was because it was too costly to sacrifice a turn creating magic instead of upgrading buildings or playing other cards from your hand. So I did something bold and completely removed the cost of spell cards ... and it worked. This change was able to work because the Mage Academy served as a gatekeeper for card balance. Players had to invest in the building to play the cards (much like you have to with units and the village), and the master spells were restricted to the end levels of the upgrade track. This freed up resources for other cards, made things feel more punchy with spell card play. Also, enlightenment of spell cards still had to be paid, so it didn't make the resource irrelevant. This freed up player's choices, and if they wanted to have spells that were enlightened, they would need to invest in that track. However, if you change one thing, it is bound to have an effect on another thing you never thought of.
Now that spell cost was gone, it made it extremely easy to play spells across numerous kingdoms without restriction. Obviously, I want people to make custom decks with interesting combinations; however, it defeats the spirit of the game if the theme is hurt in the process by my own mechanic changes. Thus, kingdom-specific magic was created and necessary to get the most out of spell cards. It would still be needed to enlighten the spell card. Therefore, players could still play with all the spells, but with only the weaker versions of them. At the end of the day, I didn't like this for numerous reasons.
I went back and took a hard look at the changes and opted for an easy switch. Instead of spell cards being free, the enlightenment cost was removed, and instead, attached to the Mage Academy. The spell cost was reinstated with kingdom-specific magic, but the cost was reduced. This meant players must have either the domains that produce kingdom-specific magic they want to use or have the currency exchange building. I want players to use the buildings, and this change encouraged players to experiment more with the buildings while maintaining the specialness of each domain. With the current changes, magic feels more punchy yet restrained when compared to not having a cost at all. This will be looked at throughout 2019 to ensure spells are working as intended.
Maybe I Had it Right All Along?
To fix the resource glut issue, I changed the resource orientations back to the way they were a couple of years ago. For a moment, the 90° angle provided a resource of your choice since the 180° rotation had the gold and enhanced resource conversions. Thus, each resource got an orientation with the hopes of simplifying the whole process of resource generation. For now it seems like it is working, and in 2019, I will see how this works out, but the current method seems like the best for KoI.
The Fomenter units made a splash in 2018, and it looks like they have survived the chopping block. The fomenters came out of the initial difficulty in collecting Sovereignty Dominance Tokens. It was so much easier for players to kill things instead of playing the strategy of sovereignty. Now fomenters make players think about the sovereignty strategy even if they ignore it themselves. Fomenters are units that are only able to engage with other fomenters and they are restricted to defending and liberating domains. If a player ignores fomenters, they can quickly decimate a player's ability to generate resources. Since their implementation, the balance of maintaining two fronts of attack/defense have made the game more interesting and more tense. I really like the fomenters, and I'm looking forward to see how they play in 2019 with the other kingdoms yet to be stress tested.
THE REALM WORLD
Realm versions of the domains were added in 2018 as a way to help consolidate the game space. Before realms, you were allowed 9 domains out on the board. Now you can only have 5. It wasn't too unwieldy so much as much as tokens and fomenters made the board messy with 9 domains. I also liked the idea of reducing the amount of cards on the table if I was able to. The loss of resources generated because of the reduction, was fixed with principalities being able to be upgraded to realms, which provide more resources. This not only cleaned the game board a little bit, but it also allowed the domains to be restricted to the rarity number cap like all other cards. Since the domain cap matched the building cap on the board, it made the caps repetitive and thus easier to keep track of. When the action started to heat up originally, sometimes players would forget to play a domain around turn 7 or 8. Resource tweaking aside, I like the realm changes. I would ultimately like to do more art for these, but it may not be in the stars budget-wise.
SO LONG SYNERGY
Synergy was an idea for the buildings that would boost their strength and abilities if they were placed near other buildings that shared the same synergy type. Overall, it worked, but what it added to the game was so minimal, it became noise. The synergy system is something I want to play with in a future game, but KoI has enough going on already without having to keep track of building placement in addition to the building abilities. I still want to revisit buildings in 2019 to ensure they are one of the most important aspects of the game because they are a unique aspect of KoI.
ASSET DEVELOPMENT EXTRAVAGANZA
Minor Assets Major Work
Aside from all the mechanic tweaks, KoI saw some asset and visual overhauls. All the assets for the kingdom gem resources were redone as well as armor, defense, attack, the dominance tokens, card faces, card back, hero cards, and the domains. I will probably discuss the overhauls in another post in more detail, but most changes were done to shift away from icons and assets purchased through various services and replaced with ones I made myself. The goal of this was to make KoI a little more original as players wouldn't see the same exact icons and assets in another game. I still want to go back and tweak the ascension icon, but that will be part of a 2019 endeavor to give all the assets another once over including the unfinished equipment cards. When I started the game, I worked on assets with the goal of developing them over time. I'm now at that point, cleaning up things that can look nicer or be more clear. This is something I'm doing with new projects as well as I find it a good way to make a game look better and be more clear since staring at something for a year can help the rose-colored glasses effect fade, which allows for more objective scrutiny.
Not Crestfallen Over These Crests
The biggest asset endeavor this year were the crests for each kingdom. Now that I have finished adding them to the website, I am super happy I did them (the process was a little rough). They really add a nice element to the website, and they are a great asset I can use in the rule book, marketing materials, and anything else that needs snazzy crest. As I look back at my notes, it was about an 8-month process ( O_o), but that also includes the 2 crests that were worked on in Photoshop and redone in Illustrator. That sounds like a long time (and it is), but during that time, I was working on everything else under the sun for KoI.
Painting Makes Perfect
2018 also marked the year that I started painting cards in earnest. Ultimately, I shelved this process as I traded painting for the crest work, but 2019 I am hoping I will get back on the Chowwaki, and work on painting in full force. The biggest hurdles were space and just feeling comfortable in painting in general as I worked at Starbucks after the real job. It was always crowded, and I could never manage the space to feel comfortable enough, hence I tried painting at home and Starbucks became the place of formatting cards and Illustrator asset development. Nevertheless, I am seeing the pitfalls in working strictly in Illustrator (time killer), so Photoshop is going to get some more love in 2019. I am going to dust off my tablet and not be scared of the Photoshop beast.
Fantasy Web Development
Another huge time investment was the web development for KoI. Part of this is the development of the Atomic Automaton website itself, but I spent a lot of time integrating KoI assets in the website and making it all mesh. Web development for KoI included the blog you're reading now, the splash page, the KoI-specific content in the pull down menu on the home page, and the database. The database that will hold the Immacus Archives was a pain-inducing project that took a lot of man hours to get right. By right I mean being able to display the necessary information in clear and concise way. It works now as intended, but the next step is to slowly update the archives with the final cards once they are done being designed. Getting the kingdoms outside of the Xizeks onto the database is the next goal for 2019 for web development. The big goal is to make the website more mobile friendly. I don't know how pretty the mobile website should be, but what I do know is that it is unacceptable in its current form. Some stuff has fallen into place with the website, but most elements on the site float or are in bizarre locations. If you request a desktop version of the site from your phone, that is gross as well. Though the site isn't officially released, I am started to get some traffic, and I want it to look more than halfway decent. Expect to see more blog posts about the website being worked on in 2019 because it really bothers me.
RULES RULES RULES
The last big project of 2018 was the KoI rulebook. Though it is not done, I have spent a lot of time, formatting, relearning InDesign, and making assets for the book (it actually needs to be completely reformatted now that I am thinking about it). This is something I want to jump on early this month as I am thinking about going to a protospiel in early 2019 (actually as I went to check the date, it has been pushed to October). Nevertheless, I want to make some progress on the rulebook and release version 0.41 on the web in a month or so. Besides the reformatting, the few big things remaining are the glossary, game set up beginning, middle, and end, and the sample turn. So I have until October to be convention ready.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON 2018
Despite falling into a couple of creative ruts throughout the year, I had a busy and productive year working on KoI, and I should be on track for a 2020 release date as things ramp up in June (after my artist freeze). This year really put a lot into perspective, and my unsolicited advice is as follows. Don't make a large game your first game, not because you can't do it, but because the resources you have to work with are more limited in the beginning. Part of my decision to start Trolltem Poles was because KoI is so financially intensive, even with me working on a lot of content myself. Also, pouring yourself into such a large project is daunting and disheartening once you realize how much work is really involved. Building a big game is doable, it is just a huge lift to do yourself. Especially, if you are building websites, databases, and an immense set of art assets. There are times I have been discouraged and there are times I feel like I'm getting my 40th wind. I believe hard work is worth it, and I think if you keep that mindset, t'll all work out. Just make it easy on yourself that's all.
THOUGHTS ON 2019
There have been times this year when I have allowed myself to get distracted, but 2019 will be my crunch time. Expect a steady flow of blog posts with updates, more pictures of progress, updates to the web site, and more getting done as I try to ramp up KoI development alongside Trolltem Poles all while coming up with a new concept for a third sci-fi game to round out the catalog. I'm also going to try and write out a strict schedule for myself and stick to it this year. It's mainly trying to fit in time for painting and playtesting. If there was one major theme for 2019, there it is. Here's to 2019 and more progress on Kingdoms of Immacus.