How do you balance adding depth against adding excessive complexity for the audience when you're layering new mechanics in Puzzle Quest 2?
SF: It's very important with almost every game to keep it very accessible and keep a lot of layers of depth there, so people find it replayable and so that hardcore people can enjoy the game also. And that's definitely something we've kept in mind here.
I think if you go into pre-production the very first day with in mind that every system you design and think, "Okay, we're doing the system, how do we make it accessible and how do we make it deep?" If we think about every single system like that from day one, you make them like that. That's going to be your mission statement.
But if you ever try to do anything quick, or put more accessibility over depth, or depth over accessibility, that's an easy trap to fall into. It's always got to be given 50/50 equal balance.
Is it a difficult as a creator of more hardcore games to keep in mind a casual player -- the "my player's not me" situation?
SF: Yeah, I think it's something every designer battles with. I suspect most designers are very good game players and we have to occasionally step back and watch the usability testing and not be frustrated that people don't understand what we're trying to convey.
We just have to look at it and go, "Okay, they didn't get it. We've got to fix it." You've got to be very objective about that. Over a number of years you develop a very thick skin, so that you don't get insulted. "Stupid players, we know what's good for them!" That attitude has got to be wiped out. I'm very, very strict with the design team, that we never ever exhibit that behavior at all.
The good thing is, we've got a great design team, four or five designers on staff, and we have kind of a hive mind in many ways. Everybody contributes and everybody keeps everybody real. And it seems to work out.
Have you ever felt there were instances where you felt there was something you were pretty sure people would enjoy but they just weren't figuring out to get to it, and maybe you should reposition to guide them on how to enjoy it?
SF: Yeah, I think that happens all the time. We have mechanics that we intuitively know they're good and we just sometimes need to figure out how to get the player to them and to understand them.
The classic case was the way the gems fell in in Galactrix. I still think it's a very good mechanic, I just think we needed to convey it better to the player, and we didn't do that. There are some games in Puzzle Quest 2 that we iterated a lot, some of the mini-games.
The unlocking of magical seals in particular, that we know is a very good game, because the hardcore people enjoyed it very, very much. What we needed to do with that was iterate through it enough times to get the mechanic in a way that could be explained to the newer players and introduce them with their first view of this game in a very easy, non-confrontational manner.
And we did that. It took us a lot of times to do it, but we did it. And it's one of the favorite games on there.
You've moved from kind of having nodes on the map to a map that has people and events on it that are not marked by a specific point. Obviously, as you mentioned, there's the golden path. Does it change the design? And does it change user perception? Is it perceived, perhaps, by the players, as less linear that way?
SF: Yeah. The fact that a player can walk into a room with three doors just gives a perception of non-linearity. And in a sense it is non-linear, because I can go through any door and I can explore bits of the dungeon in any order that I want. And that's great for people who are explorers and don't want to follow the path.
But I think it's really important that the player is never confused and has that little golden marker on the path that tells him where to go.
If you're in dungeons, will there be additional random battles because of that?
SF: The dungeons are big; some of the levels are really quite large. Certainly there areas players can go to where they're grind; where they'll find there'll be random battles, and they'll find some grind spots where they can travel around the rooms meeting some random encounters and fighting some stuff.
There will be areas where there are set encounters and that can respawn constantly which they can also track down. And there's large areas where they'll just defeat the monsters and the dungeon will be nice and empty afterwards so they can freely walk around. So we tried to give a little bit of everything for everybody in there. Certainly the levels are big enough to do it.