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December 10, 2019
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Shovel Knight Showdown: Chester's Choice

by David D'Angelo on 11/22/19 05:37:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

What’s up picky people?! We wanted to discuss an upcoming feature in our new game, Shovel Knight Showdown (releasing December 10th!!) that we’re very proud of. And because this thrilling new feature isn’t part of your typical fighting game, we thought we’d also talk about how it was deemed so necessary, and then developed! You may have already seen the small snippet of the mode 52 seconds into our trailer:

Welcome to Chester’s Choice!

Shovel Knight Showdown is a multiplayer platforming fighting game where you can pit up to 4 of your favorite heroes or villains from Shovel Knight against each other. Our goal was to make a Shovel Knight battling game with tons of variety, something you and your friends could play forever- always finding new ways to play it.

We started tackling that goal with 2 main game types: Treasure Clash, where you fight over gems, and Showdown, where you fight to be the last one standing. You may have seen variants of modes like this in other multiplayer or fighting games. But our desire to give the player endless variety culminated in a brand new, crazy mode we call Chester’s Choice! In Chester’s Choice, players are presented with an ever-shuffling roulette of gameplay! All of Showdown’s options: teams, items, cheats, modes, stages, and more – are set up and curated to create a new, engaging experience each time you play. 

In fighting games, we’ve found that players rarely change the settings around because it can be quite a hassle. In Chester’s Choice, you don’t need to navigate endless menus or decide the rules – you just load up the mode and voila- fun times await!

Building the Box

When we were working on Showdown, as the game got bigger and grander, the number of ways to play grew exponentially! We kept adding items, features, and cheats – so many that it started to become a chore to open the options menu and tweak everything. Sometimes we’d even forget that certain options existed!

We did our best to condense these menus and features onscreen and make them simple and easy to understand! We also only implemented options that we thought would make a significant impact on the fun…

But as the game grew, there was only so much we could do to contain the options! This was largely because we found it fun to set up very specific matches. While we playtested, it was very common to hear things like:

  • “This stage should have no items so it’s like a duel!”
  • “How about we do only warping glass items on high so we’re all swapping places all the time?” 
  • “I bet the ‘run fast, jump high’ cheat would be crazy with lava everywhere.”

These kinds of gameplay setups are pretty common in multiplayer games with lots of options. In the single player experiences of other battlers like Mortal Kombat’s Towers of Time and Smash Bros’ World of Light, these options are set up automatically. But in multiplayer modes, rarely are these options presented in a digestible way. Maybe players are used to setting it up themselves, they’d experiment, and it would be fine!

Oh boy, what team should I be on? Why don’t we switch so I stop losing! Let’s really think about this for 10 minutes...

The further we got into development, the more painful setting matches up became. Playing 2 on 2 matches was so much fun, but it was a big pain to go into the options every match to change up the teams. In fact, that’s annoying in every game where you set up teams! Figuring out who is on what team just takes more time from the fun of playing!

Conventions

We had these frustrations beginning to brew at the office, but they came to a head when we were figuring out how to present Showdown at conventions like PAX and E3. How could we possibly expect showgoers that know nothing about the game to see, experience, and enjoy any of these fun knobs? For anyone wondering if conventions are worth it for small game studios like us, they are especially beneficial in this regard- presenting your game to an audience that will only see it for 5-10 minutes puts any problem into stark relief.

A crucial step to solving all of this was pinning down the exact problems. We identified the big issues:

  • It’s boring to have to agree on what options everyone wants to set up in every match.
  • Between matches, it’s annoying to change or tweak options in meaningful ways.
  • Not every player will rummage through every option, but we want them to be used!
  • Not every player will think of fun ways to use the options, but we had lots of fun options to share!
  • We shouldn’t expect players to toggle and learn each option’s full potential.
  • We shouldn’t expect players to set up options in thematically fun ways. That’s our job!

Even before the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (which allows for saving custom option sets) we were thinking about providing ways to save your options. Maybe you could have a few custom sets that you could create and choose from? But that setup still didn’t solve changing teams around. It also didn’t help players learn the fun of an item, or help solve disputes about how to play among big groups. You might be able to switch between custom sets, but you might still have 4 people arguing about what set to play, or simply adhering to ‘house rules’ that get set and then never changed again.

We always saw Showdown as leaning towards a ‘party game’ direction… so what better game to look back at for inspiration than Mario Party? When a minigame begins in Mario Party, it doesn’t force 4 players to fiddle with a bunch of games and modes- they set it all up for you. They still give you some feeling of control though- which adds a bit of fun.

We decided to take a similar path of randomized sets of gameplay. We’d custom create 20 or so of our most fun settings and give them understandable and fun themes. We’d cycle between them 4 at a time and randomly choose one! These modes, like “Fairy Frenzy” or “Fight of Fate” represented many of the types of item layouts, mode selections, stages, and option choices we wanted players to see. 

Each option set would essentially be the equivalent of a minigame in Mario Party. On top of that, stages would be randomized and picked automatically based on the mode, teams could randomly be turned on and off, in 3 player battles a random CPU could even be added to balance out the teams!

At first this mode was just called ‘Roulette’. But we realized wrapping the feature around a mischievous character like Chester would make it more understandable and fun. It’s more immediately obvious if you toggle on Chester’s Choice, you’re in for all kinds of fun, wacky matches with your friends. 

Chester, the shady salesman, was a natural choice to emcee the controlled chaos. He also provides a nice description of each mode, so you understand what to expect!

We made sure that every Chester’s Choice selection was built solely by options you could tweak in the game, so you could recreate whatever match you like. That way, if you played ‘only Cube of Zorix and Propeller Packs” and you really liked it, playing it would not be contingent upon the whims of random choice.

Team Choice Solved!

Sometimes focusing on the bigger picture can help you track down the smaller concerns. Our problem with setting up teams was fixed when playing Chester’s Choice because the teams were randomized, but when playing the other modes, it was still annoying! We realized we could simply create an option called “Team Shuffle” that used the same Chester’s Choice randomization philosophy, but only for teams. It worked out great! Every match played in ‘Team Shuffle’ mode switches up the arrangement of teams, while still letting players keep their other settings consistent.

Notice the players being assigned a team color when the match begins!

Using the same logic, we extended the same randomness option to setting Hazards on or off for stages too!

Chester’s Choosing

We hope that everyone tries out Chester’s Choice when they jump into Showdown- we think it creates engaging, diverse, and lasting thrills! We hope other developers can see the benefits of how designed randomness can imbue variety while keeping a level of simplicity that everyone can enjoy!

We’ve thought a lot about how Chester’s Choice could be expanded in a future game, or even added to other types of games! Maybe the game could change your character attributes or even swap between vastly different Wario-Ware style modes or minigames (like be the fastest to jump 10 times), or you could create your own custom option sets that get shuffled in…there’s so much room for it to grow! Hopefully Chester’s Choice sparks imagination about how games could use this technique in the future! What do you think would be coolest?

We hope you’ve enjoyed taking a spin on the road to Chester’s Choice!


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