Developer Diary: The Dark Meadow Crossbow
Read the developer diary of combat designer Steve Bowler as he explains the evolution of crossbows in The Dark Meadow. Steve discusses how the game mechanic was developed and how the combat design team balanced ranged combat:
Lead Combat Designer
One of the things we knew we wanted to do very early in Dark Meadow was have a ranged component in the title. In fact, it was pretty much the first thing we prototyped. We were new to touchscreen interfaces at the time, so we did a lot of research with other ranged game mechanics on iOS and other touch screen devices, and one of the biggest take-aways was noticing that gestural type motions felt better.
Tapping the screen to shoot, and twin thumbsticks felt really off to us, but emulating things like slingshots (pulling back on a string with your finger) felt much more natural and satisfying, so we focused our energy in that direction, and eventually wound up prototyping a crossbow that felt pretty good to us even in the early phases of development.
Initially, the Crossbow was just sort of…there. We liked it; it was satisfying to use, but we had intentionally designed and balanced it so that you couldn’t kill anything with it. The reasoning behind this wasn’t very sound: we had spent the vast majority of our time and energy on making melee work right, and we wanted to make sure melee figured prominently and foremost into the game’s combat balance. So the Crossbow was really just a helper. We didn’t want you to be able to kill something and then not even see all the work we put into melee.
It stayed that way until we were trying to balance the game for release, and began rigorous playtesting. We were balancing all of the RPG elements of the game and how those “level up” attributes behaved in conjunction with the in-game economy and bigger, better weapons, when a couple of our other Designers pointed out something very important. Basically, any attributes allocated to the ranged game are wasted if we don’t allow you to kill an enemy with a crossbow.
A core design focus here at Phosphor is letting players play a game the way they want to play it, whenever possible. Here we had people playing our game, saying they wanted the crossbows to be more powerful. While the combat team (myself included) had some initial resistance to this idea, we decided to rebalance the first 10 or so crossbows, just to see how it felt. The reaction was pretty powerful. It felt fun to kill enemies before they could even reach you. Players found new challenges trying to hit and kill the more challenging and fast moving/dodging Light enemies. With playtest verification that not only was crossbow a whole new kind of fun, and that people now really enjoyed spending attribute points in the ranged stats, we set out to balance the rest of the game around the idea that players could either play a Melee Only character, a Ranged Only character, or some sort of combination between the two.
The real challenge that going “Crossbow Only” posed the combat design team was trying to make sure that people who spent all of their attributes points in Ranged, and who used all of their money to upgrade their Crossbows and Amulets which supported Ranged stats could actually beat the bosses in the game. This proved extremely challenging, as most people were having a hard enough time with the bosses (as designed) using mostly just Melee. At the 11th hour, Dan, our Tech Director, got a feature in that we’d been requesting the entire game but weren’t sure how to fit in our super-tight schedule: the headshot, which deals double damage on ranged head hits. This was the final step we needed to make Crossbows truly useful to players who just wanted to play Dark Meadow with nothing but ranged attacks.
I set out doing a new playthrough, only spending points in Ranged stats and only spending my gold on Crossbows and Amulets which supported Ranged stats, and managed to beat every single enemy in the game, bosses included, using nothing but crossbow shots. Crossbows, which were one of the first things we prototyped in the game, had come full circle and had finally arrived as a viable combat preference in Dark Meadow- you can beat the whole game with just crossbow and defense!
Crossbow Only probably isn’t for a first-time Dark Meadow player, but it works, and is actually a ton of fun! We highly recommend players give it a try once they’ve beaten Dark Meadow and are looking for a new challenge with the game.