We’ve very nearly completed development of Smash Hit Plunder. What have we been doing for so long? Making a rather big game! This week’s blog will and show you how…
A big complaint of many VR experiences is how short they are, or how they feel like tech demos. This is due to both because of budget and design, but we wanted to address these and do better for our players.
Development funds are very hard to come by for VR devs for various reasons. The funds are often a factor of 10 lower than 2D/3D games on the same scale. If a developer manages to get funding, they have to do the same amount of content as a flat game and a lot of extra work to make it work in VR for a tenth of the price. As a VR developer you have to choose between a short game created in a short time, or a slower pace of development, while working on other peoples’ work and therefore release a larger game much later on. For Smash Hit Plunder we were lucky to get funding, but there has been times where we’ve had do some work for hire and get some funds in to continue development. Between myself and John there has been times where we have only paid the one of us, just enough to cover rent and bills, so that we could still pay for art to be created or game translations. And it’s been worth it – there’s a lot of content!
As for the game design itself, the reason why VR games can feel like tech demos is because there’s no sense of progression and a lack of skill growth for the player. Obviously with a limited budget these issues are harder for a lot of VR devs to address.
A sense of progression comes in many forms. It’s that feeling when you are exploring new levels, unlocking new items to use as your levels increase, watching the next part of the story and completing achievements. Players are all very different: some don’t like grinding, some are not interested in story, and many ignore leaderboards and achievements entirely. For a game to appeal to most players, more often or not you have to include a few ways for players to feel like they are progressing.
Allowing players to feel like they have some sort of skill growth or feeling like they are getting better at the game is often harder to create. You have to balance the game carefully to allow new players to enjoy the game as well as returning experienced players, and find ways to test both.
In Smash Hit Plunder, we have a various ways of feeling like you are progressing through the game and getting better at it.
There is the story – with a start, middle and end – and it feels like a complete game by giving both context and an aim to the game. You have signed a contract with Mordred, the loan shark, to agree to take on the family castle debts. You have to pay back your mortgage to be able to recover the castle, and keep Mordred happy. Of course – there’s also the ghostly conclusion!
You are scored for each level, and by collecting more loot you are awarded more crowns. As you get more crowns, new levels, story and game modes unlock. By unlocking new levels and game modes you get new tasks to do, places to explore, things to discover and new challenges. You’ll be tested in navigation, exploration, efficiency, speed, accuracy, observation and even teamwork. All your skills are tested in different ways and amounts, in differing levels and modes – and it’s this mixture and pacing that makes you feel like you are getting better at the game, self-learning new ways of doing things, and feeling like you have something you can improve on as you progress.
Typically, most people ignore leaderboards unless they are in the top 100 or so players. It’s also pretty boring scrolling through a long list of names which mean nothing to you. In Smash Hit Plunder we have come up with a new system that uses the leaderboard data in a really interesting way, so that it gives you realistic goals based on your abilities, and if you complete those goals you get rewarded.
Leaderboards are only interesting
for the top players!
We call these ‘Trials’. We generate a fresh Trials for you automatically at the start of each level – each Trial different from the last. You may have one based on how many items your friend has smashed in a level, perhaps one based on how far you ventured into the level last time, or perhaps if you are in the top 10 then telling you how much you have to score to get the top rank in the world. It gives you a great immediate goal and a reward if you have improved your skills last time you tried a level. The system both gives you a sense of progression, and always tests your own skill level.
And for those that do love their achievements – of course we have PlayStation Trophies too. Hope you are ready for the puns!
So it’s not just the amount of levels that makes Smash Hit Plunder feel like a ‘full console game’. As you can see, there’s been a lot of design choices and planning made to allow all sorts of players to feel like they are getting the most for their money and time – and we’ve yet to even cover the multiplayer! We’ll share our co-op and vs. modes very shortly so please keep coming back to our blog for more insites!