When you are working on a game, you get really good at it. You play it so many times, and you know each little detail so well, that in ends up posing almost no challenge to you. So when we started beating the game (or at least our small alpha build of the game) pretty much every time we played we didn’t pay much attention to it. It wasn’t until we started showing around the 0.3.0 version, and people started making comments about how easy it was, that we finally realized that Okhlos, at that moment at least, was less challenging than pissing off Heracles (it’s really easy, he’s got a short fuse), and that we needed to make it harder.
And so we started our quest to make Okhlos the hardest game known to mankind … or at least a little bit harder. It had gotten so easy that we had forgotten what the “you lose” screen looked like. Literally. I thought we still had a drawing of one of the ogres crushing some citizens, but no, Roque had changed it months ago. And not only we had to make the game harder, we didn’t want to add or remove much from the game. We were about to send a new version to a lot of people and it was no time to start changing things that may cause more problems than they could solve, and we didn’t have much time either. So our goal was to make the game harder but only making small changes, preferably by just adjusting values.
What did we end up doing? Here is what:
Firs rule of fight club is … not this one. In fact, it didn’t take that many people to start the fight club. But it certainly got better once more people started joining the fight club so that’s the morale of the story. The more people (or monsters sent by the merciless Apollo) you have to fight against, not only it will be harder but it will be more fun, and this is why this was what we did first.
In Okhlos you encounter a random number of enemies in each level, but that number varies from a minimum value and a maximum value that we set, so by adjusting those values we made sure that the average trip through Delphi would be much more interesting. Also you might remember that one of the enemies you could find in this level were the Prophetai, those charming buggers that would assist the oracle in her duties and also summoned other monster to try to kill the mob. Well, there is a limit to the number of creatures the Prophetai can summon and we increased that limit. We increased it to infinity! Actually, no. Just from two to three. But that really makes a difference. Trust me. You will see.
We now had the levels crawling with countless legions of Apollonian beasts, or at least a few more of them prowling around. The next step was making them tougher. We didn’t want individual battles to take too long, specially now that that there were more enemies, so we didn’t increase the amount of hit point they have. We did increase how much damage they deal, though. An average citizen used to be able to withstand a couple of attacks from lovable fire-throwing Hosioi, but now only a battle hardened defender or a hero can survive one of their fireballs.
Finishing Moves are Harder to Perform
One of Okhlos’ best kept secrets is that the units can perform finishing moves. It’s a unwilling secret, actually. We would like players to know they can do this but are still having problems showing the players how this works. This may be the subject for an entire new post but the basics of it is that when an enemy is about 50% of its health, a little speech balloon will pop over one of the units attacking the enemy with a button or key in it. If you press that button or key, the unit will proceed to kill enemy right away. What does this has to do with the difficulty of the game? It used to be very easy to get the timing of this. The speech balloons would be displayed for several seconds, so you had plenty of time to finish off the enemies. Now you only have less than a second to do it. You gotta be fast.
If you look at the screenshots from some of the previous versions you will notice that the mobs are mostly red. This was not because the mob was covered with the blood of its enemies, it was because it was comprised mostly of warriors, Spartan warriors with their red cloaks. Sure, they are cool and deadly, everybody wants warriors in their mob but too many of them was not only killing all the enemies, was killing the fun too. We reduced the number of warriors you find wandering around the level, so that if you want to have a lot of them you are going to have to work. It won’t be so simple now.
Weaker Warriors, Defenders and Philosophers
If you are thinking, “You have already reduced the number of warriors and now you are making them weaker? Don’t you have any respect for anything!?”, then the answer is yes. If you were thinking something else, then the answer may or may not be yes. But the point is that warriors were dealing too much damage, and defenders were absorbing too much damaging, and philosophers were spreading too much philosophy. All of that was true (except for the philosophers part, they simply had too many hit points, their philosophy spreading ratio is ok). When we first created the warriors and the defenders we intentionally set them extremely high values of attack and defense respectively, so as to differentiate them easily. We always intended to someday adjust those values and that day was now.
What would be of our lives without bureaucracy? Nirvana? A state of pure bliss? We may never know and neither will our poor old Greeks that now have almost twice as many bureaucrats going around the levels, looking for a mob to bureaucratize. We still have to work a little more on the bureaucrats’ behavior but even so, having people in your mob that take up space and, not only do they not attack, but they prevent others from being able to attack or use their special abilities is something very annoying.
Bombs Do Less Damage
This was pretty straightforward. In previous versions using a bomb would pretty much guarantee killing any enemy near it, except for the bosses. Now, using one bomb won’t kill your average enemy but it is still enough make a serious dent in their armors, or skin, or heads. And using two bombs in a row still guarantees a kill (except again, in the case of the bosses).
More Expensive Heroes
There was a time where you could buy a Heracles, two super philosophers, a Spartacus and still have enough change left for a Minos or a Rhadamanthus. Those days are gone. Purchasing a Pheidippides now, will not only cost you an arm and a leg, but lots of arms and lots of legs. Like we always said, heroes are a big part of the game, and having lots of heroes in your mob made a huge difference. The initial costs were particularly low so that we could get and test them easily (I should have made a cheat for that at the moment, but making them super cheap seemed like a faster solution) but now that we were planning on making the game as hard as it should be, it was time for inflation.
Granted, that title doesn’t make much sense but you can guess what we changed next, Delphi’s favorite obsessive-compulsive-despotic deity, Apollo. The truth is he wasn’t putting much of a fight. It was our fault. We had neglected old Apollo. He was way down, at the end of the level, and whenever we sat down to do some playtesting something else would draw away our attention before reaching him. Thus, he became weak. Laden with bugs and obsolete behaviors, the god of light had become but a shadow of himself. We had to make amends.
First we started by fixing some of the bugs that were crippling him. Then we moved on to cutting down his idle time, so that he would spend more time either moving or stomping the mob and less time waiting to get hit. And speaking of stomping the mob, all of his attacks are now stronger. Specially his arrows. Only a hero may survive a direct impact from one his arrows now, and if they are lucky. Finally we are still working on improving his special attack, the procusterization attack. It’s not ready yet, but it will soon be. And with all these changes now Apollo is back in business. Once again, he is a lean, mean, mob-crushing machine.
Mob Meter Adjustments
You probably know how the mob meter works. You add people to the mob or crush things and it goes up, you do nothing and it goes down. It is very simple but effective. The changes we made were also simple. It is now harder to make the meter go up and it goes down faster. It sounds almost trivial but it is one of the changes I liked the most. It feels very different. There is a sense of urgency now, and that forces you make each move more efficiently. You don’t have time to waste so you have to optimize the mob’s trajectory so that it can make the maximum damage in the least time possible. This change not only made the game harder, it made it more interesting.
And that’s about it. I may have forgotten about a thing or two but I think that were all the changes we made to make the game harder. Is it too hard now? Probably. Will we be fiddling with these things again? Definitely. We are still a long way from the final version, we have lots and lots of playtesting ahead, but it was certainly fun playing around with these values and seeing the impact they had on the game. Not only was it fun, but I think this was an exercise that allowed us to gain a better understanding of how the game works and get a better grip of the what goes on when the things have spent all this time working on come together, and we wanted to share this with you.