2 long time friends that kept in touch over the years by playing video games finally decided to start making our own!
Now that our game Arcane Golf has been out for a week, and we've released a number of small updates, we wanted to share our thoughts on game balancing as indie devs. This is something a lot of indie devs might experience with small tester teams, so I thought it was worth discussing- please share your own experiences in the comments below (gamers and devs alike).
In the days leading up to Arcane Golf's release, we at Gold5Games began to panic. "Our game is too easy! What if people beat it really fast and just refund it?!" On multiple play-throughs, we were able to complete all 200 levels in under 2 hours. It was a nightmare. We consoled ourselves in the thought that we had just gotten too good at our own game, and shipped "as-is." We were right. We just didn't know how right.
In the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of playtime leading up to release, we had apparently gotten so good at our game that we were beating the first dungeon alone about 800% faster than our average player. We always wanted our game to appeal to both hardcore and casual players in a "just keep trying, you'll get better" kind of way. We made restarting a level quick and painless, and there are no penalties or checkpoints to restart to. Just try, try, and try again. Levels are pretty quick, so even if you almost beat a level and then fail, you've only lost a few seconds of playtime.
The problem, as it turns out, is that even with those features, our casual players were still being left behind. We've released 3 patches since launching to improve the play experience for those players, with today's being the biggest toward that aim (pun not intended): The "Casual Aim Mode" option. Now players that might have difficulty aiming quickly and accurately can take all the time in the world lining up their shots. The very first time we read that feature request we were hesitant to implement it because some levels were built entirely around players figuring out how to maximize their time alive, by holding the ball in place at just the right moment for the full timer duration. Ultimately though, we set aside that fear, because making a couple levels too easy is a fair trade-off for making the entire experience more enjoyable for our more casual players. And for any players looking for a bigger challenge, the default mode still has the shot timer. It's just one more way that we allow players to enjoy our game how they want.
We hope this might help any indie devs struggling with difficulty balance in the lead up to their own releases, even if just to add some extra perspective, and we'd love to hear from others who have gone through similar growing pains.
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A developer and publisher of puzzle games including Arcane Golf.
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