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A look at the Design Pillars that drive the development of Manifest.

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To kick off the official launch of the Manifest Development Blog, I figured it would be a good idea to discuss my design goals. These Design Pillars are the backbone of development, and guide each decision in the process. I constantly remind myself of these pillars so as to not lose sight of my vision of what the game should be. Manifest is a two-player, competitive, turn-based strategy game, so each facet of the game's design must support the mode. Let's get to it.

Design Pillar #1: Split Forces
Strategy is about trade-offs. Think of any strategy game you've ever played: Warcraft, Settler's of Catan, Risk, Valkyria Chronicles, you name it, each is founded on the availability of multiple options and the strategical factoring and choosing of those options. Each decision brings positive and negative results: positive in the decision's effect, negative in the discarding of alternative options. Always, the goal is to choose the best option available, and so defeat your opponent's inferior tactics.

In Manifest, players choose five heroes from amongst ten and engage in battle against a similarly armed opponent. From the beginning, I've envisioned players splitting their forces. Players must choose which heroes to group together to complete their goals. Which brings us to heavily related Design Pillar #2.

Design Pillar #2: Synergized Abilities and Tactics
The current goal-structure of Manifest asks that heroes split into multiple forces. Randomly choosing which heroes to group together, however, I seek to make unwise. Each hero has unique abilities, skills, and approaches to combat. The goal is to make these abilities and characters synergize in different ways. Ideally, there is no perfect combination of heroes, but trade-offs to each pairing or tripling. Alongside this goal is that each hero offer unique ways of defeating the opponent. An example of a genius implementation of this goal is Valve's Team Fortress 2, wherein each class has different capabilities that makes him or her particularly powerful in certain respects, but simultaneously does not debilitate other approaches. The Pyro, for example, is excellent at close range, but with his flaregun or shotgun, is not entirely useless at a distance. In Manifest, uniquely skilled characters may be combined in various ways, their partnering dynamic. There are no two abilities that synergize perfectly, but many different abilities that may be paired creatively to solve whatever combat problem you currently face.

Design Pillar #3: Movement
Something that occurred to me while prototyping Manifest was that characters tend to stand around a lot. Frankly, there is little reason to move characters away, other options almost always being superior. In fact, movement could potentially be considered discouraged. This makes for a very boring stand-off of stagnant heroes whacking at each other with axes and swords. My goal is to discourage not movement, but stagnancy, to make for a more enticing, fluid battlefield. This is a prime issue I face even today, largely because of my goal structure, and an issue I am currently attempting to fix.

Design Pillar #4: Choice
As stated before, choice is the corner-stone of strategy. Unfortunately, good implementation of this pillar is an issue that still rears its ugly head in current versions of Manifest. My current problem is the lack of the intended difficulty of choosing whether to attack or cast. Heroes in Manifest may either attack with their weapons or cast an ability each turn. Currently, though, attacking is far too often the superior option, nullifying any motivation to cast abilities alternatively. Again, this is something I continue to work on daily.

Prototyping
If there is one lesson I took away from my reading of Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design, it would be the importance of prototyping. Game design, it just so happens, is extremely similar to writing, at least in process. Any of you who are writers know that a first draft is far from final. Writers must revise, and rewrite, and revise their work countless times to attain the desired effect, an effect that is only felt inside the mind and spirit and is gradually revealed to writers through the very practice of writing. Game design/development (same thing, really) is not so different. When creating a game, you have ideas about how the game should play, what features should be involved, etc. But in the process of developing the game, you realize that your initial ideas were not as grand as you had assumed. However, by prototyping the early ideas, you learn more about your game and what it wants to be, and you take one step closer towards discovering your game's design. It's magical. In the development of Manifest, I have discarded or revised many features and many, many lines of code. Fortunately, the fact of prototyping is a wonderful reminded that, no, I am not a failure, I simply have yet to discover and create that feeling and vision that, to me, each day, becomes more and more manifest.

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