A horde/wave style game needs to walk a narrow line of engaging and too overwhelming, and it's taken a while to get it somewhere that has a crescendo of action that doesn't result in being immediately crushed.
Previously, HEMF would have two general 'tracks' of difficulty progression throughout a game. General increase in the number of enemies over time, as well as more frequent spawning. The latter would adjust depending on how well you were doing, to continuously apply pressure the better you did. Since the game is a best score == longest time held, these mechanics kept it easier for newer players, but could ramp up indefinitely for skilled players. There were two major issues with the way this was done however:
- The "you're doing poorly" value was only computed when an enemy died, or made it past the players defenses. This meant that, as the difficulty ramped, more enemies would get by, but not actually be acknowledged until several seconds after; This resulted in the back-off mechanic not kicking in until even more overwhelming numbers were stacked against the player.
- Large playing field meant the game couldn't react quick enough, because once something was on the field, you can't just pop it out of existence.
- Being overrun often meant you expended your best items, and your defenses were destroyed. Since there was only slight relief, re-building and continuing was very difficult to do, causing a cascading retreat until the game was over.
What was done to solve this, was to implement a few things:
- More helpful AI (Present when the session isn't full of real players). Previously, a few AI would stand in the corner, to basically ensure where the player enters was relatively safe, and they were relatively safe from danger as well (being on the edge). Now, the AI covers most of the field, and can fire up far enough to assist actual players. Even if you retreat later than you should, it's still possible to make it back. They will also use higher damage ammunition if the enemy pushes up on the back line too quickly.
- Tighter game area to allow players to get to the enemy frontline much faster
- There are three ~1 minute breaks during each game session triggered when you get pushed back too far. During this time, players can re-arm and re-form defenses before the swarm re-engages. You can re-enter the game immediately during this phase (outside this phase you have to wait 30 seconds)Shorter distance from spawn edge to swarm edge. Less walking means players are closer together, and it's a bit easier understand the level.
- Back-off mechanic trigger is continuous based on how far an individual enemy gets up the field. E.g. if a few enemies get really far, it will push back a bit - likewise if several enemies get a bit of a ways up. This trigger is linked with pushing the front-line back, so the trade-off with the relief is that you're losing a finite amount of ground.
wave back-off, plus AI uses better ammo as horde approaches
push back eventually triggers downtime to re-arm and re-build
All of this together makes sessions more consistent, and (hopefully) less punishing for new players, who can now build defenses without the worry of getting merc'd by enemies, re-arm and upgrade items at designated intervals, and intuitively track the team front-line getting moved backwards.
The game can be played in-browser at Hemf.io for free (no signup required), now in the EU :D The game is definitely full of blemishes, but feedback is always appreciated as the game continues development!