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Dev Blog #9 – Why is Last Regiment not fun?

Is this fun? Do we like this? Are we happy with this?

Lately we’ve been receiving feedback from the people playtesting and those who saw the progress on stream that the game doesn’t seem to be interesting or enjoyable. When you get to that point, you have to stop and ask why. This is very concerning, and so we gathered the team for a ‘come to God’ meeting on what we should do about it. There were two options: 1) cancel the project, or 2) barrel down to what those reasons are and find out how to fix them in a systematic way. This is a decision that we often have to make when developing a game, and for now we chose to keep fighting and go with the second option.

Here are the reasons why the game wasn’t fun:

  1. There is no turnaround event. This is a big problem, and it was similar to what we encountered with the early versions of Legends of Callasia, and solved later on by adding cards as a feature. You knew relatively early in the game whether you were going to win or lose. For the players to have fun, everyone should still have the chance to win even when it’s pretty close to the end of the game. During our games, it’s clear what’s going to happen next, and you just keep building and summoning units until someone wins.
  2. There are so many things to think about. The process of figuring out what the different options are and understanding them is time-consuming. Right now, 45 minutes of gameplay seems long, though there are several games which take longer but are still fun. It’s tedious not because you have to think too much, but because of the constant struggle to get more information. For example, when you have a unit with a long list of abilities, you’d have to click each ability one by one to know what it does. And there are several factions available too! While it’s true that playing the game enough would help you know what all these abilities are, it does provide a steep learning curve for newer players, and it might be a better decision to just have one or two *defining* abilities for each unit in the game.
  3. There is no midterm goal. Currently there are clear short-term goals (summon this unit, capture this building) and long-term goals (destroy all enemies, take over everything). This lack of midterm goals was also a problem in the early version of Legends of Callasia, and our solution was to create the concept of kingdoms (a group of territories) which you can capture completely for more resources and points. This would be difficult to do in Last Regiment especially with its hex-based maps, and it doesn’t really match what we’re trying to do. So how do we create something that’s visual and gives players a sense of accomplishment?
  4. There is low sense of player agency in not allowing you to build your own things. Right now it’s dependent on the person who created the made the map. If there’s a farm on a certain hex tile, you can’t do anything about it. Players do not have the power to define how their structures are placed, and that would have been a strategic decision that would contribute in making the game more fun. Another source of confusion is not knowing when you can summon units, which is only allowed when you have occupied all hexes of a city. Players would assume it’s a bug when they cannot build a unit – it’s something that is not currently explained when you first start playing.

What can we do to fix these?

  1. We thought we’d first address the issue of building – maybe if we solve this, we’ll be able to solve all the other problems we mentioned. Instead of having premade structures, we can instead have builder units and upgradeable spawn points for buildings. It would give players a larger sense of agency so they can start defining how they want their world to be built. This would also address the lack of midterm goals. Right now we’re looking at making the heroes of each faction have the Build ability in order to ensure that each player has a builder and would be able to build structures.
  2. Simplify stuff. We need to have units with fewer abilities so that players have would have less to think about and instead spend more time making more strategic decisions. It should be clear enough what units do, where they can summon them, and how they can win the game. In terms of spawn points, we will be limiting the classes of structures by tying them with the races, instead of the factions where the lore is based. One of things we’ll also do is to remove docks, and instead allow ships or water-based units to be summoned on spawn points next to the water.

Aside from these, we’ll have to continue balancing the game. We realized that after ending the turn, your resources are immediately replenished and you can continue to summon more units on the next turn, which makes the game become less fun.

In line with simplifying the game, we’d like to have fewer units with more interesting choices – like in Legends of Callasia with only four heroes per game making it nice, snappy, and strategic. In Last Regiment, you are pressured to move and build units quickly, which makes it less tactical.

What we plan to do is to adjust summon costs for units (some expensive, some cheaper) as well as increasing the resources cap, but decreasing the rate at which they fill. This would hopefully motivate players to do some other actions to get their resources up, and afterwards make the strategic action to attack or use their abilities.

We also want to create more spells that are buff-based as opposed to just doing damage, to make it less about bombarding with lots of units, but more of using specialized units intelligently.

Hopefully by next week we’ll have progress for some of this stuff and playtest if they work. We’ll also create at least one new bigger map and bring in more players to test. We’ve also been doing some changes to the art, so you can also look forward to that!


Dev Blog # 6 – Addressing Game Ideas That Suck

To begin this week’s dev blog, we’ll share something that not only applies to Last Regiment, but to game development in general: how does the theory of all our ideas actually play out?

This is a really hard part of game development. Game ideas start out as really cool on paper. But when you start to implement it, you begin to realize that there are things you forgot or didn’t think about, and it ends up not being like what you thought it would be. This is the point where some new developers fail: they say to themselves, “This sucks, I give up.” But that is something you cannot avoid in game development. The real task is getting from that point to another.

To quote from Adventure Time: Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.

Before you can be good, first you have to suck. It’s easy to get real disheartened that you’re not good at this.  Instead of giving up on idea and just changing it to something else, you have to be able to critically look at it and figure out: Why does it suck?

So you’ll notice in our updates that we’ll continue to try out ideas and keep switching them up. For example, as we talked about before, the concept of steamrolling or snowballing has been a common problem in strategy games. As you become more powerful and acquire more resources or units, you eventually reach a tipping point where you’ve guaranteed your victory and there’s nothing else anyone can do. Of course, most players would like that, but if it happens too early, people would feel disenfranchised for their game. If in the first five turns it becomes impossible for anyone to go any further, that’s when strategy games fall down. The challenge for us developers is to find that balance. In Legends of Callasia, we have the card mechanic that enables you to make turnarounds in battle. These are the types of solutions we want.

For Last Regiment , we’re currently looking at two ways to handle resources:

  1. Hoarding resources. This is the basic Civilization model. For every turn, I get more gold.  My pile gets bigger and bigger. I keep hoarding so I can go form armies, build structures, etc.
  2. Limited resources. In Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering, you get a certain number of resources which you can use for each turn. At the end of the turn, it replenishes.

If you remember, we moved to limit-based model precisely because we wanted to prevent steamrolling. We played it like that in the past weeks, but it wasn’t fun.

Why was it not fun? It reaches a point wherein I’m over at your castle, trying to finish the game and get you out. But because both of us have the same amount of resources every turn, you would just keep on spawning more units to fight me off. At the same time, if the game continually refills your resources (example: 10), we need to make sure that nothing costs 11 resources. Getting the same amount of resources creates a mechanic with fast turnaround, which works really well in Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering. But in a map-based strategy game where you want the units to move around, last longer, and do things, it’s not such a great mechanic.

So we switched back Gold and Mana into hoarding resources.

We still have the concept of control points, which is a limited resource. Like the population limit in LOC, you only have so much control but you can increase it by getting more buildings. Now the number of units I can make and control becomes limited by how much you can hoard. This is something we haven’t balanced yet. What happens when my hoard gets really big? We’re still figuring it out.

Meanwhile, we’ve also been working on a bunch of core technology to make sure multiplayer is functioning properly. We’ve also added stuff like new effects and new art. We are also playing with idea of having some neutral units and the concept of healing.

Another big change is the camera movement. When we were playing, things would happen on a different part of a map, but I would be looking at something else. That was hurting the game: people thought it was broken because you didn’t see or know what happened. So we changed the way you visualize the game. Theoretically,  the camera would be dragged around to show you things as they occur.

In terms of ideal game length, we’re still struggling with that. For Legends of Callasia it was about right: 30 minutes for 2-player games, while bigger games can be from one to two hours. It’s a nice spot for players to be drawn in and get involved. But some want it shorter, some longer; others want more options or less options. This is always an issue in game development: getting everyone to agree on something. Since different things such as more players or bigger maps can affect game length, we’ll continue to play around with that during the course of the development cycle.

But the bigger questions are always: What it is that we ought to be doing?  Who are the players we are targeting? You never really know if you’re building the right game, especially at this early stage.

For example, we’ve been getting some feedback on how we’re writing the fantasy or the lore of this game. People have certain expectations  about what things should or shouldn’t be, which is a challenge as we create a unique lore for this game.

We also did a multiplayer playtest during our stream (full, unedited video here) and these are the things that we learned today:

  1. Movement is a lot of fun. The camera movement is really good.
  2. The attack/damage values of the heroes are within the range we expect. They’re not perfect and would still need more balancing, but overall, they’re pretty good.
  3. The economy is still wonky. You’re consistently getting your Gold and Mana, but there aren’t many places you can spend them on. After a couple of turns, it gets to a point where the resources don’t matter because you already have everything you want. You keep hoarding and continue spawning, which makes the game basically endless.

In general, we are pleased with the progress we’ve been making and the feedback we’ve been receiving. We’ll be looking at various solutions to address the current issues. Hopefully by next week we have figured something out.


Dev Blog #1 – A Postmortem and a Game Introduction

Hey blog readers! We had our first dev stream for this game and it means a lot to us that many came out to watch and support us (even after a really rough start).

Aside from the video update every week on the Ninesquirrels channel, we will also be updating this blog to monitor our progress and hopefully share some helpful insights with our fellow devs.

But more importantly, we are doing this because of the experience we had during our Early Access for our first strategy game, Legends of Callasia. We had so many great responses from our early adopters, so we want to replicate that and get everyone involved early on in Last Regiment.

So as we start this blog, we’d like to do a little post-mortem on LOC to explain why we are making this new game.

What we learned from Legends of Callasia

Let’s start with what people loved about Legends of Callasia. It’s a turn-based game that can be played in a reasonable amount of time, largely because of the simultaneous gameplay. You can play multiplayer on a desktop or a tablet with your friends in an hour and a half – it doesn’t take forever!

But as with any game, there are bunch of things we thought we had to improve or wished we could have done.

  1. No level editor. The whole game is structured in a way that creating a map starts from a hand drawing, transformed into several layers of Photoshop, then an Excel file. It was frustrating every time someone asked if they can make their own maps – it was a cool idea that we would have liked to have done but only possible if we start over from scratch.
  2. The learning curve. Though people enjoyed the game, many didn’t understand how things worked when they first played it. They got confused about the combat system: how armies work, what do the unit stats mean, how much is the actual damage, who gets attacked first, etc. The game had a system but we weren’t able to explain it very well. The battle screen felt like a game of its own which players couldn’t understand. It became a huge barrier for getting first-time players to become interested in the game, and though we had people in the community helping out the newbies, we would very much prefer if the mechanics can be easily grasped when you hopped into the game.
  3. The story / lore. Admittedly, the story was not something we had focused on in LOC. We had assumed our players would only want to move their armies around and not deeply care about the story – we were wrong. We went for classic fantasy characters such as humans, elves, dwarves, and the undead. People were asking us about the lore, and as we went along we tried to add story.  This is another big change we plan to do in Last Regiment – to create a real world, write meaningful stories with original characters that stray a bit from the obvious fantasy tropes.
  4. Faction and unit structures. With each faction having only 6 units each, there were limited unit combinations or synergies that a player can come up with. You cannot use units from different factions. Once players have figured out the best way to play each faction, it shortened the lifespan of the game, even if we released new updates. There was no challenge to find new synergies that no one else has figured out.

Now these were the things we wanted to change, but unfortunately were not possible at the stage Legends of Callasia is in. Thus, the idea for Last Regiment was to take the things that people loved in LOC and address all the issues we had to make a much more improved strategy game.

The Game Reveal

Last Regiment will also be a fantasy-themed game like LOC, with story-driven single-player campaigns, and maps to play in skirmish or multiplayer with AI or human players. It would also have its built-in map editor, which is made possible now that we’re using hex-based maps.

Main Menu

We are also working on an improved UI for the main menu, with a dedicated space for news and announcements, instead of the notification pop-ups in LOC which players found annoying. Note that the images in the screenshot are mostly placeholder.

Gameplay

Unlike in LOC, there won’t be any lands or kingdoms to conquer, which usually takes a few turns before any action happens. We go straight to the fighting and let you control units from your pre-formed regiment and capture specific structures. Aside from the hexes, we are also implementing fog of war and will be introducing mana, which will allow you to summon new units on the map. You can have units from different factions and go into battle without going into another screen. You can watch Chris playtest the game in the video (#1.2) to get a clearer idea on how movement and combat work.

Built-in Map Editor

We’re making the map editor as easy to use as possible and adding different terrains, structures, and decals in order to have that same fantasy map feel from LOC. The buildings you’ll have are based on the lore and the different factions in the game. Some will also have special abilities and features – more on that in the video (#1.3).

Story and Characters

The idea for the story begins with an old, European-style world who colonized a brand new continent called Kothia, leading to incredible colonial wars. Humans from the old world brought constructs made of magic and machinery, and these encouraged the natives to fight back.

 

The Highborne, one of the original inhabitants of Kothia, needed magic to fight this with and so they summoned spirits of the forest, currently known as the Woodspawn. Meanwhile, the Orcs summoned the spirits of death and brought forth fungal growths that infected people and rotted out their brains. The new world becomes a desolated wasteland.

The humans went back to the old world to develop better tools and technology, which we based on modern, 1750s technology such as cannons and galleons. With these new powers, they returned to Kothia and the Reconquest began.

 

But back in Kothia, the people who had retreated created stronger magical factions to fight the chaos happening in their world. New units such as apes and vampiric lemurs had spawned.

The game now takes place in a world controlled by little armies and mercenary kings fighting each other. There will be units based on different factions, races, and technology. You, as the player, will be constantly putting together mercenary armies based on these warring factions.

Olivia

 

We introduced Olivia in our previous post, but this time we show you her full portrait. She was previously in one of the early colonial armies during the Reconquest, but after some events, she ends up being a pirate at the seaport of Saltia Ruma. The story begins with Olivia returning to Kothia and forming her own mercenary army. Yes she is a one-armed female pirate, and we’re excited to tell you about her journey.

Other Questions

We also answered some of other questions from the viewers during the stream such as:

  • Will there be non-unit stuff from each faction that you can take?
    Answer: Yes, there will be powers and abilities, but instead of putting them in the regiment bar, we gave those to the units who can only use in specific ranges at certain positions in the map.
  • Can any creature activate the different buildings on the map?
    Answer: We like the level of humor where ridiculous creatures can do ridiculous stuff, so yes. Also, we don’t want to give any very specialized characteristics for the units, because when you implement those kinds of rules, it complicates the gameplay and it has to be explained in the game really, really well.
  • Will the story be on a level that I can stream during my story playthrough time and enthrall my audience?
    Answer: Definitely. We’re still aiming for missions that take 30 minutes to two hours, similar to LOC. The story will be made up of number of maps and it won’t just be about conquering territories. It will be about moving through different hexes and telling stories based on places and characters on map.

The answers are explained in detail in the video (#1.4), so go check that out for more info. So there you have it – this is what you can expect from Last Regiment. If you have questions, just leave a comment or visit our Discord. Or you can drop by our stream next week to ask us directly.

Thanks for reading this to the very end. And we’ll continue updating this blog for all things Last Regiment.