Cuts all the Way

Not everything during game development will go as planned. Learning to let go of certain parts of one’s plan is an important aspect of creating anything, after all. As such, I have recently made the decision to remove two story modes from the game, essentially making four of the ten protagonists unplayable (and demoting them to background characters in terms of player perception of the narrative).

Which ones? Simply put, I’m cutting Torn the wind mouse, Milly the drill mouse, Haidrow the water parrot and Sage the earth owl. This is despite Milly and Haidrow having some of my favourite personalities in the entire game, mind you. As a result, I also have to cut a scene where one character claims that waiting in line is fun without a hint of sarcasm, which pains me greatly.

Bird and Mouse

But the reasoning was fairly damning. Both of their storylines felt very underdeveloped, for one. Also, the actual gameplay for Torn and Haidrow were fairly uninteresting. Milly’s was interesting, but dull, and Sage was really different, but not enough to justify keeping when weighed against everything else. Given the costs associated (both monetary and player perception) with creating their levels if they turn out bad, it’s best to simply remove them.

So I’ll soon reformulate the plot to work with three sets of protagonists. While considering how to adjust, I remembered something Josh brought up regarding a certain important character who only exists, for all intents and purposes, as background to the game’s events. The game’s intro briefly mentions a scientist known as Dr. Gekke Wetenschapper, who was contacted by the goddess Suzanne Owoh to alter all animals in the world to allow them to gain superpowers, extended lifespans and heightened intellect. He was then shunned for the rest of his life.

Gekke Wetenschapper
This is a quick sketch Josh previously made for Dr. Wetenschapper that he posted on Twitter.

Josh had a few reasons for bringing the guy up, including his shock when I told him that despite the character’s in-series fame prior to those events, Gekke was very much expendable in Owoh’s master plan, easily replaced by any other scientist of decent skill. He responded by saying that the character seems rather lonely when one considers that, and wanted some more focus on the character through flashbacks or something (not through actual appearances, though, since his part takes place 99 years before the events of the game).

Fair enough, but adding that would sort of require extending the existing storylines. This brought up another thing I wanted to be careful to avoid: Wasting work done by anyone other than me. Atman had already completed songs for the Austalis Settlement, Massive Park, Borealis Settlement, River of Flames, Cascadia Valley and Island of Justice levels. In addition, I really didn’t want to cut Pierre, a boss I had transplanted to Torn’s route in the shift to version 2.0 of the story, from the game.

Examining the level and boss layout for the remaining storylines (and mixing everything from the end of the game in for the sake of this comparison), I had these before extensions:

Magnet and Spark Levels

Level: Acero Beach
Level: Resonance Hall
Level: Mt. Diztroya
Boss: FΩ
Level: Afterlife City
Boss: Bob
Level: Island of Chaos
Level: Tower of Chaos
Boss: Tikk Tocc
Level: Yo DOGS I Heard You Like Towers 3 (formerly 5)
Boss: Hama and Matches
Final Boss: DOGS

Shock and Paisonya Levels

Level: Forest of Happiness
Boss: Paisonya
Level: Thunderclap Range
Level: Occidens Settlement
Level: Dark and Stormy Dam
Level: Island of Protection
Level: Tower of Protection
Boss: Roberto
Level: Yo DOGS I Heard You Like Towers 1
Boss: Jesus Reyes

Ruyo and Shi Levels

Level: Orientem Settlement
Boss: Kun Nai
Level: Island of Peace
Boss: Kure and Shika Nai
Level: Tower of Peace
Boss: Abu Nai
Level: EVIL HQ
Level: RAEGin’ Base
Boss: Kajō and Mottai Nai
Level: Vertexville
Boss: Taose Nai
Level: Yo DOGS I Heard You Like Towers 2 (formerly 4)
Boss: Var Li

That means that the turtles have 8 levels and 5 bosses (though Afterlife City is more of a non-level), the cats have 7 levels and 3 bosses, and the hephlings have 7 levels and 6 bosses.

I intend to have the mice and birds appear in a cutscene each to affirm that they exist. As such, two of the six orphaned level songs can be taken off the table to be used as background music. That leaves 4 levels and one boss to be transplanted (though the boss works best as two bosses).

Look Sign

It is immediately obvious that I should work Pierre in as two bosses in Shock’s story, which makes him have 5 bosses like Magnet, a fair number. With 4 levels to move around, I can give one to each and have one left-over. When I think about it, as I said earlier, Afterlife City is somewhat of a non-level, so I could make it into a cutscene instead and give Magnet that level. Yes, that makes two bosses in a row, but the interface makes it so the game is saved and the player can go back and play previous levels at their leisure before fighting it.

The result is a simple, almost-even 9/8/8 and 5/5/6 split for levels and bosses respectively, which is good enough for me to not have significant complaints. That said, Shock’s unevenness bothers me even if it’s not a significant complaint, so I’m thinking of ways to give him another level of boss. Still, this brings the game’s level count from 37 to 25, which is a 1/3 decrease in the game’s length.

With that out of the way, I poke around the rest of the design to see what else needs significant changing and find that I need to adjust the Sync system. It’s a bit too unforgiving, and the gameplay already too distracting where there’s a significant amount of enemies on-screen for someone to really pay much attention to the clock. I’m actually considering a system for it that came to mind when a friend asked me if I could add in the option to make it more forgiving in exchange for getting less out of it. This reminded me of Kid Icarus: Uprising‘s Intensity system that sets level difficulty based on a bet.

KIU Intensity
The game also tracks the highest intensity cleared and makes suggestions based on past performance.

The idea I’m having here is to allow the player to, at the start of each level, pay in-game money (“Moneys”) to set an upper and lower bound for Sync, and have them pay for said adjustments. Then, at the end of a level, their score reflects any changes they made at the start. That said, Moneys is already very precious, as it’s simultaneously your lives and tickets to upgrade a character, so it would be wise to give the player an alternative option if they’d rather hand onto their Moneys.

In my opinion, that should be a massive score penalty. Since one source of Moneys is your final score, in a level, this would basically be a payment with interest. Plus, since the game already pays you some Moneys up-front with each enemy kill, I am of the belief that one’s score should be allowed to run into the negatives, costing you Moneys if it does, since the game will have already paid you up-front for multiple things.

One More Thing Jackie Chan Uncle

But this presents another problem potential grinding of Moneys by giving yourself extreme Sync leeway in exchange for a end-of-level score penalty, going into a level and defeating a bunch of enemies for an up-front Moneys payment, and then quitting. Making the changed Moneys count only stick if you complete a level wouldn’t completely seal off this exploit, as it’s possible that people could calculate their scores on their own before clearing a level and decide to quit because they’d be in the negatives. I could have the game demand repayment upon quitting, but that could punish people in situations where they absolutely must leave the computer. Hmm…

A solution definitely won’t be clear-cut here. It’s certainly something I have to think about.