Hello there! My name is Mark and I’m responsible for game design at Critical Studio. This is the first development diary for our game, so I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a bit about our journey so far, our goals and the design pillars of Dungeonland (a.k.a. The Co-op Sheep Killing Simulator).
When we sat down to think about what would be our first big game project, we had no bosses telling us what to do, no investors asking us questions about monetization and no marketing gurus instructing us about the latest trends. We wanted to do something we were passionate about. And we all love killing monsters with spells and medieval weaponry. We all had fond memories of taking our parties down to the Underdark, of that echoing guitar chord when we first stepped in Tristram, of not knowing what dangers would await us in the dark. So a dungeon crawler it was.
But even though we liked the idea of a group of people with different abilities working together to survive, we did not look at other contemporary games in the genre unless we wanted to make sure we were headed somewhere else. We didn’t want to be yet another generic dungeon crawler.
When we design at Critical we start by answering the question: “what experience do we want our players to have?”. With Dungeonland, we wanted to create a hack and slash game where players would play together. And we really meant “together”: we wanted players to collaborate in a meaningful way, to constantly talk, shout, laugh and curse at each other as they play.
To reach this deceptively simple goal, we went back to basics - we were searching for the simplest design that would give us that experience we were aiming for. We looked for inspiration in Gauntlet and in early beat-em-up games such as Streets of Rage and Golden Axe.
Our first prototype, called “Hall of Goblins” (or HOG if you’re intimate), consisted of three heroes (actually just differently colored balls) and only two buttons: one attack and one special ability. Warrior could sustain a lot of damage and push enemies away, Rogue could kill a lot of monsters but was fragile, and Mage could slow enemies down and heal his friends. The goal was to survive 12 waves of increasingly dangerous monsters that came from Gauntlet-inspired monster generators.
The clear character roles, the shared camera, the monster generators, the difficulty and the sheer number of enemies all required players to be constantly communicating and planning their approach to each situation. It worked. We were soon shouting at each other excitedly as we played, and the foundation of Dungeonland design was set.
That was, of course, a long time ago. In the 18 months following our first successful prototype, we iterated and iterated and iterated. The game we are showing today could actually be called “Dungeonland 3”, because we literally threw the game away twice and started over. We have learned a lot about how to build a truly cooperative game.
We quickly learned that as the game got predictable players would communicate less. With the clear “tank/dps/support” model and the limited tactical situations, players would already know what they should be doing. They would play simultaneously, but they would not play together.
Because of that, every design decision at Critical aims to support the emergence of new situations every time you play. Here are our pillars when we design for cooperation in Dungeonland:
- It's hard. You just can't win by your lonesome self.
- No Strict Roles. Want to play a healing Rogue or an offensive Warrior? Want to play with 3 Mages? Want to play with only damage-dealing builds? No problem.
- Skill Design. There are no re-skinned Skills with different names and effects. Every skill changes your playstyle.
- Skill Combos. Discovering and utilizing skill combinations between characters is key to succeeding in the highest difficulties: the skill choices of your friends will affect the way that you play.
- Shared Resources. Life Tickets are shared for the whole party, so a weak link can bring the entire team down. However, everyone can revive fallen teammates and the whole party gets healed when someone picks up food.
- Monster Design. There are no re-skinned enemies as well. Every monster is designed to force you to fight differently if you want to succeed.
- Park Rides. The deadly theme park rides will present the party with unique set-pieces that offer a change of pace from the regular action.
- Randomness. We are creating several layers of randomization. Monsters, bosses, treasure, Danger Events, special Challenges: you don’t know what is coming and you can’t pre-plan your approach.
- The Dungeon Master. When the AI is not placing all the random threats, you are facing a live human player with a whole new bag of tricks at his disposal - and you have no idea what those tricks are before he uses them!
- No Power Scaling. As players gain experience, they unlock more options, but they can still team up with lower or higher-leveled friends. Dungeonland is skill-based, not stat-based.
- Free-form Structure. All Dungeons can be played in any order, as many times you want, and they all start unlocked. In other games, we hated not being able to play with our friends because we were at different parts of the storyline.
- Sheep. You can pick them up and throw them.
That’s it for our first development diary. Hope you liked it! We’ll try to keep these coming in a bi-weekly basis, but please excuse us if we’re late - making a game is a very busy endeavor!
Coming up next: The Art of Dungeonland!
We still have a long road ahead of us, and we look forward to taking this journey with you.
Um grande abraço!