Monochrono Development Blog: Game Design (Part 1)

Hey guys!

 

I’ve been hard at work on Monochrono, coming to Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, and PC in 2017 (hopefully!)

Sorry the website hasn’t been updated much!

 

I wanted to get on here and make a post about game design, and some of the challenges I’ve been facing with development of the game. I said on Twitter this post would be this weekend, buuut…….as with everything, it was delayed. ごめんなさい。

 

So with development of the I’ve Got to Run! games, the keywords behind the design were “simple,” “fun,” “accessible,” and “possible.” It had to be easily understood with no tutorial what the player had to do, even if they just saw the game running for one second. It had to be enjoyable and contain natural moments of tension after 100 hours of play, if someone were to invest that much time. It had to be accessible to people who had never played a game before, or who were handicapped and could only hit a single button. It also, as I’m fond of pointing out (too frequently,) had to generate and logically test new levels in real time. These four things had to remain true throughout the game, no matter what got added on. Whether you were changing the tempo of gameplay, flying through the clouds, or running right to left, all four tenants had to be present at all moments.

 

With Monochrono, I would say the keywords behind the gameplay design are “challenging,” “deep,” “alternative,” and “intuitive.” Monochrono is not the natural follow-up to I’ve Got to Run!, and it took a full year of experimentation to get to a point where it felt like it had 100% of its own identity. I’ll address three of the keywords, briefly, in reverse order:

  • The game has to be intuitive – from the moment someone experienced in the genre (twinstick shooters) gets their hand on the controls, they should feel immediately at home. Nothing should feel ‘off’ about their inputs or the way the game plays, and the new mechanics (time manipulation, various weapons, etc.,) should feel like a natural extension of a polished base, not complicated changes to a formula that actually make it harder for experienced players to adapt.
  • The game needs to have depth. You might find a strategy to cheese some of the AI with a weapon you’re really good at, and coast through chunks of the game that way; that said, if you do pick a randomized combination of equipment, and enter a level, not only does it have to be beatable (as will be guaranteed by CPAI*,) the player should be able to find a unique way of approaching that challenge that is then applicable as a broader strategy throughout the title.
  • Finally, the game is meant to be challenging. The game isn’t exactly meant to kick your ass, but the hope is for you to realize, after completing a mission that you’ve found particularly challenging, that your muscles were tense the entire time, and it feels like a huge weight was lifted off of your shoulders. The game will be as accessible as possible, but is designed to test your skills in a very real way. For this reason, I frequently introduce the title to someone who has never seen it before and make sure that they are both progressing steadily and being heavily challenged.

 

Frequent testing is also crucially important for this game. There are many levels and many weapons, items, and enemy types. This not only leads to a variety in strategies, it leads to a variety of balancing headaches. In December I gave the first 10 stages of the game to someone, started recording their gameplay, and left the room. When I watched the footage back, I discovered that she was playing the game in a way that I had never considered, and moved to design around that as well.

 

I’ll have more to say on specific game design decisions in later development blogs – I can think of four off the top of my head that are each worth of their own deep dive! In the meantime, I’ll just say this – this is certainly cutting my teeth on comprehensive game design, and the design is far and away the most enjoyable part of making Monochrono.

 

Have any questions about Monochrono? Follow @Monochrono and tweet them with #MonoQA! Follow @4CornerGames for information about Monochrono and other in-development titles, and don’t forget to have some fun today!

 

-Syrenne

 

 

P.S. Have any of you found Chapter 2 of Monochrono Prologue? I don’t think anyone has! It’s out there though – has been for a few months. Chapters 2-6 are actually ready to go as soon as someone finds them! I’ll release them all in a few weeks if nobody finds them by then. Hint: Check social media!

 

*CPAI stands for Corner Procedural Artificial Intelligence, a portable middleware solution spun out of I’ve Got to Run! that can be introduced to guarantee that all procedural generation of content is made completable with a player’s current ability set. If it is not, it is scrapped and redesigned in advance, so the player never notices it is there but can rely on it.

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