Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I have "obtained prominence"

I haven't posted here in a while. I've been posting a bunch more business related stuff in my private blog -- more about the ins and outs of my new consulting business.

Anyhow, I've spent the past few days evaluating Ninety-Nine Nights. I remember trying the demo and not being that impressed. But I needed to familiarize myself with the game for another title I'm working on.

The initial experience is lousy, to say the least. As is the challenge ramp, character progression, save system, UI, and the list goes on.

That said, there are some components that give me hope for the game.

It is fun to wade through armies of peons on a large battlefield with some friends at your back and the support of larger armies. While I can't help get the sense that there are simply too many combos that are too randomly computed to make heads or tails of them, some elements of strategy have emerged later on in the game.

The problem isn't so much imputing the rock-paper-scissors of my opponent (though that is somewhat difficult to do in many cases because of bland enemy design and behavior in some cases) but it's more that I can't seem to execute the correct counters because I don't understand what combos are best for each situation.

The main strategy I've uncovered is simply to fight easier grunts and power up my Orb meter. Then unleash the Orb on large groups of tougher opponents. Then unleash the Orb shards on the biggest group of opponents just before a boss battle. Bosses are beaten through attrition: Cower and let your remaining troops distract while you find out its patterns and be sure to save some chests for health potion boosts (or be prepared to wander all over the map in the middle of a boss battle to find one).

I think that a few key changes could make the game worthwhile:

  • Add an outermap RPG system. All the powerups in the game currently feel very random. Leveling up only unlocks new combos. What I'd really like is to be able to pick and choose from a variety of areas to upgrade:
    • Luck: Increase drop rate of items during battle
    • Health: Make it harder for me to die
    • Strength: Make my attacks stronger
    • Magic: Make my Orb attacks cooler
    • Army: Make my armies stronger
  • Provide more opportunities for me to practice and master new combos. Specifically, set up situations where I learn the rock-paper-scissors and am reinforced when I do well and punished (but not too severely) when I'm not paying attention. In addition to a combat arena minigame (that lots of other games have) this could also be achieved through staggered level design, better audio/visual cues when I do well/poorly, and achievements that pop up when I try new things and they have positive results.
  • Differentiate enemies much more strongly. Exaggerate differences between grunts and captains; between swordsmen and club guys; etc.
  • Make boss battles cooler. Involve some puzzle solving or environmental interactions.
  • I can't tell yet whether there is upgradeable equipment (it looks like there might be) but add some more of this into the game. I've been playing for 6 hours and haven't received any new gear.

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