No, I don’t mean the programming is complete. I mean that I’m pretty much done working on it and it’ll live in its current state indefinitely. It’s fully playable of course, but it’s missing two or three features I would consider core, and has a bunch of stuff I wish weren’t there…. Unfortunately, however, I am finding that I just don’t have the drive to keep working on the game, as it is no longer anything like what I had planned to build.
I have other things I want to build, and this game has been in development for over two years now. If you count the PHP and Perl versions I had to scrap early on, a total of probably 750 hours have gone into it, and I just don’t have the free time to dump that much into a single game when I have so many other ideas I want to play with. Had it been a better game, I certainly would have kept working on it, but I just didn’t keep it focused on the main aspect of the game properly. For more info, read below as I dissect what I think are the biggest problems with BC. This is actually more for myself than anybody else, as I am hoping not to make the same mistakes in my next games.
What went wrong?
Are you playing to build up an army of gladiators, or to build up the wealth and power of yourself, the manager? The answer is unfortunately both, and very strongly both.
My goal was a fantasy-sports-style game with gladiators. The gladiators themselves were expendable units. You could train them, equip them, whatever. But at the end of the day, you were merely supposed to be building a team to further yourself as a manager.
I don’t know how all fantasy sports games work, but the one I did play had very basic players that you controlled in a football (American) league. There were a few stats on each player, as far as passing, punting, blocking, etc. But for the most part it was about building a team that worked well together, and reading the game commentary each week to see how well you did.
Well, I got so wrapped up in the coolness of my RPG stats for gladiators that I made it cumbersome to manage them. Each gladiator needed several tabs to view all their details. The overview, which showed all the gladiators “at a glance” was unfortunately lacking enough information to really make meaningful choices. Add in all the ways weapons could modify a gladiator, and how different stats worked with equipment, and of course the ranks thrown in as a typical RPG leveling system, and you’ve got a lot of information to deal with.
In a game where you are the gladiator, this works out just fine, and in fact you’d probably want even more focus on stats and things. But when you’re just the manager, you find that managing your small team of 5 gladiators is a big pain.
Additionally, the focus being so split between gladiators and managers meant that building up your manager was never really emphasized. You had one stat, fame. It meant very little after about a month or two of play. You had money and equipment, but again, those meant nothing after a short amount of play.
No Team Spirit
This is sort of an extension of my lack of focus. In a fantasy sports football game, your team is a single unit. An injury in your quarterback means your whole team suffers, so you need to have a backup. Too much focus on speed and not enough on blocking, and your team is crap even though they have the best runners in the league.
In Bloodsport Colosseum, however, your “team” was a group that had no interaction except that they sometimes fought each other. That is totally not how a team in a fantasy sports game should act. It was essentially like managing a bunch of boxers, except that you couldn’t even properly choose matches because I didn’t want the players to be able to abuse the game (the computer chose matches each night).
If I’d done this as I meant to, your team would consist of at least 10 gladiators, and you’d need different specializations for your team to win. Or maybe not 10 gladiators, maybe fewer would be fine, but they would need to work together somehow.
Tournaments should have been the first kind of match to exist. They were always on the list of things to do, but never made it to the top. Yet I think they make more sense than the green/blue arenas. Apocalypse matches were okay, but just too chaotic since I had no teaming mechanic.
Achievements should have been very high priority. You are managing a team of gladiators, and yet I never built in medals, trophies, or anything like that. While the effects on the game may have been minimal or none at all, the desire to be the best manager would have meant something! Comparing trophy cases, bragging about the elite “1000th kill” award, etc. Yes, eventually long-time players would grow bored of having every trophy available, but this would have at least made the manager a more tangible piece to the game.
Spending most of my time on gladiator stats and weapons was just a mistake. Complex gladiators aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they shouldn’t be a burden. In a fantasy sports game, you might do basic training on your players, and you will likely choose some high-level organizational things (positions on the field and such), but you shouldn’t have to make several choices every single day on every gladiator in order to keep them working well. Having simpler stats, training, and equipment would have left a lot more time to do other things that should have been higher priority. Such as tournaments and achievements….
Manager stats should have been a priority, too. I had a plan to have managers gain specializations that helped out gladiators, with their own stats for attack, defense, money management, healing, whatever. After a certain amount of XP, you spend it to gain a new skill or something. This may not have worked well – it may have ended up being really confusing, in fact. But at least it was the right direction – focusing on the manager.
Fight logs sucked. They were just a bunch of “A hits B for X damage” kinds of messages. Making a robust combat engine should have been done before even going into closed beta testing. The fight engine was too simple, and it was one thing that could be complex as hell without confusing the player, since it was totally hands-off. Players should have been excited to see the fight log, to read a mini-story that was detailed and interesting, describing feints, parries, dismemberment (another dead idea), etc. Instead, it was always something I felt could wait until later.
Ideas For Next Time
I don’t know that there will be a new BC ever. But if there is, I have some ideas for it.
- Gladiators will be much simpler. No levels (ranks), or if there are levels, they’ll represent experience without giving additional bonuses to stats and hit points. Gladiators will have different stats that represent more tangible abilities, like the derived stats do today. And your choice will be simpler – each stat will be set and never change. The choices will likely be word-based, such as “very weak”, “weak”, “average”, “strong”, and “very strong”. So you may have a gladiator who is “very strong” at Offense, “weak” at Defense, “average” at Speed, and “weak” at Toughness (hit points).
- Recruiting stations will still exist in some form, but they won’t have such an effect on the gladiators. In all likelihood they’d have options that gave, at most, -1 or +1 boosts to specific stats, so that instead of all your stats averaging out to 3 (“average”), you may have them averaging 2.5 – 3.5.
- Your gladiators will work as a team by default. Maybe I’ll still allow one-on-one challenges, but I’m not sure I like how challenges ended up working in BC. I definitely didn’t like the arena choices, as I couldn’t explain them well to people, they required you to choose an arena for every gladiator, and they made the system have to be out of sync in order to have pre-scheduled battles. It was just confusing – a simpler approach of setting your team in a league or something would be more interesting as well as more user-friendly, I think.
- Training will be simple or nonexistent. Skills will be simple or nonexistent. If they’re included, skills will surely be complex behind the scenes, such as the combat training value is today, but the player won’t see it or have to deal with it. He’ll just see that a gladiator has a certain amount of experience with bladed weapons. When training happens, it’ll be a long-term thing. You set John Doe to train blades, and he’ll train every day until you change this preference. He’ll move up through 3 or 4 ranks of training, Basic, Advanced, and Expert or something. These will modify him in some way that will make fight logs more interesting, such as being able to parry or riposte where he previously couldn’t. Battle experience will affect attack chance and perhaps damage, while training will affect “moves” available. And it’ll all be something the player notices only passively, so it’s interesting but not cumbersome.
- Gladiators will not have scarring. They’ll have critical injuries which require time out in order to heal (which of course should affect the team as a whole). They may lose limbs. They may die. The player won’t have much say in this at all, other than perhaps choosing an overall team strategy that’s risky. Gladiators missing limbs will almost certainly need to be retired, but mid-season it may be better to leave a one-armed gladiator in, if his experience and training are really good.
- Equipment will be simple again. Simpler even than what I had when I first showed BC to the public. There will be a few choices for each group of weapons, and they’ll be very simple choices. Maybe 3 weapons per group, with maybe 3 levels of quality. And weapon damage would be the main stat, with a small modifier to speed. Some weapons would be better for parrying, perhaps, and blunt weapons would deal different damage than bladed (crushing limbs versus open wounds), but the player wouldn’t care about much other than damage and “oh, the sword will allow a parry more often, great.”
- As I just alluded, there would be a little more in-depth combat damage. This would be added complexity to the backend, but not something that the players would ever have to pay attention to if they didn’t want to. The most important thing about adding complexity to this kind of game is to make sure the user doesn’t have extra micromanagement just for the sake of adding more to the game. Anyhow, the combat engine would be more sophisticated as I’ve stated, with things like parries, ripostes, sudden berserker-like rages, etc. But also, damage will be totally different. Hit points are great for a traditional RPG, especially one where the character is expected to survive many brutal battles. But in a game where the warriors are expendable, a much more interesting combat system should be looked into. I wouldn’t build a truly realistic system, otherwise most gladiators would die most of the time, but I would make it semi-realistic. Damage would be to specific body parts, death would usually be from blood loss or brain damage, etc. Hit points would exist perhaps on individual body parts to measure how useful they are, but they wouldn’t determine life left. For instance, if you destroy my arm, I can’t use it in battle anymore, but further hits to that arm don’t really do much to me – it’s probably already bleeding as much as it can.
- As I stated above, the manager would be the focus. Players would be in the role of a manager, and would have more choices about their management than about the gladiators. Perhaps they’ll be able to gain experience, but no matter what mechanism I choose to deal with manager persistence, there would be ways to carry over something no matter how many seasons a manager played. A long-term player should be able to show trophies, medals, and other awards. There should be all kinds of random “top player” lists, showing obvious achievements like kills, wins, KOs, etc. Special awards would have to exist that players wouldn’t even know about until they won one, such as an award for crippling a large number of opponents. Maybe allow managers a long-term inventory of manager-specific “artifacts”, which would give minor boosts to his gladiators in addition to his own experience. Overall a long-time player shouldn’t be able to easily crush every n00b he encounters (although separate leagues for the newest players could alleviate this some), but he should have a small advantage for sure.