Designing Resource Usage in Stop That Hero!

As I mentioned in the post on Stop That Hero!’s development challenges and concerns, the original Ludum Dare implementation has a flaw related to how resources are obtained and used in the game.

Current Implementation

The original implementation works as follows:

  • Assign the player a small starting number of resources.
  • Every so many seconds, increment the player’s resources by a tiny base amount plus a small amount per tower controlled.
  • If a monster kills the hero, increment the player’s resources according to how strong the monster is. The weaker the monster, the more resources obtained. If the hero is killed by a bat, the player is rewarded more than if the hero is killed by a dragon.

Again, I only had so much time to tweak values and work on game balance during the compo. I was trying to prevent the player from using a dominant strategy, spamming the world with dragons right away when the hero was weakest. It’s harder to do now, so I succeeded, but there are a few problems with this setup.

First, it takes forever for the player to gain enough resources to do anything. I had no intention of making the player feel impotent as the hero marches through the world, but when you don’t have enough resources to create even a bat most of the time, it can get quite frustrating and boring. In any given game session, you might create only a handful of monsters, and usually you can’t have them all on the screen at the same time since the hero would have killed some of them by the time you receive enough resources to create another.

Second, as the game session goes on, it gets worse. As the hero conquers towers, the player is getting even fewer resources! Here’s the actual code:

m_numResources += 1 + getNumActiveTowers()/2;

Every 15 seconds (assuming you don’t use the fast mode), you get 1 resource, plus one resource for every two towers you control. In the current game with 7 towers, that means you get a total of 4 resources (the fractional part is ignored) every 15 seconds. It takes one minute to have enough resources to purchase a bat. Every two towers the hero conquers results in the lowering of your puny income by 1, which means you have to wait even longer.

If the hero has conquered all of the towers and is coming for your castle, it would take you almost 4 minutes before you’d have enough resources to create one bat. Even if you did have that much time, which you wouldn’t, you’d lose that bat immediately since the hero would be way too powerful for a bat to bother him anyway. This end game example illustrates the pacing and balance issues more than any other example I can think of. I wish I had thought to do the math on it during the Ludum Dare weekend. I would have realized immediately how badly it was going to work out.

Third, it is disastrous when the hero takes out a tower after you’ve created a monster from it. When the hero takes out a tower, any monsters that originated from it are automatically destroyed. On the one hand, it gives the player an interesting decision to make. Do you create a monster near the hero so you can attack right away, or do you play it safe and wait for the monster to find its way to the hero? On the other hand, imagine creating two dragons at a single tower. That’s 60 resources out in the world depending on that tower to exist. If the hero manages to make it to the tower, boom. Those two dragons are gone. Since the player is getting fewer resources by virtue of losing the tower, it’s even harder to make up those 60. Losing a tower can be a harsh double-whammy.

Alternative Designs

So if the current design isn’t going to cut it, what can I do instead? I’ve come up with a number of options.

  • Mine resources.
  • Each tower produces resources for itself.
  • A tower gains resources based on distance to resource reservoirs.
  • Gain resources from treasure chests that monsters collect and return to tower.
  • Player starts with no towers and conquers them to gain more resources.
  • Collect resources by raiding towns.
  • Gain resources based on each monster in existence.
  • The area around the tower develops like farm land, requiring the player to click on the tower once the crops are ready to collect them as resources.
  • Unlimited resources.

Each option could change the feel of the game in subtle or drastic ways. By creating mines, raidable towns, player-conquerable towers, and treasure chests that monsters could collect, I think there should be a way for the player to tell monsters to go to specific locations. I’m not sure if I like the idea of directing individual monsters, though, and partly because of the UI challenge if the graphics are tiny or if there is a swarm of monsters on the screen.

One of the things I wanted the game to do was mimic what typical games do: the hero encounters weaker enemies at first and stronger enemies later. With the current setup, I couldn’t figure out how to make it easier to create stronger monsters as you lost towers while preventing you from being super powerful at the beginning of the game. If a tower produces resources for itself, it changes the game slightly. The player wouldn’t be able to create monsters at any tower at will. Each tower would indicate what monsters you could afford. Perhaps if towers nearer to the castle gained resources faster than towers further away, it would work how I would like. The first monsters the hero encounters would be weaker since the player couldn’t create anything stronger, and as the session went on, the hero would encounter stronger and stronger resistance since later towers would gain resources faster.

I also like the idea of clicking on the towers to collect resources if only because it becomes a new activity for the player. I’m not sure if it makes sense to combine it with individual tower resource pools versus a single resource pool, though.

And of course, unlimited resources is an option. Just get rid of the concept entirely. I would need to limit monster creation in other ways. Perhaps there is a maintenance limit, so you can only build so many monsters and have to be strategic with which ones you choose. Maybe you can create monsters at any tower, but they take time to summon, and while you’re summoning one, that tower can’t be used to summon another until it is finished.

So as you can see, the nature of the game can change completely depending on how I approach resources.

My Decision

Of course, depending on how scriptable the finished game is, any of these design choices could become a mod or special mode, but in the interest of actually finishing the game anytime soon, I’ll be focusing on one. I’ll wait to see if customers actually like the game before I release an update with scriptable tools.

I think I’ll try a combination of the current setup with the idea of towers gaining resources faster based on their vicinity to the castle. If I can make the monsters weaker and the hero stronger, maybe it will be more fun simply because the player will be able to create many more monsters. Even in the late game, it should be possible to create relatively strong monsters. My design concern then becomes a matter of balance. The player shouldn’t easily kill the hero at the end simply by waiting on built up resources. And I’ll toy with the idea of clicking on ready resources to collect them.

6 comments to Designing Resource Usage in Stop That Hero!

  • One useful technique is to set up your game so you can have a simple AI play. Like a fps with bots vs. bots. Even with a random or braindead AI you can run 1000’s of sims and look for patterns.

    You’ll still need lots of playtesting to make it balanced for humans but using bots can get you in the right neighborhood, or let you easily test ideas.

  • What about a need to re-allocate resources? All towers produce resources, but you need to move them from one tower to another so that you get enough at a certain tower to build something cool. The move process could be simple, but it would mean you’d need to first concentrate resources, then spend them. The further away a tower is, the harder it is to concentrate resources there so the harder it is to build expensive monsters.

  • Thanks for the tips, guys!

    Larry, I like the idea of setting up supply lines. One of the things I was experimenting with is the idea of having a variety of monster skills. Instead of having four monsters that vary only in speed, strength, vision, and flying ability, I could have Miners, Farmers, Builders, Guards, Spellcasters, Raiders, Alarmists, etc. Perhaps one should be Pack Mule. B-)

  • Ben

    Have you looked at ‘Holy invasion of privacy, badman!’? It’s a PSP game where you are building a dungeon and have to prevent a hero from capturing you. The interesting thing is that the only thing you can do it dig squares, all the defensive comes from creating an ecosystem of monsters.

  • No, I haven’t heard of the game! I’ve been watching videos on YouTube, and now I wish I had a PSP to check it out! Thanks for letting me know!

  • […] out of it. I spent a few weeks at the end of September looking at every aspect of the game, from resource handling to monster variety to game […]

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