Ratopia DevDiary #19 - Dungeon & Bosses

17 Oct 2023
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Hello all, it’s Cassel, developer of <Ratopia>.

Autumn has already arrived, with the leaves falling and the weather starting to get chilly. We recently attended the Tokyo Game Show for offline promotion before our early access release. In this development diary, I'd like to share our experiences from the Tokyo Game Show, followed by an update on our game's development.

Tokyo Game Show Review

The Tokyo Game Show is famously large, and it has been an exhibition I've wanted to participate in since long ago. Every year, the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) provides exhibition support, but we've been unsuccessful in our previous attempts. However, this time we were fortunate to be selected for support from the Seoul Business Agency (SBA), allowing us to showcase <Ratopia>. Unlike the Busan Indie Connect (BIC) support, which provides airfare and accommodation, we had to arrange our stay independently. Despite the venue being about an hour away from Tokyo Station, the accommodation prices, whether near Tokyo Station or near the venue, were quite expensive (similar to the vibe of KINTEX in Ilsan, where PlayX4 is held).

By chance, we managed to book a 3-star hotel near the exhibition venue for around 300,000 KRW per night. Another developer, however, booked accommodations about an hour away from the exhibition for around 100,000 KRW per night. Considering a 5-night, 6-day stay, the cost difference is significant, so we'll have to research better next time.

During the B2B days of the Tokyo Game Show, which were on Thursday and Friday, over 30,000 visitors came. However, most of them went to the main building to look at the booths of big games, leaving our booth in the annex relatively quiet. Whenever local journalists passed by, I mustered up the courage to hand out flyers and stickers to promote our game. But since other booths were also distributing their flyers and goods, it didn't make much of a standout impression.

The items we prepared and the Ratopia booth. Thanks to the provided PCs and screen, we had nothing to set up!

However, when the B2C days arrived on Saturday, suddenly more than 90,000 visitors appeared. Perhaps because there were so many visitors this time, it seemed that relatively more people were there to look around and make memories than to actually try out games. The main hall was bustling with event stages, photo zones, photo models, cosplayers, large screens, and other spots for memorable photos. We regretted not having prepared anything eye-catching to draw such attention.

Various photo zones in the main hall and the crowd. Maybe we should have dressed up as rats...?

As the visitors began to roam, we enthusiastically handed out the stickers and pamphlets we had brought. Despite my best efforts, greeting people with a warm smile and offering stickers in front of our booth, many guests seemed indifferent to the stickers or declined and walked past. My "killer smile", which I had been practicing diligently since the day before the exhibition, didn't seem to work at all.

In a moment of desperation, thinking I might have to take all the stickers I brought back home with me, I checked how visitors in front of other booths reacted. Moving towards the entrance of the exhibition hall, I found that people there were more receptive, perhaps not yet overwhelmed by all the promotion. I even ventured to distribute in the entrance queue. To my surprise, some approached me to get one and read the pamphlets while waiting. The rate at which they were taken was so fast that in less than 20 minutes, all 200 of them were gone. After distributing at such a rapid pace, I regretted not bringing more.

Perhaps due to our lack of preparation, the increase in the Wishlist for <Ratopia> during the Tokyo Game Show did not meet our expectations. During the Tokyo Game Show period, our Wishlist grew by 500, of which only 136 were from Japan. Proportionally, it was a notable result, but quantitatively, it was undoubtedly insufficient. We need much better preparation and strategy for promotional effects. I should have re-read the reviews of past international game shows, as mentioned in previous DevDiary, and prepared more thoroughly. With a tight development schedule, it seems we're missing out on some details.

Dungeon & Bosses

As briefly mentioned in the previous <Ratopia DevDiary #14 - Battle System>, we initially thought of a system similar to <Ratropolis>, where as time passed, a powerful boss would invade. Through this, we wanted to offer memorable battles and simultaneously create a significant crisis in the player's city. Our aim was to build tension in the latter stages and a sense of accomplishment when the city survives.

However, having a large-sized boss approach the city presented almost insurmountable challenges due to the game's structure, where routes to the city could easily change. Despite these challenges, we couldn't give up on our dream of including a boss in the game. As an alternative, we decided to try placing the boss in a predetermined location.

We created a prototype: the Giant Monster Rat. However, it was more of an elite enemy than a boss

Through meticulous tests with the Giant Monster Rat, we confirmed that it was possible for large enemies to move and fight on flat terrains. However, the problem was that the strategies to defeat this enemy were too monotonous, raising concerns about the gameplay's entertainment value. Moreover, since <Ratopia> is primarily a construction game where the city, rather than the player character, evolves and grows, we felt that simply dodging and attacking with the player character wasn't in line with the essence of <Ratopia>.

I wanted the battles to lean more towards using various military buildings and tiles and commanding soldiers strategically. To apply this to boss battles, we had many factors to consider.

The first system we looked into was for the player to issue commands to their soldiers. Previously, soldiers would charge at the enemy without much thought, making them more like expendables. If they could be commanded precisely, the value of each soldier and the dynamics of battle could be enhanced.

So, we implemented a system through a "Rally Point" building, Platoon headquarter. Soldiers assigned to the platoon headquarter could now either follow the player or execute movement and attack commands given by the player. This system was designed to provide players more strategic control during battles.

Now it's up to you soldiers to face the challenges.

Although implementing the command system wasn't particularly challenging, it was the necessary exception handling that was time-consuming. We had to ensure that soldiers, once commanded, wouldn't get sidetracked with actions like sleeping or taking restroom breaks. After addressing a series of small and large exceptions, and incrementally enhancing the functionality, we managed to integrate a system that allowed players to command multiple units, like Squad 1 and Squad 2, from different rally points. Fortunately, this level of control seemed well-suited for battles against bosses.

The next aspect we had to consider was a system where citizens would construct buildings during combat. The idea of utilizing defensive structures and walls for combat seemed appealing in theory. However, when considering our current game mechanics, we quickly realized that there were numerous issues. If we were to reintroduce irregular terrains after leveling them, not only could this bring back previous issues, but it also conflicted with the building mechanics of <Ratopia>. Citizens needed to travel to and from storage to gather materials for construction. Watching these citizens move back and forth amidst a heated battle against a boss felt incredibly unnatural.

The third issue we had to address was the management of city events and notifications during battles. Situations like new immigrants arriving or displays of increasing prosperity during combat considerably disrupted the immersion. Additionally, we had to consider scenarios where other citizens would either start a rebellion or die from hunger while battles raged on. The potential issues were abundant. Regardless of the solutions we brainstormed, be it playing all the pending notifications after a battle or freezing time during the battle, none seemed to seamlessly integrate with the current game mechanics.

Given the extensive exception handling required for boss battles, we devised a clever solution: introducing a dungeon system that would move the player character to a different map for combat. By leveraging our save system, the current state of the map would be stored when a player entered a dungeon. Upon exiting, the game would reload the previous map state and fast-forward time accordingly. This separation of battlefields from cities seemed like an effective way to circumvent the problematic scenarios we anticipated.

Although the implemented dungeon system inevitably introduced some loading delays, the separation of maps allowed for experimentation with large-scale battles, sophisticated enemy AI, and diverse terrains. Most importantly, it provided players with an environment where they could solely focus on combat, free from the intricacies of city management.

Perhaps in the future, we could even create cities for other rats? 

With the expanded possibilities offered by the dungeon system, we kicked off the development of the boss dungeon with renewed vigor. The previously showcased giant monster rat was promoted to be the first boss the player would face, necessitating a rework of its backstory, appearance, and even the dungeon's setting.

The evolution of the giant monster rat's dungeon. We never intended to invest this much effort into it!

We designed the giant monster rat with a high health regeneration rate, making it challenging for a player character to take on alone. By giving the rat powerful, localized attacks, players were encouraged to issue evacuation orders to their soldiers. The player character had to drop stalactites from the upper parts of the dungeon to interrupt the rat's lethal moves. This design intended to introduce players to unique mechanics and actions that couldn't be experienced outside the dungeon.

However, ensuring that players followed the developers' intended playstyle required a more refined design. Even with the high health regeneration, if players dedicated enough time, they could conquer the boss using just the player character. Soldiers tended to die too easily, making strategies that didn't utilize them more convenient. Additionally, the stalactites, which were expected to break only during the latter stages of the battle, often shattered right at the beginning. Some players would lure the boss with the player character and then overwhelm it with a barrage of attacks from multiple soldiers.

Boss ended in a minute with tons of DMG. Well, that sure is a result of development time...

While numerical adjustments might encourage players to stick closer to the intended strategy, there was a concern that this could lead to a very linear gameplay, limiting the diversity of strategies. Given that this was an introductory boss, if the players had already grasped troop movement and dungeon mechanics, that was deemed satisfactory. The decision was made to leave some leeway in how these mechanics were employed, letting players determine how best to utilize them.

While it was the initial implementation of the boss/dungeon system, there were a myriad of aspects that needed enhancement and additions. From the dungeon entrance to loading screens, UI, attack patterns and their range indications, supplementary patterns and gimmicks, sound, victory rewards, and so on — there were dozens of large and small adjustments to address, and yet there was no time.

Despite the dungeon system not being the main content of <Ratopia>, but rather a supplementary feature, the development time it required was substantial. Optimistically, we hoped to produce around three dungeons prior to the early access launch, but this ambition turned out to be too grand. Rather than offering a variety of dungeons, it became clear that the focus should be on refining the Giant Monster Rat dungeon first. At the same time, improvements to the main systems outside the dungeon were also paramount.

The chieftain development postponed due to completion issues after early access

Although it's regrettable that we currently have only one completed dungeon, in a way, I feel fortunate that we managed to add even one. We plan to use this dungeon as a stepping stone, looking forward to utilizing it in various ways in the future. It might be possible to introduce corridor-type dungeons that allow for quick movement to other locations, or even mini-game dungeons that require puzzle-solving or timing. If you have any interesting gimmicks or ideas regarding dungeons/bosses, please share them in the comments. It would be great if we could add an editor in the future, allowing users to design their own dungeons.

<Ratopia> is scheduled for early access on November 6th. In the next developer's diary, we'll be back to discuss the early access release. We hope you enjoy the remaining holidays, and always chase after your dreams without losing sight of them. As the season changes and the weather becomes colder, please take care and watch out for colds!

STEAM Store: https://store.steampowered.com/app/2244130/Ratopia/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CasselGames/

X (Twitter): https://twitter.com/CasselGames

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