Ratopid DevDiary #28 - Shrine & Leader Skills

1 Jul 2024
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Hello all, it’s Cassel, developer of <Ratopia>.

June was a physically exhausting month as we undertook major updates, including new invasions, new dungeons, and new diplomatic systems. Immediately after the update, we focused on fixing the bugs reported by users and used any remaining time to review the feedback we received from them.

Among the feedback we compiled, there was a request to expand the content that can be performed with the leader, the player character. Although it will be challenging to develop this quickly as we are still preparing follow-up updates for the vassal and diplomacy-related systems, we have been working on the leader's skill system for a while now. In this development diary, we would like to introduce this system and discuss the considerations involved in its development.

Leader Skills 

Feedback indicating that there aren't many special actions available for player character has been collected since before the release. To address this, we designed the leader skills to allow player to use abilities that make city management easier and to add some variety to the repetitive nature of commands and tasks. By enabling player to exert significant influence over city operations through leader skills, we aimed to create a sense of satisfaction when overcoming frustrating or stagnating situations.

To seamlessly integrate these skills into the game, we borrowed elements from totemism. We thought it wouldn’t be unnatural for the rats to worship other animals, much like humanity once did. When deciding which animals to include, we chose the twelve animals of the East Asian zodiac, as they are familiar and their associated effects would be easy to design and to be understood. In addition, the imagery of the leader mimicking animal behaviors-chasing away enemies like a tiger or running swiftly like a horse-seemed charming even in conceptual form.

With the concept in place, we also needed to consider how players would learn these skills. Initially, we thought of constructing a grand temple in the city where players could choose an animal to worship. To prevent the use of multiple skills simultaneously, we decided to limit the number of animals that could be worshipped at one time to one. Additionally, when players first choose or later change the worshipped animal, they would need to offer tribute (Pia), providing a use for the accumulated Pia in the late game.

Initial skill acquisition screen using the Temple Research Tree 

However, this method soon changed to one where individual “Shrines” for each animals were built and activated. This change allowed multiple shrines to be constructed in the city, prompting players to strategically consider the optimal placement for each shrines. Additionally, this approach provided the advantage of visually emphasizing the currently active shrine with effects such as lighting up. It also allowed us to stagger the construction phases of the shrines, thereby controlling their introduction and difficulty level within the game.

Design process of the lowest tier, the Rat Shrine 

Shifting from a single grand temple to twelve individual shrines increased the workload significantly. With critical tasks piling up each day, tackling the construction of all twelve shrines at once was overwhelming. As a result, we progressed with the planning and design of the shrines intermittently whenever time permitted. Now, after a year, we have finally completed the work on all twelve shrines.

We are excited to see which animal will become the most worshipped! 

Skill Usage 

Since the rat, ox, and dog skills had already been implemented earlier, some players might already be familiar with these functions. When a player activates a shrine, a new button appears on the lower left HUD. Players can use the skill by pressing and holding this skill button.

The longer the player holds the skill button, the more potent the effect becomes, or the effect lasts only as long as the button is held. This design encourages players to consider the timing and location of skill usage (opportunity cost) while also allowing them to watch the skill animation and plan their next actions.

However, since the skills become more powerful the longer they are held, player dependency on these skills might increase. If players become too reliant on these skills, they might use them regularly, potentially leading to player fatigue. To address this, we set a very long cooldown time for skills to significantly extend the interval between uses.

Additionally, determining how to display the remaining cooldown time for skills proved challenging. This was due to the inherent time concept within the game <Ratopia>. For example, there was debate over whether to show the cooldown timer as '06:00' in <Ratopia> time or as '72 seconds' in real-world time.

The evolution of the skill use button, It hasn't changed much so far 

After lengthy discussions, we decided to display the cooldown in in-game time rather than real-world time, provided that we keep the clock UI that informs players of the in-game time. This decision was made to maintain consistency with the game's internal time concept. Although it may seem like a small feature, it was an incident that required deep consideration to determine what would be best for the game and the players.

Skill Usage Effects 

We wanted the effects of using skills to be beneficial to city management. Since this is a city-building game, we aimed for the skills to focus more on the Ratizens and the city rather than the player character. However, to clearly show the effects of the skills on the screen, it was necessary to restrict the usage effects to the area around the leader, who acts as the camera. We began to define the direction of the skills through a few initial skill ideas.

<Various Problematic Early Skill Ideas>

Plants corresponding to the surrounding biome grow.

Collect all unpaid taxes from nearby Ratizens.

Increase the movement speed and abilities of nearby Ratizens.

Distribute money to nearby Ratizens to increase their happiness.

Create tunnels that allow Ratizens to teleport to nearby locations.

Make nearby Ratizens follow the leader.

Prevent nearby Ratizens from dying for a short period.

Put nearby Ratizens to sleep.

Instantly wake up nearby Ratizens from sleep.

Initially, we brainstormed ideas by focusing on the effects as listed above. However, after deciding to use the concept of the twelve zodiac animals, we rethought the effects to match the characteristics of each animal. We assigned specific traits to each shrine's effects so that they could handle important aspects of the city. For instance, if the monkey solves the city's entertainment issues and the pig helps the city survive during a famine, players can more easily decide which shrine's power to use in various crisis situations.

Rat - Economy

Ox - Labor

Tiger - Attack

Rabbit - Gathering

Dragon - ???

Snake - Healing

Horse - Speed

Sheep - Experience

Monkey - Entertainment

Rooster - Stamina

Dog - Defense

Pig - Food

Deciding and implementing the effect of the dragon was particularly challenging. As a mythical creature, we wanted to assign new and powerful effects to the dragon. However, developing additional systems to support these powerful effects would have taken too much time and many balance considerations. Reluctantly, we assigned a characteristic that could utilize existing effects, which felt somewhat underwhelming for the prestigious dragon. We’ll keep the exact effect a secret until the update since the dragon is too embarrassed to reveal it.

(Can anyone guess the effect of the Dragon Shrine?)

Unique Passive Effects 

After applying a very long cooldown time to the skills, we encountered an additional problem. Since players couldn't receive additional effects from the shrine during the cooldown period, they were incentivized to switch between different animals to use their skills alternately. Although there is a small cost associated with switching, we wanted to encourage players to maintain the effects that align with their management strategy rather than frequently changing shrine effects.

To achieve this, we added passive effects that apply to the city even when the skill is not in use. These powerful passive effects ensure that players don't need to switch shrines frequently and allow the city's design and management direction to change slightly based on the chosen shrine in each game.

Due to time constraints, we were only able to implement the passive effects for the rat, dog, and ox shrines before the early access release. However, we were very pleased when a user posted a strategy that leveraged the rat shrine's effect.

When the Rat Shrine is activated, Ratizens who collide with the leader automatically pay their taxes. 

Skill Visuals 

It wasn't easy to determine if the skills' effects could be implemented and then actually implement them, but deciding how to visually represent the skills was another challenge. The initial idea of having the leader mimic animal behaviors to activate the skills, proposed during the concept-setting stage, proved difficult to apply due to limitations in animation production and expression, necessitating a new alternative.

After much consideration, we decided to have the face of the animal deity appear above the leader's head and have the leader perform an animation that matches the skill's effect. However, when we tested having the animal's face appear, we found that players were so focused on the character's actions that they didn't even notice the effect.

Hey hey! How would the players notice the effect if it's too cute~?! 

There was more to the visual effects than just this. We also needed to work on displaying the skill's effect range and the effects that occur when Ratizens are impacted by the skill. Additionally, different sound effects were required for when the button is pressed, held, and released. Since the skills are based on the zodiac animals, we wanted to include the animals' sounds when the skills were used. Looking back, it seems we designed the skills in a way that made them incredibly challenging to develop. 

Explaining Skill Effects 

Explaining the skills to players turned out to be more challenging than creating them. It was particularly difficult to convey that players need to hold the button to use the skill and to detail the additional effects without making the descriptions excessively long.

Despite multiple revisions to the text, longer explanations reduced readability, and the limited space for displaying text made significant improvements difficult. Realizing that short and precise explanations were too ambitious, we decided to make the descriptions more concise, even if it meant sacrificing some accuracy.

We apologize to our translators for the frequent changes. 

We're concerned whether players will fully understand the abbreviated explanations, so we plan to continue monitoring and tracking feedback after making the changes.

Working on the leader skills over such a long and fragmented period has made it challenging to compile this development diary. In addition to the leader skills, we are also planning to add new content that players can perform with their characters, such as a system where the leader temporarily gains strength through food and a system for enhancing the leader's equipment. We appreciate your anticipation and support.

Thank you for reading this long article. Hope you have a wonderful July.

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

Discord: https://discord.gg/rprfSp6ct2

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

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

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