The Hobgoblin Forest & the Importance of Playtesting

Early on in development of Beard & Axe, I had to decide on some themes for the levels in the game. One of the first and most obvious was a forest. Nothing screams early-game fantasy like a hobgoblin infested wood! So of course came the hobgoblins. Squishy, somewhat fast, expendable and prone to laying in ambush. 

A good start, but nothing entirely out of the ordinary. When you begin the Hobgoblin Forest quest, only groups of these low level goblins are spawned. But as time goes on, a tougher variant begins to show up, armed with a shield and flail. 

And from the time they were added up until recent months (About 2 years), those flail variants were very hard to take down. Their attack range was quite large and removed 5 HP (or a starting pool of 15 HP) every time they swung the full circle and made contact with Old Beard.

This is where testing came in. As a one man dev (and a lifelong dabbler in music,art,etc), I knew my tendencies to abandon projects if I showed them to friends too early. So I waited on Beard & Axe. I waited two years! Nobody saw it! And then of course when I finally opened it up, there were some balance issues.

As the Hobgoblin Forest is heavily hinted to be a good place to begin when you're new to the game, these Hobgoblins with flails were incredibly punishing. So I shortened their attack range. And reduced their spawning to only one per combat. But still people joining the testing were having trouble with the forest, the game was too hard!

When you've worked on something for a long time, sometimes you become blind to things that have been in place for (literally) years. It took me some time to discover the true root of the problem. It was the flails, but it was also the rest of the game, a super fundamentl part of the combat was way out of wack.

Stun locking.

And the play testers had brought it up to me in one way or another, but I was still blind to the problem. It took a few weeks before it dawned on me. I had enemies that would stun lock the player when they landed a hit, and while the player was stun locked they could not be hit again. But AS SOON as the stun lock wore off, the enemies were able to hit again immediately. Since stun locking heavily reduced movement speed, the player could sometimes just NOT get away from enemies. This is obviously no fun at all.

When my eyes were finally opened, a couple hours of work put the problem to rest. And the game was so much better! I couldn't believe something so fundamental had sat there for so long. The power of playtesting!

I knew from the beginning I was setting out to make a difficult game. It's easy to give enemies tons of health and allow them to do heavy damage, but that really isn't an entertaining experience for the player. I thought I understood that but when you're deep in the forest of development, things can get weird, man. I'm still of the opinion that keeping a project to myself is a good way to ensure my completing it, but it could be next time I get some eyes on maybe 1 year in, not 2!

Thanks for having a read!

Posted by Dwarfaparte

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