I think there's a fine line between the challenge of rogue-like deaths, and the infinite continues of the modern game. When you know you only have one life to live, the adrenaline can get pumping, you have 1 health point left and your run is on a knife's edge. If you pull it off, there's not many better feelings in video games. If you die... it can suck. But you can't have the joy of life without the threat of death. 

But it's still a game. And there are positive and negative feedback loops. Too many negative loops, and people are going to give up. Beard & Axe is difficult. By some playtesters accounts VERY difficult. The honor system has been the cushion to this for some time in development. But that's all it is. Have honor, your game isn't completely over. Run out of honor, your save file is wiped and you're beginning again. Purely negative feedback and no reason to stack up on your honor number besides avoiding bad things.

And that's where the resurgence mechanic came in. By spending 3 (subject to change) honor upon death, Old Beard can pop right back up, dealing significant damage to nearby enemies. He'll be at full health and completely sober (yes there is a beer health bar). Resurgence can only be activated once per quest, so it's not heading toward a difficult imabalance. Honor finally has a purpose, and a bit of the crazy difficulty has been shaved off. But it's still a hard decision. I believe games at their core are a series of interesting decisions, so this plays quite well into that belief. 

Only a couple weeks left to launch! Super excited here at Dwarfaparte HQ. Balance and playtesting are the order of the day until July 12th. 

Thanks for having a read!

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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!

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While a lot of the combat in Beard & Axe is melee based, every player equipped weapon also doubles as a gun. The shaft of dwarven axes are bored out and fitted with a matchlock trigger and serpentine, which allows their warriors to slash and cut at their enemies, all the while being capable of firing a quick shot from their weapon's barrel if the situation calls for it. 

Unlike in other games with gun combat, Beard & Axe separates the powder charge and the bullet into separate resources and separate actions. In it's simplest form, a black powder charge (or two or three to do more damage) and a lead ball are loaded into the gun. This can be done outside of combat, or during it if you have the distance from your foes to allow the time to load.

Load two charges of black powder, then one lead ball, and pull the trigger!

But the fun doesn't stop there. Alongside the basic black powder and lead shot, Old Beard can find other special powder and shot that imbue different effects when loaded and fired. Having Poison Powder, simply loading some without any ammunition on top creates a large cloud of toxic gas that will damage any enemies that pass through it. 

The varying powders can all still be used to launch lead balls, while still retaining their other effects. But some of the more powerful combinations use specialty powder and specialty ammunition. For example, combining the poison powder with the scatter shot ammo, the normal poison cloud is created close to the muzzle of the gun, and an additional poison cloud comes out of the scatter shot ball when it is detonated (by pressing the fire button a second time). That's 3 different sources of damage in one action!

While the basic black powder and lead shot are relatively easy to obtain, the rest can be fairly challenging to collect. When you return from a quest with some valuable ammunition, you should think carefully before you spend it in subsequent quests. On the other hand, without a good stock of various powders and shot, the late game challenges can be nearly insurmountable! 

That's all for this week, but next week I plan to return with some information about the Hobgoblin Forest. It's denizens, locations and quests! 

Thanks for having a read and a watch!

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The first germ of an idea for Beard & Axe, the Rogue-lite Action-Adventure game I've put my nights and weekends into, was the Oath system. Or maybe it was the beer health system?  A separate health bar just for beer is about the most dwarf thing I could think of! Either way, the Oath system is what hung centrally in the design from my first demos to complete game.

So what's in an Oath? Well...

In the game’s lore, the dwarfs elect kings through a meritocratic system. When an old King decided to step down, any dwarf wishing to gain the throne must complete a number of oaths. When taking an oath, he must swear what deeds he will attempt, be it collecting the runic bullets that litter the Haunted Battlefield or perhaps recovering his clan’s ancestral poleaxe lost to the sands of the White Desert. If he can complete all of his oaths before his competitors to the kingship, he ascends to the throne.

In game mechanics terms, an oath is a wager by the player. Before leaving the central hub to attempt a quest, the player must decide how much of the resources present in the quest area he believes he can bring back. There are 7 resources in the game, spread out among 6 areas, so for most quests it's a single thing that the player is after. This has the knock on effect of needing resources previously obtained to effectively take on the more difficult quests.

So, what happens if you return from the quest with less than you promised? You don't lose everything (this isn't a pure roguelike after all), but will lose half of all the resources you are carrying upon your return. This was how it stood for a good bit of development, but I at one point realized that the player could game the system by taking super small oaths and return home immediately after getting a couple resources. That's where the Honor system came in.

Honor is lost if an Oath is not fulfilled (either by dying or not completing the requirements of the Oath). Conversely it is gained by completing quests. The more resources the oath entails, the more Honor is gained or lost. Honor has an upper limit (15 as of now but subject to change) and a lower limit of -15. If Honor reaches its lower limit... you hit that hard roguelike wall and your game is over. Save file wiped from your hard disk. Harsh!

With the Oath system, I wanted to make all of the resources feel meaningful. The healing item (Beer) is only available in the Hobgoblin Forest, so you will definitely want to stock up there before venturing out to the harder areas. This also makes the Hobgoblin Forest a good starting area, as it's the only location where you will be collecting health pickups during the quest itself.

The other 6 resources are the gun powders and ammunitions used for ranged attacks. I'll be back next week to explain a bit about the mixing of the various powder and bullets that protagonist Old Beard loads in his axe to attack foes from afar!

Thanks for having a read!

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