This is an overview of the design direction for Legends of Amberland II. It does not list exact features, but more like design principles on a more abstract level. Probably this would be most interesting to game designers and developers than regular players, but who knows.
Overall, it’s a direct sequel, like 90% code will be reused. If you liked the first game there are extremely high odds you will like that one too, if you hated the predecessor you will hate that one as well. But if you liked the first one but found it lacking there are decent odds the parts you did not like would be improved. As a principle, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. It will be basically a very similar game with various improvements, adjustments, slight changes in the design principles and other changes, but the nature and premise will stay the same.
Lessons learned from the first Legends of Amberland
While I was reading various articles, reviews and forum posts about Amberland I noticed an interesting thing. The things I had fun to make were valued very high by the players, while things that I did not enjoyed making were valued as poor or mediocre. Take as an example the overworld map (which I had blast making) vs underground levels (which I did not enjoy making that much). Overworld was evaluated as super fun to travel while dungeons were frequently evaluated as merely passable. It applies to other aspects of the game as well. Which lead me to a decision to alter the development process by adding an additional criteria, which is “do I have fun making it?”. Of course this would not apply to to UI, bug fixing, technical stuff, which obviously has to be done and it’s always tiresome and boring. But for the gameplay related things I would add such step and I feel it should result in a better game.
Another observation, all design goals I wanted to achieve were actually achieved, but… Sometimes, the cure was worse than the disease. For example “make shop items useful and make them decently priced so there is a decision to be made what should be bought” was achieved, everyone wants to buy the additional Girdle of Carrying and its price is far from trivial even in the late game. So, yes, I was able to “fix” the long lasting problems of basically any other RPG… but it resulted in side effects that negated the whole gain. Basically, a non trivial amount of players was simply sad they can not afford everything (which was the goal mind you, perfectly executed). Therefore, I decided to more carefully examine my design goals, especially if those were contrary to classic RPG design choices in other games. It made me realize that many, very stupid at a glance, limitations and cliches of RPGs are there for a reason, usually an important one and not visible at the surface. Definitely more care needs to be taken when it comes to innovation and wild ideas on this field.
Story of the first Amberland had two strong pillars (world lore and characters) and one weak pillar (plot). Lore was evaluated as super consistent, logical and with an excellent mood, not a single complain, a lot of praise, no alteration here needed at all. Characters (NPCs) were frequently valued highly for their lines and personality, no complains, can carry on with the same style. Plot was the part that many people evaluated as mediocre, some even as poor. While there were no terrible ratings of the plot there definitely is a problem with that aspect of the story. I was thinking about the reasons for a longer while, so I could made whole separate post about it, but the short analysis is this. The plot was too complex and too subtle (most people did not understood it, especially the relation between the spell of forgetfulness and the crown) and therefore it was classified as cliche (yes, not something one could guess is even possible). Next problem was related to lack of the final boss, which was confusing (yep, there was no final boss in first Amberland, the one you meet at the end is not the final boss), also environmental storytelling was lacking. The interesting thing is that when I inquired players and asked “what you think was the real story behind all those events” they did guess it right, despite at first claiming something else, so it’s not that it was too subtle or confusing… Anyway, definitely a different approach to plot is needed.
Many other small things. The list could go on much longer, there are other smaller observations like the Great Desert perceived unbalance, lack of magical staves, etc. These all were taken into consideration and many (maybe most?) of those are planned to be addressed in some form or another.
Design choices for Legends of Amberland II
I decided to alter my approach to the sequel design based on the analysis above. Note it will not list any exact features, it’s more like a general direction or a mindset I’m using for the sequel.
1. Respect the players’ time but do not obsess over it.
To my surprise I got zero, null, not a single one complain that the game was too long. I strived hard to compress the experience and remove every single boring part or potentially boring part. It proved too be too excessive, a more lenient approach would be better. Especially since all my games are anty micro-management in principle, so actually there is no real danger of me ever making a game that is heavy on the grind side, even if I tried and was paid a lot of money. My default game designer’s mindset prevent me from it. So, a more lenient approach, where I merely respect the player’s time but not obsess over it should result in a better game.
2. More RPG and less roguelike.
My background is from the roguelikes community, I do love resources management. I feel I might have leaned slightly too much towards a roguelike in the first Amberland (for example I knew during the development how much gold total is in the game and how many shop items the player can afford, a bit too excessive). So I decided to go more in the RPG direction. With a more lenient economy and less control over experience/gold, especially since the core balance turned out to be better than I expected. Also, the pillar of the game is “exploration” not resources management, so I will align other features to support it.
3. Observe the classic RPG design principles.
While innovation is nice I will now double check the validity of each decision especially if such decision is contrary to the classic RPG design. For example the damage/HP ratio problem, which was intended as an innovation and later had to be patched. Now each such decision will be accompanied with “why they did it that way” question before being implemented.
4. Advanced mechanics.
The encumbrance system was very, very well received. Such modern systems, easy to explain and deep in concept are good to be integrated with the game and those do not hinder the nostalgia feel of the game at all. While there is not much space to include many more such mechanics, the overall direction is good and more such mechanics can be considered for addition. Overall, examining the feedback, I feel the players would be willing to process a few more such intuitive yet deep mechanics so I feel I can afford to grab deeper into my designer’s chest and grab a few slightly heavier parts without making the game too complex if needed.
Getting into the mood, the proper mindset is the key to success.
There will be changes in some mechanics, but not to the extend of changing the nature of the game but rather for the purpose of replacing the parts that were not that great in hindsight (for example items will be a mixture of semi randomly generated regular items and a bunch of handcrafted unique items). Definitely I want to avoid “hey, let’s making something new here for the sake of being new” and only incorporate stuff that truly enrich the gameplay. In addition, the approach to several design philosophies will be changed to better suit the strong points of the game and the genre. Overall, the goal is to make the same kind of game as the first one, but even better and even more fun.