Redesigning core elements of Arcus

Because a game primarily about firing a bow and arrow should involve firing a bow and arrow more.

A couple of weeks ago, I released a short demo version of Arcus. I had only decided to do this about a week previously; the game was (in my head) getting pretty close to being finished, and I felt I needed some actual feedback from real people so I knew what needed tweaking and changing before releasing the full thing.

In this week run up to releasing the demo, I spent hours upon hours actually playing the game. Previously, I had kept actual playtesting incredibly minimal. While I did spend a fair bit of time playtesting when I was trying to make movement smoother and more fun, when designing levels, it was simply a case of sketching out the layout, building it, playing through it once to make sure it was possible to actually complete it, and then immediately moving on to the next one. When I started to put together a five level demo, I realised that many of these levels weren’t particularly fun to play, and no matter how I rearranged or redesigned them, they didn’t really get any more fun. Eventually, I realised the problem: the core mechanic of completing levels (destroy all of the targets and get to the end before the timer runs out) just wasn’t fun. What was fun, however, was when I disabled the timer altogether and just concentrated on running through levels without dying. It was challenging, and the levels suddenly started to flow a lot better. It still wasn’t quite what I was aiming for, but it was a step in the right direction.

The demo version still retains the original mechanic, but all of the playtesting I did raised two important points:

  1. A game where your main character is armed with a bow and arrow should heavily involve firing arrows at things (not just static glowing spheres).
  2. Anything that stops the ‘flow’ of a level is bad. Having to often go out of the way, or just stop and aim, at an awkwardly placed target, just to keep your timer from running out, didn’t feel good at all.

I don’t know exactly how I’ll change this mechanic yet. I think I’ll go the more traditional action platformer route of having the challenge be to simply get to the end of the level without dying. To make things more interesting, and to give you a good reason to actually use your bow, I’m working on several new enemies and obstacles. These are going to be far less static than the current hazards you face – flying enemies, enemies with specific weak points you need to hit, and a few other ideas I’ve got in mind. I’ve already added a couple of enemy types in a very rough state, and it’s already feeling a lot more fun. Implementing these basic ideas is also sending my brain into overdrive. Wave-based arena survival mode against increasingly difficult armies of quadcopters armed with machine guns, missile launchers and circular saws (likelihood: 90%)? Local two player co-op and deathmatch modes (likelihood: a hell of a lot less, but we’ll see…)?

I decided on most of these changes and additions even before I uploaded the demo version, but decided to wait a week or two before actually implementing anything (apart from a couple of rough enemies as mentioned above), and see what sort of feedback the demo received. Fallout 4 happened to come out around the same time, which was good timing, as I would have just ended up sinking all of my time into that regardless.

The demo itself got mostly positive feedback, which was great. The few negative points were around a lack of control options, or key rebindings, which was fair enough – I used a control scheme I was used to but didn’t offer any alternatives. I’ve since fixed that by adding a few different options for mouse and keyboard, and I intend to add gamepad support eventually too.

I will likely release an updated demo version in a few months, and if you’re reading this, you could help me massively by just sharing or retweeting links to the demo, or this website.

You can find a few download options here.

The more exposure the game gets, the more feedback I receive on it, and the better I can make the finished version. Not to mention that it’s really, really great to see people playing and enjoying something I’ve made!

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