Hi! Over the last few months I’ve been working on Skorecery, a local multiplayer sports-like video game built around an exciting magic and mysticism theme. It’s been a really great project to be involved in, and the team and I are super excited to share with the world! ✨
In Skorecery one of our main mechanics is spells — powerful abilities that can turn the tide on the enemy in a moment. We think spells allow players to make impactful gameplay decisions that can drastically help to defend or attack their runes. One of the challenges when we design these spells is always balancing them to ensure no spell feels more powerful than the others, or too powerful in general. To help make the process of refining spells clearer and more visible across our team we started doing some new things.
What makes a great spell
As a team we started to think about what a “great spell” looks like, so that we could define some key elements and use them as a framework to think about spells going forward. Since we started this process after having prototyped some original spell ideas, we had some data to look at already. Here are the data points we use to objectively look at a spell and determine it’s likely impact before actually building it.
For a spell to be “great”, it should be clear exactly where the effect will take place. This means spells should act either directly on the player, or via the ball which can be aimed. The player should not be surprised by where the effects of their spell take place.
- GOOD: The Wall — Positioned exactly where the player is. Similarly, the shot (which is technically a spell) is directly aimed by the player.
- BAD: Sacrifice — You don’t know which Rune it will affect.
A “great” spell should immediately trigger some behavior of clear value to the player. They should have confidence in how the use of their spell can benefit them
- GOOD: Stasis Nova —At the moment it’s triggered you know any opponents caught in range will be stunned.
- BAD: Invisiball — Because of how it’s currently implemented it can’t be used in a shot, triggering invisibility does not have a clear value add to the player because it makes it more difficult for them to track the ball as well.
Safe is closely related to Intentional, but the idea here is that spells should be low risk for the player activating them. The only potential risk should be the cost of cooldown/ammo. However, that is a constant so it’s safe to ignore. “Great” spells should not introduce conditions that can negatively impact that risk. Because there are ways to change some spells such that they become safe, but still not intentional, it felt like this was a different enough trait to warrant calling out.
- GOOD: Stasis Nova — No negative impact on player using it.
- BAD: Nether Passage — Portals can be used by any player, which means an opponent can take advantage of your portals in order to score.
Spells should have a strong visual component to make clear to all players that it is active and what the bounds of its effects are. This will also help us contribute to the feeling magical feeling that spells should have, provided we back this up with strong VFX.
This is definitely the most flexible of the traits, but is important for “powerful” spells. Some spells may pass primary traits but would be too powerful if they were instantly performed and perfectly targeted, so they should instead be behind a skill wall of using the ball to mediate the spell. The idea here is that the spell can fail if the player misses their shot.
Note: The spells referenced as “good” or “bad” are available to test in our beta.
We think this criteria places emphasis on the key elements of spells, in such a way that we can quantify them. Once we’ve done that we can begin to have a conversation about their value.
How we communicate
Once our team found the right way to quantify spells, we could begin to have productive conversations. We found that for us to collaborate effectively on mechanics we needed a common tool that all team members could use. For us, this is Google docs — we use it to discuss major systems, themes, and features.
As we started to rely on this format for communicating ideas a natural shorthand using Emoji’s developed. We started to rely pretty heavily on it, so we decided to formalize that part of our process as well:
✅ — Passes or adheres to the defined trait
⚠️ — Technically adheres to trait, but might exacerbate issues
⛔ — Does not adhere to trait
🌀 — Not Applicable (only used for Ball Mediated)
This let us have quick visual representations for the current state of a design for any given spell. Thinking about each spell as a standalone unit empowered our team to think creatively, using our “great spell” framework to keep things grounded. Together with document comments this let us iterate very quickly.
Doing our best work, quickly
With quantifiable data we were able to bring our team together and have quick, productive discussions. For us, we would all hop in a video call once a week and discuss prioritization of spells, review design as things changed, and ultimately decide what would and would not work for our game. Having the data here was critical — we were able to point at aspects of a given spell that worked well, and improve parts that did not. Ultimately we were able to rank all proposed spells and begin prototyping in an timely manner. Once a spell was ready to be playtested, we could look at the player results and see how well our framework worked!
What we learned
We found this process for thinking about gameplay mechanics from the perspective of key elements, ranked proposals, and iterative design let us make quick progress toward building impactful spells. Using simple collaboration tools like Google docs made it easy for everyone on the team to stay involved, share feedback, and help contribute. This helped us identify the best spells more quickly, and let our engineers prototype and test only what made the cut.
If you’re as excited as we are to see Skorecery become a reality, follow along with us and learn more by visiting Skorecery.com. Further, If systems level thinking and product design is interesting to you (especially in the games industry), follow me on twitter!🚀