Monday, September 23, 2013

More on Dead Man Walking balance

Yesterday I made a post about Dead Man Walking, though it kind of turned into a features list. Today I want to try and layout exactly what I want from the game in terms of balance.

My golden rule for balance in Dead Man Walking is this: every mistake should cost willpower. This is the whole reason to even have two hit point systems I think. If the player makes a fairly serious error and doesn't lose willpower, why should willpower even exist? And that's the ultimate question - the game should not reach a state where willpower is essentially meaningless.

So, where do we go from there? We have an essential standard for balance so let's work on some other rules. I have two other significant goals in mind for balance:

  1. An outstanding player that makes no mistakes should not take willpower damage.
  2. It should always be clear to a player what their mistake was when they take willpower damage.
The first "sub rule" mentioned will reward players for learning the game and becoming better at it. This should ideally be in a tangible metric. The game has a rudimentary scoring system based on your willpower - I'd like to expand upon that some.

The second rule mentioned above basically means that players should never feel like it was the game's fault that they lost willpower. One thing I'd like to do to work towards this goal is remove/alter some of the damaging effects spawning on top of the player. These effects force the player to take at least one turn of high damage, which is sometimes enough to dip into willpower and that isn't really acceptable in my mind. The game should be hard but fair. It's become an almost cliche phrase when it comes to the difficulty of certain games (especially indie games), but it's true and it should most certainly be true within a roguelike.

Overall balance in 1.3a is a little wonky. Since 1.0 I've been trying to speed up the combat and haven't always altered enemy (or player) stats in the best ways possible to accomplish that. I don't think having extremely long combat benefits Dead Man Walking - it's meant to be a relatively quick and almost arcade style experience. Having to invest a dozen turns to take down a windshield monster does not fit either of those descriptions. On that note, I've tried to reduce the proportion of windshield monsters compared to other enemies. This version has some interesting threats like Tormentors and Revenants that can be problematic if a player just charges them.

Another issue that is quite relevant to the balance of the game is the subject of bosses. I like boss fights myself, but I'm not sure if the way they work right now is ideal. There's little reason to kill the majority of bosses and giving every boss a unique drop (this only happens in branch levels) will likely lead to some loot overload. Loot overload isn't necessarily a bad thing though. 

On the subject of loot: the game is pretty bad about filling your inventory with crap that you don't need just to see if its special. I've considered making it so you can't actually carry other weapons and armor - you can only put it on or leave it on the ground. I'd probably allow players to continue to collect trinkets in their inventory, partially just because every trinket is only meant to spawn once. This would mean the inventory is essentially dedicated to trinkets and consumables, which is pretty cool I think. Your inventory would never have true junk in it then. Nobody needs to carry around four plain Sabers or Rapiers.

Alright, I think that's most of the balance issues I'm planning on tackling in a more deliberate post. Peace!


  1. Just to let you know, I've some problems with the latest version of Dead Man Walking.

    First off, it starts in a super wide resolution (so big that the window is partly off my monitor) and I don't see a way to change that.
    Second, alt+enter to get fullscreen doesn't work. If I try it at the start menu it doesn't do anything, while during a game it crashes to desktop.
    Likewise, trying to see the "damage" section in the help menu (?, then e) crashes to desktop.

    This is on a win7 machine.

    Don't know if this is the best place to let you know, but it's the only one I could think of.

    1. Hi, thanks for reporting the issues. I had no idea!

      1. The help menu bug should be fixed now. I accidentally left in a value reference that no longer existed.

      2. Fullscreen doesn't seem to work that well for me either. It's tricky to get it to work right in Libtcod, so I'm going to disable it for now until I can work it out.

      3. Resolution - strange issue and one I can't easily replicate (also on win7). I suspect it may be because the game runs at an unorthodox size. I'm going to host a test version that hopefully fixes that, removes fullscreen, and updates the help menu.

      Okay, if you copy & paste that link it should take you to the test version. Hopefully it works. Sorry for the issues and thanks for reporting them! Posting here is absolutely fine - all comments get emailed to me and I read em' all.

    2. Thanks for the fast answer.

      The help menu bug is indeed fixed. On the other hand the resolution is "almost" fixed: now it's only a handful of pixels too wide (I'd say 10-15). Forgot to say it before, but my monitor is 1280x1024.

      Just to know, what version is this test one? Something in between 1.3a and 1.3b? Because I've got all of my roguelikes in an orderly archive with their exact version number, and I'd like to know.

      Anyway, thanks.

    3. It's 1.3b. I've created a "tiny" build that uses a different font. I think the resolution scaling in previous versions was done incorrectly. I'll try to fix that later, but this should work for now. Fullscreen should also work (though it loses some quality).

      Let me know if it fits and thanks for the feedback!

  2. It does work, although the font looks a little blurry compared to the regular sized version.

    Thanks for the fast work.

    1. Alright, cool - sorry for the blur. Resolution is a bit of a pain [at least for me]. I'll try to work on it some more for a future version, but hopefully this is playable for now.

    2. It sure is playable. You might consider adding it to the downloads before you release a new version.

      Again, thanks.