DEVBLOG 9 WHY NOT: COMPLEMENTING ITEMS

Hi! You look great today. Now that we’re through our Kickstarter phase and submitted to our favorite shows, we’re into the content chug, and a big part of Echoes’ gameplay is its vast array of items and powers.

Since we’re still developing lots of those — especially now that we’re adding in items from our awesome Kickstarter backers! — we’d like to share a few of our tests that new items have to pass in order to make it into Echoes.

First among these is the uniqueness test. Simply: are aspects of this item too similar to those of an existing item? This concerns visual theme, name, and effect of the item in question. For example, we have an item, the Plumber’s Hat, which boosts jumping power. It’s a red hat with a greek letter Mu on it, and is a reference to the Great Plumber himself, Mario Mario. Its existence means three things — one, probably no other normal looking hats, especially not red ones. Definitely no other “Plumber” named items, and probably no other direct Mario references unless we’re designing items as a set — see the Guppy set from The Binding of Isaac. No other items that just have “+jump power” unless there’s a reason they’re unique. Maybe “+more jump power”, “-speed” or something. It has to feel different than the player just picking up another jump powerup. This is the uniqueness test: is the item sufficiently different along the various metrics compared to other items?

Second among these is the obsolescence test. Does this item make any other item useless? Will the player pick up item X, and say “Oh, it’s just a shitty version of Item Y, bummer.”? If I have one power that costs 2 energy and fires three fireballs in front of himself for 10 damage each, I don’t want to add another power that also costs 2 energy and fires 10 damage fireballs, but in every direction, or one that’s the same thing but with more damage, or that’s the same thing but with a smaller energy cost. Unless the item is meant to be early-game-only or late-game-only (concepts that, as of now, don’t exist in Echoes), there’s no reason to make objectively better or worse versions of other items. If you want your new item to be a flame nova instead of a straight-ahead attack for the same damage, make it cost more energy, add a cooldown, or decrease the damage. Make it so that every item could be someone’s favorite without guaranteeing that one item is everyone’s favorite.

Third among these is the cohesion test. Does the name/visual/effect triplet of the item make internal sense? Vera is a straightforward chaingun-style weapon. It gobbles up energy fast and puts out a lot of damage in return. It’s consistent; its name is a reference to an automatic weapon beloved by Firefly’s Jayne Cobb, the weapon pictured is clearly automatic, and what it actually does lives up to this. An example of a weapon failing the cohesion test is “The Strangler,” which has a picture of a spiked club and fires a lightning nova around the player. None of these aspects makes any sense relative to the other two, and so it fails the cohesion test. Perhaps if it shot snakes that wrap around targets and had a picture to go along with that, or be named The Shockwave Blunt and still be a nova-firing club.

The last test: is your item interesting? Is it fun to pick up or use? This one’s a little hard to measure, but it’s important. (This got a little long, or I’d talk more about that.)

These tests help us maintain a diverse selection of items and powers in Echoes of Eridu and they’ll do right by your game, too. Thanks for reading!