Tags: War of Words
A postmortem usually happens within a small timeframe after release. Well, I waited 3.5 years, lol. Anyway, this is my take on what went right with design and development and what went wrong.
What Went Right
1. Word Graphs and AI characters
Implementing a word graph to store the word list was a great idea because it gave me so much flexibility in solving problems. I was able to search the graph with the AI engine and find words very quickly. I loved that the Game Studio Content Pipeline allowed me to create processors that could take lists of words and create a word graph structure out of them. I saved off this structure to disk and loaded it very quickly at game startup. I played other word games on the XBox Indie Games platform and many had long load times (probably because they were processing giant XML files or something).
The AI was also a pretty good implementation IMO. It looked very natural, and it scaled up and down in difficulty nicely. It wasn’t perfect, but extending it and tweaking it was pretty simple.
2. Overall Game Concept
The RPG/word game concept is a good idea and I think I executed it well enough when it came to the core game play features. I’m pleased with it and would use it as a template for a sequel if I wanted to.
3. Getting an Artist to do the Artwork
Obviously this is a no-brainer if you want something to look good. I simply don’t have the artistic talent. The take away here is that if you want something to be professional, you need to put the money up to get an artist.
What Went Wrong
1. Some Graphics were not done by the Artist
I decided to do some of the graphics myself which was stupid and I think it led to it looking a little unprofessional at times. I also think the box art could have been better but I didn’t do anything about it. A lot of people judge a game by the box art.
2. The story made no sense and was bad
There’s not much to say here. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t interesting. Maybe it was even laughable. I’m not a writer and I don’t pretend to be one. In the end, a lot of reviewers pointed this out but many would then positively point out that it didn’t matter if the story sucked because the game play was good. The presentation of the story was low tech and uninteresting too.
3. The map was not implemented well and was not interesting
The map needed to be a little better drawn and more interesting IMO. The controls on the map were not done very well. I should’ve used a model where the cursor was more freely controllable by the player. The icon stand-in for the player was stupid.
4. Random encounters were confusing
When you moved between locations on a map, you might randomly be attacked by an enemy. At that point, you can either flee or fight. If you fled, you incurred some HP damage. If you fought, you could usually win the battle but it took too long. This whole process was just not done very well and needed to be re-thought.
5. Shields were a dumb concept
In combat, you could earn shields by scoring big words. The AI character also had shields. If you were about to get attacked, you could tap a button and raise the shields for 5 seconds or so of 50% or better armor. The problem was, however, that human players couldn’t quickly raise the shields and ended up getting hit and then raising them. I bet this made them feel like an idiot. The AI of course perfectly handled shields and it was very unfair. The shield concept should go! You already wear armor so I don’t know what I was thinking.
6. Quests were not interesting
A “Quest” in War of Words was just a scripted encounter (a single battle). There were no other variations on this theme. I should have went for more complicated quests that involved multiple encounters, travel, other game types, etc. I have a lot of new ideas but they didn’t make it into the original and it got boring after a while.
7. Battles lasted too long
Sometimes you’d spend 10 minutes or more on one character. This isn’t good. I did try to make this better at one point but still didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. If they were shorter, we could have had more of them or they could’ve been more interesting. Another variation on this is that it might have been too difficult to beat. If you got wasted at the last minute, you had to repeat the (long) encounter all over again. I don’t know, I didn’t want the game to be too easy though. It is really hard to judge the difficulty of your own game.
There’s probably a lot more “wrongs” to write about, but I don’t want to beat up on myself too much here :). I think the overall theme here is that polish was lacking in many areas and polish is what makes a game great.