We've teamed up with Ironclad Games Producer Blair Fraser to highlight the team's unique development approach to their equally unique MOBA/RTS hybrid title: Sins of a Dark Age
We've teamed up with the team at Ironclad Games to bring you an ongoing developer blog series on Sins of a Dark Age! From the creators of the unique RTS / 4X title, Sins of a Solar Empire (a great way to lose an entire night of sleep with friends), Sins of a Dark Age is another visionary hybrid game that blends the RTS and MOBA genres to create an entirely unique experience.
So in the spirit of documenting their unique development process, read on for issue #1 of our Sins of a Dark Age dev journals with Producer Blair Fraser!
Hi, I'm Blair Fraser and I'm one of the cofounders of Ironclad Games. I'm also acting producer on the upcoming RTS/MOBA hybrid online game, Sins of a Dark Age.
In our previous title, Sins of a Solar Empire, we combined two genres to make a new strategy experience (4x and RTS). In Sins of a Dark Age we're blending both a MOBA style game (a player can play as a "hero" on the map) and classic RTS gameplay (a player can play as a "commander" role) into one land-based fantasy strategy PC game unlike anything you can play right now.
The beauty of blending the two genres together is that we are able to take what really works in both and find solutions for the more frustrating aspects (kill-stealing is a great example.) The way the commander and hero roles work together opens up a more cooperative way to play, vs. a setting where it's just about the single-person leaderboard. Commanders are able to play from a more strategic standpoint offering guidance and support to the heroes who are entrenched in the tactical skirmishes. Heroes are rewarded for obtaining resources, holding key positions and fending off not only other teams of players but also the AI creatures in the environment with an eye to kill anyone nearby. The hybrid approach of Sins of a Dark Age also means that players who are used to the standard three lane approach have to utilize their skillset in new ways if they want to win.
With a new genre emerging from this style of gameplay there are obviously a metric ton of details and information to accompany all of the features involved with Sins of a Dark Age. We'll explore some of these areas in our series of dev blogs as we move forward in development.
For our introductory blog, we wanted to start with where we're at currently in development for our fans looking for the latest updates from our team: the primary focus of game design right now is on the evolution of the Commander role. The first Question of the Week on our forums identified some of the changes we were making and this week we continued with more.
First, we experimented with the idea that, as Commanders level up, they get special points that they can use to upgrade the Realm Powers they have chosen. This is not unlike how Heroes get points they can apply to their abilities, however, it will not be possible for Commanders to max out all their Realm Powers - they need to choose which ones will best benefit their strategy. The first few play test sessions suggest that this one is a winner; however, it wasn't totally clear because not all Realm Powers were upgradeable yet.
Next, we also took out the ability to sell your Realm Powers. Originally, the idea is that you could cycle Realm Powers out and bring in new ones (currently you can only have 12 active) but we felt this system didn't encourage enough planning among other problems. Removing selling went over well in the play test sessions except for the game that went over the expected time, as Commanders felt they wanted to keep buying stuff. This is a common in any game where the duration gets out of sync with the content, so this wasn't a point against the removal of selling, just another indicator that there are elements of balance that need to be addressed to make sure the duration of the game stays in the expected window.
Finally, we did a trial run on a new implementation of the research system. Ironically, in the first Question of the Week on the forums, I said that the research system works pretty much like how it did in Sins of a Solar Empire. Well, now it doesn't.
We tried implementing research as 'passive' Realm Powers instead, in order to promote more planning, more specialization, to consolidate mechanics and to provide a fertile new area for interesting content. This last point is the main one in my opinion - a static research system just isn't as flexible or interesting as the new system. The only thing some of us didn't like was the limit on the number of passive Realm Powers you can have - even though there are good reasons for it. As it stands now you can have 12 active and 4 passive Realm Powers.
Moving away from game design, one of the more interesting developments from the code side of things is we have just about completed our patching system. Normally, this sort of thing isn't very interesting but in this case it is! And here is why: we love watching recorded matches of our favorite games but it drives us nuts when old recorded matches become invalid because the game client has been patched to a newer version. Sins of a Dark Age automatically records all matches that are played and we want the oldest matches to be viewable even after the game has been patched a thousand times. In order to accomplish this we had to come up with a custom patching system and add special logic to the game client. Now your epic wins (and losses) will be viewable for all time!
There is a lot more I could cover, particularly with the Commander evolution but we'll get there in time. Feel free to post your comments here or in our own forums as we do read them and already your input has had an impact. This says a lot especially considering none of you have even played yet.
Next up we'll cover the Hero role and where we've taken that since Sins of a Dark Age was last seen at GDC.