During week 11 we had a playtest for the final project of our cohort. The capstone project of our time here at SAE. During that, we learned a whole bunch about our game that we didn't know before, but we also learned that sometimes a heavy pivot is necessary for the sake of the project and the sanity of the team. For those that do not know, Beat Burglar was a rhythm stealth game where the player had to move to the beat in order to stay hidden.
There were three main issues we encountered, and I will discuss all of them in this post, as well as talk about our solution.
Issue #1 - Mushy Movement
The first issue was that the movement wasn't crisp enough. We were going heavily for a "Crypt of the Necrodancer (CoTN)" type of movement. We even read the blog post that the developers wrote in order to get as close as possible. Unfortunately we wanted the game to be more punishing when missing the beat, and this caused the game to not feel well. What CoTN did was shape the beat around how the player was moving, making it a tailored experience for whomever was playing the game.
One of our solutions to try and fix this was to implement "snake-like" movement. That is, the player moves forward automatically and the player steers left and right. This would have the player constantly be on their guard, observing where their character is heading and assess the situations to try and make the best of it.
Issue #2 - No Urgency
The second issue was urgency. In CoTN (which was our greatest inspiration) all enemies come for you, and if the song ends the level ends and the player get's sent to a small room with tonnes of enemies. It works as a kind of punishment, but if you complete the extra challenge you get loot and can continue to play the next level. In our game, guards didn't move towards you, they patrolled. When the song ended, it looped instead of kick you into a challenge.
For this issue, the snake movement would have been useful as well. The urgency of assessing the situations ahead of you and planning on the go would have possibly solved the issue of non-existent urgency. We even had counter-measures for the player actively trying to walk into walls to stand still (bump them off in the opposite direction).
Issue #3 - Tediousness
The third and final issue, Tediousness. We gave the player no direction on what to do and where to go. The levels were massive and empty and the movement was too sluggish to enjoy moving through the levels.
I believe that snake movement would only have made it worse. Sure, you don't have to press every single beat, but given how empty the levels were you'd be able to press the turn-button once and then wait for a few seconds until pressing again.
Possible solutions include a more proper tutorial, carefully explaining to the player what they need to do. The stills are beautiful, but it leaves the player hanging where they might need to know the most. Other than that, Decreasing level size or Increasing guard population may need plausible solutions here.
I've mentioned at least one solution to all these issues, but there is one I haven't mentioned yet. Today, we pitched these solutions to our cohort and lecturers, and we were given the greenlight (kind of) again on this solution.
In order to increase interactivity, increase the overall feel-good of the game and to give the player a chance to experience all our environments close up, we decided to switch this top-down rhythm stealth game to a third-person beat 'em up game. The thought is that the player can create combos while fighting off guards, and the higher the combo the more of the main music layers on, creating an amazing feeling of being powerful.
From the start of this project, all we wanted was a game that met everyone's needs and felt amazing to play. Thanks to us sitting down and pondering on the feedback we were given, we were able to pivot this idea to something that we all want to work on, for real this time.
We will have to change the narrative slightly, as we decided to fully switch over to EDM music instead of the original choice of electro-swing, mainly because it's our audio students main choice of music and they make amazing EDM music.
Thank you very much for reading this blog post, expect to see more updates both here and on twitter.