Thursday, 17 March 2022

Bossing it...

Ever since the early days of Bullion, we knew we wanted to have multiple modes of gameplay The standard avarice mode - time-limited gameplay with a winner based on treasure - was the obvious main mode. But we wanted to include boss battles as well, and so the question was how to make that gameplay mode sufficiently different, but still retaining the mood and themes of Bullion?

In avarice mode, Captain Silverside and crew attempt to appease the gods of the Isles of Ser-Lloyn by being the pirate to collect and thus offer the most treasure. We wondered what would happen if they chose to provoke the gods instead - after all, pirates are not best known for following rules! What if they intended to defy the gods and try to keep the treasure for themselves? Wouldn't the gods take umbrage?

Hence defiance mode - the crew refuse to play the game, so the gods send their champion to smite them! Each game arena would have its own guardian, appropriate to the theme of that arena, which the crew would need to defeat in order to win the game and keep their treasure - and their skins!

Meanwhile, Bullion's human development crew had hit a few rocky shores of their own. It looked like we were going to be blocked for a while and we needed to pivot. We onboarded enemy character artist Stuart at just the right time - we asked him to "go nuts", and boy did he deliver - for what should land in our inbox one day but the fearsome undead zombie parrot figure of Captain Krackerz!

Try feeding this guy a cracker!

Up to this point, the world of Bullion was populated only by anthropomorphic bulls. In this one act, Stuart had reimagined the world our corsairs inhabited, opening up endless possibilities that have led to the crocodiles, lizards and sea creatures in the game today (with more still to come - make sure you follow our social media for an early heads-up!). And what better way to start, in a pirate world, than with a parrot? Perennial companion to the pirate figure, Krackerz seeks revenge against all of the cruel captains that have gone before, mistreating and teasing his brethren. We decided to go all-in, working on the boss battle, replacing our placeholder skeletons with new parrot-themed models built by Stuart, and thinking through how a boss battle might work.

Most of the existing enemies in Bullion were simple 'grunts' - they'd pick a player and attack them, possibly running away if outnumbered, but doing very little else. Bosses needed more sophisticated handling - advanced weapons, range attacks, and interacting with the environment and the other creatures therein. And they would need vulnerable moments too, suitably signposted, to enable the players to perform mob attacks.

We worked on a script for Krackerz based around several rounds of gameplay - as the battle progressed, his behaviour would change, becoming increasingly more difficult to attack. He'd fire his cannon at players; he'd summon minions to act as a shield and stand around him, waiting to attack approaching players.

We wanted the core mechanic of Bullion - that the winner is the pirate with the most treasure - to remain. Being the pirate that defeats the boss was more an element of chance than skill. But attacking the boss needed to be rewarded. We made them 'treasure pinatas'; the more you attack them, the more treasure they drop. What's more, each stage of the boss battle ends with the boss dropping a BFD - a big fat (ahem) diamond - worth a considerable amount of treasure!

Once we had Krackerz, there was no holding us back! For Salty Swamp, Stuart's warped genius came up with Ella Gator, the most fabulous Queen of the Deep South - a lizard with attitude and a whole slice of drama, darling. And from a gameplay point of view, she is more complex than Krackerz, too (as befits a boss of a harder level) - she controls how her minions attack, sets fire to the marsh gases, and bats a huge rock at our players to crush them!

The most fabulous boss in the bayou, darling!

Our usual process is to test new features of the game by taking it to the public at shows and expos. There we can watch people play, with more or less prompting, and gauge what needs adjusting. It became clear that people liked the idea of boss battles, but they did tend to drag on, particularly when players didn't want to be the one to engage with the boss and get smited! Why 'take one for the team' when you could be collecting treasure instead, since that's how you win the game? We found this a bit irritating, and wondered what to do about it.

Then we realised - if we were irked, how would the bosses feel? The champions of the arena, sent there by the very gods themselves, were being ignored by these rebel ruminants? They'd be positively furious!

We made the rage of the gods part of the game mechanic. The longer the boss goes unattacked, the angrier they become - and the more swift and devastating their revenge! The players need to find that balance between co-operating to defeat the boss, and collecting treasure, otherwise they'll all be slain and nobody wins.

Boss Battle mode achieved!

We have more bosses in the pipeline, and a whole third mode of play now added to the game... but those are subjects for future blog posts!