Dev Talk Post Mortem
Welcome to the first Dev Talk review. For those looking to get a "Reader's Digest" of the topics discussed or more in-depth answers, this is your one-stop shop for information regarding our latest Dev Talk.
Episode 6 featured Kronikle, Thanatos, and Umbrella as they celebrate the anniversary of the introduction of Boss Battles.
What was the start of bosses? What did some of the earlier bosses look like?
We started bosses as a way to test what single player content would look like beyond the daily challenges. Our initial design had bosses with really powerful Bloodbound Spells such as summoning a Khymera, but we stepped away from those ideas since it revolved around stacking removal to win.
Early in our development the decision was made that since bosses were not Bloodbound Generals, they would not have Bloodbound Spells. This influenced how we approached boss design, integrating their special effects as their own abilities/passives. Instead of having a boss summon Khymera, we just had a boss that was Khymera.
That wasn't the only one of our crazy initial designs; we had a Soboro boss that gave all friendly minions random keywords (so a Wings of Mechaz0r could have Provoke and Forcefield). Another was a Bonereaper boss with "Deathtouch" (“Destroy any minion damaged by this”). A lot of these concepts were to gauge how these interactions felt and adapted based on feedback.
What did you learn from early boss development?
The majority of what we learned came straight from community feedback (that was our driving force). One thing we picked up quickly was setting the initial mana to 3. As we tinkered with new bosses, many of which started with higher mana pools, we were confronted with the issue that it didn't matter how cool the boss was if you already lost turn one.
An example of this was fighting Calibero, you'd start the match and have a game plan starting with your typical 2drop. The boss would walk up and drop an Elyx Stormblade and that's it! We opted to keep some of that ridiculousness by adding minions to the beginning battlefield instead of raising their mana while simultaneous raising the player's mana to 3 to help with ramp (due to the lack of mana springs).
What are your goals for boss fights? Any surprises?
We wanted to create a unique experience that differed greatly from what you typically receive from ladder. In an ideal environment, you queue into a boss with a custom deck tailored for the boss because your typical meta decks won't work here. This was also intended to be a home for your non-standard fun cards such as Eclipse or Grow minions: things that haven't found their place in the ladder yet.
To our surprise there actually came about some meta boss decks. In particular, Grow, Swarm (with Bloodtide Priestess) and Sarlac decks became incredibly popular. We also received some criticism that some players did not want to be bothered with creativity and just wanted to use their same decks everywhere.
With respects to the boss meta decks, we've slowly been trying to come up with clever abilities that counter the popular cards without shunning their usage. For example, Harmony actually gave you a Kolossus to your detriment should it Grow and flip sides on the second phase! Since we still want to respect players who weren't up to the deckbuilding challenge, we're aiming to give bosses more unique tools to leverage their intelligence against players.
What can you say about boss accessibility?
We try to make bosses as new player friendly as possible. Some of our developers test the bosses with basic and common cards only, and the Lyonar Basic Deck is a very important litmus test. If we can get the boss within 2-3 HP using hyper-budget decks we feel pretty comfortable that our players can see the path to victory.
The boss difficulty was definitely all over the place when we first started, Calibero was considered too easy and many people hated the surprise second phase of Monolith Guardian. But the real challenge occurred when we did Boreal Juggernaut or most notoriously Shinkage Zendo. During internal testing, one of the devs got extremely lucky with the Lyonar Basic and considered that to be a great benchmark. Since then we've taken more caution to make sure players of all skill levels and collection sizes can tackle these challenges.
One thing we've noticed is that there is a ton of variance in player feedback. We'll see players who typically play meme decks return saying the boss was super easy. In that same thread, you could have high-level players stating they can't figure it out and it's impossible and not worth their time. It really serves to show that just because you're good at Duelyst doesn't mean those skills translate into bosses.
Any news on new game modes? (2v2 Mode? Coop Bosses?)
While we have a lot of things we want to do, we have to remind ourselves that most of the things that came with bosses were made with additional gameplans: we really haven't changed the core framework. We do have new things coming up (in the form of BBs or new battlefields) but things such as game modes come nested with other high-level tech.
New game modes are definitely exciting and different but they come with their own unique challenges. For example, a cooperative boss fight (or even a 2v2 match) runs into the issue of the game only recognizing two sides, "you" and "not you." In the case of a coop boss fight, the easiest method to create would be to have a boss that switches allegiance every turn which isn't super intuitive. Then we would have to code in tons of unique restrictions to make sure you don't instantly remove it while still targeting it with appropriate spells. A mode such as 2v2 sounds wicked until we come across tech issues such as handling 4 players, 4 decks, what happens when a player loses, and whatever magical bugs might occur from there!
As such, before we go tearing the engine from the ground up we typically try to pair off new mechanics with functions and features we'd like to reuse in the future. A great example could be seen over the winter holidays! When we first created the Santaur boss fight we had it spawning random gifts around the battlefield. This turned out to be a great idea for its own separate Frostfire Mode. It goes to show that when we put a ton of effort into a new feature of mechanic it can flourish into a wonderful idea for its own game mode. Our developers are always pushing the line for the next crazy idea to see what we can feasibly implement versus chase goals for the future.
Have you made any improvements to the AI? Will there be more?
For us to talk about this we really have to talk about where we started from. The original AI was hardcoded to only use Basic cards from the starter decks: if you gave them any other card, be it a common or a rare, it wouldn't know how to play it! So one of the things our engineers had to do was create a dynamic system for the AI to take into account future abilities and basically slot cards for what they could do. These different parameters could be things like card draw, healing, teleporting minions, stat buffs, etc.
We've also had to tune the boss already for several items during our development. In the first quarter of the year, we noticed that players were quickly filling their decks with Forcefield minions. The reason: the AI couldn't comprehend Forcefield. It would slam itself on there until death. Another item patched were minions with infinite revives like Sarlac or Gor. Since the boss likes to control the board at times, it sees this delicious 1/1 minion that it could easily remove. Well, it did, and it respawned again, so they'd go on these wild hunts into corners of the board to remove these units!
We also tinkered with making a hardmode version of the AI, but the issue was it would take too long to react. The AI would try to go through all the different iterations of the board state and make the best play possible, but it would lag behind for upwards to a minute before making a decision. We opted to scrap the idea in favor of speed and elegance, so we only added more logic when we found game breaking bugs or exploits.
So when are we getting Boss Skins?
We'd love to integrate boss skins someday! For us it has never been a question about if, or when, it's always been about how? Something like boss skins isn't up to the boss team to decide, we have to discuss with several departments such as Marketing and Production to find the best avenue to introduce them, as well as Digital Art Designers to create a new interface, etc. Adding boss skins directly to the boss crates would increase the value and cost of the crate, while raising new issues with returning older bosses (what if you want to purchase the crate again on a returning boss?) so we're looking for a different avenue. The boss rewards are another hard area to slot, since the boss quest is effectively the best quest in the game (for 10 minutes of your time you get 100 gold, way better than the two daily quests combined that could take more than an hour to complete!).
From the player perspective, it's really easy for us to go and say "Yea, give us more free stuff!" because free stuff is never a bad thing. Unfortunately, we do have to keep in mind player progression: giving away a full collection of cards or cosmetics on hour one of Duelyst means you lose that sense of discovery and career growth from playing the game. Long story short, we're still looking into the best way to get boss skins into the game
What new things are coming to bosses?
One of the things we want to update bosses with are Bloodbound Spells. We're pretty sure that the majority of our players never made the lore connection why they didn't have them originally and this provides a new lever for us to tinker with. With Bloodbound Spells we can patch over certain key weaknesses that a boss may have (such as removal or card draw) and also act as a natural enrage timer (since this powerful effect will be available every turn after reaching 9 mana).
Other areas we're looking into are updating the starting battlefield to include more minions or perhaps even mana tiles (in non-standard locations). The feedback we got from boss fights like Archmagus Vol and Harmony/Dissonance was phenomenal, so we'd like to cater to that experience by bringing it some other fights as well. We're hoping that by adding more starting firepower to the player it can offset the boss power we'll be introducing, perhaps with some boss exclusive cards!
All that said, we have no ETA for when we'll be able to get these features (so just stay tuned for more updates!)
Thanks to everyone who dropped by!
If you have any other questions related to boss battles that we didn't cover here, reach out down below so we can try to answer them.