Development Diary #6: RPG Mechanics

Levelling up and increasing different aspects of a character is one of my favorite parts of playing games. Series like the Elder Scrolls and the Ratchet and Clank games have always kept me hooked through the promise of being able to see a little meter fill up and know I’m about to reach that next level.  Considering how deeply RPG mechanics hook me, it should come as no surprise that Cally’s Caves 2 includes a number of mechanics that will help Cally grow more powerful as the game progresses.  Player leveling, finding weapons, leveling up those weapons, the upgrade shop, and in-game currency – these are the RPG mechanics at the core of Cally’s Caves 2.  Since we are making a sequel we can some of the ideas we had for the original game and taking them as far as we can.

Cally's Caves 2

Player Levelling

We want to make sure Cally’s Caves 2 has a an overall high level of difficulty, as most of our favorite games are pretty hard, (like Spelunky or Day Z).  Since Cally starts out with only 3 hearts (aka hit points), the enemies in the first few levels are fairly tame.  This allows lower-skill players to get used to the game’s mechanics and learn the basic skills needed to survive.  After this initial easy section, the enemies’ strength, health, and firepower escalate swiftly.  To account for players that are not overly skilled, we need to make sure Cally’s strength grows in a way that allows anyone to to get to a point where they are capable of succeeding.  To do this, we have the player levelling system.  To those of you who are well-versed in video games it’s self-explanatory, but the brief primer goes like this: as the player kills enemies, their health increases.  Every time an enemy is destroyed, the player gains experience points.  Once those experience points reach a certain number, the player level is increased by one.  Each time the player level goes up, an extra hit point is added to Cally’s health bar.  Then the experience point threshold is increased for the next level, making it take a little longer to reach that next step.  This is a classic video game system, and it’s simplicity allows for players of all skill levels to succeed.  Even if someone only kills one enemy and then dies over and over again, they will still be building experience points with every enemy defeated.  Thus, a player can increase Cally’s hit points with a brute force approach, even if they aren’t skilled enough to be crushing dozens of enemies on each run.

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Finding and Levelling Weapons

Throughout Cally’s Caves 2, the player will keep finding weapons hidden in the environments.  With each new weapon comes more damage, different weapon behaviours, and an extra tool in the players set used to complete the game.  Finding weapons also allows the player to progress to new areas (using the classic gating system from Metroid), where they will find monetary rewards that allow them to purchase upgrades that power up Cally from the in-game store (see below) . From the start of the game, the player has the pistol weapon, and by the third or fourth level (which is before they find the next weapon), they will have shot enough enemies to level the pistol up.  This serves as the weapon-levelling tutorial by showing the player that the weapons grow more powerful with use.  Each weapon has ten upgrade levels, and each time they hit an enemy, the weapon experience is increased.  It’s similar to the levelling-through-use system from Skyrim, but an even closer comparison is the Ratchet and Clank games.  As in Ratchet and Clank, each time you level up a weapon, the weapons strength is increased.  Every couple of levels, the weapon also changes in appearance, to hammer home the fact that it is changing (and look cooler).  An added benefit of this system is that a player can specialize in the weapons they like to use, and not be forced to use the weapons that are more powerful.  A level 10 pistol is more powerful than the level 1 flamethrower, so if the player prefers the pistol, they can level that up and rely on it.

Cally's Caves 2

The Upgrade Shop and Currency

In Cally’s Caves 2, every time an enemy dies, they drop some coins.  There are also coins hidden around the environments for the player to find.  In secret spots, gems that are worth 100 coins are just waiting to be claimed.  As coins are accrued, the player has the option of spending them on core attribute upgrades that power Cally up and eventually give her god-like powers.  The store is accessed in the pause menu, and the items’ prices vary depending on the strength of the upgrade.  Want to refill a heart temporarily before a big challenge?  That’ll be 500 coins.  Want to reduce every enemy’s hit points by a third?  Well, that will be 100,000 coins.  The upgrades will affect Cally’s core attributes, as opposed to her weapons.  This system, like the HP system allows players that may not have much skill to brute force the progression.  Even if they don’t defeat huge numbers of enemies in a single life, the player can slowly collect enough coins to buy upgrades even if they are dying frequently.  After they’ve bought some upgrades, they will be better equipped to survive longer on their next life.

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RPG mechanics are something we think is crucial to creating a fun, addictive game.  In the case of Cally’s Caves 2, they also make the game accessible to a wider variety of players by being available to any player, given enough time and effort. We believe that player levelling, the upgrade store, and especially the weapon levelling system will hook players and keep them wanting to come back to the game to get that next upgrade or level. It’s important to us that in making Cally’s Caves 2, we make a game that we would want to play, and mechanics like these keep us coming back to the games we love to play over and over.  We hope they are as addictive for you as they are for us.

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