Evocus: The Summoner's Game

Mythic Minds DevBlog 3/23/19 - Three Steps Backwards, Five Steps Forwards

Changing Artistic Directions 

At our last team meeting, we had the very tough discussion about our progress with art and how quickly we're able to create Unit art. The problem was, because we decided on a pixel art style, all animations needed to be essentially hand-drawn frame by frame which looks absolutely incredible, but takes an awfully long time to do. Also, every move and attack animation would need at least 3 variations to account for the different directions in the game. So we talked for a bit about whether we wanted to stick with it, have animations take a long time to make or essentially cut our losses and instead rethink our workflow and art style in favor of something that can be created and animated faster so we could ensure we meet our final deadline in September.

Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do To Meet Deadlines

If the image above doesn't immediately tell you what we picked, we picked the "actually meeting deadlines" option and have shifted to 3D models that can be rigged and animated instead of drawing pixel art frame by frame, pixel by pixel.

So what does this mean for our schedule? It means we essentially have to undo a bunch of work (that's not completely wasted) and start at square two or three with art in order to reduce the overall amount of work that's required and ensure we can come even close to our September deadline for the Capital Creative Showcase. 


  
As you can see by this last image/silhouette, we're still figuring out our art style as it transforms into the 3D space so the previously shown model is still not even a final representation. 

LFT

Last big thing to talk about is that we are looking for people to join our team. With this change in art style and increase in work, we decided that bringing on additional help in the form of a rigger/animator and possibly another modeler/artist. So, if you or someone you know wants to help us out with any of these tasks. Hit us up and let us know.   
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Mythic Minds Devblog 2/27/19 - Where Do We Go From Here?

Units: Infinite Potential For Success and Destruction

Right now, we have 26 Units that are part of our current Minimal Viable Product milestone. We spent quite a lot of time playtesting each one and even created a formula to balance their mana cost based on their stats and Traits so it's pretty safe to say they are all relatively balanced. 

However as we approach the end of that MVP milestone in April, we are starting to get antsy and think of new Unit and Trait ideas for the next big milestone. We have ideas for self-destructing units, trample units that move through/past enemies while dealing damage and lots of ideas for different "theme packs" of units that all follow a certain theme or aesthetic like Demons, Fairies, more Elves, Gnomish Inventions, weird Spirit types, and many many more. It's still up in the air how we want to actually roll out new units but what we DO know is that we will be increasing that 26 number to much higher soon.

Wait What? How Long Have We Had a Map-Maker?

We legitimately had this realization at our last team meeting when Jim, one of our programmers, told us that he made a map making program in the first month or two of development that no one knew about. This made Peter, one of our game designers, and myself, the other game designer, incredibly excited at the potential for rapid development prototyping and testing for maps. It also got us excited since it was incredibly open ended and did not require perfect symmetry or particular shapes. We wondered "what if we did L-shaped maps?," "what about non-king-of-the-hill maps like our current one? Could we do like an attacker and defender map? Could we do a payload/escort map? Could we make a MOBA-like map?" 

All of these ideas are technically possible with a manageable amount of programming and design and it really opened the door for us to design interesting maps and think beyond pure power equality and symmetry. 

We're excited to complete this milestone for a lot of reasons and these possibilities are a big number of those reasons. We're excited to show you all what this game can really be and we hope you're excited to see them.

If you have any ideas for interesting maps or game modes, let us know on Twitter @PlayEvocus. 

Mythic Minds Devblog 1/17/19 - What's The Point Of Playtesting?


The title of this devblog was a question that was posed during our last team meeting. Every single time we met up as a group and anytime we added a significant change to the game, we would do a playtest. Any experienced game developer will tell you that you should playtest your game, but most will just stop there and won't expand on the most important detail "why?

We only recently discovered our "why." We playtest because every time we do, we find new flaws in our game, new problems to solve, new issues to fix. We discover Units that are unfun to play or play against. We find new data like "the first player to reach and capture a Summoning Portal, has won the game every time" and "the player with Deck A on average reaches a Portal first because they have 1 more speedy Unit than the player playing with Deck B." If we released the game to people before realizing this, it would be a disaster. 

Narrow Focus vs. Broad Focus

When we make a change to a Unit, we generally playtest it a few times to make sure that change was accomplishing what we wanted it to. We're looking at one particular Unit, often one particular stat or trait. When we playtest on meeting days, we're generally just looking at how the game feels. We're waiting for something to jump out to us as "hey, that felt unfair" or "I felt like I couldn't win once X happened." These are the major differences between the ways we playtest. One affirms our changes and helps us put a bow on things. One creates new problems and kicks walls out of the house we thought was well-built. 

Both of these tests have value. Both of them move our game forward. But one is always way more emotionally draining. With the narrow, confirmation tests, you feel great afterwards "hey that change fixed it perfectly" but with the broad tests you're poking holes, you're critical of your work and you walk away with a big list of bugs, issues and work that now has to be done.

As a team, we will never truly be done testing. We will always be adding new Units, changing up maps, adding new game-enhancing features and therefore, we will always need to subject these new things to rigorous testing and scrutiny. Evocus will always be evolving and with that, so will the problems that arise. But as our problems evolve, so will our knowledge and abilities to deal with them.

Mythic Minds Devblog 1/4/19 - New Year, New You-ser Interface And More Big Changes!

The Great Leap

Although they are very often completely different schools of thought, UI and game art have so much overlap in game development. The major similarity in the early game dev process is that they both transform the feel of the game in a generally short timeframe. I got the same feeling when the UI got brought in that I did when the tile art got brought in for the first time. In about a week we got Unit artwork on the cards, changed the look of the hand of cards, added a Victory Point scoreboard (oh yeah, we added Victory Points, more on that later probably) and made a bunch of changes to our Unit banners.

Compare the image above to the one below (which is a super early UI mockup that I did) and you can see that there are some similarities in general location but overall a lot has changed. And even more is planned to change in the next few months. At the moment our big push is to just get everything IN the game. Hence the weird space background, kinda goofy looking buttons and lack of card back art and a Mana icon beneath the actual Mana value. 


So Uhhhh, How Do You Win?

Funnily enough, we never really thought actual win conditions in this game. Sure we had an initial system for winning in place, but we never truly, actually THOUGHT about what would be a fun, balanced and engaging way to win in Evocus. We initially had a "control 4 of the 5 Spawn Portals to win" rule. We also toyed with the idea of having destroyable bases like Starcraft (and I guess in some way like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering) but all of those methods kinda felt a bit off. Games often dragged on way too long until one player said "I think there's no way I can win so I'm going to go ahead and just concede" which is not really a fun way to end the game. 

With Victory Points that you accumulate at the start of a turn based on how many Spawn Portals you control, the result of the game may not be known until the very last turn. We tried having the center Portal be worth 2 points a turn but we enjoy having and seeing fights take place on the side portals and having people do sneaky backcaps when their opponent is focused too much on the center Portal. Although it may change as we test it more, our current format is 33 Victory points to win with each Portal generating 1 Victory Point at the start of the controller's turn. So on average the games will be between 8 and 16 turns (for each player) and every control point will hold value. 

Overall, this change should bring down the total game time to something a bit more reasonable. It should also mean games feel closer for longer and allow you to set yourself up for victory through early aggression and control or through slower more methodical retakes of the Portals.

We hope that you'll enjoy playing the game this way and are always welcoming feedback on our rules and mechanics. Feel free to shoot us a tweet @PlayEvocus, an email themythicminds@gmail.com or on Facebook with your thoughts on these changes.

Mythic Minds Devblog 12/17/18 - Sac Gamer's Expo and Receiving Feedback

Seven Hours Of Human Interaction

The Sac Gamer's Expo was technically my first ever event I attended as a game dev promoting an indie game. I'd gone to plenty previously but always as someone on the "opposite side of the booth." This particular event was about seven hours long from the time we got our booth set up until the time we started taking it down. We had a whole half of a table that equated to something like 6 square feet so we had to pack all of our materials in quite tight. Since a keyboard is not necessary for the game at this point we had to hide it behind the booth to save space and just have the mouse, mousepad, TV with the slideshow and monitor for the game on the table. We also were able to use our prototype game board and Unit pieces as a kind of set piece. 

I'm not sure exactly how many people I talked to but it seemed to be at least a hundred and interactions ranged from just quickly handing out our promo cards to having full playtests and chatting pretty extensively about the game. We had people who were super into the game and thought it was great, people who thought the game was too far from the trending popular game model to be successful, people who wanted to help us with stuff and people who were outright not interested. I made sure to focus more on the positive feedback than the non-constructive negative feedback as I know those are the kind of things that can psych us out of finishing this game. 

All in all, it was great to finally show off our game to so many people and have most of them receive it well and affirm that we're on the right track with our game.

Yes We Know That's Broken

The image above is of me (in the purple hoodie in the back) talking with three local devs who work at EA Capital Games which is one of the two game studios in town. They were right there with me when they ran into a bug and I explained how the game should play out. They knew exactly what it was like to play an unfinished game and experience bugs and broken mechanics. For the most part, everyone who played was pretty understanding of the bugs and gave good feedback on how the gameplay can improve.

Interestingly enough, virtually all of the feedback we received were on things we had already discussed as a team. We heard people talk about the cluttered UI with Unit tags, how a Victory Point system could be cool, how building a deck would be fun, how it would be nice to be able to zoom in and move the camera around the battlefield. All of things were brought up by someone in our team and we've spent the past few months trying to figure out solutions to. Fortunately, we didn't get any "this game is not fun," "this game is too confusing," "this felt unfair," etc. Those comments are things that might put us into panic mode and force an existential crisis. Instead we know that our game has potential, a good amount of people thought it was fun, we all know it needs work and is far from done and a lot of people are as excited as us to see this game completed.
So to anyone who came by our booth, thanks for checking it out. Your feedback is always appreciated and we hope you continue continue to follow us as we build this game.   

Mythic Minds Devblog 12/7/18 - Traits


What Worked

Since the concept finalizations of the first 26 Units, we've had eight Traits in play. Some have seen no changes in the recent months but others are on their second or third iteration and we are still not 100% happy with them yet.

The ones that have gone unchanged are Flying, Heal Ally, Decomposing, Mountain Dweller and Forest Dweller. Flying was easily the most intuitive and simple to create. The "Dweller" traits were a bit more complicated to do because we weren't initially sure whether the one less incoming damage buff was too strong but after a few play tests it seems to be a good balance. 

You may notice that one trait on this first list is not really a positive trait and is instead makes the Unit a bit riskier to play. Decomposing for the Undead Rotters Unit is an example of our first functioning negative trait. Negative traits reduce the overall mana cost of a unit so a Unit with the same stats but no trait would cost a few mana more than its counterpart. The opposite is also true for positive traits as well. 


What Did Not Initially Work

Unpredictable, Explosive AOE and Volley all have undergone multiple iterations. Unpredictable, currently only used for Clumsy Ogre, was intended to be another negative trait focused on the idea that this incredibly strong creature also had drawbacks that meant he would attack either himself or friendly, adjacent Units every so often. Initially it was "attacks a random adjacent Unit at the end of your turn" so you would be inclined to keep him away from your other units and amongst enemies so you could have the chance of a double attack. This was a fun idea but the end of turn mechanic and attacking enemies twice made this not really balanced. We then tried having him having a chance to only damage himself at the end of a turn and that didn't really feel great either so we settled on having a chance to additionally attack himself when attacking enemy Units. 

Explosive AOE was initially Collateral which meant that the Unit would take damage if it attack adjacent Units but we flipped it to a positive Trait and lowered the overall strength of the Grenadiers (the only Unit with this Trait). It does still maintain this need to keep Units at range since it can still damage itself with the splash damage but is overall pretty strong in it's ability to deal huge amounts of damage to clumped enemies. 


The Future of Traits in Evocus

Moving forward, we really want to keep adding Traits in. They make gameplay more interesting and add lots of depth in deck building and tactical, strategic planning. We also really want to focus on creating more negative Traits since it feels like we haven't quite tapped into the true potential of Units having higher stats for their mana cost in return for having a negative Trait that you have to work around.

Some of the ideas we've been discussing are: Units that cannot attack but can instead explode and deal splash damage when they die, cloaked/concealed Units that are harder to hit at range, acid/bleed damage that is dealt per turn for a set amount of turns, life steal units that heal when they deal damage, as well as some Traits that have a one time effect  or interaction when the Unit is summoned or dies. 

These ideas are all still just hypothetical at the moment and are always subject to be on the cutting room floor if they don't work. We're curious to see which of these Trait ideas you think would be cool or if you have original ideas, we'd love to hear them. Feel free to shoot us a tweet(@playevocus) or comment on our Instagram(@playevocus) or Facebook posts (Facebook.com/PlayEvocus). 

Mythic Minds Devblog 11/20/18 - Sac Gamer's Expo, Our First Build and the Terror of Showing Off an Unfinished Game

Sac Gamer's Expo


On December 9th, a few members of the team and I will be heading to our first event in promotion of Evocus. To my knowledge, it's not a huge event. I can't imagine there will be more than a few hundred people (if we're lucky). Still, it's a great chance for us to show off our game in its primitive state and get both valuable feedback on what works and what doesn't work and, ideally, start building a local player base.

Here Come Look At This Broken Game


It is pretty terrifying to think that in just a few short weeks we'll be showing off our game that we've only been working on for three and a half months. The game is still so primitive but we all felt that it was not only a good opportunity to make sure we're heading in the right direction, but also serve as a great actual deadline which we have very few of. Now that we have a strict deadline by which we need to have a playable build of the game , we will ideally be shifting into high gear in terms of development. 

In a volunteer-run project, there is basically zero incentive to work hard and stay on track besides the fear of letting your teammates down and your passion for completing the project. As a Producer/Project Lead it's super easy to create deadlines for work but I essentially have no actual power to ensure that we keep to these deadlines. Events like this serve as a perfect incentive to keep to these deadlines because the social pressure of showing off a game is pretty powerful and most people would feel bad about showing off a game that they barely worked on and is not even playable.

The First Build

As mentioned previously, this version of the game will be about as barebones as it gets while still representing the gameplay as best as possible. We only have about a third of all of the Unit art done (and that's not including animations which will come later), basically no sound since it's not really needed for an expo, and you will only be able to play against the other player at the expo through a one-to-one LAN connection.

I recognize that this sounds incredibly pessimistic so I will try to counter that with an equal dose of optimism. PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE ABLE TO PLAY OUR GAME SOON!!!!!!! How cool is that? We have been playing this game with paper cards on a black and white board for four months and have been having a freaking blast doing it. Now that we have the chance for people to play the actual video game with artwork and game rules, our whole team is over the moon. 

So to anyone in the Sacramento area, come by on December 9th to the Sac Gamer's Expo and come try out our game and tell us what you think about it.



Mythic Minds Devblog 11/4/18 - Designing a Game as a Non-Designer

Can't Make an Omelette (or Game) Without Breaking a Few Eggs (Everything) 

From the very start of this project, I knew it would be much more complicated design-wise than any other indie game I've worked on due to the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that we had to ensure was as simplistic as possible while still representing the core of the game. 

The game started out as a WWII-themed military strategy/tactics game with infantry, vehicle, and flying units that had the same four core stats that we still utilize. In our very first playtest, my wife realized that there was no sense in building a deck with anything other than flying units since they could pass over everything and were no more expensive than the other Units. This was one of dozens of clear flaws that our first draft had that we eventually ironed out, iterated, and cleaned up until it became our current model.

You Probably Shouldn't Build a House Without Some Sort of Blueprints

I'm not sure who initially had this idea (either Jim, one of our programmers, or Jon, one of our artists) but it absolutely saved us so much time. Their idea was to build this whole game out on paper because it was A) way faster to get up and running, B) way easier to iterate and make changes on the fly and C) video games can't really make quick decisions on rules that you haven't thought of yet. This helped with problems such as if a player says, "Can I move twice if I have enough mana?" It's easier to say in person, "No, no double actions," instead of the game having no idea since you haven't given it instructions for that problem and it freaking out and imploding because computers don't like not knowing things. But back to the actual point, playtesting on paper for two months before we even wrote a line of code was super beneficial because when it came time to write that code, we knew that most of the major issues had already been ironed out and the game was safely in a state of non-brokenness. 

Evocus Turned Me Into a Spreadsheet Fiend

The image below was one of the early iterations of our Unit master sheet where we threw down ideas for Units as well as possible stat values and any special traits or abilities they could have. I don't feel like we're giving too many secrets away here since this sheet is super outdated and we have completely overhauled our entire Unit system.

This spreadsheet was one of the many that I built in order to keep track of all of the different things this game would include. We also have tracking sheets for art and audio, a final list of features for our MVP, lists of all of the rules, and notes from each of our seven major playtest sessions.

With a side-scrolling platformer, you probably wouldn't need this much, if any, documentation since you can kind of just start building once you have your core mechanics decided. With a strategy game, there's a thousand more possibilities for things to spin out into a state of imbalance.

The Grand Philosophy of Rules

If you take a close look at a lot of strategy games, particularly those from the 90s and 2000s, you'll see that a lot of them are incredibly deep and complex. They have tons and tons of options for things to do, you have sub-menus under sub-menus under menus for all different facets of running a First World country or controlling a grand navy. These are often the kind of games your friend's dad played that you looked at as a kid and thought you needed a masters degree in Political Science and Computer Engineering to play. These games often had a VERY loyal but small fan base who played every iteration of these games until the studio went under or got bought out. 

As the Grand Overlord Dictator of the Rules (a.k.a. the last one to "nose-goes" on the dreaded job of writing rules from scratch, I've literally never written game rules before in my life), my approach was to make the game as accessible as possible to all ages and skillsets while maintaining the ability to min-max to your heart's content. 

On a team with five other viewpoints and opinions, it's really easy for a game to spin out of control with extra features and possibilities that, little-by-little, turn the game into an overcomplicated mess. Taking all of these ideas and possibilities and running them through the "simple on the surface but as deep as you you want to dig" colander, yielded a pretty clear and agreeable final set of rules and features. 

If everything works perfectly, a newcomer will be able to play a quick tutorial or get a quick rundown on the rules and understand that they have Units they can do stuff with, stuff costs mana, kill the opposing Units, capture the points, and win the game. While at the same time, they can play against someone who has played two thousand games, knows the best Units for the meta game they're trying to play, how each of these Units can be played together to reach their highest possible potential while thinking 15 turns ahead and plotting the grand set of moves that can win a game without ever losing a Unit. 

Simple on the surface but as deep as you want to dig. 

Will Any of This Work?

Hopefully. It seems to work okay for now but then again, only about 20 people have played or even seen our game at this point so all of this confidence in our current game could fly out the window as soon as someone realizes that if you have these four cards in your hand you can play them in a certain order and win 100% of the time. Only time will tell. 

Mythic Minds Dev Blog 10/13/18 - Evocus: The Summoner's Game!

A name doesn't feel right until you say it a thousand times

If only you could have seen the debate we had over the name of this game. And honestly, the debate is still far from over. But at a certain point we had to lock something down and move on or else our game would ship with the current placeholder name. Despite how descriptive "Fantasy Hex Game" is, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. So we have decided on "Evocus: The Summoner's Game." The whole "summoner's game" part is just a subtitle so don't worry about having to type that whole thing in whenever you want to find it. 


 What even is this game?

So... this game has changed drastically since our initial brainstorming meeting but each meeting thereafter we essentially reduced our unknowns by half and are now at a pretty clear and fleshed out concept. Basically, our game is a marriage between a collectible card game and a tactics(strategy?) game. You have a deck of Unit cards that you, The Summoner, summon to the battlefield and command to capture control points and defeat enemy Units. Simple enough right? We hope so. We really are trying to make this game pretty simple to pick up and play but have a lot of depth with the strategy and a high skill/knowledge ceiling.

She's got the look

For me, art is always the main driving force for how "legit" I think a game is and boy do I think this is legit. Our lead artist Jon has chosen to do a pixel art style and as soon as I saw his first draft for the Frost Troll, I knew our game was going to look awesome. 


This was our first draft for a Unit Card for the Frost Troll and our concept for how we'd show the name and stats of a card in game. The overall layout of the Unit Card has changed a bunch but the overall style was great from the start.


Lastly, here is a little screenshot of one of Jon's "Big Picture" tests to see how these different Units would look within the terrain to see if everything looks and feels right. 

So yeah, here's hopefully the first of many dev blogs where we'll delve into some rules debates, programming challenges, the team, and much much more. 

If you haven't already, be sure to give us a follow on our twitter @mythic_minds to get the inside info on our game as we build it. 
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