Those of you who frequent our website and forums may have found that I don’t poke my head out often. It’s more likely that nobody noticed! But then for those of you in the beta, I pop in frequently enough to make playing “whack a dev” easy. I post about 15 times in the beta for every public post, and I have written a couple of beta-only devlogs with more to come. Why the disparity? It’s largely due to the nature of my tasks – they are almost all related to tuning and balancing. It’s not very useful to explain that I changed the parameters of a ship if the audience does not know anything about the previous values. With that in mind, I will tell you a little about the process that I go through in doing my work.
Tuning is a major task in any game, and I joke that every time someone mentions the word I find a new task on my schedule. Like game development in general, it’s an iterative task. I am working in a loop, moving from one tuning area to another until I get back to the start and repeat the process. That gives time for people to get used to the changes and give feedback for me to incorporate into the next pass. Sometimes, the tasks are simply too large and I delay some issues for future tuning. Tuning is generally an unbounded task; it can go on forever. It is important to put restrictions on each stage to keep the schedule from getting out of hand.
I did not expect to immediately start working on game balance, because it requires extensive knowledge of the related material. I had to spend days just pouring over the ships, going over every stat and sailing the ships to see how the stats impact ship performance. I recorded data on everything I saw, so that I could get a grasp on the range of values we use. This is much easier to do as a player than as a designer, because there are many things behind the scenes that create the stats the player sees. When you are playing the game, you may see a few stats that summarize how the ship sails. In the actual ship, there are dozens of stats that create those values.
Once I have a handle on the system, I create a spreadsheet with all the data I require. I practically live in spreadsheets. A few beta players created helpful spreadsheets of ship stats, which is always a boon to the community. While parts of my spreadsheets may be similar, they are really quite different in concept and scope. For the first phase of ship tuning, I was tasked with the primary goal of creating a system that rates ships. This means creating a large number of weights to value different stats and combinations of stats. As such, the intent of the spreadsheet is not just to catalogue the information, but to facilitate rating and manipulating those values. It is useful to know that a ship is fast, but it’s far more important to know that it is fast and has a large cargo hold. That combination of stats is far more valuable to the player. As such, I try to look at the combination of a ship’s values in order to create a level output. When I started, ships were poorly distributed throughout the game. Most players sailed the same ship for almost 20 levels straight. Now, I am hoping that players find an interesting ship choice for each of three different play styles every 5 levels.
Working in Game Design Starting a career in game development is not an easy task. It reminds me of when I wrote articles for Computer Games Magazine. People heard that I review games and thought it was the easiest job imaginable, but at the same time I knew some of those people would not be able to do the job. There’s a huge difference between playing a game because you want to, and playing a game because you must finish it within a limited amount of time. When I started, it almost felt overwhelming to learn everything. There’s the game, the process of making changes and finding things within the company and the extensive knowledge required for tuning. It’s not an experience for everybody, but it’s amazing for someone who has a passion for game design.
I have always wanted to be involved in game development, but until recently I never considered it a realistic career option. It was just a dream. In pursuit of that dream, I stopped working in a lucrative field where I could earn three times the money and I have never regretted the decision. If there was any doubt, I remember the moment when it washed away. I was sitting at my desk when I realized I needed to go home because it was getting late. Immediately after that, I wished that I lived closer to the company so that I did not have to drive two hours every day. I did not want to live closer so that I would have more free time – I wanted to be able to keep working. Since then, I have come to love my job and working with the great people here at FLS.