Heya Space Cadets,
One of the phrases I love is “Art from Adversity,” and it refers to the brilliant creative leaps that are possible when the “ideal” option is barricaded by some problem. The Hex grid is a major problem for Delve Deeper design, despite it being at the root of the game’s style. Some days I want to replace the whole thing with a square grid and make my life ten times easier. Another phrase I love is “Murder your darlings,” which is writing advice to get rid of the favorite little useless things, characters, and plot contrivances that ruin the flow. If it’s causing problems, get rid of it, and never get too attached to a portion of the whole. In game design it might refer to the destruction of a mechanic that you love but hurts the game. So is the Hex Grid some adversity I need to think around, or is it a Darling from a previous game that I need to murder and replace with something easier and more sensible?
It’s even more important to be sure when when working around a “legacy” or “core” mechanic, since changing these can drastically alter the feel of the game. People often change core things around to introduce a more contemporary element, like a Quicktime Event or Moral Choice system, when there was no need for it and only serves to shoe-horn in some thing they wanted. Fight that impulse. You should always be ready to murder the darling of your INTENDED DESIGN, despite how emotionally attached to it you are now. Famously, Steven Spielburg planned to have the shark prop in Jaws center stage for a lot of the movie, but it worked so badly that he had to hide the shark most of the time. That fix was better than his original plan, so don’t hesitate to bench a design you think is great while you look at alternatives that more elegantly address the problem.
So what should we do with this be-hexed Hex Grid? It’s easy to see the rationale for squares. There’s no annoying staircases, so going up or down (the name of the game, literally) is a lot easier and a lot faster. It gives you a way better shape for straight left-to-right tunnels and rooms with important backdrops like banks. And importantly, all combat and mining would occur on a spacious, flat surface without having those little flat gaps on every single diagonal tile. Since we wanted DD2 to go network multiplayer in a big way, and that means lots of players and Simultaneous Turn Based gameplay, we’re looking at situations where up to Forty Dwarfs might end up fighting each other on a single hex!
Our first solution to the questions of mining being a hassle and combat being cramped was to make the hexes massively wide and increase a Dwarf’s movement a great deal while shrinking the maps. This made each square more like a province, and you had plenty of room on a hex to fit thirty combatants or a whole workshop or whatever else you wanted. But you should always resist adding something on top of a broken thing to fix it. If it’s broken or lame, go further down the design process and figure out what is screwing it up at the source. I’ve tossed out the wide hexes and gone back to re-evaluate the original problems presented by the inflexible hex grid in a new, Socratic light.
If I was to tell Socrates that the combat model fails when we shove thirty people into a hex, he might ask, “Then why do you shove thirty people onto a hex?” And why indeed? Is that a problem with the hexes or with combat? I charged up my Murder Beam and vaporized the DD1 combat model before it could protest. I killed my Darling, and it felt fantastic. I’ve still got to figure out how best to wrangle the replacement hex grid into the sequel, but it’s a fresh start with a lot of possibilities.
After the long war I was having against it, I find it really exciting to see the Hex Grid as an ally, not an enemy. It took a while to recognize that it was my own beloved ideas, the Mining and Combat and Art Design, that was holding it back from being as good as it could be. Look out for that in your own ideas, no matter that it is. Focus less on the obstacles in your path, but question if your path really is the best way to get where you’re trying to go.
Spacelab Signing Out
If you’re a Delve Deeper fan you’re probably wondering the implications from this might be, but this post was already a long one, so if you’ve got questions leave a comment, hit me on twitter talk on our Lunar Giant Facebook page. I’ll be talking about these changes in further posts too, so I hope to see you on Friday and Saturday when we discuss MINING and all the things that lay in store for that. Want to see how one little change can have dramatic ramifications for the status quo of your game? Check in this weekend!
Neil Wickman is a beast cursed to live in the body of a man.
He has been working for Lunar Giant studios since its inception, one of the lead designers and the Creative Director. Listen to his arty nonsense @LunarNeil on Twitter.