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Heya Space Cadets,

Mining in Delve Deeper is not just a core mechanic, it was the one mechanic we ported over as-was from the boardgame version we kicked around during prototyping. Not surprisingly, when I sit down to think up a direction for DD2, mining is on my mind. Believe it or not, I actually lobbied for removing it entirely, early on in DD2′s development. My rationale was pretty simple: mining is terrible for the game. Let me explain:

Making money from mining is safe, passive, and slow. It also takes up a lot of your team to do. That’s bad, but what’s worse is that other mechanics need to bend to make room for it. Combat rewards couldn’t be too big or there’d be no point to mining, and the Miner ended up with a huge inventory to make turn-ins time and labor efficient, because otherwise there’s no point in spending all those turns running guys back to a drop-off point. Trying to create an exciting, action-packed sequel to the original while still juggling the requirement that a large portion of your badass hero Dwarfs will spend their time just banging against the wall smacked of contradictory design goals.

After all, we had been wanting to give people a ton of control over their Dwarf teams, with customized appearances, names, female representation, equitable gear, and RPG-lite classes and levels. It felt like Miners were a tax on your squad rather than something you’d really want to take.

What is mining for minerals in Delve Deeper really about? Well, it was a way to make money before there was combat, and mithril in the deeps was supposed to drive downward expansion, but there never seemed to be enough of it to be worth a rush. Mining also created areas of the map that had strategic value, and when a vein dried up it forced teams to consider expanding into unsafe territory. That’s not a bad reason to keep it around, but there’s easier ways to accomplish it, so before I could sign off on perpetuating the mining mechanic as a core aspect we had to figure out how to make it fun on its own. There might be gold down in this idea mine, but I was going to have to dig through a lot of mud first.

The biggest problem to me was how it turned several of your precious heroic squad into stationary money factories, and in order for it to be fair, we needed to make that a viable alternative to the fighting versions. I also wanted to nuke the old tile-placing mechanic and have Dwarfs do the digging of a new hex, and clearly miners would do a better job of that. We were also planning on adding constructions, and again, Miners felt more like the laboring sort. So in fixing miners, I was also compounding the problem by making them do all the jobs EXCEPT fight. Then it hit me!

Well, what’s the best way to balance that? We give some to everyone, no matter what fighters they take. We could make Miners into NPCs! Laborers as NPCs free your team of heroes from doing the dull work, and they mesh perfectly with the idea of constructs, traps, and manually conducted mining, and it can all be meshed into a single mechanic and menu. It seemed so simple that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it earlier.

This makes DD2 mining less of a chore, since the dull parts are automated, and it also gives a whole new metagame concept: the defending of your labor force. Who mines those tunnels, or digs the gold, or builds defenses? Laborers. If we add in Shops, or vehicles, or siege equipments, who mans them? Laborers! When enemies blunder into your tunnels, your laborers would raise the alarm and scatter, meaning that you need to treat your whole operation as a strategic value, not just the mining operation. We were also thinking of letting Dwarfs die when they get dropped to zero HP, so NPC Labor forces provide less important targets to be victimized, as well as targets for hungry Trolls! I’m excited to see what fun stuff we can come up for these guys now that we have a way forwards.

Oh, and mining–right. I did say I was going to talk about that, right? Tune in tomorrow for the second half of this weekend double feature, when we apply some of the advantages of NPC Labor Forces and a more open Hex format to that conundrum.

Spacelab Signing Out

Last week I said we were going to talk about how one little change leads to massive ramifications sometimes, and I do think that making Miners from PCs into NPCs really is a “little” change. But from that one idea, just automating one type of guy doing those jobs, you can reinvent the whole feeling of the game. There’s a wide divide between a game with 5 Dwarfs mining and fighting monsters and a game with 20 Laborers and 7 Heroes battling monsters, building a complex mining operation, and using traps, vehicles, and all kinds of wacky stuff to fight for treasure.

Neil Wickman is setting back Dwarf worker’s rights back by a generation.

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.