Monday, September 20, 2010

DeathSpank Reflections ... of Justice!

I had been playing DeathSpank on and off since it was released, but since DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue comes out next week (!), I wanted to finish it before then. I completed it with a full 100% yesterday and figured I could share some thoughts. Of course, this is all just personal opinion, not official Hothead stance, etc. There's some spoiler-y stuff in here, so if you haven't played/finished the game, consider yourself warned. No particular order for any of this, just as the thoughts fell out of my thinking hole.

Our artists really went all out with the armour sets. Nearly all of them look fantastic and/or hilarious, so it's a little bit of a shame we didn't provide more incentive to collect all five pieces. I only collected one full set throughout the entire time (the Epic Awesomeness set depicted above, actually). I think this is just where the Diablo-esque loot mentality bumps up against our slightly more structured loot distribution. With the armour sets in Diablo II and World of Warcraft, the heavy proceduralism makes getting a full set by yourself unlikely. But by trading with others, a full set isn't out of reach. Even in Torchlight, the treasure chest you share between characters allows you to collect set items through multiple playthroughs. Our loot is distributed more regularly, which works better for the game as a whole, but it means you likely won't get all the pieces of a set unless you're trying quite hard. And it's a shame, because some of those sets do look great when you've got all the pieces together.

I really like Lord Von Prong's Museum, more than I remembered. It's a solid little area, it's dressed really well (courtesy of Matt, one of our artists, I believe), Ick & Badger imply a history with DeathSpank and they're pretty funny, and the little opera clips are great (can't remember who wrote all those names, maybe Deirdra?). The puzzle in here is good, I think, but it's short and then that's it. This area was added a bit later on, so I understand why it doesn't get a lot of screentime, but it really is a cool spot. Wish we could have fleshed it out a little more and been able to give the player more reason to take a look around.

Similarly, the murals telling Lord Von Prong's story on the walk up to his castle are great. They were later additions as well, so their presentation isn't as strong as it maybe could be. I only say that because the player could totally breeze by them, caught up in combat, and not take the time to stop and look. Hopefully most folks did, because I think they're pretty hilarious and look quite good. They help flesh out Von Prong a bit without a bunch of heavy-handed exposition, plus having giant autobiographical murals in your own castle is totally something a megalomaniacal tyrant would do.

The Wretched Man (the one that gives you multiple culinary quests) has a nice arc with his quests. He starts out pathetic and begging for stones and ends up practically demanding rare delicacies. Some other NPCs kind of have this arc too, but his just seemed to work for me (and I really like his voice acting). His quest just sort of ends though, wish it had a little more of a wrap to it.

Heh, the Sword of the Spinning Blade is really good. I don't think it's too good in a dominant strategy kind of way, but I did find myself using it a lot. One thing we could have done is have DeathSpank get a "dizzy" debuff for a few seconds after using it, where your controls would be all crazy. Then you'd want to be careful about using it if you knew there would still be guys standing after it was done. Bit of a risk/reward decision might have made it more interesting.

The distribution of end game enemies is a little odd. There's a lot of level 16-17 guys, and in several pretty distant locations, but not too many above that. We probably could have had that be a little more even. It's tricky though, because the player's level (and therefore, challenge) can differ a lot. Someone doing all the side quests, like me, is much better equipped than someone doing only the vital quests necessary to progress. Yet, the game should be about as fun for both people. And providing that range where it's not too easy for one or impossible for the other is actually quite hard. All things considered, I think we pulled that off well. This is more just an observation that the spreadsheet underneath all RPGs really does make them very challenging games to make. I don't think it's the right solution, but I do appreciate why Oblivion just made everything level up with you.

And I do really like that the only level 20 monsters in the game are the unicorns and Von Prong.

I'm glad we made the Prongenator mandatory. Initially you could defeat Von Prong without it, but those quests are just too good to pass up. Freen has some of the best dialog in the whole game and making it optional just doesn't seem right. And even though I've seen it several times, I still find that Prongenator cutscene hilarious.

In general, Klei did a fantastic job with all the cutscenes. The papercraft/stick puppet look is great. And some of the characterization/humour in the cutscenes works really well. Hats off to those guys for being awesome.

God damn, the Pip Village is hard. And I programmed those guys' bloody AI too, so I've got no one to blame but myself. It's probably just because I went there more or less straight away after getting my gear back in Pluckmuckel, which probably wasn't ideal. It was fun having guys that were seriously big and scary, but maybe we accomplished that goal a little too well.

The Sea of Bones at the entrance to the graveyard is great. Having an area where a *ton* of weak-ish guys spawn provides an interesting challenge and a great frantic feel. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still a pretty serious, "Oh crap, oh crap, oh CRAP!" moment.

The thong stuff is a actually kind of subtle. We all know the story and what's going on behind the scenes, but looking at it through the eyes of someone that doesn't, the reveal of Von Prong's magical thong at the end is kind of a surprise. As we mentioned at PAX, the thongs play a very large part in Thongs of Virtue (hence the name). There's just enough of a tease in DeathSpank that hopefully folks were curious about it. And I also need something to justify the hundreds of pairs of women's underwear I gave away at the show.

All in all, I'm quite happy with the crazy little game we made. Of course, you'll always see the little things you wish you had the time to make better (I'm sure almost all game developers, or creative people in general, feel this way). I think we were able to address quite a few of the things above in Thongs of Virtue as well. But on balance, given all the constraints we had, I'm proud of what we pulled off. For those of you that played it, I hope you agree and are slavering uncontrollably for more DeathSpank in two days. And if you haven't, the demos are up on XBLA and PSN. Either way, I'm always curious to hear from folks about their dispensation of Justice.



Blogger Padraig said...

You failed to mention the awesome animation throughout.

September 20, 2010 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Joe Tortuga said...

My wife and I struggled with that Pip area because we felt like the story was pulling us that way. We gave up halfway through after discovering another area more level-appropriate. (We played it through entirely co-op, I'm not sure I'd have lasted as long in Pip without her helping)

That was one of my few complaints about the game, that we had quests for areas that were arguably too hard (by the time I got past the Unicorns the quests behind them were trivially easy, for instance). But we had great fun, and will probably be buying a couple of copies of Thongs, just like we did with the first.

September 20, 2010 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Darius Kazemi said...

The Pip area totally destroyed me until I remembered/realized the whole "block with the right timing and get an instant special move" thing. So on the one hand, the area taught me how to block, something I hadn't been doing in the game up to that point. On the other hand, it was very frustrating. If there had been an NPC or a sign or something saying "Remember to block!" that would have been for the best.

And I love the spinning blade sword. I don't think it's a bad idea to have a pretty-damn-overpowered weapon like that in a game like Deathspank: it's not competitive multiplayer, so really all the spinning blades do is make your players smile more and have more fun getting through the game.

September 20, 2010 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger juv3nal said...

"Our loot is distributed more regularly, which works better for the game as a whole, but it means you likely won't get all the pieces of a set unless you're trying quite hard."

I didn't find this to be a problem (and relative to other games, like the aforementioned torchlight, I don't think I was trying that hard), but what happened was that I found myself rarely ever *wearing* a full set at once because by the time the last piece of a set turned up, I had already found an upgrade on one of the pieces.

September 20, 2010 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Squinky said...

Yes, it was I who wrote the names of all the opera songs. Those were fun. :)

Still haven't played the whole game yet, sadly. I'm waiting for the [REDACTED] version.

September 20, 2010 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger juv3nal said...

Ha! Just listening to Brainygamer podcast. Totally non-awkward dodging the bullet regarding Deathspank's "staggered release." ;P

September 20, 2010 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Padraig The animation was so glorious, I had to avert my eyes and play via a mirror with a cloth draped over it.

@Joe Heh, I should have had my wife come help me out in the pip village! Yeah, the flow there wasn't perfect. The unicorns were supposed to be really difficult, but if you stayed on the path, they wouldn't attack you. Then you could come back much later and give them what for.

Let me know what you think of Thongs once you have a chance to dig into it, definitely curious to hear your thoughts.

@Darius Heh, I had the exact same realization. Block wasn't quite vital enough that most folks used it enough to really remember it (myself included) but when you did need it, it was basically vital. Definitely could have done some better training with respect to that.

And yeah, also true about the spinning blade. The only "balance" concern is people neglecting other fun things to do the unfun thing because it's the only way to win. I don't think that was the case though. And if you liked the spinning blade, there's a good allotment of explosives in Thongs that have similarly potential qualities ;)

September 20, 2010 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@juv3nal Yeah, it's not a problem per se, it's more of an aesthetic thing. Our artists really knocked some of the armour sets out of the park and you don't necessarily get the full effect until it's all put together. Just wish that had been more likely to occur is all.

And I wasn't trying to dodge anything on Michael's post or be misleading =) It's just a complicated scenario and as Michael said talking about his inclusion of Portal in that intro class, stories can really quickly mutate and turn into something that's not accurate at all. Figured it was better to just not try to explain it, forget something and get burned later. And believe me, I felt like a total toolbag.

@Deirdra Huzzah! It was the "tanzen schnurrbart" one that jogged my memory. And yeah, there are rumblings about [REDACTED], hopefully soon too.

September 20, 2010 at 10:16 PM  

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