Wildcard Game Design Work & Chill, Episode 4

SHow Notes

Join Stephen Hurd, Wildcard’s Senior Designer, for this episode of Work & Chill as he gives an in-depth look at his game design process. Stephen demonstrates how he creates characters, their abilities, and their behaviors using Unreal Engine for game development, as well as his process for testing and implementing new abilities in the game. 


Good morning. Good morning, everybody. My name is Ami from the Wildcard Alliance, and today we're doing another great event with the Wildcard team. We are hosting a work and chill session with our senior designer, Stephen Hurd. So if you're not familiar with how these events work, it's an hour long session where we just get to essentially sit right next to a member of the Wildcard team. While they're working on the Wildcard game, Stephen's going to talk us through, from a game design perspective, kind of what he does in an hour of his work. You guys will be able to kind of, if you're in Discord, weigh in and maybe have something to do with the work. I'll let him talk more about that. But, yeah, it's just a fun session. 


You guys are along with us for the game development ride a lot of the time in Discord, and this is our chance to do that live. So I'll pass it over to Stephen. Maybe, Stephen, you can give a quick intro of yourself, your background, how you ended up at Wildcard, and what you're going to be showing us today. 


Yeah, sounds great. Thanks for the intro there. Hey, everyone, my name is Stephen, and like she said, I am a senior designer on the project. Yeah, I'll tell a little bit about myself and kind of how I ended up here. So I've been in the games industry for eight, going on nine years now. So a little while I got my start actually working in community. So I was working for Playful Studios, which some of you may know kind of shares some lineage with the Wildcard Alliance, and that's where I got my start. We were launching a game on Steam out of early access called Creativerse, which is still out there. You can still go download it free and play. It's kind of a voxel building game, like Minecraft, free to play on Steam. The studio was launching that game. 


I had been helping out a little bit, like, on the forums and moderating and stuff like that, but we knew that the community was going to need a little extra firepower when were going to launch out of Steam. And so I got the opportunity to come on full time as community manager. And so I, of course, jumped at that opportunity and moved from Austin up to the Dallas Fort Worth area and got my start. And so that's where I began that got know the opportunity that was, was a, to just immerse myself in the games industry and development. I really didn't know. I hadn't thought a lot about what that would be like or other than my exposure through helping with community moderation and stuff. 


And so I really got to kind of dive in headfirst and not just build up and shape that community and be a liaison between our player base and the development team. Pass along when there are bug reports, but also feature requests or good ideas or feedback, all those great things that really help shape a live game like that. But also, I was lucky enough to be back in those days, we worked in an office, and so I got to sit there near the team, overhear what was going on and get exposure. And over time, I got the opportunity to kind of participate more and more in just general development of the game. And whenever there was a design question or just what should we do? 


The culture of the studio was very open in that way, to listen to any voice, and I was very connected with the game and our players. And so it was kind of a natural fit for me to be able to participate in more kind of design conversations to the point where and no one ever stepped in and said, hey, shut up, what are you doing? Right? Like, stay in your lane. There was none of that which was I was really fortunate to benefit from. And the end result was over time, that's kind of my focus shifted until I was mostly kind of performing that design role on that same game until a couple of years in. At my time at Playful, an opportunity came up. 


They were spinning up a new project, which was kind of the early days of Project Wildcard and needed some design backup on that project. And so I was one of the very early designers on that project now, several years ago. So did that for a little while. And then when that project kind of went on hiatus for a bit and the studio went through some changes, I went over to. I worked at a studio called Stray Kite Studios here in Texas, working on an unreleased project that they were working on at the time. I was there for about nine months as a balance designer. 


So working on combat and combatants and the rules of combat, balance of stats and things like that, which I kind of gained my experience here, kind of mapping that out for wildcard and understanding what those systems needed to be for a multiplayer, competitive, combat focused game. So I took those learnings and was able to go use them over there. After that, I went over to. I got opportunity to go over to scopely, who was also working kind of on a new unannounced project at the time. And I was there for about two years working again, kind of focused on lots and lots of different gameplay systems, but focused on gameplay characters and combat. And so, again, really focusing a lot of my energy towards what are the units of combat? What are the rules of combat? How do these pieces interact with one another? 


What are the things that need to be true about their stats or their abilities or their kind of traits in order to have the kind of competitive or just fun, strategic combat meta that we want to have in place in the game. And so I got to spend a couple years working with a lot of extremely experienced, intelligent folks over there and really learning a lot. 


And then at the end of last year, so about a year ago, got the opportunity to come back home to work again on Wildcard as this project kind of had ramped back up and again, was looking for some more design firepower as were ready to kind of take that core of fun that we had, the base gameplay and everything that was in place there, and say, all right, we're ready to take this and really take it to the next level. And so with additional gameplay systems, additional content, characters, champion summons, all these things. And so that's where I've been fortunate enough to spend my time for the last year or so here on this project. And kind of that's where my focus is today. 


I think a lot of people in the audience right now, were just having a conversation the other day about getting into the game industry and getting your foot in the door. So I'm glad you guys got to hear that story, because really, the doors are open as far as getting into the game industry, stepping out of your lane, and having that courage to kind of make your voice heard, build your skills. So, yeah, it's really cool. Steven is an incredibly talented designer. We're really lucky to have him on the. So what are we going to look at today, Steven? 


Sure. Yeah. So I thought, this is very unstructured. And so if anyone has, as this goes on, specific questions or ideas or thoughts about kind of what's going on here, please just throw them out there. I'm happy to completely pivot and kind of spend time with whatever is on you all's mind. What I have shared up on the screen right now is our game engine, game development engine. It's unreal. And I thought that we could take a look at a couple of our existing summons and go over a little bit, kind of how they're set up and what are some of the kind of parameters or traits of summons that we think about when we're implementing one. 


And then I thought we could maybe spin up, make some changes to one and kind of see how those play or just have some fun with that. So that's where we're at right now, if that sounds good. All right, yeah. Ami and everyone, please feel free to interrupt me and just toss any questions that way. I'm happy to address those, but yeah. So here you can kind of see. This is what just a view into unreal looks like. If you haven't taken a look at a game engine like this before. We have our level here in the middle. And so this is the Lushland Arena that you all may have seen in previous streams. 


It's kind of the iteration of our previous layout that was on Frostburn Arena, and it's kind of where a lot of the, we've been working on the latest and greatest competitive gameplay, and then all around the outside is kind of our file browser settings. Here's what is everything in the level. And so there's some railing over here. Oh, selected some railing over there. That kind of stuff. I can pan around, but when I'm working on a summon, then I would typically find the summons are made up of a set of files, a handful of them. The main one is just a data asset. So let's look at Spord. If you know Spord, he's a little mushroom guy, a little fungus that the latest kind of iterated design of him has. 


Spord comes into play and then after a duration, he will split and spawn several kind of baby Spords, kind of small versions of himself, and build up. So he's a swarm builder. He will use kind of growth in theme of growth that's in our Lubabub House, and build up a push over time. And so you as a player are incentivized to try to keep protect Spord or keep him alive or have him summon him way far back. So he has the maximum time to kind of walk through the arena before he gets to any sort of fight and spawn the most kind of backup. So we can actually just kind of see as is what that looks like. 


So I'm just hitting play on from here in the engine, you see, because this is a multiplayer game, a two player kind of multiplayer game. I get two windows, one with each champion. I can set that in settings like whichever champion I want to see. So I'm controlling Bolgar right now. I want a Spord, so I'm just going to throw some. I never use mouse and keyboard to play, but I'm finding it slightly easier. I'm just kind of cycling through till I run into a spore. Spord is up next. But when I summon Spord, then we'll kind of see that splitting behavior, and then we can think of some ways to modify that kind of look, how it's set up, and maybe we can break it a little bit. 


All right, so I'm running back here, so Spord has a while to kind of split and do his thing. So he's kind of looking for his lane, and he's going to travel down the center lane here. And after about 10 seconds, I think you see that this is kind of the updated Spord. So he really is going to create this little squad of Spords. These little baby guys. They are very low hit points. They're low damage, but they're power in numbers, right? And so if you have any sort of Aloe effect, that's extremely effective to take these out. Janz, for example, on summon doing splash damage, you're going to be able to take out any number of Spords that are kind of the small spores that are clumped up there. 


The goalie is making quick work of them, and then the original spore, the one that spawns the little units, is a little bigger. And so that provides an opportunity for counterplay and kind of strategizing against Spord. You see it on the board, you're like, okay, this is getting out of control. If I don't answer it, and I know what the threat is, it's that big one. As long as I can take that one out, then that'll kind of neutralize the threat, and it's not going to keep getting bigger and bigger. So that's kind of the existing behavior of Spord there. So I'm going to close that out. And that all is defined over here in our data asset. So the underscore Spord, that just tells us data asset for Spord. And this is just a lot of data fields, right? 


So we have a localized name. What is the summon cost? So I could change that to one, or I could change that to ten. Right? Hit points, movement speed. So Spord, right now, the original Spord moves a little slower than average. One reason we did that is that way when Spord is spawning those little, small units, they have a chance to kind of get ahead of him, and they're not all going to clump up in one little ball. The original Spord is going to, the small ones move a little faster. So that way, the original Spord is in the back, and you're able to kind of target it and pick it out from the crowd. So that's why we might make a choice to tweak movement speed like that. 


Some other stuff like hey, how long should this unit stand around before it starts moving? So that's kind of tied to the duration of that spawn animation. You summon Spord, it pops out of the card, kind of loops around and lands. And so we have kind of fine control over all of those little pieces in that way where any of these are available for us to iterate and kind of find the best, most straightforward, effective expression of any given summon. So here's some kind of gameplay tags that tell us what house Spord is in and what role it is. It's kind of a DPS. At the end of the day, it's a damage dealer, et cetera. And then down here under abilities. This is where we get into a little bit more interesting stuff, right? And so there are five abilities here in this. 


It's an array that is just a container for objects of the same type, kind of a data container. And so we've got five. We could have infinite amount of them. And some of these are basic abilities that every summon has, and some are specific to Spord. So I'll show you. I start at the bottom here. Here's a knockback response. And so this, to a player, to someone experiencing the game, they would never think of this as an ability. It's just we're using this system in order to kind of hook up this reactiveness that we want on Spord. And in fact, all of our summons. And something our summons should do when they are hit with knockback. And so they're knocked off their feet, and they're kind of flung through the air by the power of a knockback hit. They should play a specific animation. 


They should go into their knockback stake and go right, they're knocked off their feet, then they land. They take potentially some damage, depending on how far they landed, they had to recover. And so all that functionality is baked into this knockback response ability. So we have an ability file. This ga means gameplay ability, knockback response. And then we have animation that's tied to that. I can open up the animation. So here is Spord in his I am knocked back loop. So as long as Spord is in the flying through the air, it's going to loop this. At the beginning of being knocked back, they kind of. This is Spord kind of coming off of his feet, and then it transitions into that loop. That will loop for as long as it needed. 


And then Spord hits the ground, and it looks kind of like this. So he lands, and then we can put, like, that dust poof on there. And so that's actually this screen we're looking at is, we're looking at animation montage, which is essentially we have a timeline that we can put various animations on. If we want more than one, we can give them different traits, like, oh, this one is looping. This is the start. They have labels, default or loop or land. And then we can add things like a, hey, play a particle effect. So we're playing this knockback impact smoke effect when Spord lands. And so that helps just kind of sell that ability anyway. So that is one ability that is on Spord. The more interesting ones, though, we have other ones. Here's Spord spawning. What does it do on spawn? 


Hit reaction. Whenever Spord is hit by anything, just a melee hit, what does it do? And it plays in the animation. It goes right. And there might be a particle effect, a little spark, little explosion. But here's some interesting ones. We have Spord’s attack and Spord’s spawn truplets. And so triplets is a temp name. This is just a set. May or may not be final, likely not final, but it was just the name that I called them when we set them up in the game. And those are the small versions of Spord that themselves don't spawn anything. They just come out and generate a swarm. Right? So this has its own animation montage. And so we saw this in the game, right? 


This board is kind of selling that moment of spawning these baby Spords, the triplets, if you will, and then we have the ability. And so that's what I was going to pull up next. Let me take a little sip of coffee. Okie doke. So we are now looking at a gameplay ability. What are we looking at? So this here on the right, this is, again, just a list of kind of data. These are information or traits that we can assign to this ability that helps tell the game, like, exactly what it should do. So it's got a cooldown. How frequently should this ability fire off? Every 10 seconds. Right. Now, do we need to have a delay from when Spord spawns to start using the ability? 


Well, actually, yes, we need to account for the duration of that spawn animation before we start counting off 10 seconds to spawn the first squad of triplets. And so that's what this represents here. This is spawn sockets. So sockets are on the model of Spord. In fact, I could show you the model has a skeleton, and that's what the animators use to help to animate it and create those great the motion of Spord. And on that skeleton, we can define points that are consistent and have a name that we can refer to. And then attach things or do things at the location of those points. And so all this says is, hey, here is the point on Spord that we want each of those new Spords to spawn at. 


So there's some sockets set up on its head, and that's where those Spords are popping out from, et cetera. How far do we want to launch those Spords and do we want to modify kind of the direction that the Spord is launched at the moment? So actually, we've got one going kind of in the negative y direction. So he's popping off to the left, then we've got one going to the right, and then we've got one going straight. So that's the default. So no modifier there, and even modifiers of the strength of each of those. And so this is all functionality that we built into a base ability that we can use for spawning for any creature or any character that has this kind of spawn ability. 


And so this is the one for Spord, but it's got a parent class, which means what base ability is this ability based on, basically. And if I pull that up, then here is where a lot of that logic lies, right? So you'll hear this referred to as spaghetti. Sometimes it's the blueprint system in unreal. And it's kind of a layout of logic nodes that have the same kind of functionality or similar functionality to what code ink might. And so we set this up in order to define what this spawn, a creature ability does for us. So there's some stuff that's kind of very, hey, we want the creature to stop moving when it's going to start spawning. And so we disable the movement here. And then a lot of these are like, hey, go get the creature. We're going to spawn. 


Get his data so we can reference it. There's a bunch of. Here we go play montage. This is play that animation of Spord going with his head, right? So we need to fire that, and then we want to wait for. And it says wait with a notify. A notify is just on that timeline of the animation. We can define precise instance when we want an action to happen. And whenever we have one of those notifies, then we will go spawn the creatures. The logic goes down here. So without getting into exactly what this is all is doing, the overall gist is, hey, we follow from left to right a logic path that is defined by these connected nodes. Each time you get to a node, it does the thing that the node is defined to do. 


This one is just a if statement, if move while spawning, which is a trait that is on our ability if move while here. I'm sorry for this. I want to see my top row a little better here. If that is set to true and it's set to false, so we go back to here. If it was true, we would go over here. If it senses false, then we need to run this disable movement node and then as long as that was successful, then we kind of rejoined the path and keep going forward. So, yeah, long story short, all this kind of spaghetti of logic allows us to use this base ability in order to have Spord spawn his little babies, if that all makes sense. 


That's so wild to see how many little things need to happen to make little Spord babies. I got a question with building this in unreal, there was a few things that you showed, like setting the attack and setting the knockback. How much of that is built into unreal versus how much do you have to manually set up parameters and kind of what they mean and stuff? 


Yeah, great question. So we are fundamentally using, it's called the gameplay ability system, which is Unreal's kind of. I guess it's their out of the box ability system is what they use, I think, fortnite in their projects. And it's the one that belongs to unreal. You can use other ability solutions in projects. We've tried one before that was called the able abilities system, and it had a similar function, which is, hey, how do we define and fire off our abilities and how do they interact with one another? But we are using gameplay abilities, customer gas for short, and so that you get for free for using Unreal, but all the kind of specific functionality you're going to want to define per project. So it supports out of the box creating traits and so likely traits that you're going to have. 


I don't even know if trait is the right word, but essentially data fields that you can put on a character that abilities can look at and reference and modify. And so one would be health speed and so on. And so since those are defined on our creatures that have a gameplay ability system component on them, then they can be referenced and talked to by our abilities that we set up. And so that all is kind of part of the core functionality and kind of the first thing you would set up if you're implementing gas in an unreal project. But the more specific stuff. Let's see, let's pull up a attack ability here. Where's my abilities? Yeah, so here is GA Spord attack. 


So open that up so you'll see this one in the data here looks a little different from my spawn Spords because this one was built on top of this spawn actor that we defined with this very custom logic in order to be able to spawn and launch summons. And then this one is all about, hey, we're going to deal some damage. And so itself is based on a custom ability that we built that is for doing melee damage. So it's got, how much damage? It's got animation play rate. So we could make something attack faster or slower. It's got, do we want to have unique sections of the montage? So that was this animation montage for different attacks. And so we can look at our, so here's a Spord. No, not that one. Oh, I'll show you an example of that. Slowclaw. 


So here's the data asset for Slowclaw. We've seen Slowclaw before, and she's got her attack here. But I'm going to look at the, okay, so this is Slowclaw's basic attack montage. And right now, she's just using this kind of side to side swipe. But we had, oh, you know what? They might not be set up where I can easily show you. But anyway, I was going to show you other animations of program like this, like top down or using the other hand. And we can use those fields to define like, hey, use these sections of the montage along with this corresponding logic. So that's all that was. We got to see slow, which is nice. 


In a case where slow cloud she's gotten, over time, she's gotten that, she would use those in different situations. Like, if she's going for something that's smaller than her, she's going to uppercut it. And if it's something bigger, she's going to come. Something like that. 


Yeah, totally. Any sort of conditional logic. Like, as soon as you're saying, if this, then this, that is all definable within. We might need to set up some blueprint logic to handle that. So, okay, when Slowclaw is activating her attack, look at the target. The target is something. She has a target that's defined by her AI component. So we can go look at that, find the target's location. We can look at the target size and say, okay, this target is small. It has a height of whatever, of its collision capsule size. And so therefore, we want to use this animation montage. And so we can totally do that kind of bespoke functionality that is driven by animation or by gameplay conditions. 


And that's a benefit of gas this gameplay ability system that we're using is that is all very definable and flexible and easy to do. Relatively easy, as long as we kind of know the functionality that we're going for. So it's a very powerful system in that way. 


Yeah. Really cool. Okay, so in that explanation, you also mentioned the AI, the characters AI systems. How much of that, what goes into that? How are we defining an AI? How much hands on do you have on those systems? 


So a lot of our summons use very similar or almost identical AI. And so if you look at the name of it. So I'm looking at Spord here. There's this field behavior tree type. So behavior tree is sort of a structure that we build here in unreal that defines the AI behavior of a summon. And so we can actually look at it that looks like this. And so I am not extremely expert at this. I have set up some, I've modified some. That's kind of my comfort level, is an engineer set this up and I can get in there and mess it up a little bit or make a change. But essentially at all times, a character with AI is evaluating the kind of logic path according to this behavior tree. So it starts at root and then there's a set of checks. 


So the next one is a selector which basically goes to the next level and tries to execute those nodes from left to right. And then if one of those succeeds, then the selector succeeds and then it moves on. So first is checking if this has a gameplay tag that says, hey, I am channeling or I am hidden. So I guess these are gameplay tags that we have used at times. And if so, then I want to stop movement. And so if that was a successful check, if one of those traits is true, then my creature movement is going to stop. And then I'll go back to the beginning and check again. And so as long as I have those tags, I'm going to keep being stopped. And that might be all I do. But let's assume I don't have those tags. 


Then I'm going to go on to this selector. So I'm going to focus enemies. I'm going to look if I have an enemy, let's see if I have a persistent ability. So like an ongoing ability that is maybe always true while the summon is out, then I'm going to activate that. Then I'm going to check if I should. I think this is not even logic that we use now, but we don't really have a super ability on summons. Okay, so here we go. Has target attack. So am I in range of my enemy? If so, I want to stop, update my aggro location, face the target, and then run this behavior of attack. And so you can kind of see that this basic behavior is just telling by summons in the default, I'm going to move forward. Yeah, so here we go. 


No attack target. Then ultimately I'm going to follow the lane. So I'm going to just start moving down the lane. Right. And so that is the default behavior of most of our summons. You summon them. If they don't have a target, they're going to move down the lane. If they acquire a target, they're going to face it and start moving towards that target. If they're in range of that target, in range of attacking it, they're going to stop moving, they're going to start attacking. They're going to keep doing that as long as that target is a valid target. If something happens, they kill that target or that target gets knocked away and it's no longer in range, then the behavior tree will reevaluate and say, okay, I no longer have a valid target. I'm going to go back to moving forward. 


And these trees are built in a way for that path to reflect kind of that desired behavior. So, yeah, that's how we set those up. There are variations of this. One would be our friend watchy. So watchy has a unique behavior. That Wotchy sits still until an enemy comes in range. Right. Then it kind of activates, it will chase it, and then if that target gets out of range or dies, then Wotchy will return to that summon point. Right. So we can see that defined here. And the difference is. What's the difference? It's kind of right here. It's got this aggre location check on nav mesh. Yeah. So a subtly different behavior tree that allows watch you to kind of have that distinct behavior. 


And so you can see we've got all of these different called keys that we can define or that the AI tracks in order to kind of navigate this logic and be doing the right thing at the right time. So anyway, that's a five minute version of how that works from a non expert. 


I suddenly understand how and why some game ais are so bad because that's really complicated. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. So I did get community question. So I'll go ahead and ask that while we're collecting more. So Monty was wondering if you guys ever tried out a mechanic that you would have liked to add to the game. But it didn't end up being fun or competitive or was too overpowered. 




Bonus follow up question to that is, do you think you'll ever save any of those for a future game mode of any kind? 


Yeah, great question. And the answer is yes. Many, many. Right. And so part of the experience and process of defining kind of our game mode and the rules of Wildcard, what is the size and scope of our arena? What are the things that we want the champion and the player controlling the champion to be paying attention to nearby them? We learned over time kind of which sorts of summit abilities really worked well for us and which they might have worked but were less effective for some reason. And so an example of a type that works for us is things that happen, right, when a summon is summoned. So, example, Fendor. Right. Fendor comes into play, is summoned, and provides a shield to nearby allies. Yeah, we can see that in the game. Lumph is similar. Lumph comes into play and heals nearby allies. 


Right. Let's have Lumph come do it. I'm going to go take some damage from the goalie. It can beat me up. How? All right, then Lumph came out and did an area of effect and healed me up. Right. So we like that, and we believe that it works well in our game because it is immediate. You're already paying attention to kind of the area where your summon is coming into play. You're choosing the location that you have a lot of agency over it. You can choose exactly with kind of pinpoint accuracy, where you want to summon something and the timing at which you do it. And so it is readable because it happens right in front of you immediately. You have agency over it because it's tied to summoning, which is something that you have direct control over. 


And we can put cool abilities there, like healing or shields or things that are very impactful. And so that combination of impactful, readable, and having a lot of agency is a sweet spot for abilities in our game because we're within this big arena with multiple levels. Something that happens far away from you or is out of your control a lot of times feels invisible to the player, because by the time something happens 5 seconds after you summon, you might be off to the next thing. You don't see it. You're not really aware of it, how accurate it was, how impactful it was. And so, anyway, hey, Remy and y'all let me know if my audio is doing okay. I see that there's some chat about you're doing okay. 


It's a discord thing. 


Okay, great. Yeah. Good to know. Okay. Yeah. That's an example of a kind of ability that works well for us, whether it's a heel or a shield or whatever. It's on summon, and it kind of happens in that immediate, impactful way. Similarly, anyway, so that's one example. We found that things that happen on summon, death, for example, or that happen all the time around a summon have to be really loud and obvious. Otherwise they get lost. And so a summon that raises the maximum hit points of everything around it while it walks through the arena, unless we have really loud vfx or kind of animations tied to that's an example of something that is sort of fuzzy and a player might not really get to really understand precisely, like, the effect of it. 


We say a lot, oh, it's just kind of happening down the lane and you don't see it or kind of global effects. So, hey, in magic, the gathering, there's the goblin king. And when the Goblin King is in play, all your goblins get plus one. Plus one. They get stronger. And that's an amazing magic card. I don't think it's technically good anymore, but it was in the original set and players loved it because it was flavorful and it tells you, oh, man. Now I want to put every goblin I have in my deck because they're going to be strong and I'm going to get a benefit and I'll build a strategy around that. 


Whereas in our game, if I implemented Goblin King and I could say, hey, when Goblin King is out, or we'll call it Spord King, when Spord King is out, all your spores, including the baby ones, have plus ten damage to every attack. That sounds like a cool ability, but what we found is a player summons Spord King. It's not obvious what it's doing because there's no kind of animation tied to it. It's just kind of a hidden effect that is subtly adding to numbers. And maybe it's causing some combats to swing one way or another, but it's not readable, it's not immediate, and it's moderately impactful. And so it kind of falls outside of that sweet spot of abilities that really fit within kind of this action arena combat summoning game that we have. 


That's an example of a kind of ability that we love the idea of that sort of space because it puts us in the mindset of some of our favorite strategy games, like magic, the gathering, or Hearthstone, where those effects can be really compelling. They're build around, which is you get one, you're like, I'm going to design my whole deck around this. And so the idea of those is really sweet, but when we want to use something like that, we've got to find a really kind of great expression of it that reads super loudly in gameplay, so that way it kind of satisfies those traits that we're looking for. Maybe if it was tied to a summon that its theming was all about that effect. 


I'm speaking abstracts now, but we would just want to try to find some thematic expression that can be backed up with animations and VFX and that kind of thing, audio, in order to really sell the effect, if we wanted to have a chance of kind of being readable in the way that we really want it to be. So hopefully that was a very long winded kind of answer, but hopefully it kind of gets at what you were thinking about. The other part of that question was, would we ever hold on to those and then look for opportunities to use them? Absolutely right. I can't speak to game modes or anything like that. I don't know what the future will be there. But in general, yeah, absolutely. We try these things. 


We have got this gas gameplay ability system, and we can prototype abilities fairly quickly and get them. If we have an idea for an ability, a lot of times we can hook it up quickly, assign it to a character, kick a new build and test it that day. Right, like, or that morning. And so because of the speed and kind of power of that system, we are willing to just try things a lot of times. And sometimes we'll be like, oh man, I love, love this ability, but it's just not satisfying something that we know we need to solve. 


I don't have a solution yet of how it works in our game, so I'm going to put it on the back burner, and maybe that means that we're going to think about it and I'm going to keep it in the back of my mind, and then one day we might wake up, say, oh, I got it. This is how we can use that and make it work for us. And so we keep those abilities, not just the files and the actual hookup of them that we've got defined. So now we can always refer back to those. But yeah, we're always just brainstorming and thinking of opportunities to use those. Any sort of interaction that was particularly sweet, that had something about it that we really liked for our game. Totally. 


Yeah. Okay, so kind of a related question again from Monty. Obviously, in games, there's some abilities that are relatively standard shields, heels, buffs. Is there any pressure at all to create something that's never been seen in a game before? And is there any concern that we'll start to see things overlap or become too repetitive as our cast of characters grows? 


Yeah, great question. So my answer would be not directly. Right? Like, I don't think. At least I'll answer for me. Right. Like, I don't think in terms of, we need to make sure that we have something that is extremely rare or you haven't seen, because I don't know whether that is good or bad. Right. We try as designers and kind of at least a way that I try to prioritize efforts is more trying to solve for a particular outcome. So maybe the outcome is, hey, we want our combat system to be interesting and diverse and have strategic depth and replayability. And these kind of concrete outcomes that we can attempt to solve for and then test and measure right image are literally just in, hey, play this and what do you think? Right. 


And so in terms of that, then I think, yeah, not that I care, whether. It's not that I don't care, but not that I am looking for, exactly. Hey, this is brand new and you've never seen it. A lot of times what that might, you know, there are a trillion games with combat in them, and whenever we can lean into a trope or a pattern that is recognizable, then that does a lot of things for us. There's a lot that's good about that healing being represented by kind of green energy and little you saw when Lumph healed me earlier, I got these little plus signs. That's a symbol that I would recognize from team fortress or a bunch of different games. And because I'm a gamer and I've played games, I have that kind of literacy. 


And so as developers, we get that kind of learnability of what we're doing for free. Right. We're referencing something that is pretty recognizable and a certain segment of our players are going to recognize it and say, okay, I know what that is. I understand it. I don't need to use up mental kind of bandwidth in trying to learn that as a new thing because, oh, I get it. That's my health. That's a shield, and it does what I expect a shield to do. So there's a lot of upside when it works for using kind of combat traits or interactions or abilities that are kind of recognizable from other games or other genres or whatever. Right? But I love the opportunity to do something more unique, or maybe you haven't seen it done in a way that really meets its full potential. Right? 


So knockback is a system that we have spent a few cycles on and are looking for. We really want to be an example of one of our combat systems that isn't in every game and maybe doesn't have the depth that we have in our game. In every game. In terms of we're not just top down, we're in this kind of space with verticality and lanes and edges and cliffs and stuff, and we've got a damage component tied to it. 


And so when we look for those maybe not guaranteed or not gimme systems, we do want to make sure that we are making them kind of as robust and as interesting, and that they use the word systemic a lot, that they play along with or interact with a lot of the other gameplay systems that we have in place in the game to make it worth putting it in there. It's less interesting just to take, oh, hey, here's a popular mechanic that's in this other game, and here's a subbit that does the same thing. 


Maybe there's opportunities for that sometimes, but when we can put our own spin on it or go a little deeper into it as a system, then that represents, to me, that makes it more worth doing something that's new, that maybe we're asking the player to learn or understand for our game. Right? Like there's a player that's going to have a limited budget, especially starting out brand new for what's going to be brand new for them, and they want to learn, and we don't want the experience just to feel completely overwhelming or that's not a desirable state. And so if we can have a balance of recognizable combat that makes sense in kind of this arena, this action arena setting. And here are the unique things like throwing cards, and then you're a summoner and the summons come out and you're there alongside them. 


Here's kind of new expressions of combinations of things that do exist, but don't necessarily exist in kind of this combination or in this exact way. That is how we get kind of a game that is unique but still accessible. So if that answers that question. 


Oops, I muted myself. It does answer that question. Thank you. Okay, so we're running out of time a little bit. I'll ask one more because we have a lot of play testers in the audience right now. So I'm wondering, you plan out all these skills. It's kind of like an idea, maybe in your head as a designer, how these things will kind of interact and synergize. But then through play testing either community or internally, was there ever a synergy or a combo that you weren't expecting but was exciting to see in action? 


Yeah, absolutely. We learn the most from, and especially combos and interactions, 100% we learn from play testers, and the community is a huge kind of force for that, and that's extremely valuable information and insight for a designer or developer. And so a lot of times what we'll see is when skilled players play and they play for more than just a little bit of time, it starts to surface like, hey, what is totally broken? What is way out of whack? And a lot of times that is surprising or can be right. And so I think back to months ago when there was kind of a predbs design for Locke that had an electrical AOE on the ground and stuff, and particularly had a discard ability that would get rid of one of the cards in his hand, replace it, and then give locks and mana. 


And what we saw is that really degenerated into a strategy where every time the first thing players do would just discard, like it was all about, hey, let me maximize my mana output by abusing that ability or using it the most that I can. And then here are the most kind of effective summons that I can take advantage of, and I'm trying to just cycle my cards quickly to get back access to those same summons. And so that kind of play is extremely informative to us because we play, and it's a vital part of the job of developers to also play. And we have schedule play tests daily and every week, and we pull in the team, but there's only so much we can, especially because we're also implementing stuff. Right. Like, I want to play test something new. 


Well, I've got to set it up, and so that's going to limit the amount of time that I can really put it through its paces. And so I would say the number one thing is just like, strategies or combinations of hooking into what's really good about something new and then pushing the limits of what that can do in a match is something that the community is consistently great at and really gives us a ton of information that we can learn from. 


Amazing. Thank you. I'm going to throw this one in because this actually is a community question. Are you ever going to consider taking away the ability to heal Semblar? That's the current meta. 


Great example, right? Yeah. Healing Sembler with particularly getting like, an Aloe behind Sembler and Aloe doesn't move anywhere and just is a recurring heel is pretty op right now. You must answer that, or you're just going to get infinite shooter crew, right? I would say the number one. So just directly answer the question. I don't love having to carve out exceptions for healing works, except for this, and this, because that's too dangerous. I would rather find, is there a version assembler that we can make in a world that also has healing? And so that would be a goal, right. We want all these abilities and systems to exist, and we have this kind of philosophy of, if you as a player kind of ask, oh, wait, does it do this? We try to make the answer to that, yes. 


So if you say, oh, Sembler hurts itself, what if I heal it? If that occurs to you, then the answer should be, yeah, that absolutely works. That said, having kind of a static, immobile healer like Aloe is dangerous space. And we know that, in general, immobile things can be problematic if they don't have some other mitigation. And so Sembler is immobile, but it actually has a flea ability. It'll run away and self damages. Wotchy is immobile, but it will kind of break its immobile and go chase something. And we've even discussed, do we need to have a similar kind of wear and tear mechanic on Wotchy where it's not going to last forever? Because that allows you to build up kind of that defense's death ball. 


And particularly for a healer, I think that is, I believe we're likely to kind of revisit exactly how a summon like Aloe gets to do healing. It could be that if we like the ability to just stand there and heal, that maybe there's some limit or it's not something you can set up once, and then it heals forever. That, I think has the danger of being kind of becoming problematic in the way you're saying. And so maybe Aloe prioritizes moving forward more, and so it'll heal. The immo will think some, and then before, you know, aloe is out of range or et cetera, there's kind of infinite variations. So, yeah, those are examples of where we would take kind of that community and play test feedback and say, all right, this kind of interaction feels broken. 


And it's not just a question of allowing Sembler, but more about immobile units. And maybe, I think fundamentally, that's a question about immobile units and then healing, maybe secondary. And so we would kind of reconsider what are the kind of parameters or what needs to be true about immobile units or healers such that they can all still play together in the same sandbox, but they don't as easily kind of result in these super out of whack situations where you're kind of getting infinite value for a low cost. 


Amazing. Thank you so much. Yeah, like you said, it's more than just about the individual summons, but about the broader framework about how abilities work. Yeah, that's a good lens to look at it through and definitely makes it easier to understand for us as a community. Okay, so we are at time. I know that's everyone's least favorite thing for me to say, but Stephen has to get back to doing the game. So I do want to say thank you so much for everyone who joined us in the audience today and asked questions. This was a really fun discussion. Stephen, thank you for taking time out of your day to hang out with us and show us a little bit behind the scenes. Was there anything else you wanted to say or share before we signed off today? 


No, just to say thank you to everyone for tuning in. I love opportunities like this. I will talk anyone's ear off about my perspectives on summons and combat and characters, and it's enjoyable to get to spend all day thinking about that stuff. And so I love kind of sharing that thought process with everyone. 


Amazing. Well, thank you guys so much. And you see our dev list in Discord. The devs are always hanging out. If you got feedback on the game or on the events like this, please join us in general chat or in the gameplay play test feedback forum because they're always listening. I know you guys can see that and all the updates that come into the game. So that's it for us today. Thank you again for joining. We'll do another one of these very soon. Until then, we're going to see you in chat. I hope everyone has a good day, afternoon or night, wherever you are. We'll see you next time.