As it was written in the old testament, a developer will get a brilliant idea. Based on that idea, an artist will create a concept and a new game will be born. However, neither the developer nor the artist will be satisfied with a baby game. So, they will change it once, and then, once again. Finally they shall look proudly at their creation. But then, out of sudden, new ideas will appear, so cool, fresh and innovative that developer and artist will soon find themselves in the middle of the new redesign.
This is our story and also the story of so many developers. It suggests that you should not be afraid to throw away months of work in case that new, better ideas show up. In most cases, it pays off. Now that we are entering the final stage of the game development, we feel the need to come up with a brief recap about the evolution of AoH design in the last couple of months. It will also help you to better understand the complexity of the game development and all the tough decisions we had to make during that process. But before that, we need to answer the question which imposes itself:
What were the main motifs for changing the initial design?
As It is already said, we got a bunch of new, more complex ideas for the gameplay. Thus, the initial design seemed to be too limiting. We wanted the ultimate fun, a design that would allow thousands of crazy solutions, that will fit innovative features and finally, a design that could inflame the imagination. After all, we wanted a deeper story, the one that engages and provokes at the same time. What does the term ‘awakening’ means to you, to us? It could mean a lot. So let us initiate the story to be developed later together with our fans, through the game. Enough with post-apocalyptic themes and survival quests! Instead, we offer a dreamlike town in which heroes will fight for higher goals. There is a portal that will open new possibilities, a whole new world to be discovered.
New Town Design
In order to implement the new design, we needed to think through all ideas and possible solutions and then to create sketches of new houses, inhibitors and base. We also came up with drawings of new markets, parks and ground. According to the main idea based on a background story, we wanted to get more vivid and colorful town than it use to be, so that it reminds a bit of a cartoon. Therefore, instead of the initial design that had been executed in the Steampunk style and recalled Victorian Era, AoH arena got the authentic, cartoonish look.
After drawing sketches and creating 3D models, we were ready to implement the new design into the game. Of course, all those updates had to be tested multiple times, before they went live.
The new design of the arena implied updates of the main protagonists – heroes and minions. However, their implementation required changes of their movements, attacking, as well as changes of their weapons. This process again required new animations. During all these processes, our team closely cooperated with our Alpha testers, who have shared their ideas and opinions with us.
We increased the number of polygons in each 3D model, while some of our heroes got completely new models. Now they look more polished and more realistic. They move smoother and their weapons are enriched with more complex effects.
At first, we adapted minions to fit the Steampunk style, but since we made some serious changes in design, they have become pretty unmatchable with the new surroundings. Do you agree?
Fortunately, our creatives came up with a cool, funny idea for new minions (dwarfs in bunny costumes and boxing gloves), which totally goes in line with the background story about a crazy mayor and his dreamlike town.
A second class of minions uses giant carrots as weapons, while the most powerful minion looks completely hilarious.
We had a similar problem with the first line of towers which have not fit the new design.
Instead of a mechanically designed tower which used to make a damage with a laser beam, we designed a new one with a cute little fellow on the top, controlling a tower and shooting cannonballs.
Besides, we significantly improved the animation of the sequence in which a tower gets destroyed, as well as the appearance of the destroyed tower.
New Inhibitor and Base
The background story inspired us to create new inhibitors (as they are called in other games) and a base which you cannot see in any other MOBA. Instead of a regular inhibitor, we implemented a book (the Book of the Awakening) which needs to be open before attacking the enemy’s base. To put it differently, in order to awaken a hero within, a player needs to soak up the knowledge from the book. Each time you do that, one of five basic minions will be replaced by the more powerful minion which will increase your chances to win.
As a symbol of the awakening, we implemented a portal instead of the old power plant base. According to the story, after men awaken heroes within, the portal to the new world will finally open.
New Ground Texture
Although this aspect seems like the easiest thing to be implemented, it is completely opposite since its creation takes a lot of time and a lot of nerves. Since texture takes the greatest part of the map, it has to be very appealing. At the same time, it has to be neutral, in order not to draw the attention from heroes and their weapons (from effects and particles). So, we had a great dilemma: How to make a ground texture that will be both interesting and neutral? Our designer has made several updates of the ground pattern so far.
The shift from daylight to the evening atmosphere was one of the most important changes that we have made so far. It required a serious work on the new lightning – from the arena with only one light (in the daylight version) to the arena with more than 70 small lamps allocated all over the map (in the evening version). This task was executed in several stages, in which we were experimenting with different intensity and density of light until we found a perfect lightening for our town.
Ideal UI should be pretty neutral and user friendly, but at the same time, it needs to look nice and fit an overall game style. Since AoH design went through several updates so far, each of those updates required the adjustment of the user interface. Besides, when we implemented new functionalities, we could not simply add them to the User Interface. Instead, the new UI design had to be made. You can see differences among old and new UI in the photos above.
New Pre-Game Design
A pre-game design is another important element of our game. It presents a player’s personal town in which he/she develops buildings to increase hero’s abilities in the battle. We were experimenting with several unsuccessful prototypes of the pre-game design until we finally made the one that satisfies both us and our fans.
The new in-game design required a new pre-game design. Firstly, we modified the ground. Then, we moved a stage from the village to the city and finally, it ended up in the clouds. Consequently, we had to update the design of buildings. At last, in order to make the town more fun and vivid, we added several decorative elements – the fisher-elephant, a carnivorous plant, sheep, a wind balloon etc.
What have we learned?
1. A game development is an open process in which you never know what will be your final product. As a matter of fact, the more you step away from the initial concept, the better your final product will be.
2. Whenever you ask yourself whether you should change something, do it. If you do not like it totally, it is unlikely to be accepted by fans.
3. However, before you change it, consult your fans (your testers). Offer them several options and ask them which one they like the most. It is most probably that they see the possible solution clearer than you.
4. The story should always come first. And not any kind of story. You need a consistent story to serve as a base for the gameplay and inspiration for creatives. The story should be open and flexible in order to absorb all the updates and upgrades, all new characters and features.
5. Even if you have spent some time on scripts and concepts which you are going to throw away, that time has not been actually wasted. Even ‘not so good’ design, idea and concept can lead you to the perfect solution, to the revolutionary idea. Thus, don’t regret, but consider every single thing you have done as a good investment.