3 min read

How watching people play Dead Cells 'incorrectly' influenced its designers

Game designers create with elegance in mind, while players are more likely to opt for efficiency. Here's how Motion Twin tweaked Dead Cells after players ignored some of that design elegance.
"I wasn’t thinking as a player but more like a designer. It’s difficult to get rid of the idea of the way we want it to be played, and the efficient way is usually the opposite.”

- Motion Twin's Sébastien Bénard reflects on how designers and players approach situations differently

Dead Cells went through a number of changes before launching into Early Access earlier this year, with everything from its genre to mechanics seeing significant shifts since its initial pitch.

Now five months out from that release, Motion Twin is still poking and prodding at some of its core design elements because, as Motion Twin's Sébastien Bénard tells Rock Paper Shotgun, players weren’t playing the game how its designers had intended.

As part of its The Mechanic column, Rock Paper Shotgun has published an interview with Bènard detailing how the weapons system has evolved through the development of Dead Cells, and how it continues to do so as Early Access player feedback rolls in.

The conversation itself offers an interesting look both at how major changes can affect a game for the better and why it can be beneficial to sometimes think like players instead of designers. 

For example, after the game’s release, the team noticed that many players would opt to make one or both of their equipped items a long-range weapon. It had been an early design philosophy to place no limit on ammo for bows or grenades, which turned out to make ranged weapons a mite overpowered.

The game’s designers had intended for players to use a ranged attack as part of an elegant exchange, like firing an arrow at a foe and quickly dashing in to finish the enemy off with an equipped close-combat weapon. Instead, the team found that players would hang back and fire endlessly at foes until the battle was won. 

“It was a problem because, of course, when you make a game you want it to be a challenge, and when a player goes for long-range weapons the challenge should still be there," Bènard tells RPS. "It shouldn’t be just pressing a button and it kills the enemy.”

The first solution was to go against that early design decision and implement an ammo system; in this case, one that would return fired ammo after an enemy was killed. But shortly after the fix went live the team realized that they had made bows a little too inefficient against the game’s bosses, so another tweak was added. 

Bènard says that the changes didn’t sour the game for players. Instead, the new rules for bows forced them to adopt new strategies, with the added bonus of making dual-bow character builds a viable but still difficult choice for players to make.

That full story, along with an insightful look at how the weapons-based combat system Dead Cells has evolved both before and following its release, can be found over on Rock Paper Shotgun

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