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Taking risks in a live service game with Clash of Clans' Builder Base 2.0

We spoke to Supercell game designer Alex Roque about the reworking of Clash of Clans' Builder Base feature.

Diego Arguello, Contributor

May 31, 2023

11 Min Read
Key art for Clash of Clans Builder Base mode. A bearded man in a purple robe directs a man in a makeshift flying craft.

Game designer Alex Roque is one of the most recent members to join Supercell. During his first year working on Clash of Clans, he's gotten the opportunity to explore all sorts of mechanics and systems. Taking part in rebuilding the fan-favorite Builder Base mode, however, came as a surprise—but certainly not without planning.

The free-to-play mobile strategy game from the Finnish studio has been amassing players for over a decade. The six-year-old Builder Base mode—a PVP mode with a more tactical approach—didn't receive updates for some time. In November 2022, the team announced a 2.0 rework. Roque is just one of the developers who took part in the endeavor, workshopping ideas with the team at large and deciding how to approach such an important overhaul for a live service player audience.

It's rare that studios go through such an effort to revitalize languishing modes like this. We spoke with Roque about what kind of work went to bringing Builder Base back to life.

Where did Clash of Clans' Builder Base mode come from?

Roque graduated from a career in Mechatronics Engineering in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he was born and raised. He then spent the next few years building ice cream machines, until one day he decided to make a game in his spare time. Brazil's Wildlife Studios took an interest in his project and hired him, spanning three years of experience before joining Supercell.

"At some point I realized it took too much time to make things in real life," Roque tells Game Developer via Zoom. "Making games digitally, you can just build them and test them right away, it's a much faster process to create new things". The developer adds that the opportunity fall onto his lap out of the blue, and changing careers has been the best decision he made.

By the time he started learning the ropes around Clash of Clans, Builder Base wasn't exactly the focus. With so many moving parts both inside and outside the game, there's always something to improve or iterate somewhere. Discussions about the PVP mode would arise during the team's free time sometimes, as Roque emphasizes that every member is also a player who often plays and chat about the game together. But planning didn't really start until around six months after his arrival.

People at Supercell began to try and identify the current state of Builder Base. The mode hadn't received substantial updates in almost five years. According to Roque, nobody on the team had figured out what to do up to that point. As such, they began by listing the pros and the cons, which existing ideas could be improved or reworked entirely, and then followed the meetings.

"It was just a lot of meetings and discussions where the whole team was present," he says. "Everybody could pitch in. Then, the designers stepped out, discussed the meeting, went back to them with ideas, discussed more, and so on. It was really cool how over time these big ideas took form. At some point there was even a pitching round where people could be [ask] 'what do I want to do with builder base?', and some of the ideas of those pitches actually went into the game. After we had kind of the direction, then it was discussing details and executing basically."

Clash of Clans' Builder Base mode needed a ground-up overhaul

One of the elements the team appreciated about the original Builder Base was its mix of tactics with the soul of a puzzle. Up until Builder Hall 5, which is the equivalent of the Town Hall in the Home Village, the player only has a few troops and very few buildings, depending solely on direct counters. Finding ways to attack an enemy base was both fun and challenging. Over time, getting to Builder Hall 9, the base was so big that the initial elements from puzzles and tactics weren't there anymore. It was more effective to have one army that did well and just use that in every base you attacked.

Partially, this is the reason why Clash of Clans didn't have more Builder Halls, as expanding the levels would do nothing but amplify these pacing issues. "It was an interesting decision, instead of making more content, let's go back to the core and fix the problem, so that then we can add more content," Roque says.

To him, PVP was an interesting concept at first, but the game had a few peculiar frustrations in the way it operated the mode. There wasn't much interaction between players, and the general pacing would turn the odds against you if you weren't fast enough. It didn't matter if you had a strong attack ready. If the opponent responded in a similar way just one second before, you'd get nothing out of the match.

Gameplay of Clash of Clans Builder Base.

From here, ideas revolved around setting actual turns for each side, making it so attacks are as important as your defenses. All of these elements, as well as troop abilities and the addition of farming to counter a limiting metagame, were taken into consideration for the rework.

There were three standout pitches that influenced Builder Base 2.0 and the vision behind it. The first involved heroic troops, which would be stronger than the rest and have their own abilities. This now exists in the game, but there were some additional details, such as the troops indicating that building they'd attack next.

The second pitch involved a builder league of sorts, which encompassed things like how to use structures and how players would progress with trophies. This evolved into the existence of multiple leagues in the game. As for the third pitch, which involved Roque and a few other designers, it introduced the concept of splitting the village in two, resulting in two-stage attacks. This drastically changed the strategies in mind when building a base.

While the style of these brainstorming meetings wasn't so different compared to others in the past, discussions for Builder Base 2.0 involved basically the entire team. This was not just so people would have the chance to pitch in, but just so everybody would have context, and understand why the rework was happening.

"I think, when you're doing something this big, you need the team to be aligned on the direction and understand why they're doing what they're doing," says Roque. "The usual process is like, somebody comes up with a solution or something they wanna do, pitch it to the team, and see who else wants to join in. A small group attends, discusses it in depth, and comes back with a solution."

The revamp of Builder Base drove new communication strategies

In a similar way, the community's input was crucial. For Supercell, the community around Clash of Clans has an essential part in almost all the decisions they made. They refer to them to understand the problems of the game. Both the general feedback and data helped to identify issues that players had.

The absence of regular updates for Builder Mode is related to this. As data showed that players weren't that interested in the mode, the team decided to place their effort elsewhere until they had a firm plan for the next steps. Roque reflects on the whole process, and mentions that as important as listening to the community can be, keeping design in mind for the big picture is vital.

"Maybe what I can say is, [the community] is not a big part in coming up with solutions," he laughs. "Players are great at saying what problems they have with the game and what they're facing. When it comes to solutions it's a little bit trickier to get ideas from players because, as a designer in this game I need to have a very high-level view of everything that's happening. And the player's experience… it's very hard for them to have a view of the whole, you know, whereas we have access to information that allows us to see the game as a whole and come up with better solutions."

Builder Base led to a different approach in terms of communication and visibility. Supercell doesn't tend to do blog posts explaining upcoming balance tweaks or new mechanics for Clash of Clans. Based on the positive reaction to videos with the developers over on YouTube showing the behind-the-scenes of the studio, the team opted to open the dialogue with players by continuing to provide peeks behind the curtain. The posts, which cover aspects from changes in attack and defense to the focus on heroic troops, also received a positive response.

A standout case was a gameplay video showcasing a prototype. It helped the team to see not just the general reactions from players, but also whether or not they could understand what was happening. If they didn't, that could serve as an indication to iterate on the UI, explain a mechanic in a more thorough manner, and so on.

The gameplay HUD, in particular, involved an important change. Previously, you'd have different army types in the bottom of the screen. But since some of the troops now have active abilities, the team had to completely redo this, and hit a major obstacle. In Builder Base, you can change your troops before attacking. That brief moment of preparation is crucial, looking at the base you're about to siege and coming up with strategies on the spot—hence calling back to the puzzle-like element of it.

It was important for the developers to maintain this. But if there was a scenario where there happened to be, say, four giants in your army camp position, and four giants at the bottom, with each of them having a different ability, how would you know which one to tap in order to activate the troop that's in the game? In the end, the addition of numbers to each army slot ended up being the solution.

Another way of easing the onboarding experience to the new Builder Base involves a series of challenges across the Builder Halls, each teaching how a troop works. Instead of a rudimentary tutorial, the troop's behavior is taught via a specific task with a reward for getting to the end. "This is our soft way to have something in the game that allows players to learn a lot and teach themselves how to play," Roque says. "A lot of players are gonna be shocked or confused by these changes, but here's a thing that you tap and you get rewards by playing in a little bit more controlled environment."

A photo of Alex Roque in front of a Clash of Clans armored monster.

Shock is definitely a word that resonates during the interview. The development of Builder Base 2.0 involved multiple new methodologies for the team, some of which Supercell hadn't tried before in the past. In addition, there's an expected surprise from the community when players get their hands on the iterated mode — especially those who haven't been reading blog posts or watching prototype videos.

"It is a fun challenge, yes," he says. "Across everything we do in Clash of Clans, we need to have all players into consideration. We have the super engaged ones, who are gonna look at every single patch note, because it's important for them, they want to perform well in their attacks. These are players that, sometimes, they've been playing the game for 10 years, you know. We need also to keep in mind players that are just farmers, they just want to have their village and build their things. So it's a fun challenge, and usually comes down to making things that are easier to learn or easy to understand."

Roque recognizes that to him and the team at large, the Builder Base overhaul was a risky and challenging change. Amidst all the types of players in the community, there's inevitably a portion of it that loved the mode as it was before. But in the grand scheme of things, the rework was a long time coming, and it was almost immediately apparent to the team when it was all brought together.

"I remember, and this was a feeling that was all over the team, where we were playing the live game with the original Builder Base, and we [thought], 'we can't wait for this to be out so that I can play the new version in the live game.'"

Roque concludes. "We couldn't play it anymore because we thought the new one was more interesting. My expectation is, the community is gonna be shocked, because there are so many new things. The game's changed a lot, and it's a completely new Builder Base. I'm expecting this kind of shock at first—like, 'what's happening, how do I play this,' and I think what I'm expecting, when we release this, players are gonna go all over the place, they're gonna try different things, and play around the mechanics. That's what I want to see."

Update: This story has been updated for clarity.

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