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May 29

The Forge: Abilities

The ability system is one of the main pillars of Steel Hunters' gameplay. It significantly affects the way players interact with each other, with abilities adding to the entertainment factor. Admit it: isn't it exciting to have something other than just your weaponry to turn the tide of battle?? Abilities are highly effective at motivating players to create all sorts of challenging encounters in the Arena, offering a constant source of positive feedback that keeps players engaged and invested in the game. A well-timed ability can give you an edge, but opponents can neutralize your advantage with a timely counterattack - that's where the thrill of the battle lies.

Certainly, there are other ways to get players involved in fights. In the battle royale genre, shrinking zones (rings that get smaller over time), and limited resources are often introduced. In the race for the best loot, players are ready to use their characters' bare fists to tear everyone apart. In classic shooters like Battlefield or Call of Duty, things are even simpler - players are forced to engage by capturing base flags or collecting team points. However, in Steel Hunters, we've introduced a different ruleset where abilities play the pivotal role.

The use of ability mechanics isn't the only way to approach player motivation in our game, but it remains the backbone of every character. After all, these are mostly the abilities that define Hunters' playstyles. For example, Taurus bears little resemblance to Heartbreaker. The differences aren't only visual but also in the range of unique weapons, basic stats (HP and shields), and skills.

In general, our team develops each Hunter as a combination of various systems, with a distinctive appearance, and many other features. However, we believe that abilities are paramount: they greatly impact players' perception of the characters, especially in terms of gameplay.

How Are Abilities Developed?

The process begins within the pure imagination of our game designers. Trust us: they always have cool ideas up their sleeves. A collection of these early concepts can be referred to as the "primordial soup" - everything that could hypothetically be implemented into the new Hunter design, including possible abilities, weapons, systems, and mechanics.

In case the team decides that an ability needs to be reworked for an existing Hunter, the priority is to ensure that it fits their playstyle. One of the Hunters - Ursus - has recently undergone a complete gameplay overhaul process.

Previously, Ursus was getting mixed reviews. Her appearance, the quadruped nature, and the Glacial Armor ability made her more suitable for close-combat situations. However, her homing missile was capable of very distant targeting (in previous updates). She also had a highly accurate main weapon - the Beam Cannon - with a low fire rate. As a result, this Hunter was best suited for long-range engagements but had a defensive ability intended for close combat - this combination caused confusion among players.

Revision of an Existing Ability

Let's take a closer look at the ability revision routine based on the example of Ursus.

Given the role Ursus has in terms of gameplay, the team collectively decided to reduce focus on her range potential. This meant that both her main weapon and missile had to be changed.

Previously, Ursus fired missiles that looped, and this required her to make a certain number of hits with the main weapon before locking onto a target and launching the missile. This made the missile a wide-range extension to her main weapon, which was effective at medium-to-long distances. As a result, Ursus's capabilities were more long-range, like Heartbreaker's. This didn't seem right for the character.

Now, we've designed a more elaborate system and changed the activation principle: you need Rage Charge to unleash your F.A.N.G. Rockets. As before, they auto-aim on the locked target and hit at a close distance. The novelty of the Rage Charge lies in its accumulation: to get Rage Points, you need to receive or deal damage (the additional source depends on the chosen Mod), which implies being front and center in each encounter. If Ursus doesn't fulfill the criteria, her Rage Charge decreases over time, so it's beneficial to be the center of attention to go full rockets galore.

Surviving under constant fire wouldn't be feasible without some work on the Glacial Armor. Much-needed changes included an overall buff of the ability, as well as providing you with more choices through a revamped Mod system. Some of them change the gameplay style as well; for example, the Freejack Mod allows Ursus escape the heat of the battle by enabling an unbreakable supersprint, as well as becoming invisible if the shell remains intact until it expires.

The team conducted internal playtests to gauge the revamped launching and aiming mechanics. Based on the feedback, they are now focusing on preparing a cleaned-up version of Ursus's abilities. Her playstyle has become much clearer in terms of positioning, allowing players to strategize better and utilize her abilities more effectively.

After the game designers are sure that they have created an ability that fits all parameters, the pre-finishing phase begins. During this phase, the team focuses on the following tasks:

  • Creating an appealing user interface
  • Setting up visual effects, such as flight trails and explosions
  • Adding voiceovers for all important events
  • Animating all parts of the Hunter

Finally, when everything is ready, the polishing stage begins. During this stage, all the work is double-checked, 2D art is created, and descriptions are written.

As you can see, getting Hunters and their abilities ready for release is a very time-consuming process.

What About a Brand-New Hunter Ability?

The creation of a completely new Hunter ability is not significantly different from improving an existing one; however, there is more creative freedom for the designers as they are not bound to predetermined Hunter characteristics. This freedom allows for more fun and imaginative ideas, even though some of them may not make it to the final release.

Using their creative and technical skills, the game designers build a prototype for the new Hunter. This includes designing a specific weapon, defining the Hunter's appearance, and establishing a set of abilities that complement a predefined play style. At this stage, the Hunter model is not yet animated, so playtesters must use their imagination to help bring the Hunter to life.

The process requires significant effort and creativity from the game designers. Through collaboration and careful design, a new Hunter ability can become a unique and exciting addition to the game.

Ability Attributes

As previously mentioned, coming up with an effective ability is essential, but there are other requirements to consider:

  • Scalability is crucial - abilities must have a set of parameters that players can improve over time, allowing them to obtain new modifications to enhance it.
  • An ability in use must have distinctive visual effects, not only for the player who uses it but also for their opponents. For example, if Ursus activates her shield, it should be evident to her opponents.
  • The ability must be able to be rebalanced when necessary. This is critical for PvP battles where balance is vital and prone to change.
  • The ability should be enjoyable to use, visually appealing, and make the gameplay more interesting. The goal is to enable players to perform cool tricks on the battlefield.

These are all subjective aspects, and playtesting is often required to determine whether an ability is enjoyable. Let's explore these requirements in more detail.

Designing Ability Progression

Our designers' first step when introducing ability progression is to create a list of all the parameters that can be potentially upgraded.

To use the Ursus example once more, they addressed her missile ability and its base parameters. Afterward, several versions of the ability are proposed, each with three different passive effects. This forms a matrix of all the stats that can be modified within a particular Hunter's ability. These variations are then internally discussed, allowing for improvements and redesigns. Finally, the proposed drafts are created and sent to our programmers, UI designers, and animators for implementation.

Enemy POV in Ability Design

When designing abilities, the team considers the enemy's perspective: how they will anticipate the flow of the fight, including the timing, the outcome, and overall damage dealt using the abilities. A powerful ability must attract attention so that enemies will notice it. The more devastating it is, the louder and brighter its activation should be. For instance, Weaver activating the minigun is immediately noticeable due to its sound and visual effects, even before the player activates it. With these effects applied, enemies know when a certain ability is in use and they're more likely to take cover successfully or prepare a counterattack.

Balance Is Essential

Maintaining balance is the most crucial aspect of ability design. Our team follows a rigorous process to achieve this goal. Firstly, we go through several design stages, starting from concept creation, prototyping, playtesting, and finally evaluation. We repeat these stages until we find the most effective version of an ability.

Next, we meticulously work to calculate the stats and iterate endlessly until we achieve a satisfying balance. It's vital to keep a record of all changes, to avoid unintended consequences.

Overall, we strive to ensure that every ability is considered fair and enjoyable to use. Fairness is determined by comparing the impact of one ability to another. We also take notice of the learning curve because the more lethal abilities should also be harder to achieve and master. Conversely, some abilities are less dangerous and can be used more often or have multiple charges, such as Razorside's grenade.

Now, to the Entertaining Part

Now, let's talk about the most entertaining part: player engagement, as everyone rocks their own playstyle! Some enjoy wreaking havoc on the battlefield, while others prefer effective positioning and area control to prevent enemies from slipping through their territory. There are also those who prefer stealth and dealing damage from a distance while remaining undetected. Taking this into account, our team is dedicated to creating a diverse range of abilities so that every player can find the Hunter that best suits their playstyle and have fun.

Final Word

All in all, ability creation is a very complex process. Our designers rely on their creativity and in-depth knowledge of our game to offer you a pleasurable Hunter experience. We subject all abilities to rigorous testing and balancing before releasing them to a wider audience.

The true measure of our success, however, lies in your capability to recognize and respond to the audiovisual cues that indicate when enemies are using their abilities. If you're able to counter them with a well-timed response, it's a sure sign that our team has done its job well!