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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DragCore: The Crystal System

    Players like progression. It's fun to watch bars fill up when you play. Having a sense of purpose makes a game more fun and addictive. It works because in your mind you aren't wasting time, you're working toward something. My favorite thing about Call of Duty multiplayer was leveling up and seeing the yellow text with "+2" or something on it. It's fun to grow and earn rewards. 

     I came up with something to put those values in DragCore. I call it the Crystal System. It's changed a few times as I've been trying to decide to use it as either an experience level or currency. I ultimately decided on experience level presented as currency. Read on to see an explanation of this madness.

     When starting DragCore, I  wanted players to earn crystals from playing the challenge mode. The crystals could be spent on options in the custom menu for a free play type of mode. Players could unlock things they liked most first, driving them to play the challenges and earn crystals, or buying some outright through in-app purchases (IAP).

     Some "cooler" options are more expensive and the ones you start with make for a simple and easy game that would bore expert players. Each victory in challenge mode fills up a meter. When the meter is full, you gain a crystal. Each time you do, the meter's maximum grows and gets harder to fill.

     At one point in development I had a change of heart though. A bunch of problems and questions crept up and I wondered about different ways to resolve them. The conversation in my head went something like this.

What happens when players earn more than 99 and the counter can't display them? 
A integer keeps track of the total, but the counter stops at 99.

Would it be better to have the meter's maximum match the current amount of crystals?
That way, it's harder to save up for big prizes and  small things can be won quickly.
That's pretty good actually. I think I'll try that.

What happens when players get the options they want and soon stop playing? 
Why do every challenge when you can do 20 and unlock all the things you want?
I would count on a completionist sense to kick in, but that's a good point. For me to profit from this game I need to have players hooked in the long term.

How do I compel players to try everything the game has to offer? 
How about just unlocking the options as you go?

The crystals represent your level. They're crystals you earn, so it feels like virtual currency. Making it feel natural to buy the IAP. In challenge mode you can earn points to fill the meter in most levels, but some unlock options in custom mode.
For instance, in custom mode the "hard" difficulty is hidden with "???". But if you can see that the reward for challenge #45 reads "hard". If you beat that challenge, the option changes from "???" to "[crystal] x 66" (or from hidden to locked) meaning once you beat challenge #45 and reach level 66 you can use the option.

Oh. That's cool. I like that idea. But does that mean there's a level cap?
Sure. 99 is the max. It's displayed on just about every screen so you can be real proud of yourself for having such a high level.

For that example, can you reach level 66 and still earn the reward without playing the challenge? 
Nope. It's hidden. Once you beat the challenge and uncover it, then it's a matter of having enough crystals. They are not currency, but just a shiny thing to look at stating you experience level. 
It adds a sense of mystery to the game. You don't know what you'll get to see next. Like hidden characters in a fighting game, you can look at the silhouettes and guess but you just don't know for sure what they'll be. Players will be surprised as they discover a challenge with a new enemy type then happy to discover they can reveal it by beating a few more challenges, then once it's revealed they can see how much they need to level up before being able to unlock it. It drives players to keep playing. That's my ultimate goal here.

What happens when players buy crystals outright with IAP? 
They save themselves the trouble of level grinding to earn the custom options they want. They still have to earn the options in challenge mode. Unlocking things normally involves replaying levels you like multiple times. If you buy 80 crystals, you just have to go through all the challenges once to unlock almost everything. Maxing out to 99 crystals takes a while though. The things you unlock for that are incredible though.

You know this means you'll have to change the Crystal Shop a bit right? 
Yeah. I'll do that soon. I have to change the text from suggesting crystal points to the crystals themselves.

     So that's how I came up with the current Crystal System. I like it a lot and my group is also using this idea for player progression in our Mach-Arena school project. I want to see if it works and makes people play my game for a longer time. I'm also curious if it compels people to buy crystals to max out their levels faster.

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