With a few solid updates released, it feels like a good time to step back and reevaluate the game's needs, as well as my development process. With more players providing feedback and more content being added each month, the greatest needs of the game shift and reveal themselves in unexpected ways. As with any game with an evolving meta, those needs aren't always what was planned on the roadmap! And that's a good thing.
Before I Get Into That, Wild Metamorphosis:
Is coming! It's actively being worked on. I'm not sure when it will be ready, but I will provide regular updates on the progress on the Discord. Time needed to develop the feature is competing with other things, but it's all good news, which I've listed later in this post.
To Be Honest...
I don't like roadmaps. They're useful and necessary. But it is so, so easy for them to stop being a tool and become something that works against a developer. I think this is because of the emergent nature of design. I talked about this a bit earlier when I initially presented the Nova Drift roadmap. The Wild Metamorphosis feature was never something I knew the game needed until the collective wishes of the community coalesced into its concept. And that's the thing– the problem with roadmaps– you can't possibly know what new information will present itself as you work on your project. For instance, now that we have had several solid "upgrade focused" content updates, potential build variety seems to have reached a critical mass, and yet there's a lot of convergence. With one hundred twenty different build-levers to pull, the greatest limitation has revealed itself to be the enemies and the waves themselves. Every balance discussion eventually leads back to one place: the limited nature of what the enemies in Nova Drift are doing, and how we optimize our builds to counter it. In simple terms, our characters have outgrown their opponents. I've dedicated a section below to discuss ideas for improving this.
The other big crux to any roadmap is opportunity. It's a good problem to have, but the smaller your team, the more disruptive it is to whatever plans you had. A game company can be approached with an offer from a big company, land an interview with a popular content creator, get invited to a major festival, or maybe even win an award. You want to be able to react to any of these things, but you often can't anticipate them, and the stress associated with making a life-changing decision or committing to a trip around the world in the middle of the development of a feature can be nerve-wracking.
Roadmaps can't prepare for things you learn along the way. For instance, we've discovered just how much of a difference it makes to translate your game (early!), and port it to consoles and devices. Done correctly, you're potentially doubling or tripling your revenue and audience. That's far better for the long term health of the game. Understanding that, we have to question if rapid updates are as meaningful now as they would be later, once the audience has grown considerably. After all, despite Nova Drift's incredibly favorable reception (99% good reviews and overwhelmingly positive on Steam!), very few people know it exists, relative to the entire gamer population. To put it in perspective, a well known early access game like Risk Of Rain 2, which released around the same time as Nova Drift, has about 50 times as many reviews and nearly 100 times as many active players (and that's only considering Steam players).
While my initial roadmap didn't promise specific dates, it had estimates, which are still useful to analyze. Maybe they were possible, but they left little room for inspiration, no room for rest, and no room for opportunities. In an earlier post, I wrote how even veteran developers often get their roadmaps wrong; despite knowing that, I still miscalculated.
Opportunity! Glorious, Unexpected, Harrowing... Opportunity!
Since the launch, these unexpected things have happened:
- We decided we needed to switch engines from GameMaker to GameMaker 2, and we did it right after launching Early Access. Yiiikes.
- We discovered an iOS port was within reach and ran the game on a phone! Whoa. We have taken steps to optimize the game enough so that we can take advantage of mobile devices and the Nintendo Switch, if possible.
- We set the stage for localization (translating the game), which required some pretty huge changes under the hood.
- We got a lovely review in Game Informer magazine!
- We were contacted by a very large corporation with an offer which was extremely tempting and had to be accepted or declined almost immediately with little explanation. Ultimately we turned it down, but it made me keenly aware of how quickly carefully laid plans can be scattered to the wind.
- We entered (and got accepted) into something big, which I'm not allowed to talk about yet. Preparing for this alone will easily take weeks.
This is all fantastic, but I have such a hard time with it. Building a game (mostly) alone is already a herculean effort, and having the head space for these and the massive preparation each requires can run me a bit ragged. Nova Drift's balance alone could be a full time job. I knew what I was getting into, but it's been a sprint since February. A few changes need to happen.
I Need Rest
This isn't designed to be a "one and done" game that needs to sell sell sell while interest holds. It seems to have a long future ahead of it with growth and updates. I'm thrilled with the reception we've gotten, but it took me damn near the precipice of burnout a few times. I have to develop the game in a way that is long term and sustainable. So, I'll be taking two weeks off this July to go to Iceland. It will set me right. I'm told that's what Iceland does.
Between glaciers, I plan to tap away at the next update, but I'll be taking it easy. I've also removed the specific dates from the roadmap, as I genuinely believe it is in the game's best interest if it is more of a guideline than a schedule. This way, I can always take time to address the game's most pressing needs, rework dated systems, and act on any inspired ideas that the community or I come up with.
That Said: Nova Drift's Greatest Needs
Most enemies, and the way they spawn, are easily some of the oldest and most outdated systems in the game (Nova Drift is well over 4 years old and grew from a small hobby project.) The game becomes too chaotic and incoherent at very high waves. Currently there are large spikes and lulls in difficulty, mostly because the nature of what the player can do has changed greatly since these waves were designed. After a lot of discussion in the Discord, these are the broad strokes of where I want to take the game:
- Encounters should be dangerous for reasons which are better than "there were too many mines and bullets on the screen."
- It would be better to slow things down and compensate by having enemies be more coordinated and synergistic between types, with varied roles. New specialized enemies are needed.
- Since Alternate Bosses and Uber Bosses are already planned features, these can be designed to contribute to this goal.
- The wave spawning system needs to be more intelligent and dynamic, allowing greater variance while being easier for me to tweak.
- The current waves greatly favor "AOE screen clearing" over all other strategies. With some changes, single-target damage, tanking, crowd control, and various other strategies could become greater contenders as the need to deal with massive, weak swarms decreases.
- The game is exceeding its intended length for the strongest builds (especially weapon builds). This can be very fatiguing for players, as the game has no built-in breaks. More varied and coordinated enemy capabilities should be able to challenge any builds without the need for vast numbers or speed modifications.
I realize people are very excited for the Carrier and the Thermal Lance, so I don't intend to put those off in favor of focusing on these changes. I do think a wave overhaul needs to be made a greater priority, as well as something that's always worked on concurrently with new features. After all, what fun is it to obliterate enemies that can't keep up?
Apart from enemy waves, these are tasks I'd like to ensure do not get left behind:
- Redesigns. Some Gear and Upgrades are underwhelming or showing their age. I'm looking at you, Helix Shield. Iteration shouldn't always be displaced by a need for new content.
- Player Requests. I have roughly 500 of these since Early Access launched, and some of them are really good. It's time-consuming but important to dig through these.
- Visual Iteration. There is a huge amount that can be improved here, but I simply have not had time. Player visibility should be a high priority, too. I understand there is a lot of exploding going on.
A Word On The Mayhem Update, Incoming Adjustments
This update was a big success! People seem to love the new upgrades. This was the update where I can say with great confidence that Nova Drift now has a staggering amount of customization, and that's something I've always wanted for it.
Barrage in particular is very popular, though it needs a few changes to achieve the original vision. Barrage was intended to be good with very high projectile weapons such as Flak, but I was foiled by the engine's limitation of firing one projectile per frame. Flak, with the Fusillade upgrade, would greatly exceed this limitation, such that it would be doing 60% more damage! Currently, it's quite underwhelming, so you can expect a fix for this to be deployed as soon as it's ready.
I've also gotten quite a bit of feedback that Barrage is the obvious best choice for several weapons (just like earlier iterations of Warp Strike were) so I've been experimenting with solutions that retain its fun and ease of use but provide other considerations.
Still With Me?
Did you know Wild Mods have rarities? Have some previews!
WILD MOD: CHAOTIC AMBITION (Rare)
- You're offered up to one additional Wild Mod each level
- + 2 rerolls
- Recursive (Recursive mods can be chosen more than one time)
WILD MOD: EVOLUTIONARY NICHE (Rare)
- Your Body Gear base stats and unique abilities are enhanced by 3% for each Wild Mod you possess
WILD MOD: REVELATION (Rare)
- The next Recursive Wild Mod you purchase is gained three times
WILD MOD: PROPULSIVE MUNITIONS (Rare)
- +180 degrees to your weapon firing position
- Adds knockback to your weapon
- 15% weapon damage
Thanks for reading
As always, thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. Please join our community and share your thoughts on Nova Drift on the Discord. Happy Drifting!
Nova Drift is still discounted for the Steam Summer Sale, if you'd like to send someone the gift of explosions.