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Dropping A Digit





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Zems Development

Dropping A Digit

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The previous build of Zems we submitted for Ludum Dare 29 (and its updated version) utilized a double-digit system for creature and hero values such as attack and health. In the next build, we’ll be using only single digits while still trying to maintain some of the rationale behind the double digit system.

Double Digit Realism

The original reason why we used a double digit system is based on the idea that similar creatures are not equal. For example, we have a human race and a werewolf race (Ortor). If both races have 1 mana creatures, we can express the slightly greater strength of the werewolf race by giving its creature slightly stronger attack and health:

  • 1 mana Human Creature: 10/10 stats
  • 1 mana Ortor Creature: 12/12 stats

This creates a sense of realism and uniqueness in each 1 mana creature card – the Ortor creature will win in a fight against the human one, surviving with 2 health, which makes sense if the Ortor race is naturally stronger. Of course, combat in Zems is hardly ever based on attack values alone (that’s why creatures have abilities and invocation cards exist), but on a fundamental level the double digits allow us to show inherent strengths of one race over another.

Is The Added Complexity Worth It?

This is one of the questions we have to ask ourselves when designing a game and using a system that is more complex than what other games in the genre are doing. While no one complained about the double digit system in our ludum dare entry, we realized that board states would get really complicated (and involve complicated math) once we added some of the other card effects and abilities we have planned. Take into account the fact that creatures can also move and attack in the same turn (but not attack and move afterward), and you have a game that might frustrate players mathematically. We don’t want people to be frustrated about taking optimal turns in Zems. Each turn should be like a puzzle to solve, with the cards in hand and creatures in play being a player’s ‘pieces’ to utilize that turn.

Ultimately, we decided to convert to the single digit system. However, we wanted to preserve the natural differences of each race, so we buffed attack and defense values accordingly. Taking the example shown previously, we now have:

  • 1 mana Human Creature: 1/1 stats
  • 1 mana Ortor Creature: 1/2 stats

Heroes Are Still Awesome But Fragile

In the two digit-system, Heroes weren’t exactly the strongest forces on the board, and we liked it that way. Often times a Hero could be killed in one or two hits by an enemy creature, and that was perfectly fine by us. We wanted Heroes in Zems to be the leaders of armies, but we didn’t want them to seem larger than life to the point where they can decimate entire armies by themselves. Unlike other CCGs like HearthStone, Heroes in Zems also do damage in combat, so we wanted to make them seem like any other creature in play, except that they have an awesome ability and are the ‘commanding officer’ for an army. Commanding officers in real life aren’t able to decimate entire armies single-handedly, so why should they in Zems?

Heroes will still have higher-than-usual health values than most creatures in the game, but they won’t be exceptionally high. We want players to treat their Heroes as fragile but very important parts of their army (after all, a player loses if his/her hero dies!), and the best way to do that is to give them stats similar to the creatures they will command while equipping them with an awesome ability no other creature in the game can have.

At the moment, we are still working on the next alpha build – version 0.02. It won’t have a fancy UI or sound effects, but it will have the new hex grid and will have a lot of functional cards for players to test.

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