Shadowhand Dev Diary #23: Balancing and beta testing

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The last couple of weeks I’ve been balancing the first 5 chapters of the game, preparing a beta test with session logging, and analysing the results. More on that below!


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Balancing Chapter Goals and Enemy Star Targets

Shadowhand has a built-in AI simulation that can test both puzzle and duel levels 1000s of times and output the results to a file (see example above). I can then use those results to set up chapter goals for things like getting a Combo of X, or collecting Y stars, or earning Z gold. It’s super-useful.

I also use the simulation to first balance a duel with an enemy to check they are possible to beat but are not too easy or too difficult. Then I take a look at range of turns to beat (in graph form) and use that to calculate the silver and gold star goals for each duel.


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Gold Economy

Then I log the min/average/max amount of gold earned on each hand/duel in a spreadsheet (see example above), which I can use to work out what prices to set each shop item at. I don’t want the player to be able to afford everything as I want them to have to choose between cool items and to stay motivated to keep playing to earn more gold.

When I got the results back from the beta test I was pleased to see that everyone earned between the average and max amounts I had predicted, and that they bought the items I wanted them to but also had individual variation in choices. This means that my gold economy model works and can be extended to the rest of the game.


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Beta Test Logging

The beta version I sent out last week also logs the player’s actions and then emails the log back to me when they exit. This allows me to compare their playthroughs with my balancing efforts. Luckily everything went as expected which means I can roll out my balancing techniques to the remainder of the game.

I also got beta testers to fill out an online survey or to email me with feedback, plus I watched several people play it in person and via Skype. Then I compiled a list of all the action points that I wanted to work on and implemented them in the game.

Luckily there was nothing major, just cool little improvements that help the “onboarding” process go more smoothly. I love this sort of work because you get to make small, yet obvious, improvements/fixes to the game that you know will help players enjoy the game more.

Design

I’ve probably said it before, but Shadowhand has taken a lot of design work. Solitaire games have been made before, and so have turn-based RPG games, but they have never been combined before like this. That’s meant a ton of design spreadhseets and documents have been generated. The design folder alone is 65Mb and nearly 160 files, and that doesn’t include visual or sound design, or test results, which were also epic untertakings.

At least now the design is all done and it’s clear how I need to balance the rest of the game. There will still be tweaks as I receive more beta tester feedback and maybe also after launch as well, but nothing major as we must ship what we have soon!

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