Reducing the scope of Ventura

Hey all,

As you may know already, I’ve been working on a game called Ventura which is a competitive online multiplayer strategy + tactics hybrid. Players start as lone wolf mercenary captains and have to perform tasks for the various city-states around the map to build up their strength, reputation, and gold reserves. Having a powerful mercenary gang give you strength in combat, which is a unique simultaneous turn-based tactical system inspired by the likes of XCOM and Frozen Synapse.

That’s a lot of stuff. In fact it’s probably taken me about 2-3 months to even figure out the best way to explain what Ventura is, since so much is going on. During this time I’ve been working on the prototype, on and off. I built the overworld map, I built dungeon generation, I built the city-screens and the purchasing and equipping of unique mercenaries and gear for them. I built the start of the combat system.

But only the start.

The fact is, I’m struggling right now with it. As it became more advanced and the pieces started to fall into place, a lot of red flags have cropped up. Some are design based, which I feel confident enough to solve, but most are related to programming. I’m not that confident when it comes to code. Progress has stunted drastically and my motivation has dropped along with it. Spending over 60% of the entire dev time just trying to get two characters to not walk into the same tile will have that effect on you!

With 9 weeks to go until the IGF submission closes, I need to pull my finger out and get something playable and awesome as quickly as possible. Which is why…

  • I’ve cut online multiplayer. Network code was always a red flag but the main reason is that I want a same-screen game I can get people to playtest easily for instant feedback
  • I’ve cut all the overworld map and out-of-combat systems. There were plenty of design red flags, but I am still confident it would work. Alas, it required network code and therefore this is a result of the online multiplayer snip.
  • Combat is no longer simultaneous turn-based. While I was very excited about the innovation I was seeking, the coding for it was unbelievably tough and for me to iterate and try out different systems it would take months and not days. It needs to be days at this point.

With these cuts, it’s hard to really say Ventura is the same game… but I’m sticking with the name and going back to an old prototype I gave up on a long time ago, back when even using an array in Game Maker would cause me to wince!

Welcome back to Haft
Welcome back to Haft

Haft was a concept I was building about 2 years ago. My goal was to create a combat system that could provide the thrills and spills of a battle in Dota 2 or League of Legends, but with turn-based and strategic mechanics. Much of the enjoyment I find from Dota is theorycrafting; imagining devastating team compositions, and then pulling off incredible inter-hero combos to crush my foes. You can’t actually do that in Dota unless you’re a cyber-athlete!

Haft was simple.

  • XCOM-style grid-based combat, with less randomness and faster turns
  • Final Fantasy-style ‘Active Time Bar’ initiative system so that turns alternate regularly and are quick and exciting. No sitting around and waiting, please!
  • Dota-style Heroes that are drafted by each player. They have unique abilities and strategies available to them and because they’re drafted there are no clones.

Back then though, I wasn’t capable of building it. Frankly I just sucked! Furthermore, Duelyst was announced and I was petrified that Haft had basically been crushed before it began.

Nowadays I don’t suck as much, and Duelyst went in a completely different direction than what I was expecting. I should never have stopped. There’s a game industry lesson for ya, stick with it… it will be unique just because you’re not the same as them.

So we’re back to Haft. Ventura is becoming Haft. What this means is that I definitely have the capability to finish the game by end-of October, at least from a systems perspective. It should be fun, it should have all content inside, and therefore it’s the best thing I can show the judges before taking the next step and actually hiring people.

It’s sad to lose so much of what made Ventura innovative. I love the medium-term session based gameplay of Dota, and want to see more multiplayer games take that approach. Ventura was my multiplayer-focused Heroes of Might and Magic, and I still really want to play that game!

Nonetheless, there’s still a lot I can do with the ‘New’ Ventura. The initiative system has so many amazing strategic possibilities that I’m relishing the idea of playing games with it. Designing Heroes was pretty much the first thing I ever did that was Game Design related, so this game is just me designing heroes for a living. Fun, fun, fun! On top of that, it’s local multiplayer and therefore it’s technically already playable. Once I have 10 Heroes integrated, I can put it in front of people and assess.

The most important thing to me about this New Ventura though is the fresh lease of life it gives me. It was very difficult banging my head against a wall for 3-4 weeks. I’ve personally not been in a brilliant mental state as well, dealing with a mild depression, so you can imagine how relieved I am to cut out so much of the impossible work and focus on the thing that truly matters… Game Design. This is as pure a game design project as there has ever been, what a great first game to test myself on.

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Holidays & The Future

Sorry for the silence, have been on holidays. Had a wonderful wedding to attend in Poland before a delicious and boozy stay in Prague. Mmm-mmm!

Something you might actually care about is that I’ve just built a new PC. It’s powerful… very very powerful. My plan is to start working on some Game Design focused Let’s Plays, although I’m sure I’ll be pretty bad at the start. Let’s Plays, Design Articles, as well as solid work on Ventura… this is my plan until the end of the year.

It’s a very exciting time and hopefully it will help build my ‘brand’ and spread my network, while improving my own skills and design abilities!

I’ll probably be starting properly next week, with a couple of days this week to reacquaint myself with Ventura and let you all know if I’ve finally fixed the damned clashing!