While watching players give the current build (at the time it was alpha-0.3) a try I realized that the current mechanics were not promoting the type of gameplay I wanted to encourage. I needed something in the game to encourage level exploration, killing all enemies in a level before completing it and using multiple guns instead of just the one favourite. I decided that having Gun Upgrades could do that. Your character would kill enemies to get upgrade points and use them to upgrade their guns to make them more powerful. Players would want to explore to find and kill every enemy in the level to maximize their character’s upgrade points. Enemies would become stronger each level to facilitate the need for upgrading. Upgrading a gun past a certain threshold would unlock a unique bonus making each gun desirable depending on the situation at hand. Sounded fun so I started implementing it.
I started with making level 1 guns a bit weaker and increasing their stats until they got ridiculous while also making the enemies stronger each level to match.
With a few friends I started play-testing (build: alpha-0.4) and realized something. Upgrading guns is fun. Collecting upgrade points does make me want to explore and kill all enemies in the level. But, the player’s skill is now a temporary skill. It is tied to the character in the game’s gun upgrade level. Once the game is over the player’s skill resets. I was still getting a dopamine release from collecting upgrade points and buying gun upgrades and that made me feel like I’m having fun but it didn’t make me feel like I’m getting any better. I was missing the feeling I remember from playing Street Fighter where the excitement from a glorious win against a skilled opponent stayed long after the game was turned off because I was the one leveling up. I was the one getting better, not my character in the game. I was gaining skills that existed in the real world, even if only useful in a virtual one. That was the type of game I want HLG to be.
HLG is supposed to be the type of game where the player’s skills are tested and rewarded. The reaction time, quick decisions, perfect aim, precise spin timing and combat strategy are the upgrades. You, the player, receive the upgrade, not your character in the game. Gun Upgrades were fun, I was having fun playing with them, but they are not for this game.
I decided to remove the mechanic even though it didn’t feel good reverting all that hard work. I guess, with game dev, removing code is just as important as adding it. I learned a valuable lesson about defining a game’s theme and staying true to it and I already have a new gun mechanic in the works to replace it but I’ll save that for another post.