Just a quick update.

Attuned is now roughly the same length as Forging Divinity (~112,000 words).

It’s also only about half complete, maybe a little more.

I may have underestimated this project.

So, this means it’s very likely that Defying Destiny is going to be pushed back – but, on the positive side, Attuned is shaping up to be pretty epic in scope. And Broken Mirrors readers will be able to find a few familiar faces. =D

I finished writing the first scene of Defying Destiny tonight. It’s a fight scene – and from Lydia’s perspective.

I’m still a long way off from finishing it, but it’s good to get my War of Broken Mirrors muscles stretching out again. I still won’t be working on it full time until I’m done with Attuned – that’s the tentative title of the magical school spin-off I’ve been working on – but I thought people might want to know I’m making some progress, and I think I’ll probably be going back and forth between both books to keep them fresh in my mind.

With Attuned taking longer to finish than I had initially expected, Defying Destiny might not land in Q1 of 2017 like I’d planned. I’m still going to try to get it out soon, but quality has to come first, so I won’t be rushing it. I think Attuned will have plenty to keep Broken Mirrors fans entertained in the meantime, too.

For those who are curious, here’s an update on what I’ve been working on lately:

Defying Destiny (The War of Broken Mirrors – Book 3) – Being outlined.

Attuned (tentative title; new “magical school” style novel) – 67,000 / ~150,000 words

Unannounced title (something completely different; co-authored with Jessica Richards) – 30,000 / ~100,000 words
The current estimated release schedule is as follows:

Attuned – December 2016

Defying Destiny – Mid 2017

Unannounced title – Late 2017

 

Attuned is something of a mix between JRPGs like Bravely Default, tower climbing series like Tower of God/Tower of Druaga/Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon, and magical academy series like Name of the Wind or Mother of Learning. It’s much more RPGish than my standard Broken Mirrors books, but it’s still taking place in a fantasy setting, not within an actual MMO.

 

I’ll talk more about the unannounced title later on this year.

This article is mostly applicable to games that have a blend of combat and role-playing elements, ala the various Live Effects games, Rendalir Remembered, Dying Kingdoms, Twin Mask, etc.

I’ve played in (and run) a lot of different styles of LARPs with boss encounters, and I’ve seen a broad variety of ways to handle it. Over the years, I’ve put together an idea of what I tend to prefer to see in a boss fight from both a player perspective and a staff perspective. This is pretty subjective – there’s no right or wrong way to handle encounter design, but I’ve seen traits that I think tend to improve the quality level, in my opinion.

First off, it’s important to recognize that in most of the games I’ve mentioned, characters tend to fall into specific roles even if though the games aren’t strictly class-based. These often resemble traditional pen and paper or PC game roles, such as tanking, damage dealing, crowd control, buffing, debuffing, and info gathering.

The best boss fights, in my opinion, allow characters of all roles to have some way to contribute. This doesn’t mean all styles of characters should be mandatory for the encounter; rather, if they are present, they should not be useless. Below, I’ll break down some of the ways each role can be useful in a boss encounter.

 

Tanks:

Tanks excel at absorbing damage and attracting the attention of opponents. In order for this to be effective in a boss fight, the tank needs to have the tools necessary to play this role, and the boss needs to *not* have abilities that render these tools invalid.

Abilities that make tanking less effective include instant death attacks, any ability that completely bypasses armor, abilities that bypass shields, and immunities to tank-specific mechanics (e.g. taunt, if it exists within the system).

This doesn’t mean that a boss can’t have some abilities that bypass defenses, but they should be used sparingly and with the knowledge that they can invalidate the tank’s kit.

 

Damage Dealers:

Damage dealers are usually some of the most effective characters against bosses, since bosses often have bags of hit points. There are a couple specific mechanics to watch out for, though, and they’re relatively common (in my experience).

Binary defenses (e.g. “Evade” or “Dodge”) that ignore the amount of damage dealt by an attack make it easier to track the # of hits to a boss, but they also reduce the usefulness of the damage dealer specialization. It may be tempting to have all hits to a boss be reduced to 1 for tracking purposes, but I would advise resisting this temptation and allowing damage dealers to retain their specialty. To help with the logistics side, I recommend assigning a combat GM to the boss to count damage, rather than having the person playing the boss attempt to count hits.

Immunity to physical damage is also relatively common. This functions to cut out newbie damage dealers who don’t have the benefit of buff spells, magical items, etc. I sometimes see this used as another logistics tool for preventing the boss from having to count these hits; I advise using the combat GM approach instead.

 

Healers:

Healers don’t usually have trouble finding something to do in a boss fight, but it is important to note that certain mechanics can bypass the normal healing system (e.g. instant death attacks) and therefore deprive healers of their roles (unless those healers also have resurrection spells, which they might not).

On a related note, bosses sometimes have debuffs with unusual or difficult removal methods. This can be interesting, but also extremely confusing from a logistics standpoint. I strongly advise keeping most boss abilities within the scope of the normal rules, or with modifiers that are easy to intuit, to prevent logistics confusion.

 

Buffers:

Buff characters are usually pretty effective in boss fights – I just recommend resisting the urge to give bosses too many abilities that strip buffs off players. This can be okay in moderation, but if overused it can make buffers much less fun to play.

 

Crowd Controllers:

Crowd Controllers often have the hardest time in a boss fight. Sometimes they’re useful against minions, but it’s rare (in my experience) to find bosses where crowd controllers can have a direct effect. This is due to bosses frequently being given a significant number of binary defenses (e.g. evades/dodges) and often outright immunities to control effects.

These binary defenses and immunities are usually put in place to prevent crowd controllers from being too effective and one-shotting the boss, invalidating the fight.

Rather than taking this approach, I advise giving bosses special defenses that reduce the duration or style of control effects. For example, “Paralyze” spells are reduced to only lasting a few seconds, giving players a key window of time to damage the boss or rest. Sleep spells don’t knock the boss out, but they’re reduced to slowing him or her down for a short period of time. Silence effects don’t last a long duration, but they can be used to interrupt the boss in the middle of a spell incantation. Etc.

 

Debuffers:

Debuffing characters largely fall into the same category as crowd controllers – they’re offen negated in usefulness by binary defenses. I recommend the same solution here; let the boss take the effect, but with reduced efficacy or duration.

 

Info Gathering:

This is pretty straightforward – don’t make your bosses immune to info gathering abilities. Info gathering is a pretty obscure niche, and boss fights are one of the rare opportunities for these characters to contribute meaningfully to a combat situation. Communication between PCs is also often difficult. These characters have a challening role to play – give them the tools to play it effectively.

 

Aside from making sure each character role feels valid, I have a few other boss fight suggestions.

 

Telegraphing Abilities:

Some of the most memorable boss abilities – both in LARP and otherwise – are powerful abilities that are telegraphed to allow them to be avoidable or interruptible. The single most iconic boss fight in Shades of Ruin was the Ashbringer and the Deepstrider, where the two bosses periodically met up and performed a collaborative (and interruptible) spell incantation.

Memorable spell incantations are a great way to do this, but physical telegraphing is also an excellent tactic. The Nightmare Dragon always paused, knelt, and extended his wings before using his breath weapon. The breath weapon only hit a cone in front of him. Players picked up on this, and learned to use the window of time where he knelt down to get out of his frontal arc. This was a successful and memorable mechanic.

 

Phases:

Boss fights that change in the middle can help keep things exciting. This could be as simple as starting to use a couple new abilities, but it’s more impressive when there’s something clear to indicate a phase change. For example, the Nightmare Dragon shifted between human and dragon forms, which involved a quick hold and costume change (with staff on stand by with the dragon’s wings and harness). This made the phase change obvious and powerful.

 

Weaknesses:

Giving bosses unique and interesting weaknesses can also contribute to making the fight memorable. Elemental weaknesses are common, but there are plenty of other options, such as specific substances, weak points on the boss’ body, key items that can be stolen from the boss and disabled, etc.

 

Rewards:

Boss fights often involve some form of loot, which is awesome. My recommendation here is pretty simple – try to find ways to reward everyone, not just the player who loots the body first. This can be coin, influence cards (in games where it’s applicable), or some sort of permanent marking of the achievement.

When giving out items, I recommend giving them personality. That doesn’t mean the items have to be intelligent (although those are some of my favorites) – rather, I mean that boss loot can serve as great hooks for players to do cool things in the future. Maybe the boss has a spell book that contains unique spells – and personal notes on another treasure horde. Maybe the boss has a consumable item that has an effect that’s normally impossible for players to use.

 

Conclusions:

The goal here is to give everyone who wants to be involved in a boss fight a meaningful role, as well as a meaningful reward. Not every boss fight has to have equal roles for every play style – some can specialize – but it’s wise, in my opinion, to try to ensure that no one feels useless.

After watching the development of the various -punk genres, such as Cyberpunk, Steampunk, and now things like Dieselpunk and Whalepunk, I’ve decided to look ahead to the ultimate manifestation of the genre – Punkpunk.

In Punkpunk, technology is powered by delinquent youths. Most technology incorporates”edgy” features, such as mokawks, tattoos, and spiked leather.

I have also considered Metapunk, where technology is powered by breaking the fourth wall.

Amazon has a new preview function for books. If you haven’t already picked up a copy of Forging Divinity, here’s a link to the sample!

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B00TKFFR36&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_v7zMwb1EFB73Y

 

 

Stealing Sorcery is now available for Kindle and in softcover!

You can find it here.

Forging Divinity has been nominated for a Stabby award for Best Self-Published Novel!

If you’re interested in voting, click here. You’ll need to register a Reddit account if you don’t already have one. From there, navigate back to the post that I linked and find the word “wishforagiraffe”. To the left of it, you’ll see up and down arrows – press the up arrow to vote.

You can also vote for Daniel Kamarudin‘s amazing cover art for my book here!

 

Less than one week until the release of Stealing Sorcery! You can find prorders here.

I’m extremely excited to see how the book is received, and I’m also already rolling on multiple additional projects, including outlining Book 3.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Forging-Divinity-Andrew-Rowe-ebook/dp/B00TKFFR36/

I’ve spent the last several days playing through Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void, and I generally enjoyed it very much.

Prior to the release of Wings of Liberty – the first part of the Starcraft II “trilogy” – Starcraft had fallen to the bottom of my list for Blizzard’s IPs. Wings of Liberty took it back up to the top of that list, and I’ve eagerly awaited Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void.

Legacy of the Void released just after BlizzCon with minimal fanfare; unfortunately, it seems the franchise has been eclipsed in popularity by more recent releases like Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. It makes sense for Blizzard to invest more in marketing these other titles; Hearthstone and Heroes are going to be recurring sources of revenue due to their free to play model, and that’s going to rapidly eclipse any sales Legacy of the Void can make on boxes. Overwatch has been announced to be a single-time purchased product, but frankly I will be shocked it if does not end up containing some kind of microtransaction options – and it’s also the newest and shiniest IP.

So, onto the meat of things.

Warning —- TONS OF SPOILERS —- Warning

Seriously, I’m going to talk about pretty much everything in the game here. You probably don’t want to read this if you haven’t beaten the game.

You have been warned.

Okay, spoiler warning complete.

I liked the game.

The gameplay was generally what I expected; the player gradually unlocks units in a similar fashion to the previous two installments, and missions are broken down into similar styles – typical attack missions (often with timed objectives), “defend the x” missions, and occasional hero unit missions.

Progression: 

The meta-progression paths for Legacy of the Void were somewhat disappointing by comparison to the previous games. Choosing a faction-specific variant for each broad category of unit was neat, but didn’t feel like it was sufficient meta-progression on its own.

The Solarite-based upgrades for the player’s ship replaced the Hero leveling for Kerrigan in Heart of the Swarm, and ultimately I felt very disappointed by this. Being able to level a character directly adds investment into the character, and being able to choose upgrade paths for the Queen of Blades made playing her in the game feel rewarding. This game essentially threw that system out entirely in multiple ways; the choices I made for leveling Kerrigan were ignored, and I had no upgrade choices for my hero for this game, Artanis. This leads me to my next bit of frustration – Artanis himself.

Characters:

“Wait, who is Artanis?” another former Blizzard employee asked me when I mentioned he was going to be the main character in Legacy of the Void.

“Uh, I think he was a Templar in Brood War,” I thought. Nope, that was Aldaris, a similarly-named Protoss character.

“Why isn’t Zeratul the main character?”

Why, indeed.

Having played through the entire game now, I still question the choice to use Artanis instead of Zeratul. As some background here, I used to write for the Warcraft franchise. I’ve worked for Blizzard. I’ve read a large number of Starcraft novels. I remember Michael Liberty’s middle name. (It’s Daniel.) I don’t remember Artanis.

Presumably, this is because Artanis is supposed to represent the player – he’s more of a blank slate character. I remember being referred to as “Executor” in Brood War – I guess that was Artanis? I’m still not 100% clear on that, and I’m not going to go back to play Brood War to find out.

Either way, I had no investment in him as a character.

There are ways to create investment in new characters – and Legacy of the Void succeeded wonderfully with some of them. Karax has an atypical personality for a Protoss character, representing a caste we’ve never seen on-screen before, and a growth arc an interesting interactions with other characters.

Alarak is basically a Protoss sith lord. He was tons of fun.

And, of course, there was Fenix. Ah, the character named after a mystical bird that keeps coming back to life – who keeps coming back to life. I can’t complain, in spite of the ridiculousness of the name. Talandar – the proper name for the new Fenix clone – was one of my favorite characters. I just hated the way Artanis interacted with him. Artanis doesn’t provide the clone with any insight on his condition, and then later, repeatedly refers to the character as Fenix well after the clone has made it clear he doesn’t want to be identified that way. Frankly, it was a pretty horrific way to handle a sentient AI clone of one of your old war buddies, and I feel like there should have been consequences for Artanis’ problematic behavior – but I guess Talandar was too chill to worry about it.

Artanis, on the other hand, was bland. He starts the game by making a critical mistake, and while he owns up to that, he never really does anything to evolve from the same shiny-eyed idealist he starts out as. The game largely glorifies this idealism, allowing his unification-centric attitude to work out largely without any difficulties, save perhaps an implication that Alarac could be a threat in the future.

I didn’t identify with Artanis. I didn’t hate him, I just didn’t find him interesting.

There are a few ways that I think the game could have significantly improved on this.

  • Just let us play as Zeratul. Seriously, I don’t know anyone who was interested in this game who didn’t want to play as Zeratul. We got to play Raynor and Kerrigan again for the first two games; Zertaul was the logical Protoss equivalent. The first two games let us play missions as Zeratul, warming us up for the idea of a Zeratul campaign – and then wham, Artanis.
  • If for some reason Artanis *had* to be the perspective character, there are a few key ways I can think of that would have helped create investment in the character.
    • Let us level him up and control him in more missions. Seriously, letting people customize a character generates investment. The tech is already there – and he even shows up in cutscenes for missions where you didn’t actually have him on the map. Sure, this adds a degree of balance complexity, but I think it would have been worthwhile.
    • Give him a growth arc. Let the Artanis from the beginning of the game have a notably different attitude from the Artanis at the end. I didn’t see this occur at all.
    • Give us some agency in how the story of the game develops. More on that below.

Player Agency:

The player has no agency to affect the story of Legacy of the Void. It’s essentially a straight line; the only deviations are choosing which planets to go to in what order, and even then, it’s limited to a maximum of two choices and you still have to play all of them.

Wings of Liberty didn’t have a ton of agency, but it had a little bit – and that was great. It was a hint of a possible system for branching stories within an RTS, and that’s fantastic. I think that style could have been expanded upon, leading to multiple ending options, rather than being abandoned after Wings.

Yes, branching creates extra work. I work at an RPG company these days – I see the pains of dealing with branching on a daily basis.

Is it worth it to help create a memorable story that players will talk about for years to come?

Absolutely.

I love talking to my friends about my choices in Mass Effect, or Dragon Age, or even my own company’s Pillars of Eternity. Meaningful choices help generate discussion, which enhances the fandom potential of an IP. It’s a costly investment, to be sure, but I would have gladly taken a shorter campaign with branches over a long campaign where I had no influence.

There were some clear opportunities for branching in this campaign. Should I awaken the Purifiers? That’s a great branching option – there were clear pros and cons. Similarly, should I trust Alarac and help him take over the Tal’darim? Again, an awesome branching point – and those are just a couple that I can think of within the existing framework of the story. Once branching is an option, you can expand things vastly further.

Maybe there’s a choice early on in the game to offer the Terrans help with putting together the technology for Pylons – we see Mobeus experimenting with that in the Prologue, but there’s never any follow up on it. It’s a really interesting story hook. Giving that tech to Valerian might be a bad choice in the long run, but it could be a massive help in the war effort.

Or, in the Eplogue, there’s Amon constantly taunting you not to trust Kerrigan – which is ultimately meaningless, because you don’t have a choice *but* to trust Kerrigan.

What if there was another option?

Could we transfer that Xel’naga’s power to someone else? I bet Alarac would be happy to volunteer.

Internal Consistency:

Blizzard games have never been big on narrative consistency.

I say this as someone who absolutely loves Blizzard games, and someone who has written for several Warcraft books – it’s just not a huge concern. The “gameplay first” mentality leads to decisions where gameplay contradicts lore, and Blizzard IPs often end up with confusing, comic-book style retcons. (The Draenei, anyone?)

Starcraft II has actually been pretty good about consistency, although I was disappointed at the minimal impact from the choices in Wings of Liberty. The biggest consistency issue I encountered was from Ludonarrative Dissonance – a fancy way of saying gameplay and story contradicting each other.

Some examples of this include:

  • Artanis showing up in a cutscene at the end of a mission, but not actually being present in gameplay.
  • Hero units with changing stats and abilities between campaigns, and in the case of Kerrigan, between individual missions.
    • Seriously, she has different stats and abilities for every mission in the endgame – and none of them take your choices from Heart of the Swarm into account.
  • Hero units can die in some of the final battles with no notification to the player – but the game progresses as if the character survived. This was both confusing and frustrating. Some missions end early if a hero dies. Sometimes heroes respawn when they die (e.g. Kerrigan in the final missions). But sometimes you just have heroes die and no one says anything about it, like if Alarac dies by being Leeroy Jenkins in the final Legacy mission, which he likes to do on a regular basis. This was frustrating from a gameplay perspective, but even moreso from a narrative perspective – it makes the lives of the characters feel less meaningful.

Aside from ludonarrative inconsistencies, I was also frustrated that the Eplilogue campaign didn’t take my choices from the previous games for upgrading my stuff into account. For example, my Spear of Adun had different abilities in the first Epilogue mission – presumably because it was set up as a different “campaign”, and no one set up anything to import data from the previous “campaign”.

This one is pretty simple, and I’d like to see it patched. At a minimum, let people pick the specs they use when going into those missions – especially since they’re literally the end of the game.

Other Stuff:

The cinematics were awesome, as always. No complaints. Seriously, good stuff, Cinematics team.

I didn’t really notice the music for the most part, but there were some good tunes at times. The voice over work work was excellent as usual. Good stuff here.

I didn’t run into any major game-breaking bugs, so the QA team probably did their job. If I was still in QA, I would have reported the fact that choices don’t carry over between campaigns, but I’ll bet someone did and it got marked “Not a Bug”. That’s how things like that usually go.

Overall:

I really enjoyed the experience of Legacy of the Void overall, but it had some very memorable side characters. If the game series continues in some capacity, I would like to see more player agency, more RPG-style character customization, and more effort put into making the main character someone we can really invest in.

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