Holiday Shopping Public Service Announcement

The War Z has been pulled from Steam. It has politely been described as “a scam,” “blatant fraud,” and “the most shameless, amateurish cash grab I’ve ever played.” This last came from a friendly reviewer, and he has the best summary of the situation.

But the usual holiday Steam sale is going, as is Humble Indie Bundle 7, which includes Dungeon Defenders with all DLC, if you were curious about that. Steam already convinced me not to buy things anywhere below 50-75% off unless I want to play it today; Humble Bundles may push me further down that slope.

: Zubon

[DD] Financial Models

As I write this, Dungeon Defenders costs $14.99 on Steam and has $39.84 worth of DLC. This soundly trumps last year’s post on Civ V, and it is something I did not see coming for this game. Only a few dollars of that is purely cosmetic; it includes new classes, missions, holiday events, and conventional expansions. At the end of last year, you could get the whole game with all expansions for $6.20 on sale. If this works for them, Trendy Entertainment has found a highly profitable variation on the cash shop model.

Of course, this comes nowhere close to Railworks 3: Train Simulator 2012. As I write this, it costs $34.99 and has $1,869.03 (not a typo) worth of DLC. It seems to be priced to be competitive with buying actual miniature train sets.

: Zubon

Update: as commenter Galaji mentions, the Dungeon Defenders holiday event DLCs are free if you get them at the time. I was rather surprised by the Presidents Day event.

Longevity

You pay for your game and expect it to have a certain amount of content. There are many ways to pad that with fake longevity, most of which amount to adding gameplay flaws to hide the “flaw” of being short. Character advancement is the currently popular version, because grinding takes time and your players are happily watching their numbers increase.

Dungeon Defenders has more real and fake longevity than Orcs Must Die! The longevity extension measures, however, are better in Orcs Must Die! These are both action/tower defense games released around the same time, so they provide a good basis for comparison. Continue reading Longevity

Unintended Behavior (of developers)

Thanks, it feels really good to read this article and you’re exactly on the ball. I don’t think people on this forum realize how hard we at Trendy work to make this game for you guys. Many of us have never personally been paid and have been living off of our own savings (of which are almost nothing, since we’re so young) to make this game. We often put in over 70-80 hours a week and more. Yes we make mistakes (that much is clear), but we are not setting out to nor are we setting out to take anyone’s money.

And I can’t comment about our financial issue, but I’d implore everyone to remember… Steam, Epic, D3, Reverb, Contractors, Investors, et. all get cuts from the game and its DLC. We’re putting in all this extra work and putting out all this extra content and patches because we want to and we want to have a product you enjoy playing. Dungeon Defenders was never intended to be a game that people played as much as you all have played it (especially not as much as an MMO) and we’re working really hard to get you more content and more gameplay out of the content you have.
Pmasher, Trendy Entertainment

What I’m wondering is how the game came to be one that encouraged and supported playing that much. (I’m not sure much “that much” is, but you can imagine it’s pretty high for forum-dwellers, presumably 100-200 hours already for people playing it at an MMO rate.) It seems easier just not to support the development direction they took, with many patches and ongoing development. You need some ongoing development if you want to sell DLC, but I never heard anyone complain about Orcs Must Die! for not being an MMO. (Although I have not heard more than 2 or 3 sentences about Orcs Must Die!, so either it is not getting much buzz or I’m just reading the wrong things. Active development does fuel ongoing discussion.) I think of Runic Games, which seems to have taken suggestions and plugged them into Torchlight 2 rather than extending Torchlight 1. Once development stops, you can love or hate the game for what it is, rather than what you still might wish it to become.

I can see several reasons why development is continuing post-release, but the patches are increasingly supporting long-term, heavily dedicated play. You could take it in a different direction, one where you say, “You beat the game. Congratulations!” and move on, maybe visiting every couple of months to check out DLC. (Add a player notification option there, some way to call people back.) Instead, the direction seems to be one that is putting increasing demands on Trendy without generating a lot more revenue. Maybe future DLC will add some revenue, say release another four-pack of maps every two months for $5-$10 with an “ongoing story,” although the story is not “going” much to start.

Runic also took the path of encouraging modding, rather than running an official server. That reduces control but limits the unending commitment to maintaining a service after you have sold the game. I have no idea how much effort TrendyNet involves, but there are still enough hardcore Diablo II players to support gold- and item-selling sites for that today. If the fanbase is unpleasable now, imagine if the official server goes away.

: Zubon

Endurance Mode

I made a run at that Dungeon Defenders endgame. I have run Survival before, but here we go, real attempt to see how far I can go. It was physically painful. I was on the same map for hours. I’m told that a better geared player could get through wave 25 in less than 7 hours; I must have been in the 5 or 6 range when I ended at Wave 19. I was fatigued and starting to have problems seeing things, although you don’t need to see too well to when you’re on the same map for hours. I went with a small map, Alchemical Laboratory, and I don’t know if a larger one would feel more varied or just have more running around/waiting. I did get that decent ranged DPS weapon (48k DPS before P Shot, may upgrade armor to boost that) I wanted and a bunch of improved armor, so I can try more things now.

The latest patch that improved the loot ramp (better stuff earlier) came some hours after I tried my Survival run, so it might even be worthwhile to try a bit again. With vastly improved damage, it could go much more quickly. But there is definitely a problem with incentivizing players to play on the same map for hours. It’s not even setting up a camp and farming; this is the actual game, being played as intended and designed with progression. I will definitely need to be in the right mood for that kind of thing, and I’ll need voice chat or something to distract me.

: Zubon

More Midriffs

Dungeon Defenders will be implementing gender-swapped versions its 4 classes. These will be new classes (update: new skills, same towers), not a cosmetic option for the existing 4.

The concept art shows that the Ranger is wearing only slightly more than the Huntress. And hey, so are all the female characters. Every female character needs a bare midriff, it seems, not just gnome death knights. To the chagrin of some players, the Countess is not running around in her underpants, with most parts covered except that midriff; she also lacks a gorget, but at least she’s not in a chainmail bikini.

I do like the Adept’s glasses. Jinkies!

: Zubon

Rollercoaster Going Uphill

Not that one.

The Dungeon Defenders patch notes thread is interesting just in its volume. These are not even all the patches, since bug fixes and such may be stealth-patched. The game has been averaging around a patch per workday, with multiple patches on some days. I think that means they released during late beta, and you have already heard my nattering about how this nullifies the possibility of a long-term view.

The next patch is chock full of quality of life improvements, such as auto-fire (which was previously player-implemented via developer-approved macro). Easier respec, more benefits for upgrades, use-based pet experience, restricting random events that can cause the game to be unavoidably lost in one shot, and adjusting the loot tables so you will not need to play Survival for 6 hours straight to get the best loot.

I’ve sincere about that: 6 hours. The best loot now comes from Survival waves, improving with each wave, and getting to those later waves takes hours. With the new changes, getting to wave 25 will still take 6 hours, but maybe you can get the benefits from a 4-hour stay on that map. That’s still pretty long and boring, but at least your crystal will no longer seemingly self-destruct from the items removed in the next patch. You still need to be able to play for that long, keep a Steam and Trendy connection that long, and to want to sit through (tens of?) thousands of enemies per wave, each of whom will be in 5-digit hit points by the later waves.

I don’t see a single “oh man!” change on the list, but it is addressing the details of the endgame they’ve created, not the core difficulties with the endgame itself.

: Zubon

One Shot

Raid bosses are slot machines, and every goblin is to a lesser extent. You pull the level and hope for good loot. Quite a few games take this further, in what I still think of as Diablo-style loot, with lots and lots of drops with lots and lots of randomization. 95+% of it is vendor trash, but that’s not always immediately apparent. If you want to avoid throwing away your prize, you need to dig and see if there is a pony somewhere in that room full of horse poo.

Dungeon Defenders helpfully points out the items that would be upgrades. You can even see green dots on the map and highlighting through the walls. “Come check this out.” Of course, whether it really is an upgrade depends on many things, such as whether your character wants to trade +40 to towers for +20 to towers and +21 to hero stats. So maybe you should still be looking at everything, because that armor may say it’s a downgrade, but you are trading 8 points of something you don’t want for +25% base damage. And then you have prizes like this one. 1 shot 0 kill The value algorithm says this is an upgrade for me. For those of you who do not know the stats involved, those are pretty good hero stats, decent base damage (with no bonus), a very nice firing rate, and an excellent reload rate. It needs that reload rate because this is a gatling gun with a one round clip. It could fire seven times per second, except that you need to reload this muzzle-loader after every shot.

The loot drops so quickly in Dungeon Defenders that it is automatically deleted (not looted, deleted) as you play. There is an item cap that protects game performance and encourages you to run around collecting mana and items. This somewhat counters the pro-social mechanic of dividing up the cash from loot left on the ground at the end of each round, because if you try to leave the loot, a lot of it will go away before the end of the round (past the first few waves). The item cap feels like it was designed for 100-200 enemies, and Survival maps quickly get to thousands of enemies. This discourages AFKing but gives you the choice between adding DPS to beat the level or trying to claim your prizes before they *poof.* The latest patch changed it so that the lowest quality loot gets deleted first, not the oldest; the opposite was a very strange design decision that led to your potential upgrades disappearing as you ran over to pick them up.

Mana is both the currency of the game and what you use to build towers, upgrade them, and power your abilities in the level. It also has a cap for how much can be on the ground (I’m not clear if that’s shared with loot), without the “lowest quality disappears first” provision, so your shiny teal 500-mana gem might disappear when the next 1-mana gem drops.

With so much vendor trash that it throws itself away, Dungeon Defenders may be approaching the reductio ad absurdum of Diablo-style loot.

: Zubon

Difficulty Curve

I have reached the point in Dungeon Defenders where I need a ranged DPS character to do more. I’m working out how to bootstrap that process, since the tasks for most really good ranged DPS weapons require either a decent DPS weapon or being assisted by someone who has one. I am solid on towers, but the red ogres absorb a lot of damage.

Medium difficulty is easy. Once you get past the low-level blahs and have all your towers, you’re good to go. I didn’t even try Easy; I presume you can sleep through it. Hard is mostly fair, requiring some thought and planning, and it requires you to use your towers well (or perhaps you can overgear and just shoot most of it down, but some of those maps are large). Insane is an entire other thing, and they keep increasing its difficulty because Insane is the endgame.

Like the WoW switch to raiding, Insane is a switch to demanding a DPS hero. Yes, the towers are extremely helpful once the enemy count gets to 4 digits (and keeps climbing in Survival), but the red ogres’ hit points have 6 digits. I have yet to see them hit 7 digits, but I have seen it very close in a 4-player game. Someone with great tower-building gear can still shoot that down, but the ogre tends to have dozens of friends with him and more coming from other lanes, so you may not be able to devote too many DU to the ogre. OTOH, I have seen screenshots of DPS-specialized characters above 200,000 DPS, so the ogres need not be overwhelming threats. That bootstrapping comes back: to get the items you’ll want for massive DPS, you’ll need to be able to take out the ogres that demand the massive DPS, unless you got them before they dialed up the late-game ogres. And I do mean to pluralize “ogres,” in that they spawn in pairs on some maps, to say nothing of the challenge where you get only ogres (from five entrances). My Squire is hybrid and only puts out about 20,000 DPS without Blood Rage, but he can take down the biggest ogre given a bit of time and maneuvering. The other enemies and ogres are there to minimize your time and maneuvering. And then there’s the end boss, which likes to spends its time airborne.

Maybe I’ll just get a bit more gear for my Squire and work on Insane Assault for the Huntress weapon.

: Zubon

The early maps are still pretty easy on Insane, especially the ones without ogres.