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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperPlaytestingKeep the Keep: Strategic Multiplayer Puzzle
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Nebulate.me
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« on: August 20, 2021, 07:26:41 AM »



Hey folks,

Nebulate.me (so I and a friend of mine) have been working on a game for the last year and a bit, and recently made it to Steam Early Access:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1126110/Keep_the_Keep/

This game's premise is basically: to blend in with Tower Defense, Chess, Turn-Based strategy and Puzzle genres... and then turn it all on its head. I can't even describe this game any better than already did in the Subject - a multiplayer puzzle. Your goal as a player is to build Towers on a chess-like grid to control the field and eventually overcome the opponent by outsmarting him with your positioning.

While the single-player mode is effectively about solving puzzles against a static opponent (since we aren't cool enough yet to write an AI to handle this level of complexity), online multiplayer mode provides a completely different angle to the gameplay, getting you to pick a favourite tower combo, fitting your personal strategy, and bluff your way through your opponent's scheme, carefully managing your ever-growing supply of new towers.



Now, we enjoy some publicity on Steam, but we haven't yet got to gather enough feedback to understand how much sense does it make to pull it through. Like, add more Towers, add proper Achievements, improve our existing Level Editor, get some story-driven campaign in, etc. How fun is the main mechanic, would it appeal to you? Could you, perhaps, help us out with your valuable opinion?

All that you get to do to play the game is go to our Discord Server https://discord.gg/Cd6mzubbfP and ask in #key-giveaways channel for an activation key - and you'll have it. Nothing else is required so long as you're willing to give us your thoughts Smiley
Thank you!
« Last Edit: August 20, 2021, 07:35:43 AM by Nebulate.me » Logged
DarkGran
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« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2021, 01:10:22 PM »

Hello again. :)

So. Let's take it from the beginning.

I usually close the "playtest requests" the moment I see there is a link to Steam, especially because of what I recently wrote in    
How to get more Playtester feedback on the TIG Forums
. But you actually address this in your description, so I decided to show that I don't have anything against indie developer publishing their games on Steam per se.

I also close the "playtest requests" the moment I see a discord link, because it feels like the developer is less interested in feedback and more in gaining a "fanbase" for his game (ppl dont seem to like to join empty discords very much). It is also an "extra hoop" we have to jump through, also mentioned in the "How to" thread. xD You even instruct us to "ask for a key", making it clear that after we join the discord, we still wont be able to test the game, instead there are more hoops to jump through. xD
(I am purposely avoiding the word "play", because it is important to note that lots of people here don't even play games at all. They just make 'em and test 'em.)
But when I break one rule, I guess I break all of them, so that, surprisingly, did not stop me.

A cherry on top is the moment when an english tester unwillingly joins a discord that's filled with Russian. xD

I kid though, I got a response with a key rightaway. ;) I just had to say something on the topic of asking more than necessary from your free testers - although really, everything there is to be said is already in the "How to". ;)

That all being said... the game is nice! :))

Visuals
Somehow I did not like the screenshot you posted here at all, but in game it looked nice. I think the screenshot quality is a bit low (everything is super-sharp in game) and it seemed unnecessarily cluttered (first impressions is "too many weird buildings" - you dont see what are the generators yet, you won't notice the links so you won't see the "connections" between towers that you have with game knowledge).
I'm not much for this graphic style as it usually looks kinda "cheap", but the details of towers are actually nice enough so it actually looks nice overall too (i would change the grounds outside the chessboard because to me they dont even fit with the graphic style of the towers, then again they do a little bit... and I guess this one's a matter of personal preference).
I would make the placement arrows bit more visible (because I cant see them when there is a tower directly under the arrow). Besides that it all seemed fine, and the ui style fits well. :)
And the soldiers are so cute!!! x)

Gameplay
I was not looking forward to the game because I do not like Tower Defenses. But your description, the mention of puzzles etc, intriguied me, that's why I wanted to give it a try.

What a pleasant surprise! One of the big downfalls for Tower Defenses is, at least for me, the amount of towers you have to build, but here the building tempo is 1 tower per turn, which in return gives each tower huge value. Forces one to think about his every move, which is good. I could see how with just a few types of towers the levels became a real puzzle that reminded me of chess a lot, even though the basic gameplay is static (towers don't move :))).
(btw I didnt expect so many tower types in the end, nice work :) and the library with explanation is cool too, very helpful)
I like puzzles in general and I must say, I was engaged enough to go over the time I wanted to originally spend in game, so nice job!

While playing, I was mostly thinking about how cool the multiplayer matches must be with such a setup. The entire game really feels like "'static yet still active' chess". When the soldiers start walking out of the barracks, the game suddenly doesnt feel so static, and because of how they move, they don't actually "break" the original gameplay feel, so nice job!
(Only thing a little bit confusing about soldiers was that when they can pick from two targets, they probably should attack the one to which they were originally headed, instead they sometimes make a turn and attack the other target too - seemed connected to whether the other target is in the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction of where they are faced... understandable but a weird rule that i wouldnt like to think about all the time if I were to play the game and even compete with others.)

Oh and I noticed you already put in lots of work into it, I mean around 30 levels? I went through the first half (nice learning curve and difficulty graduation!) and then skipped away through the rest, but the puzzles are very... "puzzly-like" :D I bet the second half of the game would take me at least an hour, probably more, to solve.

And then the multiplayer... the puzzle vs puzzle concept is very cool and I'm tempted to go see it in action! :) (the single-player already suggests how it could look like... except that both players get to build each turn (i checked)... yay! :))

There is one thing that's more about the world setting than about the gameplay, but... it is kinda strange to see ballistas and catapults and medieval castles to be powered by electricity. xD I mean, it can be refreshing if this is the kind of world you have, but in that case I would expect some "intro" before the first level starts, even if its just a few sentences, something to give us the "atmosphere" or the "gist of what world is this", so it doesn't come as such a surprise.
(edit: btw the generators are very important for how the game plays right now, however when looking at a "fantasy tower defense", I would not expect them and therefore I would not expect the complexity related to them. The "Keep the keep" name also does not suggest this, and now that Im at the subject of the name: I know it's "funny", but it doesnt tell you that 1) this is more than a fantasy keep 2) you are building keeps! and breaking keeps! nobody keeps the keep as it was in this game, so what keeping (except for the little "main keep") are you talking about, you know what I mean? xD I think there might be a name out there that suggests "puzzle" and "building" much more. After all, this isnt just a tower defense, and it certainly isnt FarmKeepville :p Then again the name isnt entirely bad and I do understand that you already named it on Steam, so a change probably isnt really an option anymore... (but i dont know how steam works))

Didn't encounter any bugs except:
- Often I click building in left menu and the grid starts showing where I can place it but when I try it, I cant unless I click it in the menu again (only then it becomes "selected" and I can build).
- The reload level does not work if you have selected a building to build (had to cancel first, just a little annoyance).
- I couldnt start the game from steam, it had some trouble "updating exe" or whatever. But it worked when I just started the exe directly from game's folder.

Your questions

You actually posted some questions in the description, so I'll try to answer those.

Now, we enjoy some publicity on Steam, but we haven't yet got to gather enough feedback to understand how much sense does it make to pull it through. Like, add more Towers, add proper Achievements, improve our existing Level Editor, get some story-driven campaign in, etc.

I don't have experience publishing on steam but I'm pretty sure that it's not such a big deal, especially nowadays when Steam is used to publishing shitloads of early-access indies. So in that sense, "pulling publishing on Steam through" is same as with any other publishing. Except you are publishing an indie game, so nobody will expect that you publish a finished game - you can publish indie in any state, the only important thing is to be honest about what state it is in.

If I misunderstood the question and you mean, in fact, the 8+ euros price tag you put on the game, and you are asking "what would make the game worth it"... that really depends on each person. To me that's pricy, I buy indie games for that price only if they are a piece of art. And finished. With shitloads of content.
But I think that for someone, you might already be pretty close to offering "enough" for the money. Especially if you "promise" that you keep working on the game.
Which things would push the game closer to that price in my eyes? Any of those that you wrote would help.
- ppl love achievements and are usually easy to make
- you got lots of Towers but yes, more towers and more levels is a way to go, whether now or in the future
- story-driven campaigns are always in demand but the storytelling must be good
- actually i dont think you need Level Editor xD instead make it so there are always ppl for multiplayer matches :P
- plus comes to mind: more visual polish never killed anyone (i think)

Keep in mind that every player has his own preference (and also different amounts of money for games). For example, I think that lots of ppl would go pretty much crazy if you made another hundred of these puzzle leves. Meanwhile I'm the type of player who will say "good job" but will not buy/play these levels, because these days I don't play single-player anymore.

How fun is the main mechanic, would it appeal to you?

I think I answered this in "gameplay" but just to summarize, I really like what you got here. It reminds one of chess and tower defenses yet it plays very originally. The turn-based gameplay is perfect for such a puzzle.

Thanks for letting me test it, it was fun! Good luck with it, it's on a good road. :)

edit: I left the discord and wanted to let you know afterwards in direct message... to find out that you don't accept messages from non-members unless they are in your friend list. Oops, my bad! Well, I'm sure you'll get to read this anyway. :))
« Last Edit: August 21, 2021, 03:08:52 PM by DarkGran » Logged
Nebulate.me
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2021, 10:41:42 AM »

Hello again. Smiley

So. Let's take it from the beginning.

I usually close the "playtest requests" the moment I see there is a link to Steam, especially because of what I recently wrote in    
How to get more Playtester feedback on the TIG Forums
. But you actually address this in your description, so I decided to show that I don't have anything against indie developer publishing their games on Steam per se.

I also close the "playtest requests" the moment I see a discord link, because it feels like the developer is less interested in feedback and more in gaining a "fanbase" for his game (ppl dont seem to like to join empty discords very much). It is also an "extra hoop" we have to jump through, also mentioned in the "How to" thread. xD You even instruct us to "ask for a key", making it clear that after we join the discord, we still wont be able to test the game, instead there are more hoops to jump through. xD
(I am purposely avoiding the word "play", because it is important to note that lots of people here don't even play games at all. They just make 'em and test 'em.)
But when I break one rule, I guess I break all of them, so that, surprisingly, did not stop me.

A cherry on top is the moment when an english tester unwillingly joins a discord that's filled with Russian. xD

I kid though, I got a response with a key rightaway. Wink I just had to say something on the topic of asking more than necessary from your free testers - although really, everything there is to be said is already in the "How to". Wink

Hey, thanks a lot for clarifying our mistakes for us  Hand Thumbs Up Right We will adjust our future posts to clearly ask for playtesting a specific build that we'd provide right away in the post itself, so the whole process will get a lot easier. Thanks for being brave enough to join us and trust us, even if for a little bit Smiley

In fact, you are right: we are actively looking for a fanbase, but giving the first people our game for free felt like a good deal to us.
We were wrong, apparently, and it's necessary to get people something besides an opportunity to play your game since human time is becoming more scarce in the modern world. The main problem for us was that we really want to show people the multiplayer, but it's duel-driven just like chess and it doesn't seem possible to get people on some kind of a big server and hang out together.

We could assemble a very cut-down web version that would only contain singleplayer, but then it's like only giving people half of your game and asking them to judge it based on this alone. What would you recommend?

Visuals
Somehow I did not like the screenshot you posted here at all, but in game it looked nice. I think the screenshot quality is a bit low (everything is super-sharp in game) and it seemed unnecessarily cluttered (first impressions is "too many weird buildings" - you dont see what are the generators yet, you won't notice the links so you won't see the "connections" between towers that you have with game knowledge).
I'm not much for this graphic style as it usually looks kinda "cheap", but the details of towers are actually nice enough so it actually looks nice overall too (i would change the grounds outside the chessboard because to me they dont even fit with the graphic style of the towers, then again they do a little bit... and I guess this one's a matter of personal preference).
I would make the placement arrows bit more visible (because I cant see them when there is a tower directly under the arrow). Besides that it all seemed fine, and the ui style fits well. Smiley
And the soldiers are so cute!!! x)

Made a new task in our backlog to fix the placements arrows visibility!

You're very correct about buildings being out there in bulk and overwhelming - while it's effectively an essence of the game to have all those skirmishes between your towers and theirs and, just like in Go, fight for little bits of the battlefield cell by cell (which actually happens if both players know what they're doing) - it is a lot to process on the screenshot and in general.
In fact, every match kinda becomes more complicated as you play it since there are more things that you have to keep in mind. We hope 7x7 field doesn't make peoples heads explode too often Grin

The graphics are the way they are mostly due to us not being proper 3d-modellers / artists, rather programmers, and doing this game in our free time on a very low budget. We would love to add proper art and music into it, but are not entirely sure people would like the game more this way, since it won't change the core gameplay loop (which we like and are glad that you like, but how many are players out there that would like it too?)

While playing, I was mostly thinking about how cool the multiplayer matches must be with such a setup. The entire game really feels like "'static yet still active' chess". When the soldiers start walking out of the barracks, the game suddenly doesnt feel so static, and because of how they move, they don't actually "break" the original gameplay feel, so nice job!
(Only thing a little bit confusing about soldiers was that when they can pick from two targets, they probably should attack the one to which they were originally headed, instead they sometimes make a turn and attack the other target too - seemed connected to whether the other target is in the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction of where they are faced... understandable but a weird rule that i wouldnt like to think about all the time if I were to play the game and even compete with others.)

100%! Soldiers behaviour is on our TODO list too! We will make it more consistent, easy to understand and to see via UI as well. Another important thing we keep in mind and on the plan the Tower initiative order, which will explain which tower and which player will go after whom  Toast Right

There is one thing that's more about the world setting than about the gameplay, but... it is kinda strange to see ballistas and catapults and medieval castles to be powered by electricity. xD I mean, it can be refreshing if this is the kind of world you have, but in that case I would expect some "intro" before the first level starts, even if its just a few sentences, something to give us the "atmosphere" or the "gist of what world is this", so it doesn't come as such a surprise.
(edit: btw the generators are very important for how the game plays right now, however when looking at a "fantasy tower defense", I would not expect them and therefore I would not expect the complexity related to them. The "Keep the keep" name also does not suggest this, and now that Im at the subject of the name: I know it's "funny", but it doesnt tell you that 1) this is more than a fantasy keep 2) you are building keeps! and breaking keeps! nobody keeps the keep as it was in this game, so what keeping (except for the little "main keep") are you talking about, you know what I mean? xD I think there might be a name out there that suggests "puzzle" and "building" much more. After all, this isnt just a tower defense, and it certainly isnt FarmKeepville :p Then again the name isnt entirely bad and I do understand that you already named it on Steam, so a change probably isnt really an option anymore... (but i dont know how steam works))

Huh... Yet again, you are correct, it's not like the main goal of the game is to just keep your Keep (the main tower/keep/castle that you have), but also to destroy the opponent's. Thing is, we have really failed at telling our players the truth about our game:
- It looks like Tower Defense - it's not a tower defense at all
- It looks like Chess - it's a mere distant relative of it
- It's called Keep the Keep - no, pure defense won't win you the game
- It's turn-based - but the actual turn will take place after both players have made their choice and played their towers (so everything starts activating at shooting at everything else)
- It's looking like all the info is on the game field - not really, in multiplayer you also have bluff and politics based on which towers have you already revealed that you have, as well as which towers you may place at this spot that you've just marked as your building spot
- It looks symmetrical for both players - it's not, multiplayer has a slightly different advantages for the players - one can act first and attack first, another can see what his opponent does and react correspondingly, knowing exactly where to expect his enemy to be

How... just how are we to tell our players all this?  My Word!

But yeah, we'll see what we can do about the name and screenshots and setting/graphical consistency so people could see easier what this whole thing is about. Thanks.

Didn't encounter any bugs except:
- Often I click building in left menu and the grid starts showing where I can place it but when I try it, I cant unless I click it in the menu again (only then it becomes "selected" and I can build).
- The reload level does not work if you have selected a building to build (had to cancel first, just a little annoyance).
- I couldn't start the game from Steam, it had some trouble "updating exe" or whatever. But it worked when I just started the exe directly from game's folder.

Every bug is on our bugbacklog, many thanks! We'll get it fixed.

I don't have experience publishing on steam but I'm pretty sure that it's not such a big deal, especially nowadays when Steam is used to publishing shitloads of early-access indies. So in that sense, "pulling publishing on Steam through" is same as with any other publishing. Except you are publishing an indie game, so nobody will expect that you publish a finished game - you can publish indie in any state, the only important thing is to be honest about what state it is in.

If I misunderstood the question and you mean, in fact, the 8+ euros price tag you put on the game, and you are asking "what would make the game worth it"... that really depends on each person. To me that's pricy, I buy indie games for that price only if they are a piece of art. And finished. With shitloads of content.
But I think that for someone, you might already be pretty close to offering "enough" for the money. Especially if you "promise" that you keep working on the game.

Thank you. We will do our best to convey the game state and our intent clearly.
Speaking of the price - I was afraid of that, and many players think this way. We're very spoiled in a modern world, considering a price too high even if it's comparable to a business lunch that one'd easily spend every day. These days, games are so accessible indeed devs have to lower the prices to be somewhat profitable.

And somewhere in a perfect world, we could just do games we like and release them for free so anyone could play... provided people have some unconditional base income and are generally not pushed towards earning money in order to survive. You know  Wink

Overall, you have our gratitude for being so supportive and providing us with this huge feedback.
If there would be karma on Tigsource, you'd get a big plus from us. Have a great day!
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DarkGran
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2021, 01:58:09 PM »

In fact, you are right: we are actively looking for a fanbase, but giving the first people our game for free felt like a good deal to us.
We were wrong, apparently, and it's necessary to get people something besides an opportunity to play your game since human time is becoming more scarce in the modern world. The main problem for us was that we really want to show people the multiplayer, but it's duel-driven just like chess and it doesn't seem possible to get people on some kind of a big server and hang out together.
We could assemble a very cut-down web version that would only contain singleplayer, but then it's like only giving people half of your game and asking them to judge it based on this alone. What would you recommend?

Hi again. :))
Oh don't get me wrong - all that I said about not creating these "extra hoops" applies only to specialized playtesting forums. Different rules apply here - if you are looking for fans, simply post the game in the Townhall :)
Same goes for other sites like tigsource - there's usually an "Announcement" (or similar) forum where people can even sell their games without any shame, and then there's the "playtesting" forum where different rules apply.
Giving the game for free is a good deal, but asking for testers who take time to comment is not the same as giving it away for free. ;)

Considering that you are, in fact, actively looking for fans, I'd recommend posting in Announcement too. You don't actually have to change the post here - while some playtesters may get discouraged by all the discord and stuff that I was talking about, there will still be some that will go through it and give you feedback (like me :p), so that's better than nothing. ;) (they may not stay in the discord, but at least you'll get some feedback :p)

You're very correct about buildings being out there in bulk and overwhelming - while it's effectively an essence of the game to have all those skirmishes between your towers and theirs and, just like in Go, fight for little bits of the battlefield cell by cell (which actually happens if both players know what they're doing) - it is a lot to process on the screenshot and in general.
In fact, every match kinda becomes more complicated as you play it since there are more things that you have to keep in mind. We hope 7x7 field doesn't make peoples heads explode too often ;D

I think the 7x7 is totally fine unless filled. ;D Maybe provide another screenshot where the grid is almost empty?
(or more screenshots in general for that matter, just a way to raise chances of getting players/testers... looking at the screenshots now, I think only the first one is a bit too cluttered for a fresh newcomer... again, it's totally fine now that I know the towers)

The graphics are the way they are mostly due to us not being proper 3d-modellers / artists, rather programmers, and doing this game in our free time on a very low budget. We would love to add proper art and music into it, but are not entirely sure people would like the game more this way, since it won't change the core gameplay loop (which we like and are glad that you like, but how many are players out there that would like it too?)

Oof, if that's true, then you did a goddamn good job! :D I was just nitpicking with the surroundings and I have certain style preferences, but the game actually looks really good in my opinion. (music is always nidce though, but I guess it shouldn't be a priority at this point)

- It looks symmetrical for both players - it's not, multiplayer has a slightly different advantages for the players - one can act first and attack first, another can see what his opponent does and react correspondingly, knowing exactly where to expect his enemy to be

I'm not sure how deep this goes. If the symmetry is different from chess, it would take away the "chess feeling", which would be a shame. Is there a way to solve that? (just comes to my mind) Not that important though, so onto the main point

How... just how are we to tell our players all this?  :monoclepop:

Well, the name is a great opportunity! xD Or is it truly sealed?
Honestly, it doesn't matter that much. It's not like it's a bad name. All the things you pointed out are actually not that important. Most players will know if they want to play the game by looking at it, if they want to know more before trying, they will watch gameplay videos. If they don't watch the gameplay before, they know they'll have to find out how it actually works on the grid, how the turns work... the game may look like something but there are also clear question marks that the player can see and is ready to find answers for. In the end it's about whether the player likes playing it or not, and the name rly doesn't matter much at that point.
Of course there could be a name that would "lure" more players in, but if there's no name to rename Keep the Keep, i wouldn't worry about it (the name's good enough to stick in your head btw).
If you can rename it... then I'm afraid you'll have to do that yourself (nothing comes to my mind right now :p), maybe figure out 5 alternative names and then ask in the Game Name Clinic - I will rate your game's name thread? :P

Speaking of the price - I was afraid of that, and many players think this way. We're very spoiled in a modern world, considering a price too high even if it's comparable to a business lunch that one'd easily spend every day. These days, games are so accessible indeed devs have to lower the prices to be somewhat profitable.

Oh don't get me started on that. xD

Overall, you have our gratitude for being so supportive and providing us with this huge feedback.
If there would be karma on Tigsource, you'd get a big plus from us. Have a great day!

Haha thank you, there's no karma but I still appreciate it! :D Have a great day too and good luck with the game! :)
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