Monday 17 September 2018

Dead Frontier 2: My Early Plans

Dead Frontier 2 was released into EA 12 days ago, and now that I've had some time to reflect and recover, I think it's safe to say that the game is a success so far. Perhaps not the mega hit some of us were hoping for, but it's definitely done well.

The review score is better than I expected it to be this early on, and even though our peak concurrent players has dropped a bit since launch, the total number of people logging in each day (DAU) is actually going up over time. Essentially more people are playing in total, they just aren't playing 24/7 like they were in the first 3 days.

One of my main reasons for launching into Early Access was so that I would be able to get your feedback earlier, and using that go on to make a much better game. That is exactly what has happened, and I now have a much clearer picture of what exactly you guys would like to see.

In this post, I am going to write down what I feel are your main issues with the game, and then I post my thoughts on this, and how I am planning to solve or improve it.

I want to say that at this stage I am not planning to publish a proper roadmap, with exact timescales etc. For example, I could probably promise to implement Outpost Attacks by the end of the month. It would actually be possible to do that, but only by rushing and completely ignoring anything new that crops up as we go; which would probably be a mistake. This doesn't mean I'll be slacking off, it just means that I won't be making any promises unless I know for sure I can keep them.

Generally speaking my aim is to first focus on the small improvements which make the biggest impact. Only once we have the core game working nicely will I then turn my attention on big new features and content.

Melee Combat is too clunky/hard to use
I agree that there is a significant learning curve with the melee combat, and that it was incredibly hard to use against groups of zombies. In the last patch I made some changes which I believe makes melee *a lot* more usable, namely: ability to stun up to 3 enemies in one hit, directional stuns, and directional dodge. With those changes I think melee combat with zombies is now a lot more forgiving and far less annoying.

A lot of people have suggested that melee swings should not cause the character to step forward, and/or that you should be able to move during swinging. I actually tried a test version of this melee combat before making the above changes, and I must say I didn't like it. In my opinion it was far to easy to stay out of range of the enemies and just wack them before they got anywhere near you. From an animation perspective, I also felt it looked far less realistic since there was no weight behind the character's attacks. I have sneaking suspicion that if I actually implemented this, there would be a lot of players who would want me to just revert back to the old system.

So, if it becomes clear that the community *really* wants a big rework, then I will probably do it. But for the moment at least, melee will stay roughly as it is and I will move on to other things.

It's too hard to find things/NPCs
I think the best solution to this would be an automap that fills in as your explore, adds names of NPCs, and provides other info which can be hard to remember. I see this as a high priority item, but it will be a fair amount of work to complete so it may not appear for a little while yet.

Missions are too hard/confusing/weird
Missions do definitely have a lot of weird quirks, and other issues that make them difficult to complete. Some are bugs, others are just design oversights. I will definitely be working on these soon. Some people have suggested having a notice board instead of random NPCs as they can be hard to find. I personally think that the automap will solve this problem, and I do like the little extra bit of immersion you get with finding random NPCs in the game world; so I'd prefer not to add a noticeboard if we can avoid it.

Too many loading screens/it should be open world etc
I personally like the loading screens, and it gives the game that nostalgic Resident Evil vibe. They allow people with older PCs to enjoy the game, and they help to make even slow zombies feel challenging. They have also made development *a lot* easier for me, especially when it comes to multiplayer logic.

A criticism I hear a lot for open world games is that the zombies aren't a threat, and that you spend too much time wandering around empty landscapes. This is because it's technically very hard to have enough zombies running around (and other interesting stuff) at once to even remotely fill a large area like this. If DF2 were to go open world, then we'd have the same problems. I also feel we'd lose a lot of our uniqueness and become "yet another zombie survival game".

To turn DF2 into an open world game would mean completely rewriting half of the game. That could mean an entire year with no other updates, and the final result could end up being worse than what we have now. It would undoubtedly introduce a lot of new bugs and performance issues. Therefore I think making the game open world is simply not realistic any time soon. Maybe it's something I could look into a few years down the line, but to attempt it now I think would be a big mistake.

Having said all of that, I do understand that the loading screens can get annoying after a long play session. I think the most reasonable solution here is to simply skew future content towards more & larger outdoor areas with smaller building interiors. For example, a fairly large (but not huge) farm area with just a few buildings to visit, a forest with some shacks etc. Outpost attacks, world bosses and PvP zones will also happen outdoors, so I think that will help a lot to break up the door loading.

Too repetitive
I think this is just a side effect of me releasing such a small chunk of the game and will certainly improve over time. Once OAs, world bosses, barricading, competitions, PvP modes, crafting, clans etc are added I think the game will be bursting with variety. Content updates which not only expand the size of the world, but add completely new location types which again make the game feel a lot nicer too. Unfortunately all of this will take me some time to complete.

So in the short term, I plan to add some random events in the streets (such as bosses and mini-hordes). I will also be adding a dedicated outdoor PvP area. These updates should be quite quick and easy to add, and should make the game a little more interesting while you wait for the bigger updates.

Not enough content
The game does need more content, and it will definitely be added. Personally I'd like to see at least triple the number of weapons/armour/clothing, double the number of enemy types, lots more outdoor & indoor location types, a much higer level cap etc. All of these will be coming, but as with the bigger features, it will take me some time to complete. Instead of doing one big content drop, most likely I'll break them up into smaller sections and release them in between the bigger feature updates.

Inflation/market chaos
This is the zombie apocalypse, not shopping at Walmart! Total chaos is what we want! :)

However, inflation does need to reined in a little and so I will definitely be adding more cash sinks. One idea I quite like the idea of is an NPC that allows players to donate cash. When enough cash has been donated in a certain time period, everyone in the game will receive some kind of bonus (like more EXP). I will also add some more "normal" sinks like dying clothes, buying vehicles etc.

Market UI is annoying
Yes, it is a real pain to use currently, and so I will attempt to rework things to keep it all in one screen rather than flipping between constantly. I quite like this design posted on our subreddit: (by LilManticore)

This is a high priority since the market plays a huge part in the game. It also shouldn't take *too* long to complete.

UI Ugly/Needs Icons
Yes our UI is rather basic and not super fun to look at when compared to other modern games. I would definitely like to improve this at some point. However much like the door loading, this setup has made development much quicker and easier. Having such a simple text based system will allow me to add new features/content at a much faster pace. Therefore I think it would be unwise to move towards prettier, but harder to update system too early. This will be sorted, but right now it is at a low priority level.

Other UI Issues
Other than how it looks, the UI has a lot of other like quirks and can be quite fiddly at times. You guys have suggested a lot of little quality of life improvements (such as use/consume on loot, easier refuelling, sorting, stacking etc)  and luckily most of these will not be especially hard to add in. Therefore I will be looking to apply as many of these as I can in the very near future.

Updates Coming Soon
To sum everything above up, here is what I'm planning to add in the very near future:
  • Mini random outdoor events like bosses and hordes
  • A dedicated outdoor pvp zone
  • An automap
  • Market redesign
  • Small UI qol improvements
  • Small mission improvements
  • Cash sink(s)
  • Bug fixes! (as always)

Updates Coming Not Quite So Soon
After the above are complete, I will mostly like move on to Outpost Attacks and the first content update :)

Sorry for this huge wall of text guys. I hope all of that communicates what's going on in my brain currently, and should at least give you a vague idea of how the game in going to progress in the coming weeks/months. No doubt this will disappoint some of you who were hoping for bigger things. Please do remember that I'm only one guy, with a wife and 4 young kids to look after, so there are limits to what I can realistically achieve.

Still, I really do think that the final version of DF2 will be pretty damn amazing, and I'm really excited about the future :)

Thanks for reading,