David Edery (the CEO of Spry Fox) corrects some misconceptions about Road Not Taken, as well as addressing some of our concerns for the title.
The guys over at Spry Fox have been doing a lot of playtesting lately, using game developers (who by nature are brutally honest about games) as their testing ground. The feedback they received was pretty positive overall – the testers loving the games’ basic mechanics, art and sound – however, people seemed to be missing the depth of the title, and weren’t feeling a strong sense of progression.
Spry Fox has been hard at work to fix these issues, and here’s a bit of their PlayStation Blog post explaining how;
“I like to think of Road Not Taken as an iceberg floating in the ocean: a tiny percentage of the total game is visible above the surface when you first start playing, while the vast majority of the game lies unseen, waiting to be discovered. A large part of that depth comes from all the unusual creatures and objects you can encounter as you explore the enchanted forests of the game. Another large part comes from all the secret tools and boosts you can create if you know what you’re doing. (For example, if you combine the right number of red and white spirits lurking in the forest, you can create a useful magic axe.)
In our previous playtest builds, none of this was surfaced to the player. Since Road Not Taken is a roguelike, we simply expected players to assume that they would encounter different and/or more challenging objects and creatures as they progressed. And we expected players to stumble upon a few of the simpler crafting recipes in the game, and consequently realize that there must be many more recipes just waiting to be discovered. But neither of those things happened, so we realized we needed to do a better job of communicating with the player.
We’ve taken several steps to address these issues. First and foremost, we’re adding a “book of secrets” to the game, and we’re introducing it to the player during the very first mission. This book is basically a giant progress meter, in addition to being a very helpful reference guide. When you start out, it contains just a few entries, two of which are simple-but-useful crafting recipes. This unambiguously signals that crafting is something you can and should do. More importantly, the book tells you how many new objects and secrets you have yet to uncover (i.e. “2 out of 100 secrets found.”) This is an unmistakable signal to the player: you’re just getting started! Get to exploring!
There are already dozens of secret crafting recipes in Road Not Taken, in addition to dozens of forest objects and critters, and we hope to add more over time. The book of secrets is, in retrospect, an obvious way to make it all comprehensible to the player.
This sort of problem is common in game development. You build a robust system, expecting everyone to love it at first sight, and then grapple with the brutal reality that people either don’t understand the system and/or don’t understand its depth. Your tutorial might need work. (We’ve gone through at least a dozen iterations of the Road Not Taken tutorial and probably have a couple more left to go before it’s good enough!) Your metagame might be poorly surfaced. Your UI might be confusing. The list goes on and on. There’s only one cure to these illnesses, and that’s lots of playtesting, iteration and polish.”
Sounds to me like they’re doing a lot of work to address the issues and turn their game into something that not only is great, but feels great to play and has that sense of wonder from what you might uncover next.
In addition to the changes and additions noted in the quote, there are also a bunch of other new elements and tidbits. Your character will have a maximum lifespan of 15 years, each mission you embark upon consuming a year of your life (re-enforcing the pervasive theme of “live the best life possible in the time you have”). This lifespan element has been expanded from its original design, which only informed you of your lifespan upon your death – a mechanic that was causing players to feel like the game was pointless. In the newest build of Road Not Taken the game will inform you of your remaining lifespan after each mission, some non-player characters even mentioning it in passing. This isn’t to say that you’ll necessarily live for those 15 years however, as the game provides ample possibility for early death if you’re not careful.
Road Not Taken will be shown off at PAX East, so stay tuned as we’re sure to have more information when that goes down April 11th-13th.