Mr. Hands


Adult game maker and pretend journo

So I've been playing The Cult of the Lamb, the indie smash hit darling that is already trending on Twitter here in Germany, and it's pretty obvious that it takes heavy inspiration from The Binding of Isaac (BoI)

The game is split into two modes: crusading and building your cult. During crusades, you smash heretics and grab their stuff, which you then need to use to build up your cult. It is, to nobody's surprise, extremely compelling. I've been making games for twenty years now, so it's hard for one game to really grab my attention, but this morning I started playing and when I looked at the clock, somehow an hour had evaporated??

Anyway, the crusade gameplay is extremely similar to BoI, but only at a cursory glance. When you enter a room, the doors close, and they open only when all enemies are defeated. Rooms are connected in cardinal directions. There are shops and sacrifice rooms, and there's a little restaurant too. Your health is measured in hearts, with each enemy doing about half a heart of damage. You can collect blue hearts, which don't regenerate, and black hearts, which damage all enemies in the room. And you beat each floor by fighting a miniboss. There are even tarot cards that give you special abilities!

But that's about where the comparisons end. Because Lamb and Isaac are telling completely different stories with their gameplay. Isaac is about a boy who is locked into a cellar by his unhinged mother, fighting personifications of grief and guilt with his literal tears. But Lamb is about the Chosen Messiah of an Eldritch Horror, who tasks you with building a cult to worship and defeat the Old Gods who have imprisoned him. Your magic is called Curses and you go on literal crusades!

Isaac asks: How much are you willing to change yourself to defeat your Mother? But Lamb asks: Since every God is horrible anyway, why not join the winning side?

I think this game proves a broader point that game designers have to make time and time again. Not only is it okay to steal mechanics from other games, it is your imperative to do so. Because designing a game is more like making a soup: Every ingredient adds its own texture.

As designers, we can all agree that the worst thing that could happen to game design is if companies start patenting their game designs so nobody else could use their mechanics.

This morning, I woke up at 5 AM, so I rolled out of bed and started implementing a new feature for my game Up There They Love, my adult game about powering your FTL engine with sexual energy from your crew members. Mind you, waking up so early wasn't necessarily by choice, but sometimes you have to roll with the punches.

Long story short: I wasted about an hour implementing a mechanic that doesn't work for my game.

The screen depicted in the first screenshot is one of the locations on the spaceship, where you can meet your crew members and have them perform tasks. There are five locations on the ship, and each crew member shuffles between them for every shift. Entering a location is how you can raise a crew member's Arousal and Passionate, Intimate, and Submissive levels, seen right. These stats are used in the Night shift, which is where you pick a crew member to date.

On the location screen, you perform tasks on the crew member by dragging one or more of your Action Dice (at the bottom) into the task slots on the left. The eyes of the die are deducted from the number and when it reaches 0, the task is performed. It's one of those mechanics that's hard to explain but (hopefully) easy to grasp when you play it yourself.

Anyway, the new feature I added this morning is the "Captain Stamina" bar in the top-left corner. A keen-eyed observer may have noted that Riya already has her own stamina indicator. That's because tasks used to take stamina from the crew member, but it felt kind of weird to my playtesters. Why do you need to spend Action Dice and Stamina on a task? Why are you spending her Stamina?

These are all valid concerns, so I was looking for a way to improve this mechanic. Enter the dating sim Kaiju Princess, which uses Action Points to limit your actions. You get 9 AP every morning, chatting with the titular Kaiju Princess costs 1 AP, going to work costs 3 AP, etc.

Interestingly enough, AP that you didn't spend during the day can be taken into the Sexy Times Phase. In that Phase, AP gets converted into the number of times you can squirt your load. It's in your interest as a player to always keep some AP in reserve if you also want to do the Sexy Times that day.

So that's where the Captain Stamina mechanic came from. Good designers get inspired, and bad designers steal, so let's give the player 9 AP, I mean "Captain Stamina". That probably won't work with the task costs, but I can rebalance that later.

Playtesting the new mechanic this morning, my conclusion it that It's Bad. In fact, it sucks. You can easily run out of stamina without spending all your Action Dice. Rebalancing the tasks won't help because that's still an edge case I have to deal with.

What I hadn't considered is that Action Points in Kaiju Princess serve a double role: they limit your actions, and they move the day/night cycle. This doesn't have a huge impact on the gameplay, but running out of AP is how you end the day. If you start Sexy Times with 9 AP, you will play with the Princess until you shoot your load 9 times, which automatically ends the day.

Up There They Love doesn't work like that, and it can't work like that.

The first problem I have is that the player needs to end each shift (Morning, Afternoon, and Evening) manually. Ending the shift shuffles the crew members between locations, giving the player new opportunities to perform tasks. Ending a shift by spending too much Captain Stamina would be heckin' confusing!

Secondly, I already have a stamina mechanic for the player. Running out of Action Dice means you can't perform any more tasks. Duh. What I do like about the mechanic from Kaiju Princess is that it carries the unused AP into the night phase.

Maybe I can also find a way to carry unused Action Dice into the Night phase. But this time, I'll actually prototype it first... 😓

you can access it from the sidebar! we'll be making improvements to the overall UX and design and would appreciate any feedback you have! aidan's out on vacation this week so everything's programmer UI until she's back to tell us how to make it Good.

also: you may have noticed that, for a few minutes, we were serving something we call "purple cohost". this occurs when our deploy process is slower than it should be and we end up running two versions of the application at the same time. we had work scheduled to change how our deploys work to prevent this, and we're moving that work up to Today since a minutes long purple cohost is kind of embarrassing.

that's it for now! thanks for using cohost! :eggbug: