(Deity) Dark Emissary – The Lost Ability

When looking back over the course of Deity, one of the most intriguing abilities we experimented with was an ability known as Dark Emissary. Dark Emissary was an ability where the player could throw a “helper” nearby and use it to either distract an enemy or to use it as a chaining point. Effectively, if you couldn’t reach a torch because you were just out of range, you could throw Dark Emissary in between you and the torch, and then chain to both targets (Dark Emissary and the Torch) to get across.

Functionally, I really liked the duality that this ability provided. It allowed for the player to manipulate their surrounds by their own power, and could be useful in almost any situation. I even saw it used as a scouting method to see what was up ahead, or thrown really far away as a chain point towards the end of a chain link instead of at the beginning. I was surprised by how creative players could get using the ability, and you would think that this would be one of those abilities worth keeping. When it came down to it, there were many underlying issues that made us think otherwise, and ultimately removed the ability from the game.

The first, and perhaps the most aggravating issue, was trying to teach people how to use it. Dark Emissary was one of those abilities where once you understood how it worked, it became easy to grasp what to do with it. However, if you didn’t know how to utilize the ability, then you sat there forever trying to figure out what it did. I tried several ways to explain the functionality to the player, everything from circled rings for your throwing distance, to mouse tip icons, to hard text-based tutorial information. No matter how much I threw at them, players either didn’t get how to use it, or took a crack at it for three or more minutes until they realized what to. For me, as a designer, to see someone struggle to use a single ability for so long was one of the more frustrating experiences that I had while working on Deity. Every time I saw a player struggle to learn how to use Dark Emissary, I would ask them what they would have needed to learn it better. The results were widely mixed, and nothing concrete was really defined.

The second issue that Dark Emissary had was that it drastically slowed the pacing of the game. When people played Deity during this time period, even though we promoted planned action, players tended to have a “Go! Go! Go!” mentality. This actually makes sense because the gratification a player got from doing a successful chain was so powerful, that they just wanted to constantly chain at a rapid rate.  So the idea of having to slow down or stop all together was probably the last type of action that the player wanted to do. Unfortunately, Dark Emissary wanted the player to do exactly that. Due to the way it was implemented, Dark Emissary, when launched, would travel along an arch, bounce, and then land on the spot where the player clicked. While visually interesting to look at, the speed of the ability was super slow.

(Dark Emissary being thrown) [Deity – 07 – 27 – 2011]

After looking at all the issues with Dark Emissary, I considered all of the options that could fix the ability. The most obvious choice would to be to instantly spawn Dark Emissary where the player clicked. This would quickly fix the speed issue, but before we had even gone to implement such a change, we realized that there was another problem. We found that players would fail at using Dark Emissary in the way they intended to. We found that they would consistently throw it too far, too close, or just in the wrong general direction. What was worse was that the player could not re-use the ability until after the ability timer had finished. While it’s easy to say that it’s part of player skill and learning curve, I felt that there was enough of a learning curve that we shouldn’t give the player more grief when failing to use the ability as intended.

As we were looking into Dark Emissary, we had also made some fairly substantial core design changes for the game itself. We were slowly transitioning from a sandbox action game to the stealth style gameplay that you see today. As a result of major level design changes, we found that Dark Emissary as an ability was no longer needed, and we removed it from the game. However, I still really liked the functionality that Dark Emissary brought to the table, which was to provide a chainable entity, but not be able to land on like a torch. From this concept, I designed the Gargoyle, which could be placed anywhere in the environment, and we were really able to utilize it to both help and challenge the player within the levels.

While I sometimes wish that we could have given the player more options with the Dark Emissary ability, it ultimately proved to be too complex to explain easily, and couldn’t maintain its usefulness as a given ability in a rapidly evolving game. However, it did push me to really focus on how to teach people to play the game, and also take a step back and see what the game was really about. I think had we not gone as far with Dark Emissary as we did, I don’t believe Deity would have become the game it is today.

(Gargoyle’s being Chained) [Deity – 12 – 16 – 2011]

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~ by rhickman-design on December 29, 2011.