Good Robot Postmortem #1: Introduction

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 12, 2016

Filed under: Good Robot 146 comments


We’re trying to invent a new industry and a new medium, and instead of learning from each other’s mistakes, everyone pretends they don’t make mistakes. I think that’s bad for everyone. On the other hand, documenting your mistakes in public is no fun, and publicly saying, “Here is how we wasted some of your investment money” might make it less likely that people will entrust you with money in the future. And writing stuff like this takes time away from stuff like patching your game or starting on the next one.

So I understand why only a small percent of games get a postmortem. And given the odd, meandering path this game took to release, I’m not sure how valuable this postmortem will be to other devs. But in an effort to Do The Right Thing, here is our story.

Who Did What

Shamus: Engine programming, music, game design, “writing”.

Rutskarn: Actual writing.

Arvind: Game Programming, Game Design, UI, Level Generation, Business & Promotion

Ross: Game Design, Scripting, Misc. Art

Mikk and Rashi: Art

Over the next few entries, Arvind, Ross, Rutskarn and myself (Shamus) will take turns talking about the development of this game. Arvind’s text will be in green and Ross will be in blue. Rutskarn will be in red.


Good Robot began in the summer of 2013 as a personal hobby project. I observed that there was a lack of Descent-style gameplay where the player would fly through caves, shooting robots. This was an interesting gap, since this seems like a really attractive target from a development standpoint.

Blocky robots are easier to model and animate than (say) ambulatory bipeds. Making AI float around is easier than making AI that needs to navigate terrain. Indoor spaces are easier to build than outdoor ones. They’re also easier to render. (Which is way so many 90’s games took place inside of buildings.) And the indoor, corridor-based design automatically provides a way to keep the player focused on their immediate goals and not wandering around bored and aimless, which is a danger for open environments. Industrial / organic caves and tunnels are easier to build than (say) residential, urban, or retail locations because you can take more artistic license. Aside from market size, everything about the Descent design and gameplay screams out “This is an ideal target for indies!”

Apparently I’m not the only person who saw this opportunity. Since I began Good Robot, at least three other supposed “Descent successors” have begun or completed development: Overload, Sublevel Zero, and Descent Underground.

But I knew that making a full 3D game was probably still too much for me to take on all on my lonesome. I wanted to play around with gameplay concepts, but when you’re working in 3D, a lot of time goes into fussing with technology. So I decided to see how far I could get with just 2D.

Six months later, I’d finished the core technology: AI, level generation, a particle system, flying bullets, a stat-based level-up system, per-pixel hit detection on 2D sprites. I had a procedurally generated world where the player flew through caves and shot robots. Unfortunately, it was basically a mild diversion of a game. It just wasn’t interesting. Also, the interface was a horrible mess. I hate writing GUI interface code, and it really showed.

In January 2015 I teamed up with Pyrodactyl games. The goal was to fix the above problems and bring the game the rest of the way to market. In April 2016, after a year of steady part-time development, we released the game on Steam. The reception was very positive.

The final game had almost nothing in common with the original “2D Descent” concept, and instead wound up as a SHMUP / Rogelike / RPG mashup.

Pyrodactyl Joins

Top: The original design from Shamus. Bottom: After Pyrodactyl joined.
Top: The original design from Shamus. Bottom: After Pyrodactyl joined.

Arvind The game as we got it was more akin to a framework – the shooting already felt great, the movement was responsive and there was a clear visual style present. However, a lot of areas – enemy design, exploration, level generation and layout, balance, progression etc etc – needed work. I've already discussed some of those topics in an earlier blog post, which I recommend you read before continuing here.

Level Generation

When I got my hands on the game, the individual segments of the caverns were procedurally generated but the eventual path the player took was always the same. If you were to draw a diagram of the levels, it would always look like this:

It didn't LOOK this simple, because individual rooms were pretty complicated.
It didn't LOOK this simple, because individual rooms were pretty complicated.

The boxes are the individual rooms which were procedurally generated, while the line in the middle is the path the player takes. The change in color indicates different levels.

The problem here was that the arrangement of the rooms was undermining the entire idea of procedurally generating your game. If the overarching arrangement stays the same every time, then the rooms themselves being different is similar to changing the building textures in GTA every time you load the game, but keeping the street layout the same.

As soon as we made it so that the rooms now could have exits in any direction and the path was different each time, the game became a lot more enjoyable to play. Now, the player had to actually explore and find the path to the next level, instead of figuring out the path once and then just following that for every playthrough.

I also entirely remade the way the rooms themselves were generated, which is explained in the guide inside the game files (look for it in /core/maps/). Essentially, there are about 50 “reference layouts” to which procedural generation is applied. This way, we can design custom maps for special enemy types and bosses while otherwise making sure a specific room type does not repeat itself.

After that, we made a system to put together these rooms in a fashion similar to a music playlist set to play X random songs out of Y. This led to the random caverns you see in Good Robot today.

Overall Design Philosophy

Click for larger image.
Click for larger image.

If I had to distill my key design goals for Good Robot, they would be:

  1. Present the player with interesting decisions at every turn.
  2. Alternate between action segments and quiet segments.
  3. The player should learn more about the game and be able to apply that knowledge in subsequent playthroughs.

Once you list it out like that, you can piece together why:

  1. Each level is divided into multiple zones, and you have to choose from one of 3 doors.
  2. Door symbol meanings become apparent after a couple of times you choose that door.
  3. The vending machines are always at the end of a zone, so you can enjoy a little bit of downtime while making a strategic decision about your upgrade/weapon/warranty/etc purchases.

If any of you fancy becoming game designers, feel free to dissect the game's design and see if you can identify some other pillars of Good Robot's structure.


From The Archives:

146 thoughts on “Good Robot Postmortem #1: Introduction

  1. Collin Pearce says:

    Permadeath is already a hard sell for me, and the problem exaggerates the higher the difficulty is tuned. The game was too hard for me, and regularly restarting never appealed to me so I never put more than an hour into it. Would be nice to have a difficulty slider. Fewer bullets, bullets deal less damage, upgrade costs are reduced etc.

    1. Joe Leigh says:

      I too dislike permadeath, but this is one of the few permadeath roguelike games I actually go back to regularly. I think it’s a combination of:
      1) It’s simple and engaging enough mechanically that it’s fun to play for a bit to unwind. To wit: shooting bad robots is fun.
      2) The procedural generation is varied enough that I don’t feel like I’m playing the same game over and over. I’ll never be able to play something like Fallout 4 with self-imposed permadeath like Shamus does, because the opening hours of that game will never, ever, change and after a few playthroughs I start to hate them. Somehow the act of searching for the exit while watching out for bad robots stays fresh.
      3) While there is RPG-ish progression, it’s not so impactful that I feel like I really lost important progress when I die. I never get that “Oh god, it took me so freaking long to get to this point and now I have to start over” feeling. I just shrug and start over. Upgrades feel good, but not so good that losing them feels awful.
      And let’s be clear here, I suck at this game. I don’t think I’ve ever made it past Chapter 2. But I enjoy going back to it every so often. If I suck at a game but still want to play it, that’s a good game in my book.

      1. Collin Pearce says:

        I think I understand what you mean, but what I felt was different. I thought, well, I earned that, and I thought I was doing okay, but enemies wore me down and I didn’t have enough resources or opportunities to replenish myself so I lost.

        I wasn’t upset, I was just indifferent. Like, well, that’s done, time to do something else.

      2. Syal says:

        Would have been nice to have a shortcut to Chapter 6 or something; those worms are brutal and it’s a long trek back when they inevitably kill you.

        My one successful run was entirely because I put another point into health than I had before, which gave me exactly enough to survive the first worm barrage.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          Health is a pretty critical stat in the lategame, as you WILL take quite a bit of damage barring some impressive dodging.

          It’s what made the hat achievements so damn hard – even on the early levels, just trying to keep your hat was more than a little tricky. I only ever got through a little bit of the fifth level with mine, and I don’t even want to know how crazy it would be to go the sixth that way.

          It was a pretty fun little challenge for a while, though, which is saying something since I don’t normally do that sort of thing.

      3. ThaneofFife says:

        I had fun during the six hours or so I put into Good Robot (I reached level six or so), but I found it to be too hard and not varied enough to keep plugging away at.

        Tying into everyone’s complaints about perma-death, I just found the difficulty curve to be too punishingly steep. I ended up spending almost all of my income on warranties and health recharges instead of upgrading, which hobbled me in later levels. The most reliable strategy I discovered was hanging out at the edges of rooms, and firing into the rooms using long-ranged weapons. This took a lot of excitement out of the game. Similarly, the limited view range made me extremely cautious and slow-moving, even where I wanted to charge into rooms guns blazing–because if I died, I had to go re-do the levels I had already beaten and didn’t want to see again.

        If the game had had an easy mode, I probably would have put more time into it. Similarly, if the upgrade system had been deeper (e.g., by adding perks, upgrade combinations that produced emergent effects, etc.), I probably would have played longer. Similarly, if there had been a way to either turn off perma-death or get enough cash to buy all the upgrades I wanted, I would have played with that more too.

        I know that most of this could be modded in, but every time I start trying to install mods on a new game, I have to deal with at least an hour of frustration while I figure out what the hell I’m doing.

        Ultimately, I couldn’t recommend the game to anyone I knew because none of the them like rogue-likes/lites or perma-death–and I didn’t write a review on Steam because I didn’t want to drag the rating down by giving it 3/5 stars. Still, kudos to the team for a fun, very pretty effort! I feel like it could have been a great game–just not for me. The music definitely stayed with me for a long time.

    2. Groboclown says:

      One way I think of permadeath games along the lines of time of getting back to where I last was versus the ease of surviving and recovering from an encounter. If it doesn’t take much time to get back to where I died the last time, then I don’t mind the encounters being really lethal (extreme example: Hexagon). If it takes a long time to get back to where I was, then it better be either a strategic mistake, making a really bone-headed mistake, or a really rare RNG hating me situation (extreme example: Permadeath playthroughs of Skyrim).

      I found Good Robot to be in a strange place on this slider. My average game was about 30-45 minutes, which, for me and my available game time, means that I can play 1 or 2 games in a session. The combat was generally not lethal, but an occasional cluster would put me in a situation where it was suddenly very lethal.

      Playing through the first two levels ended up being a chore and made me not want to go back and play again, especially since making a mistake there had big implications on how easy the higher levels would be. The cost of recovering from those mistakes (paying for more shields) meant the later levels were that much tougher, because that would sacrifice paying for upgrades.

      If Good Robot added additional modes, say a simple level select, would make me want to get into a pick up game. Or if it was cheaper to recover from mistakes (say, a minor heal buff at the end of a stage or some other mechanic), then I would be more inclined to put the time into a full playthrough.

    3. Tizzy says:

      I put about 20 hours in the game, and never got past level 4 (of 6? I think).

      The difficulty ramps up substantially from one level to the next, and as you progress, having the right loadout can make a world of difference in how hard of a time you’re having. But figuring out what works requires you to experiment, and mistakes are costly.

      As a result, a lot of my playtime consisted in replaying the first few levels. It’s really hard to enjoy, because you carry forward any mistake in the early levels, either by dying too early or spending your cash on unnecessary repairs.

      I don’t have a constructive suggestion on how to fix this. But I view it as a major flaw in the game’s design, which eventually caused me to give up. I don’t particularly enjoy difficult games, and doing retreads. But I would have enjoyed the game more if it found a way to adopt the Dark Souls approach, where the game is indeed difficult, death is cheap in both meanings of the term. But it’s obviously easier said than done, and may not appeal to everyone anyway.

      1. I’ve played rather more than that in terms of hours, but still not finished (got as far as the mechanical squids level?) and agree with a lot of this. The difficulty between levels seems… uneven – there seems to be a big jump between some and then a later level might suddenly seem almost easy again, though I don’t know if that’s my playstyle/preferred weapon choices.

        On the subject of weapons – ARRRRRGH! at random drops that insist on dropping something I just invested $$$ in because I was getting pummelled without it. That just feels…. rude, for want of a better word. ME: “Dammit, this game is NEVER going to drop me a plasma cannon” *huffs, buys plasma cannon* GAME: “OHAI! You wanted a plasma cannon? Here’s three of ’em, lol!” ME: -___-

        This is an issue for me because I am picky about the types of weapon I prefer and there’s not enough info in the chirpy vending machine blurb to really make an informed choice about whether or not to buy something I haven’t encountered before so I…. don’t. I wait for weapons to be dropped so I can try before I buy because I don’t dare risk valuable cash that could go towards vital repairs or stat increases on a weapon I might use once and decide that I hate with a passion. It’s not like you can sell them back, either! Given the way the drops seem to work, that means I often feel underpowered for the higher-level encounters.

        Still, I really want to give the game another whirl on my desktop – most of my games have been played on my lappie while I was away, which was fine up until the robot squid level, but it started to chug and lag a bit there, which didn’t really help my longevity. (Nor did playing while dog-sitting a small army of Labradors – having a wet nose suddenly inserted under your mouse elbow at a crucial moment is also not very good for long-term survival rates!)

        1. Trix2000 says:

          Thing is, you don’t really need to be too exact with what upgrades you get to beat the game, so ‘wasting’ some money on certain things isn’t going to be too big of a deal. The only upgrade I consider a must-have for the lategame is shields, as everything else can be managed without if need be (though vision is also incredibly useful).

          1. I tended to go for fire power/fire rate (yay DPS if you’re not going to drop sensible weapons!) with a dash of shields as required. But the really powerful weapons have really powerful price tags if you’re buying them from a machine, which gets to be a dent if you could otherwise do with that cash for a new warranty or shield repair.

            EDIT: To be clear (it’s late, I should be unconscious), it’s not that I necessarily object to spending $$$ on a weapon if I have a good idea of what that weapon’s capabilities are. I do object to spending $$$ on something almost at random that may turn out be be wildly unsuited to my personal playstyle

            Equally, I don’t mind random drops. Bring ’em on. I do mind random drops that drop whatever I’m already carrying. That’s just irritating and unproductive.

          2. Ninety-Three says:

            The only upgrade I consider a must-have for the lategame is shields, as everything else can be managed without if need be (though vision is also incredibly useful).

            Shields are a trap. If you invest in DPS, you kill things quicker, so you take less damage, so spend less on repairs, so you can spend more on DPS to kill things even quicker to spend even less on repairs.

            Investing in shields is just opting into the “Warranty, die, rebuy warranty, die, fall behind the level-curve” death spiral.

            1. Fists says:

              I usually tried to use shields as healing but put points into dps whenever possible.

        2. Syal says:

          Weapons don’t increase price with purchases I believe, so think of it as one late-game upgrade that lets you choose a whole lot of weapons. They’re often more useful than upgrades too.

          Obviously the best upgrade is Movement Speed.

          1. I’ve never really tried investing in movement speed, but often wondered whether I should try it. I have brisk but erratic reflexes and have lost count of the times when I’ve inadvertently dodged *into* on-coming fire (I wonder how much of that is partly due to an urge to collect ALL the munnies, which *also* fly towards the Good Robot, especially with the Cash Magnet upgrade, which I love) or over-reacted to something because the movement speed is slower than I keep expecting it to be.

    4. Geebs says:

      Permadeath got the better of me in the end, too. The earlier levels and weapons aren’t really interesting enough to make up the bulk of the actual gameplay, to be slogged through every time on the way to the bit of the game that actually matches my skill level.

      I find this sort of thinking particularly strange given that Shamus and the gang’s main objection to e.g. Souls games (it’s an example people, please don’t make it into a ‘why do some folks like Souls and others not’ thread) is “don’t waste my time”.

    5. Zak McKracken says:

      I wonder how hard it would be to mod multiple lives into the game?
      Haven’t played it yet* but I, too am not a fan of permadeath. For me the natural mode for this type of somewhat-retro game would have been something where you have a limited number of lives. Where you may or may not regenerate shields, and where you find/earn new lives in between. That’s what all the Shoot-em-ups back in the day used to do, and I loved them.

      *promise I’ll buy it as soon as it’s on GOG/Humble store/whatever other store will allow me to just pay money and get the game without strings (i.e. Steam clients and such) attached. Permadeath or not. I’ve followed the development and the discussions and all, so I want to see the result in person. And maybe try the modding bit if I find the time…

      1. Tizzy says:

        I don’t know about “easy”, but the most obvious route to multiple lives would be to remove the limitation to a single warranty. Then, you could play with the base price to fine tune difficulty.

        I doubt the game is set up to allow such mods as is, though. And it would create a host of issues that make it not so obvious for the team to offer. E.g., currently no display of the number of warranties, need to establish a maximum (or risk overflow if you buy too many), possibly allow multiple purchases at the same station,… Funny how quickly the list grows.

        In the good old days, all you had to do usually was figure out which byte stored the lives counter and set it to a negative value.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          Good times!

          …except that one time in Oil Imperium when my wealth went beyond 33 billions and promptly I had loooaaads of debt. Except that made the game interesting again because now at least I had some way of failing again.
          … except the next time I just went straight for 33 billions in debt which gave me 232 millions of cash plus a ton of oil fields :)

    6. Mistwraithe says:

      Ditto. I purchased it purely to support Shamus, then tried it but I have a very low tolerance for games which waste my time by making me redo things. Which I guess means I am not the target market. But then who was the target market and did they buy it?

      This is particularly relevant given the initial word of mouth and many of the initial sales probably came from the Twenty Sided website. If most of the Twenty Sided viewers are busy people (read older if you wish) who have a low tolerance for banging their heads against a game as they slowly get better and progress further, then was it really wise making a game which has exactly that game play?

      Certainly I didn’t recommend the game to any of my friends – they are largely of a similar persuasion to me and it didn’t seem right to recommend a game which I myself found too frustrating to play for long.

      1. Falterfire says:

        Yeah, this was also my experience.

        It probably doesn’t help that this site has a bunch of articles about stories in games and how those fit together and how games can use mechanics to tell stories in interesting ways and then Good Robot is not a game that really does either of those. It doesn’t even fit into the category of “mechanics that are complex and allow sophisticated tinkering by the player” which I think a lot of people here also like.

        I wanted to like Good Robot, I really did, but it just was not my sort of game.

      2. Zekiel says:

        Absolutely this. I don’t really understand the appeal of permadeath games and I *definitely* don’t understand why Shamus made one. One of my favourite articles on TwentySided is the Do It Again Stupid one about GTA – and it seems to me that permadeath games are the epitome of this, where you have to repeat the entire game if you fail. I wasn’t particularly good at Good Robot, and so I ended up endlessly repeating the first few levels and getting bored of them (random level layouts notwithstanding).

        I want to hasten to add that I don’t at all regret purchasing the game because I wanted to support Shamus. And I think the basic gameplay is really enjoyable! I just wish it was a linear game with checkpoint saves, not a roguelike with permadeath. I don’t particularly understand what the latter is supposed to add to the experience (except increasing the playtime, which is not a plus for me).

        1. The Other Matt K says:

          Yeah, this! If it was any other game, I would have sent it back for a refund, but in this case, I was just glad to support Shamus. But I was very surprised to find the final product was a game that ran so counter to the game philosophy he talks about on this site.

          I’m assuming a lot of that was influence from Pyrodactyl, since from many of Arvind’s comments he seems to have intended the game to have that aspect of brutal difficulty + forced repetition to learn how the game works. And it has good reviews on Steam itself, so I’m assuming there is a solid audience for that out there… I’m just sad that the game I was looking forward to ended up being so different than what I was expecting.

          1. Mistwraithe says:

            I think some of the good reviews were Twenty Sided readers putting out the good word to try to help Shamus out. I’m not saying they are lying, I suspect many of the people in this community would be unwilling to do that even in a good cause, but perhaps some slight exaggeration. I noticed that quite a few of those reviews had only played the game for an hour or two.

            Having said that, I know there are a lot of people out there who like permadeath, FTL was/is very popular for a reason. I’m just not sure the Twenty Sided community would have helped give Good Robot much exposure to the permadeath community.

  2. Ninety-Three says:

    Present the player with interesting decisions at every turn.

    In light of this, I think I can identify where the game failed for me (I say it failed, but it was good enough to get six hours of playtime according to Steam, about two of which would’ve been my first run for a game complete, the other four spent earning Elite Hat and failing at Hardest Hat).

    Because of the game’s punishingly high damage, the player is strongly incentivized to play it safe. Playing it safe is boring, but more importantly, playing it safe doesn’t involve any decisions. You advance at a snail’s pace, firing your weapon offscreen in order to clear out enemies before you even see them. On my game complete run, more than half the bosses died without showing up on screen. You don’t make any choices about upgrades because it all goes into DPS (not vision, because even with maxed vision you’d still want to fire offscreen), you don’t make any choices about weapons because the bouncing weapons are vastly superior for this sort of safe play, and you don’t make any choices about tactics because the same one always works (fire offscreen, if an enemy appears, back up while firing).

    1. Ranneko says:

      Looking at the GIF in this post, you can see the player take a bunch of damage flying in close to the enemy. The game looks more fun like this but the damage would sap a lot of the income that they would normally be earning. It would make more sense if enemies regularly dropped small amounts of health or something.

      1. CJ Kerr says:

        I imagine this game might have been rather different if DOOM (4) had come out earlier. “Do risky things to earn back health” would have been a good tool to have in mind.

        1. Falterfire says:

          It’s not exactly a new mechanic – Space Marine came out in 2011 and also featured a system where you get back health with a special melee finisher that can only be done after weakening an enemy. It’s probably not the first either, but it’s the one that came to my mind first and it does predate Good Robot.

          1. Tsi says:

            Shamus says at the top that this Industry fails to learn from mistakes others make. But the inverse is true as well. Devs often don’t have time or don’t bother to analyse games that provide mechanics they want/would want to incorporate.
            Even if you know of a game having a mechanic you want to implement, you’ll probably ignore it if yours not going to be in the same genre or in the same setting. You’ll probably think it could never fit or help balance your game or you might adapt it in a way that makes more sense in your game.
            This is why all these comments here could have helped during development.

            To take the example of DOOM/Space Marine, in Good Robot, you don’t want to get close to your enemies so staggering them for a punch is a nope but instead, having them drop stuff you can collect is still relevant.
            Looting is a huge part or any Rogue-like game. Yet, Good Robot lacks any interesting random stuff to collect sell back and or convert into scrap. A simple inventory could have been a great feature, even if it only provided a small amount of spaces (5-8 slots).

            On a side note, I’ve seen some crazy rooms filled with tons of enemies and wondered how the gameplay would feel if any falling corpse could provide you with some cover (ie, corpses become permeable to enemy fire).

            Also, It would have been amazing to be able to catch your hat and put it back on. You would have to decide if you take the risk to get it back before it disappears. It would definitely help in making some achievements more accessible.

        2. ThaneofFife says:

          I was really hoping for a mechanic like that. I ended up spending a lot of time shooting at things that were off-screen, whereas I would have preferred to berserk my way through levels.

    2. Silfir says:

      Even just the prospect of free healing as a random drop would’ve enhanced the variety of valid playstyles considerably. The hefty pricetag on any form of recovery just took the fun out of it.

      1. ThaneofFife says:


    3. John says:

      If this comment were a motion, I would second it.

      I spent about 25 hours playing Good Robot. It took me three or four serious attempts to beat the game, which account for the first 20 hours or so. The last 5 are a combination of casual play and aborted attempts at the Elite Hat achievement. I found that I was much more successful when I went slowly, attacked enemies from extreme range, and ran away at the first hint of danger.

      Come to think of it, this is exactly how I play Descent, so I’d say that Shamus satisfied that design goal after all.

  3. Da Mage says:

    I enjoyed the game, but after reaching the levels with worms twice I had to give up. Simply got surrounded and annihilated within seconds of leaving the start area….especially by the blue worms. They would just appear from a wall and the screen would fill with projectiles.

    1. Tizzy says:

      In general, you could get easily annihilated close to the start at later levels. Then, you warranty becomes just an opportunity to get wrecked all over again in a few seconds. Very frustrating.

  4. David says:

    Stylistic critique of the article: Rutskarn’s shade of red is very close to the normal black text on my monitor. Maybe change it to something more vibrant in future entries?

    1. Chuck Henebry says:

      For that matter, Ross’s blue text is identical (in hue) to the color used for links. It’s not bolded (links are in bold), but the two aren’t easily distinguished.

      1. Primogenitor says:

        Yeah, I got really confused when the opening sentance on the next paragraph is in blue and states that good robot was a hobby project – implying that it was Ross’s hobby project not Shamus’s

  5. John says:

    GUI is the worst. I am a strictly hobbyist programmer these days. I write little programs mostly for my own use and sometimes for the use of my family. Occasionally I finish one but all too often I get bored or frustrated while working on the GUI and give up. Solving for the minimum necessary amount of fabric needed for a given number of quilt pieces of a given shape and size is fun programming. Devising an algorithm for random passwords that can process instructions like “eight characters long, between two and four upper-case letters, between one and two number’s and exactly one punctuation mark” is fun programming. GUI is not fun programming. I’ve been working in Java, which has really excellent online documentation for its GUI libraries and it’s still an exercise in aggravation.

    I also think it’s funny that the number of lines of code that do actual work are generally dwarfed by the number of lines needed to generate the GUI.

    1. Falterfire says:

      Yeah, building a GUI sucks before you even start considering making them look good and finding an intuitive layout. And to make things even worse, they’re damn near impossible to truly test beyond basic functionality because you effectively need a new tester every time you make a major change because obviously you already know where the buttons are and what they do.

      Plus getting shapes and positions right tends to require a lot of trial and error because it’s hard to intuit how many pixels wide and tall a given button should be. Working with something like Visual Studio where you can manually position things solves that, but only until you have to reposition or (god forbid) resize things at runtime.

      Far too many of my hobby game design projects have died in the GUI stages, and I imagine a large chunk of the reason I finish more general purpose designs is because of Visual Studio’s easy form editor.

      1. John says:

        I am a weirdo who hand codes his GUIs in Geany (which is basically a text editor with a few IDE functions). I should really check out Eclipse or NetBeans or whatever it is that the cool kids are Java-ing in these days and embrace the wild ways of WYSIWYG.

    2. tmtvl says:

      Personally, I like crafting and tweaking GUI elements, and moulding it into a cohesive whole that fits the game I’m trying to make… However, my tastes in GUI are quite divergent from the norm, which is probably why it’s a good thing I only code visual stuff to keep my Perl skillset varied.

  6. Dragmire says:

    I always like reading game postmortems.

    Looking forward to more of this series!

    1. Tizzy says:

      Same here. Though I’m not convinced that post mortem is the most appropriate term. A bit “beyond any help “, isn’t it?

      1. BenD says:

        In theatre and publishing it’s just the industry term. I assume the same is so for games.

        1. Ingvar says:

          In at least a subset of IT it’s the term for a frank, forthright, no-blame-casted document documenting anything that is a learnable experience. This is often, but not always, something that went not as well as it could (ranging from “so, this happened” to “and then the fireballs ate the entire staff and we had to summon a cleric for resurrection spells”). But there are occasional “this went perfectly fine and we thing these things were contributing factors” PMs as well. Those are usually an even better read.

    2. Zekiel says:

      Ditto. Thanks for posting this Shamus and everyone else!

  7. The Other Matt K says:

    I can understand the logic behind the ‘Play It Again, Stupid’ style of gameplay, but I found it pretty awful in actual practice. Having to replay things multiple times to understand what the doors mean, what weapons are useful and what weapons are traps designed to get you killed, what upgrades are worth investing in and which ones just make everything else more expensive and put you into a death spiral of being behind the level curve…. it left me with a very bad experience overall.

    I don’t know where the design decisions ultimately lie for some of this approach, and I’m sure there are plenty out there who are a fan of that roguelike mentality. I just went into the game hoping for a fun, shooty exploration game, and instead found a grindy, killy game with permadeath and no player guidance, and no way to adjust the difficulty (without editing the game’s code), and that was very much not what I was looking for.

  8. The Other Matt K says:

    Also, I have to very much agree with Ninety-Three’s comments earlier up-thread: The danger level of the game, combined with the brutal expense of healing, meant that it felt like there was only one way to play the game, and that was slow and cautious and boring. Aggressive gameplay seemed an invitation to die and have to start all over. Even at full health, with a heavy investment in having upgraded health, turning the wrong corner too quickly near the wrong enemy would lead to instant death.

    The same was also true of weapons – picking up the wrong weapon, and then discovering its drawbacks on the next level (when it was too late to switch back) – would mean certain death. Thus, experimenting with weapons was a no-no, and one wanted to stick with one that was safe and boring.

    If one of the goal’s was to present the player with interesting decisions (in either gameplay, equipment or leveling up), at least for me, that goal seemed to be a failure.

    1. Syal says:

      A delay between enemies seeing you and enemies firing at you would have done wonders for those corners, and might have improved aggressive play as a whole. As it is, you’ve got a choice between using a bounce weapon or tanking damage at intersections because enemies will hang on the edge of a corner and blast you instantly.

      1. The Other Matt K says:

        Yeah, that was my experience – bring a bounce weapon or expect to go through health fast. Phasing enemies didn’t help matters either, especially since they seemed to defeat the radar when moving through walls.

  9. Ninety-Three says:

    The majority of these comments seem to be variations on a single core problem: “It’s too punishing”. It’s not just a difficulty complaint, I’m one of the handful of people with Elite Hat* and I found myself pushed into an un-fun playstyle in order to avoid the harsh punishments.

    *Is there a way to say that without sounding like I’m bragging? I’m just trying to establish perspective and I keep feeling like an arrogant jerk. I really don’t think I’m fantastic at the game, my success was more about understanding the strategic importance of caution.

    My usual explanation in these sorts of scenarios is that the developers got too good at their own game and tuned it for their incredible skill level, but from hearing Shamus be amazed at people playing it like a bullet hell, or the admission that none of the devs got Elite Hat, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    I’m curious to hear about how the game’s overly-punishing nature managed to slip past the design team, given how many commenters seem to have picked up on it as a problem. Are we all playing it wrong and you didn’t envision it being about trying to win? Last-minute balance change amplified the punishments? All your testers were masochists?

    1. Naota says:

      This isn’t exactly true – I got Elite Hat twice as part of the testing of Elite Hat. The first time was the conventional way, and done with a proton repeater/rail driver build, and the second was an “enemy avoidance” test where I did nothing but run and dodge until the boss levels, aiming for the earliest possible win. To be straight, this was balls hard and pretty stressful, but it also fulfilled my needs for playtesting under different restrictions.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Shamus! You lied about Elite Hat!

        Above, Arvind said that nobody outside the dev team has these achievements. It's important to note that the devs only have these achivements because we needed to test and make sure they actually worked, and they did so by turning off the robot AI. Nobody has legitimately earned these yet.

        You should’ve submitted that for the achievement bounty Naota. I hear you can get some cool swag.

        1. Naota says:

          Damn… you’re right! If I’d had the foresight to use a false identity I could’ve milked Arvind for two stylish Good Robot shirts!

    2. Naota says:

      Are we all playing it wrong and you didn't envision it being about trying to win? Last-minute balance change amplified the punishments? All your testers were masochists?

      I think if you do value the present game as too punishing, it’s a little bit of all three.

      For context, though, you need to realize that for a long period of development, playing the game through from start to finish was two things: long, and easy. I don’t mean to say Good Robot was too simple, didn’t ask things of the player, or that there wasn’t a satisfying adjustment period to its mechanics – I mean to say that once you learned how it worked and could play competently, the game had no curve-ball to throw you. You pulled ahead on power and resources and essentially won hours in advance of the final boss. Repairs were negligible as an expense, and warranties existed only to kill the tension further by becoming an unused safety net for really dumb mistakes. As long as you didn’t make two of those in quick succession, victory was just a matter of going through the motions.

      This was much worse than the game being too hard. The long, empty-feeling play sessions without long-term threat from the environment or AI meant no engagement with the player, which meant boredom. Near the later end of development, we overhauled the cost of repairs, upgrades, and warranties, essentially tightening the player’s purse strings on every level.

      This one change had a huge impact on gameplay. Suddenly mistakes carried forward, and the safety nets started catching things (namely, me) as a part of regular play. Good Robot was engaging again – you needed to pay attention to how you were playing and what you were doing, and the allocation of points and resources mattered. I had beaten the game for months; no matter my build or the luck of my run, I knew I could cheese out a win without major investment. Every try after this change it was no longer certain if I was going to make it to the end alive. The times I died, I felt compelled to try again. The “Roguelike” design of the game was working for the first time.

      Of course, everything exists on a sliding scale. It’s quite possible the rebalanced economy makes mistakes matter too much for the average player, and pushes fun/interesting builds and weapon combos into “too hard to use” territory, clamping down on the fun of player expression.

      One of my biggest would-do-overs would be to add in some kind of training mode or easy difficulty. It’s a tricky proposition, though: we know the economy is a multiplicative factor in making the game hard, and we know that the way it’s designed, if the game is too easy its appeal stagnates very early. It’s also late in development, so we can’t make major changes to things like enemy placement, level design, or AI.

      Creating an easy mode that’s still engaging would take a lot of careful changes and testing, because it needs to be at least close to as fun as hard. It stands a good chance of being played as the default difficulty by the majority of the player base (ala FTL). If the issues with easy Good Robot weren’t completely solved, players would likely start the game on easy, beat it, get bored on their second try, and never click on hard.

      Long story short: we found ourselves with a game based around replayability that was not fun when it was easy. Our solution was to make it hard, and it worked (though I understand you’ll have to take my word on this, as the suckiest, least fun versions obviously never saw the light of day). We then didn’t have the time/resources/design structure to create an easy mode that was also fun.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Of course, everything exists on a sliding scale. It's quite possible the rebalanced economy makes mistakes matter too much for the average player, and pushes fun/interesting builds and weapon combos into “too hard to use” territory, clamping down on the fun of player expression.

        It’s not just about the average player, as an Elite Hat player I wasn’t crippled by repair costs, but that’s because I warped my playstyle in order to avoid incurring them. The existence of strong penalties makes the optimal playstyle one that never risks taking the penalties, and unfortunately, that playstyle is the boring “shoot bouncing weapons offscreen” one. The game incentivizes boring play while punishing the more interesting, aggressive style pictured in the gifs above. That’s why I gave up my attempts at Hardest Hat, not because I thought it was too difficult to ever accomplish, but I wasn’t having fun trying for it.

      2. Mistwraithe says:

        You state that if the game is too easy then its appeal stagnates early on. But is that statement only true of testers who are required to replay the game dozens of times? In fact, does that statement only MATTER to testers who are required to play the game dozens of times?

        I suspect I would have been perfectly happy playing through the whole game on easy mode, perhaps dying once or twice, or not at all. Mess around with some different weapons for a few hours and I’m done. I may have only spent 10 hours playing the game but hopefully I have had fun along the way. Then I might have recommended it to friends.

        Instead I found it to be a fairly unforgiving game where taking risks was a mistake and buying the wrong things would screw you over (particularly pre-patch), with failure leading to having to replay from the start. I gave up after maybe 2 or 3 hours, and certainly never recommended it to any friends.

        It appears the game was targeted at getting a small number of players (the persistent ones) to play for 25-50 hours, rather than a large number of players to play for 5-10 hours. I’ll be interested to see how the postmortem goes because that seems a brave move…

        1. krellen says:

          I played HOURS of the pre-Pyrodactyl Alpha build Shamus sent me (the build that broke him because I hit a weird shader bug). I played it despite the level where I couldn’t see anything, because it was fun zipping around blowing things up.

          I can’t do that in the new Good Robot. I haven’t launched the game in months because it’s just not as fun, because the punishing challenge isn’t what I want and I don’t have the reflexes the testers do. It’s not the same game anymore.

        2. Naota says:

          It was a common sentiment among the dev team, and also the feedback I got from the testers I watched play the game beyond the initial adjustment period. Lack of engagement over time was one of the things Shamus lamented on his dev blog long before Pyrodactyl even signed on, and the first thing that stood out to me when I played the demo build (my impressions coming in a later update to this post-mortem). It’s impossible to say that an easy Good Robot stagnates for everyone, but so far as I can see we had a decent sample size and range to work with when making that call.

          That said, I don’t mean to imply that any change in difficulty is bad. It’s just that the game as it exists now needs to hit a specific band of challenge, where resources are being spent on repairs and warranties, and failing a run never disappears as a possibility. There needs to be risk, tension, and attrition, or the roguelike formula falls apart. Where you find the sweet spot for these things depends on the skill of the user, which is why I think a version of the game with less punishing enemies would have been a good addition, despite my concerns above.

          1. Robyrt says:

            You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. I have no issues with the design of the game overall, but it was clearly balanced for a tier of players far better at 2D twitch shooting than I. I wanted to keep playing for the story and the atmosphere and the cool enemies and guns, but the pitiless economy and permadeath meant that any time I found a new cool thing and tried it out, I failed the run immediately in the most un-fun possible way, i.e. being trapped in a 20-minute death spiral of buying shields and not being able to finish the next map without depleting my shields. I don’t think I ever saw level 3.

            I think the core of the problem for me is permadeath. I am willing to slog away at the same battle in Dark Souls for an hour to improve my skills, because all I’m losing by being sloppy on the run up to the battle are some of my free health potions. I can’t do the same thing in Good Robot, because the run up to the hard part is 40 minutes rather than 4 minutes.

      3. Syal says:

        I would vote for a progressive challenge system. If the game is too easy, then beating it unlocks a run where maybe only shotguns drop, and so on until you’re fighting exclusively with a wet noodle.

      4. ThaneofFife says:

        I honestly can’t imagine that the game would have been made boring by becoming easier. I mean, I understand that that happens at a certain point, but I became bored by how hard it was, and how I felt constrained to make the same choices every time because if I experimented, I would have to replay the same starting levels over again.

    3. ThaneofFife says:

      IIRC, there was a post about difficulty in one of the Dev Blog entries. I think what happened was that the dev team played the game every day for months on end and got ridiculously good at it. As a result, the difficulty level that they considered easy-to-moderate was actually hard/nightmare mode for people who don’t normally play this genre of game.

  10. rabs says:

    That’s weird people are complaining so much about the difficulty. For me it’s well balanced, maybe a bit on the easy side as I usually don’t finish this kind of games.
    I did it a couple of times after having difficulties first, but becoming better as expected.
    Recently I’m playing “Enter the Gungeon” that is a lot more difficult.

    It’s the kind of game I play while I’m listening to podcasts, so I don’t care that much if I go to the end or not, as long as I enjoy the action.

  11. zookeeper says:

    One thing that people don’t seem to talk about much is the writing and story, mainly the ending. Which, actually, ended up being the part I personally found to be the biggest problem. I cheesed through the game with extreme caution and bouncy bullets like probably everyone else and got really frustrated by some instadeaths, but I didn’t mind that as much as I did the ending, which I found… well, disappointing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I had followed the development and I knew that there wasn’t going to be a clear story arc, NPC’s or verbal exposition, but even so, I was expecting there to be an ending which would somehow explain what was going on, what’s going to happen to Good Robot now, and so on. Instead, the game just… ended, after the final boss. I didn’t expect that even though I knew to expect minimal, purely optional datapad-type storytelling during the game.

    Maybe I expected an ending cutscene because the game was not just a puzzle game or a completely faceless arcade shooter where you just blow stuff up and that’s it. The Good Robot was a character with a face and I was meant to identify and empathize with it, so of course I wanted to know what will happen to it in the end. What mainly motivated me to play through the game despite the instadeaths and restarts was the prospect of understanding the mystery which the setup of the game seemed to present, so I was naturally disappointed when I exited the final level and got nothing.

    Considering that some form of subtle story was still intended (the random news items hinting at all sorts of things, the final boss apparently being a ship crewed by humans), how did the game end up not having even a simple ending?

    1. Syal says:

      Just a simple news feed at the end would have worked I think. Three lines about how the Good Robot just ended humanity, but their incompetence will live on, or something.

      1. ThaneofFife says:

        I would prefer something a bit more cheerful, but agree otherwise.

  12. Joey245 says:

    Like a lot of people above, I too struggled in Good Robot. It’s not a failure of the core mechanics, and it’s not the permadeath that really bugs me. It’s the fact that the enemies get too difficult too quickly.

    In the prologue (aka level zero), you’re introduced to the basic enemy types. Green guys shoot lasers, yellow guys shoot dumbfire rockets, red guys shoot homing missiles. Cyan guys shoot clusters of laser pellets, and you have to be careful to maneuver around or through them. Enemies fly around, shoot you, and you get good at dodging lasers and shooting down missiles. So far so good.

    Then in the next level you meet spiders. These are variants on the previous enemy types, except they’re on the ground. They still shoot in familiar patterns, and you can use the lessons you learned in the prologue against them. There’s also a new purple enemy which sprays some sort of fluid at you, which really hurts if you’re too close but pretty much useless at range. Another good step.

    Then the next level (Neo-Japhet) introduces a whole slew of brand new enemies that show up alongside the old ones. Now in addition to green, red, yellow, purple, and cyan, you have WHITE enemies (who shoot lasers), BLUE enemies (which move in to melee), PINK enemies (who suicide bomb you), and ORANGE enemies (which endlessly create the aforementioned new robots). The possible foe count has suddenly DOUBLED in complexity and magnitude, and new players get so overwhelmed by the new enemy types that they have trouble using their previously-learned tactics against the old enemy types. And these are all the most dangerous enemies you’ll encounter – melee and explosions can and will end your game if you’re not paying attention, and the fact that they can be endlessly generated by a tough enemy makes eliminating the maker a priority. Encountering ALL of them at once puts a huge spike in the difficulty curve, one that will ruin you easily even if you know it’s coming.

    And I only got past that level a few times, and I don’t even remember if there were any other new enemy types in the later levels.

    What I’m saying is that, again, the game introduces too many enemies too quickly. The player isn’t given time to learn about the later enemies like they were given with the earlier ones, and so they just fall back on the tactic of turtling up and advancing at a snail’s pace. Which, as said before, isn’t the most fun experience in the world.

    I’m not sure how I’d remedy this. Maybe introduce just the melee guys in one level, then the suicide bombers in the next? Maybe save the orange mook-spawning foes for the final levels, summoning foes you’ve spent the whole game fighting to really put you to the test. I dunno, just a thought.

    I really love Good Robot, but I would love it even more if it was just a tad bit more forgiving.

    1. Really agree about that level being a major difficulty spike (for me, certainly). Eventually, after much swearing and dying and dying and swearing, I did get to a point at which I could often get past that level and on to the next (which iirc seemed almost breezy in comparison) without spending ALL my cash on repairs and warranties. But then, in the back of my mind, I would know that if I died in a later level I would have to endure yet another trip through Spiky Bastard Central. :(

    2. Naota says:

      I can offer a few extra details about the enemy variety in this level:

      -The first level used to have weak, blue melee enemies mid-way through. They hung, inactive, from the ceiling and dropped down when you went past. The problem with this was twofold: the ceiling could often be too high to ever trigger them except by mistake, and the code for attaching them to the ceiling broke often when we changed our level systems. This pushed them back to the third level (the second is all spiders and introducing homing missiles – the windy maze terrain makes melee bots very inconsistent and/or annoying).

      -The white enemies used to be green, then orange like their spawners, before finally becoming white. The problem is that they’re invulnerable, and need to show it. They have to happen right there in the third level, because the player needs to learn reliably and early on that enemies can be invulnerable and how to deal with them before encountering the invulnerable boss.

      -The third level doesn’t have mines/pink enemies – that’s the fourth. It does introduce orange spawners with a lot of different behaviour as its primary gimmick, though. Different spawners are the source of this level’s blue/white bots.

      Doing this again, I’d probably have split Neo Jaipur in two, with melee spawners in the first level and invulnerable/ranged ones in the second.

      1. Splitting it would have helped a lot. As it is, I think Joey245’s analysis of it being a pretty abrupt deluge of completely new enemy types is on point.

        Also, white enemies are invulnerable? Whut? Have I failed to notice something? o_0; Or is it that they’re invulnerable until you kill their spawn-mama? *confusedface*

        1. Naota says:

          White enemies can’t actually be killed by bullets. You need to shoot their spawner to get rid of them, at which point they automatically die (though they can linger a few frames if you catch the game between updates). I actually added invulnerable enemies specifically to the level later in development to introduce players to the mechanic ahead of time, because testing showed that it’s much harder to notice when a boss isn’t taking damage versus a tiny enemy which is expected to go down in a few shots.

          1. Ah, thanks for the clarification! Tbh, I may not have noticed because my typical tactic is to relentlessly go for the spawners, not whatever they’re spawning. And keeping track of all the bullets when everything’s flying is… not my greatest strength! So I never noticed this behaviour.

            1. ThaneofFife says:

              Funny, I had exactly the same experience!

              1. Glad it wasn’t just me! :)

                1. Naota says:

                  Note to self: make invulnerable enemies… invulnerable-r?

                  I have no fine control over enemy AI (just a bunch of preset types), or else I’d have them behave in ways that make their indestructibility more suspect. Bigger, perhaps?

                  1. Hmmm…. does anything really need to be changed there? I mean, if the point of the exercise was to teach players “Hey! Shoot the spawners, not the things they spawn!” then I guess you can say that I didn’t need teaching that, it was already inherent in the way I play. :) It might have been clearer if the level had been split (vastly too late to do that now) and if the game didn’t also teach players that it’s best to kill things from off-screen wherever possible because then either the spawn-mamas don’t even get a chance to exhibit their behaviour or even if they do, the player doesn’t see it because… off-screen.

          2. Sleepyfoo says:

            Ironically, this was the opposite for me.

            I never really noticed that the little white ones ignored damage. My weapon of choice was the rivet gun for most of the mid game, which meant they weren’t really soaking damage for the things behind them (often the spawner which I was aiming for). So they died about when expected.

            Bosses, however, had a nice obvious health bar and I would see it not decrease when I clearly hit them. They also had Armor that it looked like was it own sprite and sort of acted independently of the rest of the boss when shot. So I quickly learned to shoot the “weak spot” of color on the boss, which vibrated separate from the armor and actually reduced the health bar. Which fit nicely in with the convention of such things within the genre and thus my expectations.

    3. ThaneofFife says:

      Definitely agree here. I enjoyed dodging bullets and shooting missiles, but it just didn’t seem like a viable tactic once I started seeing more than 3-4 different types of enemies at the same time.

  13. Smejki says:

    I hope you will post it on gamasutra as well, guys.

  14. Rory Portoeus says:

    Any chance of reconsidering the colour options for these articles for us colourblind folk? Haven’t a clue between yourself, Arvind and Rutskarn with black/green/red.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Maybe they could use different fonts instead.

  15. WWWebb says:

    I must have misunderstood all the particle effects. I thought I WAS picking up health and loot when I charged into the explosions. Maybe that’s why I never got very far.

    Sure, I recognized the “optimal strategy”, but that’s only useful if the point of the game is to WIN. Having read the blog, I figured (apparently correctly) that there wasn’t really an incentive to win (other than a few extra text boxes), so why bother? Maybe if there was a well advertised “New Game Plus” mode or things that only unlocked after winning runs (a la FTL or Convoy), I would have had an incentive to play in a non-fun way in return for the promise of more fun in the future.

    Reading this post, I think I, personally, would have enjoyed the “framework” better than the finished game.

    1. ThaneofFife says:

      I had briefly thought that, as well. It wasn’t until I read the reviews and figured out that there were no health drops that I realized I wasn’t.

      1. First time I played, I spent some time trying to “kill” a weapon drop because I didn’t know what it was! XD

  16. Philadelphus says:

    So, I’m curious Shamus, because between reading the descriptions of Good Robot and the comments I’m getting a very strong FTL: Faster Than Light vibe (short roguelike game with permadeath, where you manage resources earned by overcoming enemies to become stronger over time), a game which you wrote two posts about not liking a few years ago. I haven’t played Good Robot (partly because I lost my job five days before it came out and haven’t been able to justify spending money on games since), so I can’t talk about it from experience, but I’d just like to hear what you think the differences are and why you enjoy the one but not the other. (I’m assuming you do enjoy Good Robot, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it, right?)

    For the record, I do like FTL (I’ve several hundred hours in it), but this isn’t me trying to say “You like X, therefore you should like similar thing X+1”; I’m just curious what parts of FTL you didn’t like when it appears to me to be so similar on the surface. I do hope this doesn’t come off too rudely, I’m pretty good at sounding ruder online than I intend to be.

    1. Falterfire says:

      I’m pretty sure in the past he’s mentioned that the random aspects of it that were the biggest turn off (Or maybe that was a different Diecaster). In Good Robot, the enemy spawns are random and the exact drops are random, but the systems are not – The weapons do the same thing each run, and the enemies act in the same way.

      FTL has that for its fights, but it also has a bunch of random encounters you can’t plan for. You’ll get a story thing and you make a choice, but the result is random. You can’t learn that “Okay, if there’s the emergency with the giant ant attack, I can send people in, but I can’t listen to the slugs” because sometimes the giant ant attack kills your guy and sometimes it gives you a guy, and the slug thing is similarly random.

      If I’m remembering correctly, it was those false choice story bits on nodes that really killed the game for him (or whichever other Diecaster was talking about it).

      1. Naota says:

        Speaking personally (as a guy who likes FTL and is probably responsible for some of the roguelike-y elements of Good Robot), the biggest turn-off was the final boss, which breaks scores of rules the game spent 95% of its play-time firmly establishing, in ways that punish you most for finding them out.

        The end of a precarious balancing act of resource management and decision-making is not the place to throw a curve-ball. Especially not one that can instantly game-over the player because they did something the game taught them to do, or built their ship without guide-given foreknowledge of this fight’s bullshit.

        “Prepare for [regenerating super-shields]/[dozens of fire-and-breach-causing lasers that defeat evasion]/[dozens of drones that laugh at anti-drone measures]!”

        “Sending boarders, are you? My crew is better at combat that yours could ever be, and my med-bay is staffed by god.”

        “Oh, you killed my crew anyway? This ship has a super-AI that flies at no penalty and constantly repairs every system on board.”

        “You beat my ship? Hah – that was only its first form! It comes back with more abilities and all systems repaired!”

        It essentially felt like battling a bad-tempered, cheaty GM in a tabletop game.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Ahhh, ok! That helps me understand why the overall gameplay seems so similar a lot better. And that’s certainly a fair criticism. I keep forgetting that my perspective is of someone who already knows all the flagship’s tricks. Coming at it blind for the first time, yeah, you’ll definitely be unprepared.

          Looking back, I died to its second phase the first time I encountered it on my third run, then I’m pretty sure I went and looked it up on the wiki (because I like to be informed) which helped me beat it on my next run. I’m personally used to spending time reading outside sources for information on games (a long history of playing modded Minecraft will do that to you), but I can totally sympathize with a desire for a game to be self-contained.

          I feel like the flagship is fun if you already know about it; it becomes a puzzle to look forward to whose solution you work towards throughout the whole run. If you don’t know about it, it’s rather unfair.

          1. Naota says:

            That’s certainly true – having the knowledge of the final boss’s full set of mechanics from the start basically lets you plan around them over the course of the game, so it ceases to be an issue. My contention was it’s actually impossible to do this unless you read a guide in advance, and you basically need to (or have arrived at one of a few very specific builds by sheer chance) in order to stand a chance.

            Also, the flagrant disregarding – often inverting – of so many core rules all at once rubs me the wrong way. The game deliberately punishes the player for taking actions they have no plausible reason to avoid doing, unless they literally “see the future” (by reading the wiki)… and the punishment is so often the end of a perfectly serviceable multi-hour run. It’s a lot to stomach for a game with hundreds of other, very fair and reasonable space battles calibrating one’s expectations.

            I’ve always compared the Flagship to the final room in Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup – my all-time favourite in the genre. The Orb of Zot chamber contains enemies and situations that can end you in just a few actions, but all of them are either threats you’ve seen before, or ones you can understand and adapt to on first sight. The extreme danger of Orbs of Fire is on the level of the Flagship, but you can always run away, stockpile fire/mutation resistance, acquire sources of unavoidable cold damage… and come back, savvy to their tricks, without being smacked down by an enemy fleet and countdown timer to immediate defeat.

            1. Philadelphus says:

              My contention was it's actually impossible to do this unless you read a guide in advance, and you basically need to (or have arrived at one of a few very specific builds by sheer chance) in order to stand a chance.

              Yes, I definitely agree with that. And while I haven’t played Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup, your comparison of it definitely makes it sound good. Thanks for taking the time to help me understand your point of view.

              I don’t know many people who like video games, so it’s nice to have a pleasant conversation about a game I like with a stranger over the Internet. :)

              1. Naota says:

                Weirdly enough, the best summation I can give of Stone Soup is Rutskarn’s own misadventures. For a game where you spend most of your time moving and making melee attacks, it has a remarkable amount of depth. The way I design enemies in my tabletop games (and in general) is basically studied from Crawl, MMO raid dungeons, and the Fire Emblem games respectively.

  17. Esp says:

    Interesting that it was a conscious decision to put the weapon vending machines at levels’ ends, because that’s one of the things I found most counterproductive and irritating. That choice guarantees there’s no way to go switch back if the weapon I buy is ineffective.

    It’s bad enough that so many of the weapons are garbage, with no way to detect a garbage weapon before buying it. But if that were the only problem it wouldn’t be so bad. It would basically mean buying a weapon is just paying for another random drop. Getting a bad drop would only sacrifice money, and after discovering it I’d switch back to the prior weapon.

    But putting the vendor at the end of the level makes switching back impossible. The garbagosity of the new weapon does not reveal itself until we leave the level and encounter a new set of enemies. Then, once it is revealed, the game is pretty much over. The only possible way to change away from the garbage weapon is to kill tons of enemies and hope for a random drop, but killing the enemies is difficult and damaging (because garbage weapon), and the damage only puts us further behind the curve. Unless we’re unreasonably lucky and get a usable weapon drop right away, the game turns into nothing but a death spiral.

    1. Naota says:

      If it helps, we seriously wanted a respawning “target dummy” enemy next to the stores to help prevent this. It would’ve required an overhaul of the enemy spawning/location code, though, so the idea was scrapped before release.

      1. Esp says:

        If it helps?

        Well, it’s not in the game, so I’m gonna go ahead and say no, it doesn’t help. Thinking up a good idea is of no use to anybody when you fail to actually implement it in the game.

        1. Naota says:

          Thinking up a good idea is free; putting it into a video game is not. I assumed somebody out there would appreciate hearing what our plans were, even if they didn’t work out in the end.

      2. I have mixed feelings about this as an idea. Yeah, it might have been useful, although I usually felt that I could tell just by doing a quick test fire of a weapon whether or not it would suit my play style. (Although this was not without risk, she says, remembering a true facepalm moment of self-immolation following the unfortunately perfect ricochet of a test-fired exploding disk…)

        I still maintain the point I made further upthread about random weapon drops by enemies. They shouldn’t duplicate anything the player is carrying and they could perhaps be ever so slightly more frequent. As I said above, I don’t mind spending $$$ to get swift access to a weapon I know that I like, but I really won’t spend $$$ on something that is a complete gamble from my POV when there are other (imo) more valid uses for those points, like raising DPS.

    2. The Other Matt K says:

      Yeah, I got hosed by this as well. During my best playthrough, I was making good progress, and near the end of a level, a boss dropped a new weapon. I can’t remember which one – it had great rapid-fire damage, but also lots of recoil. That seemed tricky, but I hadn’t upgraded my weapon in ages, and it seemed like it would be awfully boring to just ignore this strong new late game weapon that had appeared. (Silly me!)

      Anyway I got to the next level, and discovered that it was electrified (despite a lack of the opening gate having the electrified symbol). (Yay for teaching players things and then changing the rules on them!)

      In any case, heavy recoil weapon + tight passages + electrified stage = auto loss. A weapon vendor at the start of the level – or even just some way to restore a previous weapon when you discover the new one is a trap – would have made for a much less antagonistic game. SO many times, when I died, I didn’t feel like I was losing to the enemies, I felt like I was losing to the game – like it was being run by a Dungeon Master out to kill the party without regard for the rules.

      One of the testers noted that the games earlier iterations were easy and thus boring, and in response, they apparently both ramped up the difficulty and made upgrades/warranties more expensive. I think one or the other might have worked – I’d have been fine with a difficult game if it didn’t have such punishing permadeath, and I’d have been fine with a light-hearted but easy blaster game just focused on achievements and entertainment. But grinding game + secretive mechanics + painful punishments for failure was very much not my thing.

      1. Yeah, I just got caught out by a similar scenario in my refresher game. A mini-boss in Neo-Jaipur dropped the primary shuriken weapon so I picked it up and decided to give it a whirl instead of the plasma doofer I’d been using since Zone 1, Level 1. Except in my shuriken test-firing (there was nothing left “alive” to use it on) I’d failed to notice that the bloody projectiles were subject to gravity. Wasn’t an insta-kill, but caused me a fair amount of hassle until I got the opportunity to buy an Electron Repeater to replace it, and I ended up dying in the wheels o’ fire level. But then again, I was also playing pretty sloppily so that was my fault…

    3. ThaneofFife says:

      I had a big problem with that, as well. My solution was just to NEVER buy weapons.

      EDIT: Oops, this didn’t reply to the right comment. Sorry.

  18. Kylroy says:

    To grossly oversimplify what the response here has been, it seems that the general complaint is that the game is too hard. Which leads me to ask: is there ever a case where a game failed for offering too easy of a challenge? (By which I mean a game that offered both an easy difficulty and harder challenges that failed to attract people because the easy difficulty drove people away.)

    1. Syal says:

      There surely are, but it’s hard to say if an individual game fails specifically for being too easy. Plus if an easy game fails people will just forget about it, it won’t have that spark of anger keeping the memory alive.

      I think Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was held as being too easy, and I don’t play any Kirby games because that’s been my experience.

    2. I….. dunno. I think “It’s too hard!” is an unhelpful conclusion to draw from what people have said. Not that it isn’t hard (at least, it is for me because it’s not a type of game I play a lot), but a more interesting question is “why are people saying that it’s too hard?”

      Personally, I don’t mind something being hard so long as I can see that it is also at some point achievable through skill or persistence on my part. Otherwise, the joy of overcoming something is heavily undercut. And Good Robot is, to me, almost there on that front. I do actually like that it challenges me, but I also acknowledge that despite the wide array of weapons and upgrade options, there’s a general consensus that there’s only one “right” way to play, and that undercuts the fun someone might have playing it (especially if their initial perception was of a different style of gameplay). I honestly don’t believe that certain items or upgrade paths were designed to be “traps” as I’ve seen them described here, but it is clear that they have become such because of the way the systems balance against each other. And I was under the impression that unpicking things like that was the idea behind a column like this.

      1. Kylroy says:

        “Personally, I don't mind something being hard so long as I can see that it is also at some point achievable through skill or persistence on my part.”

        And this is where nearly every permadeath game loses me. The idea that I can sit down, play for an hour, and be in a *worse* situation than I was when I started makes the entire experience deeply unenjoyable. (Games like Rogue Legacy, where I can play for an hour and be stuck in place, but not regress, don’t have the same effect.) Seamus has talked about how old XP-based RPGs without auto-leveling acted as a self-calibrating difficulty curve – you would grind XP and level up until the game was as hard (or easy) as you wanted it to be. Letting filthy casuals like me flop through the game at level 100 while Twitch pros complete it at 10 seems a compromise that’s not as popular as I’d think it would be.

        1. Yeah, it’s why I’m not typically a fan of perma-death either. A comment by someone upthread about Good Robot feeling like being punished by a vindictive GM (I’m paraphrasing) is pretty close to the mark for me. In contrast, I’ve also been playing (and generally really loving) Sunless Sea, which also has perma-death. But it also has legacies, so your dearly deceased captain can pass on something to the next generation, it has a CRAPTON of generally delicious prose that I have really enjoyed uncovering and if I die (and I’ve died a lot in that, too, I think I’m on Captain #19), it’s almost always felt like I did a stupid, not that the game was punishing me for… trying to play it. Try to take on a hostile craft in SS when you’re down to 3 hull and 5/10 crew and… yeah, you’re probably going to die (ask me how I know!). Pick up the “wrong” weapon in Good Robot and you’ll die, but there’s not much information other than bitter experience to determine what the “wrong” weapon is. Don’t get me wrong, SS also has “duff” choices to be made, but very often the information to allow you to avoid or mitigate those choices is also available.

          EDIT: It also just occurred to me that SS is also *much* better at allowing opportunities for narrowly squeaking out of truly perilous situations and coming back out on top, which also leads to some fantastic emergent storytelling, whereas GR will cheerfully trip you up and then walk up and down your back as you’re trying to climb out of the mud. :/

    3. Naota says:

      I can give a personal example: AAAaaaaaah: A Reckless Disregard For Gravity and its sequel-thingy Aaaaaaaaahhh For The Awesome!

      The original Aaah: ARDFG was essentially a base jumping game set in an abstract landscape of coloured geometry. You got points for falling close to buildings and smashing through score panels, and briefly lost control when you hit objects laterally. At the end of the stage, you had to deploy your parachute and land accurately inside a landing zone for a bonus reward (or go splat, forfeiting your extra points).

      The problem was, Aaah was easy and slow. Most objects were large and obvious, few of them presented broad surfaces on which you might pancake, and the majority of levels featured wide-open spaces between the obstacles, leaving chasing a given route of score panels the only real way to excel. On most levels nothing but the parachute zone ever threatened failure, and that could be overcome by simply choosing to be cautious over going for the extra points. Added to this, you fell at the speed of an unused sheet of tissue paper, making many levels feel drawn out and lethargic. The game was a novel idea – enjoyable to float around in for a bit, but ultimately not engaging.

      I’m not sure what compelled me to buy For The Awesome after the lukewarm proof of concept that was ARDFG, but I eventually picked it up on sale. I do not regret it. Aaah: FTA did three very important things that instantly catapulted the game’s enjoyment factor from “I wish this level was over already” to “I’ve run completely out of levels and still want more of these mechanics.”

      Firstly, it dramatically increased the speed at which the player fell and banked, turning what used to be a leisurely space-like drop into a twirling breakneck plummet that inspired a giddy vertigo and fear of impact. This had the added effect of ending levels twice as quickly, in an adrenaline-fueled 2-4 minutes.

      Secondly, it packed its obstacles much closer, and used them to craft holes, tubes, and clouds of spinning debris for the player to nip between. Doing this artfully gave you points that could transition into strings of mounting combos. Doing it wrong smashed your digital face into the wrong part of a vent cover at 50 MPH and made you lean your neck back, grimacing, in real life. This meant a restart of the level.

      Third, and not to be understated, it textured its abstract shapes with more than base colours, making them resemble solid objects like skyscrapers and boulder fragments. Flying past them, the blur of detail speeding by gave a real sense of your speed and surroundings that the mono-coloured abstract blocks never could.

      For The Awesome was faster, twitchier, more demanding of your skill and attention, and unequivocally harder. I still remember it fondly, and occasionally get the urge to boot it up for a few spurious, pulse-raising jumps. I came very close to never playing it at all, based solely on my experiences with the original game’s easier, more laid-back design.

      1. Kylroy says:

        I’ve heard of the first, never heard of the sequel. Any idea how successful they were relative to each other?

          1. Kylroy says:

            Wow. That’s the exact opposite of what I would have expected.

            1. Naota says:

              Huh, same feelings here. I know the original was decidedly more visible on Steam when it first came out, and FTA is essentially a redux, so this really is the exact opposite of what I expected as well.

      2. WJS says:

        Wasn’t the question “When a game has an easy mode and a hard mode, it was criticised for the easy mode being too easy”? I don’t see how a game that from the sound of it only had the easy mode qualifies. It’s dodging the question.

  19. Hrrrrmmm. Almost all my Good Roboting (and that would be damn near 60 hours) has been on my laptop; not a shabby machine by any means but also definitely not a gaming machine. Haven’t really played GR since the end of May (I got completely sidetracked by the deliciousness that is Sunless Sea), so I decided to fire up my desktop to refresh my memory and… it almost feels like a different game on the Beast! I had to go check the update log to make sure there hadn’t been a patch I hadn’t noticed. Will see how far I get and try to report back. Maybe I’ll even beat it at last!

    1. Welp, didn’t beat it! Was playing pretty carelessly and with distractions, so it was my own fault. I’m a bit out of practice, too. It did remind me of some things, though, such as my learned approach to zones within each level and my attitude towards mini-bosses.

      When I first started playing Good Robot, I actually quite enjoyed choosing the ? levels, but now I actively avoid them because they can throw me into situations I don’t like (cf. electrified walls, which I avoid at all costs) or an end-level boss, which means I miss out on wringing as much $ as possible from that level before moving on, and hence am under-powered in following levels. I really, really like three-door choice at the end of each zone, but as a result of the fairly harsh game economy the game has taught me to grind by preferentially picking the zones that yield the most $ (which are also typically the most challenging zones; I’m fine with that, it makes sense). My preferred levels (ie the ones that give me the best income) are the $, maze, purple, and green levels, in approximately that order. I’m not choosing those because they’re “fun to play”, I’m choosing them because if I don’t then I will struggle even more later. I *never* now opt to do mini-boss levels because ime they’re just not worth it. The cash yield really isn’t that great and the weapon drop often isn’t anything special either. I feel much the same about the level bosses really, but you have to beat them to progress. (Well, I suppose you can also just dodge them and nip through the exit if you can avoid “triggering” them!)

      Anyone else had a similar experience?

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Re: Level selection, I played it exactly the same, always feeling compelled to select the level with maximum payout, because to do anything else would be to fall behind the level curve which would make me start taking more damage and spending more on repairs and falling further behind the level curve…

        1. Yes, very much my experience. Once you start down that slippery slope, there’s pretty much no climbing back up.

  20. Grampy_bone says:

    I’m surprised that Shamus Young made a game that A) has no difficulty settings and B) is quite hard.

    In my experience most of the upgrades are pretty worthless. Damage, rate of fire, etc don’t seem to do much. The only thing worth taking is more health. The rapidly rising upgrade costs with the dismal amount of money you get means you can’t ‘correct your course’ at all. After a few purchases they get so expensive all your money goes into health refills and warranties.

    Also, buying weapons mostly sucks. No inventory to store extras, not even a reference page where you can review all unlocked weapons.

  21. Silfir says:

    It’s possible that the game used to be worse in the pre-Pyrodactyl era – but that sadly doesn’t mean that the game as it was released was good.

    Not one review of the game I have read – most of them positive – had a good thing to say about the progression or the roguelike aspects. I respect that you tried a lot of things, went through a process of testing and designing and testing again, played the game a lot yourself, and in the end felt you had to go forward with what was your best attempt. But from where I’m standing, my conclusion can only be that the process simply failed to achieve its purpose of creating a fun and interesting progression system.

    The most interesting decisions I get to make on a regular basis is which hat I should buy. For everything else, I simply lacked information. And while asking the player to gather knowledge to use in future runs isn’t out of line in a roguelike, Good Robot crosses the line into full-blown obfuscation on a regular basis.

    This is speaking as someone who plays roguelikes – and honestly, in reference to Arvind’s final paragraphs, if dissecting Good Robot’s roguelike design is going to be particularly helpful to aspiring game designers, to a not insignificant degree it’s as an example of what not to do.

    1. ThaneofFife says:

      I don’t think that they necessarily failed to achieve their design goals. However, I do agree that the lack of information when making upgrade choices was frustrating.

      One way around this would have been to allow the player to re-spec once per game with no penalty. By trying different builds, you could get a better idea of what, exactly, each upgrade was doing.

  22. Ninety-Three says:

    I find it interesting that Good Robot sits at 113/118 positive Steam Reviews, but the comment section here is filling up with (constructive) negative comments. A lot of people talked about just wanting to support Shamus, going so far as to not refund the game which they otherwise would have done. Someone above mentioned that they refrained from giving a negative Steam review because they didn’t want to drag it down. I was also in that camp, would have written a negative review except I’d feel bad potentially hurting Shamus’s chances for success.

    I wonder how much of the Steam Reviews section is influenced by that effect, loyal blog followers who just really like Shamus and so are trying to say something nice, or say nothing at all.

    1. Naota says:

      I find it surprising as well, given the initial reception. I think if the impressions earlier on resembled these comments, the final game would probably have been quite different in several ways. Our Steam forums listed issues in the first few months that I patched weekly (or often, daily), but the economy never saw more than a solitary comment or two. If I knew it was this divisive an issue back then I’d have tried to tackle it.

      (Edit: to head off any misunderstandings, I still can – maybe. It’s complicated. I’m a scripter now working on other projects, without an artist, and limited code support (Shamus and Arvind also have other business-important tasks). If there’s enough support for a rebalancing of the economy, though…)

      1. Well I’m no help, I never post (or even read) game reviews on Steam! XD Also, in the case of Good Robot, it’s not the type of game I usually go for and I almost certainly wouldn’t have bought it if I wasn’t a follower of Shamus’ blog. But I like new experiences so I decided to give it a go despite the fact that the last time I seriously played anything even remotely similar was quite possibly on the Commodore 64! So the vast bulk of my playtime (that isn’t down to my terrible habit of alt-tabbing out and wandering off to do something else for a bit) is due to me learning to play a twin-stick shooter. Given my general unfamiliarity with the genre, I didn’t really feel qualified to tell others whether it was “good” or “not good” – and as far as I initially knew, it was very much intended to be like it is. To be fair, I have enjoyed learning to play it and I do like that it is a challenge – or possibly I just have stubbornness issues! I also really liked the bite-sized zone structure that meant that I could sneak a zone or two and then go off and do something else. (Or die, growl, and go off and do something else.)

        This column has really prompted me to analyse how I’ve learned to approach GR and what it demands of me as a player though. If possible, some gentle tweaks to the economy and maybe the way loot drops are handled could well be the “saving” of the game for me. (Please, please if you can stop it dropping already equipped weapons that would be awesome; it is vastly more frustrating to be dropped a weapon I already have than a weapon I don’t overly like. I realise it might be too late for that, though!) Right now, it feels as though, unless you are already a fan of this type of game and you have fairly insane reflexes, you’re going to really struggle because the margin for a successful run is cigarette-paper thin. As Ninety-Three noted in their reply to my comment about levels, if you’re not constantly playing GR as grindily as possible to max out $$$ (and therefore DPS upgrades plus repair/warranties as necessary), you’re going to find yourself doomed to spiral down further and further behind the curve and from there you don’t really have any options to claw your way back.

        1. Naota says:

          I’m all behind excluding your current weapons from the random roulette, seeing as we have so many in the game. Even hiding duplicate drops from the player would be better than trolling them with a useless duplicate (though if that duplicate converted to 25% of the weapon’s cost on flyover…). It’s unfortunately a thing I can’t fix myself, though: the random drop algorithm is code-side, and I only handle the scripts on GR.

          For the curious, the following things are controlled by GR’s scripts:
          -All enemy stats, special behaviours, AI type, colours, and robot parts.
          -Weapon stats, costs, appearance, and general behaviour. You can’t make radical new behaviours (eg. rolling bombs), but you can mash together quite a few for new results.
          -Item drop chances and loot/shop tables.
          -Player speed, health, momentum, bounce factor, pick-up range, combo timer
          -The tileset, colours, music, potential level layouts, and robot population of each zone.
          -Upgrade/repair/warranty base costs and their rates of increase.
          -Nearly all text displayed in the game.
          -What sprites are used where.

          1. I would also take the conversion of “already owned” weapon drops to currency with all the grabby hands at my disposal! ;) (Although… is that opening the door to possible conversion of any unwanted weapon drop into currency? And would that actually be a bad thing if so?) I appreciate that none of that is very likely to happen unless someone’s willing and able to dig into the code side, though. Similarly, there’s clearly no “just” about “just add health drops”, at least based on my understanding of the available scripts you’ve listed there. Something that might also have been neat (but is obviously impossible now) could have been slightly differentiating shop vs. drop weapons, that is, make the shop-bought version a small percentage better in terms of damage or range or firing rate or…. to further justify dropping $ on getting one above and beyond “I want it and I want it NOW.” But then, for that to be clear to the player there would probably need to be actual numbers attached to things or it would have to be spelt out very clearly in the shop dialogs and it’s starting to edge towards being a different game.

            Given what you have access to there, tweaking the economy and drop chances/tables a bit does seem like the way forward. Especially for repair and maybe shields.

            Also, thanks for engaging in the discussion here! Analysing game mechanics is a bit of a pet hobby of mine when I get the chance, but I rarely get the opportunity to share it with other people, much less someone who’s had a hand in the development of something I’ve actually played. So yay for that. :)

            1. Naota says:

              Something that might also have been neat (but is obviously impossible now) could have been slightly differentiating shop vs. drop weapons

              Interesting that you mention this, because it’s actually possible with the scripts as they are now. Drop tables and shop inventory are separate lists, so conceivably you could write up alternate versions of weapons that go exclusively into one list or the other. In fact, for a while we toyed with boss-exclusive weapons (ala Megaman) that only dropped on a chance from their respective bosses. All that remains of it now is a few weighted tables for certain enemy types, though (sawblade-shooters have a 500% greater chance to drop you a sawblade than any other weapon!).

              Similarly, the final boss used to have an enormous health bar and would drop exclusive fifth-tier superweapons after you beat its first two forms. They were designed to counteract the thing’s superior defenses, but testers consistently chose to keep dodging/shooting without ever picking them up. Since designing around this problem for one boss wasn’t worth the cost, they just became regular fourth-tier guns and entered the normal loot table, and the boss lost his health advantage.

              But yes – differentiating weapon stats is a tricky thing to do at the moment. The only place to convey information to the player is in the weapon’s description blurb and icon. Pretty lean for getting across marginal differences, though Diablo-esque naming might do the trick (eg. “Superior Rocket Pod”)

              1. Ohhhhh! Neat. :D For some reason, I was assuming that they both drew from some master-table. Something like that would make the shop weapons that bit more attractive, for sure, if the difference can also be clearly telegraphed to the player.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        For my part, I didn’t complain about the economy because I thought my hyper-cautious playstyle was just a product of me playing in the last-fun way possible as compulsive min-maxers often do. It wasn’t until I saw other people complaining about the cost of repairs that I realized I had adopted my unfun playstyle in order to resist the harsh economy which seemed to be the root of everyone’s problems.

        To elaborate on the economy, I think the issue isn’t precisely that health costs too much (although that makes it worse), but rather than health costing money leads to a snowball effect, where spending a single dollar on health lowers the amount of DPS upgrades you buy, which means you’ll kill things slower and take more damage, which means you’ll fall further behind the curve, and so on.

        When I was playing very cautiously, I found that hats acted as a very light form of regenerating health, I had one free mistake per level (although the fact that hats gave no invincibility frames meant that I could lose my hat to a worm, then die to the worm a frame later, but that’s an implementation issue). I really liked that feeling of having a margin for error, even if it was incredibly thin.

        I think if you were going to rebalance things for aggressive play, the thing to do wouldn’t be to reduce the cost of healing, but to provide some of it for free (and maybe give brief invulernability when damaged so that ten worms stacked on top of eachother don’t instantly kill the player, that was a recurring annoyance), either with health dropping from enemies, or some kind of recharging Estus Flask/Tower of Hats system.

        Ideally you’d be able to implement some kind of system that outright rewards aggressive play (DOOM/Space Marine-esque melee finishers for bonuses, for instance), but that sounds a lot harder to design, so I’m suggesting free healing here as a way to at least stop punishing aggressive play.

        1. *nods vigorously* I quite liked the “hat tax” as I came to think of it – I never managed to get one hat to last me an entire level, but I liked that I didn’t have to buy one in each zone if I was careful. If I lost a hat I’d brought from a previous zone, I often would back-track to buy a new one from the start of the current zone – they’re cheap enough, after all! And even a smidge of free healing would go a very long way. I think I even mentioned it in a comment on a different post a while back.

        2. Naota says:

          How’s this for a theoretical aggressive-play-aiding concept?*

          -Robots can drop Repair Parts in a few denominations on death, which restore missing HP.
          -The odds of them dropping are a factor of the combo multiplier, ranging from 0% at 0x to a maximum that almost guarantees one will drop after sweeping a large number of enemies in a short period of time.
          -Repair Parts heal only enough to offset the damage taken by going for combos unless the player is very good and doesn’t get hit.
          -Worth considering: Repair Parts instead only heal up to a certain percentage of HP. If they can only bring you up to 50%, shop repairs and warranties still play a very significant role.

          *This is not any kind of plan or statement to add anything to the game. I’m just theorizing because it’s fun to talk game design.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            If you want to limit the scope of free healing, then I think I have an idea that could be added to that repair parts concept. What if whenever you take damage, the damaged part of your health bar turns orange and starts ticking away: Healing is plentiful, but you can only heal orange health that hasn’t yet timed out. You can take 50 damage, and then that damage will start getting “locked in” at a rate of 5 points per second, so the closer you are to dying enemies, and the faster you kill them, the more damage you can afford to take because less and less will get locked in. Locked in damage can only be healed by visiting a repair station and spending money.

            Basically, Good Robot should be more like Dark SoulsBloodborne.

            I’m not sure if this is just my personal taste coming through, but if you were to implement any form of health drops from enemies, I would prefer a system that’s either deterministic (every tenth kill drops health) or avoids streaks (drop chance starts at 2%, increases by 2% every kill, resets on drop) rather than being flat random (every kill has 10% drop chance). It helps to avoid both the trolly “Game drops four health pickups you don’t need” and the frustrating “I’m low health and have killed dozens, just give me my healing already!”

          2. It *is* fun to talk game design! :)

            Could quite go for that, or something like the version Ninety-Three has outlined, which has a subtlety that I think I would quite appreciate. (I’ve not had a chance to play Bloodbourne or any of the Souls games; I wonder how I would fare in them…)

            Thing I forgot to add to my list of not-gonna-happens – Putting the shops in random locations around the zone, not just at the end. There’d be more encouragement to explore and more opportunity for there to be something left to test a new toy on. Also, I am almost embarrassed to admit that my tactic for dealing with some bosses involved sneaking past them to the exit and the shops, buying any upgrades I could afford and *then* going to engage the boss. Wasn’t always possible, but sometimes dead handy when it was (inasmuch as it stopped *me* from being dead!).

          3. ThaneofFife says:

            Would it be possible to script some kind of vampire/life-stealing weapon? Another cool idea would be a weapon that adds just a couple of frames of invulnerability when used. The idea behind either or both of those would be to make a weapon that forces you to get in close and do massive damage at greater risk, and for greater rewards.

            Also a vampire-berserker build, with one of those weapons in each slot could make for some really interesting emergent close-range gameplay.

            Another interesting idea would be a weapon that does more damage every time you hit with it, but resets when you miss. Or it could charge up with every hit, and do some kind of massive effect once it reaches full charge. A weapon like that would promote accuracy and combo-building, rather than hanging out at the side of a room and shooting at enemies off-screen.

            1. Naota says:

              At present this isn’t something you could work into a weapon script (they only affect enemy HP), but I like the core idea of weapons that build in power and/or grant health. Were I to suggest a gun type for a Good Robot 2, the first thing would be a shotgun which grants a small “over-shield” while equipped that recharges when you kill an enemy. It’ll absorb a solid hit and enable long combo strings, but anything bigger will bleed over into your standard HP pool.

      3. ThaneofFife says:

        I really appreciate that you’re reading and responding to so many of these comments, Naota. If you all revisited the game and made a patch based on the feedback you’re getting here, I would definitely play it more, and would probably recommend it to my friends.

        That being said, I wouldn’t be buying the game for myself a second time, and I can’t guarantee that anyone I recommended the game to would buy it, so I don’t know if the economics of making a new patch would work out in y’all’s favor.

        Thanks for listening, though! If you all end up making a sequel or incorporating this feedback into a different game, I would definitely consider buying that too (esp. if Shamus is involved).

        1. Naota says:

          It’s really no trouble – I’ll merrily squirrel away my spare time talking shop and improving the game so long as I’ve got permission and I’m not needed on something else. I just don’t want to pull the others away from more pertinent tasks, or in my foolish exuberance take on so much that I’m still sorting out GR work I created for myself when scripting time or game design hour rolls around on our next project.

          Anything that satisfies those conditions and makes the reality inch closer to the awesome Steam rating you guys put on this thing is a worthy effort, the way I see it.

          If nothing else this thread has already helped me put a tweak in the pipeline for Amazon’s earlier issue that reduces the number of different bots in L3 at a time without changing their overall number. I’ll talk with the others and see if I can get a bit of a more ambitious idea approved by the time my postmortem contributions roll around (my eye is on a low-cost solution to the “simply too hard to be fun for me” concerns).

          I can’t promise any changes right now besides that tweak, but I’ll at least stay apprised in these posts as they roll out.

    2. Mistwraithe says:

      I am almost certain that is the case. Many (most?) of the Twenty Sided community who bought the game were primarily doing so to help out Shamus. It would be pretty foolish to then follow that up with a negative review. Hence people either didn’t review at all on Steam, or if they did then they focused on the positives without going too much into any issues or frustrations they had with the game.

  23. arron says:

    I really like Good Robot and the permadeath didn’t put me off too much given that I’ve been playing We Happy Few and that has the same mechanic. One change I would recommend that I noticed on my initial playthrough is that it’s not immediately obvious what role the green gate has and I’ve seen Let’s Players try to interact with it thinking it was a healing station or some such, not realising that it was the resurrection station.

  24. Timothy Coish says:

    Well I wanted to love Good Robot myself, but I think I’ve played less than an hour total. Similar to other commentators, I couldn’t get over the permadeath, which I think was enough by itself to ruin the game for me. Additionally, the game is most efficiently played by not running in guns blazing, but instead very slowly creeping around the levels, firing blindly at stuff offscreen*. It’s a really tedious way to play, but it’s necessary, since the punishment for dying is so high. Frankly, life is too short.

    *This could be solved in a number of ways, such as refilling the players health if an enemy dies within a small radius of them (rewarding getting up close). Or maybe you have enemies increase in power after being “triggered” by the player, which entices the player to kill enemies as quickly as possible. There are many other mechanics that could be used. None made it into the game.

  25. Sleepyfoo says:

    So I finally modded the game (22 hours played, got elite hat, save scummed my way to hardest hat) to give myself some tier 4 weapons as starter weapons. Specifically the Superheated flak cannon primary and Prism Beam Secondary.
    Of note, my Favorite end game load out was Superheated Flak Cannon and Missile Rain if I could get them. My prefered loadout for the rest of the game was rivet gun and upgraded versions and missile rain like secondarys. For sniping from far away, recoil to run away, pentration to prevent groups of melee robots from shielding for each other and getting close, and missiles to spam for extra damage.

    Anyway, Without RoF upgrades, superheated flak cannon is worthless (it’s actually kind of impressive). Even in level one, if I tried to fire from a distance it’d spread and fail to oneshot a given enemy, and getting in close resulted in dead close enemy’s but too long to wait until the next shot and not enough speed to get away without movement speed upgrades. The Prism beam had too much warm up and cooldown to really help (though I did like it’s randomness, wimpy though it’s damage was). So I modded the weapons a little more, increasing my ability to fire them quickly.

    Now, with those upgraded weapons, it’s fun to play aggressively, and even with those upgrades, I die regularly. I have much more fun before I die though. Level’s go faster, the monsters are still a challenge, the explosion of particle effects from both my weapons and the enemy’s dieing faster is more satisfying. Going through the level’s faster also means the challenge presented by the game varies more often, keeping interest in playing.

    Another thing I’ve noticed with this new loadout, The starter and tier 1 weapons are just boring (not too weak, but boring to use).

    All that said, the economy is still broken. The warranties increase in cost too quickly, and cost too much in terms of cutting off upgrades. The optimal way to play is still shoot from off screen (but with the superweapons it’s at least more fun not to, and you can still progress).

    Level “2” where the spawning enemies are introduced was still rather hard and level “3” with the melee wheels of death and mines reminded me that I needed to be much more careful because my weapons weren’t that fast at taking them out. Mini bosses die like chumps though.

    I’ll probably play with the game much more now that I’ve started fiddling with these weapons.

    Peace : )

    1. Agree about warranty costs! I was playing again last night and actually finally managed to clear the mecha-squid level at last (yay particle lance and riding a torrent of bouncy green death!), but in the process of getting to the garden level, I’d ended up buying 6(!) warranties (iirc I lost most of them in the wheels of fire and mecha-squid levels). That is a crippling hit to one’s finances and it put me woefully behind on my DPS upgrades (I did also throw in a couple of levels of shield as a form of healing as much as anything else). Even so, I managed to clear the first couple of garden zones, but then got utterly dog-piled in the $ zone with worms and wheels before I’d even got out of the starting gate. Ouch. :(

      (I really am starting to wonder whether the “right” tactic is actually to clear each level asap by taking the mini-boss/boss levels the moment they appear. They are hilariously easy to take on in comparison to some of the “regular” zones, but the payout’s rubbish…)

      1. Naota says:

        The way costs and rewards scale, if doing extra zones isn’t a risk (ie. will cost more in repairs than you can make in it/threaten the end of a run), it’s generally best to take as many as you can before advancing. It’s possible to skip this step in the early levels if you just want to progress quickly, as their payout isn’t too much in the overall scheme of things, but if you’re getting stuck shortly after then the added resources can mean an extra upgrade or warranty’s difference at least.

        If you’re getting swarmed very early on, I know there’s one very niche bug with levels containing mines that might be contributing (not sure if we ever figured out why it happens, or if Shamus fixed it on the sly): shooting inactive mines with weapons that pierce targets will “wake up” all mines within the borders of the screen, almost always leading to a dogpiling of the things once they see you.

        While pretty weird, this is actually an advantage if you can handle the swarm, as once they’re dealt with you’ll have a big area where you’re free to move without fear lurking mines. Corralling it into one place and just shooting the mine-mass with your piercing weapon is pretty reliable once you get the hang of it.

        1. Ah. So the “grind for $ as much as possible” tactic is the correct one? TBH, I did slightly test the “power through levels” approach briefly in earlier games, but it really didn’t get me far because then I’d find myself underpowered in the tougher later levels. I still wouldn’t call myself a “good” player of GR, but I suspect I’m much better now than I was when I started, thanks to repeatedly taking on the highest-yielding zones! And as an approach, it has led to me getting much further than I was before.

          Ohhhhh! The mines thing explains the behaviour I observed when using the magnetic spiker on the wheels level in a past game. I’d mentally “explained” it to myself as “mines are attracted to magnets”, heh! :) You’re right that it can make them easier to deal with when they’re in a cluster like that, assuming you have the firepower for it.

          The fatal swarming I had in the garden level was due to several (3 or 4?) factory spawn points lined up facing the tunnel leading out of the start zone. As soon as I stuck my nose out, they all simultaneously dumped what looked like their entire quota of enemies (a mix of worms and wheels), which I then was hopelessly unable to deal with and I really didn’t have anywhere to go. My warranty allowed me to respawn, only to die again almost immediately.

          1. Sleepyfoo says:

            My strategy for beating the game before modding was thus: Primary weapon needed to be fastish, high damage, and piercing (Basically rivet guns). This allowed one shoting smaller enemies, taking out stacks of them if possible, and shooting spawners behind their spawn. If for whatever reason I couldn’t get rivet guns, the photon repeater varients were my back up, because they fire rather fast and bounce.

            Secondary weapon had to Ignore gravity, fire relatively quickly, home if possible, and explode (basically tri missiles to missile cluster and varients). This allowed my already on or near target aim with the primary to stand, the explosions dealt with stacks of enemies, and quick fire meant I didn’t need to worry about the enemy moving or getting too close while charging the attack.

            I would advance as slowly as possible, until I saw one enemy. I would then shoot it while backing up until it and any I pulled with it were dead. Repeat for everything, with the occasionally Loop around a boss. This sometimes resulted in me flying in slow circles around the starter area as I would let them get close enough to all follow me to one side of the island.

            My upgrades of choice were first Cash Magnet (Immediately, close and re-open the starter zone’s upgrade station until you get it), Rate of Fire (I never saw attack power take a weapon from 2 shot kills to one or even 3 shot kills to 2), Enemy Scanner, Vision, and at least 2 movement speed for the running away and dodging parts.

            Always have a hat if you can, and a warrenty. With the recoil from the rivet gun, you will probably be faster than the enemy bullets, or 2 movement speed upgrades, making dodging much easier. Shield Upgrades might be necessary for healing, don’t sweat it if you have to buy some. Go for money levels and maze levels whenever possible to maximize cash.

            It takes forever playing like that, but you will win.

            Peace : )

            1. My approach is not dissimilar to yours! Although somewhat less successful to date, but I am shamelessly exploiting the excuse that not only do I not usually play 2D twin-stick shooters, I also really don’t get to play much at all at the moment. I’m sure part of the problem in my last game was more down to a lack of caution brought on by constrained gaming time as much as anything else. I got splatted far more than I really ought to have done.

              I <3 the photon repeater type or rivet type primaries. For secondaries, my fave is the plasma cannon – I really need to give the purple version a go next time I play. It might be just the thing I need, but I am super-reluctant to "waste" money buying a weapon I haven't tried from a drop, and I've never seen it drop.

              With upgrades, Cash Magnet ALL the way, plus the Scanner and recently I've been increasing Fire Power and Rate equally, and I do think that's helped a lot. I learned the trick of clawing as much $ from each level by always choosing high-$ zones some time ago, but it's taken my reflexes a while to catch up! :)

  26. WJS says:

    Wait, does that mean Arvind is to blame for the god-awful vertical fighting? Damnit, man, Shamus rejected that for a reason!

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