Hello, dear Fatshark team.
This is my take on feeding you back an opinion about your game. This will certainly become a long post, but let me encourage your attention by the following acknowledgements:
- I acknowledge that I’m but one of literally millions of people who has an opinion, therefore I don’t have the illusion that my worldview is the only correct one, however I’ll endeavour to explain why I think one way or another;
- I acknowledge that paying attention is effort, therefore I’ll try to put an equal effort for this post to be as precise, structured, neutral, and helpful as I can, so my opinion has the best chance of being heard;
- I acknowledge that taking in this much information is hard, so I’ll try my best to be concise;
- I acknowledge @Darth_Angeal’s existence, and I’m familiar with his feedback which rings true with me on so many levels.
- I acknowledge that some of the points I’m about to make were already stated here, and I tried to read up on the latest posts here and I’ll try to sum up any repetitive points to a “+1” format - just to reiterate them without expanding;
- I promise to refrain from any appellation to your consciousness and/or professional skills like “c’mon, Fatshark!”, “Was it hard to do X?” etc. as I don’t find these devices to be constructive, although such thoughts might have gone through my head on a number of occasions. I’ll operate on the premise that you do positively want to make your game better to maximize your online presence and ensure sales for any DLCs and sequels you intend to make in the future.
I’ll begin by stating what I’m not: a fanboy, a hater, a game addict, an Internet whiny, a professional game developer or a famous youtuber. I’ll try to live up to these in the following text.
I am - as it may be put in a fashion familiar to a gamer after my own heart - a concerned citizen.
I’m 29, I’ve been playing computer games for 20 years. I’m educated in computer science and mathematics, I have a background in mathematical statistics, scientific calculations, and amateur game development as well as some professional experience in technical support and related PR.
I’m an intrinsically calm person, and although it can be difficult to do, please tune your inner vocalization when reading this post to a neutral and calm tone as this is what I hear in my head while writing it. I don’t intend to flame, rant or hate, and I’ll also try to explain shortly the source of all the emotional content that you will encounter here.
I’m a hardcore RPG fan, I admire classic titles like Fallout, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum, Temple of elemental Evil etc. However, I also enjoy very keenly the so-called emergent gameplay - the intricate balance and derived complexity and diversity of gameplay which is based on a few carefully constructed simple rules. That is why I enjoy playing Peter Moulineaux’s indirect control games as well as Dwarf Fortress and ADoM. Those titles formed my tastes in computer games and my tenacity regarding understanding and internalizing game rules and lore.
The FPS kind of games started for me - like for a lot of people - with the holy trinity of Quake, Doom, and Duke Nukem, with a later revolutionary addition of Half-Life. It is that latest addition that prompted me to track Valve’s progress closely and, sure enough, eventually lead to me discovering Left 4 Dead.
L4D was a new kind of game firmly rooted in online cooperation as opposed to the single player driven titles that dominated my prior gaming life. The non-linear cold opening storytelling, the distinct fully voiced characters with carefully matched personalities, the clues to further discovering the game universe scattered around the campaigns, and cinematic action - all created an unforgettable addictive gaming experience. The AI director and huge reliance on auditory clues was a breakthough still unsurpassed.
I also think that recreating and preserving this kind of an atmosphere in new titles is important for modern indie-driven game development scene because frankly, I don’t think highly of today’s state of affairs regarding the quality of games coming out. That is why Vermintide 1 found me very welcoming although not without my own personal grudges (see below)
I had a company of 2 more players who came through all of the L4D series and then VT1, and now it is completely dissolved due to frustration linked with VT2, which makes me sad. Probably it is what prompted me to finally take the time to write all this.
Now when you have an understanding of my perspective, let’s get to the topic.
UI. The face of the game.
While I think that aesthetically it is an improvement over VT1 with its crazy contrast and colour scheme, VT2 UI is somewhat less consistent and logical. Setting aside the whole virtual space driven design where you have to load into the keep to do whatever (even to join a game and immediately start loading another keep or level), the whole menu system seems a bit convoluted, which in turn produces strange results like infinite loops (Broken connection -> “OK” -> Loading the Keep -> Broken connection…), wiggling your way out of the level’s opening cinematic, losing control of your character if someone starts a map while you’re chatting etc. All these things by themselves are undoubdably minor, however, the body of these idiosyncracies aligned together invariably points to poor design.
I firmly believe that a good UI should help the player get to the actual gameplay as fast as possible, but there are features that do not conform to that logic, and it worries me greatly:
- I cannot restart a level without loading the keep after a defeat/victory;
- I cannot advance to the next level in the storyline without loading into the keep and having to toil my way from the gate to the bridge of shadows;
- I have to look at the “You have received a XYZ chest” thing every time I receive anything. I know how they look by the thousandth time, and I’d rather look at the score table than at a level-up commendation chest thingy since I only have 10 seconds or so;
- I cannot skip the whole coffer/chest/vault upgrade animation - I have to look at it no matter what. What if I don’t care what I get? What if I just want to play with my friends in the evening after a workday?
There is no option to skip anything. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could click through those annoying control-snatchers? Why not maybe list all the rewards in form of the update notifications in the keep? There is no control over the process whatsoever - not even a dice roll. Therefore, you no longer spend time playing and start spending time watching nothing more than repetitive movies about chests.
Frankly, when I first saw the loot system in VT1 I thought “That’s ridiculous” - probably because my previous L4D2 bias which relied solely on player skill, but I actually installed and tried it again last week just to gain a perspective and not rely on my memory alone.
And my verdict is this: it was faster and less obtrusive in VT1 than it is in VT2.
All these portions of a game cycle that is out of a player’s control really start to add up in the end and cut into the prescious interim time. Overall, instead of streamlining the actual gaming experience that you had worked so hard on, the GUI itself snags you up and gets in the way.
On a brighter side, of course, I can’t help but notice, that the keep loads much, much faster than the Inn did. The overall look of the interface elements is more mature and consistent, less offending to the eye and reads clearer. The click and hold feature for crafting is nice. I also like the new scoreboard better, however, it would be nice to see it reflect new gameplay features like blocked damage, damage to CW, damage to Lords, teammate protects etc. No need to go in depth like L4DX final credit roll, but still. And yes, it would be nice if the scoreboard showed accurate info and to all the players.
I really appreciate that you can now instantly see what characters are taken in a particular game in the lobby browser. However, any and all advanced features of a multiplayer game are still absent - you can’t even see the host ping in the lobby list. For the initial months since the release, which is the all important first impression time, we couldn’t see the ping at all. You still cannot ban people from your lobby, and cannot restrict certain classes from it as well.
And whats with the outline of other players? Is it intended to fade with the distance or not? I fail to infer its intended behaviour from what I see, therefore I conclude that it is bugged as well as the state machine that controls it. I routinely see outlines of wrong colors after disabler special grips, outlines stuck on dead enemies, outlines of select elements of a player’s weapon instead of the whole silhouette etc. Sometimes it is important - when you are trained to react to red outlines, outlined corpses confuse you. When you are lost and there are no outlines, the game punishes you even more.
Sounds bear so much importance, that I cannot overstate it. VTs introduced a ridiculously great improvement over L4DX in the form of a hit pre-noise. Along with the whole block mechanic, it opens up a whole new level of skill in a game like this.
Auditory clues get integrated into the player’s style and skillset so fast, that it is almost cheating. And the rush we feel when our skill allows us to prevail in circumstances that are almost unwinnable is the prescious addictive element of the game. The skill capacity and the extent to which it can be applied to improve your playing is what actually keeps us re-playing. That is why the sound engine must be flawless - you cannot make bricks without clay as you cannot react to events if you don’t register them with your senses. L4Ds were perfect, VT1 was perfect, VT2 was ok until the DLC, and now we have ninja chaos spawns, ninja pacmasters, ninja patrols etc.
This is just frustrating - it does not add value to the game because it is not something that should be attributed to randomness. Same with the phantom swings and non-existent blocks - these things must be absolutely reliable so the game actually allows your skill to play a role.
I can’t help but admire the work you’ve done on the music and the voicing. Jesper Kyd is my all-time idol, Shaw Parker, Bentinck, Dixon Bate, Wilton Regan, and Mersh all delivered absolutely stellar performances as well. I sincerely consider voice acting in the Vermintides to be one of the best in the industry.
Balance and advancement
I actually have very little to say about it! Great job! I truly think that given the complexity of the new career mechanics, it came out really nice (albeit only after a couple of rebalancing updates). All the obvious OPs are closed, and each career of every character is very much playable.
There are still some exploitable features like handmaiden’s detargeting career skill, but I don’t think there shouldn’t be such things. Ultimately it is up to you to be a useful asset to the team and not run off under invisibility every time your team gets surrounded being the selfish jerk that you are. Cutting this feature would mean cutting a potential run saving possibility.
The advancement, of course, is another story. I’m yet to grasp the reason behind the whole power concept because I utterly fail to see any and all applications of it besides making a ton of items that you receive useless forge fodder. You can safely get away with matchmaking by the level alone if you want to prevent newbies from playing higher difficulties and therefore failing the whole team. It might prove useful as the intermediate number to unify damage, stagger, slash-through etc, but in my opinion, there is no real reason for it to depend on the level and the equipment.
A whole fecal tsunami has been raised about the loot already, but, I should add that it may be ok to rely on a true random number generator in a game given it has the complexity to provide for possibilities to compensate for it.
If I roll a low stat in a good RPG, I can play to my strength and emphasize activities not related to said stat thus getting away not feeling deficient in any way. However, in a situation when the game mechanic is not rich enough to get around bad luck, it all just becomes grief. There is no way out of grinding because there is no choice provided, no leeway.
I’ve played 200+ hours as a single character and still never got select types of legendary items all the while receiving an obscene amount of necklaces and charms. The only way of making a proper build that I carefully constructed from my knowledge of the game rules is to grind time and again, salvage for dust and re-roll properties of exotics endlessly until they are at least close to what is required.
There is no way to convert items, no way to have different sets of properties, no way to improve numbers associated with properties - just raw random. Although the approach itself may appeal to me in general, but the whole eternal concept of structure from chaos fails when there is no possibility to shape or use the randomness you get. Emergent gameplay is all about choices, so when you cut them out, you skew the perception of randomness even if it technically still is truly uniform.
There is no guaranteed way of getting what you need whatsoever - no contracts, no quests, no achievements. All you get from all the possible sources are damn chests containing random farts. Contracts in VT1 were random, but once generated, you could work towards a goal. The only goal you can set in VT2 is “grind to get chest”. All the while amplified by the ritualistic nature of the looting interface. Surreal.
I was never a fan of the whole loot aspect of VT1, even less so now when it draws even more attention from the player to the point of being the only thing everyone does, seeing as Legend became easier and heroic deeds became bugged and broken. Grinding-driven games are well established already by now - is it really worth it to make another Diablo?
If we look at Steam charts and compare inital post release interest with the end of the life cycle or current online count for the games in question, here is what we’ll see:
- L4D2: 161590 / 14446 = 8.94% of players retained almost 5 years after release. It actually got better around 2015! L4D still has about a thousand people online too, although I’ve failed to find its Steam chart as far back as 2008;
- VT1: 24594 / 2203 = 8.96% of players retained prior to VT2 release;
- VT2: 73203 / 4682 = 6.39% (4.37% prior to the DLC) of players retained.
Why do you think that is? My answer to this would be a rephrasing of an old slogan:
Make fixes, not content!
I mean, who cares about cosmetics now? Why do we really need them at this point? - We’re not playing CS:GO after all. Also, the new weapon skins look ugly.
While the DLC maps are great, I can’t help but think that we could very well get by without them a couple more months as soon as all the effort would be channeled into fixing what you already have. Stop losing players first, then spoil them with new content.
I’m no expert, but it is obvious even to me that there is something broken in your process - something could not stand the weight of this new project and gave way. Please, identify what it is and fix it as soon as possible - somehow I feel you won’t regret it.
I understand that you are an indie developer, but having seen your price politics and the overall scale that you achieved with VT2, you cannot possibly continue thinking and acting like one. The best thing about indie development was increased focus on public opinion. Let us hope that it stays that way, and I haven’t wasted anyone’s time.
Thanks for your great effort, I wish you good luck and I would really want to see VT2 immortalized like some other titles I mentioned.
Best regards. OJM.