Twitter user @LordKrlhz posted the following about Scurvy Scallywags the other day:
First of all, I didn't know it was possible to get a negative review score. If I'd known that, I would have taken up the challenge years ago. Second, his view of death in Scurvy Scallywags isn't uncommon. I've seen many tweets and gotten several emails expressing the same sentiment.
I thought it might be a good (and fun) idea to talk a little about what went into that design decision. It wasn't undertaken lightly. It's something Clayton and I talked and argued about for months.
The core of the issue is when you die, you have to start over from the beginning. But, that's not entirely true. You get to keep all the gold you collected, plus all the skills you've unlocked or bought and all the equipment, clothing and (most importantly) the shanty verses. None of those disappear on death. All that really happens is your character has to start over at level 1.
Clayton and I talked a lot about what should happen upon death and tried several ideas. We had death be a full reset of everything. We had death reduce your level by 5 or 10. We had death cause a restart of the current island or sea map. We tried a lot of things and nothing felt right. Much of the game's difficulty is dynamically tuned based on your level, so losing a few levels was meaningless. Nothing felt like it was enough of a setback to carry the auspicious name of "death".
We eventually settled on what is in the game now. The level of your pirate affects a couple of things in the game: new skills are gated on level, plus all the weapons and clothing and ship materials have a level at which they start dropping. If you die, you won't see new stuff on the roulette wheels until you get back to your previous level.
You do get to keep all the shanty verses you've collected, but new ones won't start dropping until you've reached the level you died at. This was done so players couldn't "game" the system by replaying the early (and easy) levels over and over. Whether or not a boss drops a shanty verse is completely random and not based on level, but the odds of it dropping goes down the more you have collected. It starts at 100% and ends at 14%. It is possible (although unlikely) that you could collect the entire shanty with only 15 boss kills. If this happens, you might want to think about buying a lottery ticket. Or maybe not, since you just used all your good luck on a silly game.
Enemies are also dynamically tuned based on your level, so they didn't really matter in any death scenario.
After a few weeks of testing and playing, it became apparent that leveling back to 20 or 25 was a tad monotonous. To combat this, we gave players 2x the XP until they got back to their previous level. It felt snappy and didn't take that much time to level back. I tried 3x the XP, but you started skipping over levels and it felt disorienting and broke some things I was reluctant to fix given the time we had left and the tuning that had gone into the game. Twice the XP felt right.
The mistake we made was not telling players it was happening. Other than the float text showing "2x" when XP floats off dead enemies, there is no indication or mention it is happening. Making a bigger deal of this might have deflected some of the criticism.
An early prototype of the game took it's roots from classic Rogue games, and death in those is permanent and brutal. The game evolved aways from that model, but there was something compelling about death having real meaning and consequences. You need to get good at the game to be successful. It's not a game you can flop your way through.
The other thing we've taken some flack for is allowing your pirate to resurrect and cheat death by paying gold. It was viewed as a dirty way to get players to buy In App Purchase.
The thing to understand about IAP in Scurvy Scallywags is that it was a last minute addition. The game was not designed for it, nor was the game tuned for it. During all of our testing, none of the testers were allowed to buy (or fake buy) gold. The game needed to be fully playable and winnable without spending any extra money. Clayton and I both dislike what IAP has done to game design and we didn't want to make a game like that. IAP was for players who wanted to "cheat" and buy all the skills or ship materials they wanted. You don't need to buy very many skills to be successful and over buying skills won't help you out.
We added the resurrection gold cost as a "nice" thing to do, not something we were trying to trick players into buying. Based on the 2x leveling and the amount and the level testers and beta testers were dying, we didn't feel like it was something that was going to happen that much anyway. If you're not binge buying skills or ship materials, the resurrection cost should be covered by the gold you have on hand.
Or that was the plan.
Did we make all the right decisions? Who knows. Is there a better solution? Who knows. But maybe this will help explain why we made the design decisions we made.
Game design is hard, thank god it's fun.