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sourdust
03-07-2016, 05:40 PM
In this and the following posts, I'm going to offer some detailed feedback based on my own totally subjective experience and views. I'm doing this because I really want this game to be awesome and I'm a dedicated fan of Soldak... I don't waste my time doing this sort of thing for games that I think are mediocre or terrible, only those that are great or very promising.

I have found that some folks on these forums are quick to get very defensive. So please spare the flames, I'm just offering some opinions.

At a high level, Zombisite is a cool ARPG melded with a management game, with a small dose of Civilization-style diplomacy.

Good ARPGs are about interesting loot, monsters, skill progressions/choices, and of course satisfying combat. Zombisite has all of that, in spades.

Good management games are about the meaningful allocation of scarce resources. Players make meaningful choices, which guide the development of a town/business/kingdom/whatever. Here, Zombisite doesn't yet work. There are too few meaningful decisions to make, and those decisions you do get to make often feel like they don't really change the overall path the game takes. There's micromanagement, if you want it, but no macromanagement. One town feels much the same as any other.

Good diplomacy games... well, there are no good diplomacy games, at least not against AIs. Diplomacy is about nuance, trust, history, cooperation, betrayal - human relationships. It doesn't work with AIs, but Zombisite is no worse than any other predictable diplomacy game around.

That's the high level, following posts will delve into some detail...

sourdust
03-07-2016, 06:18 PM
First up, interface. Zombisite currently feels like it has evolved through the steady accretion of more and more buttons, without buttons ever getting taken away.

Let's start with the main screen.

1. Buttons. At the bottom, a row of buttons that I never, ever use, by which I mean I never click on them. Just use the hotkeys. So the buttons take up screen real estate for no purpose, once you've learned the hotkeys.

If the buttons are kept, there is scope for consolidation. Combine "Inventory" with "Bags", I don't know why they need two separate buttons. Make the Bestiary a tab under the Journal, and you get rid of another button. Make the "Minimap" a game option (I always leave it on, always) rather than a button. Ditto for help, which you usually don't ever need once you've learned the game.

Then there are three buttons up above, "Win", "Clan Info" and "Lose". Clan info is "like" many of the other buttons such as character, skills, etc - so why does it go up above in a text button, rather than down below with an icon button? "Win" and "Lose" should go together in a single "Victory" screen.

And probably both "Character" and "Skills" could be combined into a single screen, perhaps with 2-3 tabs.

So if you keep those buttons, they would go like this:
Character (incorporating skills), Inventory (incorporating bags), Clan info, Relationships, Quests, Journal (incorporating the bestiary), Victory progress, Map, and Menu (incorporating options to toggle mini-map and toggle help)

Then you've got your ten skill slots with their hotkeys, which are perfect. And your secondary skill right click slots... I never use these, would like an option to get rid of them.

2. Bars. Then you've got three different kind of bars in three different places in three different styles. There are three bars in the upper left (health, mana, stamina), an experience bar above the skill buttons, and a new zombie threat bar overlaid across the bottom of the screen and partially obscuring other visual elements, making it feel slapped on top.

The XP bar should be moved up with the health, mana, and stamina bars - especially because the character level already appears up there, so it makes logical sense to have progression towards the next level right near it. This would make way for the zombie threat bar to go where the XP bar is right now.

3. Other info. Then you have info on gold and inventory slots... useful. But food should be shown as well, given its central importance in the game.

4. Windows. Press one of the buttons at the bottom of the screen, and you get a variety of different kinds of windows with different designs. Some allow you to continue to do things, some don't. Some are persistent, some aren't. Some can be closed with a little red tick-box in the upper right, some require you to press a "back" button in the lower right. You get the picture. It's a mess of different designs, and contributes to an overall feel of hodge-podge-ness. Bestiary takes up the whole screen and has a big "back" button at the bottom, Journal pulls up a window with a red tick box, Relations pulls up a differently designed window with a red tick box and a help box and a "back" button, etc etc.

Pick one design and run with it. I'd suggest a window that can be moved around, with a red tick box. The windows really do need to be movable!

Next, movement between these various windows is inconsistent. I can hit "Q" to bring up quests, then press "M" to move to the map. But I can't do the reverse, hitting "M" and then "Q". I have to hit "M" again to close the map screen, and then "Q" to bring up quests.

Finally, internal design of these various windows is inconsistent. Different fonts and sizes and colours, different spacing, different button designs, etc etc. I'll spare the detail, but a clean and consistent design would do a lot to improve the user experience.

OK, that's all I have time for at the moment... more in a bit!

sourdust
03-07-2016, 10:47 PM
Part 2: the management game.

Management games are fundamentally about the scarce allocation of resources. You only have a certain amount of research points, dudes, money, whatever... and you have to allocate those resources carefully to achieve game objectives. The key to a good management game is that the choices you make are meaningful, exerting a pronounced effect on the way the game plays out.

My idea of a nearly-perfect management game is Rebuild. Your choices about which to research, what to order your survivors to do, how many to leave on guard duty versus scavenging vs building stuff vs learning new skills is the crux of the game. Most everything else is stripped away.

Now, Zombasite isn't exactly comparable (Rebuild is turn-based, basically), but its worth noting that Rebuild is a procedurally-generated world, with random NPCs, and little to no micro-management.

In Zombasite, the management side of things seems to be to be still on the thin side. There is nothing to research, and nothing to build, so two of the hallmarks of a management game are not present.

The management decisions basically boil down to selecting your clan members, choosing a couple of gates/relics/guards, and adjusting a few settings for each clan member, like work harder or go on emergency rations. If you want to micromanage their inventory, you can. And that's about it.

Few if any of these decisions feel like they make much difference. For example, you can put a gate in any of four slots... but so what? Enemies can show up anywhere, so one slot is just as good or just as bad as any other. Ditto for your guards. And in any case, gates and guards don't do anything more than delay attackers for a minute or two, whatever they are.

As for selecting clan members, they are differentiated in terms of their skills, happiness, etc., but there is not really enough for them to do. They exert some mostly passive bonuses and occasionally make a useless bow or pair of socks.

Sending them on adventures is potentially an interesting choice, but here again the game hamstrings you by sharply limiting the number of adventures you can initiate - why, I'm not sure.

I think what is needed is a core resource allocation mechanism that is clean, meaningful and fun. I've suggested elsewhere that this be done by allowing you to appoint up to four "lieutenants", in charge of particular aspects of your town.

Or you could have a single screen where clan members are given one of maybe 6-8 jobs to do. But those jobs have to be meaningful! If one of the jobs is "guard the town", I want to see the town's defences really significantly improved as a result. If a job is "construction", I want to see buildings go up, that change my town for the better! Etc.

Another option would be to have a town research tree, where you can apply "lore points" that you find in the wilderness to improve your food / crafting / diplomacy / whatever.

Or another option: have a set of branching choices that you can make as the game goes along, regarding the governance of your town. Go "militaristic" and everybody becomes more effective in combat, or go "democratic" and happiness goes up instead. You can choose one, not both.

Whatever the solution - and I can think of many more - I would strongly recommend paring back the micromanagement and making sure there are real choices to be made here.

sourdust
03-07-2016, 11:02 PM
Part 3: Loot & Inventory

I love the Din's Curse / Zombasite loot. It's one of the things that kept me playing Din's long after I stopped Diablo III.

What I don't love, however, is inventory management and scarce inventory slots. Of course, some degree of this is inevitable, but I think good games find creative ways to minimize it all.

In my perfect world, there would be no unidentified items, and you would have maximum inventory slots at the beginning. No pouches or bags or whatever. Just a big pop-up window with about 100 slots.

Accepting that that's probably not in the cards, here are some further suggestions...

1) Allow for some greater automation in item handling. For instance, most of the time I want to (a) pick stuff I want to keep; then (b) allow my clan pick of the rest; then (c) sell anything I can to other clans [but I usually don't bother with this because it takes too long and is boring] and then (d) recycle the rest.

You could have a single button that does (b) through (d) with a single click. You'd get a summary that says "3 items distributed to clan members, 1 item sold for 4 sp to clan guardians, 8 items recycled for 12 grindstones and 3 arcane essences."

2) Collapse all the different "bags" into one bag. Having four different bags doesn't add anything functionally to the game. Why not one bag, with however many inventory slots you want the player to have?

3) Allow auto-ID of items (for the required price) at any time. Why make the player go back to town for this? I don't mind going back to town because it's under attack, but I hate having to go back because my inventory is full or because I want to ID stuff (without having to click and wait for each one).

4) Automatically pick up crafting materials, quest items, food, and possibly healing potions. Just like money, which gets picked up automatically.

5) Have a single marketplace, where you can view all the items that any clan is willing to sell and for what price. This should replace the annoying offers by other clans to sell you some rusty knife for 3 gold pieces. Ditto for selling items you own to other clans. Of course, you could have the option to blacklist a clan so you don't trade with them involuntarily if you don't want to.

sourdust
03-07-2016, 11:03 PM
Devs, let me know if I should keep going, if any of this is useful to you.
thanks!
sourdust

MindDefect
03-08-2016, 03:43 AM
I do agree about the interface, this game mixes a lot and has more going on that it needs to make for it a bit in it's interface.

Don't forget the slight "Sims" like element going on in town with clan members interacting with their personalities (which is good they will now have descriptions). And also knowing which to keep or when to kick certain ones out for the better of the clan. There is some member conflict in this game, which I think is a strong point.

The management right now, is more meant about the clan member's (their relations/sanity/etc) than it is about their simple survival camp-like town, during a aggressive zombie apocalypse. Some sort of research would be nice though. I think currently for the town aspect, relics are interesting, and allowing more to be equipped could be nice.That would add more uniqueness. Could also have it so when you equip a relic, it can't be unequiped (unless destoryed?)

Also maybe have relics or something similar you can give/equip to clan members, that way you'd have to decide to give something good to a clan member that you think won't die or be fussy and leave or have to be kicked out.

Sending them on adventures is potentially an interesting choice, but here again the game hamstrings you by sharply limiting the number of adventures you can initiate - why, I'm not sure

If you have the clan happiness to spare, you can go under on expedition points and do it before it gets to 50.. But.. yeah... if there was a way to get expedition points to go up faster (say having clan members on certain mode like "work", or something completely different) would be great. But I think the game is made to have around 5-15 clan members (only more if victory is already at hand...), so I think the dev won't want this too abuseable by having a ton of clan members raising these points up at light speed.

I wonder if while expedition points are in the negative, they go up faster? I think there a lot of yet to be documented things that happen that would be useful to know, like what are all the causes of happiness/insanity/moral changes. When Clan members are constantly getting hit or brought to low health frequently while they are following and/or adventuring, does that negatively affect those things?

then (c) sell anything I can to other clans [but I usually don't bother with this because it takes too long and is boring]

This is one of the more useful/interesting things in the game to me. When you have a high enough number of clans in the world, and get along with some, you can make a lot of money this way with valueable items you don't need. All you need to do is scroll through each clan you have decent enough relations to be able to trade and click "anything you would like" and if modify it, you can usually get an extra 15% that they ask for. And buy some really great stuff. I think you are missing out on the money aspect of the game (or you find way more merchants than I do!)

I would maybe like it if you could offer whats in your player stash as well, so you don't need to put that stuff in your inventory to have it trade-able. One problem currently is that Clan's die too quickly by monsters in my experience, which is hampering this part of the game currently.

The game is mostly on the right track I think. But I guess at the same time, I can see some room for improvement at it's current stage, as expected. The dev hasn't posted a roadmap, so there is probably a bit more to see implemented that we currently don't know about. I think it can already do some of this by expanding what is already in the game, or at least finding out more about how certain things work or affect other aspects.

MindDefect
03-08-2016, 03:57 AM
Few if any of these decisions feel like they make much difference. For example, you can put a gate in any of four slots... but so what? Enemies can show up anywhere, so one slot is just as good or just as bad as any other. Ditto for your guards. And in any case, gates and guards don't do anything more than delay attackers for a minute or two, whatever they are.


I do agree with this. If certain types of attacks happen from different directions, that would be more interesting. Though maybe I haven't payed attention enough and that is already the case? Does say a powerful clan and/or monster group always attack from the same side everytime? Also maybe guards could be able to heal over time and/or level up.

Shadow
03-08-2016, 12:07 PM
Devs, let me know if I should keep going, if any of this is useful to you.

Feedback is always useful. I don't comment on it a lot, but I read everything.

sourdust
03-09-2016, 01:13 AM
Part 4: Crafting

I'm just going to put it out there: I hate crafting. I know it's all the rage, but... Typically, games that have crafting promise the ability to do all kinds of customization. Typically, they actually deliver a whole lot of micromanagement. Get four leafy herbs and two spectral essences and a recipe, and you can make a potion of healing! Why not just give me the odd potion of healing? I don't find crafting interfaces the least bit interesting or fun. Usually, there are no real decisions to be made, just a whole lot of collecting and inventory management, and a whole lot of clicking to make something that I'd rather just buy. In short, crafting makes what should be a 2-step process (find gold, buy stuff) into a 12-step process, for the exact same end result.

Crafting in Zombasite isn't that bad. I like the fact that you can improve items. And while I don't really like the fact that my items lose durability and I have to repair them, I do get the point. In Din's Curse, on occasion I found my weapon getting dangerously low, no merchants in sight to repair it... it added a nice element of tension, and boy was I relieved when I did find a merchant.

Still, there's a bit of micromanagement here that feels unnecessary and sometimes frustrating.

On durability, I hate having to mouse over each item to check its durability status, then do a bunch of clicking to get it repaired if it has fallen low. I'd far prefer to just set a rule - like "repair everything that's under 50% durability", and be able to just do a single click and have the rule carried out, provided I have the necessary materials.

On actual crafting of stuff.... well, I have all these NPCs running around, why not have them do it? That is, if there is a leatherworker in town, then periodically just have that guy add a small bonus to a leather item I'm wearing. And if I don't have a leatherworker in town... then no enhancing leather stuff for me! After all, I'm a trickster/reaver, not a leatherworker, I've got no idea how to make stuff out of leather...

That would give greater value and flavour to the various crafters one encounters.

Also: crafting materials should always be hoovered up, since there's never a time you won't want to pick them up. Save us some clicking.

Also: love the new sockets and gems!

Crisses
03-09-2016, 11:47 AM
On durability, I hate having to mouse over each item to check its durability status, then do a bunch of clicking to get it repaired if it has fallen low. I'd far prefer to just set a rule - like "repair everything that's under 50% durability", and be able to just do a single click and have the rule carried out, provided I have the necessary materials.

Maybe there should be a health bar on items when you're on the crafting screen? One edge (right or left) of the slot gets a 1px or 2px green line if above 50% and red line if 50% or lower?.... Make use of the bounding box.

Also: crafting materials should always be hoovered up, since there's never a time you won't want to pick them up. Save us some clicking.

Definitely agree. XP bubbles, crafting items -- basically all "non-tangibles" should be hoovered. I'd even love if the whole party could hoover them. Why do I have to walk over when Joe is standing on top of some gold? :P Joe, you lazy schlub -- bend down and pick up the gold!

sourdust
03-16-2016, 08:25 PM
Part 5: Getting Around

Getting from here to there is an inevitable part of the game. The system of gates is basically sound, and some improvements to quest location since Din's are much welcome... but still some things could be easier:

1) Clarity on terrain. Frankly, I often can't tell what's impassable and what's open terrain. The outside "walls" made up of vegetation, rocks etc just aren't sufficiently differentiated from trees and other vegetation. As a result, quite often I move around while staring at the minimap, because the main screen has too much plant jumble.

2) Minimap. It's good, on the whole. Sometimes the color palette isn't quite right, in some terrain areas the background pixels are too differentiated and get in the way of being able to read the map at a very quick glance. Walls need to stand out very clearly from all background terrain. Also, on a modern big screen, there is more than enough room to have a "big" minimap showing an entire area, rather than just a local circle around the player. This would be a big help, because it would remove the need to constantly checking the "M" map to see where the unexplored bits in the current area are.

3) The "M" map. This map is OK, but I find it's blurriness perplexing. Why not present a crisp scalable map rather than the blurry pixels? Also, the various quest indicators - the yellow and green asterisks and arrows and whatnot - well, they're functional once you get used to them, but a more prominent and clear icon would be better.

4) Finally, biggest issue in getting around: the vegetation on the main map. I think what's happened here is that individual plant models, which look fine on their own, are being combined on a map where they look horrible all planted next to each other. Aside from the aesthetics, they actually block the players view of monsters and combat, quite often. I want to be looking at my guy fighting monsters, but all I can see is the canopy of some overgrown palm tree! Literally the canopy of a tree can sometimes obscure the entire screen... It's just painful wandering around outside. Sometime I go into a nice dark dungeon just to give the eyes a rest. I'd really recommend dialling the vegetation way down, for aesthetic and functional reasons. At least make the trees transparent when they are obscuring the player!

sourdust
03-16-2016, 08:45 PM
Oh, and:

5) Spawn rates. A high monster re-spawn rate can really get in the way of getting around. It's a good thing that monsters repopulate previously cleared areas, but a bad thing when that happens so quickly that you find yourself slogging through hordes of beasties just to get back to the gate that you came from not 3 minutes earlier... right now, the re-spawn feels too fast for me. I'd prefer a slower re-spawn in general, but perhaps faster re-spawn in specified circumstances (ie, a "fast re-spawn" modified in some areas, or with certain bosses with a particular "spawner" trait, or a gate in the area, etc.

scharmers
03-17-2016, 01:18 AM
Sourdust is spot on in his last two posts. The minimap and overworld layout is such a chore. I'll use Diablo 3 as the example here: in D3, the levels are generally open. Even ones that are "constricted" still have lots of open room. The overworld is a mess of walls, and it's often hard to tell what is a wall and what is just passable clutter.

And also: respawn rates are ridiculous. If you've cleared out most of an area, it should stay cleared or at least have a lower spawn rate.