Re-inventing the Bard: Tackling Core Combat in Anthymn
Anthymn set out to be a fantasy MMORPG built entirely around the bard class; infusing music with magical qualities that govern the game's narrative universe. Classes and strategy would emerge from battling with different genres of music. Classic rock vs. Shoegaze. Country vs. Dubstep.
The game had story fleshed out, plenty of concept art, but had not yet established a core mechanic for combat.
So, our team set out to design a core mechanic around battling with music through Unity and paper prototypes. My personal approach when it comes to this kind of problem is to storyboard out a compelling sequence of gameplay from the user's perspective and then extrapolating that core experience in different systems.
We also had to design with technical constraints in mind: it's an MMO, there's latency and timing is big part of music. We ended up distilling the gameplay into a system of shards - shards representing sections of music rather than independent notes - making it easier to work around latency. In the various solo, inventory, and economy-based activities you can play notes and compose sections, as latency isn't as big an issue locally. Crafting can be guiter-hero like little games - you have to play the music to compose the shard, and then you launch full shards in battle.
Anthymn was reinventing typical RPG tropes with musical flavour, but also had the potential for music education, and secondary experiences on tablet.
And just as we started fleshing out this combat system - the project pivoted to a more linear episodic experience. Our focus started to shift to narrative design of one episode - how we introduce the hero, the villain, establishing theme, planning exploration sections, and the overall arc of the episode. Combat went back to the drawing board now that we were free of technical constraints, but stayed true to the core pillars of design.
We built a sequence around one composer, Tiarnen and his city, Venefica, which is under attack. He is beaten by the invader's heavy metal maestro and the episode arc consists of discovering a higher power of music which blends the two genres (the combat system), and returning to a destroyed city to defeat Lydia.