Hand of Fate

Soliciting funding for independent games through contemporary and emerging models, like Kickstarter and Steam’s Early Access, can allow for meaningful contact between designers and players, while projects are still in development. It’s a surprising, and very positive, thing. Hand of Fate’s Morgan Jaffit tells us, “There is no way we could have playtested the game with thousands of people, but thanks to Early Access we’ve been able to get a good sense of what works and what doesn’t.”

In particular, Defiant have used the opportunity to ensure the game’s fight sequences ship feeling as good as they possibly can. Jaffit says, “Third-person, melee combat is incredibly complex.  You need to look at how many frames of animation there are between a strike beginning and hitting its target, then consider if the player can change their mind and counter at any point in that process. How fast after the hit frame you can begin another move?”

“Also, there are certain actions, like counter or roll, which can cancel out an existing one. You do have the AI behaviors to take into account, ensuring enemies are positioned well and that they provide interesting challenges to work against.” Generally, in the card dealing portion of the game, players will be dealt a number of enemies to fight, of various types. Each creature behaves differently; often you will be surrounded, sometimes fighting a mix of ranged, melee, even fleeing targets.

The levels are varied, too, including mazes, forests and caves. Importantly, play style is further supported by the card game. (Picture if the introduction to Ultima IV was an entire game, providing story and loot, based on your choices.) Jaffit says, “The gear the player receives has a substantial impact on combat.  Tying the two game modes together was key for us.” So, for example, you may be able to win an item that boosts hitpoints if you like to take risks within this roguelike structure.

So, how does combat in Hand of Fate feel? With hands deliberately on a late Early Access build, the action feels very fast but never in a way you can’t meaningfully influence. There is a precise moment when you can counter or roll and finding the right flow takes practice. With WASD being used for movement, players might have to fuss with keybindings before they successfully unknot their fingers, but this skill-based learning is definitely part of the fun of it.

Players who genuinely enjoy combat do give a lot of their time to provide feedback to developers, through forums and blogs. This has traditionally been something that happens after release and, as for myself anyway, I often wonder what designers were thinking, or not thinking, when players point out obvious features that have escaped inclusion. Developers who value early input, and players who give it, are improving play for everyone.

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