Larian's Swen Vincke on Divinity: Dragon Commander's Design

The blog posts from Larian Studios' Swen Vincke have become a staple of our coverage, with the latest tackling the design problems they've encountered with Divinity: Dragon Commander, and that he felt really risked jeopardizing the whole game.

Here's a snip:
And as we looked at the original concept, it dawned on us that there was nothing wrong with it. We had just refused to do one thing because it made our jobs harder, and we didn't want to take more production risks than we were already taking.

Our mistake was that the entire game was taking place in the air.

Now, it's not as if we didn't want to include ground combat from the very beginning, but because of all the AI misery that'd cause, we'd decided to steer away from it early on. Thinking back, that decision had actually been taken really lightly, without even checking exactly how much AI misery it was going to cause. We'd just assumed it to be a bad idea, based on our previous experiences with the flight/ground AI in Divinity II, and we also didn't really realize at the time what a negative impact it'd have on the gameplay.

Design wise, the moment we envisioned introducing land (and sea) units again, our problems started to disappear rapidly. And as they disappeared, out of the blue solutions appeared for the other problems we still had. Put differently: by introducing land units, suddenly we could get the entire thing working as planned.

I'm pretty sure that there are designers outside of our studio that would've seen this right away, but we were so used to blocking off any idea that required something else than air units, that we didn't even explore that path anymore.

It was only when our despair became so large and the proposed mechanics to solve our issues became so ridiculously out of this world, that we saw what the core issue was. And once we isolated that, it became just a matter of figuring out how many coders we'd need to solve the technology problem.

A couple of weeks after deciding to try land/air/sea, we had a prototype that incorporated land and sea units. After playing only a few combat sessions, it was clear that this was the key. Protecting a bridge on which you've stationed some troops with a battleship far in the sea and some bomb-dropping-balloons hovering over feels so much better than just having aerial units duke it out, and the ability to turn into a dragon takes on an entire new dimension when you're flying so close to the ground. A couple of design sessions later, the entire game was adapted to incorporate the new style of combat, and suddenly everything was crystal clear. We even managed to integrate the different phases in a very elegant way, something I won't write about here yet, but instead show in a future video. Most importantly, at least for me personally,I went from a sleepless developer in pain to a sleepless happy developer !