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After spending some time with Iron Gate's Valheim, Jeff Vogel, the mastermind behind Spiderweb Software, brings us this meaty blog post where he analyzes the Viking-themed survival title from a game designer's perspective and talks about what works and what doesn't work there.
Here's an excerpt to get you started:
Valheim's Most Important Design Decision
OK. There are five bosses. Each boss gives you access to a new sort of metal ore. Ore has to be processed into bars. Metal bars are really important. They are how you get the new weapons and armor and tools you need to survive.
But the world is HUGE. To get to the metal, you usually need to take a long journey. You can make magical portals, which let you teleport around the world instantly. To make a portal to a place, you have to travel there first. This convenience is necessary to make the game playable, because traveling is dangerous and takes a while.
OK. Now here is the key design decision:
You can't take ore and metal bars through teleporters.
This means: If you want the precious metal, you have to travel to where it is the hard way. You have to mine it. And you have to carry it back to your home base the hard way. (And it is heavy, so you'll need to build carts or ships to carry it.)
Want to make a big new settlement? You'll need metal bars to make the tools you need. Which means you have to haul them to your new home, using delicate and awkward vehicles.
This is a controversial decision. It makes the game a lot harder and take a lot longer to play. Lots of people are demanding that this be changed.
It will not be changed. Because this is what gives Valheim its epic quality. If you want the good weapons, you have to go on an epic journey. If you want to build a new fort, you have to go on an epic journey.
Remember, to evaluate anything in this game, you have to understand the product it is selling: The illusion of accomplishment. For this illusion to work, accomplishments can't be free. They have to have a cost, either in skill or in time.
And that cost has to make sense. You can't just make the player memorize numbers or some other meaningless task. It has to make sense, or your brain will reject it.