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Stormball, or the lesson on original gameplay ideas...

What to do when your unique gameplay idea turns out not to be so fresh after all?

What to do when your unique gameplay idea turns out not to be so fresh after all?

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and someone else already working on that gameplay idea you thought was oh so original and fresh.

Of course, there’s always the story of Knight Lore… It was a 1984 game for ZX Spectrum that was actually made in 1983 and sit in a safe for quite a while. The publisher knew it was so ahead that releasing it right away would hurt the sales of their current titles. But not only they kept it secret for a year but they also used that time to produce other titles using the Knight Lore’s template to preempt the sales that would be lost when other publishers would copy the technique. Which did happen, indeed.

But, as one of the silliest sayings ever goes, “exception confirms the rule”. Most of the time, it goes like this:

  • You have an idea you haven’t seen anywhere else
  • You start the work, usually in secret, just so the world doesn’t “steal” it
  • Half a year in, someone sends you the link to a trailer of a new game and you see everything you had as a prototype already implemented, working, and ready to be released long before your game is even in alpha stage

In game dev, you better get used to it. It’s inevitable.

I feel there’s this game design psychosphere that’s affecting every creator around the world. Everyone feels like their ideas are leaking into the outside world, and we move our designs in similar directions without ever talking to each other.

It happened to me so many times that I stopped caring. In one of the first Witchfire meetings, I said to the team that if innovation happens, it happens, but personally what I would love to create is “just” a great, fun, engaging game first. Its uniqueness will come from the remix rather that the act of creation. Nihil novi sub sole, after all.

But let’s say that unique idea happens and you’re invested and excited and then you see it on YouTube. Should you just keep going, ignoring whatever the competition is doing? Or should you drop it and try something else?

To me, neither is the right answer.

Let me tell a story about a certain Witchfire feature first.

One of the tools of war that the players have is a spell. Think of it as a magical grenade, even if that’s oversimplifying it.

One of the spells we came up with is the Stormball. Not an official name, but the codename – still, describes it pretty well. It’s like a mini cloud that travels in the direction dictated by the player, and shoots out lightnings into all nearby enemies.

It’s a pretty cool spell because it’s not a “fire and forget” kind of one but actually requires proper timing and positioning to use it to its full potential. You need to predict enemy movements and visualize the 3D path of destruction in your mind.

So, we implemented the Stormball, and even though the effects are not final, we knew we had something cool and working, and moved on to other spells.

And then we all play Borderlands 3, and Kacper tells me about a certain gun he found…

Basically, it’s the Stormball. In a game that’s already out, while we still have no idea what our release year is.


I talk about it to Michał, and he drives a wooden stick through my already crushed soul:

“Oh, you thought we were original? Dude, that’s basically how BFG from the latest Doom worked.”

I check the videos, I check the Doom Wiki. Yup.

And I learn that it actually worked this way in …1997, in Quake II.

And I bet my ass that the idea was probably featured in an obscure game before all of the above, I don’t know, in 1934 or something.

Anyway, so here we are, with the Stormball spell that suddenly looks unexciting and a copy of someone else’s idea.

I ask again: do we drop it, or do we not care and keep it?

I said it earlier that neither is a good answer to me. From my experience, the right thing to do is to put your own spin on it. Even if it means putting a spin on something you invented in the first place (or, more likely, thought you did).

Use the fact that the current iteration is no longer fresh to push you creatively and find another angle. Without – this is important – turning it into a weird forced mess that’s different just to be different.

As an example, what if we added kind of a charge to the Stormball? Your spells are on cooldown, but what if we allowed the player to cast the Stormball at any time, but then its power would depend on how long was it in cooldown? Cast one after another, and it’ll just stun and wound a single enemy, but wait two minutes and the ball would be so powerful that it’ll evaporate an entire group of enemies.

Or what if the ball would always travel – as long as it’s “alive” – to what you shoot at? Throw it in the direction of two enemies ahead of you, then shoot the knight to the left and the ball would arrive with some extra DPS?

Or what if… Nah, I’ll keep this one secret. I’m sure no one else will have this idea ever /s

But that’s just gameplay. We also need a new proper skin.

Since this is Church versus Witches, how about taking some inspiration from the Bible?

“The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them.”

“I will call unto the LORD, and he shall send thunder and rain”

“And the Lord shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.”

In other words, how about we change it from a cool but unrelatable spell to something more natural, literally a traveling cloud of rain and thunder?

Or, even better what if… Nah, I’ll keep this one secret. I’m sure no one else will have this idea ever /s

This way or another, at the end of the Pass 2 over the Stromball, I feel like not only it will be different enough not to be considered a copy, but it will actually be better – all while keeping the gameplay purpose of it intact.

So the takeaways from this little TED talk are:

  • The unique gameplay idea you have? Someone is already working on it and will release before you.

  • Put your own spin on it, and you’ll be fine.

Question of the Week

This time we have a question… How did you know we’ll have a minimap?!

In all seriousness, cool stuff (click on the image for more images). FWIW, we probably won’t have the weapon wheel. You’ll have to make some tough choices when going for a hunt.

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