Spent most of my Grey time in the weekend working on creature and boss design, and I can tell you: although it’s fun, it’s a lot of work.
First, we started by defining the player controlled characters. All the creatures have a “creature buff” that can be cast on all the friendly units (like an aura), that augments their capabilities. These are mutually exclusive, which means that the player has to select which aura fits his playing style/taste the better.
The creatures also have abilities they can cast, but they don’t get them at the same level (so that the player can discover something new throughout the game). These abilities will probably be augmented by the individual talent trees of the creatures.
Then, some of the abilities are available for the AI system (this means that the creature can make the decision to use specific abilities regardless of the user input), but others can only be used if triggered explicitly by the player (since they have limited use, or are expensive).
After completing this for the creatures, we started working on the enemy creatures:
We had to attribute a primary role (melee dps, caster dps, tank, healer, etc) and a set of abilities. Usually this set is very small, so that the AI isn’t too complex, and so that the player knows more or less what to expect from them. The though part here is to find abilities that make every enemy unique to a certain extent, to make the player change his play style throughout the game to overcome the challenges in a simpler fashion.
We had also to contemplate that the creatures have to scale with level, so we’d have to think in systems that would allow us to do that without just seeming a version of the initial mob with more health. Hopefully the implementation of the creatures will yield a more varied play experience (so that you can’t tackle a level 3 crazed zombie in the same way that you tackle a level 8 one).
Finally, the really fun part: boss encounters… We only designed the first boss encounter (the Lightkeeper), and looking at the initial draft and what we had after one hour of designing is astonishing; the two fights are completely different! Initially, it was a “kill it before it can kill you” kind of fight, but we felt that had too much of a random factor to it (some randomness is nice, too much and people get frustrated), so we started tweaking the fight mechanics so that we had a very unique fight (compared to the rest of the “trash mobs”); it slowly became an “add control/be aware of your environment” fight, which we believe works better in the type of game that we want Grey to be.
Of course, all of this is subject to change with the playtests, etc, but now we have a solid framework on which to build the rest of the technology and art…
In the next days, I hope we’ll finish defining the remaining boss fight (four more to go), and we can start thinking on actual quest design, instead of just thinking in terms of loose plotline threads.
We’re also looking into doing a sort of "project planning”, so that we can define milestones that will help us have a better grasp on the progress and estimate how long certain tasks are going to take.