Game Design Overview: Solving Special Weapons

Game Design Overview: Solving Special Weapons

Apologies for the long delay between articles. I've been working on a lot of writing projects and made a lot of great progress, but unfortunately crashed and burned out before I even realized it. But now it's time to get back into action with one of the most interesting problems facing Mega Man Legends: Special Weapons.

The Special Weapon Design of Mega Man Legends 1 and 2

Using Special Weapons

Mega Man Legends 1 and 2 both employ a similar design to Special Weapons, with a few nuances between the two. Essentially, Special Weapons were powerful tools that you could bring with you into the ruins. Most were offensive weapons, with some having extra utilities for digging, such as breaking walls.

The balance for these weapons is that you could only bring one. As powerful as they were, you'd almost always have a tradeoff by having to pick a single one. And, in Legends 1, with exception for the single use Hyper Cartridge, you had no way of refilling your Special Weapon outside of finding Data, who could recharge life/special weapon energy.

Legends 1 had few nuances to the system, but still provided powerful weapons that can shred Reaverbots.

Legends 2 is similar, but now enemies can drop Special Weapon energy when they die, allowing you to recharge your weapon on the fly. You'd think this would make Special Weapons even stronger, as you'd now never have to stop using it as long as you kept destroying things along the way.

To counter this, Legends 2 employs a dual energy bar. You have a bigger "blue" pool of energy and a smaller "green" pool of energy. The green energy bar is immediately usable energy, where as blue energy will be slowly converted into green energy as long as the green energy bar isn't full and the blue energy bar isn't empty.

If you stopped firing, the "Blue Energy" would be used to refill the "Green Energy" bar.

If that all sounds confusing, think of it as a weird way of reloading with energy weapons. It's main purpose is so that you can't just full-send special weapons constantly, even if they have fully upgraded (sometimes limitless) max energy. Speaking of upgrades...

Finding and Upgrading Special Weapons

Getting Special Weapons in both games is a very simple "find item" system. They gate the stronger weapons from the player by simply putting the items needed to create the weapons later into the game. Some items may need to be examined by Roll before they can be used, such as blueprints.

Items can be obtained while digging the ruins, completing sidequests, or by simply progressing through the story. One notorious sidequest is the 100 question quiz in Mega Man Legends 2, which was incredibly difficult before the proliferation of the internet.

In both games, upgrading Special Weapons is a very simple process. You get money throughout the game, and upgrading weapons in various capacities costs money. No crafting, no story walls, nothing. If you want to grind for zenny and throw it at an early game weapon to make it super strong, you can!

Upgrade your weapons. Surely she won't sell them before the next game.

Weapons can be upgraded in varying degrees of Attack, Energy, Range, and Rapid. One last stat,"Special", was a unique stat for some weapons. This allowed you to upgrade the homing abilities of the homing missile and other properties of weapons that would be useful but don't fall into the other categories. Not every weapon could be upgraded in every stat, such as the Grand Grenade which couldn't be upgraded in rapid because only one can be on screen at once.

Regardless of if you're playing Legends 1 or Legends 2, odds are you found a special weapon you liked and ended up using it. In Legends 2, the late game "Shining Laser" is so absurdly powerful that it's hard to imagine using anything else. However, both games have a lot of unique weapons that would be fun to use if you could justify bringing them with you.

ASH's Special Weapon Design

The July 2020 Release

In July 2020, we released a tech demo for ASH showing off the new engine. It included four special weapons and some consumable items. The Special Weapons each shared a single energy bar, but in exchange you could use all four at will by simply swapping weapons as you played. Because the demo only had a single ruin test, there were no upgrades or anything, but you did have to find the special weapons, which were all hidden throughout the ruin in various chests.

The problem with the design is that it didn't really fix what we wanted to fix. We wanted to let players bring multiple weapons into the ruin in a limited capacity so that they could bring favorites, utilities, and powerful weapons. A base limit of four seemed like a good idea to fix it, but the same issues cropped up. Players mostly relied on their buster and a "favorite", not wanting to use precious weapon energy on the weapons they didn't like.

The Turbo Rocket was a favorite in ASH's last demo.

But, we noticed another trend - players were more likely to use the consumable grenades as an optional approach as using those didn't inhibit them from using other weapons.

Adjusting for the Next Release

We've done a few things in order to try to get special weapons to work better for players. Firstly, the special weapon energy bar is no longer shared between weapons. Each weapon gets its own bar, so using a utility weapon like a drill to break a wall won't take up precious energy from your Rocket Launcher which might be needed in an emergency.

We've also adjusted drops in accordance, allowing players to use a mix of weapons and the buster in order to maintain energy for weapons. If your equipped weapon is full of special weapon energy and you pick up a small energy capsule, it will automatically refill your lowest energy weapon.

Currently as we're testing builds now, there are no upgrades to weapons, but we have a few ideas we'd like to detail a bit.

Scavenging and Digging For Upgrades
This is a rather simple concept that fits into the Legends universe pretty well, and draws off of how the weapons are crafted in the Legends games.

Instead of just finding parts to craft the base weapons, we could also use more advanced parts to potentially upgrade a special weapon. Maybe an upgrade to the Machine Buster requires a rapid-fire cannon from a late game Reaverbot. These upgrades would be a one-time cost, but spare parts could go toward replenishing consumables, like grenades.

We also expect to allow players to bypass part requirements by paying large amounts of Zenny, just in case you can't seem to figure out where to find that part you need. Not all parts may be directly from Reaverbots, but also hidden as parts of ruin machinery, or just hidden in chests!

Multiple Upgrade Paths
Something that Vector has been toying with was the idea of multiple upgrade paths for weapons. Imagine being able to take the current Rocket Launcher and have the option of a "three rocket" firing mode that does greater damage and has a bigger damage radius, or going a different route and upgrading it with a homing unit that allows the rocket to seek out the nearest enemy if you're going to miss.

Each upgrade path adds a new powerful effect to the Turbo Rocket.

Each of these upgrades might require a specific "important" item or a part from a rare/boss Reaverbot hidden deep in the ruins.  You can create all three of the upgrade paths once you have the necessary items, but you can only bring one per dig as they are modifications to the same weapon.

Reaverbot Tiers and "Special Drops"
Because most overworld technology is based on the technology of Reaverbots, that means that technology comes from Reaverbots. Sometimes blowing up a Reaverbot may not be the best way to get pristine parts. Managing to destroy a Reaverbot without blowing it up may yield more parts or rarer parts.

As well, stronger Reaverbots would have better rewards. While it's obviously a "cost" saving measure to use multiple tiers of the same Reaverbot class, we plan to integrate it into gameplay on multiple facets. Just note that these aren't just recolors with more health, each tier of Reaverbot will have unique behaviors, armor classes, and attacks.

Utilities Versus Weapons
It sucks playing Mega Man Legends 1/2 and finding a wall you can't go through because you chose to bring the Ground Crawler instead of Drill Arm.

While increasing the number of slots does help the situation, another option is to simply separate utilities and weapons completely. Have a separate slot for utilities so they aren't competing for the same spot. We're also toying with the ability to swap weapons within the ruin itself in various "safe rooms" that would allow for healing as well.

In Conclusion

In the end, we're not as worried about things like balance or making sure that the players are playing the game the way we intend right now. We want to make sure that the game is fun and that the player has options. Nothing we wrote here is finalized, and we're going to be listening to feedback on the current and future test builds we release.

As development continues, we'll be adding more special weapons and filling out the rest of the upgrade/procurement systems. Future demos should have more to play with, so please keep tuned!