What's the oppression of the Smog, you ask? It is the fact that the Smog gets stronger the more the game progresses, and thus makes you consume luminoil faster. It's a simple formula that grows every time you shuffle your deck of cards: when that happens, your luminoil consumption increases by the level of your aerostation. We tried a few, small things to explain that mechanism: we added an animation to the Smog, making it grow darker and closer to your city, when the oppression increases. We also had a line in the luminoil tooltip showing how much luminoil is consumed by this oppression. But that was not nearly enough, and I started thinking about how to solve this with a complex UI inspired by Frostpunk. I am glad I did not go with that, as it would have been a nightmare to implement, and I now believe it would not have helped much.

An attempt at explaining the Smog's oppression in Dawnmaker

I sure am glad I did not try to implement this…

So, while I was busy not solving this problem, another one got to the front: the progression issue. You see, we have been struggling a lot with the meta progression we offer in Dawnmaker. We've made attempts at doing it Slay the Spire-like, with a map of limited paths and rewards after each stop. That doesn't work very well, the roguelike structure (the progression on the world map) around an already roguelike structure (a single region / city) was weird and sometimes frustrating. So we started thinking about doing it differently, more like Hades does it with its mirror. There would be a new resource that you'd gain after securing each region, and that resource could be spent in order to improve your starting party, making each new region a tad easier to secure.

We like this idea, but it causes another problem: if the game gets easier and easier, there will come a point when it will become boring, as the challenge will be lost. We thus need to have a progression in the difficulty just as we have one in the player's strength. Hades does that with the Heat system, where you can choose how you increase the challenge each time you play. We cannot easily do something similar, so I once again started thinking about a complex question: how can we increase the difficulty of the game? What levers to we have to do that in a way that is challenging and doesn't feel too artificial or frustrating? There's an easy answer to that: the length of the game and the number of lighthouses, which we use in the currently called "Discovery" game, where we increase both the level to reach and the number of lighthouses to repair in order to win a game as you progress on the map. But that is not enough for a long-term progression, as it would quickly feel completely artificial. Luckily, there was another feature we could use, and did not: the oppression of the Smog. That is were those two problems converged, and led me to a single solution solving both: turning the Smog's behavior into a deck of cards.

Current representation of the Smog's behavior in Dawnmaker

Using cards to represent the Smog's behavior increases the affordance of the game: Smog cards look like buildings cards, and they sort of work like them. It's a card that has an effect, that you can read at any time, and because it uses the same wording, abilities and display as the buildings, it's easy to interpret it. Changing the behavior simply means changing the card, and we can do a whole bunch of animations there to show that happening. We can also add tooltips around those elements to explain them further. That's a first big win! Now the second one is that we create and handle those decks in our content editor, and we can create as many cards and decks as we want. There we have it: near infinite difficulty progression, simply by making different Smog cards, and assembling them differently in various decks!

Note that we haven't done anything like that yet. So far we have only reproduced the previous system with cards. But the potential is here: when we start working on the meta progression, we can be confident that we'll have the tools to make the difficulty progress as well.

We definitely killed two nasty, vicious flying creatures with one deck. Neat!

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