A Game of Scales
Those of you active in our Discord might know me, but to everyone else, I’m Carter (Minch) the Game Director on BitCraft. I’ve been working on BitCraft for almost 3 years and I’m excited by both the progress the game has made so far and some of the exciting changes coming down the pipe.
In this first Game Design Blog, I wanted to dive into some topics at the root of how we approach designing BitCraft with its ambitious and unique identity as a sandbox game.
Since inception, our game has been designed with multiple levels/loops of play which we call “Gameplay Scales”. We feel this is essential to supporting many player archetypes which harmonize with each other rather than conflict with each other. While every player will experience the game through the perspective of controlling their character, and will likely engage in gameplay from all scales to varying extents, most players will gravitate towards investing their time in the scale that resonates most with them.
As a player you’ll experience the world of BitCraft at three different scales:
Character Scale — The smallest scale, focused on individual progress like skilling your character, accumulating items, and collecting cosmetics.
Settlement Scale — The middle scale, representing physical presence players have in the world like building a camp, village or town, and the social groups which tie them together.
Empire Scale — The largest scale, representing an ideological and territorial battle for status and prestige.
Where there is competition or outright conflict between players, we take care to make sure this is happening at the same scale and never across scales. We always want to make sure that different scales of gameplay have symbiotic relationships with each other. For example, at the empire scale, when two empires are vying for some territory, a settlement in the area should not be worried about the outcome.
Another aspect we consider with each scale is to what degree the content is developer made versus player made. Developer made content is content made by the developer for the players to progress through, whereas player made content is where interactions with other players make up the content, such as player imposed challenges, roleplaying, or competing with others. That said, even player made content is often a result of careful system design by the developers.
Keep in mind these scales are not to be progressed through from one to another, but separately within each. Each scale will have its own respective goals and endgame. Additionally, this concept of scales is not explicitly mentioned in the game, nor are things super cleanly split into these categories, this is a design framework we use as a northstar to inform design decisions.
At the character scale, the player is concerned with developing their character by leveling up skills, acquiring better equipment and accruing rare collectibles. While the majority of the content at this scale is developer made, there are aspects of player made content in the form of self imposed status goals, such as obtaining prestigious cosmetics or imposing self made challenges. When designing the content for the character scale we use a pattern based scaffolding to create an immense journey for players to complete. This manifests primarily through the concept of advancement tiers, where players will advance through repeating patterns of progression as they advance deeper and deeper in the game. As players raise their skills they are able to gather, craft and build higher tier things, which enable them to level higher and continue this process. This is both good for us as developers in that it allows us to make enough content to last a very long time with our resources, but we’ve also found through testing that it’s valuable for aiding players in understanding the game’s mechanics and in goal setting. By using this method to create a lot of content quickly, we can leverage the time saved to create more interesting hand crafted content horizontally to the main progression to give players a plethora of fun activities to take part in during their journey.
At this scale, players can only make positive progress which is captured in your character sheet. Players seeking an experience where they can progress at their own pace and face no risks for taking long breaks from the game, or players who value completionism will be best suited to this scale. Activities to do at the character scale are generally individual but can often be done cooperatively.
Additionally, this scale acts as the foundation for all other scales and is the main source of everything in the in-game economy. Both the Settlement and Empire scales rely completely on players sourcing items and materials from in-game sources at the character scale to later be used at the larger scales.
At the settlement scale, players can develop a presence in the world, both physically and socially. At some point, in order to continue powering up your character, you will eventually rely on the settlement scale to progress to higher tiers of content. Settlement gameplay acts as ways to support character progression, by building higher tier crafting stations, large volumes of storage, trading markets, and shaping the world with roads and terraforming.
Since the world of BitCraft operates in a single open sandbox world, owning and controlling this space can be a valuable resource, and as such must come at a cost to prevent players from hoarding land indefinitely with no effort. In order to hold onto a slice of the world, settlements will need to continuously consume materials to maintain their claim to the land. Settlements which seek to control large areas of desirable land will have to engage in a careful balancing act of creating value for characters in order to cover their maintenance costs. This encourages a symbiotic relationship where characters need settlements and the services they bring to progress in their personal progress journey, in which the settlements can receive materials acquired by characters for their maintenance, advancement and expansion. At the same time, we want to ensure players who seek a more modest settlement are able to live out their hermit lifestyle dreams.
Finally at the Empire scale the core gameplay is about players making a mark on the world. At this scale, the content is purely player made and stems from the cooperation and conflict between empires. For some players the ultimate endgame will be developing a powerful character, for others it might be building a bustling settlement. But for some players the ultimate end game will be having their name tied to a large swath of BitCraft’s persistent world. The Empire scale is designed to create an everlasting outlet for conflict and competition between players interested in the intersection of large group leadership and plots of intrigue and strategy. In order to prevent the Empire scale from trampling players focused on the lower scales, we’ve made it so the only rewards for “winning” at the Empire scale are fame and the ability to influence decisions made by players at lower scales. Additionally Empires heavily rely on settlements and characters to exist, maintaining the symbiotic relationship between empire, settlements and characters.
Unlike the Character and Settlement scales, at the Empire scale part of the excitement is its “high risk, high reward” nature. This is one area of the game where full on conflict between players is encouraged.We’ve taken careful steps to ensure that the conflict between emperors will continue by setting the systems to favor new empires and challenge incumbents. This makes for a more exciting experience for the players at the empire scale and creates a more rich player history for those at other scales.
With these scales, we envision a world in BitCraft that feels diverse and living. As a new player you might start as a character who begins as a nomad, developing basic skills and choosing a profession. As you advance through the advancement content tiers, you might join a player-made settlement to collaborate with other skilled craftsmen, to build and craft more sophisticated things. Over time, you might decide to settle and have your own home in this settlement or start a small homestead in the wilderness nearby. Eventually, an empire will emerge and reach the land where you live and it will be your choice to ignore it and live a simple life, become an emissary and help this empire expand, or even form your own empire to take this territory for yourself.
I’m excited to share more details about the game design for BitCraft and the thought behind many decisions we’ve made in future blogs and community content.
— Carter (Minch)