This is in memory of Soulite Monsters, a game that was an intense year (plus a little) adventure to bring to these online app stores.
You may notice that it was published from two different names, Seven Elements Interactive Ltd and HappyHourGames. Seven Elements is the one that appeared on our paycheques, and Happy Hour Games is the “studio” we as developers dubbed ourselves, complete with a logo!
We discussed our titles, responsibilities, formed a game plan and concept then hit the ground running in one of those shared office-space places. As I was formally dubbed the Lead Designer / Developer from this point on I’ll speak largely the intent behind the various game systems and gameplay content that ended up in what we launched. For art and aesthetic style, I can’t claim any credit and personally enjoyed the work of our artists.
I’ll walk through what’s publicly available of the game and leave some commentary on that perspective. If you’re wonderin’ why I don’t share any images or “behind the scenes” documentation from during development, I can’t share it – that has an owner. While our studio has been shut down, the property is still legally owned by… someone? I’m not even sure who, it was all mysterious and handled through Hong Kong. None of the Vancouver team members even once spoke to who was supplying the money, dubbed “the investor”.
Enough preamble, time to load the game!
I’ll be taking screenshots from Bluestacks using the windows snipping tool, love that tool.
First and foremost the goal here was to impress on the player that this is a game where they’ll be making choices, as many of the mobile games I’d played recently tended to be very rigid early on forcing a path and restricting choices from the player.
Complexity in combat came from customizing your load-out, each step of combat I wanted to introduce one new load-out element and also engage the player in making decisions with that element.
The meat of the game that gives it a rogue-like feel are the dangerous Expeditions filled with both risk and reward. Failing to reach the exit results in a loss of all rewards (more on risk-mitigation and recovery later). Along with a light narrative the idea here was to introduce the aspects of the game first that the player will be most engaged in by launching them right into a custom tailored map.
Some context on the decision to make combat non-interactive; early on when we were hammering out what kind of game we were going to make we were told security was incredibly important, preventing players from hacking/cheating. When it comes to security in games, you cannot trust the game client. Thus, we were committed to making a server-authenticated game experience. Everything simulated on the client is also simulated on a server, and the players inventory actually lives on the server. That simulation is much, much easier to keep parallel the fewer decisions the player can make.
Given our tight timeline and otherwise fairly significant scope, simplifying combat by emphasizing strategy in load-out rather than in-combat player decisions (then executing a deterministic combat simulation) was part of us being able to actually finish this game while delivering the security that was asked of us. Anyway, back to the game and those introductory choices the player gets to make to their load-out between those combat nodes!
Here we introduce the second Hero that will fight alongside Fiona and Fang, the general load-out structure looks like:
- Player Load-out
- Heroes (up to 3)
- Monsters (Up to Hero Size Limit)
- Equipment (just 1)
- Heroes (up to 3)
So the player gets a choice between Blue, Red, and Green wink. Sig there (green) is special in that he can equip Large monsters, size 4. Small (1) and Medium (2) are available to all heroes, but only special heroes can tame the largest of the creatures in the game. Generally heroes can equip a total size of 4 (any combination thereof) buuut there are exceptions. I’m feeling red today though, so I went with Rose. Next stop, companion monster for Fang automatically equipped with Fiona.
Those details are available by press-and-holding on any of the portraits, this is true generally in the game you see the icon of something, and not limited to just Monsters! For example, I just finished this first Expedition and…
What’s that big [!] thing? Well, if we press and hold, we get more information… and find out that it’s a Quest. We’re told what we’ll need to do, and also what rewards we’ll get for doing that thing.
Village and Buildings
Our introduction Expedition is complete, one of the few Expeditions where all of the nodes and content are “hand-placed” as opposed to our procedural generated Expeditions that will be the bulk of what players experience. Welcome to the Village! With a bunch of things to unlock
That button in the bottom left used to say “Helpful Suggestion!”, this was phased out through UI iterations but is still what it aspires to provide. It’s a feature I built early on when we started sharing out an early build to friends or family to help analyze their current state and dynamically suggest what they should do next in lieu of a more robust tutorial system (which was scheduled for later). It kind of became a general safety-net for players who spend time away from the game, or are new to the game, or who just want a nudge in the direction to go.
The Buildings in the “Village” were intended to house long-term reward and investment goals. Each building when unlocked provides a collection on a timer, and various upgrades that apply to either the building itself or globally.
Heroes provide bonuses to their equipped Monsters, shifting or focusing an overall strategy. There were a total of 14 Heroes that could be acquired, 2 of which had been added as a live update just weeks before we received the news the studio was being shut down.
Several Heroes could be acquired through natural narrative progression, but the bulk of them had to be discovered in Expeditions procedurally generated from consuming Scrolls. Here’s an example, I stumbled right into Melerulu!
The things with the health and the damage and the leveling for making all the numbers that get bigger. Most importantly, though, Monsters are containers for Abilities that through merging can be mixed-and-matched for an array of strategies and optimizations.
At the end there were nearly 200 Monsters that could be acquired from Reward Choice Boxes or Monster Merging containing nearly 400 unique Abilities. I’ll use one fellow with a fairly obvious strategy as an example:
Say hello to the Mouldy Mimic, it happens to be quite poisoned
Those stars indicate how many abilities Monsters can have at any given time, in this case, the Mouldy Mimic can hold two. It just so happens he has a default ability with Poison Slam that is available right when it’s acquired, and then Blunt Forced Empathy there is unlocked at +2 levels from the level the Mouldy Mimic was acquired at (in this case, level 1!)
While this fellas default abilities have some convenient synergy (poisons itself then shares that poison), that’s not where the synergy ends. Any negative status is considered an affliction, and there’s… quite a few (all the red background ones below, the green are considered bonuses)
It’s not just poisons that will be plastered on attackers, but any of those afflictions above that the Mouldy Mimic happens to be suffering from
So it’s a pretty good synergy, and I could just keep using and leveling up Mouldy Mimic to increase his stats… or I could merge him for more abilities!
It’s now a Cranial Mystic who will unlock a pretty solid passive ability at level 7. Monsters can be merged up to five star quality, for a total of 5 abilities per Monster.
Building out those strategies with Heroes and Monsters and leveling’em all up allows for more dangerous delves into Expeditions with greater and greater both risk and reward. Damage taken by monsters, or statuses (Bonuses or Afflictions) persist between all combat until a safe (or… defeated) return to the Village.
Scrolls are consumed to create a portal to an Expedition. Soulite Monsters originally shipped with 4 Biomes, with a 5th added in a live update the week before we were given the news we were shutting down. Each biome introduced a host of unique monsters, rewards, and challenges.
My play-through on the last build became somewhat emotionally exhausting at the point I unlocked Desert. I’m going to take a bit of a break and try and take a bit of a vacation that I haven’t had the opportunity to take in the last couple years since I’m now out of a job.
I can say, Arctic was themed around average paths and sight, similar to Forests but the exit tended to require a bit more exploring to find. Medium and Large Monsters were common-place, and their Elite encounters would include special “Medium Swarms”, where groups of 4 Medium sized monsters could be found on one opposing hero.
Included in our final update, paths were erratically short or long but with the long line-of-sight players may find in Desert. I really enjoyed how these generated.
We agreed to a hard deadline to get our big update out (new Biome, 2 new Heroes, 2 new pieces of equipment, 43 new Monsters bringing 100+ new abilities) and on top of it added in Monster Potions, Expedition Incense, and Experience Essence as new features. This came out just one month after we left beta, this is how we flexed our content creation pipeline in an effort to show how well we could support our game.
It didn’t matter. Almost immediately after the successful (on time) massive update going live we were told we were shutting down.
One of the coolest things I was personally excited about didn’t get to fully realize itself in the game. Merchants in theory could be run into anywhere (Expeditions, Village, any future features we create). They could have a static inventory and/or a randomly generated timed inventory (or, in the case of an Expedition each time they’re encountered), and as you purchased things from them they would earn experience and potentially level up.
Little known fact: By purchasing scrolls (earning the Scroll Merchant experience, and leveling it up) you increase your odds of rarer and rarer scrolls showing up the next time the merchant receives new inventory (that timer in the top right). UI iterations were rapid and across the game, and quite a few things fell through the cracks. We had a significant backlog of things to improve upon.
The Scavenger was a special case, if you were defeated in an Expedition and “retreated” leaving all your hard-found loot behind, this fella finds it and is willing to sell it back to you… at a price indicating a fairly significant convenience fee.
Back to the potential of merchants, this is a sore spot for me. The idea of randomly encountering a merchant within an Expedition for a variety of options (depending on which merchant encountered) resonated very well with the team in our planning sessions. The day we were told the studio was closing I had 5 days scheduled to make this a reality in the game, full-scope (client+server+content+ui, the whole shebang). If the news only came a couple weeks later it would likely be in that final offline build that was available. I’m now mourning the things that were just so close to being there, so I’ll move on.
Last but not least, a key to molding loadout strategy of is being able to merge monsters together for a new result, combining the abilities of both monsters involved while unlocking potential new abilities on the new monster result.
I looked back on the Play Store today because we were told the game has been “taken down”, and I wanted to see what that looked like. Turns out if you have the game installed you get to still see the page, but if you don’t, you see this
They were very serious about shutting things down, that was done before June hit for us due to time differences.
Anyway, originally I checked it out on my Google account that has the game installed that can still see the page, I saw this:
❤ Thank you Shanny Lix