Last week we spent the entire post speaking briefly (I broke two of my fingers typing that shit) about our sweet new mini-game, Fleet. We’re still working on it, and we’ve got the backend almost wrapped up. You can now swap gear, reroll (basic & super), hire drivers, replace drivers, and stats actually do things. Awesome. While we work on that, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about something Mike and I have been discussing for literally months at this point; how to beat an (our) idle game.
Some idle games effectively go on forever; the loop is always the same but the scale increases. A lot of idle games accomplish an “ending” by providing the player with lofty achievements or the player simply reaches a point where progress is so punishingly impossible that the player provides their own ending by drop-kicking their PC into a highway.
While these strategies work for some games, we don’t think those are the right solutions for STL; we want you to beat the game. The forever-loop feels inconclusive and consequentially unsatisfying on a long enough timeline, especially when applied to a game like ours that encourages activity just as much as it encourages sleeping your way to the top wait that’s not what I meant. Once Fleet is done, we’ll have 3 mini-games, 12 loot tiers and RNG, badges, badge rewards, 6 ascensions, 9 buffs, tons of recipes, over 200 paints blah blah blah you’ve heard this like a thousand times. The point is there’s a lot of meat in this pudding and I immediately regret that I just said that. There’s a lot to do, is the point, but the routes get long and the road gets lonely and we want to always give you something to look forward to so you can focus on the prize. We feel like we’ve done that pretty well, but at some point even those rewards are going to fall flat because there’s no end goal, and we don’t think the player should have to decide what that end goal is for themselves. That’s just… anticlimactic.
This brings us to the Endless Road. Initially this was our “solution” to the end-game problem inherent in the idle genre. Even though it was tongue-in-cheek (it’s endless, cause the game doesn’t end… get it?) the joke got a lot less funny as we realized we were just being lazy. The Endless Road needed to be less of an inconclusive conclusion to a fun adventure and more an optional newgame+ to a game that wrapped up so hard it suffocated on its own joy what the hell is wrong with me today.
This is purely speculative, and potentially obvious, but a lot of idle games seem to be idle for exactly that purpose; you can’t beat them. It’s thousands of hours of content because sure why not. Once you’ve built a simple game loop you can just add a reset button with some multipliers and watch the piece of shit spiral out of control like Augustus Gloop in a candy forest. I know, I’ve made my point. So what’s the solution?
Ascend Once: Paint set, loot tier, crate pack, new buff, buff timer, crafting recipes, Fleet mini-game.
Twice: Paint set, loot tier, crate pack, new buff, buff timer, crafting recipes, Track mini-game.
Thrice: Paint set, loot tier, crate pack, new buff, buff timer, crafting recipes, Scrapyard mini-game.
Frice?: Paint set, loot tier, crate pack, new buff, buff timer, crafting recipes, Drone.
Shfifty: Paint set, loot tier, crate pack, new buff, crafting receipes, Endless Buffs.
Siiiiiicks: Paint set, loot tier, crate pack, new buff, crafting recipes, CREDITS.
Endless Road: Chase badges, get the final crafting pieces, max your fleet, max your gear.
The order isn’t set in stone just yet, but that’s the idea. Once you ascend the sixth time you get the game credits and the congrats screen. We’re not going to tell you what exactly this does or how it does what it does or why what I just said doesn’t make any sense but let’s just say the end-game is a surprise and while we want you to keep going if you want to, you’ve officially beaten STL and that shit just happened. You’ll lean back in your chair, blot the tears of joy from your weary visage, and then hit us up on Venmo and be like I can’t believe this game was free here is one thousand million human dollars. That or you’ll do exactly what we expect; reflect briefly on your experience, immediately get distracted by a Steam sale, then check back in every few months for updates or a new game we made called Super Van Life because we ran out of ideas and money.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Drone grabs collectibles for you so you don’t have to anymore, and Endless Buffs means you never run out of buffs again. Towards the final stretch we want the player to have everything they need so they can focus on mini-games, crate production, and min-maxing. Introduce quality-of-life features and cruise through the late game while having a good time. Imagine that.
The last thing we need to tackle is how long the game should be. First, we’ll need to figure out offline progress. It’s super cool and all but you could potentially sleep through the entire adventure after signing in for the first time for all of 2 minutes. Either slowed down, or capped. Probably the latter.
The second is exactly how long we want the average person to play before they hit the end credits. A week? A month? There’s a fine line between tedium and achievable goals. We don’t want people to literally beat the game and say “wait, I didn’t even get all the crafting recipes” but that’s what the Endless Road option is for. If you’re a completionist, keep going. If you aren’t, we hope you enjoyed the ride. However, we also want to make sure the experience doesn’t end too abruptly. Did you bet at the track more than once? Do you even know why you have 10 of those badges? How much time have you spent customizing and hiring your Fleet? Did you craft anything? There are things to do, and while I believe our active players will be satisfied with a shorter experience, the idle junkies are going to beg for a lengthier journey. It’s finding that balance that makes things difficult.
There are of course, other factors like dev time vs play time but those are emotional factors we try to avoid (I cooked this meal for 2 years and it took you a week to eat it?!). At this point, it’s a constant juggle between balance, polish, content, Fleet, bugs/optimization, and finally closing that game loop with a glorious ending. Or we’ll just keep working on this game until the end of time haha just kidding probably.
Dan & Mike