Level Submission

If you are interested in submitting a level, that would be great! It will be super cool to see how you build upon my creation, and I’ll have fun trying to solve your level. If I get enough (or really good!) level submissions, I may include them in a future update to Path To Oblivion.

How to submit a level

At present, I’m going to lay out a basic structure only. If Path To Oblivion really takes off, I’d even consider creating a level designer in the app!

Send an email to developer@silentzebra.com, including a spreadsheet attachment (I can work with most file formats) which uses the following:

  • 1 to denote a yellow tile
  • 2 to denote a red tile
  • Any number greater than 10 to denote a teleport tile. The first set of two tiles (because each teleport must have a location it teleports to) could be denoted 11 on each tile, then the next set of two as 12 on each tile, etc.
  • To identify where the player starts, you could add a comment on the starting tile, or colour code the tile differently, or put a star or “P” after the tile number, whatever works
  • Optional (makes my life easier): 0 to fill in empty spaces (where the player cannot move)

Example below:

Colour coding done with conditional formatting in Excel – not necessary. Note the comment to denote player start.

It is possible (even easy!) to create levels that are impossible to solve. I hope you will not troll me by submitting impossible levels. If I can’t figure out the solution, I’ll email you back and you can show me how it’s done. If you would like to include a solution path along with your submission, that would be great! Please include it on a separate sheet, or later on in the file, so I can give the level a try first without spoilers 🙂

Why lock content behind in-app purchases?

I considered making the game completely free to play, with no forms of payment whatsoever. I enjoy making games, and I enjoy seeing people play the games I make. Of course, a completely free game has a higher chance of being shared from person to person, and will likely reach a greater audience than a game with ads or purchases.

There’s one obvious reason for in-app purchases – developers need to be paid for their work.

But there’s something more deep than that, and it lies at the heart of how the capitalist system and free markets work. Money signals what is valued and what is not. People are willing to pay for things that they want. By paying for my game, not only are you rewarding me for the time and effort I spent, but also, you demonstrate your support for what I do, and that pushes me to do more.

So, not only are you paying for content in this game, but you are also supporting the creation of more content and more games. This is particularly crucial for indie game developers like myself, where I don’t have a salary and don’t have a budget. Every contribution is greatly appreciated as financial support, and more importantly, as a vote of confidence in my creation.

Who knows? If Path To Oblivion is successful enough, I may even decide to build games full time 🙂

 

Design Philosophy

What makes a game fun?

Everyone enjoys different things, but generally, it boils down to mental stimulation. It’s fun to try new things and have new experiences. Adventure games create a vast world for you to explore. Platformers, puzzle games, or any game with multiple levels – engagement is created with increased difficulty and new interactions that challenge the player to think in new ways and come up with new ideas. And when you finally beat a level, you feel a sense of achievement.

There’s no fun if there’s no challenge

When I used to play games competitively, I always tried to find opponents who were at least on par with me, if not better than me. Yes, it might be fun for one or two games to completely crush a weaker player, but for me, that becomes very boring very quickly. On the other hand, I could spend hours playing with someone who was around my level. Each game provided a new challenge, a new opportunity to make changes to my gameplay and come up with new strategies. I would have to constantly be thinking, learning, and adapting – and this was what could engage me endlessly.

Not everyone is like me; some people would be happy to spend hours destroying new players, even just using the same tactics over and over.  For these people, perhaps the feeling of power and competence is enough; there doesn’t have be much thinking involved. But I believe many people like to be challenged, and challenged in a particular way. For example, it may be challenging to read and fully understand a lengthy legal document, but most people wouldn’t find it fun.

What kind of challenge is fun?

To be fun, a challenging task needs to be:

  1. Doable
  2. Stimulating

The first is straightforward – if a task is too hard or impossible, eventually you give up. There’s a nuanced question about what is “too hard”, and that varies from person to person. Indeed, I suspect many of the later levels in Path To Oblivion will be too hard for most people. I’ve tested the game with some people who I consider to be quite intelligent.  All found the hard levels to be hard, which is what I wanted – I’m always annoyed by games that have a “hard” difficulty setting that ends up being easy. However, some even found the later medium levels a bit too difficult. That prompted me to put hints on this site, and I’ve tried to design hints in a way that reduce the difficulty without completely removing the challenge. Adjustable difficulty is always good, and easier to implement in games like RPGs. Here, I let you adjust the difficulty by choosing how extensively you want to use the hints.

The second is more subjective. I’ve touched on it above – the ideas of novelty, of creativity, of inviting new ideas and strategy. Let me illustrate further.

For me, many games that exist today are either too easy, or they are hard for the wrong reasons (that is, they fail to be stimulating). The problem is especially bad in the RPG genre (as much as I love RPGs). For example, some games have a boss who does so much damage in one attack that it kills your entire team. The only possible way for you to win is to grind against weaker enemies repeatedly, level up, get more health (or better equipment) and try again. That, to me, is poor game design. It’s hard to beat the boss, but not in an engaging way. On the other hand, consider a boss who also deals huge amounts of damage, but the damage can be mitigated based on the positioning of your characters or the sequence of actions you used over the previous turns. This boss is still difficult to beat, but allows you to win so long as you play smart. The challenge lies in tactics and strategy rather than repetition and hours spent – a much more fun challenge.

Making Path To Oblivion Challenging in the Right Ways

Repetition without variance is one of the fastest ways to kill enjoyment. In Path To Oblivion, there are often one or two “tricks” to each level. These are elements of the level that make it difficult to solve, and once you’ve figured out the trick, the level becomes much easier. I try my best to avoid reusing the same trick in different levels, and even if I do, make it only a small part of the level, so the challenge remains novel. The goal is that each level feels different and presents you with a challenge you haven’t encountered before.

Contrast for example, only making larger and larger levels. In a sense, the levels become more difficult to complete – but if you can use the same heuristics, and just apply them on a larger scale, it is not mentally stimulating. I have tried my best to avoid this in Path To Oblivion; even in all the larger levels, I embed new tricks so that no level feels too similar to the last. There was one hard level I designed that I later removed because I felt it was just a large level without a unique or interesting feel to it. Solving it just felt tedious.

This is why some of my favourite levels are the hard levels that have only yellow tiles. What those levels show is that, to make a level challenging, you need neither a very large number of tiles nor a large amount of added complexity from new concepts. You can make something that is challenging and engaging even just from a small assortment of basic components.

My favourite level from a design standpoint. A very small number of tiles, and none of the more complicated tiles – yet still a difficult level to beat.

Path To Oblivion’s Level Progression

Path To Oblivion starts simple, then gets harder with each new level. I’ve tried to create a manageable but challenging difficulty curve, with difficulty increasing from level 1 to level 8 in each level set. I’ve put a lot of time into crafting levels and ordering level difficulty, changing order several times based on observation and feedback.

Bonus level difficulty is a bit widely distributed, partly because those levels were added later in development. In any case, I try to use achievement points values to denote relative difficulty across all levels and level sets.

Path To Oblivion – Replayability and Broadening the Appeal

What happens once you’ve beaten all the levels in a puzzle game? Typically, the answer is you’re done with the game – there’s nothing left to do.

I’ve tried to mitigate that with randomly generated levels, hoping this provides more replayability. Of course, even with randomly generated levels, after playing long enough, they start to feel fairly similar, and perhaps repetitive. To try to make the repetition a bit more fun, I’ve got some achievements to give you a goal to work towards when doing the random levels. As all RPGs have taught me, repetition is always more fun when you have goals to work towards.

I’ve also implemented time trials. The intent is for the speed aspect to keep you engaged. Though there may be repetition, there’s a constant challenge of moving not just accurately, but quickly. Perhaps this also helps broaden the appeal of the game, because now the game tests not just your logical thinking skill, but also your ability to process situations and act quickly. Time trials are also where continued experience and familiarity with the game really come into play (whereas the levels are mostly about novel challenges). So, perhaps this appeals a bit more to those who enjoy spending time with a game and seeing their investment pay off as they perform progressively better and better. I hope this also helps keep the game engaging for people who may be turned off by the difficulty of the later levels, providing a different way to keep you stimulated.

Closing Thoughts

Why did I write all this? Partly because I want to show how much time I’ve spent thinking about the design of this game and trying to make it fun (even if I ultimately failed to do so), and hopefully that gives you more reason to try my game. Partly because, in articulating my philosophy, I scrutinize my decisions and check whether my line of thinking makes sense. Partly because maybe someone out there might find this interesting.

As always, feedback is welcome.

Fire Emblem Heroes Strategy

While the strategic depth of Fire Emblem Heroes doesn’t quite match that of the original series, there is still a fair bit of room for thinking and strategizing. In this post, I hope to share some strategic insights and help you improve your gameplay, particularly if you are not a veteran to the turn-based strategy game genre.

Positioning

I’m a big fan of heroes with repositioning abilities, particularly ones that let you draw your heroes out of the way of harm. Consider the following situation (taken from an advanced arena battle):

Battle position after first turn

First, I use Tharja to attack.

Note: I actually misplayed here. I should have used Jakob (bottom character’s) Rally Resistance ability, so Tharja would have taken 0 damage). More thinking needed!

I then use Nino’s Draw Back ability to keep Tharja out of harm’s way:

What was a 4v4 is now a 4v3! Being able to recognize plays like this can allow you to pick off (or heavily damage) one enemy at almost no harm to your own characters.

Note: Be Careful with “Danger Area”

On a related note, be careful with relying on “Danger Area”. It can mask the true attack range of enemies. In the above screenshot, the space directly above Tharja is not safe, as the wall in front of the enemy Takumi can be broken, so it would not be wise for me to move Lyn there.

Positioning abilities such as shove also pose a potential problem. In my experience, the AI is extremely stupid when using repositioning abilities (and in the movement order in breaking obstacles). Still, I prefer not to take any chances; I like to calculate the possible moves the AI could make and stay out of the range of any potential attack.

The most dangerous is when the enemy has units with Sing or Dance (Azusa or Olivia). Because these units allow other units to take an extra turn, what was a 2-movement unit suddenly becomes a 4-movement unit. In these situations, be extra careful with your positioning, and keep an extra 2 spaces away from the danger zone if needed.

Example: in the below screenshot, Tharja can actually be attacked because of Olivia’s Dance ability.

Attacking is not Always a Good Idea

This might be obvious to some, counterintuitive to others. There are many reasons why you might not want to attack an enemy unit, even if they are within attacking range. I’ll start with the simplest. Imagine that you and your opponent are each down to only one hero – the same hero with the same stats. This hero has 40 hp and can attack for 20 damage. If you attack first, after combat resolves and the enemy has counterattacked, both units will be down to 20 hp. On the next turn, the opponent attacks and defeats your unit. Whichever unit attacks first loses.

On a more more high level basis, consider the following situation:

I can attack with Nino and/or Tharja, or I could even attack with Jakob by using Nino’s Draw Back ability to move him in range. However, I won’t be able to KO any enemy unit, and I would lose at least 1 unit on the next turn when the enemy attacks. Even if I could KO an enemy unit, it would end up being at best a 1 for 1 trade. Given that you generally want to keep as many units alive as possible (you’re not getting a very high arena score if you only end up winning by 1 hero each match), I’d prefer to do better than go for 1 for 1 trades.

So here’s what I did:

And, being stupid, the AI charges into battle:

I have a much better attacking position here compared to the first opportunity where I could have attacked. At this point, I can easily KO one unit, and damage a second.

Eventually I ended up winning. I might have misplayed a bit later down the line, but still, winning with 2 units is not a bad outcome given that:

  • My opponent’s team was all Lv. 40 save for 1 hero, while I had 2 level 35 and under characters.
  • They were all 5-star compared to me having 2 4-stars.
  • It was 1 SS-Tier and 3 S-Tier heroes, compared to my team of 1 S-Tier, 2 A-Tiers, and 1 B-Tier.
  • I had a relative color disadvantage with Nino.

Part of the reason I wanted to highlight this battle in particular is that, with good tactics and taking advantage of the relatively dumb AI, you can win even when faced with a stats disadvantage.

Watch for Synergy Between Characters

This applies to both teambuilding and within battle. For example, I can use Jakob’s Rally Resistance ability to give an extra 4 damage to Tharja or Nino because their weapons incorporate any stat bonuses. Though this is generally subpar to attacking directly, there are instances where it can be useful. See below:

The extra 4 (8 over 2 attacks) damage is exactly what I need for a ORKO on Ogma.

And then to top it all off, I use draw back to prevent Tharja from getting destroyed.

Always Keep in Mind Passive Abilities

When I first started playing Fire Emblem Heroes, I often overlooked passives, particularly the Spur X passives, because they have no animation and no visual cues. However, when used properly the Spur X passives can be incredibly useful. Always keep these in mind when positioning your characters. Pay attention to attack and movement order to maximize the use of these passives. For Spur Defense or Spur Resistance, try to use these passives when using a character to tank an attack.

Putting it All Together

Consider the below situation. Obviously I am winning, but I want to win with all 4 units alive, for maximum arena points.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Lyn can only attack if I use Nino’s draw back. Even doing so, she can only attack the enemy Lyn. This will not be a KO. So, I can’t really do much with Lyn.
  • With Vengeance (special attack), Tharja can KO Jeorge (the archer). However, Tharja can only KO Lyn with 2x attacks, which Tharja cannot get unless I take advantage of Lyn’s Spur Speed.
  • Nino can 2x attack and KO the archer Jeorge, without any buffs, but does minimal damage to Lyn thanks to color disadvantage.
  • Jakob can attack to reduce Def and Res by 7, but only does about 10 damage to the relevant targets (ie not Nino). If I attack Lyn, I still have to use Tharja to KO Lyn. Then Nino can only KO one of the two remaining enemies.

So what’s the best case scenario here? It looks like the solution would be:

  • Use Nino to KO Jeorge
  • Use Tharja with Lyn support to KO Lyn
  • Use Jakob to KO Nino

Here’s how I play it out:

Nino KO’s Jeorge

Get Lyn in position

Tharja KO’s Lyn, thanks to speed buff from my Lyn

A butler throws knives at a young girl. See anything wrong with this picture?

Jakob cleans up

So – even though this game feels pretty simple, there can be a surprising amount of thinking involved to play optimally!

A Final Note on AI Manipulation

When faced with two heroes the AI can defeat, I noticed it often tends to go for the closest one first. So, if you have a case where you are in a 2v1 and one of your heroes is useless (for example, due to color disadvantage), I like to throw that one in front of the other ally in the hopes of absorbing attacks that would otherwise KO the more useful hero.

I also notice that when the AI approaches, if it is faced with two heroes out of its reach by the same range (ie two of your heroes are each 5 squares away), it will prefer to approach the hero that it has a color advantage against. You can use this knowledge to help predict AI movement patterns, and also structure the positioning of your colored units to get the AI to move where you want it to.

And of course, the AI always attacks when it can, even if it does 0 damage. My favourite way to take advantage of this is by placing my dagger user (or archer) within the attack range of only the enemy cleric, and watch the AI throw away its clerics.

There’s probably much more that can be done to take advantage of bad AI. This is just scratching the surface.

Feedback

Hopefully you gained some insights from this. I’d be interested in hearing any feedback, including any tactics you use.

Path To Oblivion

Featured

After 2 years, Path To Oblivion is finally here! Links to the app below:

Android – Google Play Store
iOS – Apple App Store


What happens when you take a simple puzzle game and push it to its limits?

I present to you:

Path To Oblivion – simple rules and extremely easy to pick up, but progressively more difficult levels (culminating in a level that was so hard that it even gave me, the level creator, trouble to solve).

Instructions – the tutorial level

Instructions – the tutorial level

The concept of the game: move left, right, up, and down, one tile at a time, removing tiles until the entire level is clear.

Seems easy enough right?

At this point, you’re already stuck. (More on this in the strategy and hints page)

And… you’re stuck (no diagonal moves allowed).

I’ve created some fairly difficult levels with only these yellow tiles (more on this in the Path To Oblivion design philosophy page), but to make things even more interesting and even harder, I’ve introduced other kinds of tiles as well:

Another tutorial level (you can’t get stuck!)

(The red tiles become yellow tiles after you move on them once)

With this, things can get much more complicated!

And if the hard levels weren’t as mentally stimulating as you had hoped, there’s some extra surprises in the bonus level set!

Since you’ve bothered to scroll all the way to the bottom of this page, why not give the game a try?

Android – Google Play Store
iOS – Apple App Store