The voyage to a campaign

The Dev Blog texts are provided by the Development Team in English.
To avoid losing or falsifying information, a loose translation will be provided separately at a later time.

Greetings Settlers!

The Mountain Clan just arrived and we think it is time to talk about the development of this new challenging campaign. BB_Alex and I will give a glimpse behind the scenes and shed some light on the design team's intentions and goals.

Who am I?

I am BB_Ezzer, a game designer working on the Mountain Clan Campaign.

In this edition of the TSO Dev Blog, we will look into the development of the Mountain Clan Campaign: from the first Vision to aspects of its realisation.

A Volcano, a Forge and Dwarves – a Vision was born
The Volcano is where all this started. In early 2017, our Lead Artist and BB_Alex were cracking jokes about implementing a volcano to increase the pressure for high-level players. It was just joking around, but those jokes did contain some truth about the current state of the game. We didn't have enough new endgame content starting from level 64. Besides that, we were also aware of the capabilities of player economies and the missing challenge on those levels. We had to address those points; we just weren't aware of the volcano playing such a big part in the first steps addressing those issues. The thought about the volcano was spinning around in our heads until the end of the day and becoming more and more interesting when combining them with other ideas.
New ideas appeared very fast, and they connected with each other easily. We had a volcano; we just had to place a building on it: a forge! The forge would be an epic workyard covering smelters and weaponsmiths. We would re-use the blueprint mechanic as we did for the farmyard so it would also make sense to reward those through a new campaign. We already thought about additional campaigns during the initial development of the Excelsior, a perfect fit for our future goals. However, how would such a campaign look like and what story should we tell?
A mountain, a volcano, and a forge pull your imagination into the direction of dwarves naturally. However, since The Settlers is more rooted in mythology and not high fantasy, we decided to make a shift in this direction - the Norse mythology specifically.

The Nords tribes – Creating a background
To create an authentic and compelling story for the campaign, we had to come up with a history for the Mountain Clan, which would explain their current motives with events from their past and then tie this to our gameplay. Here a small excerpt how the Mountain Clan came to life.

You would travel far into the north to visit the home of the Nords. The Nords tribes inhabiting their ancestral homeland would differ from the aggressive Nords you knew until now, giving us the opportunity to create and show their peaceful side. They would live in small villages at the foot of the mountains and require your help while providing useful information about the tundra, the mountains, and the Clan.

In the past, the Nords found huge deposits of minerals inside the remote mountains. Some of them dared to move even further north to mine those minerals. Over centuries, they would adapt to their surroundings and shrink in size because of the work inside tunnels and mines. Nevertheless, they also became rich and famous as “The Mountain Clan”. The Clan would prosper until one day they suddenly closed all their gates, stopped trading with others and secluded themselves from the rest of the world…

All this gave us a clearer picture of how the people from the Clan could look like, how they behave, how their current life could look like and much more. This was also a good starting point for an appealing story arc and we continued from there.

New Challenges & Mechanics

A story is just one side of the coin and we had to think about the gameplay; we are talking about a game after all! Looking back trying to remember all the precious feedback and suggestions from you, we came up with several fresh ideas.

  • The Fog: A mechanic only used on the main island and never ever again, felt like a waste. Such a fog offers several benefits: telling a more immersive story, creating a nice sense of pace, providing the opportunity for exploration and secret locations, strengthen the feeling of progression and decisions, all the while increasing the replay value. A nice side effect of using the fog was the opportunity to create maps which are not islands.
  • New Enemies & Economy Challenge: Creating new enemies is a good way to increase the challenge and to shift it into a slightly different direction while bringing something new to the table. On top of new enemies, we also wanted to bring an economic challenge back into the calculation. The ability of how often and to what extent you can play the campaign should be tied to economic challenges. Settlers has always been about overcoming economic bottlenecks, using your diplomatic and trading skills as well as planning ahead and being prepared for obstacles in your path. To bring this challenge back to high-level players, we carefully adjusted the balancing to fulfil these needs.
  • Debuffs: This was the perfect time to expand the zone effect mechanic. The Lost City was received very well, and we wanted to create something equally exceptional. We would create extraordinary situations for the campaign, shift the combat behaviour and increase complexity to challenge high-level players.
  • Decisions: One of the most important topics for the new campaign. Our goal was to push the possibilities of a browser game by creating something unique. First - we would stick to simple decisions for which path to take or which buff/debuff to apply. During the conception, we saw the opportunity to create decisions lasting for the whole campaign, overarching from one venture to the next. Our “generic values” – a kind of variables, which we use as basic counters for the loot guarantee – were perfectly suited for that. By providing room for big but also small decisions, which are combinable in many ways, we aimed to reach another aspect important to us: diversity.
  • Diversity: A worthwhile goal during development. Naturally, the campaign is set up to be experienced and feel as if made from one piece. It tells one story and this is reflected in the narrative, the level architecture, and the overall design. At the same time, every venture should still play differently and have a unique touch to uphold the excitement. Every player past level 64 should have incentives to play the campaign the way they want and adapt it to their playstyle. Whether you prefer to defeat all the enemies to generate more XP, prefer a quick loot route or just want to minimize your losses, there is space to optimise the campaign to your needs.
  • Quest hubs: While almost all previous adventures provided a linear experience, this was the chance to change this approach to improve the narrative and variety. Quest hubs and points of interest on the map would provide quests and stories for you to experience, enriching the game world and making it more appealing. We used this approach for “Of Songs and Curses”, too.

Your Journey
After the volcano appears on your island, Sonya suggests finding the Mountain Clan and asking them for help. Thus, your journey and the next step of development begins. The new campaign contains five ventures, each with its own theme and following an approach similar to a three-act structure. Additionally, they are built up gradually by defining each venture in several layers.

The first layer describes the theme of the experience and the underlying associated emotions that we aim to evoke.

Introduction & Investigation
Introduction to the home of the Nords, the story, decisions, new enemies and novel mechanics.
Investigation of the world and locations behind optional paths.
Expedition & Survival
Leading an expedition further north into the mountains.
Encountering and surviving the harsh environment, in form of debuffs.
Exploration & Immersion
Further exploration of the world by finding a path through the mountains
Immersing into the story of the mountain clan by discovering strongholds, snippets of the past and completing side activities.
Encounter & Diplomacy
The first encounter with the legendary Mountain Clan.
Shifting the focus from combat more into the direction of interactions with the world by creating a diplomatic scenario, where you help the Mountain Clan.
Preparation & Resolution
Preparation for the final battle including devising a strategy and decisions to which path to take.
In addition, the final resolution of the story and combining challenges from previous ventures.

A second layer defines the game-play setting and map layout for each venture while ensuring smooth transitions between them.
  1. Open areas, a village of the Nords, small destroyed villages, coniferous forests and light snow.
  2. Open areas, few small villages of the Nords, each with its own unique theme, coniferous forests, light snow.
  3. Narrow paths, deeper snow, fewer trees and more rocks, mountains, and strongholds.
  4. Some open areas with points of interest and narrow intersections, more snow, more rocks and mountains with few strongholds.
  5. Narrow paths, mountains covered in snow, alternative paths and many strongholds.
Do you see the pattern?

The third layer defines the challenges and player actions each venture would focus on.
  1. Meet the Nords, defeat new enemies, explore village ruins, learn to handle new mechanics and make your first small decisions.
  2. Defeat strong wildlife, gain help from the Nords, apply buffs to change conditions, adapt to surprises and ambush, and make your first big decision that influences the rest of the campaign significantly.
  3. Find a path through a labyrinth, defeat few but very strong camps, use combat buffs to your advantage and discover strongholds to learn more about the mountain clan.
  4. Defeat strong enemies by utilizing the environment, repairing structures, building an outpost, crafting items and making another big decision influencing further progress. Additionally, make small decisions slightly shifting your progress during this venture, get through the map using a more diplomatic and tactical approach and reveal the truth behind the Mountain Clan.
  5. Choose which path to take, get rid of obstacles, decide to when to defeat the bosses and experience the full impact of your previous decisions and planning.

Taking those points and organising them into a huge table beautifully creates a quite simple structure, theme and focus for each of those five ventures. This method makes it easy to adjust the focus and to see if an element fits into a certain venture or should be moved to another. It also helps in defining the difficulty, but this would go beyond the scope of this Dev Blog entry.

Secrets & Cherries
The most interesting benefit of the method is its ability to generate space for creativity! When everything is in place and you take a step back to look at it, new funny and interesting ideas emerge. We did not manage to implement all of them, but many did make it into the final version. So keep your eyes open!

We also want to use this opportunity to thank every one of you for your feedback and the lively discussion around the campaign. Special thanks go to our most dedicated players on the test server forum for their time, effort and their never-ending passion. You know who we are talking about, so no need to name names

Thank you! Read you later and have fun!

BB_Alex & BB_Ezzer