Dropzone has been in Early Access for almost two months. It came with a new Builder 2.0, a new tutorial, Infestation, and the Sparkypants development team ready to learn more about where we should take the game. We’ve had an update almost every week and we’ve added some key features such as Graceful Resign, Matchmaking while Playing Solo, the first of PvE Contracts, and of course lots of tweaks and balance changes.
Early Access is about learning from our players so here's where we are...
Early Access Learnings
Too Hard, Too Intense?
For many players, controlling 3 rigs in Dropzone requires too much initial skill investment. We get consistent feedback that Dropzone looks great but that controlling 3 rigs is just too much at first, particularly for competitive play. Likewise, the intensity of Dropzone can actually be too much, particularly when players are new to the game.
Need Ranked Draft (and 5th Class)
Dropzone is built to be a competitive game but the vision is not yet complete. For one, the unreleased 5th class is a key part of the balance equation. Without it, we are missing much of the strategic decision-making in the original design. And, without a proper ranked play draft mode, we are missing the counter-play and variety of play we’d all like to see at the highest levels of play.
The Community Knows Things
Okay, that’s not really news but… At Sparkypants, we run development around what we call the Daily Game. It’s where we play the game...daily! Then the whole team gathers to discuss changes we want to make. Daily Games are great but we’ve always wanted to extend that idea to the community of players. We have players who understand the game every bit as well as we do and they’ve gotta be a bigger part of our development.
Need More Players!
This is obvious but a game built around 1v1 competitive play only really works if you can find reasonable matches. We need a lot of players, we need to support a range of abilities even for new players, and we need to be sure players have a way to play that doesn’t mean constantly getting their butt’s kicked. Time to open things up.
What’s Next For Dropzone
Ranked Play Draft v1.0
We are releasing the first phase of Ranked Play: the all-important Ranked Play Draft. In ranked draft, pilot picks are exclusive and players will have limited adjustments they can make using a gear “sideboard”. This is where strategy and skill with a variety of abilities will come into play as we originally envisioned. We’re excited to get this mode into the hands of our experienced players. After a brief initial seeding period, we will release the more complete Ranked Play divisions and leaderboards.
Party System with Multi-queuing
Players want to play together. Now you can invite up to 2 other players to a party and then match together. You can also search for multiple types of matches at one time and across multiple regions. And why would you need a party system for a 1v1 game? Why would you really want multi-queuing? Because...
3v3 Team Play, 1 Rig Each
That’s right. It’s the most common request: Can I play with only 1 rig? Now you can. Team play is 3 players vs 3 players, 1 rig each. It’s super fun while still preserving the heart of Dropzone. We did end up increasing unit speeds slightly and lowering cooldowns, changes that made their way into the 1v1 mode. Also, because of the way leveling works in 3v3 where everyone on a team levels together, the xp curves are somewhat different. We also have comp stomp support where a team of 3 can play against the AI.
(If you want to read more about how this came about, it’s down below..)
A Sale and then Free-to-Play!
Today, April 5th, the Squad and Commander bundles are going on sale at big discounts. Then one week later, on April 12th, we’re going free-to-play! No more gates, bring the players! If you are a Dropzone player, this is a great time to let your friends know about it. On the fence? Join in!
And After That?
The 5th Class
Soon™ we’ll release our final planned class, the mysterious “5th class”. This will include an initial 3 pilots and an assortment of gear. This is a key piece to the game design and we’re excited to get it out.
Public Test Realm
We want to get more feedback on in-progress work, including gear and maps. To that end, we are setting up a Public Test Realm beta branch on Steam where we can invite feedback during specific periods. We’re excited to have players test drive new gear or any significant gear changes and we’re really excited to playtest new maps. For maps, we will post a handful of ideas in graybox form, meaning they don’t have any real art yet but are fully playable. We’ll gather feedback from the Public Test Realm, iterate on the promising ones until we are happy with the design, then create final art for release.
Ability Improvements and Balance
With all of the iteration going on in the major areas along with work on getting the 5th class out, we have a bunch of abilities that aren’t working quite like we’d like and some overall balance to consider. As the smoke clears, we’ll be able to devote more time to making all the gear work better.
All these changes have had ripple effects through all the UI, particularly the builder and drafting. For instance, we moved to a squad-based system where you are always visualizing 3 rigs as your squad. But that concept of always thinking about 3 rigs is no longer universal. As things settle down, we’ll get things moving toward a more usable state.
More Fun With Customizations
We introduced Alter Egos at the start of Early Access and clearly they are too limiting. We have some plans for loosening that up which we’ll roll out soon. We also get out more customizations such as VO replacements and taunt animations.
There are always more ideas and many of them come from the community. We’ll continue building Dropzone into the game we’d all like it to be.
Still Reading? The Road to 3v3...
We needed an easier way for new players to experience what Dropzone is about. We also felt that 2v2 with 6 rigs on each side was fun but broken in terms of balance. Finally, that many rigs demanded a bigger map and, once we start putting out more maps, we’d love it if 2v2 was less special that way. So we needed to try some ideas...
Our first experiment was with 2v2 where each player only controlled 2 rigs. This had several positives: 2 rigs would be easier than 3 rigs, the balance of 4 rigs on 4 rigs would be closer to the core balance, and we might even be able to re-use the maps from 1v1. So we tried and it was fun! Sweet! But no reason to stop there because would it be enough?
What if we tried 3v3 with each controlling 1? In a very un-Sparky-like way, we had resisted this experiment because we were so sure it wouldn’t be fun. And we were so wrong even though our first attempt was extra hacky. In fact, there were only 2 humans on each team; the 3rd rig was controlled by AI. Also, all the colors were impossible to discern for the different teams. Yet it was already clearly fun even without any real adjustments. Who knew? It still felt like Dropzone but was clearly an easier on-ramp for players.
With team and 1v1 both having 3 rigs on a side, Dropzone could be balanced reasonably for both team and 1v1 play. Awesome. So we are rolling out 3v3 and 1v1 as the main matchmaking modes. And we will soon offer all kinds of options in the custom lobby, including an obvious 3v1 where 1 player controls all 3 rigs. Some of those modes may become part of matchmaking as well but we want to be careful not to lose focus.
Thanks to everyone who has been sticking with us as we try to build something new and to those who keep coming back to see how things are going. We have the basis of what will be a great game and we’ll keep finding our way to maximize the fun.
Jason Coleman and the Dropzone Team