Saturday, April 7

Heroes of Mana Design

Heroes of Mana is a real-time-strategy title for the Nintendo DS. The game is set in the Mana universe but follows an original story. Square-Enix is publishing, naturally, whereas Brownie Brown is the development house. Brownie Brown also developed Magical Starsign for the DS, released last year. Heroes of Mana is arguably the first true RTS for the DS, meaning Brownie Brown had no previous template, so to speak, to work from. Regardless, the game supposedly has a good storyline, and does have very nice graphics, in my opinion. But the true concern is, as always, the gameplay. Fortunately, the team has designed Heroes to play simply and effectively, while still leaving room for strategy.

But first, I need to get some other information out there. Hereos of Mana contains all of the basic RTS necessities: a minimap, fog of war, base building, resource gathering, and of course, combat. Each player can have a maximum of 25 units at a time. Units on different teams are indicated by the color of their health bars above their sprites. Allied units are green, enemy units are pink, neutral are blue.

Units are divided into four types: ground, heavy, flying, missile. Additionally, there are special units and hero units. Brownie Brown has implemented a standard rock-paper-scissors system with the basic four unit types. Each unit type take half damage from another type, and deal double damage to a third. For example, flying units deal double damage to heavy types, but take double damage from missile units. Also, flying units only deal half damage to missle units. This system works throughout all four types. Its an interesting design scheme because some unit types will take eight times as much damage as they are giving. An example is if a flying type is fighting a missile type, the missile type will deal eight times as much damage as the flying is giving back. A balance will be required in building armies. Players will have to see what their enemies are building and counter with the stronger unit type.

On to control. Alright, this is how it works. Heroes of Mana is all touch controlled. Which is a very good thing for a genre designed for the PC. There are a variety of ways to select units. Here is a list of all the control inputs:
  • Tap a single unit to select it
  • The bottom of the screen has four indicators, one for each unit type. Tapping these will select all on-screen units of the designated type.
  • A "select group" icon is off to the right of the screen. Tapping it will allow players to draw on screen and lasso any specific units they want. Then players can command those units as a group, ordering them to travel or attack as needed.
  • A touch screen icon allows the minimap to be switched to the bottom screen for stylus input. As far as I know, units can also be manipulated using the minimap.
  • Heroes of Mana has eight super abilities that can be activated with touch screen icons. These abilites are automatic CG animations and will deal area of effect damage, among other things.
  • Base building is all done within the home base airship, called the nightswan. Buildings will not be physically present on the battlefield.
Speaking conceptually, I think Brownie Brown has created a great RTS for the DS. The game system is very simple compared to other RTSs, which is good for a handheld game that can only handle so much information, graphics, and doesn't have much screen space. However, the combat is still complex enough to allow for strategic gameplay.

Touch Design
What do you like or dislike about the design of Heroes of Mana?
What would you change, if anything? Why?
The rock-paper-scissors scheme, by now, could be considered cliche.
-Is this scheme still a valid methd to balance units?
-What other balancing formats could be used?
The game terrain is 3D, the units meanwhile are 2D sprites.
-Why or why not is this a good design decision for a DS game?


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