I spent most of the past week with the most frustrating cold. Because I had a fever, my work literally ordered me home for half the week which could sound awesome, but I was in a weird state of not-sick-enough to sleep all day, but also too fuzzy headed and fatigued to do much. As a result, I spent chunks of time sketching out ideas for the game, but every time I tried to compose sentences it was so excruciating I gave up. I can compensate for my dyslexia on a good day, but when I'm tried/sick, my language skills are the first thing to vanish.
With all of my sick days, I picked up video games I had given up on years ago: Hearthstone, Path of Exile, and Mirror's Edge: Catalyst. I found out (by having an excess amount of hours with nothing else I could do) that Hearthstone and PoE both get amazing once you stick with them through the initial learning curve.
Not so with ME: Catalyst. Despite my disappointment with the game, it helped me crystallize some design ideas for Karma.
I kept playing ME: Catalyst because moments reminded me of my love for the original, with its unique combo of endless runner + jump puzzles + cyberpunk aesthetic. But the more I played, the more the flaws became clear. The game was trying to do too many things at once. They had the same core parkour mechanics as the first, but rather than pushing those to the fullest, they threw in collection questions, timed runs, forced combat with multiple enemy types, a skill tree, user generated content, etc. I hated the new runner's vision, but since this game overburdened the landscape with colors and details (in stark contrast to the elegant simplicity of the original) I found that I required the full runner's vision at certain parts. In making everything flashier, they seemed to lose sight of the fact the original design brilliantly hinted you through the levels without making it as simple-minded as "follow the red line" like the runner vision in this game.
I walked away from ME: Catalyst thinking, "The designers didn't know what made their game fun. All of the new additions distracted from the core mechanics of the game, rather than enhancing them."
And THAT is the wall I have been beating my head against for the past five months with the next version of Karma. I know there is a core, fun element to the game. I also know I want to create a different experience than Blades, which means changing the core mechanics and making sure all of the peripheral mechanics enhance that new core, rather than act like disjointed noise.
I have spiraled around this question countless times: What is the premise of the game? What is the core experience? What is most fun?
With that comes the question: What is the reward cycle?
Walking my dog today, I finally realized the missing piece: there needs to be an endgame. The reward cycle needs to be moving you towards something in order to feel meaningful, and that means having a set end goal. In Blades, the goal is to become the biggest, baddest criminal empire. In Karma your team can never grow bigger than a corporation . . . you can never fundamentally change the world . . . but what if you could?
I need to plan out the details before I reveal more, but I think this is the end goal: to become a faction. In Blades you start as a low tier faction and work your way up; in the cyberpunk world, once you become a part of the system, the game is over.