Afi & Galu Redesigns
Reworked and then reworked again.

Warning: This page aims to provide a more concrete look into my work in a specific design situation. In order to do so, I go fairly deep into-the-weeds. If you're not up for reading a big wall of text, try checking out another page instead.

One particularly problematic character throughout the history of Rushdown’s development has been a pair of stone golems called Afi & Galu. As one might guess from the name, Afi & Galu are actually a pair of characters controlled by a single player. To nobody’s surprise, this kind of duo character paradigm comes with a mountain of relatively unexplored design pitfalls, as well as a lot of room to explore novel gameplay patterns.

When I joined the team, Afi & Galu were in the process of receiving their first rework, one in which I had minimal involvement. Their original incarnation from Icons was a relatively boring character – players would effectively play as either Afi or Galu, with whichever golem was inactive sitting idly on the stage. The player could swap between the two on a cooldown, but the swap was extremely slow, making it unsuitable for any creative uses (such as repositioning) -- it was effectively a mid-game character switch.

While being able to switch between characters during a match might sound compelling enough, this iteration of A&G had another problem. Between the two characters, most properties and moves were identical or extremely similar. Without any properties that played to the unique strengths of a tag-team character, Afi & Galu were, for all intents and purposes, a single character. And that felt like a whole lot of wasted potential.

This first rework sought to lean into the “duo” aspect of the character by allowing the inactive golem to mimic the player’s special abilities. While this did add a considerable amount of novelty to their gameplay, the swap mechanic still remained largely underutilized. On top of this, Afi & Galu were also riddled with bugs, crashes, and general inconsistency as a result of their very unique implementation as a duo character.
Some time down the road, I was tasked with approaching Afi & Galu for a second rework. As a starting point, I resolved to clean up the messy logic that defined their behavior as a duo character. This ultimately proved to be a gargantuan task. Special exceptions and poorly-structured code built specifically for the golems was present in every part of the codebase, and the cleanup ended up taking nearly a full month on its own.

After 30-something days of tinkering with the pair on the software of things, I felt comfortable enough in my understanding of their design to identify three main goals for their gameplay rework:
  1. Distinguish Afi & Galu from each other: This would be achieved by tweaking individual moves and adding special properties to establish a clear set of trade-offs associated with playing as one of the golems over the other. All summed up, these changes resulted in a Galu who was stronger in aerial combat and more effective at defense, and an Afi who was quicker on the ground and more suited to aggressive playstyles.
  2. Reduce opponents’ frustration when playing against A&G: players at the time expressed regularly that they felt “playing against two characters at once” was simply too overwhelming and stressful. In order to remedy this, I got rid of the inactive statue’s ability to mimic special moves. Instead, some of the characters special moves would be performed only by the inactive statue, while the rest of their moves would be performed only by the active one.
  3. Encourage interaction with the inactive statue: This was achieved by allowing Afi & Galu to toss each-other around as a projectile, resulting in a kind of “ping-pong” style gameplay that turned out to be very fun and, combined with their swap ability, allowed for some very unique strategies and techniques.

This design proved to be a huge success from the perspective of Afi & Galu players, with the creative combos that arose from the statue tossing mechanic proving an especially novel and fun experience. On the other hand, opponents ended up finding this version even more frustrating than before. After several rounds of attempted nerfs and tweaks, we eventually decided that this design was untenable, and as the now-subject-matter-expert on Afi & Galu, the task of yet another rework fell to me.
This time, I resolved to address the aforementioned frustration as my first priority. But this time I would be starting from a base that was, at the very least, fun to play. I began the process by consulting with several prominent A&G players to identify which aspects of the characters they considered essential to their enjoyment and which elements were extraneous.

After forming a clear idea of which parts of A&G players held dear, I was able to really take an axe to the rest of the characters’ kit. After about a week of compiling feedback and consulting with players regarding the frustrating elements of A&G’s gameplay, I came to the following three conclusions:
  1. Side-special was the primary source of frustration. Although the statue could no longer mimic special moves, even a single move that the statue could perform at will proved to be too much for most players to comfortably fit on their mental stack.
  2. The statue-juggling mechanic was a close second in terms of frustration. Surprisingly, when gathering feedback I also found that this mechanic wasn’t considered an essential part of the character's appeal by most players. Instead, what players really enjoyed was something it enabled indirectly – the ability to repeatedly swap between the two golems mid-combo to pull off creative strings of attacks.
  3. Finally, players found it difficult to deal with an Afi & Galu who played defensively. Many players would use the golems' swap ability to slip away when in danger, and players found this incredibly annoying to deal with. Although the swap had a cooldown, in the broader context of the game it wasn’t sufficient to prevent this kind of gameplay pattern from being effective.

With these considerations in mind, I completed Afi & Galu’s third rework, which was well-received across the board, both by those who played the character and those who didn’t. The meat of this redesign consisted of four more targeted changes to address the issues identified above:
  1. The statue-juggling mechanic was removed entirely. This limited their ability to defensively wall out opponents and made playing against a defensive A&G more engaging. While it was sad to see a fun mechanic go, the overall health of the game benefited greatly, and the core of the character's appeal remained.
  2. Side special was removed and replaced with a more straightforward move used by the active golem. This drastically reduced the burden on the opponent’s mental stack at all times, and made playing against A&G a much more tractable experience.
  3. Swap was gated by a special resource that could only be generated when playing aggressively. This allowed us to prevent the defensive swap-focused playstyles that players hated without hampering the aggressive swap combos that Afi & Galu players loved.
  4. A new mechanic called “Active Swap” was introduced. To compensate for some of the potential that Afi & Galu lost as a character, we wanted to introduce something that really allowed players to lean into the swap combos that they fond so enjoyable. Allowing the player to swap between the golems while in the middle of using a move turbo-charged their combo game and opened them up to a whole new style of especially creative options.

A compilation one of our playtesters put together showcases some of the cool things A&G can do.