Backstage Corporate Clash: The High Roller

Posted on by The Corporate Clash Crew

Hello, Toons! This is the Corporate Clash Crew, back once again for another Backstage Blog! We've just posted Schoolhouse/Toontorial Backstage Blog, and we're already back with another! You could say we're... on a roll.

And speaking of rolls, how about that High Roller, huh? We released our MAYpril Toons' update, which contained our newest miniboss: The High Roller! As is April Toons' tradition, its battle is wild, and we had a lot of fun creating it. In this blog post, we will give you a behind the scenes look at our process, and how Your Quackjesty came to be!

To Roll, or Not to Roll?

April Toons has had a lot of different instance minibosses throughout the years, which resulted in a lot of our workload being put into them every year. Our goal moving into 2023 was to create an instance miniboss that could return each year without requiring excessive re-coding or asset creation, while still allowing us to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting each time it returned. This would require a very different gameplay style than a boss like Redd Heir Wing or Count Erfit.

Originally, we were a bit reluctant to make a whole new boss. Just coming off of 1.3 making 16 new Manager boss fights, we were understandably a bit tired. However, we decided to go with it when proposed that High Roller becomes THE April Toons boss.

We started by exploring the character of the Duck Shuffler and his casino theme, as that would naturally lend itself to exciting, unpredictable gameplay that could be refreshed without much effort each year. However, our Game Design meetings were soon plagued with jokes about the Major Player (another force of chaos) and the Duck Shuffler and what sort of insane experience they could create for the player when together, which led to us seriously pursuing the idea of them fusing. After all, what could be better content for the silliest holiday around than something that literally started as an inside joke? And so, work officially began on the High Roller.

Designing the Duckie

Written by Anonymous Avocado (Concept Artist) and Nonsensical Things (3D Animator)

We bounced around a lot of ideas for the High Roller (even some scarier ones!) before the direction of the instance was shifted from "casino" to "game show," prompting the colorful, silly design that is seen in game. As High Roller is a bit of a chaotic character who is neither wholly on the side of the Toons or Cogs, it was important to portray that duality in the stage design, thus prompting Cogs and Toons to have their own unique podiums, as well as the carpet pattern representing both sides. 
Central to the High Roller's High Roller show was the wheel, which took us a lot of time to get right. Did you know that the "UH OH" slice of the wheel is not visible on the wheel until the cutscene where it's rolled?

High Roller Wheel render by Loonatic

Concept Artist Anonymous Avocado had this to say about the creation of the beast itself:
"Working on High Roller was a load of fun! The idea of the fusion design of Major Player and Duck Shuffler led to a lot of creative directions to take the design.

"The biggest challenge (albeit a fun one) while designing High Roller was how to create a good balance of design aspects from both Dave and Buck respectively. The way I personally went about it was taking a detail from one design and then adding the others onto it (Duck bill? Slap some piano teeth on that!) 

"Originally, High Roller went for a ‘casino’ aesthetic so in a lot of my earlier design he had slot eyes, poker chips, and even a roulette wheel for a hat! When we ultimately decided on a ‘game show’ aesthetic for High Roller instead, these details had to be scrapped so I took them in the direction of “game show wheels” instead! Added onto his hat to were little ducks that would rotate along his hat. These little guys were probably my favorite part of designing High Roller, I mean, look at those shades!

"Overall, High Roller was a ton of fun to work on, from start to finish I was bouncing in my seat designing him from how any creative details I was able to sprinkle on."

Click here to see the High Roller's rig preview, created by xxBerkiexx!

High Roller Content Design

Written by Balance JF, Crazy, Madi, Mark, and Sunny (Content Designers)
How do you create a fun yet challenging boss for everyone? That's one tough cookie to crack, and our Content Designers worked every day to make sure that this duck was in prime condition. In the initial Game Design meeting, High Roller was planned to have level 6 gag content sync. It was a much simpler boss at the time, or at least when compared to the end product. We eventually decided we didn't like that and ended up with a reverse content sync scenario, which turned into the High Roller you know and love today. It's simple enough to say we were going to scale things up as the battle went on, but it's another to figure out how we're going to do that, and how the rest of the battle is going to go.

To level out the playing field for all players, whether 15 laff or 150 laff, we introduced the concept of Pips (previously called Chips under the former casino theme!), which removes the need to account for gag pouch size differences and tracks, as well as serving as a mechanism that rewarded you for playing well and punished you for being a gambling addict (unless you are an avid 3-pip dice enjoyer). This system gave a lot of player flexibility on how to approach the various battles - we had some QA groups having one person using stronger gags to clear the lower sets on their own while the other passed to gain Pips, and some QA groups using the most mind-boggling zap/sound/drop strategies to juggle the 500-600 health Cogs.

Phase 1
The High Roller's Game Show was a fun one to concept up. We started out agreeing to have our "answers" for anything in the minigames be Flunkies that you throw a gag at to "answer", as a callback to the original Toontorial (and it's also just funny). We had many scrapped games, including one where the High Roller even threw cards at you (52-card pickup with High Roller, anyone?), but we eventually decided on 3 minigames - Trivia, Shuffle, and Puzzle. 

After a handful of runs, we also ran into a problem of players not having enough Pips, which we nailed down to two potential issues: We're not giving enough pips at the end of each round, or we're not giving enough pips for successful Minigame attempts. We ended up increasing the Pips each Toon received from a successful minigame, and settled on 2 Pip gain per round. In addition, we made Cog kills count for more damage towards High Roller than they were previously.

Phase 2
We wanted the High Roller to be a two-phase fight, but one of our Game Developers, Huck, had the brilliant idea to just have the Mr. Hollywoods from the Major Player fight show up (while laughing extremely hard). We took that idea in stride, and they became "Phase 2" for our duck. We then decided to split the fight into 3 phases, in which the third phase would be more proper.

For this round, (or "The Boys", as we'd call it internally), all we really needed to adjust was the starting Pips, and the Cog damage output. We decided to have the round start with 10 pips so that whoever had a 2-pip die could take it and guarantee a Squirt, a Lure, or whatever you need. Conveniently, if you don't spam buffs, your Pips end up allowing you to use high-level gags pretty much every round. The round was supposed to be short and sweet, and we feel like we accomplished that. The round was definitely meant to be more of a callback and a funny gimmick than a fully fleshed-out Cog round. That said, most QA groups outside of the HR Balancing Team wiped in this round at first. Turns out that having 3 level 25.exe Cogs attacking you at the same time is rather dangerous. As a fix, The Boys have a hidden 10-damage debuff so groups don't get rushed down immediately. (Did you know that the Major Player's Mr. Hollywoods were also nerfed for the same reason back in 1.3 QA?)

Phase 3
After that, it was time to figure out what we wanted for the final phase. When it came time for the meeting, Trip sat everyone down and basically said, "Guys, I found this image of the Major Player, and I want phase 3 to be this. Like I want the High Roller to just expand into all these copies and all the copies do something."

We LOVED this idea. Shortly after, inspiration struck and the music for Phase 3 was complete. At the meeting to design the phase, Trip made us all listen to the music at the same time and said, "We are going to create a round that matches the energy of this song and we ARE listening to it all together right now." We decided that the silhouettes would be colored based on the Gag Tracks, and made their abilities counter each track, respectively.
Originally, we wanted the High Roller fight to have some sort of gimmick where he was able to "roll" to use other Manager abilities. This meant that yes, your friendly neighborhood High Roller (and Silhouettes) would be able to Cut the Slack, or even Castle. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, this was scrapped in favor of the more simple flavor of Gag countering abilities. We reused this idea in Overclocked Face the Family. To be fair, High Roller using other Manager cheats definitely does feel pretty cheesy and unoriginal, and we think the shift ended up for the better.

High Roller Tech Implementation

Written by BalanceJF (Game Developer)

"Hi! I'm Jarod, also known as BalanceJF. I joined the team in January and helped with battle logic and battle cutscene implementation for this fight.

"High Roller was incredibly fun to work on, as it felt kind of like we were taking conventions that were well-defined for previous updates, then thinking of ways to flip them upside-down to make something that does not at all fit the conventions of any fight in the game. 

"In fact, the tech development for High Roller in terms of some of his specifics was pretty fitting in a really funny way for the character. Since creative elements were being made sometimes before and sometimes after tech implementation, a lot of his general implementation was a bit scattered across Bossbot and Cashbot, since some things were easier to transition in implementation from Bossbot to Cashbot than others. A similar thing occurred due to the fact that he's more similar to the managers but still an event boss. Regardless, he was a total blast to piece together.

"In particular, I loved every minute of the process for Light Blue Silhouette. At first the idea was to have it only change drop and do it 1 level up or down, and I kinda just decided 'hmmm maybe let's try multiple levels' and tested it and sure enough it was disgusting but amazing and seemingly flawlessly working. Then the idea came around to have it do other tracks but at a lower rate, and that seemed to also be very funny and cool. It had some unfortunate hiccups near the end, which Sketched managed to fix using his wizard-like code powers, but I would say it was absolutely worth it. 
I was also very nervous about the camera and positioning work for battle minigames, because it was a bit daunting to think about (I jokingly referred to it as 'my science experiment'), and it seemed to be misbehaving quite a bit initially. However, with some help, I tried a second method of implementation, and it worked perfectly and produced a phase 1 that felt way more visually effective as a game show than what it was before (mostly just a normal battle round).

"One more fun, cool thing I'd like to reveal here: many people were wondering, 'What would happen if I sat in the fight for all 500 rounds of the sound Silhouette's ability, until the round timer expired? I am happy to reveal to you all today the answer to this question, but first, here's a story. The first time I made that silhouette's effect, I realized that the effect had a behavior that wasn't necessarily game-breaking, just weird. I wanted to have the effect basically be permanent until that Silhouette was defeated, but doing that based on how I was implementing the early stuff for Silhouettes posed some complications. So I decided to use the opportunity to semi-fix it, but replace the issue with a funny gimmick instead. So, I made the effect last 500 ROUNDS! Anyways, that weird behavior, the one that will still happen if you wait those 500 rounds, is...

"the winded effect will expire........ for one round. Then it'll go right back to another 500 rounds!! Wooooo!!!!

"I would consider those to be just some of the highlights from my time working on this crazy, insane fight. As a newer member of the team, having something to start with that was interesting but challenging to work on has been exactly what I was hoping for. "

Written by Madi (Game Development Director)
"Hiiii, my name's Madi, and I'm one of the Game Development Directors on the team. I'll start with the main thing that kept me busy for much of the month of April, which was organizing QA for the fight in the several weeks leading up to release. As some of you may know from our public QA process for 1.3, this basically involves getting people to do the fight and hunt for bugs, balance issues, and any other polish tweaks that need to be made. I'd then have the QA testers compile a list of things that needed to be worked on for the day, and then assign it out to the Technical Team to prep for the next day. Rinse and repeat almost everyday until release! As much of a grind as this sounds like it probably is (and trust me, it certainly was for everyone involved), it was actually super fun to watch and be involved in the fight evolving from something that's just "playable", into the crazy final product that released.

"Probably the biggest highlight of the whole development cycle happened on April 27th, the day before release. A handful of game developers (myself included), and various other QA testers, sat in QA for like 8 hours, trying our best to polish off every last detail of the High Roller fight. One crazy bug we ran into that ended up not getting fixed until that day was, clicking a dice button ended up lagging everyone in battle for a few frames. While this wasn't much of an issue independently, when multiple people were spam-clicking dice as you do, it would've likely made the battle selection nearly unplayable. As it turned out, this was because the client was getting told to refresh WAY too much information on the battle panel, and one quick optimization later, it was fixed. Shoutouts to Sketched for catching and fixing this, it was truly one of the biggest "Oh thank goodness" moments I have ever had.

"As far as Technical implementation itself goes, the main things I worked on were some of the attack cutscenes, as well as various polish bits, bugfixes, and implementation of balance changes. First of all, this was my first major outing with our cutscene editor (see here if you're curious about what that is), so I'd like to shoutout my fellow developers BalanceJF and Jay Nite for helping get me set up with all that. My first project was working on Dice Roulette's attack animation. With the way cutscene sequences are set up, this was actually relatively easy. Basically, all I had to do was make a sequence in which the TV cycled through dice of values in a given list, and then insert randomly generated numbers into that list, ending with the one the attack ended up landing on. The attack also is split up into 3 different cutscenes depending on the outcome; one where nothing happens, one where the dice land on Toons, and one where the dice land on the Cogs. The Toons hit cutscene actually has the camera angled down quite a bit more than if the Cogs are hit, just to make the High Roller look ever more menacing. Moving along to one of the other attack animations I worked on; Con-Duck-Tion!! Can you tell it's a bit similar to an already existing Cog attack animation? That's right, I actually used Pecking Order as a basis. All I had to change from that was make the duck model go BOING, as well as add a new sound effect (made by Maven!!), and split it up into two "beams" of ducks. And thus you get the cute attack, bouncy, and hilarious attack you see today. One last tidbit about cutscenes: we've actually onboarded some team members outside of the Technical Team to help out with cutscene work! The cutscene editor is still a bit tech-heavy, but we're trying to get it to a state where it's relatively simple to learn. While I can't reveal anything regarding what we plan to do with this power, expect some even crazier cinematography in the future!

Con-Duck-tor? Con-Duck-Tion? (drawn by Huck)

"Moving onto some other non-cutscene-related points: Ironically, one of the toughest things for me to work out was the little "+X Pips!" text that pops up above your Toon whenever you gain pips, or '-X Pips' when you spend pips on Gags. I'll start with a fun fact; technically, this sequence is an attack! A lot of the time, when you want to insert some element into a battle movie, handling it through an actual attack is a simple way to do so. Essentially, while trying to implement it, I had waaay too much trouble with making sure all of the ordering was correct, and so I basically ended up having to rewrite most of the logic that was used to give and take pips. The algorithm basically plugs into the part of code that controls Pip gain/loss, and inserts the "Give pips" attack right before a Toon uses their Gags for a given track, as well as inserting a sequence for pip / max laff gain at the end of the turn. Once again, shoutouts to Sketched for helping me out with this, as well as creating that cute little sequence of your Toon actually gaining max laff.

"I'll end off my ramblings with a bit of a personal story. While I've been a game developer for the team for a bit over a year, I spent much of the first few months busy helping manage and lead the Moderation Team, before being drafted to my current position. With that being said, I didn't have much time to spare for helping with the Hires & Heroes update, meaning this is the first major update in which I got to take an active role in Technical implementation. And quite the active role that was, getting to direct the project and organize QA every day!! That being said, I truly had a blast working on the update and I'm super excited to help out with future updates as well!!"

Balancing The Fight

Written by Mark (Content Designer) and Sunny (Content Designer, Community Manager)

Once the Technical and Creative team implemented the final product, it was time to get moving on QA and balancing. The first few runs of High Roller were even longer than the fight currently is; as High Roller was designed to be for anyone to fight, we had to tone the difficulty and length down. 

In the initial version of the fight, the silhouettes always returned with the full 8000 health, which was rather punishing if the group didn't take full advantage of the rounds where High Roller was alone or if they lost someone early on. We wanted to retain the initial difficulty of facing the silhouettes at full power but we needed to consider the mix of people that would be in the fight, especially to people new to Corporate Clash. Our solution was to reduce the health for each new set by 1000 to give newer Toons a better chance at clutching the victory without making it trivial for experienced groups. This made it into the MAYpril Toons update, but it proved to not be enough, so the health reduction was nerfed to 2000 per set shortly after (while retaining a minimum of 4000 health). To go with the initial nerf, Ace in the Hole gained the permanent Vulnerable debuff. This resulted in an exciting Phase 3 where both Toons and Cogs get into danger more quickly as the show goes on! The silhouettes were also all capable of attacking, which resulted in plenty of time wasted watching the same attack animations over and over, so we settled on having only one silhouette attack at a time in any given turn.

A planned attack, Cup Move, which was meant to be a group attack where the High Roller placed cups on the Toons and shuffled them around to deal random amounts of damage, was scrapped due to technical work needed; in its place we introduced the "Rolled" attack, reusing existing animations.

The dice went through several balance changes. Previously, there was no cooldown to the 5 and 6-pip dice. This was changed after our QA testers spammed the Toon-Up unite every single round and made actually using Toon-Up nonexistent, to prove a point. Additionally, the 3-pip die was swapped with the 4-pip die, and the 5-pip die was swapped with the 6-pip die. This resulted in a situation where 15% damage boosts were easy to spam because they cost 3 pips and Toon-up was often not needed because someone always had a 5-pip Toon-up unite ready to go. On the other hand, the Pip Discount die was often not worth it because it cost 4 pips and took significant investment just to break even. When we observed the other QA groups, we realized that most of them had painfully slow runs because they ignored the dice. To remedy this, the golden 6-pip die was added just days before launch to force Toons to interact with them.

We QA'd this fight every single day for hours over several weeks, making sure it felt good to play. Seeing the reactions of everyone experiencing this fight for the first time was incredible! We look forward to designing even bigger and better things in the future, and can't wait to show you what flavor of beef we have cooking up next.

Finding the Duckie: All About the ARG

A lot of you probably remember we kicked off our duck-tastic update with an ARG, which required users to find their way to High Roller's profile page. The entire ARG, following the success of the 1.3 ARG, continues and adds onto the theme of 90s/2000s website aesthetics. Here's what Game Developer Huck, who worked extensively on the ARG, had to say about it:

"Oh geez I really get my own segment. Huh

"Hello, I'm Huck, one of the newer Game Developers on the team! Besides game development though, I have a much longer history in art, visual design, and front-end web development. However, I've always had a more "vintage" taste as far as web design goes, with a stronger interest for amateurish personal websites. When Sheriff Cranky went, "okay, who wants to work on the April Toons ARG?" I stepped right up to bat. I handled a lot of implementation of the AT2023 ARG, code-wise, including the puzzles—but ESPECIALLY the profile itself. And for those who saw the profile for themselves, I hope it shows.

"We had a sort of Vision for what the profile would look like. Dubious. Vaguely scammy. A mix of personal and brand; really, more like a very unprofessional brand website. A little bit on the "actively unpleasant to look at" side. We tossed the word "Geocities" around a few times. A few players have actually told me they assumed Geocities was an inspiration, but actually I wasn't quite interested in 2008—maybe a little surprising for those who know me. But trust me, if I was interested in the 2000's style, I would have added terrible little transparent 3D gifs of ducks, and I would have made them myself using modeling and pixel art software. I have the power. Instead, I dug a little further back... straight into the brand websites of the 80's and 90's. These inspirations were cited all throughout the profile's design, from the layout to the "advertisements" on the page, which I made myself.

"We even went as far as locking our tech to the 90s and early 2000s, using HTML 4.0 and CSS2, both from 1998. The image assets for the profile were filtered to use "web safe" colors only, back when images looked different across the limited-color operating systems and browsers; these "web safe" colors were the only ones that would display consistently between them all. Not that it matters much in this day and age, but it mattered to Us.

"the unused old 'ducky divider' i did away with, now serving its purpose as an actual divider" -huck

"True to the unprofessional idea we had in mind, I took the already kind of terrible web design of the 20th century and made it worse. We were impressed by how beautifully terrible it was. But if I had all the energy in the world, trust me—I would have made it worse."

Rolling Credits...That's All Folks!

And that is it for this edition of the Backstage Blog - thank YOU very much for being part of High Roller's High Roller! We hope you've enjoyed what this update had in store for all of you, and look forward to the future with us. We can't wait to show you what's next for Corporate Clash. Until next time!