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Cataclysm: Bright Nights

Design document

See Game Balance and Lore for more detailed discussion coresponding to particular elements of the CDDA design document. This document covers the core philosphy of CBN.

One of the primary priorities of Cataclysm Bright Nights is fun.

Gameplay is more important than realism.

Realism isn’t inherently wrong. But it often comes at the expense of the new player experience. So the fundamentals of Game Design are a priority for Cataclysm Bright Nights.

Depth is preferable to complexity. But complexity is valuable as long as it isn’t overwhelming. See porting principles 3 and 5. Complexity generally becomes overwhelming when there are too many things to track at the same time to be able to tell what is important. So then you have to put in more work than you want to, to understand and filter the information down to what matters.

Generally a cap should be set for how many things are displayed or being dealt with simultaneously.

Complexity can be managed:

  • By having the most important info visible at a glance.
  • Making the most important menus more apparent and accessible.

General rules

There are six principles applied for content in general:

  1. Things that are useless should be either made useful or removed.

  2. Weird/wonky mechanics should be either reworked or removed. If there is value in retaining them, they should be clearly communicated to the player through UI.

  3. Each mechanic/item/monster/etc. should fill its own niche or have its own purpose, e.g. there shouldn’t be many different effects that penalize the character in the same way, or a dozen of guns that differ only in name and +1 to damage value. If such variety is desired, it should be relegated to mods.

  4. The gameplay should be less about pressing buttons and spending time in submenus and more about interacting with the surrounding world and progressing (achieving results).

  5. Different play styles should be balanced against each other, with their own upsides and downsides, so that you can actually choose a different play style and have it not suck just because “realistically, firearms are better than everything else”, but actually be playable and have a different feel to it.

  6. Rewards should be proportional to amount of effort spent on achieving them (e.g. weapon with harder craft recipe, or one that requires rarer components, or rarer ammo, should deal more damage).


  1. useless things only serve to clutter interfaces and item lists. increasing complexity for little value. Often strategically removing things can add more value than an addition.
  2. weirdness is a sign that things are unintuitive. Somethings benefit from not being obvious. But things that are too far from people’s expectations break the suspension of disbelief and require people to remember more disconnected elements.
  3. This is sort of an expansion of 1. Adding things that have a distinct purpose for existing adds more interactions. Things that have some flexibility are particularly valuable. But the purpose makes new items add more depth than an item which is a slight variant. slight variants.
  4. Sorting through complexity in menus isn’t fun. menus are only fun when there are meaningful choices or tradeoffs being made there. (I.E. what to equip, what to carry, what to loot first, etc.)
  5. and 6. are kind of common sense applications of prioritizing gameplay.

Removals and re-adding

Presence or absence of content is often a contentious issue. In cases where it is not obvious:

  • Content should not be kept on the basis of “it can be made good”. If it isn’t good now, it isn’t good. It can be re-added later, when it becomes good.
  • Content should not be re-added on the basis of “it was present before”. Re-added content should be treated the same way new content is.
  • Content should not be “spared” from removal by giving it forced updates that still don’t make it good enough. It should be treated like new content is.
  • This doesn’t cover arguments regarding content being thematic, liked etc., content can still be given extra “points” based on those.

In short, don’t ask “why remove it?”, ask “why should it be present in the game?“.


Depth occurs primarily from interactions between mechanics and different elements of the game. For example, a common scenario is:

enemies spot you close, what do you do? The general options are: run away quickly.(Where to?) move to a good spot and fight them. kite them at location.

But the exact details change the preferable answer. those factors bring depth into that decision and interesting gameplay. As well as playing into resource management elements that are classic fun elements of roguelikes.

Some factors here are: damage you deal vs. enemy resilience and numbers (How long to kill? Can I kill?) How much cost do you take from a fight? How far/fast can I run vs. them (Speed + stamina) terrain nearby.(terrain speed slowdowns. damage terrain, chokepoints, etc.) other clusters of enemies. How much benefit is there to a fight? (zombie drops + nearby loot locations that are now safe)