The Dancing Dervish - An Insight into the Design Process

There's a new developer-designed unique item coming soon: Dancing Dervish. Today, I'm going to share the story behind the origin, design process, and the final results.

In the past, I have worked with supporters before to help design their unique items/maps, come up with flavour text, and so on. This was my first time on the other side, trying to get my crazy ideas past the design team. It was an interesting process.

I've always had a fondness for Animated Weapon, and the general concept of magically floating, possessed swords fighting by themselves. Watching builds like this one in action gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. There is already one unique item for Animate Weapon builds, but I wanted to do something different, something less about creating an army of disposable minions and more about creating a single powerful one.

My initial concept was a unique sword that could animate itself, jumping out of the player's hands and fighting on its own alongside. To make this happen, the item would need to grant a skill similar to Animate Weapon, except instead of targeting weapons on the ground, it would need to auto-target itself. This raised a few practical questions.

  • What happens to the item? Should it drop from the animated minion? Can you lose it this way?
  • Does animating it leave the player unarmed?
  • Do players need an incentive to cast the animate skill? Are the upsides worth the downsides?
  • Can players use the sword themselves while it's animated?
  • What about socketed gems?

Having the item falling on the ground sounded dangerous, so I really wanted to avoid that, because players could potentially lose their build-enabling item (even if it was intelligently allocated). So the item needed to stay in the player's inventory. The two options, then, were to either just allow the player to keep wielding the sword while a copy of it was animated, or to disable the item and leave the player unarmed. The first option was simpler, but I found the second option much more fascinating and much more akin to my original concept. After discussion with the other programmers, we decided that the item could stay in the inventory but disable itself.

Any support gems in the item would affect the minion, and would be deliberately snapshotted to keep their effect, even after the gems were disabled with the item. The animated minion would be a special type that could survive even with its parent skill disabled.

It was a crazy idea that broke the rules of the game, but it was my crazy idea, dammit, and I was determined to find a way to make it work. But what would happen while the sword was disabled?

  • Would it disable only itself? Or would we have to disable the main-hand slot entirely?
  • Can players use a shield? Or another one-hand weapon in the off-hand slot?
  • What about weapon swapping? Equipping new items?
  • Does it need to disable the off-hand slot? What if this disables a shield that e.g. is giving you added Dexterity that you need to equip other gear?
  • Where does the madness end?

Fortunately, there were a few relatively simple solutions to all of these issues: make the sword two-handed, make it disable both hands, and make it not grant any added attributes, so you don't lose any stats that are required to equip other gear. Of course, this ultimately means you will be effectively unarmed, so…

Time to break out those Facebreakers, baby! Another one of my favourite unique items, as it happens. Or, Doryani's Fist, if you prefer.

The new plan: a sword for an alternative Facebreaker/unarmed build, where the sword disables itself and creates an animated minion to fight alongside you. Behind the scenes, the minion acts similar to golems, granting you a permanent buff that disables both hand slots. When the minion dies, you lose the buff and automatically equip the sword again. Note that is not a strict upgrade for existing unarmed builds, because you are giving up a shield in exchange for more offense and an extra minion.

It was weird for me to not implement this myself, but the other skill programmers were better suited to the task, so they did most of the work. It was implemented.

And it was awful.

I mean, it worked. Technically. The sword granted a skill, which summoned an animated minion, which disabled both hand slots. It was functional, but it wasn't fun. Having to stop all the time to cast the spell felt terrible, yet it was mandatory for an otherwise unarmed build. And if you never summoned the minion, well, that would just be boring. Also, the minion itself wasn't very useful, and was constantly dying.

So what to do? One suggestion was to make the skill require a soul cost, similar to the Vaal skills. Such a cost would be something to play around, and something that made you balance using the sword and fighting unarmed. This had some appeal, but the key issue was the self-casting. The skill needed to be automatically triggered.

But what to trigger on? How easy should it be to trigger? How much control should the player have? How often should it be possible to cast it? I didn't want it to be trivial to trigger, such as on crit, and using a mechanic like Frenzy Charges felt better, but it was weird that it would interact with so many other uniques yet only some of the time. I liked how you build charges up, and then need to maintain a certain pace to sustain them, but it's just too easy to generate and reach maximum charges. I needed something else.

Rampage, though, operates on a similar principle. You need to build and maintain a kill streak, and it even provides a variety of other useful buffs and effects, including Animated Weapons! What if the sword granted Rampage, and then automatically animated itself when you reached the first Rampage tier (keyworded as "on Rampage")? I liked the concept, but could it work? Fortunately, the Rampage buff is already self-sustaining. Once you start a kill-streak, the Rampage buff keeps itself going, even if you unequip or disable the items granting you Rampage in the first place. No implementation required.

Furthermore, with Rampage, we have a naturally self-limiting mechanic we can utilize. The animated minion was fairly weak and would die easily, yet buffing it too much would make it overpowered. But what if we only kept it alive while you maintained the Rampage kill-streak? With this downside, this inherently limited lifespan, the minion could be made very resilient yet still remain balanced. The designers tentatively agreed.

With these changes in place, the sword was finally feeling fun. I especially liked how my character felt slightly suboptimal while wielding the sword, but would unleash its true potential when the minion animated and I could finally fight unarmed. Was there a way to capitalize on this, to heighten that sense of empowerment and incentivize players to animate the sword? Well, the animated minion already acts like a Golem with a "buff" that disables your hands, perhaps it could provide an actual bonus as well. What would be a useful, impactful bonus for Facebreaker builds? Onslaught. Yes, the increased attack and move speed would work very nicely and help close the distance between packs to maintain that sweet, sweet Rampage kill-streak and keep the minion alive.

One more balance question: which base type to use? Initially, I wanted something around level 40-45, so players could use it from around Cruel difficulty through to endgame, however the problem was that the minion wouldn't scale with the player. Normal skill gems level up over time and become stronger with the player, but skills granted by items do not. To make it strong in Cruel would make it very weak in endgame Maps. Yes, you can add more links over time to add more supports to the minion, but even so it wouldn't be viable at endgame. The best solution was to increase the base type to be higher-level: Reaver Sword (level 59). This makes it more of an endgame weapon and so it doesn't need to scale as much.

It was time to think about the theme: the name, artwork, and flavour text. This was actually the hardest part for me. Why was the sword forcing you to be unarmed? I initially toyed with the idea of uncontrollable rage. You were unarmed because you were just so darned angry you couldn't help but ball your fists up and punch things. But I struggled to find a name and flavour text that didn't sound cheesy or reference certain green superheroes.

Eventually, I received an interesting suggestion to theme the sword around dancing. The dancing blade, magically possessed and fighting on its own is of course now a common trope, and expanding on that idea tickled my fancy. What kind of dance could the sword perform that would fit the game and sound awesome? After some digging, I found the perfect fit: the whirling, spinning dervish dance. Not normally a sword dance in real life, it would work well as one in Wraeclast, and it bears striking similarity to Cyclone, a commonly used skill for unarmed builds.

Thus the Dancing Dervish was born. With this name to guide it, the rest quickly fell into place. A rough sketch and description was passed to an artist, who magically crafted some wonderful 2D art:

Note the curved blade to convey the idea of spinning and movement, combined with the spiky bits to convey the idea of killing stuff. Since this item spends much of its time animated as a minion, it has received 3D art as well.

Interestingly, the language of dance melded quite well with the language of sword fighting, resulting in this flavour text:

Take your partner by the hand,
Keep your steps in time.
Swing together, spin apart,
And dance with death sublime.

Note the implied instruction to maintain your Rampage kill-streak.

There was just one last change I needed to wrap this all up. The whole item was now themed as a spinning dervish, and players will quite likely be using Cyclone, so the animated minion simply had to follow suit.


As a triggered skill, it does not appear on your skill bar. However, you can see its stats on the character panel. The name of the skill, by the way, is Manifest Weapon. Even though I have used "animate" throughout this article, that word is reserved for skills that consume items on the ground. This is a new type of skill, with a new word to describe it.

As a two-handed sword, it can have up to six sockets, and any support gems in them will benefit the minion, regardless of socket links. Alternatively, if you do invest in links, you could set up a skill (perhaps sword-specific) to help you reach the first Rampage tier, and linked support gems could benefit both the minion and your attack skill. Also, note that any gems in the item will still gain experience, even while the item is disabled.

The whole process was a roller-coaster of crazy ideas, seemingly impassable roadblocks, exhilaration, frustration, and hard work. It took several months for my item to evolve from concept to completion. There were many back-and-forth discussions about what was possible, impossible, or somewhere in-between. I had to temper my own crazy ideas with the harsh realities and restrictions of design and implementation. More than once, I wondered if I would have to give up and start again from scratch. In the end, however, I am very satisfied with the final product, and I'm very excited to see what the global community will do with it.

The Dancing Dervish is scheduled to be added alongside the next challenge league in Content Update 2.3.0.

Posted by 
Grinding Gear Games
very nice

edit: tldr lol

Last edited by DieAbolicaL on Apr 28, 2016, 1:03:16 AM
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Thats a big ass sword.
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You started from the idea that you liked Animate Weapon and ended up with a unique that has no chance to work with animated weapon

i might have miss a part of the wall of text you gave us, i hope i missed a part lol

dont get me wrong, i like the idea of that sword but...

if you want to stay in the Animated weapon gem theme you could have added a mod like:
" While rampaging, all animated weapons are "The dancing dervish""
" Dancing Dervish animate other weapons" aka: invite them to dance

oH And, you seems to constantly calling it an animated minion, when its on its own, will it be buffed by your stats or minion buffs? will it use
1)default attack?
2) a special attack created for the weapon?
3)you main attack?

It would be awesome if that sword, when flying on its own, could use the attacks in its links
COMK+animate weapon+srs+multistrike

will it also disable the gems in its sockets when it'll fly away?

There are so many ways this Unique could be Awesome and im afraid its none of those, that the fear of making something too OP will end up with GGG pulling the choker.

PLEASE! GGG!! Dont be afraid of making this GOOD or slightly OP, that where fun begins. Aren't you tired of making uniques and all people find to say is "vendor trash" or "nice skin transfer"?

tldr: Make it a minion that uses the skill setup in its sockets and when it activated, all weapons you Animate are this sword
ZiggyD is the Labyrinth of streamers, some like it, some dont, but GGG will make sure to push it down ur throat to make you like it
Last edited by Sexcalibure on Apr 28, 2016, 1:50:16 AM

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