A Postulate on TBS fun: Easy to Learn, Hard to Master

Or: Consider Chess.

By on January 28, 2010 6:00:39 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

onomastikon

Join Date 02/2006
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INTRODUCTION

In a recent post, a person on these forums complained that he did not like CivIV because it was “simplistic” – to which Brad replied that this person would probably dislike Elemental as well.

 

I am going to try to argue that simplicity or complexity are not the (only key primary) elements which determine a TBS’s strategic depth and fun. On the contrary.

 

POSTULATION: Axiom A

I would like to postulate an axiom on TBS fun, let us call it Axiom A. I will claim that one (primary, key) element that no TBS may lack without becoming boring is this: A (consistent) stream of strategically relevant and ambivalent (or better: polyvalent) choices. By ambivalent I mean a choice about whose outcomes there should be room for discussion; a choice which allows for various normative interpretations. The diametric opposite of an ambivalent choice would be a no-brainer. By consistent flow I mean that there should not be many turns in which the player need not rethink a strategy.

 

By way of demonstration, let me return to Civilization IV mentioned above. I did not find CivIV simplistic; I found it unexciting after the first three playthroughs because I did not feel strategically challenged once midgame started. I did not have a plethora of strategically relevant choices; I was “merely” optimizing strategic advantages by means of tactics, always coming closer to my goal. I was rarely surprised. There were many turns during which I found nothing interesting or challenging to do. In addition to the fact that many cities seemed impersonal (because in any city you may only have one type of improvement, e.g. only one temple, forge, etc.) and hence interchangeable, I found most turns to be interchangeable as well.

 

This is one of the reasons I have de-installed GalCiv2. I love the idea of the game, but disliked its slow plodding. While I did not have to micromanage, and was pleased by this fact, I found myself nevertheless hitting “return” for turn after turn; this was neither challenging nor fun.

 

 

 

CONSIDER CHESS.

Consider chess for a moment. Chess has proven itself over the centuries as a benchmark of classic TBS success. (Please note that I will not be arguing that Elemental should resemble chess in many ways.) One of the reasons chess is considered a “good” game, in my opinion, is that it fulfils what I called Axiom A above: There is almost no turn in a well-balanced chess match (that is, when two players of halfway similar skills are paired) by which a player is not challenged to think about the repercussions of moves many turns in the future. Players are required to think about moves and their counters. This is because each move in chess is polyvalent. Some moves, are of course, no-brainers in the sense that these would be “stupid” moves; these moves are not polyvalent. The fact that chess is a good game is also manifested by the fact that some moves can be called “good moves” – a novel, surprising, challenging move. 

Yet chess has simple rules. Chess is not bogged down in minutae, yet still challenging.

The fact that chess has simple rules is also a huge factor in making it relatively easy to program AI for it. Simple chess programs can beat the vast majority of chess players, and top-of-the-line chess programs cannot be beat by anyone but the very best human players in the world.

But it is simple to learn (and cheap to make or create a chess board and pieces). It is simple to learn, but very very difficult to master.

 

 

RULE R: EASY TO LEARN, HARD TO MASTER

Of course, chess is not for everyone. Not for me, for example; I play about only 10 games a year. I prefer more complicated computer TBS’s, like what I hope Elemental will become. But I think we can learn a lesson from chess, and from other very exciting computer TBS games which have borrowed something of chess’s rule of success: Easy to learn, hard to master. (Another game that fits this category is a niche product called Star Chamber, whose bafflingly simple rules have created an almost unthinkingly complex ground for consistent strategic challenge: there is no turn in SC by which one really need not (re-)think strategically. Star Chamber is, however, hampered by two huge shortcomings: The first, it is a TCG (trading card game), an unsavoury genre; And second, it has no single-player mode, it is multiplayer only. Additionally, it is not epic; it can only uphold its strategic tension for 30 turns.)

 

I think CivIV failed here; CivIV is not terribly easy to learn; but once you have learned it, it appears to me that mastering it is not far off. It does not offer a consistent strategic challenge. I also felt that GalCiv2 is in the same boat.

 

For this reason, I appeal to us all to forsake the flashy appearance of “more is better”. Having “more” might not necessarily increase our options for a steady flow of true polyvalent strategic choices. Remember GalCiv2: There were limitless amounts of ships to be made, but in reality, we all ended up making slightly different flavors of the same thing. That was indeed fun for the first 5 playthroughs, but it lacked depth despite complexity.

 

 

 

CONCRETE SUGGESTIONS

So what does that mean?

 

More counters. I am wary that the path that unit construction and combat might go is not undercomplex, but rather without counters. If the main differences between units will be primarily arithmetic or superficial – that is, one unit can be “better” than another unit because it can do more damage, have better defense, or be faster – then units will be easily quantifiably better, but not different. This will be the exact opposite of chess. CivIV, as do most other TBS games, worked around this problem by having built-in counters coming from a system of “classes” and “types”, e.g. a “pikeman” was both a melee unit (class) and a spear unit (anti-horse unit type); spears are more efficient (are counters) to horse; maces (or whatever) are counters to spears; archers (or whatever) are counters to maces. Other TBSs follow suit. Chess is very, very similar in this respect: Each type of unit is as different from the other as it can get given the simplistic ruleset.

 

I see the danger of Elemental’s “open” unit-building system and clear-cut combat system (from what has been hinted at so far) to run counter to this. If – simplified – units can be better, but not different, then our strategic choices will be vastly limited, because we will be, in essence, merely optimizing our arithmetic advantages. Our strategic military choices will be limited to finding ways of getting “more”. There will be fewer military surprises, and fewer options to make a “good move” militarily.

 

Hence: Employ types. If not types of damage (e.g. piercing, slashing, bludgeoning) then types of attacks (which I have called “maneuvers” elsewhere) or classes of units (e.g. flag a unit as “is-a-shield-using-unit” with rules for shields or “is-a-riposte-using-melee-unit” with rules for this particular offensive or defensive maneuver). Employ type- or class-like differences to enable strategic counters. Various weapon, armor, or even unit types should be "good" in situations, not (primarily) "good overall".

 

I am suggesting this now because Brad, in his recent post on “Spells and Magic”, claimed that certain things, if decided early enough, are easier to change before vast quantities of resources have been devoted to it.

 

It doesn’t have to be complex, and certainly not complex for complexity’s sake. But it should increase the possibility of a steady and continuous stream (over and during as many turns as possible, well  into the end game) of strategically polyvalent choices.

 

Your input and feedback are welcome. Thank you in advance.

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January 28, 2010 6:52:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, Chess only has:

  1. How to win the game (kill the King)
  2. Initial position of the pieces in the board (never changes, neither the size of the board)
  3. Type of movement for each type of piece

The abyss between Chess (yes, I know it's just an example, that's why I use it too) and any type of decent TBS is too big. TBS are not just combat simulators (Chess?), they include things like actually producing a variable number of different units (that can be wildly different for each faction, unlike Chess), control of the resources to produce such units, research that can affect the units, city deployment and population control, variable map sizes... Those are lots of layers instead of the only one that Chess has.

The problem is to balance the interaction of those layers as you cannot take any of them by themselves (it's not a combat simulator, neither a sim or a tycoon). The ideal thing would have Elemental in the global scale to behave like Chess, with some clear rules (for each of the layers, making them simple) with a depth of choices based on the interaction of those layers (like the interaction of the chess pieces on the board?).

Stardock is trying (sometimes we forget or would prefer some more complexity in some details though) to make the different layers of Elemental simple (but interesting) and let the true complexity of the game come from the interaction of those simple layers.

Giving units types could be an improvement in that direction but we also have magic to consider. And economy, and diplomacy, and research... So I must say that I have no idea of which things would make Elemental to have you thinking every turn about your choices (the "A (consistent) stream of strategically relevant and ambivalent (or better: polyvalent) choices")

Yeah, I wrote a whole post just to say that I have no idea of how the "Easy to learn, hard to master" can be implemented. Go me.

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January 28, 2010 12:58:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I definitely agree that there should be some rock-paper-scissors method. However, the danger there is that that system itself will become formulaic. "My enemy is using a lot of archers, so I should send a lot of horsemen" types of decisions make the game slightly more interesting but not poly- or ambivalent.

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January 28, 2010 5:09:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'd like to see something that boils down to rock-paper-scissors, but not quite so simple as the Civ4 system of "unit x is +50% stronger against unit y." This really removes gameplay choices rather than adding them, when you see unit y coming, you build unit x, end of story. What I'd like to see are units that are stronger in certain aspects/situations, which naturally leads them to be especially effective against certain other units that are weak in those same situations, without specifically saying that a given unit automatically gets a bonus against a certain other unit. Which sounds horribly vague, let me give an example:

Let's say that by sticking a soldier on a horse, he gains the faster movement and the "cavalry charge" bonus - after moving at least [making up numbers here] 3 arbitrary distance units in a tactical battle without attacking, his first attack after this movement will do 4x normal damage. This makes him a natural counter to, say, an archer unit with high damage and range but little health, who will be quickly annihilated by a charge. Now let's say that giving another soldier plate armor and a shield slows his movement, while adding immensely to his survivability - now we have a unit that's nearly helpless against an archer with superior range and movement, but can easily shrug off a cavalry charge and beat the cavalry in a drawn out melee battle.

Notice I never had to say "cavalry gets +50% bonus against archers" or anything so specific - why is this important? Because this changes the role our cavalry plays in battles - we don't want him to just be "a guy that does extra damage to archers," which actually removes tactical options, because then there would be one and only one practical use for our cavalry - send him to the archers to kill them. Instead we want our cavalry to be "a guy that can charge quickly into a battle and do a lot of damage, then run, because he'll lose a drawn out fight in melee," and you should see that this unit has all sorts of imaginative uses in battle that extend beyond countering one specific enemy unit. It encourages players to do unexpected and creative things - sure cavalry are typically bad against heavy infantry, but if my archers have been gradually wearing down your heavy infantry which have finally closed the gap and are about to slaughter my archers, I might finish them off with a sudden cavalry charge.

There are even more interesting options when you consider how this fits into Elemental's unit design - so what if I equip a soldier with both a horse and heavy plate/shield? This 'knight' will still quickly kill archers if he can get close with them after a charge, and shrug off the attacks of heavy infantry while doing so, but your enemy might take advantage of the knight's lower movement (compared to lighter cavalry) and simply have his archers flee while he moves his heavy infantry into position to block the charge - but if his archers are fleeing, your own heavy infantry can advance unmolested and together with the knights kill his infantry - well, you see how things become much more interesting and tactical than "always send the cavalry against the archers."

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January 28, 2010 5:58:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Let's say that by sticking a soldier on a horse, he gains the faster movement and the "cavalry charge" bonus - after moving at least [making up numbers here] 3 arbitrary distance units in a tactical battle without attacking, his first attack after this movement will do 4x normal damage. This makes him a natural counter to, say, an archer unit with high damage and range but little health, who will be quickly annihilated by a charge. Now let's say that giving another soldier plate armor and a shield slows his movement, while adding immensely to his survivability - now we have a unit that's nearly helpless against an archer with superior range and movement, but can easily shrug off a cavalry charge and beat the cavalry in a drawn out melee battle.

You sir are a freaking genius. I always wished they would have had something like your charging idea in MoM and I had forgotten all about it until you said this. Great point, love it.  I think this would give units more personality rather than just, oh theres another calvary unit of mine... It makes them special and more meaningful. Especially if, as they gained experience, new traits were added and such. This makes us attached to our units, similar to the way we were attached to our soldiers in x-com (at least for me). I never wanted to see one of my soldiers die in x-com, even if I knew my victory was assured even after their death. In TBS's like this it's never about how many soldiers you lose it's just about winning the battle.. I hope Elemental changes this. 

Now in response to the original post, I think you are very right about the fact that mastering a game should be difficult. I just think complexity is a very important factor for that. Now in saying that, I have agreed with pretty much every "simple or complex?" decision Stardock has made so far except for that of the economy... Only because I think that's something that drastically needs to change in all video games of this nature. But I trust that Stardock will not let this game go to the shelves without giving us a game that is worth it. The only thing that scares me about saying that is that I completely agree with everything you said about GalCiv... I do not play that game anymore either because I can't stand playing games where all I do for 15 or so turns is hit "enter".. Civilization was worse, but it was at least prettier to look at while nothing happened... I feel bad to say that, and I feel like I'm biting the hand that feeds so to say but I can't help how i feel. I'm reassured only by the fact that Brad has stated that this is Stadock's baby. It's just this game seems like it could go either way at this point. It could turn out to be the best game ever or it could just follow the same path that CivIV and GalCiv did. I pray that it won't...

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January 28, 2010 11:02:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I've always had a problem with rock paper scissor combat. When it comes down to it, your strategic choice is focused around building more units than the other person, and building the counter of that person's units. If they have a lot of footmen, you build more archers. Its boring. Chess is a fun board game, but thats just it. Its not a videogame, its not a 4x game, its a board game with extreme simplicity that cant have bits and pieces applied to something as different as a 4x TBS game. Ive seen rock paper scissors combat fail, especially in civilizations 4. a single band or army of archers should never hold off dozens of armies of cavalry,spearmen,macemen and the like, simply due to combat modifiers based around rock paper scissor balancing. It ruins the game.

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January 28, 2010 11:06:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting austinvn,
I'd like to see something that boils down to rock-paper-scissors, but not quite so simple as the Civ4 system of "unit x is +50% stronger against unit y." This really removes gameplay choices rather than adding them, when you see unit y coming, you build unit x, end of story. What I'd like to see are units that are stronger in certain aspects/situations, which naturally leads them to be especially effective against certain other units that are weak in those same situations, without specifically saying that a given unit automatically gets a bonus against a certain other unit. Which sounds horribly vague, let me give an example:

Let's say that by sticking a soldier on a horse, he gains the faster movement and the "cavalry charge" bonus - after moving at least [making up numbers here] 3 arbitrary distance units in a tactical battle without attacking, his first attack after this movement will do 4x normal damage. This makes him a natural counter to, say, an archer unit with high damage and range but little health, who will be quickly annihilated by a charge. Now let's say that giving another soldier plate armor and a shield slows his movement, while adding immensely to his survivability - now we have a unit that's nearly helpless against an archer with superior range and movement, but can easily shrug off a cavalry charge and beat the cavalry in a drawn out melee battle.

Notice I never had to say "cavalry gets +50% bonus against archers" or anything so specific - why is this important? Because this changes the role our cavalry plays in battles - we don't want him to just be "a guy that does extra damage to archers," which actually removes tactical options, because then there would be one and only one practical use for our cavalry - send him to the archers to kill them. Instead we want our cavalry to be "a guy that can charge quickly into a battle and do a lot of damage, then run, because he'll lose a drawn out fight in melee," and you should see that this unit has all sorts of imaginative uses in battle that extend beyond countering one specific enemy unit. It encourages players to do unexpected and creative things - sure cavalry are typically bad against heavy infantry, but if my archers have been gradually wearing down your heavy infantry which have finally closed the gap and are about to slaughter my archers, I might finish them off with a sudden cavalry charge.

There are even more interesting options when you consider how this fits into Elemental's unit design - so what if I equip a soldier with both a horse and heavy plate/shield? This 'knight' will still quickly kill archers if he can get close with them after a charge, and shrug off the attacks of heavy infantry while doing so, but your enemy might take advantage of the knight's lower movement (compared to lighter cavalry) and simply have his archers flee while he moves his heavy infantry into position to block the charge - but if his archers are fleeing, your own heavy infantry can advance unmolested and together with the knights kill his infantry - well, you see how things become much more interesting and tactical than "always send the cavalry against the archers."

I would go as far as to say that this system is not even rock paper scissors. This is exactly what I was just about to propose, but I wanted to see if anyone had said it, and sure enough, someone did. Great minds think alike...or some shit like that.

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January 29, 2010 2:51:58 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Great, thank you.

Some of the things I was thinking of I had elaborated in a post in which special maneuvers for units could be unlocked if the right techs and preconditions were researched, and it would be the maneuvers which added additional layers of countering. Still, I think chess is is not totally irrelevant, because some pieces in chess are better than others (usually) precisely because they are different; in chess, all attack and defense values are identical.

In other words, it has nothing to do with paper scissors rock. The counter to a rook is not a knight, or vice versa. Chess makes you think because almost everything is situational, and valancies need to be recalculated constantly according to tentative conditionals.

I also did not want to imply that CivIV did a particularly good job in including work-arounds to avoid the "more is better".  I used CivIV merely as an example to show that there *was* one, and because CivIV is somewhat of a locus classicus here. I like many of the suggestions listed here and elsewhere; I just think we need to think about this more to avoid "more is better", which will lead to a slow accruement.

In other words, I do not want the work-around to be magic. I dont want to have to say: Well, do not worry, folks, the military aspect may be bland, but we will have magic to spice it up. The military aspect should be robust in and of itself, or it will not be fun. Remember, it is about fun, not about excellent modelling of real situations or complexity for complexity's sake.

Give us interesting things to do and to think about -- real choices, real consequences, real alternatives, real different valencies -- each and every turn.

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January 29, 2010 10:51:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Interesting argument. Europa Universalis III is interesting in terms of interesting decisions and change. Because the other countries are very active in the game in terms of warface and diplomacy the game is kept 'interesting.' Especially if you play medium to small powers.  I don't see quite so much energy of that sort in Civ IV. Maybe because there are typically so MANY busy neighbors in EUIII. Maybe elemental would benefit from having many AIs in the game and of different sizes.. and very alliance/warfare active.

 

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January 30, 2010 11:51:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Maybe elemental would benefit from having many AIs in the game and of different sizes.. and very alliance/warfare active.

Well, maybe i'm the only one, but I'm hoping Elemental isn't too "warfare driven".. Because you see, thats what I always ended up doing in CivIV: going to war for no reason just to give me something to do. To me, a game should be engaging whether you are at war or not. And maybe I'm expecting too much out of a game entitled "Elemental: War of Magic" but I was hoping this would be more about building an empire. Of course your going to have wars, that's just what happens, its happened on this planet for who knows how many thousands upon thousands of years. But that's not all it's about... Building an empire is about keeping people happy, forging agreements and keeping your own "friends" on your side. That's why I'm hoping Brad and the team comes up with a revolutionary intrigue system based off of something like from the "Song of Ice and Fire" series. I want to, in the moments when I'm not stressed about winning a war on the outside, be stressed about losing a war on the inside. I want to have to be wary of that lord who I thought I could trust, but have found out he may be working as an inside man for the Empire of Kraxis.. To be wary of keeping around that battle hardened hero who the people adore... almost more than me...

These kinds of decisions are what would make the parts of the game, that are not driven by war more fun and exciting I think

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January 31, 2010 3:11:39 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting RisingLegend,

Because you see, thats what I always ended up doing in CivIV: going to war for no reason just to give me something to do.

Me too. I didnt realize how boring that was until after the third playthrough. I do not see huge potential, however, for "builder"-like challenges; CivIV really shot themselves in the knee, however, by only allowing 1 building per type per city (e.g. one temple, one forge, ...); maybe Elemental can optimize that and create more forms of nation-building tension. I just do not have any great ideas on how to do that now...

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February 1, 2010 12:34:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 CivIV really shot themselves in the knee, however, by only allowing 1 building per type per city (e.g. one temple, one forge, ...)

Yea, i suppose, tho it was always irritating to micromanage what building was to be built next (especially towards the end game when you have a ton of cities) but I suppose i never utilized governors... I just hope Elemental can put more focus on the specialized cities instead of "every building in every city!"       that to me is just dumb, theres no reason for me to have a smelt in every city... which is why i was so excited for camp 1 in the economic debate, because it looked like they were headed for specialized cities that excelled in creating a certain thing based on location, population, etc. but oh well... Go check out my thread here and see if you like the idea!  

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February 1, 2010 1:34:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Avoiding the harc counter system can only be good. The best example of the hard counter system failing right now is dawn of war 2. They use a very strong hard counter system where each and every unit is supposed to crush one other unit. However, this means that while playing it, you feel less like a player and more like a bot. "Oh, they built eldar rangers? i need to build Assault marines." That kind of thing. Everything is laid out before hand and the players are just going through the motions. Avoiding this situation would be good.

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February 1, 2010 3:53:11 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

And why not some kind of decreasing cost when you build a building that already exists ?

Or synergy bonuses ? (you have 2 forge AND 3 barracks ? Then your warriors here will get some +10% in strength, or some "use easily swords" perk)

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February 1, 2010 7:40:40 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Hard counters should be avoided. Soft counters are the way to go like StarCraft II does it.

 

A Zergling swarm of 50 will kill 10 marines in the open in 5 seconds and they will maybe lose one or two Zerglings. But if the marines are in a chokepoint, they will kill A LOT more Zerglings then they would in the open since the Zerglings can only attack them with two Zerglings at a time. Same thing in Age of wonders if my two Swordsmen and four Crossbowmen guard a watchtower. Swordsmen block the gate while the Crossbowmen shoot down anything that comes close.

 

In both the above examples, it was the terrain that enabled those soft counters.

 

The system used in Age of Mythology is also great. Both Age of Mythology and StarCraft II got units which do bonus damage against certain types of units, but that doesn't mean they're useless against other units. For example, the standard infantry unit for the Norse, the Ulfsark, got high hack armor and very low pierce armor. In his description, he's good against cavalry. But he doesn't do any bonus damage to them. It's simply his hack armor that makes him useful against them. In the same vein, Cavalry are good against archers, since they got decent pierce armor and do hack damage which archers got very little of.

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February 1, 2010 11:53:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

In both the above examples, it was the terrain that enabled those soft counters.

This right here is what will make or break tactical battles I think. To be able to hold choke points is what make a game exciting and fun to me. Think of x-com, with shots firing all around you, things blowing up, people dying, but you just step to the side and fire a shot through two windows to kill that alien who almost killed another operative. Those two examples you gave above, campaigner, while i've never played either one of them, seriously made me want to go and buy them right now. I want to have this feeling over and over again in Elemental, because that's exactly what keeps me coming back to x-com and i'm sure it would make me come back to the others as well. The terrain affects so much. It should provide defense while also being able to be interacted with (used as weapons, destructible, explosive) It's like what austin said above, but this gives in game examples of it working. I think the devs seriously need to consider this, because I think it's possibly one of the most important decision to be made. If this makes it in I'll be 10x more excited for this game

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February 2, 2010 4:59:04 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Very good examples, Campaigner. Soft counters are the way to go. Star Chamber worked in exactly this way, and this is the principle behind Chess as well -- a pawn will beat a queen just as easily as a more powerful piece will, given the right circumstances.

Quoting vieuxchat,
And why not some kind of decreasing cost when you build a building that already exists ?

Or synergy bonuses ? (you have 2 forge AND 3 barracks ? Then your warriors here will get some +10% in strength, or some "use easily swords" perk)

Actually, Old Cat, I would have it exactly the other way around: diminishing returns, which might be circumnavigated to some extent in some cities with some additonal research / spells / specializations / terrain. In other words, if you have 1 "forge", or whatever, that forge should work with 100% effectiveness; having 2 forges should not yield you >= 200%, but rather somewhat less (180%?), and having 3 forges should not yield you >= 300%, but something like 260% or whatever -- a nice diminishing return algorithm for most boni-giving buildings. (Having 5000 temples in a town of 5000 people will be overkill.)

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March 22, 2010 10:06:40 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting RisingLegend,

In both the above examples, it was the terrain that enabled those soft counters.


It's like what austin said above, but this gives in game examples of it working. I think the devs seriously need to consider this, because I think it's possibly one of the most important decision to be made. If this makes it in I'll be 10x more excited for this game

I agree.

Counters of these types are "factors" that nevertheless have some bearing on the unit itself. (There should be some units with training that is useful in swamps, others that might be more useful in forests, etc.) This will keep units from being mere mirrors of one another, differing only superficially, such as in GC2.

I hope this makes it in too, but it doesn't look that way yet.

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April 6, 2010 8:22:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I see a lot of talk about Dwarf Fortress in connection with depth and complexity here. Maybe I am misunderstanding something, since I am in the minority and have not been able to play too much DF (dislike roguelike), but it appears to me that DF is the opposite of what I mean: It has depth, but at the price of complexity. I think Dominions 3 falls into this category too.

Imagine there would be a graph whose X axis was complexity - simplicity, and whose Y axis was superficiality - depth. I think almost all of us want games that have a high Y rating, and many of us would like a game which is in the quadrant "high depth" and "low complexity". I think chess, in my example, has a decent Y rating and an exceptionally low X rating. I don't know how to emulate graphics on these forums, but I think you get the picture. Other games have fairly high complexity with fairly low depth (CivIV), and yet other games are incredibly simple and also incredibly superficial (Monopoly, Risk), which can also be fun for a short time.

Can I ask if anyone here has tried Star Chamber? Here is a review written by Bruce Geryk a long time ago; the game has since gotten a LOT better with 5 expansions. This TBS has, sadly, one huge flaw (namely, it is also a Trading Card Collection Game), but it is otherwise a work of genius. I have rarely been so impressed with any product of any genre. For me, this game (with the exception of its greatest flaw, namely it's not a pure TBS, it has a goddamn TCG-hybrid element) represents the pinnacle of TBS game design, and has, if I may say so, it has the "best" Y to X ratio of any game I have seen: surprisingly, incredibly deep, while being fairly simple. Note that "being fairly simple" here should be understood just like chess: it really is easy to learn, but it has an incredibly steep learning curve. This is exceptionally appealing.  One of the most brilliant innovations in combat mechanics makes for incredibly exciting battles with shockingly simple rules.

Maybe another analogy would be boxing. The rules of boxing are fairly simple. You can learn the rules quickly and have a go at sparring in no time at all. (Having access to mediocre boxing gloves is nice, costs about 40 Euros.) But you will be surprised at how much depth there is to boxing once you actually try it. (I've taken fairly intensive boxing lessons as part of my MMA training for about 1 year, and am still not particularly good at it, which is to say that the "average bloke on the street" would probably need to get very lucky to survive 30 seconds against me, but I have no chance against anyone at the skill level at the bottom rung of the amateur division.) I believe it is the combination of relatively simple factors which does it.

Has anyone here tried Star Chamber? Just even tried? Although Elemental will not have such brilliantly diverse and disjunctive Victory Condtions as SC does, I can imagine that Elemental could implement some of the interesting aspects of weapon speed / weapon phases into the tactical battles. That would add for depth without complicating things much at all.

 

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April 6, 2010 9:12:47 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting onomastikon,
I see a lot of talk about Dwarf Fortress in connection with depth and complexity here. Maybe I am misunderstanding something, since I am in the minority and have not been able to play too much DF (dislike roguelike), but it appears to me that DF is the opposite of what I mean: It has depth, but at the price of complexity. I think Dominions 3 falls into this category too.
 

This "make it simple, but it should have depth" talk is getting a bit annoying nowadays.

May I ask that what is the problem with complexity? I understand that complex games ain't very popular amongst the casual players, but it's a bad thing if a game has incredible depth + it's complex as well? In my book that is a good thing, but I am not a casual, that is true as well.

Keep in mind, that we are different. While I prefer complexity over simplicity, you don't...but please, don't try to convince me to the contrary...because this is like the 15th "why is simplicity better than complexity" post in the last 3-4 days.

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April 6, 2010 9:15:39 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Tormy-,


May I ask that what is the problem with complexity? I understand that complex games ain't very popular amongst the casual players, but it's a bad thing if a game has incredible depth + it's complex as well? In my book that is a good thing, but I am not a casual, that is true as well.

There's nothing wrong with depth using complexity, I would just say that depth without complexity is better. If a simpler way can accomplish 90% the stuff the complex way can, which would you choose?

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April 6, 2010 9:24:56 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Myles,

If a simpler way can accomplish 90% the stuff the complex way can

It cannot. I give you an example: Do you know the combat system in Dominions 3.? It's quite complex...You gotta think a lot with regard to your strategy. There are lot of attributes, equipments, buffs etc. in the game. It's very important that which unit you gonna send against which unit. If the combat system wouldn't be so complex, you wouldn't have to plan very and I mean very carefully. Some simple ATT/DEF + promotional system cannot acomplish anything. [Civ4 for example]

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April 6, 2010 9:30:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Tormy-,

It cannot.

Then we'll have to disagree. I'm not of the opinion that adding complexity inherently increases depth while simplicity reduces it. There's too many games that are simple yet have more depth than most 'complex' games.

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April 6, 2010 9:34:17 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Myles,



Quoting Tormy-,
reply 21

It cannot.


Then we'll have to disagree. I'm not in the opinion that adding complexity inherently increases depth while simplicity reduces it. There's too many games that are simple yet have more depth that most 'complex' games.

Example? Tell me just 1 TBS game, which has more depth than Dominions 3. for example. [Even tho, basically there is no economy in Dominions 3., but it's a wargame.]

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April 6, 2010 9:39:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I've never played Dominions 3, so I can't really compare, but I can say games like Chess or Go have as much or more opportunity for strategic thinking than most strategy video games.

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April 6, 2010 10:08:22 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Myles,
I've never played Dominions 3, so I can't really compare, but I can say games like Chess or Go have as much or more opportunity for strategic thinking than most strategy video games.

How can you compare chess or go to a turn based fantasy strategy game? Strategic thinking? Sure, I agree, but if you don't have the necessary talent, you won't be good in it ever. Besides, maybe chess has depth, but I find it utterly boring, while I love to play with a complex fantasy TBS.

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