Avoiding Late Game Tedium (LGT)

By on March 24, 2010 8:13:26 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

onomastikon

Join Date 02/2006
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My post will have three main sections (Introduction, Sources, and Suggestions) and a summary. Thank you in advance for your constructive criticism.

INTRODUCTION

 

For many reasons, I believe one of the largest challenges to a good (epic-length) TBS such as Elemental will be reducing or eliminating Late Game Tedium (in following: LGT). Late Game Tedium, I propose, may be described as a quality of a game by which a special kind of boredom sets in, one engendered by a combination of two (primary) sources in the complex context of late-game TBS balance. What results is a gap: There is a gap between achieving a satisfying game closure by fulfilling victory conditions and strategically challenging options still open to the AI. You end up having to slog your way through countless turns before winning, and during these countless turns, your advantage is not significantly challenged.

 

I think the two (primary) sources and one minor (secondary) source can be named in an oversimplified way as followed:

1. Lack of Challenge.

2. Lack of Choices.

(3. To a lesser degree: Micromanagement.)

 

I will hope to address both of these main sources in the following, and ask for your input as well. First, however, let me try to get a handle on the context of what makes LGT particularly pernicious and particularly special – why it is more than merely two (albeit grievous) lackings I mention here. I think it is this: LGT comes about often (particularly in epic-length TBSs) because a player has achieved a dominant position without achieving a victory condition, and must spend many turns in “mopping up”, during which the number of strategic challenges put open her and number of strategically relevant or polyvalent choices she must make are limited (often due to constraints her opponents face).

 

In many contexts, LGT is not terribly important. In a two-person MP match, the weaker player might concede, which is not optimally satisfying, but nevertheless often unproblematic. In larger games, this can cause unwanted grief. Wanting to play a game to the end, even if outmatched in wits and power, should be a sign of a good game. In some TBS games, where the scope of the game is smaller, LGT is not an issue because the investment in the games themselves are so small, e.g. Star Chamber: the game is over in 20 minutes anyhow, so there is no problem in slogging it out.

 

Yet for four reasons, I think this is particularly important to Elemental. Firstly, Elemental claims to be (primarily) a first-class SP game. Remember Brad’s post (http://forums.elementalgame.com/331788/page/2/) from December 2008? “Are you human, are you sure?” In SP matches, it is only you, the player, who can concede – which is not terrible if you are losing badly. But to stop the game because your position is advantageous and you cannot see your opponents posing a challenge to you, yet still have much LGT to wade through to achieve a victory condition, no matter how snazzy the spell effects are going to be, would be greatly suboptimal. Secondly, Elemental will claim to have strong RPG elements and hence a compelling narrative structure to its gameplay arc. The feeling of closure will be very important to playing a game of Elemental; the game should end with the curtain falling, not the main character falling asleep on stage. Thirdly, Elemental wants to have an epic scope: This is running a huge empire, a civilization, over generations; the late game will be large, and our investment in achieving the late game will be large. We want to identify with our empire, and we want the closure in obtaining a hard-fought victory condition.

 

Finally, I think this topic is particularly important because Elemental will also go the (happily lauded) path of various victory conditions, including the less explicitly dominating ones. In other words, it will include (implicitly) “peaceable” conditions, that have often been associated with “builder”-type victory conditions in other games such as CivIV. While CivIV is an excellent locus classicus in many ways, I think that no TBS game (of at least modest quality) suffers from LGT so much as CivIV when playing as a builder. How often have you been temped to start wars just for something to do? Since your empire cannot build anything but military units after a certain stage anyway, my late game as a CivIV diplomat / builder / scientist was spent hitting return and smoking cigarettes – which is why I uninstalled it. I do not want Elemental to suffer even 10% of the LGT as CivIV did.

 

SOURCES of LGT

 

1. Lack of Challenge.

One primary source of LGT comes from the increasingly asymmetrical power structure in late game SP TBSs. By this I mean the common symptom among SP TBS games by which the AI is very challenging at the beginning and increasingly less so as the game progresses.

 

Take Civilization IV as an example; even after my second game of CivIV, I had to create a mod which attempted to greatly increase the AI advantages (“cheats” and boni the AI got) more and more as the game progressed. This is because the suboptimal AI’s early military onslaughts in CivIV are, when at its “hardest” level, very difficult to survive in the early game, but once you do survive, they pose almost no challenge whatsoever. I had the following dilemma: I either have had to increase the difficulty of the CivIV AI so high that surviving the early game was almost impossible for me (especially as a more builder-type person), or turn it back a notch, so that surviving to the mid-game brought me 185 subsequent turns of boredom.

 

I notice this in almost every SP TBS game I have ever played, even those with remarkably good AI, albeit to a lesser extent, such as GC2. In other words: I was rarely surprised with a novel, strong challenge in late game. In GC2, once my advantage became clear to me, after surviving the exceptionally challenging early game and the interesting middle game, I became bored in the end game, often merely hitting “return” over and over again, waiting for closure.

 

 

2. Lack of Choices.

Elsewhere, in what I hoped to describe as the axiom of TBS fun (http://forums.elementalgame.com/374597 ), I claim that any TBS will be flawed which lacks the lack of a continuous flow of interesting, challenging strategic options at a player’s disposal. Yet this grievous state can obtain in any phase of the game, be it early, middle or late. Any game designer must avoid this systematic shortcoming at all costs, it appears to me.

 

In the context of LGT, however, at least one additional aspect rears its head: You have already done everything. In your cities, you have already built your barracks and upgraded them, you have already installed your housing upgrades and your temples, every square meter of your land has been covered in railroads; outside your cities, you have explored the world, perhaps you have even discovered the technology or magic for the removal of the fog of war from the entire globe, all of the resources have been discovered or found. At least one of the “Xs” in 4X has been removed.

 

I will take Civilization IV and GC2 as another example. In CivIV, at a certain stage, there is nothing left to build. Your cities are done; you can only produce military units, research, or money. Your workers can clean up the occasional landfill, but otherwise stand idle. In GC2, most planets were “done” in the middle game; there were no more slots to build on, and no more improvements to be made (as unexciting as that was) to the existing ones.

 

Now it is time to “exploit” (the last of the four Xs) – but we still need a continuous flow of many meaningful choices to make. Particularly builders will have a difficult time here if the only thing left for them to do is armed conflict; micromanaging Corporations is not fun enough. We need more choices, the stream of which should not stop in late game. I do not want to wait and wait – for the ability to upgrade my lasers just one notch more. In CivIV, I set my queues to make mechanized infantry, jet fighters, money – and smoked cigarettes and hit return. In GC2, I built constructor ships, smoked cigarettes and hit return. It wasn’t long before I uninstalled.

 

But even if you are not a builder – although this option should be open to you, as Elemental claims it will have multiple discrete VCs – armed conflict will need to have disjunctive but viable options for resolution in late game. Battles and choice in battles still need to be fun late game. Dominions3 did a decent job here, better than GC2 did, even if it failed at making the preparations for battle good (organizing and micromanaging them, getting your troops to the right place at the right time, automating queuing, etc.)

 

I will not address micromanagement here explicitly, because I think it is self-explanatory that excessive micromanagement becomes exponentially burdensome in late game and thus is to be avoided if LGT is also to be avoided.

 

So… time for some ideas on what might help.

 

SUGGESTIONS

In the following, I will humbly propose some humble suggestions and welcome your additional feedback and constructive criticism. Thank you in advance.

NB1: Some cases will try to address Source 1 more explicitly, others Source 2, only one for micromanagement, while I have none in general for addressing both simultaneously.

NB2: Please note that in at least two cases, I explicitly suggest that my idea be implemented in the form of an optional toggle switch to be used in game setup. I say this because I can imagine that some people (mostly, I suspect, people who see the SP aspect of the game as secondary to its MP value) would find the suggestion either too difficult or too unconventional.

 

 

Suggestion 1: Player-Customizable VCs.

There were at least two posts  mentioning player-customizable VCs, here http://forums.elementalgame.com/361897 and here http://forums.elementalgame.com/373483. I think that implementing this should not be too difficult, and well worth the effort. If objectionable to some, one could always imagine that this option could be toggled off. Let us design our own VCs from a customizable and combinable list of drop-down options. Let the VCs, in addition, be variable for each (AI) player – in other words, let Player B be able to win if P, Q, R, and T obtain, but Player C might be able to win if only P, Q and R obtain, while Player A (say, you as the human player) must need fulfil P through Z. This might be as simple as a number of Master Quests that need be completed to as complex as obtaining a Master Quest and simultaneously having an offspring of yours in each house whose population is below X but whose prestige is above Y while also holding 25% of landmasses with forest regions on them and making sure that no dragons currently live in the world, or some combination like that. In addition, the concept of spatially attributable Victory Points (Dominions 3) could be used, e.g. having (randomly generated) tiles of land be valued as a Victory Point, and (one) condition of victory might be owning a certain number of these Points (in conjuction, perhaps, with other conditions).

 

 

Suggestion 2: Epic-Length Dynamically Scaled AI Difficulty:

Even after my second game of CivIV, I had to create a mod which attempted to greatly increase the AI advantages (“cheats” and boni the AI got) more and more as the game progressed. This is because the suboptimal AI’s early military onslaughts in CivIV are, when at its “hardest” level, very difficult to survive in the early game, but once you do survive, they pose almost no challenge whatsoever.

I would like to see Elemental’s AI come with a feature out of the box which allowed it to scale. In other words, if toggled on, this scaling AI Difficulty gets few boni in the early game, but increasingly more and more as the game progresses, so that in late game, the AI is capable of still engaging its counterparts on a number of levels.

This option could have a drag-down selection list, e.g. How great should the difficulty of the AI scale as the game progresses? “none” (“off”), “slight”, “moderate” “great”, “tremendous”, “huge”.

 

Suggestion 3: Hidden VCs / Hidden VC information.

This could be a simple toggle: If “on”, then (human) players cannot see how far other (AI) players are in obtaining a VC. If espionage is implemented as a part of the game, and I hope it is, then this option might become part of a difficult espionage quest.

 

 

Suggestion 4: Narratively Dynamic AI-controlled End-Game VCs.

This suggestion will not come across as bizarre to people who are familiar with level-type quests in RPGs or RPG-FPS hybrids. Nevertheless, I have not seen it implemented in 4X TBS games, and so suggest it be kept as an optional toggle in game setup, for those for whom it might be problematic.

The scenario is this: You think you really need to complete Goal G to win, and you are well underway in achieving this goal; you have obtained a strategic advantage, yet need another X turns in order to obtain closure. Suddenly, however, you see that something dramatic has come about: You no longer (only) need to obtain Goal G, but also, additionally, P, or P and Q, or P Q and R within a certain number of turns.

You might be familiar with this from “missions” in RPGs or FPSs or hybrids, in which you have finished a particular (sub-)goal, but the level or mission is not over due to a new narrative complication (e.g. you don’t just need to find the Queen, you now need to sneak her out of the palace, and you cannot use your magic X all of a sudden because an evil Y has put a blocker on the palace grounds; and suddenly, you tripped an alarm so that you only have 10 minutes before a magic bomb goes off…).

I suggest that if toggled on, the AI be able to calculate when it is behind, but not behind enough to be obliterated for closure within the next Y turns (Y could be a variable the player could choose upon game setup from a drop-down choice menu), and that this triggers an event which requires an additional goal to be met (or be stopped) in order for the human to win (or not to lose). Not for you? Toggle it off.

 

  

Suggestion 5:  Bona Fide “Are You Human? Are You Sure?” Mean Bastard AI:

This suggestion comes from a post Brad made in December of 2008: Are you Human? Are you sure? I suggest an optional toggle available at game setup which lets AIs act as if they were hardcore cutthroat minimaxing gamers out to win, or at least stay in the game, at all costs; when enabled, the AIs should be able to recognize when a human player (question: any player?) appears to be coming threateningly close to running away with the game, even if that AI does not have enough espionage available to determine how close to achieving a hidden VC the human player actually is. If the AI gauges a player to be getting close to obtaining a strategic advantage which will let her win in the long run (a long slow 150-turn slog), obtaining a dominating turtle-position, then the AIs should form a schoolyard pact and gang up on the (human) player, much like humans might whisper "Don't trade with Bob! He's getting too powerful! Let's take X and Y away from him and divide it up!" The AIs should be willing to take larger risks, cooperate, and step back from certain short- or middle-term goals they had set; they should do this to stop a (human) player from dominating in the long run -- particularly in the end game. The AIs should enter “bastard” mode and be willing to take risks and sacrifices to harm the human player once her advantage seems to get too large; the AI players, if this mode is toggled on, should be more willing to form pacts against the human player even if diplomatically well-inclined; as long as that AI would not “win” by having its (human) ally (also) win, it should act as a human player would and attempt to prevent the human player from winning. In an extreme form, one could imagine that some of the AIs are “spiteful” and would even be willing to suffer a great (short-term) disadvantage for even the slim chance of being able to stay in the game later, or even gain pleasure in “going out with a bang” and harming a player instead of suffering many turns of attrition. I realize this will have obvious consequences for calculating diplomacy and diplomatic victories, consequences that might be unappetizing in certain contexts; so toggle it off if bothersome.

 

 

 

SUMMARY and FURTHER DISCUSSION

 

Another element contributing to LGT is also vast micromanagement which often comes with having a large empire, one which by its very nature only comes about after the mid-game in empire-building games such as this. I do not have any (novel) suggestions to combat LGT stemming primarily from this aspect, but I do think that game structures that explicitly encourage turtling and stockpiling are more susceptible to LGT than game structures which do not. This is not to say that obtaining and holding a strategically defensive position should be unviable – that would be madness. Tactical defense is and should be more viable than tactical offense, all things being equal (which, of course, they never are); but not strategically. Yet stockpiling and turtling are not the same as taking a defensive stance. Game structures which reward you for expending or trading resources at your disposal instead of saving them up might be helpful.

 

In general, I want to be able to have many strategically important polyvalent choices open to me in the late game. I want to be challenged and I want to be able to be surprised in the late game.

 

While I was enticed with GC2 for the first couple of games, and I still like the idea of playing excellent games such as Dominions3 in SP mode, I no longer do so, because I get bored in late game. Please let Elemental not suffer this fate! 

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March 24, 2010 9:15:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The games that make me have the best fun are the ones preserving a "Balance of Power". A game like EU3 went a long way making sure I still had challenge even if I was controling 30% of the world.

Hum.. I like the general feeling you are trying to convey. We were talking about it in the "Deterministic game" thread, wanna take a look?

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March 24, 2010 10:00:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Good post !

Suggestion 1 : Player customizable VC. That would be a blast IF the game allow it in an easy way. And creating a new script  is not an easy way (well it is, but not enough)

Suggestion 2 : A scaled AI, brilliant idea. In conjonction with the suggestion 5 (bastard AI) that would be interesting : maybe treaties would be harder to get in the late game. Wars should have a better chance to arise.

Suggestion 3  : Why not something where players could have different VC, chosen at the start of the game ? And why not something like in twilight imperium 3 with public VC that change every game ? And the first one with 10 VC wins ?

Or even better ! There would be public objectives and secret ones. Each time you succeed in one objective a new one is chosen. That would need a lot of tweak to get the right balance, but that would allow for so many different games ...

Suggestion 4 isn't really needed, I think. there's always that sort of things through quests. You try to get a military victory, but suddenly your gold income drops. you first need to be able to maintain your huge army. Or you try a tech win ? Your opponent has cast "tech blindness" from an ancient tower of sorcery. Your researchers can't think, so you need first to get that damn tower of sorcery. The game can already do that without adding anything else than quests or triggered events.

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March 24, 2010 10:06:49 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

My only fear is the following: Magic will be extremely powerful in the late game [vanilla - can be fixed via modding of course..], and it will render the military / combat related stuff obsolete. Balancing won't be easy, but it's possible. Hopefully Stardock will be able to balance everything "perfectly". [This is why I've made a topic about protection/counter magic a while ago...-> http://forums.elementalgame.com/376559 ]

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March 24, 2010 5:17:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

YES on suggestion five.

That's what makes human players so damn fun. With the AI, you can enter into an agreement, and you know by the boundaries of common AI logic that they'll assume the agreement is going until they break it. With human players... not so.

Human players declare peace? They're having military units sneaking up under the guise of attacking a neighbor. Person peaced with everyone else? They're trying to get a tech lead, and skimping on military, or they're secretly handing out bags of cash behind people's back to keep everyone else warring. AI getting ganged up on? One of the persons in your alliance is secretly helping that guy, sending your alliances plans and troop deployments to him as well as giving technology since the alliance is going to gang up on him next.

Suggestion 4 is neat too, especially for multiplayer/people learning the game. Discourage players being eliminated completely from the game, especially human players. Add events to help the underdog and to bring the person who's obviously going to win. Not much, just enough to make the person on top sweat a little, and the persons underneath have some hope. Such as in Galciv 2, with the random event that can suddenly turn all of the colonies in a persons space to 20 some quality. Except targetted, so it doesn't happen like last time I saw that event and gave me 100 some gaia-quality planets when I was already winning.

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March 24, 2010 6:38:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Tormy-,
My only fear is the following: Magic will be extremely powerful in the late game [vanilla - can be fixed via modding of course..], and it will render the military / combat related stuff obsolete. Balancing won't be easy, but it's possible. Hopefully Stardock will be able to balance everything "perfectly". [This is why I've made a topic about protection/counter magic a while ago...-> http://forums.elementalgame.com/376559 ]

You must remember, magic isn't free any more than raising a giant army. If they can do nothing but rain fire on your armies, you will eventually wear them down with sheer perserverence. And since your sovereign can't be everywhere at once, they will be forced to have a small kingdom if for no toher reasons than because they can't afford an army. And being unable to build an army, they will pretty much be caged in by your massed armies. Even if they are able to cut vast areas through your lines, they will still have to retreat to keep their kingdom from being devoured behind them.

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March 24, 2010 8:10:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Some parts of this complaint have already been addressed with the new surrender mechanic redrawing the fantasy battlespace.  This also appears to have been theoretically addressed in Civ5's combat system but that is for another thread.

By design, tbs 4X games are faulted to be late game tedious because they usually follow the norm strategy to crush the weaker or little guy.  You claim his land, resources, ect and move to your next little guy target growing ever bigger with each victory.  The ending result is a behemeth empire or two, boring.  Survival of the fittest becomes survival of the fattest.  It doesn't have to be this way but that is generally the most effective path to victory in tbs 4X games.

On the other end of the spectrum, the best rts strategy games like Starcraft go the opposite route in free for all matches.  There you focus heavily on attacking the presently dominant opponent as priority over the weakest one else he will very quickly grow too powerful and win.  Exciting gameplay, the David vrs Goliath route is pure awesomeness because there David can and must take down Goliath or die.

Another problem is it's hard to bounceback in tbs 4X because it takes too long to rebuild those juicy five star production centers.  Most games revolve around a few select super production wonder centers (high value) over many minor ones (low value).  Pros and cons aside losing even one of these can be a game ender.

Hopefully magic will solve most of these problems with new and interesting systems.

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March 24, 2010 11:08:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Epic Wall of text!


5. YES. I always wondered why the rest of the AI just twiddled their thumbs as I go around taking out one nation after another. Once a player gets to a certain size and power that is greater than the next biggest nation by a noticeable margin, then there should be 'switch' in the AI's behavior, and they all gang up on you...HARDCORE...until you are no longer the largest nation by such a noticeable margin.

1. It could spice up the game, but I don't think it would truly solve the problem. Once you get passed the mid game, you’re such a well oiled machine in full control of your faction that any objective will be easy to accomplish..Even ones that you set for yourself.

2. I always play with the highest difficulty right off the bat. At the same time I hate games that rely too heavily on AI blatantly cheating...especially when it’s super obvious.

3. Would add some uncertainty, but I am not sure if I ever really worried about making sure the AI reached VCs. I just make sure I win.


4. This could be interesting. Its randomness against your favor, which I’m sure some people will hate.

I think what we like about the begining of 4x games is that they are unpredictable. There are so many things that are unknown. So many different paths the game could go. As the game goes on, players assume more and more control of their surroundings...and the game helps them along in this process. After all, it’s a game, and the player should "win". You want to make sure the player feels like they are advancing. But in the process, the game becomes easier and easier. As you become a huge bloated empire, the game should theoretically become more challenging. Instead it just gets more repetitive, tedious and predictable (read: EASY and BORING)


I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. Maybe there isn't one, and we are all demanding something that is impossible to do. But going back to the beginning of the game, when it’s still fun, you are your own worst enemy. You are in a very fragile position, with enemies all around you and any wrong decision can set you back. There has to be a way to capture this through the game. The game gets easier as you get bigger and push out and defeat enemy AI. Fewer enemies less to worry about and more room to build an unstoppable empire. There needs to be a system to prevent this. I think this can be accomplished by forcing the player to install enemy AI factions with their own Vassal AI faction. Otherwise the maintenance of ruling a huge empire with no delegation of power will quickly bankrupt a player. No longer do you have full omnipotent control of your empire but you must deal and weal with your subjects (subjects that could backstab you) in order to accomplish your objectives. TBS games do the opposite by allowing the player to get techs that allow them to get bigger and bigger and bigger, until the game eventually becomes a cakewalk.

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March 25, 2010 2:13:32 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@outlaw : at start the game is challenging because there's great threats. In mid and late game those threats didn't scale. And as you're more powerfull those threats seem less powerfull. So the game need something that would scale up with time. The armageddon counter in Fall From Heaven 2 is a great idea.

You don't become powerfull because you want to win, but because you absolutly need it in order to not lose.

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March 25, 2010 8:53:50 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

5. YES. I always wondered why the rest of the AI just twiddled their thumbs as I go around taking out one nation after another. Once a player gets to a certain size and power that is greater than the next biggest nation by a noticeable margin, then there should be 'switch' in the AI's behavior, and they all gang up on you...HARDCORE...until you are no longer the largest nation by such a noticeable margin.

I remember ony my favourite game of GalCiv II. I had just conquered all of the minor races in 5 turns. And, in a single turn, I declared war and invaded every single Iconian world (I was Yor).

All of the AI declared war on me simultaneously (Except the humans, but they were my single trade partners and got 45% of their income from me). It was such an epic game..

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March 25, 2010 12:20:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Interesting points.

 

My biggest gripe with just about every TBS I have ever played is that the individual games (not titles) would either be too easy or too hard.

The only notable exception to this rule has been GC2.

Granted I have experienced this with GC2 as well, but I have had many more games that had a great balance between too easy or too hard.

 

And there is always the issue of how much cheating (or bonuses) should the AI recieve.

I think that Stardock, and Brad in particular, has a good handle on that.

 

With respect to management AI, I like the idea, but have yet to see an implementation that really worked.

The old MoO3 tried an approach that was very interesting. You setup your governors with basic outlines of what you wanted them to do and they tried to go about doing it. If you didn't like they outcomes or the way the governor behaved, you could fire them and replace them with another governor thay would do things differently.

It failed on the AI part and on the interface to set it up, but the idea is something that should be revisited

 

 

Edited for spelling.

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March 25, 2010 12:22:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Never mind.

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March 25, 2010 12:31:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Just a quick response from me here:

 

A Civ 4 mod had a fun little option in it that cuased the game to play out like this: At some defined point (number of turns) the game would start checking scores, and if the player was leading the next highest civ by 30% or more, the player would switch control to the lowest ranked civ, and his former civ would go to the AI. The game would now wait for the player to take this new race up to the top of the ladder. When he does, he again takes the place of the lowest ranked civ, and must reach the top again, while also defeating his former civ (again controlled by the AI).

 

I'm not sure if this worked in multiplayer matches, and I doubt it would be fun for most people in such an enviroment, but for single player, it certainly killed any late game tedium, where you have realized that you are definitely going to win, but can't decide whether you want to bother mopping up the world for another few hours.

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March 25, 2010 4:18:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting louist,

A Civ 4 mod had a fun little option in it that cuased the game to play out like this: At some defined point (number of turns) the game would start checking scores, and if the player was leading the next highest civ by 30% or more, the player would switch control to the lowest ranked civ, and his former civ would go to the AI. The game would now wait for the player to take this new race up to the top of the ladder. When he does, he again takes the place of the lowest ranked civ, and must reach the top again, while also defeating his former civ (again controlled by the AI).

Oh I'm afraid I would really, really dislike that, sorry

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March 25, 2010 4:43:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'd like to have continuity games. Like.. if you  manage to establish a New World Order by yourself (either effective control, or still ennough power to throw around that no one challenge you), you'd have the option of setting the clock to go forward 3000 turns, where your Empire has been fragmented, and you have to pick up the pieces from a new perspective. Your uber-empire effectively become "The remnants", the "Dread Lords", the "Anors", the "Precursors" that created uber-powerful magical items and technologies left behind.

 

You'd be able to find old ruins of the cities that you have built before. Your own hubris would have caused Netheril to fall..

That'd be nice.

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March 25, 2010 5:11:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Addition: Or a civil war.

Did you ever played Sword of the Stars?

A very nice tech (and random event) was the creation and the rebellion of an AI that would steal parts of your Empire, with all your techs, some of your troops and some of your planets.

You ended up fighting an ennemy that was as powerful as you created it. It was... well, game-changing event. Kinda frustrating, but still a very fun challenge.

Like Charlemagne's empire that broke appart.

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March 25, 2010 5:31:29 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting onomastikon,

Quoting louist, reply 12
A Civ 4 mod had a fun little option in it that cuased the game to play out like this: At some defined point (number of turns) the game would start checking scores, and if the player was leading the next highest civ by 30% or more, the player would switch control to the lowest ranked civ, and his former civ would go to the AI. The game would now wait for the player to take this new race up to the top of the ladder. When he does, he again takes the place of the lowest ranked civ, and must reach the top again, while also defeating his former civ (again controlled by the AI).

Oh I'm afraid I would really, really dislike that, sorry

In fact, in Fall from Heaven 2, the choice is just given to you. You don't have to switch places. And it's really a lot more fun than it seems.

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March 25, 2010 5:51:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

very nice post :3

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March 25, 2010 8:14:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Speaking from experience: #1 works. #2 can work. #5 doesn't work.

You don't even need to take #1 as far as the OP described. Simply pre-canning the usual 6-8 victory conditions but allowing the player to edit the exact values needed to fulfill them, be it through sliders or an editable text file or whatever, helps a lot. Hate the lategame warfare? Cut it out by lowering the amount of land you need to take to fulfill that victory condition (there's always one like it in a 4x game). Want to be under more pressure early on? Significantly lower the value for some VC you generally don't persue (say, cultural in Civ4 for me) so that the AI nears that victory sooner, and you have to act to stop them sooner than the lategame (or act late instead of never at all, if the AI's bad at chasing victories.) Think a certain VC is cheap? Nerf it or get rid of it.

The important thing for #2 is to make the scaling up points set in stone and not tied to any in-game variables. For instance, in a game where the average playthrough lasts about 300 turns, you could increase difficulty by 1 level every 50 turns, no matter how those 50 turns went for you. It doesn't necessarily have to be that simple, and it could factor in some of the pre-game variables that you set, but the important thing is that once the game starts the scaling is rigid. This way, you're motivated to make the most out of those turns where you have it relatively easy, since you'll never be able to hold off the scaling. Conversely, you'll never suddenly jump from the mid difficulty to the highest because you accidently played a bit too hard and ratcheted up the wrong arbitrary variable. Trying to use this idea as a rubberband mechanic makes it suck ass. It makes you feel like how well you're playing doesn't matter. If you play well, the AI gets stronger and stronger, if you play shitty, they get weaker and weaker. Relatively you fell like you're in the same spot. At BEST, this is true. At WORST, the game's arbitrary scoring mechanisms make no sense (all 4x games have at least a small problem with this), meaning the difficulty level is rising or falling in response to playstyles that really aren't very good or bad.

#5 marginalizess a lot of aspects of the gameplay. Diplomacy stops mattering very much if at all, because no matter how nice you make with the AI they're still never really your friend. Trade starts sucking dick because you have no reliable partners. It makes the lategame really samey if you get there in a strong position - with "normal" AI, you have some choice as to how your winning position will become a win, while with "spiteful bastard" AI, you've got one option: fight. Take down everyone who thinks you're too big to exist and end up winning a military victory. Every. Motherfucking. Time. You want lategame tedium, there you go. Now, it should be possible to have a situation where you get ganged up on as you become the big fish and approach victory, but it should be a consequence of something, like neglecting diplomacy and treating everyone else like shit, or persuing a victory condition whose rules state "EVERYONE'S GOING TO HATE YOU FOR GOING AFTER THIS." If it automatically happens, the game gets a lot more one-dimensional and boring.

4 and 3... eh, I've never seen anything like them before in a strategy game, and I'm not in the beta yet so I have no idea how they'd pan out. I don't really care to speculate on them.

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March 26, 2010 4:44:33 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Why do people feel they need to refer to fellatio or other lascivious activities when describing game mechanics they find suboptimal? Can't we just name the reason for which we find something poor without referring to fecal and phallic metaphors?

While I find some of the counter-arguments persuasive (albeit not quite as effective as they would be without the rhetorical shooting-your-own-knee mentioned above), and I am thankful for that for being able to learn from your experience, please note that I DID mention that at least some of these should be optional / selectable, thus able to be turned off for those who find them offensive (or experimented with to find out if, indeed, they might like them). Have you ever read Green Eggs and Ham?

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March 26, 2010 9:24:34 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting vieuxchat,
@outlaw : at start the game is challenging because there's great threats. In mid and late game those threats didn't scale. And as you're more powerfull those threats seem less powerfull. So the game need something that would scale up with time. The armageddon counter in Fall From Heaven 2 is a great idea.

You don't become powerfull because you want to win, but because you absolutly need it in order to not lose.

I think we are pretty much saying the same thing, just worded differently.

An armageddon counter type feature would be great. I think you can add several features that will scale up the difficulty properly.

Increasing AI hostility as you yourself get more and more powerful is one. Being way too powerful is more than enough excuse for people to start envying, fearing you and hating you. Real world diplomacy works very much the same way (in response to Lavitage).

Another is replacing defeated AI factions with something and not leaving a huge void that benefits the conquering player way too much.

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March 26, 2010 1:48:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think the issue is more complex (and complicated ...) than just increasing the challenge level.

For one thing it should be said that LTG is the downside of something good. In a strategy game you should in principle not be punished for making the right choices. If you have taken all the right decisions up until late game it is only logical that you should become the most powerful civ. Trying to create surprises and suspens through letting the AI cheat or throwing in game changing events all detracts from the strategy dimension. I especially don't like the idea that you get punished by a stronger and stronger AI the better you play. Maybe some upgrading could work, but at the same time it undermines the basic fairness of the gaming experience.

Actually, when I play I like the feeling when you are becoming the most powerful civ and start crushing your enemies. That is, it's fun the first 2-3 battles, but then ... LGT sets in and you never finish the game. I think the solution has to be multifacetted, and one thing would be to make the late game more fun to play quite simply. So that even if you know you will win you still want to play out the end. This could be done by increasing the RPG elements of late game. When your opponents are not putting up a real fight, quests against really terrible dragons etc could still be a real challenge. Good random events mixed with RPG elements and beautiful graphics for spells, battles and just about everything could make also the LGT phase fun to play through. For example, if the dynasty system is well made you might really want to know what will happen to all your offspring even if it is becoming clear that your civ will win over the others. By turning the game into a story interest can be held high.

Another thing is information. Suspense is not based on facts, it's based on perceptions. So even if you are so powerful that you just can't lose, the game could still be filled with suspense as long as you THINK your opponents might just have that terrible spell up their sleeve ... I think the best way to create such a dimension in the game would be to have a lot of very rare populous like spells possible towards the end - combined with a system where you don't get all info on your opponents: you would need spies to get even the lion's share. The good news is that SD seems to implement just such a magic system. But unfortunately I haven't heard SD say anything about a spy system in a long time.  But we'll see about all that.

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March 26, 2010 3:43:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting the Gorgon,
I think the issue is more complex (and complicated ...) than just increasing the challenge level.

For one thing it should be said that LTG is the downside of something good. In a strategy game you should in principle not be punished for making the right choices.

, and one thing would be to make the late game more fun to play quite simply. So that even if you know you will win you still want to play out the end. This could be done by increasing the RPG elements of late game.

The first thing you say which I quote here is right, and we agree (I suggested that lack of challenge was only one of two main sources).

The last thing you say which I quote here is brilliant. (And I am sorry I didnt say it as explicitly as you did! In a way, I agreed with you here already, because, as I claim in my other main thread, "TBS fun", polyvalent choices = fun, and the second main source of LGT here I claim is lack of choices.) More RPG would be great, and I like your suggestions.

The middle thing you say I couldnt disagree with more. LTG does not occur in good TBS games where opponents of similar skill play one another (consider chess), and it also does not occur in good TBSs in which even opponents of greatly different skill are paired, when those TBSs have victory conditions which are much more cleverly utilized (consider Star Chamber). You should certainly NOT be penalized for making good choices; you should win; but in doing so, you should have fun and continue to be challenged. If you are not continuing to have fun and being challenged, then something is wrong. In games in which the opponents are of significantly unequal skill (also e.g. AI vs. human), the game is flawed if the much more skilled opponent can ride all over the weaker opponent without obtaining game closure before boredom sets in. I would postulate that this is one defining criterium of a suboptimally designed TBS game.

So I think I wasn't making myself clear enough. I am not opposed to winning. I am not opposed to rewarding players who make good choices with satisfaction, one large portion of which is winning. I want to win. In doing so, I want to have challenge and I want to have fun -- and I want to have closure (completing victory conditions as opposed to merely quitting because there is no point in going on). This can be done by making victory obtainable before the late game gets too long or by making the late game more fun and challenging. Most of my suggestions were for the latter, while I think that customizable victory conditions might also address the former (satisfying game closure at the end of mid-game).

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March 26, 2010 8:27:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Just to make clear that I didn't mean to disagree but just wanted to point out that in my view there are indeed good reasons why you don't "change the rules of the game" during the game (e.g. by suddenly giving the AI extra units or money for the only reason that the human player managed to speed up his own production). But as long as things are optional I would'nt mind it, including scaling/changing the AI difficulty in game. But I do think you should always KNOW the rules when you start playing (and be able to chose the set-up you prefer from the start).

Regarding LTG being the downside of something good, I think LTG is also much linked to the size of the game (i.e. how long it takes to finish the game from start of late game / end game). A game like Risk has a low LTG thanks to its victory conditions, but also thanks to the fact that it's quite quick to win when you get REALLY powerful. What takes long here is rather the mid game. But if the game had been more like most PC TBS it could have suffered just the same LTG, when it just takes so LONG to kill the others off ...

I agree totally with you on the victory conditions also, which I forgot to mention in my reply. 

BTW, you might have seen my earlier post on a mechanism for teaming up on the big guys, which was meant to stop a sort of earlier, mid-game LTG, which normally then also continues into either total end game LTG or the player losing the game without a chance (depending on who is the Big guy ...).

 

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March 27, 2010 5:13:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@Gorgon: OK! Thank you, now I think I understand better. Sorry I wasnt being clear either. I tend to think that while size does matter, it is not quite as important as cleverly implemented VCs.

To give an example: I think CivIV (large scope) still has quite a few shortcomings as a TBS (you can only build 1 type of buidling in each city; combat; luxury items make same net happiness no matter how many of them you have; etc.), but one of its greatest shortcomings -- namely huge LGT -- could be addressed at least somewhat if game setup would allow for scaled AI difficulty and customizable VCs, for example letting the human Player define what "Domination" means (% of landmass owned) for each player at the start of the game (and this would not change for the course of the game), e.g. the Netherlands wins a Domination victory if it owns 45% of landmass, Random Player 2 wins a domination victory if it owns 75% of landmass (default), human player wins if it owns 70% of landmass, etc; cultural victory = Y culture points for player X, Y-250 for player Z, etc. I cannot imagine that this is terribly hard to have as drop down lists in Game Setup. Please note that changing nothing should merely give you the default settings: All players all win via the same default VC settings. (Also, CivIV's LGT would also be addressed by having players have more choices in late game, e.g. allowing them to  buiild more exciting things in late game; it systematically fails here due to the hard-coded mechanic of only allowing one building of each type in each city with a finite number of allowable buildings. Obviously, the makers of CivIV BTS (Beyond the Sword) tried explicitly to address this issue by introducing Corporations, and that did help somewhat as a "new" set of units and "buildings" that are available only at the start of the late game.)

 

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March 28, 2010 6:40:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Lately I've been playing two games that have out of the ordinary ways of solving winning and micro-managing/LGT.

As for winning, Solium Infernum and Armada 2526 have some interesting ways to handle it. Solium Infernum has a Prestige based way to victory, where the one who has the most prestige in the end(turn limit), wins. However, prestige can be gained by many ways, and the important thing is that you accumulate it slowly throughout the game. You can also fulfill objectives and secret objectives(both of which you can choose from a limited assortment) which will give you more of the points, and the objectives are usually quite strange from a normal game point of view, which forces you to accommodate to fulfilling these objectives, changing your style of playing.

 Armada 2526 also has a "gain points slowly" method of calculating victory points, and the way it does it is rather great in my opinion. The thing is, each different faction in the game has very different ways of gaining these points. Some may get points from having a high level of technology and happy people, while losing points from killing enemies. Another faction may gain points from having a lot of people, no matter how unhappy they are, and killing enemies. The fact that each faction has so different methods of getting these points, and that the points are calculated each turn makes for a great mechanic I haven't really seen before. Which is to say, even if you are the greatest empire in the galaxy, but at late game, it won't matter that much, because you have lost so much points due to the time that has passed, that your tooling up for power has been pretty much for nothing. The problem as I see it, is that in most games it won't matter how poorly or stupidly you have played the game, so long as at the end you have the most power. This practically means that you won't care much about anything else than gaining technology and expanding your power, which causes much of the problems in not-funness. If points could be gained from wildly different things, like the happiness of the people, or from glorious buildings, or such things, instead of just smashing your foe in the end, the way the game is played would in itself be different, a more relaxed and intriguing manner of playing.

As for the problem of LGT, this too can be solved in a manner(though I don't think it is very applicable in Elemental as such) with influences from Solium Infernum and Armageddon Empires. Both of these games use a method of controlling and constraining the amount of actions the player can do in each turn, which causes the player to think more about what they really want to do, instead of just moving every unit, checking every town for what it's building and so on. If you could only do 4 actions in each turn, such as moving an army, or producing a unit, or such, it would make the game more tense, because no matter how massive your empire, you could not simply steamroll the enemy down. This too would lessen the need to gather a huge empire that encompasses the whole world, which in my opinion is one of the more boring parts in 4X games(despite that the whole premise of the genre is to do just that.)

These ideas might not be very suited for Elemental as such, or they may be far too late to influence anything at this point, but they may still be worth thinking about.

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