Make a better game–limit the player

By on April 10, 2012 12:41:15 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

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Stardock’s Jon Shafer has a great article on game design that has been spreading like wild-fire around the Internet.

With regards to the strategy genre in particular, restrictions on unit movement is one of the best examples of how limitations can make a game better. The inability of land units to enter water is why ships are so valuable – and just plain cool. Gaining access to new units with unique ‘powers’ is a major motivation for many players. Just like in economics, scarcity is what drives value – the fact that most units are unable to perform certain actions is what makes the few which can so much fun.

Movement restrictions also show that there’s a place for even permanent limits. An example from the Civ series is how mountains became impassable for the first time in Civ 4. It’s a subtle change that very few players would point to as a major innovation, but even something small like this helps breathe life into the map. Instead of mountain ranges being just another part of the map with a slight movement penalty, they suddenly transformed into true barriers that now require serious consideration.

Read the whole thing here.

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April 10, 2012 1:09:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Total agreement. One of the things I always hope for in a 4X game is the ability to "settle tactically." I'll take the risk of over-expanding early in order to hinder my opponents' expansion. Choke points should exist in a map's design, and smart players should try to exploit them.

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April 10, 2012 1:28:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

... yet he gave land units the "magic" ability to "transform" themselves into their naval transports the moment they touch the ocean (civ5)????

 

With all due respect, but some consistency speakes a huge lot about professionalism, doesn't it?

I agree fully with the idea, though. It's just that sometimes ideas can get hit hard depending on who the messenger is.

 

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April 10, 2012 1:30:24 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Really glad Jon is a SD employee.  Makes FE all the more exciting.

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April 10, 2012 1:34:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Couldn't agree more.

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April 10, 2012 2:45:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


I hope Stardock have taken/will take Jon's advice about city specialisation:

"Let’s say you’re playing a 4X game and want to specialize a city for the production of money. If this can be done equally well in any city then there’s really no special considerations to make – after all, if every city is just as viable you might as well just flip some coins to decide. Which, for the record, isn’t terribly interesting or fun."

So city specialisation should be limited and not just take place as a generic level-up function.  Maybe according to the resources contained within the city walls?

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April 10, 2012 3:46:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Without boundaries you don't have anything concrete. Smart thought, good to keep in mind when creating anything, be it games, music or pictures.

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April 10, 2012 3:53:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting rebelito,
... yet he gave land units the "magic" ability to "transform" themselves into their naval transports the moment they touch the ocean (civ5)????

 

With all due respect, but some consistency speakes a huge lot about professionalism, doesn't it?

I agree fully with the idea, though. It's just that sometimes ideas can get hit hard depending on who the messenger is.

 

 

True, although that was a decision based on the fact that no AI of a grand strategy game has been able to handle boats well. Wasn't that why it was dropped from elemental as well? In regards to the AI in Civ5 it didn't do much good though...

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April 10, 2012 7:10:04 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

He misses the mark. It isn't restrictions that matter at all.

As Neo says in the second Matrix movie "The problem is Choice". It is meaningful choices that matter and make the game better. To make the choice meaningful, the act of choosing must place restrictions upon the player.

This is why Shooters on rails or any type of "railroading" has a negative connotation in gaming. Restricting a player is a bad thing except when it provides the opportunity to make a meaningful choice.

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April 10, 2012 7:33:18 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Rishkith,
He misses the mark. It isn't restrictions that matter at all.

As Neo says in the second Matrix movie "The problem is Choice". It is meaningful choices that matter and make the game better. To make the choice meaningful, the act of choosing must place restrictions upon the player.

This is why Shooters on rails or any type of "railroading" has a negative connotation in gaming. Restricting a player is a bad thing except when it provides the opportunity to make a meaningful choice.

 

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April 10, 2012 7:37:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Rishkith,
He misses the mark. It isn't restrictions that matter at all.

As Neo says in the second Matrix movie "The problem is Choice". It is meaningful choices that matter and make the game better. To make the choice meaningful, the act of choosing must place restrictions upon the player.

This is why Shooters on rails or any type of "railroading" has a negative connotation in gaming. Restricting a player is a bad thing except when it provides the opportunity to make a meaningful choice.

Your being a little critical, as in economics it's scarcity or limits that create choices. Unless you limit a player they will never have to make choices. If you could choose to have everything you would. You are right in pointing out that the one of the main reason limits are so important is that they create meaningful choices. 

The changes to bosts in Civ were simply to reduce micro and help the AI. It didn't effect limits at all, and thus overall was a good decision in my opinion.

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April 10, 2012 8:10:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

What he's talking about, and I agree (Even though it demonstrates my weaknesses as a designer) is that choices need to matter. Don't have lots of choices of ambiguous meaning, have fewer choices that have very obvious meaning.

To this day, the formula in Galactic Civilizations II for determining approval rating on a planet is an incredibly complicated formula because there are so many things that come into play.  It's a bad design.

In Elemental: War of Magic, we tried to have too many things have meaning and you end up with bland.

In Fallen Enchantress, by contrast, it's fewer choices but they are distinct and meaningful.

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April 10, 2012 8:20:39 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

I'm glad to hear you say that, Frogboy. This thread - both what you just wrote and what Rishkith wrote in #8 - is why I got super-bored by GalCiv2 after about 3 playthroughs. All of my choices felt either meaningless or unfathomable.

The really great strategy games concentrate on giving choices that are

  •  Are fully understandable
  •  Are really meaningful
  •  Have no "correct" answer, only tradeoffs. But the tradeoffs have to include getting something *cool or valuable* at the cost of some other cool or valuable thing. (The worst strategy games I ever played, and I am thinking of two in particular, had an array of stupidly-bland choices in their tech tree.

 

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April 10, 2012 8:25:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Choices that have a dramatic effect gameplay make a game really interesting. In a TOEE RPG Modd you could 1) foil a plot to sabotage the construction of a castle and trigger the appearance of a castle on the main map, 2)  sabotage the castle's construction and gain a favorable introduction to the big bad or 3) take no action the watch this RPG world develop in a semi-random fashion without your character gaining any benefit from these developments. Each result had a dramatic; but different, effect on the game.

Likewise; on another modd, there were several ways to fulfill a quest to retrieve the egg of a giant eagle - each one had its consequences. First 1) slay the druid guarding the path to the eagles nest (this made the druids your enemy) - most players choose this method initially and suffered the consequences. Method 2) was to put the druid to sleep and steal the egg while he was sleeping. They key was stealing the egg before the druid woke up.  Sending a single fast moving lightly armored character up the narrow path to retreive the egg was the solution; however, it took several reboots/replays before most players discovered this. Method 3) was to have a character move silently past the druid in the shadow of night (yep - you could sneak past the druid guard at night - but not during the day). Last but least, you wanted to time your foray up the path to arrive at the nest when the mother eagle was not there (or was sleeping) - else risk attack by the giant Eagle.

Similarly, in a TOEE Keep to the Borderlands Modd you had a quest to quietly acquire 100 swords - and there were several ways to to this. 1) Steal them, 2) Purchase them from the smithy in the Keep and raise the suspicions of the local lord that would trigger consquences for the baron that hired you, or 3) venture far and wide to purchase 100 swords in different settelements. Each solution had dramatically different consequences.

Last but least there was the time based Keep Mod, once you discovered that the keep was to be attacked; IF GOOD you had x amount of days to reach the keep and warn them. Arrive late and you would find the keep in ruins and its defenders slain. Arrive early and your assistance may ensure the victory of its defenders.

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April 10, 2012 8:56:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
What he's talking about, and I agree (Even though it demonstrates my weaknesses as a designer) is that choices need to matter. Don't have lots of choices of ambiguous meaning, have fewer choices that have very obvious meaning.

To this day, the formula in Galactic Civilizations II for determining approval rating on a planet is an incredibly complicated formula because there are so many things that come into play.  It's a bad design.

In Elemental: War of Magic, we tried to have too many things have meaning and you end up with bland.

In Fallen Enchantress, by contrast, it's fewer choices but they are distinct and meaningful.

 

Some things it's ok to be complicated like that.  Design rules are never absolutes.

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April 10, 2012 10:31:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
In Fallen Enchantress, by contrast, it's fewer choices but they are distinct and meaningful.

Oh?

Sincerely
~ Kongdej

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April 11, 2012 3:47:54 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
What he's talking about, and I agree (Even though it demonstrates my weaknesses as a designer) is that choices need to matter

 

Which is exactly why good AI is so important.  No choice is important if the AI can't compete and the game quickly becomes boring. This is the single most important facet for the success of FE. 

 

Another (maybe not so obvious example): build killer stack = win, is not fun over the long run.  There have to be negatives to every approach for it to be fun.  If killer stacks are possible, and a player takes that path then it should become difficult to defend... logistics should become troublesome... something to counterbalance this player approach.

 

Anyway, I'm just glad to see where your head is at because this is definitely the right direction.  Just remember, at the end of the day, the FE fun factor is going to be largely determined by the AI.

 

 

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April 11, 2012 7:38:30 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
In Fallen Enchantress, by contrast, it's fewer choices but they are distinct and meaningful.

 

I ll agree with that. I dont care if there is plenty of choices or just few, i just want them to have a real effect on the long run. 

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April 11, 2012 8:04:25 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting Edwin99,
Choices that have a dramatic effect gameplay make a game really interesting. In a TOEE RPG Modd you could 1) foil a plot to sabotage the construction of a castle and trigger the appearance of a castle on the main map, 2)  sabotage the castle's construction and gain a favorable introduction to the big bad or 3) take no action the watch this RPG world develop in a semi-random fashion without your character gaining any benefit from these developments. Each result had a dramatic; but different, effect on the game.

Likewise; on another modd, there were several ways to fulfill a quest to retrieve the egg of a giant eagle - each one had its consequences. First 1) slay the druid guarding the path to the eagles nest (this made the druids your enemy) - most players choose this method initially and suffered the consequences. Method 2) was to put the druid to sleep and steal the egg while he was sleeping. They key was stealing the egg before the druid woke up.  Sending a single fast moving lightly armored character up the narrow path to retreive the egg was the solution; however, it took several reboots/replays before most players discovered this. Method 3) was to have a character move silently past the druid in the shadow of night (yep - you could sneak past the druid guard at night - but not during the day). Last but least, you wanted to time your foray up the path to arrive at the nest when the mother eagle was not there (or was sleeping) - else risk attack by the giant Eagle.

Similarly, in a TOEE Keep to the Borderlands Modd you had a quest to quietly acquire 100 swords - and there were several ways to to this. 1) Steal them, 2) Purchase them from the smithy in the Keep and raise the suspicions of the local lord that would trigger consquences for the baron that hired you, or 3) venture far and wide to purchase 100 swords in different settelements. Each solution had dramatically different consequences.

Are you talking about the Temple of Elemental Evil computer game or the D&D Pen and Paper module?

 

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April 11, 2012 8:57:56 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I would not say "Make the game better" but rather raise the level of complexity or the level of details.

For example, the "Wizard kings" board game use a plain hex map as a board:

 

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/200018/wizard-kings

 

But movement looks much more complex than it seems. First, you get mobility boost if your unit start and ends on a road. But most importantly, there is a limit in the amount of units you can move into a hex for each hex side. So an open plain hex side allows you to move in 2 units, while an hexside with a bridge or mountain only allows you to move in 1.

So this creates a dynamic where in order to send a large force into a target hex, you need to be able to surround your enemy. It also create interesting simulation of blocking a bridge to prevent the enemy from passing since he can only send 1 unit at a time.

All that added complexity also increase the possible effects that special abilities, like spells, could affect. Instead of having spell that increase movement or ignore terrain movement penalty, you can also add abilities regarding the hex sides and roads.

So restrictions increases the complexity and details of the game. It open what I call "the area of effect" of a game which is the possible elements that can be affected by a special ability. But it is not always the best thing to do. In some design, you might not actually want that extra level of complexity and detail. In video games, complexity is more welcomed because the computer can compute stuff for the player, but  it's no the case in board games.

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April 11, 2012 9:35:24 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,

Some things it's ok to be complicated like that.  Design rules are never absolutes.

 

I agree.

 

For instance, Unrest levels (not to mention combat) are a complicated part of the Total War series ... yet its something that gives variety to the series.

 

-> Do I conquer the nation with similar culture or different culture? The former are our allies, and I would hate to break up an alliance like that, yet the latter would have higher unrest, and I would need larger occupation armies for those regions.

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April 11, 2012 9:36:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Bellack,

Are you talking about the Temple of Elemental Evil computer game or the D&D Pen and Paper module?
 

I am talking about the Temple of Elemental Evil computer game. As originally released it had 1) GREAT TACTICAL BATTLES, 2) poor story line, 3) no serious consquences for player actions and 4) no built in modding tools (aka NWN); however, player modds added new spells, quests and adventures.  The most popular mod is  available from www.co8.org and the game itself can be purchased from www.gog.com for $5.99USD. If SD does an Elemental RPG I would like to see it include tactical battles based on the TOEE system.

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April 11, 2012 9:40:54 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Restrictions don't have to increase complexity.

For a simple example, consider a game that has units that can move to any adjacent squares. Then change the rules so that units can only move directly forward, left of right. Movement has been restricted, but it hasn't become more complex.

There's an interesting geeklist on Boardgamegeek about Depth vs complexity. The definitions for depth and complexity in the geeklist are these:

HIGH COMPLEXITY
Ton's of fiddly rules, lots of board maintenance.

MEDIUM COMPLEXITY
Some meat on the bone in terms of system rules that I have to take into account every turn, but doesn't weigh the game down.

LOW COMPLEXITY
Brain dead simple mechanics, silky smooth gameplay.

HIGH DEPTH
My brain burns with all the potential options, and I always feel like there's something more to learn from playing.

MEDIUM DEPTH
Usually it's not too hard to choose from a few different strategies over the course of the game, and a few tactics on any given turn.

LOW DEPTH
Moves are always painfully obvious, not much decision making, game plays itself.

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April 11, 2012 9:42:16 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting larienna,

But movement looks much more complex than it seems. First, you get mobility boost if your unit start and ends on a road. But most importantly, there is a limit in the amount of units you can move into a hex for each hex side. So an open plain hex side allows you to move in 2 units, while an hexside with a bridge or mountain only allows you to move in 1.

So this creates a dynamic where in order to send a large force into a target hex, you need to be able to surround your enemy. It also create interesting simulation of blocking a bridge to prevent the enemy from passing since he can only send 1 unit at a time.

All that added complexity also increase the possible effects that special abilities, like spells, could affect. Instead of having spell that increase movement or ignore terrain movement penalty, you can also add abilities regarding the hex sides and roads.

So restrictions increases the complexity and details of the game. It open what I call "the area of effect" of a game which is the possible elements that can be affected by a special ability. But it is not always the best thing to do. In some design, you might not actually want that extra level of complexity and detail. In video games, complexity is more welcomed because the computer can compute stuff for the player, but  it's no the case in board games.

 

Interesting. Yes, 'open-ended' complexity is bad ... but a decent level of behind the scenes complexity is good ESPECIALLY if the UI does the bean-counting for you ... just look at the BuG mod for Civ IV BTS. (Or at least some parts of it)

While some object to the bean-counting that Bug does (some call it "playing the game for you") When we have the extra complexity in Elemental, that is, the Role playing element, I think it is worth it to allow "we-done it for you" UI bean-counting so that the player can focus more on the Macro + RPG elements and less on the Micro.

But that is the thing, I think there should be restrictions, but I think there also is a Space available for microscopic details ... but only in situations where they are needed. (and these should be few and far between, but still should be/could be present somewhere I think).

Now complexity for complexity's sake isn't desired ... but, say for instance in the City Conquering/unrest departments, it may be needed.

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April 11, 2012 10:43:54 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Rishkith,
He misses the mark. It isn't restrictions that matter at all.

As Neo says in the second Matrix movie "The problem is Choice". It is meaningful choices that matter and make the game better. To make the choice meaningful, the act of choosing must place restrictions upon the player.

This is why Shooters on rails or any type of "railroading" has a negative connotation in gaming. Restricting a player is a bad thing except when it provides the opportunity to make a meaningful choice.

Star Fox isn't looked at in a negative light.

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April 11, 2012 10:57:58 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Silicor,
Another (maybe not so obvious example): build killer stack = win, is not fun over the long run. There have to be negatives to every approach for it to be fun. If killer stacks are possible, and a player takes that path then it should become difficult to defend... logistics should become troublesome... something to counterbalance this player approach.

Yes this is the biggest problem I have with most strategy games. I couldn't agree with you more. When games can be automatically won simply by building up a big enough stack then they become boring. In the context of this thread you need to limit large stacks so that players are still faced with choices even when they have a killer stack. This is not to say it should be impossible to get a large stack but rather a player's ability to use them needs to be limited. The ability to build a stack and then send it out to conquer city after city totally ruins a game.

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