The problem with fantasy games

By on April 26, 2014 9:41:48 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
+1478

We’ve been blessed with a lot of fantasy 4X games in the past few years.

Besides the Elemental games we’ve gotten Warlock, Age of Wonders 3, Eador, and soon Endless Legends. If you like fantasy games, I highly recommend checking them all out (except War of Magic which is inferior to all of them).

Unfortunately, as game designers, we have an unusual challenge: Magic.

Magic isn’t fair

It is really really hard to write good AI in a game that literally allows players to conjure up all kinds of game changing stuff.  The granddaddy of this genre, Master of Magic, didn’t really have an AI.  In theory it did but the AI doesn’t really provide a challenge. The game’s amazing game design makes a strong case that it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.  That is, in MOM, winning is a foregone conclusion. Of course you’re going to win. The question is how?

Revisiting Elemental: War of Magic

At the risk of being boastful, as problematic as War of Magic was at launch, it was highly innovative.  The cloth map mode it introduced is kind of expected now.

image

Elemental: War of Magic introduced the cloth map zoom out concept, now obvious in hindsight

image

The city building features were pretty amazing

The problems of Elemental: War of Magic could be summed up as follows:  It was a series of interesting game concepts that were not tied together versus computer opponents who weren’t sure what they are supposed to be doing.

If I had to do it over again Elemental: War of Magic would have been bulleted like this:

  • You are a powerful Sorcerer (or sorceress) who must build a kingdom from the ground up
  • Your goal is to be the first to cast the spell of making to take control of the world (not that conquering enemies is NOT a requirement here)
  • To do that you will need to capture the 4 types of Elemental shards: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and construct the Forge of the Overlord
  • You can build alliances with other players who control one or more o those elemental shards who are willing to tie their destiny to yours
  • Those alliances are built through arranged marriages through your dynasty
  • Go on quests to find one of the very few Champions of the world to help lead your armies to secure the land you need to build your cities along with the loot necessary to make your units, champions, and cities more powerful.
  • Your cities provide the units necessary to learn the spell of mastery, construct the forge of the overlord and armies to secure resources that required to do both.

This design takes into account the basic problem in magic games: You can’t make a Civilization style 4X game and have powerful magic at the same time. If the object of the game is to conquer another empire, then you have to deal with balance and magic eliminates that balance.  Conquering other cities should not be the goal in these games. It’s boring and tedious.  It should be optional but not central to whether you win or lose. 

By making magic both the tool AND the goal, you can eliminate mundane balance issues.  Want to protect your capital by surrounding yourself with mountains or ocean? No problem. Go for it.  But you can’t do that if the AI is required to actually conquer your cities in order win. 

If city conquest is the goal, then magic has to be gimped and at that point why have it?

Locked Post 86 Replies
Search this post
Subscription Options


Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 9, 2014 12:36:20 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

My 2 cents is this: Why not make a game that ends into another games beginning.  For example, in Civilizations one method of winning is to create a spaceship that will blast off into space.  The game's (Civilization) end game victory condition could then be used to start a game of Galactic Civilizations.  Say you played Civilization to year 2050 or so, you could create multiple colony ships, flagships and/or space miner ships which would give your Gal Civ game a head start versus your opponents.  Also, let your research of technologies in Civilizations carry over to the Gal Civ game instead of just researching the nameless future techs that exist today in Civ.  In other words, start researching the tech tree of Gal Civ while playing the end game of Civilizations.  Further, the Civ world that you create would be your starting world in Gal Civ so any Gal Civ bonuses should reflect the Civilization's game course.

To balance out your material (ships) and technology advantages give the other races some amount of bonuses reflecting their racial backgrounds and the desired difficulty level.

I know that Civ and Gal Civ are made by competing companies and there are other IRL concerns but I was using them as an example for this game succession idea.

To me, there is a natural progression of expansion/research/unit creation that could be tapped for this World Builder followed by a Galaxy Builder concept.

 

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 9, 2014 1:14:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting highwayhoss,
I have some particular gripes about 4x Fantasy games:

1. LEVELS AND CLASSES: All these years of game development and we still use these Dungeon and Dragon mechanics? These systems impose linearity and rigidity in the game system. I would prefer to have units and champions gain skills more freely and naturally. Kill a monster? You get points to develop combat skills. Govern a city? Administrative skill points. Give characters freedom to develop naturally. Put more emphasis on non combat skills and roleplaying.

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 9, 2014 8:07:15 AM from Galactic Civilizations III Forums Galactic Civilizations III Forums

Why do I think that the problem with "War of Magic" was not the magic, but the Heroes. The reason is because Heroes are leveling up. You are basically marry the RPG genre with 4x game. But you forget that a high level hero is basically a superman. When you have a superman and kill the enemy supermen. basically you've win the game. Because the enemy doesn't has anything to counter you anymore. This is the thing that throw the balance off from WOM.

In RPG, you're okay to become a superman. Because the challenge that you have to face will increase with the course of the game. But with 4x game, when you crush the enemy army in a decisive battle, they become weaker. So what happen when you have a superman, and kill the enemy superman? Your enemy basically has lost the game. Because rhey don't have any mean necessary to change their fate.

Plus, a strategy system that use Hero level up system like in WOM will not be a strategy game anymore. You're basically playing an RPG game with a 4x game map. Because you kill the opportunity for the players to use another units. And, just like Heroes Might & Magic Series, you will stick only ro one hero and one party. Other group / army won't be necessary, as it will decrease the opportunity to your main hero to leveling up better (to split the Exp). And once you have already have a superman, then the other unit won't be necessary.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 10, 2014 7:59:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Brainsucker,

Why do I think that the problem with "War of Magic" was not the magic, but the Heroes. The reason is because Heroes are leveling up. You are basically marry the RPG genre with 4x game. But you forget that a high level hero is basically a superman. When you have a superman and kill the enemy supermen. basically you've win the game. Because the enemy doesn't has anything to counter you anymore. This is the thing that throw the balance off from WOM.

In RPG, you're okay to become a superman. Because the challenge that you have to face will increase with the course of the game. But with 4x game, when you crush the enemy army in a decisive battle, they become weaker. So what happen when you have a superman, and kill the enemy superman? Your enemy basically has lost the game. Because rhey don't have any mean necessary to change their fate.

Plus, a strategy system that use Hero level up system like in WOM will not be a strategy game anymore. You're basically playing an RPG game with a 4x game map. Because you kill the opportunity for the players to use another units. And, just like Heroes Might & Magic Series, you will stick only ro one hero and one party. Other group / army won't be necessary, as it will decrease the opportunity to your main hero to leveling up better (to split the Exp). And once you have already have a superman, then the other unit won't be necessary.
You hit the nail right on the head. I could not have said it better myself.

In a 4X game, as far as Sovereigns and Champions go, I was thinking of something similar to Civilization's (4 and 5) Great people, combined with a promotion system similar to units. Basically, you would have elite units commanded by certain champions (similar in concept to the Civ4 Mod Legends of Revolution's Legendary Units while other non combat champions appear similar to Civ4's Great people, where they are assigned to cities. Instead of assigning found items to champions, have instead research into reverse engineering items so you can build them for your armies. Put more emphasis on units as opposed to individuals.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 15, 2014 3:44:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Raledon,

A tactic such as you described, raising a mountain ridge around a city, is not all that effective. It will mean starving your city in order to delay the enemy. Not only that, while you had to raise 9 mountains, all the enemy has to do is lower one (and yes, I'm assuming that if you made mountains impassable that wizards know how to deal with that).

 

 

How you ask?

 

You're now achieving an funnel effect with your armies, they're all nice and together in one small area.

 

I am in possession of large amount of fire and air shards.

 

I open with Falling star and it decimates your armies in the formerly mountain hex.

 

Then follow up with a tornado.

 

And sent in the cavalry.

 

If you're like the AI, you have lost your whole invading force in one turn to few cavalry killing your survivors from falling star+ Tornado combo. Ones that survive will be the ones who got flung really faraway by the tornado. It is now your turn!

 

Plus you're not allowed to alter terraform lands in your enemies anyways. But that is what I would do if you did that.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 18, 2014 2:40:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I've bought everything fallen enchantress from the day I heard it was going to be MoM updated. I still buy everything that comes out as soon as I hear about it.

Here is an idea for several DLC: Campaign mode for each of the races. I'd gladly buy a separate DLC for each race's campaign as long as it'll give me a few hours of entertainment. Whatever happened to campaigns! Immerse me into a damn story!

For me, and I am sure a lot of people, Master of Magic was the perfect game. Why don't you guys have a group that makes the game again? Copy all the spells exactly! Copy all the units exactly,.. etc.

In MoM, we never knew if going red would mean we'd get Armageddon. In FE, I know going red means I get the same 2 crappy red spells at level 5, every single time.   

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
May 22, 2014 3:12:39 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

AoW3 is simply better in all ways. Can't stop playing it.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
June 7, 2014 4:19:34 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You have mundane units armed with magical weapons and armor, therefore, the argument is moot.

Not to mention, you can have un-mundane mundanes.

Magic is any setting is only as strong as one allows it to be.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
June 7, 2014 6:30:10 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Here are some possible sources of inspiration that relate to what Frogboy is talking about:

 

1. AI War: Fleet Command has a textbook example of an effective, believable and challenging "asymmetric-non-AI".  By asymmetric, I mean it's not always trying to play the same game as the player.  By non-AI, I just mean that the AI isn't written to do everything the player needs to do, but it uses some "cheats" in the asymmetry to allow it to not have to.  I'm not doing it justice by the way I'm explaining it, just check it out.  Obviously the theme of the game helps here (your enemy is even call "the AI" in the game), but you can get the same thing in fantasy with magical constructs like undead, familiars, golems, summons, etc, etc.  There's much precedent for fantasy automatons.  Heck, even beasts and magical animals are expected to behave according to "sets of simple rules" like called instincts.

2. Dominions IV is a wonderful example of a TBS that throws balance out the window for the sake of sheer fun and has the most high-powered magic in any 4X fantasy game I've ever played.  Like MOM, it shows that with deliberate game design, it absolutely can be done.  The AI in this game also isn't so great.  As AI goes, I prefer the example above, but at least Dominions is dripping with high-powered magic.

 

 

One problem Frogboy didn't mention is that following on the heels of greats like MOM, HOMM, Disciples, etc is that simply being compared to those games holds you to a super-high and super-specific standard.  If I even get the inkling that someone is designing a game "in the spirit of MOM", then implicitly expect it to be at least as satisfying.

Heart Shaped Man's idea is to rather try an approach that's fresh and new enough that one could hopefully avoid such comparisons.  When I read the idea I was a little disappointed because the idea of a modern MOM clone (but hopefully improved in some ways) is extremely enticing.  But that's simply because I've already got this expectation.  Were I to play a well-designed game such that HSM describes, without those expectations, I would probably really enjoy it.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
June 8, 2014 3:14:30 PM from Galactic Civilizations III Forums Galactic Civilizations III Forums

Magic isn't the problem. The abundance of magic is.

 

If you put in strong spells because you want to make magic awesome and cool, and then also have everyone in your game fling spells around left and right, then magic is bound to be overpowered in comparison to non-magic stuff. If magic and caster units (or heroes) are rare and expensive, they can be incredibly powerful without being overpowered. This would also add to the feeling that magic is actually magic.

 

Take Warhammer for example. There, magic works and is very effective without being overpowered, since your mages are expensive and fragile.

 

Recently, magic in games and movies (thanks, Harry Potter...) does not feel like magic anymore. It is no longer something special or mystical, it was turned into something trivial that everybody can learn and everybody actively uses on a daily basis, like riding a bike. That is why fantasy games have lost their charme for me. There is nothing magical about magic anymore, it hast just become another common trade.

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
September 28, 2014 3:27:28 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I believe (not done it)  the Paradox Games (Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Victoria) have an ability to convert your saves from the end of one to the start of another.

There have been one or two RPGs that did so too.

 

The AI problem in the Age of the Internet seems well suited for player contributions.

- Either directly by players submitting strategies for inclusion (using a tool to make them relatively easy to convert)

- OR indirectly by harvesting game histories and examining them to see what the players did that the AI can copy.

[esp if you can automate the process  -but that smells perilously of true-AI which probably requires at least three works of outright indisputable genius]

 

..this would of course require serious after-market support for AI development but since AI doesn't need to be so very hot the first few games and since it's hard to do earlier anyway that might be a good way to plan your AI budget. The AI guy(s) could spend time building the "AI framework" too while the main game 'engine' was being put together so that it was relatively easy to add new strategies to the AI toolbox.  

[I really have no idea what an AI looks like but it seems to me that building such a framework ought not to be impossible and might well be transferable -saleable!- to other games   ...which is good as I suspect it might be a major project in its own right]

 

 

For those who don't know, in Dominions: "You are a God! You are master and ruler of a loyal nation. You have unimaginable powers at your disposal. You have claimed this world as yours. But there are others who stand in your way. You must defeat and destroy these pretenders. Only then can you ascend to godhood and become the new Pantokrator." (recently deceased Omnipotent being) 

I haven't played much (didn't like the battle system ..think I played D3though might be worth another look) but I recall needing to have *relatively* mundane garrisons everywhere to keep the worshippers in line and stop people invading while I sent my ridiculously overpowered super-heroes against the enemy forces.

Battles tended to have hordes of soldiers for most of the game and even the Superbeings tended to want support for a long long time (and late-game you don't dare leave them undefended either unless you're really stomping everything with your plethora of -predesigned but extravagantly potent- magic items) Mundane mooks (even the elephants) did become so much chaff eventually and in PVP I can imagine the game going a while in that state.

 

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
Stardock Forums v1.0.0.0    #101114  walnut1   Server Load Time: 00:00:00.0001656   Page Render Time: