Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Battlemat - DnD PvP

I have been thinking that I should restart an old tradition - the battlemat.  Years ago we played a lot of games of DnD 3.0 where we all built characters and then landed on a complicated bit of terrain to fight to the death.  Because DnD 3.0 is incredibly lethal we often spent eight hours building a character only to die in the first round to a 'save or die' attack or in the second round to an incredibly deadly full attack from a martial character.  There were definitely some interesting battles where things went back and forth but by and large death was swift.  The funny thing is that I had more fun by far building the characters than playing.  I would tweak and tweak and rewrite over and over trying to find the perfect mix of items and feats to be INVINCIBLE and there was a real sense that I could perfect a build but when the actual battle started it became very random.  If two people gank you, you lose.  Even if you have completely monstrous saving throws you still die when you roll a one on your save.

Of course we didn't play unmodified 3.0.  Doing so would have led everybody to be flying, invisible spellcasters and nobody being able to actually do anything useful.  We had to ban all kinds of magic items like Daern's Instant Fortress so that characters didn't simply hide in an impenetrable vault waiting for everybody outside to die.  The list of banned spells and abilities was really quite extensive and pretty much all based around the idea that 'Fighter With a GreatSword' must be able to find and defeat you.  If you do anything that means that FWGS cannot win then it is banned.

DnD 3.0 really isn't meant to be a PvP game.  At low level FWGS just one shots anybody and casters generally have spells that guarantee death that work 2/3 of the time.  At high level things are a little different of course since wizards presumably retreat to their custom demi plane and scry on their opponents to ascertain their weaknesses before plane shifting back with an army of arch demons at their command.  Of course if the fighter with a bow goes first he kills the wizard before the wizard can take an action so it is relatively fair.  Basically doing PvP in DnD 3.0 involves huge amounts of creation and calculation and then rolling initiative to see who wins because everybody dies in one attack.  This leaves little room for tactics and decision making once the game starts so I don't think it is a particularly good format for PvP.

I think 4th edition is actually a pretty good PvP format though.  Character stats are drastically more controlled so nobody is going to get their defenses so high that they are unhittable nor so low that they are unmissable.  Permanent invisibility or flying isn't available because the designers really seemed to want a random ogre with a club to be a viable opponent so they designed the character abilities around that.  This works well for PvP because it means that FWGS can fight anybody.  There are some problems still but they are generally really easy to work around.  Daily attack powers are totally absurd in a format where you only expect to do one fight so they probably should be banned.  Whether or not daily utilities and item powers are okay is unclear to me.  Action points are nutty too since all they do is ensure that the first round is an utter bloodbath.  You probably need some kind of rule to prevent people just sitting in a corner using Stealth waiting for everybody else to die too I expect.  That is all that should be necessary to keep the game interesting I would think.  The game still works with action points and daily powers allowed but it would be ridiculously fast and deadly and it seems quite possible that the person with the lowest initiative simply doesn't get to take a turn at all - hardly the ideal result.  The end result is still going to be fairly random I would think since attacks will miss half the time and people will gang up but overall it should be a fun time.

What I wonder is what sort of character people would bring.  Leaders seem exceptionally powerful because they get to heal themselves so much - that might end up being a real balance problem.  If other classes were allowed to multiclass into leader types and use their daily heal ability it would be okay though as the advantage would be mitigated.  It is possible I suppose that leaders are so bad at killing that they *need* that massive hp advantage to be playable at all.  Hard to say.  Defenders look to be fairly strong in many cases since they have massive hp and defenses so they are a pretty hard target.  Their defender type abilities are generally going to be bad but just being super tough is a big plus.

The last thing I would think about is the victory condition.  It could be a simple last man standing resolution or I could go with a points system.  I was thinking about rating people on three scales - damage/healing done, death order and total kills.  Rate the players in reverse order and assign them points equal to their ranking - highest total points wins.  This rewards a combination of survival, sniping people off and just doing a lot of damage which hopefully gives a good spectrum of rewards.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A world that makes sense

In fantasy worlds there is a always a strange mishmash of feudal culture and feats of magic and heroism.  Sometimes it works and makes sense and other times ... not so much.  There are plenty of troubles with the classic DnD world organization but most of them tend to revolve around just how big a shift high level adventurers must cause in culture, warfare and politics.

It is generally relatively easy for a high level party to meet up with a 10,000 person army and utterly demolish it.  The wizard ends up flying above the massed enemy while invisible and massacres them by throwing enormous fireballs around willy nilly.  We should keep in mind that historically very few armies actually fought until they were destroyed; by and large a small percentage of the people involved would die and one side would break and run.  I can't help but think that it would take only a few random explosions in the ranks to completely break an army, especially when they have no idea of the source.  Not only that, but how would you protect a ruler?  The king or queen is likely to be a normal person with 10 HP (or less!) so at any time a group could teleport in, massacre the ruler and teleport or fly back out at will.  That of course assumes that they *need* to leave and don't just kill everyone in the castle and raze it to the ground, which they usually could.

So how can we construct a society that has incredibly powerful people (I will call them Heroes) in it that makes sense?  One way is to simply restrict the number of Heroes around.  Building a world where only the PCs are Heroes is possible but it does mean that the PCs can overthrow nations at will and cannot face any Hero opponents which I am not sure is a good idea.  This strategy also entails that the PCs be unique and epic which does fit a lot of storylines but certainly not all.  It also means that once the main storyline is complete your world is probably unusable since the PCs presumably can rearrange the entire world to suit their liking.  I like a world that is a little more durable than that and which doesn't rely on the PCs being so very unique.

Regularly the way DnD worlds are constructed to avoid this is assigning hereditary monarchs tons of bonus HP or character levels for no reason or simply layering magical protection over the ruling family and/or class.  This doesn't solve the problem of army combat not making any sense though and it requires all kinds of additional spells and effects to achieve that aren't in the books since the baseline rules don't allow for protecting people sufficiently to avoid teleport bombs.

The idea I am leaning towards for my next world is one that rewrites military conflict very substantially, making it much more like modern conflict than medieval battles.  In modern society you have security guards, police and other enforcers who keep people in line in times of peace but when a tank or bomber shows up the security guards don't get together in a big group to fight them, rather they wait for the army to do something about it.  I imagine a fantasy world the same way where regular guards and soldiers who are not Heroes are fine and well for guarding shops, fighting bandits and other such tasks but when real war comes the kingdom calls on its Heroes to do the actual battle since they are the tanks and bombers of their world.  These Heroes would also end up being the rulers of their world since hereditary monarchies of normal people would be so fragile.  I see groups of Heroes ruling nations with structures varying from benevolent ruling councils to iron fisted dictatorships where the most powerful and ruthless Hero is a terrible despot.  This might even have a strong mitigating effect on warfare since if you have to go out and actually fight the enemies yourself and risk being fireballed to death there is a real incentive to not declare war on another nation.

4th edition DnD actually has many less problems this way than 3rd edition.  Wizards can't just fly around invisible blasting people because everyone's combat abilities are strongly restricted and things like teleportation are much less convenient.  A 4th edition DnD party can beat up a lot of bad guys but they simply can't fight 10,000 guys with bows; they get turned into very dead pincushions on round 1.  For this I have to give 4th a lot of credit, you don't need to make up your own political structures and military designs from scratch and can just modify historical ones slightly to fit.  There are really powerful and dangerous people around but normal people can be leaders and survive and armies make sense.  Somehow though I desperately want to play in a 3rd edition / Pathfinder world; perhaps it is only nostalgia but it is there nonetheless.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blizzard is ruining my fun

A month ago or so I went to the Diablo 3 site to look at the material there.  I found all kinds of stuff that looked bad and worried that Blizzard wasn't going to get the game into decent shape.   Abilities that increase your damage dealt by 160% are not reasonable (Zombie Dog + Zombie Dog passive + Zombie Dog Explosion!) and they had a bunch of abilities that did fixed damage totals rather than scaling with gear.  I had hopes that Blizzard would rectify these errors before launch and avoid shipping a game with awful scaling issues like Diablo 2 and WOW had.  Despite that I had great fun using the character builder to create a hideously overpowered Witch Doctor and figured that this is what I would use as my starting character.  After all, who doesn't want to summon a horde of hideous mutant dogs that explode on command?  (Mostly I wanted the 160% damage increase; I am a numbers junkie)

I went back to the site today and was both saddened and gladdened by what I saw.  Gone are the fixed damage abilities, huzzah!  My faith in Blizzard not being a pile of idiots is vindicated.  Much to my dismay though my ridiculous Witch Doctor combo is deader than the hideous abominations he was intended to summon; the Zombie Dog combination is now granting 32% more damage rather than 160%.  I can't help but feel that although 32% more is better than 0% more it isn't going to let me crush my enemies like ants in the way I had hoped.  In the early version of the game it was easy to figure out what ability combinations to use because there were obvious loopholes and balance issues despite the vagueness of "Hits an area for X damage" ability descriptions.  I could tell what the best builds were without even knowing how big an area that was!  Now all the numbers seem to be massaged into place and I can no longer determine the optimal way to play the game without having played the game.

Sadly(?) I will have to actually play the game to master the game.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The acid test

Last night I went out to Snakes and Lattes to show off FMB at the board game designers night.  I really had no idea if there would be any other designers there initially.   I don't know anybody else who actually tries to build real prototypes though I have collaborated on making tons of games with people.  It turns out there are a lot of people that build these things and there were all kinds of new games to play.  FMB got a real test run because I got four volunteers to play the game straight from the rules without me telling them anything.

That was HARD!

I had to sit there desperately fighting the urge to correct things, step in and clarify rules and generally be a busybody.  I know that I can teach them more quickly than they can learn by just reading but finding out whether or not they could play the game just from the rules I outlined is critical.  Thankfully I passed the test; there were a few things that really need to be written better but they played through just fine.  I got really good reactions and people seemed to enjoy the design and the gameplay a lot, though there were the usual complaints.  The first time people play through the game they complain that either the team that goes first or the team that goes second can't win (both the complaints and the winners seem unrelated to who went first) or they complain that they can't win because their opponent's Artifact is unbalanced (and then proceed to play their own Artifact and watch their opponents make the same claim).

It feels good to know that at least the complaints always follow the same pattern and that it doesn't matter who goes first or what Artifact people choose - everything is always unfair.  That is in fact the goal!  Things need to be awesome and powerful so that they change the nature of the game and make people feel like they are being effective but of course the numbers need to be balanced behind the scenes.  I want everyone to feel like the things they can do are awesome but have it be tricky to figure out exactly which awesome they want to do.

I was also intrigued by the difference in process for other game designers.  I played Stormlands which is a game that has better production quality and polish than FMB but yet doesn't have the victory conditions finalized.  The game creator built the game and is still sorting out the broad strokes of how it is played while doing some cool stuff to make it look great.  This is essentially the opposite of what I did.  I refused to do anything resembling production until I had played immense amounts of games and got the gameplay polished to my liking.  After I did make something of production quality I have continued to innovate but the ordering in my mind was completely clear:  Make the rules and numbers work, then make the physical game.  This is probably why I have more than a half dozen fantasy tabletop RPGs in some degree built and none ever really put together and why FMB idled for 8 years until it was ripe.  The numbers, they must be perfect.

Monday, November 21, 2011

FMB game night

I am heading out to Snakes and Lattes in Toronto tonight to go to their game developer night.  If you want to come by and play some FMB on the newest set I just finished, we are there from 7-10.  There might even be some other game designers there with new stuff, who knows!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Danger Sense

In DnD 4th edition there are several feats that increase your initiative.  The way it works is everyone rolls a d20 and adds their initiative bonus and then takes their turns in order, highest going first.  In the case of a tie the person with the highest initiative bonus wins the tie.  The two feats in we care about are:

Improved Initiative:  +4 to initiative.
Danger Sense:  When you roll initiative you can roll twice and take the best roll.

So which is better?  Initially I figured out that Danger Sense increases the average of your final initiative value by ~3.5 and so I used that value but it turns out the formula is actually much more complicated.  The reason this is so is that if one character has a drastically different value than the other then rolling several times is often irrelevant while adding +4 can make victory guaranteed (or make success possible).  The other thing that is interesting is that tiebreakers are huge.  If the +4 gets you above the other guy's bonus rather than below you effectively gain +5 instead so the breakpoints for how good Danger Sense is become pretty interesting.

You can see the little chart below which tells you how much + to initiative Danger Sense is worth depending how much you are ahead or behind your opponent in current bonus to initiative.  The bottom axis is borked though because it should read from -10 to +10.  The dip in the middle is because Danger Sense doesn't get you over the tiebreaker hump like actual bonuses to initiative do.  Essentially this tells us that if your initiative bonus is low you want Improve Initiative but if you initiative bonus is high (higher than the enemies the majority of the time) you want Danger Sense.

I like math and I just can't lie.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When it sucks to be a fighter

My Pathfinder game has unfortunately run into the problem of distinct power level differences between classes. This is a long running issue with DnD where you come upon a complex problem and the fighter comes up with a tricky, risky plan using the party's skills, fighting prowess and moxie and proposes it to the group... and the wizard says "Sure, yeah, or I could just use Rock to Mud to demolish the castle walls, Fireball all the guards to death and Teleport the princess to safety."  The fighter says "Sure, yeah... that sounds good.  How can I help?"  Inevitably the wizard replies "Well, um, I guess you can guard the rear in case we get ambushed?  Thanks for being on the team!"  This does not so much create party unity or make anyone but the wizard feel good.

In our last session our characters were fighting a shambling horde of zombies.  They were not difficult at all to fight except that when they died they exploded, delivering a massive amount of damage to all enemies adjacent to them.  This meant of course that our melee characters got butchered and eventually we had to run.  That is, the other characters had to run.  As is traditional in DnD my cleric has absurd undead killing powers but since I have the travel domain I am also able to cast Fly.  I held off the horde of zombies and yelled at the rest of the party to flee and when they finally did I simply flew up in the air over the zombies and annihilated them while they sat there staring helplessly at the flying cleric.

This was tremendous fun for me but not much fun at all for the rest of the characters.  The trouble with this whole situation is that everybody else wonders why they don't just have the flying cleric demolish all the encounters with undead while the rest of the group hangs out in town.  The problem is always the spells that don't have direct combat applications.  If I couldn't fly I would still be strong against undead but at least we would all be playing the same game.  As I level up I am going to be able to Teleport to anywhere in the world as well as having tremendous healing and great combat options.  If this is a problem now, how are the rest of the characters going to feel when I get really powerful and get access to all my high level spells?  If we compare attack routines and "who can do the most damage to the fire giant" contests I won't be anything special but when it comes to using spells to completely ignore campaign challenges I will be exceedingly overpowered.

Castle walls?  Knock em down.  Long distances to travel?  Just Teleport there.  Terrible curses on the party?  Cure them.  At higher levels it becomes harder and harder to deal with these things when you have one of the top tier characters around.  I found a good link talking about this subject, though the class lists there are Pathfinder specific.  I can avoid this by just not using my abilities but I honestly don't like playing the game when I have a list of things I can creatively use to solve problems and I am arbitrarily not using half of them for some reason.  If I were playing a fighter I would use all my cunning and resources to solve problems like a fighter can - scale the wall, ride a horse fast, find a powerful NPC to cure my curse.  It is unfortunate that classes are so badly balanced when it comes to out of combat capabilities but there is no easy way around that in Pathfinder or any DnD version before 4.0 aside from simply not playing the powerful classes.  Maybe I should do just that... I have a great idea for a paladin and there is nobody accusing them of being too good!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How much does gear matter?

Since I play a big variety of fantasy games (boardgames, MMOs, tabletop RPG, single player computer, etc.) I get to see a huge variety of different takes on the question "How much should gear matter?"  Generally I am not talking about whether gear should matter at all, because I think logically and thematically it should, but rather whether or not gear becomes more important than the character wearing it.

There are extremes, like comparing a level 43 WOW character to a level 85 WOW character, where the level 43 has 2,000 HP and the level 85 has 80,000 HP.  Regardless of gear the level 43 will die to the first attack the level 85 uses and the level 85 is nigh invulnerable.  There are other games like Diablo 2, for example, where a level 40 with amazing gear could play comfortably but a level 80 with nonmagical gear simply couldn't play at all.

The precise comparison we decided to look at a few years ago was a 3rd edition DnD fighter at level 10 with appropriate magic gear for his level vs. a level 20 fighter with only gear you could buy at the store.  (The store doesn't sell magic items.)  We figured that a level 10 could beat up ogres all day and was comfortable facing a small dragon or a bunch of giants but a level 20 was a legendary hero who fought back waves of demon princes and terrifying great wyrm dragons - surely the level 20 should win.  But 20 loses to 10 quite convincingly.  It turns out that the layers and layers of magical protection that 10 gets to put on are simply too powerful.  10 gets too much AC, HP and stats for 20 to be able to compete.  In short, fighters get better because they find better gear and not so much because they level up.  Note this never held true for casters since a 20 caster can explode a 10 caster with ease, no gear required.

I tried this again with 4rd edition DnD by building up a Slayer called Ten and a Slayer called Twenty (guess what level they were!) to see how the battle shakes out.  Ten gets normal magic gear for his level and Twenty gets just regular equipment you could buy at the store. Twenty hits for 79 with his first attack, 63 on his second and third attack and 50 thereafter.  He hits on a 2 or better on a d20.  Twenty also goes first 90% of the time.  Ten has 85 HP, so Ten dies without getting an action a fair bit of the time and nearly always is dead on the second round.  Ten, on the other hand, has to work through 155 HP and is hitting on 14 or more on a d20.  He gets a few big hits in to start but then has to rely on 28 damage a swing to finish things off - it ends up taking him 17 rounds in total to kill Twenty.  In short Twenty kills Ten without taking a single point of damage in the great majority of cases and simply cannot lose.

I think this is a much better balance of power.  I like the idea of magic equipment mattering, and it is clear that magic items, weapons in particular, make a significant difference.  That said, if Kord the Magnificent who defeated the Lich King, the Demon Horde and the Titans of Corruption somehow loses his gear and has to use a totally regular sword you could buy at the store he is still going to massacre Kord the Pretty Good who killed a bunch of kobolds and ogres and has a pretty awesome magic sword.  It feels like a DM could actually have the players get captured and lose their gear and still have the adventure make sense, whereas in 3rd edition DnD you couldn't beat anything at all without your gear. The major innovations are the following:

1.  Casters get gear that substantially affects their output.  Everybody needs gear relatively equally so brawler types aren't so castrated by losing their gear compared to casters.  That is, unless the wizard loses his spell book and actually can do *nothing*... which is also removed.

2.  Defenses scale with a single piece of gear.  No more Shield + 5, Armour + 5, Ring + 5, Amulet + 5 where you get 20 AC just from the magic pluses on your equipment.  Now your AC scales from a single piece of equipment so the total bonus you can miss out on is much smaller.

3.  No more stat increasing gear.  Having your magic weapon vanish is bad enough but when your stats also drop by 6 due to losing your belt of Massive Stat Gain the level of punishment is too high.  Inherent stat increases instead of stacking on even more magic items is a good idea.

In the end what I really want is a character that matters.  I don't want to just be a vehicle for my gear to defeat bosses but rather I want gear to augment my abilities and make things easier and less dangerous.  We don't write the story of The Awesome Suit of Armour and its bearer Kord, so lets have the mechanics reflect that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pirates and Ultimatums

Earlier this week Ziggyny posted about a logic puzzle where there were 5 logical pirates dividing treasure and the captain had to propose a division of their loot.  It turns out the optimal division is 98 pieces of gold for the captain, 1 each for 2 of the other pirates and 0 each for the last 2 pirates.  Of course in any 'real' situation where 5 bloodthirsty individuals were dividing up loot the guy who seriously proposed to take 98% of the money and leave 2 of the others with nothing will get murdered.  Figuring out these sorts of puzzles when you start with the stipulation that the pirates are all extremely logical and want to maximize their earnings above all else is all fine and good but of course in real life nothing works like this.

In real life if you play the Ultimatum Game (one person divides the spoils and the other either accepts the division or decides that nobody gets anything) people tend to offer fair splits in North America.  While it might seem illogical to turn down an 80/20 split and get nothing that is exactly what happens and in fact it makes perfect sense that people behave this way.  If you live your life accepting 80/20 splits you will get treated like a doormat forever but if you are willing to hurt yourself to get revenge then everyone will know they have to treat you fairly.  I know this is true in games because I have seen it firsthand:  I watched a game of Settlers where one player consistently bargained too hard and chiseled people and after a few rounds he suddenly found everybody was screwing him over any time they could.  He ate the Robber Baron every time it came up and his settlement spots were taken from him for spite.  He certainly profited initially but in the long run he lost the game because everyone decided that he was being a jerk.  I have also seen games where a player made a few generous trades early on and spent the whole game being chiseled by the other players; they wouldn't accept a fair trade knowing that their target was weak and willing to give in.

Now it is absolutely true that there is nothing wrong with asking for a favourable trade in Settlers and hoping it works; the only crime is irritating people.  The trouble with this is it is so far removed from the pure logic puzzle of the 5 pirates.  There are people out there who play Settlers extremely hard, negotiate like bastards, and drive everybody crazy (Not that *I* would do that, I am innocent, seriously!) but manage to do so while being charming and without making enemies.  There are also people who play less hard but aren't sufficiently charming or perhaps can't tell when they need to back off to preserve a good trading relationship and who end up with enemies aplenty.  There is definitely a correlation between being a hard negotiator and being considered a jerk but it is not a causal relationship at all.  You do not want to be the patsy nor the jerk in a trading game, the best reputation is tough but fair.

Ziggyny and I get into this nearly every time we play together.

"Get Sky, he's winning."

"No, look at my position, I have no chance, get Ziggyny, he is going to get the Theatre and win."

"Don't listen to him, unless you gank Sky he is going to buy the Guild Hall next turn and crush us."

"Ziggyny is going to get a *second* frigging Steel Ship unless you get into the Shipyard, you gotta stop him!"

I don't know if it is good or bad that so much of multiplayer games revolves around who can browbeat the other players more efficiently but there is no denying it is true.  It also makes any logical evaluation of games like the Pirate scenario with real people completely impossible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The pressure is on

I got an invitation a short while ago to a game designer's night at the local Snakes and Lattes (A coffee shop with 1500 board games designed to be a hangout for gamers).  This sort of thing really gets me in gear working on FMB and trying to get it polished and ready to go.  Obviously one of the really important things that you can do when building a game is to get it into the hands of new players and see how they play, learn and react.  There will always be things that veterans think are obvious and which new players stumble over and if you can find those and polish them or add clearer rules explanations then you can drastically improve your game's broad appeal without necessarily needing to change the rules at all.  This is something that old video games tended to be really bad about and which is generally improving a lot in new games.  Sometimes of course you get real conflicts in design like in WOW where raiding was made drastically more accessible and catch up mechanisms were put in place to let everyone see all the raid dungeons - this is the sort of thing where you get real conflict between the people that want the game to cater to the hardcore and the people that want it to cater to the casual.

You can't please everyone.  If you make your game require intense devotion of time and skill to make any progress then you end up with only the most skilled and hardcore players being willing to play while if you make it too trivial then you lose those players.  There has been a decided trend in video games, particularly MMOs, towards making the entire game accessible to people who aren't especially skilled and don't necessarily have a lot of time to devote.  This is a great idea from a profit perspective of course because the casual gamers outnumber the hardcore gamers by an large margin.

Sometimes though you can improve things for one side or the other without costing yourself anything.  Take 4th Edition DnD for example:  Abilities have keywords.  A power might have the keywords Weapon, Martial, Thunder, Fear and now it is extremely easy to determine how exactly it works.  No particular expertise is required to figure out whether or not someone with a bonus vs. Fear attacks gets to use their bonus in this case.  Magic:  The Gathering did the same sort of thing.  Initially cards in the game were really randomly worded and it was tricky to figure out how many things worked.  Pros spent a lot of time and effort learning all the various errata and rules about interactions and were able to use that to leverage victories while newbies continually asked "How does this work again?"  Modern Magic cards are much better.  The wording is extremely clear and keywords are explained so that everyone can see exactly how various card interactions are supposed to work.  In both cases there is tremendous room for expertise and innovation but a new player can step in and figure out how to play much more easily than they could in the past.  It is great to have depth of strategy and innovation to give the hardcore players more things to do and enjoy but it is important to let the new folks step in and know what they are doing instead of forcing them to either be clueless or spend countless hours reading errata and explanations for things that could be very simple.

FMB has all the same quandaries.  How much replayability do I need?  How complex do I want the strategy to be?  These aren't easy questions because there are definite tradeoffs either way.  I can just make the game automatically better though by making sure I always use clear language and make specific terms mean very specific things.  I need to use Hit to mean a very particular thing and capitalize it so it is clear that this is a special word.  I need to continually edit my sentences so that I convey all the information needed in the simplest and shortest way possible.  I am sure that working on making the game simple to pick up is a much bigger factor in the game's success than the fine balance of game mechanics.  Settlers has all kinds of problems in gameplay but it is easy to learn and fast to play.  This has made it a massive smash success even though a game like Agricola (not at all well known) is an arguably better game from a hardcore player's perspective.  Agricola takes a half hour to explain and even then the first turn is completely overwhelming for a new player - you have a tons of action choices, a zillion rules to remember and 14 unique cards in your hand which alter your strategy.

The ideal game of course fits in with Blizzard's mantra:  Easy to learn, difficult to master.  You need a game that can be explained in a few minutes and which has a few simple choices at the beginning but which has tremendous depth of strategy at the end.  Tremendous depth of strategy can be very challenging to create but it is shocking how often it is emphasized over the relatively easy goal of making everything clear and simple whenever possible.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Glitch over man, Glitch over

I have been playing Glitch like a lunatic for some time now.  It was a lot of fun doing so but I think I need to be done as gameplay has devolved into a pure timesink.  Initially I spent a lot of time exploring, trying to do quests and sorting out game mechanics but that is pretty much all over by this point:  I am reasonably high level, collected all 11 Icons and have the majority of the skills completed so getting anything new is starting to be a rare occurrence.  Even when I do get something new to do (like learning to use the Cocktail Shaker, which will occur soon) I have resources such that I can completely exhaust the new recipes and quests in a matter of minutes.  Really the only thing left to do is log in every four hours when the game day resets and do all the things that are limited by game days.  I can continue levelling up like this but any moments of interest will be few and far between - the great majority of my time will be either mindless clicking on things to farm up stuff or sitting staring at my monitor while my character cooks 40 Awesome Stews in a row.

Note that I have played an truckload of games where there was an awful lot of repetitive clicking in the past; that certainly is no great barrier for me.  The trick though is that the clicking needs to either have some other purpose I am working towards or be challenging.  In Glitch there aren't really a lot of obvious goals aside from getting to maximum level or learning all the skills, both of which require stupendous amounts of time.  There certainly isn't anything to prepare for as once I get to maximum level or have all the skills I will be doing exactly the same thing I did before.  There also isn't any challenge to the game at all aside from optimizing your gathering / cooking / selling / donating economies and I have got that down pretty near perfectly.  There are other skills to learn but I don't think there is actually anything that will change my current set of strategies for maximizing my income and progression.  This reminds me in a way of the way WOW levelling is right now in that here is nothing to learn and no challenge whatsoever.

Moreover I think that I need to get other parts of my life going again.  I should do more work on FMB to get it polished and ready to publish (though I still don't know that I will ever actually attempt publishing it) and I have a tabletop RPG to write.  I also plan on doing more volunteering and maybe taking up some sort of exercise regimen and although I would be willing to put those things aside for a really compelling game I don't see much reason to rank them below making numbers bigger in Glitch.  The game is certainly highly addictive and in the beginning the world is a huge and wondrous place with all kinds of neat nooks and crannies to explore but eventually it just wears thin.   If that weren't enough reason I should probably get the rest of my life in order before I fall hopelessly down the rabbit hole of Diablo 3.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More On Mists of Pandaria - I Love It

We have more details on how the major mechanics changes are going to work for Mists of Pandaria and I like it more every time I find something new.  The old style of talents is going away completely in favour of 6 talent choices.  Each 15 levels you will get the option to pick one of three abilities and the choices are nearly all interesting utility options with very little to no raw output options available.  I think this is a fantastic way to go.  Ever since vanilla WOW players have been all taking the same choices and very rarely has there been much to play with in the trees if you want to maximize your performance.  You take every passive +10% to this and +1% chance to that you can and some classes ended up with a few "Do whatever with this" points at the end and some didn't even have that.  The new system looks like it will really give players tons of great options to customize their play.  After looking at the various choices I was rarely able to decide quickly on what I wanted since few of the choices are really designed for one spec or the other.  Nearly all of the choices looked appealing and they would certainly be worth changing around based on what encounters or situations you expected to face.

Of course some people were going with the line that there will always be one optimal build and everyone will just do that build but I don't buy that at all.  Even today when specs on Elitist Jerks are very standardized there are still plenty of cases where the leftover utility points really are noted as "Up to personal preference" because it is hard to say which sorts of utility will be most useful.  These abilities are carefully chosen so that there will often be a correct choice for a particular role in a particular fight but over the course of a week I can see great uses for nearly everything.  I think we will actually see plenty of successful raiders that have no talent choices in common with raiders of exactly the same class and spec.  This is a great change as I really don't see much value in putting one more talent point into "This attack does 5% more damage." every few levels as it really doesn't change gameplay at all.  Adding something big and exciting every so often seems like a lot more fun.

This system of customization feels a lot more like Diablo 3 than current WOW.  Making a few choices that really influence gameplay seems like a much better way to run talents than a huge number of choices that hardly affect gameplay at all.  In Diablo 3 you need to pick a few defensive abilities, a few AOE abilities, a single target ability, a mobility ability and regeneration and utility abilities.  You only get 6 choices though so you have a lot of tough choices to make but the number of different builds is immense.  The new WOW is the same way in that even if 1 of your 3 choices at each tier is inferior you still have 2^6 = 64 distinct builds to work with.  Lots of choices but each choice is very simple and discrete, there are absolutely no situations where you think "This choice is irrelevant".  For a new player it is easy to get into because you just make a few choices where the effects are very obvious but the potential for an expert to maximize their abilities remains really large.

The addition of more difficulty levels in dungeons and raids is also welcome.  I have talked before about how we need a Storymode setting for raids where people who just want to see the raid and do some low key fights can walk in and beat up some big baddies and now it will be there.  This will make raiding accessible to casuals and people who don't like guild structure and is a great thing.  Adding in a setting to let 5 man dungeons have really hard content is also fantastic, especially the feature that removes gear scaling from the equation.  I like the idea of good players who are somewhat casual in playtime having really rough challenges they can attempt without having to round up a big group.  Just like casual raiding this opens up opportunities for people to try things on a different schedule from what has been necessary in the past.

The more I read about Mists of Pandaria the more I think I might resub to WOW for it.  The new race and class are fine, the mechanics changes and structure changes to the game are fantastic and all the details I have seen look really promising.  I probably won't get back into the hardcore raiding mode I was in before but a group of people who want to run raids here and there and do 5 man challenges seems like something I could really get into.  We will see how Diablo 3 is holding out when Mists of Pandaria launches!