Sweet “Legacy” Game Design Video

Really cool video by Keith Burgun about how strategy game designers can use design patterns from Legacy games (like Pandemic Legacy) to incrementally introduce complexity to players, and therefore enable them to make a more complex (and more deep) game without sacrificing initial accessibility. 

Considering something like this for Solar Settlers now… :thinking:

Commandment #1: Known Rules

This post is part of a series of articles detailing the BrainGoodGames Design Commandments. You can see the full list here.

Strategy games need something for the player to consider (re: strategize). However, humans are fantastic at immediately grokking patterns and finding solutions to problems, so it can be very difficult for your system to keep up in the arms race and remain interesting! Some games attempt to remain interesting by having a ton of rules or very complex rules (grand strategy games are a classic example of this). While this does give the player something to think about, I would argue that oftentimes what they are thinking about is not strategy. I would define strategy as more

a) How do I accomplish my goals within these limitations?

rather than

b) How do these systems work? What are my limitations?

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To that end, in order for the player to be more engaged with the types of strategic thinking I want, they need to know all the rules of the game (or at least the vast majority). This allows them to quickly understand their different options and weigh them against each other, as well as reach out mentally into future turns and still be able to process the chain of events that will happen.

TL:DR : making a carefully considered best guess as to what the correct move is when you know all the immediate ramifications will be is much more interesting than calculating out what those ramifications even ARE and then selecting the one that gives the highest number.

Tutorials

We are super excited to announce that SkyBoats is officially funded on Kickstarter! Thanks to everyone who has supported us!

Tutorials have proven to be an extremely difficult aspect of the game development process. In fact, I recently came to the painful realization that “tutorialization” is not actually a word. The tutorial for Axes and Acres was very basic, and a lot of players had trouble grasping the main concepts of the game without using outside resources. Now I think part of this was due to the fact that Axes and Acres had mechanics that people were entirely unfamiliar with. There was no point of reference or relation to help people understand. This was compounded by the fact that the mechanics might have been familiar in some way to people who play a lot of board games, but for “computer gamers” they likely had never come across that sort of thing.

One of our basic tenets of game making is that players should be able to learn and understand all of the rules to our games. This stems from us wanting players to be making strategic decisions, and the belief that you cannot make a proper strategic decision if you do not have all the information you are supposed to have. An example of this being done poorly is Civilization. The Civilization games are so incredibly complicated and even convoluted that it is unrealistic to expect players to have an understanding of all of the rules. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the game isn’t fun, it does mean that the game is less strategic.

civilization

When you are making a board game, you can write all of the rules in a rulebook, and you can reasonably expect the players to read them and understand the game (Provided of course that the rulebook is complete and conveys the concepts clearly). We feel that computer gamers are less interested in reading a set of rules, and would rather jump into the game. Computer games are traditionally taught through tutorials. We have struggled with keeping the tutorial short enough for the player not to get bored, but also long enough to cover all of the information.

We spent a lot of time focusing on the tutorial for SkyBoats and are quite happy with how it has turned out. We played a number of other game tutorials to get an idea of what other games were doing well or doing poorly. We found the tutorial for Faster Than Light to be particularly helpful. After all of this we created a tutorial that we feel is more interesting, engaging, thorough and just better overall than the Axes and Acres tutorial.

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We are also using the early ranks to spread out some of the other game mechanics. We hope this will be a good compromise between extending the learning process and getting the players into the game. Hopefully players will have no trouble picking it up and will be able to enjoy the game immediately!

As always I would love to discuss anything here, so feel free to shout at me!

Thanks for reading!

SkyBoats Upgrades – Design Philosophy

(The Kickstarter for SkyBoats is live right now, and we just passed 95% funding! We’d love it if you’d check it out and consider backing!)

In SkyBoats there are a number of different upgrades that ships can start with, and that can be purchased at the SkyCities. These upgrades give boats different powers in place of a basic fuel providing cargo hold. The basic cargo hold in SkyBoats provides one fuel if used when empty or it can use the wind creation power of the good inside the hold. Most of the SkyBoats start with one upgrade.

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(Top to bottom: Clone, Magnet Grab, Blink)

When we were designing the upgrades we wanted to come up with mechanics that could be easily learned, but would provide players with a lot of different ways to use them. A lot of these upgrades are related to movement around the board. For example, the blink upgrade allows you to jump over a space, which can be useful to avoid a wind blowing a direction you do not want to follow. The blink upgrade can also be used to grab goods a little distance away and blow back to where you were, or to get yourself onto a long wind pattern to increase your wind meter! We aimed to create a number of different upgrades which can all be used in a number of different situations.

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Finally, we wanted the upgrades to function together to create even more interesting choices. We believe that this system creates a lot of interesting decisions to be made by the players, without adding a ton of complexity to the game. It is always a difficult balance between complexity and depth. I think the upgrades we have created do a great job of using up a small amount of complexity, while creating a lot of strategic depth.

Thanks for reading and as always I encourage anyone to share comments, questions, critiques etc.

 

The Most Fun Way To Play (And The Most Strategic)

(The Kickstarter for SkyBoats is live right now, and we just passed 50% funding! We’d love it if you’d check it out and consider backing! We would also love your support on Greenlight)

I think its been said before that the best way to play a game (strategically) should also be the most fun. I’m not sure who first came up with that, but I think they are mostly right. When most players sit down to play a game they would like to get into the world of the game and make choices they feel fit the game. I am sure there are some players who just think about the strategy, and don’t care about the world the game is set it, but likely most of us want to make choices that seem “cool” or fun.

It often seems that the most memorable gaming experiences are when you played a game and you did something that created a cool story. Some games do a lot to enable this sort of experience by creating extremely thematic worlds, so that almost any way the game is played it comes out as a cool story. For example, War of the Ring is dripping with theme, and it is hard to make a choice that doesn’t feel perfect for Middle-Earth. This becomes more difficult when you are playing a game that is less theme-focused.

war of the ring

There are also times where a certain strategy is very effective, but is also very boring. DotA 2 has this issue some of the time in high-level matches. The best play is often to sit back and farm, growing your advantage, but many players find this strategy boring and so they run into fights and end up losing an otherwise winnable game. Ideally, the most fun way to play a game would also be the best strategic choice. This is ideal because it would mean players are constantly encouraged to have fun.

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In SkyBoats we thought about this when we were designing the game. SkyBoats is exciting and gives you a great feeling of adventure as you fly around the map, and we’ve done our best to try and tie strategic choices to fun choices. One of the main mechanisms we used to do this was to reward players for making the plays we found the most fun. In early development we realized it was exciting to pick up goods in a far corner of the board, and find a way to sail them across the sky to a city demanding that good. Even better if it was the last points you needed on the last round! The game now rewards players for sailing along winds, and for taking goods long distances! I will discuss our wind mechanics in more depth in my next post!

I would love to hear what you think about how fun and strategy tie together in games!

 

Single-Player Skillcap – Game Design

One of the tricky aspects of creating single-player games is that the game has to slowly get more and more difficult for a long period of time in order to keep the players challenged. In a multiplayer game, a good system can allow players to all increase in skill, and constantly provide a challenge for each other through competition. With single-player games we have to replace the competition provided by other players with rising difficulty. Where this might max out has been a concern for us. A game doesn’t necessarily have to scale forever, but we do want to provide great value to our players.

gif Apr 21, 2016 15:01 (And I thought rank 18 was high!)

A discussion about the skill cap in Axes and Acres came up a number of times during development, and of course in theory it has to cap somewhere. We eventually decided that the skill cap was high enough it wasn’t something we really needed to worry about. The vast majority of players would never get to a high enough rank for the game to be impossible. Recently we have implemented Steam stat-tracking features so we could get an idea of what ranks people have achieved. We were shocked to learn how high people have reached! I personally doubted that ranks lower than what people have achieved were possible. It really makes you wonder if there are strategies people have developed that as a game designer you never even dreamed of.

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Considering all of this I feel that Axes and Acres was a success with regards to a skill cap. I’m sure it still exists, but it is so far away its existence feels trivial. Ideally, we would like to come up with a system that has no skill cap, but we are still debating whether such a thing is possible in a single-player game.

Anyone have opinions on this?