Minos Strategos 1.04 Update “Festival of Dionysus” is Live

To celebrate, you can grab Minos Strategos for 20% off all week here.

Axes and Acres is also 50% off this week!

Patch Notes:

-Added Dionysus Mode!
Featuring randomly generated “Constellation” cards!

-Added New Cards!
(Whirlwind, Trident, River Styx and Necropolis)

-Set draft mode to 1 Yellow, 6 Red and 1 Ultimate card (one less yellow)
-Hovering over “next ultimate” symbol now shows the card (previously just the name)
-Added option to “Adjust Rank” to rank 10
-Fixed bug with music track changing when game minimized
-Fixed error being triggered when pressing “2” key

Commandment #6: Learning

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

Raph Koster explains in his novel “A Theory of Fun” that perhaps the most important source of enjoyment in a game comes from learning. I absolutely agree with this claim, and framing things in this way can allow us to make many inferences about the ideal way to design our games.

As explained in my recent article, carefully crafted ambiguity allows a designer to continually present the player with novel and yet at least somewhat comparable situations to those they have encountered before. In this context, players are able to use their existing knowledge of a game’s system, without being able to rely on rote memorization of solutions to succeed. As they receive feedback (most importantly through whether they won or lost), they can develop new insights into the system (i.e learn).

However, this is not quite enough, because there is another way that learning can be prevented that is quite common. If the game situation is too easy to figure out for the player, they can simply pick an arbitrary strategy and win, without weighing/considering several options (strategic thinking). If the game situation is too hard/beyond their capability to figure out, then all of the strategic paths they come up with will be equally ineffective (resulting in a loss). Either way, learning is stifled. 

Fortunately, multiplayer match-based games have already come up with an ingenious solution to this problem: a matchmaking/ladder ranking system! In such a system, players are (theoretically) matched against opponents that provide suitable difficulty for them. As Keith Burgun points out, such a system can also be applied in a single-player context in much the same way. As players win, the game gets harder, and as they lose, the game gets easier. At some point, they will be placed into matches of an appropriate challenge level (which allows for optimal learning!). This process can even be sped up by doing a “placement match” to estimate what rank/difficulty they should start at. 

This does beg the question of how to scale the system mathematically to increase the challenge in a way that does not feel arbitrary (not to mention designing a system that rewards learning in the first place). This is one of the primary challenges of designing a single-player strategy game in my opinion, and needs to be considered early on in the process. It is absolutely possible to come up with satisfying answers, and provide reasonable scaling up to a very high level of skill.

The single-player ladder system in Minos Strategos.

As one final point, I want to mention that a system such as this has the added benefit of reflecting a player’s growth and learning in a tangible way! By ranking up a player is able to see with some degree of certainty that they have in fact improved at understanding the system strategically, which is an awesome side effect.

League Dev Diaries

Awesome to see devs thinking about design philosophies/changing and tweaking their games over time. League in particular moves extremely quickly making changes, but I think they probably have to because things are just basically guaranteed to break all the time with so many playable characters.

Basically, continual tweaking over time absolutely works, but is a pretty labor-intensive way to go about it, and ensures that your game has a definite shelf life of whenever you stop updating it. (Maybe it’s okay if the game features a revenue stream as long as players are playing it?)

Specifically, hearing Ghostcrawler talk about removing/tweaking false choices is super encouraging and cool!

Advance Wars Game Design

Today I was watching a cool video about Advance Wars map design. Makes me want to play some more Advance wars :).

In particular I really like the way randomness is handled in Advance Wars. For the unfamiliar, units all have 10hp, and when you get in a fight the system will tell you you will do 52% damage for example. This means you have a 80% chance to do 5 damage and 20% chance to do 6 damage. There are two reasons this is cool:

1) The variance is within a narrow range (i.e only one point of damage different out of 10). This means that you can normally account for both possibilities (unless you are far behind, which is fine), and often either result is fine, and will provide the same general outcome for the particular localized battle while…

2)  The different outcomes most often result in minor differences in the amount of hp surviving units are left with. This is moreso Input Randomness (more desirable) for later turns than output randomness in my opinion. (I still have to write an article outlining my thoughts on the distinction here).

In addition, Advance Wars even attempts and largely succeeds in playing with an effective and player-influenceable information horizon with fog of war (and some additional ambiguity with weather effects). Overall a very strong design achieved with a relatively low complexity in terms of unit types, terrain types and rules.

SkyBoats Released Today!

Today (Aug. 23) SkyBoats is released on Steam! We are super excited for everyone to try it out and can’t wait to see what everyone thinks! If you want to discuss any of the mechanics or strategies in the game feel free to do so here! Happy Sailing!

Steam1 totally final absolutly golden perfect version 1

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.