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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
As a game designer it is a dream of mine to create a truly new or novel mechanic. This goal is incredibly difficult for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so many things have been done before, I often find myself coming up with what seems like a new idea only to realize someone already made a game using that mechanic (or something very similar). Secondly, it is difficult to think of something new when you have so many old mechanics in your head. It is difficult to think of new things, and not to just base your thoughts around the framework that already exists.
I have no doubt that old mechanics can be used in new and interesting ways, and there is nothing wrong with doing so. Many or even most games I have loved in the past decade have been based on other things, and have either innovated or improved on the mechanics used before. There is however something very exciting about the idea of creating a truly novel mechanic.
Many mechanics are based on real life systems. For example in Agricola players use various different actions to create their own little farm and family. The player with the best farm at the end of the game wins. Growing a farm and starting a family has many different parts which all work together. Agricola simplifies some of these, and sets them all up in such a way that you have to make many choices and prioritize your options. Finally, it uses the worker placement mechanic to allow for players to compete with one another. Real world systems are commonly used in board games to create mechanics. The representation of a system that works in a certain way is often strategically interesting.
When we started working on SkyBoats the conversation about a novel mechanic was again brought up and we went to work. What we eventually came up with is a wind-sailing mechanic which we are both really happy with. I don’t know if it is a unique mechanics that has never been seen before. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game using this mechanic. Either way, at the end of the day it is really fun and creates cool strategic choices, so I am happy with the outcome.
The SkyBoats wind mechanic allows players to sail along winds based on the amount of glide each boat has. Winds are played by the players based on a number of different shapes that correspond to different goods. As your boat sales along the winds it gains “prowess” which makes the goods it sells worth more points or “glory”. This rewards players for making long journeys across the world to sell goods. We felt when we were first playing that long journeys were cool and fun, so we wanted to encourage that sort of gameplay. The winds played by the players also stay on the board for a couple rounds, so you can use previously played winds to sail your other boats along as well. You can even set up routes from city to city to create a sort of trade route.
The wind mechanic is one of the core mechanics of SkyBoats and we’re super excited for everyone to try it out!
As always I would love to hear any comments, questions or critiques!
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.
(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.
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?
Here at BrainGoodGames we have thus far put a focus on mechanics in our games. We feel that mechanics are what keep games interesting over a long period of time. Mechanics are the core of most games, and are what makes you think when you are playing. Strategy games in particular rely heavily on mechanics to create ambiguous situations for the players to ponder. Manipulation of the mechanics in various situations create varied situations which the players may find more or less familiar. This is all part of building a heuristics tree for the game, and for games in general. I think this sort of thinking and heuristics generation is what makes many strategy games so satisfying for people. While theme can be very immersive it will give you a different sort of satisfaction.
Some games have extremely engaging stories or themes that can create intense feelings of immersion. This can be extremely enjoyable, and in fact I think many people play games mostly for that sense of immersion or for a feeling of escapism. The theme of a game will probably not be enough to keep someone playing a game for a long period of time. A story is never the same as the first time you experience it. Some stories are very interesting and can stand up to multiple playthroughs, but in my opinion the games that will keep players coming back over and over are games with interesting mechanics. This is not to say however, that theme isn’t important.
Immersion and engagement of players is part of most games and can be extremely enjoyable. A great theme can do wonders covering up lacklustre gameplay. Ideally though a game will not need its gameplay to be covered up. In my opinion the best games are those where the gameplay and theme work together, reinforcing each other. Some games have mechanics that feel thematic – they remind you of the theme and feel like an accurate representation of the action depicted. This method helps to immerse players in the game, but also makes the rules of the game more memorable and intuitive. If a game has a series of actions players must take, with a bunch of little rules they must follow it can be very confusing. If however all of these actions and rules relate to ideas a player already has, then they may more easily remember the rules.
Mechanics also come from themes in some ways. Many game mechanics are based on real world situations. This is especially a popular method in the design of Eurogames. For example in Puerto Rico the game is based on creating and shipping goods. There are a lot of steps to go from having nothing to shipping a good. You must first harvest materials, turn the materials into the goods, find a boat that will hold all the goods you want to ship, negotiate a price for the goods and so on. Puerto Rico focuses on some of these steps and they create a wide variety of situations which players must navigate. The mechanics of Puerto Rico are representative of the theme of shipping goods and they tie together nicely. Most people have a general understanding of the process and this helps players remember the rules. Certainly, many people will find the theme or storyline to be quite dry, but the mechanics create extremely interesting strategic decisions.
Further, sometimes when a game has mechanics and theme that are very tightly intertwined sometimes you can encounter something I like to call emergent theme. The way some thematic mechanics interact can create situations that feel very true to the theme of the game. This is a rare situation in my experience, but is very valuable. If a game could regularly create emergent theme it could create its own stories without the creators of the game adding extra content. In theory you could create a game that had satisfying mechanics and a new story every time you played. Some day I hope to make a game like this!
Once again I would love it if anyone had any comments or would like to discuss any part of this post. Reply here or tweet @BrainGoodGames!
Hello world! My name is Caleb Friesen and I am half of BrainGoodGames. I plan to write a series of posts on this blog about games, game design, game mechanics, and whatever else comes to mind (almost always/always to do with games). I am hoping that these posts will take the form of a discussion, I encourage anyone to respond, critique, and question anything I write. I would love to generate some discussions about different aspects of games so that we can all learn a little more from each other. This is the first discussion and I am going to discuss ambiguity and the role it plays in strategy games.
Pictured: Worker dice in Axes and Acres
When me and Brett started working on Axes and Acres we talked a lot about games generally. More specifically we talked about what makes a thing a game, and what makes a game a strategy game. There are countless things which could be described as games by one definition or another, but for our purposes we focused on strategy games (since that’s what we make). Recently we began brainstorming for our next project and we came back to the idea of a strategy game and what makes a game a strategy game. The idea behind these discussions is that in the pursuit of making great games, we want to take a more structured approach. We want to determine the fundamentals of strategy games – what are things that MUST be included in strategy games for them to truly be strategy games. My hope was that if we were able to boil down the elements of strategy games we might be able to create something new and interesting building up from the basics.
Now, to the point of this discussion, one of the elements we concluded was a requirement for all strategy games was ambiguity. We believe that if a game does not have ambiguity with respect to the decisions you make then it is not a strategy game (maybe we are wrong, but that is the conclusion we came to and for the sake of this discussion lets assume we are not wrong). Further, if a game is completely ambiguous, then it ceases to be a strategy game as well. To give an example – if you were presented with a simple maze you would move through the maze and at every junction you would have to decide which direction to go. If this maze is on a piece of paper in front of you and you can see the entire thing, there is no ambiguity in this decision. You can look at the maze and determine which path is the correct path definitively. I would describe this as a puzzle, likely a type of game, but not a strategy game. Now, imagine you are in this maze, you cannot see the entire thing, you don’t know where you are, and you don’t know where the exit is. You move along as before, and must make a decision about which way to go at every junction. Unlike before however, you have no information to go on. Your decisions are completely ambiguous.
Somewhere between these examples lies a strategy game. You must be able to make a reasoned decision about what to do next, without knowing exactly whether or not that is the correct decision. Some games have some ambiguity, but so little that they feel like puzzles. Others give you very limited information with a large amount of ambiguity and they can feel too random. Ambiguity in a game is an element that is important to giving the player(s) a satisfying experience. Another aspect of this is that when a player is very new to a game the decisions they make may seem, or be, much more ambiguous than the decisions a skilled player faces. This is a key element of strategy games. As you play the game you learn about the game and about which decisions tend towards success in different situations. When me and Brett discuss this we describe it as a heuristic tree which is developed as you play (I’m sure we didn’t come up with that). The development of skill, and the learning that happens during a game is part of what makes strategy games so satisfying.
Part 2 will be available soon!
Thanks for reading,