Author Topic: Depth of this game?  (Read 3288 times)

Offline FroBodine

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Depth of this game?
« on: May 17, 2013, 11:15:51 AM »
I am so excited about this game, and absolutely cannot wait for it to be released.  I just read the release teaser and saw the price was $4.99.  That's incredible!  But, now I get to wondering about the depth of this game.  Does this game even come close to the complexity of A.I. War, even the basic version without all the expansions?  Or is it more of a beer and pretzels game, which I also love.  I have been reading the SC forum since the beginning, not every post, but I try to stay up to date with what's going on.  But, I don't really have an idea of the complexity of it yet. 

It sounds fantastic, and I just hope there is enough to keep us playing for a long time to come, with expansions on the horizon, etc.

I wish I was playing it this weekend! 

Offline x4000

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2013, 11:22:39 AM »
I'll leave others to answer that in the main, but what I will say is this: AI War is the product of 4+ years of development and numerous expansions.  I don't think any game is going to approach the depth of it at this point without a similar amount of dev time and scope.  THAT said, there's a big difference between that and a beer and pretzels sort of game; and presuming this does well, we hope to keep developing this for a long time and thus see the depth increase more and more.

With those caveats above, I think it's a pretty deep and challenging game if you play on the higher difficulties.  Even AI War isn't that deep if you play on difficulty 1 or 2, and that's the idea, heh.  I think the general consensus around here was that it was fun for a while, but then started to stagnate as they figured out the intricacies... before we made a bunch of recent changes, like adding Woes and nerfing gods and so forth.  It sounds to me like opinion is swinging in favor of this being a lot deeper all of a sudden in terms of having to think on your feet and having a lot of challenging decisions to make.

But again, that's just me, and I'm obviously biased.  I'm also a poor judge, because I know how things work too well, and so tend to view the basics as being simpler than others do.  I was really surprised by people losing repeatedly on easy when they were first starting, for instance. 

Anyhow, the goal of this is to be a game for grognards that also can be played by midcore players.  Fairly straightforward to learn, but really complex to master if you're playing on the equivalent of AI War difficulty 7 or 8 (that would be Hard or Expert here).
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Offline FroBodine

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2013, 12:53:26 PM »
Thanks Chris.  I really appreciate you taking the time to respond.

What changes are made to the A.I. as you increase difficulty level?  Not knowing the game, does it get better algorithms?  More resources?  More aggressive?  Harder woes?

Offline Mick

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2013, 01:10:37 PM »
I don't believe the A.I. "improves" at the higher difficulty level. The individual units are always going to act as "smart" as they are going to act. At the higher difficulties, you're just going to get more difficult woes, bandits will spawn more often, bandits can have bonuses, and "veteran mode" for all military units will be enabled (which will make them level up after killing another unit).

There might be some modifications with resource costs for things too.

Offline x4000

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2013, 02:24:29 PM »
Yep, Mick is correct.

Since you're not playing any opponent -- you play both sides after all -- there's no reason to hold back or add AI functionality at various levels.  The challenge comes from the situation itself, and what woes you are dealt (in a boardgame sense), so that's how things progress in difficulty.  It's very much like a boardgame in much of its design, except that the pieces are alive and hate each other. ;)
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Offline zharmad

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2013, 09:48:36 AM »
This is definitely a laid back game for me, in its current incarnation. There are quite a few ways to explore playing the game, but by and large you aren't forced into exploring it. You'll get more out of it by pushing yourself/roleplay/setting your own bars.

Offline Winge

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2013, 10:30:27 AM »
Indeed, it is definitely more laid back.  I suspect that woes on higher difficulties will add a lot of variety to the game (something I plan to try out soon).
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Offline Mick

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2013, 10:55:38 AM »
Indeed, it is definitely more laid back.  I suspect that woes on higher difficulties will add a lot of variety to the game (something I plan to try out soon).

Unfortunately, they don't really seem to.

I'm getting a bit skeptical about the overall difficulty of this game, it seems you're only really in danger if the stars align and the woes line up badly against you. If that doesn't happen, you just kinda play things out.

It's too easy to just spend turns only building up the faction that is behind, and use the actions for the side that is ahead to basically facilitate the growth of their rival (through smiting and terrain placement basically).

There are myth and god tokens I still have no idea why I would ever use, and I don't build siege units at all.

I think two things need to happen.

1) Bandits need to become a real threat. They are not, sometimes they can honestly be more of a help then a hindrance when they provide a needed distraction. I think it would be better if bandits popped up as an entire town that started pumping out military. Maybe with special 'capturables' in these towns that are buildings you can only gain from capture and will swing the balance heavily toward the faction that does.

2) If the lose condition is going to be loss of all your towns, towns need to really be in danger. Health of buildings needs to go way way down. I think only military buildings, centers, and towers should have any health worth speaking of. This means that resource towns that are not protected by military buildings will quickly stop providing resources, and if you don't have military at all it would be much easier for them to flip. I might even go as far as to say military units should be able to "blitz" civilian buildings and roll over as many per turn as movement allows.

I like woes, I really do, but I don't think the solution to the problems I listed above is "more woes". That's basically just making you play the game and cross your fingers that the woes don't mess with you, instead of building up your towns and completing "objectives" with a strategic plan.

I'll attach my current save which is on "Hard 1" and about halfway though. Does this game look in danger in any meaningful way? I pretty much reach this point most of the time and don't see much incentive to continue.




Offline keith.lamothe

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2013, 02:21:07 PM »
I'm getting a bit skeptical about the overall difficulty of this game, it seems you're only really in danger if the stars align and the woes line up badly against you. If that doesn't happen, you just kinda play things out.
I've only played a bit on Tutorial and Easy 1 so I didn't think it was exactly representative, but there did seem to be some things that make "avoid losing" a trivially easy goal unless some kind of super-woe just tore you to pieces:

1) Units, even completely unopposed, seemed to take forever to actually destroy buildings.  Even non-military ones.

2) Whenever I ran out of space to plop down more resource buildings at a town, I would just place a line of mountain tiles behind it leading directly away from all towns until I reached the minimum town center distance, then plop down another of those and continue.

Combined, I could basically build away from the center faster than enemy units could possibly advance.  Sure, I might take a lot of losses, but how are the enemies even going to reach my last town before turn 120 or whatever, let alone destroy it?  I know the mountains alone won't stop everything, and the naturally spawning tiles may eventually provide a way around some of the towns, but there's just so much building HP in the way that I don't see the enemy getting all the way to the end in time.

Do things pop up later (in the game, or in the difficulty scale) that counter that?
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Offline x4000

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2013, 02:28:40 PM »
In terms of the difficulty, it's funny because you guys were all losing an unexpectedly large amount right at first.  But clearly once you graduated past a certain amount, certain strategies are dominating.  This is one of those give-and-take things with balance of any game, really.  It's a razor-thin line between making something impossibly complex and something that is too laid back, sometimes.  It might not feel like it, but small tweaks can cause huge havoc as you may have noticed.

Woes make the game more interesting and varied, but I agree that I don't think they should be the sole source of difficulty itself.  Balancing the factions should be hard in and of itself, and the woes are there to add variety and extra challenge.  Really the same is true of the bandits, to some extent.  If your main source of threat is the bandits, we're not doing something right.

In terms of not building siege workshops at all, that kind of was a lightbulb moment for me.  The health of buildings is fine, incidentally; they should be really not at much risk from minor guys, and they are not.  It's those siege weapons that take them out super fast, and not having those on the board is a big problem and thus causes the issue.

The core thing that is off here is that we removed the scores and score gating -- with good reason, but still.  In our original designs, you had to have a certain amount of carnage in order to win the game.  If you didn't, then you'd lose when the turn timer ran out.  Hence you were encouraged to use all the crazy stuff in order to maximize carnage, siege weapons included.

Setting a secondary goal like that, especially something score-like, just doesn't work though.  It feels too complex and arbitrary, and is just about impossible to balance because there are always exploits.  What is really needed is a more in-game reason for the carnage where "otherwise worse things happen" sort of situation.  Woes answer that to some extent, but they don't address siege weapons or blockading off certain towns, etc.  Their random nature even means that the more of them we add, the more wildly the core difficulty will fluctuate.  Some games would be super boring once you pass a certain skill level, and that's deadly to the long-term interest of the game.  So while I think more woes are a great idea in general, they don't help (and in fact to some extent hinder) here.

The problem is the motivation to fight.  Your guys are bloodthirsty, and you have to build some of them to beat off bandits.  Then further carnage happens based on them rising up and fighting each other.  That part works, but since bandits don't have towns the siege units are not involved (except when bandits use them).  So the one most obvious thing is to start having some bandit towns pop up, which was something I'd already planned to do through woes.  But I think that is too core of a thing to be in woes; I think that needs to be alongside woes, really; the more subsystems that are interacting under the hood, the more interesting things emerge (to a point, anyhow; too much and it gets overwhelmingly complex).

This brings my thinking back to AI War, actually.  Late in the alpha for that game (completely private), it was still just being too easy much of the time.  Players could just build up a critical mass of planets, and then the AI wouldn't stand a chance no matter what it did; unless I turned the AI difficulty knob up so high that the players stood no chance.  Either it was pretty much impossible to lose or to win, once you passed a certain early point in the game.  The solution that I came up with to that is well-known by now: AI Progress.  That made you weigh each decision, and governed how you took planets.  That in turn made the AI balance-able, and kept the depth there.

With SC, you're not taking territory or whatever, so a similar mechanic doesn't make sense.  Well, not TOO similar anyhow.  Remember score?  In the original designs of SC, this was intended to be almost like AIP except in reverse.  You had to shoot yourself in the foot enough to win, basically.  I thought that was the most interesting thing, because other guys shooting you doesn't feel very god-game-like.  The woes and the bandits are interesting, but I don't think they can serve the role of replacing what the score was trying to do, in other words.  The problem with score was that it was bloody complex from both the developer and player standpoint, and felt super arbitrary.

Okay, so we need a mechanic that has fewer moving parts, and thus which can both be balanced by us and understood by players.  AIP in AI War has a wonderful simplicity: mostly that increases by taking planets and that's it (in the original 1.0 version that literally WAS it).  And there's a few other things that contribute, but mainly that's it.  Simple, easy to understand, and bloody hard to manage at a high difficulty level.  That's what SC has.

That leads me to the idea that I've had today, based off of Mick's (rather distressing, I must confess) notes: Unrest.  These people are bloodthirsty, right?  We've established that.  They want to fight, and will do so as soon as they exist.  The problem is, right now there's not much incentive for you to create them except to fight off bandits, and then you just balance the remainder.  Crime was once upon a time supposed to solve that issue, and I guess it kind of did, but it was too opaque and not that fun.  Also it was something that could be gamed in various ways.

So, Unrest.  This would be a global number in your HUD at the top, like AIP is in AI War.  So right away, we get away from that hidden-ness of Crime, which I like.  The core idea is simple: a) Unrest goes up when red and blue don't hurt each others' towns enough; and b) bad things happen when unrest gets too high, and you get into a death spiral basically.

That's the core design, stripped of any details.  I think that's solid, and is what the game needs. There are a variety of ways that could be implemented, but I think I have a pretty solid idea for the first go-round. 

1. Regarding part (a) above, the "goes up when red and blue don't hurt each other's towns enough" bit:
- This is a great place to encourage siege weapon use.
- This is a great place to encourage NOT having towns be absolutely turtled and too well-protected of towns.  I.e., having all towns engaged in warfare as the Crime mechanic was trying to do.
- This also is a great place to be outwards-looking-in, in terms of looking at damage a town takes, rather than focusing on military units it produces, which was another problem with Crime (far back towns could produce military units fine, but still be perfectly safe themselves, which was of little help.

So, the design this puts in mind for me is:
- For every turn that passes for a town, its personal Unrest counter goes up by a certain amount. 
--This breakdown can easily be seen in the overall single unrest number when you hover over it.
-- This increase would vary by difficulty.
- For every tile you smite, Unrest goes up by a certain amount in the nearest town.
-- So no just faffing around smiting tiles, either.
-- And if you're trying to temporarily blockade off a town that is normally open, you also pay for that.  It's possible to do still, but there's now a downside.
- For every building that is destroyed in a town, the Unrest goes down by a certain amount.
-- Note that it's hard to destroy buildings without siege weapons, so they would have to be on the board.
-- Note that you can't always control what your dudes do, so sometimes you'll get unintended consequences of them destroying more than you meant them to do.
- The Unrest growth rate in towns should be something that increases sub-exponentially but certainly more than linearly.
-- That way destroying buildings frequently in a town can keep unrest almost at zero, and that's great.
-- But by the same token, just destroying a building very periodically, or hiding one town and letting its unrest grow while you keep all the other towns near-zero isn't possible.
-- In other words, ignoring any one town is a runaway disaster, because of that growth style.  You can't leave one town with high unrest and the rest with low and have it balance out.
-- In general things become more difficult for the player to balance, because no town by definition now has to be on the front lines, and has to fight.
- Thematically speaking, the reason unrest is caused in a town when they don't get their stuff destroyed actually is backwards from that.  The other faction starts resenting that undamaged town more and more, is what is thematically going on.  It's not that the people get mad if their personal stuff doesn't get blown up or something. ;)
- Having the crazier god powers also give a reduction in unrest also is something that we can put in as kind of a "this is my panic button" sort of fashion.
-- Paired with woes and the god power cooldowns, I can't see any of the god powers going unused in advance play with this.
-- This also gets back to the original idea for god powers, which were that they would be a super huge source of score, and thus you'd be inflicting these on yourself to win, and then playing cleanup.

2. Now, about part (b) of the above, the "bad things happen if unrest is high" bit.
- This is a great place to have a second source of chaos other than woes, and of a different flavor than woes.
- It strikes me that something relatively simple here would make the most sense, because woes are already the main source of personality between games and I don't think we need to try and do that with two separate mechanics.  That would just be too much.
- As a core tenet here, the basic idea is that the game needs to become unwinnable at a high difficulty level if unrest gets away from you.
- Unlike AI War, it needs to not lead to stalemate situations, but instead should actively kill you.  Because of the nature of this game, that's actually almost implicit in any potential design here, so that's good.

So, the design this puts in mind for me is:
- Bandit towns become a thing, but only based on unrest.
-- The higher your unrest goes, the more bandit buildings get placed.
-- It might not even need to be whole towns, but just isolated barracks or whatever that wreak havoc on you.  Or at any rate a cluster of military buildings and possibly some towers; nothing else is needed.
-- This is yet another reinforcer for "you absolutely cannot do without siege weapons in the hands of red and blue," which is good.
- For every bandit building on the board, I think that unrest should be reduced by a certain amount.  But not actually on a per-town basis.  Oh, no.  This would simply be a negative unrest counter from the bandit buildings.
-- So in other words, the positive unrest from your individual towns would still be just as high, and growing at just an awful of a rate if it's too high.
-- And also, if you kill a bandit building then your unrest shoots back up again.
-- Thematically speaking, the bandit buildings "dampen" unrest for a temporary time because people are so distracted by them.  But as soon as the bandits are gone, the old anger just comes right back.


Bear in mind that I'd make this relatively tame  on the lower difficulty levels.  And ramp up steadily to where Expert is absolutely all about managing unrest, really.  While juggling woes and regular bandits as a side thing.  But the core thing is still managing that conflict between red and blue, and making sure that neither side gets just too boiling with anger.  Otherwise some of them "go rogue" and a bandit town pops up.  There would literally be a popup to go along with this, informing you of the even, why it happened, and some thematic flavor bits, etc.

The core idea behind this game -- at an advanced level -- was always that you'd have to self-inflict pain in order to win.  That was something that the score was designed to do, but that's been kind of lost in the shuffle as the design solidified and improved in pretty much all areas except this one loose end.  I think unrest will bring back that element in a big way, so I'm pretty excited about it.  I'm going to try to get that in there today; thoughts are naturally welcome!
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Offline keith.lamothe

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2013, 02:34:19 PM »
I don't know enough about the game to speak to the appropriateness of the Unrest solution.

One alternate idea that has more appeal to me personally (FWIW) is to have the bandit towns be a core thing and if red+blue < yellow at the end of the game you lose.

So you have to build substantial military just to take out yellow, but you also have to keep red and blue from killing each other with the product of that arms race.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2013, 02:34:56 PM »
TLDR:

Unrest:
- Counter at the top of the screen
- Counter on each city, goes up a nonlinear amount per turn.
- Counter on a city is reduced when buildings are destroyed.
- Counter on a city hits zero when ownership flips.
- Tooltip at top of screen shows where unrest comes from.

Bandit towns:
- Percent chance of spawning per turn goes up as unrest goes up.
- Spawned size is based on difficulty level.
- Number of military-production buildings in bandit town dampens unrest a fixed amount.

I think that hits all the points of what the design is.  I have to come up with the specific numbers for some of this, which I'm sure will need tuning.  But this should be beating you over the head soon enough. ;)
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Offline x4000

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2013, 02:40:28 PM »
One alternate idea that has more appeal to me personally (FWIW) is to have the bandit towns be a core thing and if red+blue < yellow at the end of the game you lose.

So you have to build substantial military just to take out yellow, but you also have to keep red and blue from killing each other with the product of that arms race.

This goes back to the idea of "you as the god-figure are fighting an external foe," though.  That's super counter to the general design of the game, and something Josh and I were both in agreement early on we wanted to avoid.  If most of the challenge comes from yellow, then that's a big problem.

With the Unrest solution, the challenge comes from you not doing enough with red and blue, and thus yellow actually comes into play.  Whereas if you do enough with red and blue, yellow isn't a factor much, but you run a higher risk of blowing off your own foot by going too far with the warfare between red and blue.  So if you see what I mean, bandit towns should not really be something that are cropping up constantly in the unrest model, or else they will do so to a degree where you just get flooded with guys and die.

The "outnumber yellow" solution means that yellow has to have some sort of ongoing spawn rate in terms of towns, and that is something that can be gamed in a lot of ways like the older AI War designs prior to AIP, if that makes sense.  In other words, the AI couldn't ramp up fast enough on its own in AI War without either killing you or being killed; there was no way to ensure an even match.  But with AIP, suddenly you the player had the tempo, and you had to watch your own decisions rather than having to worry about just being in a flat-out arms race with the AI.  That turned out both more interesting, and possible to balance.  I think that the same sort of thing applies here.

As another referent, basically my arc with most strategy games is:
1) Learn the rules, and struggle a lot at first on the higher difficulties.
2) Refine my idea of the rules, and move up to the highest difficulty, where it's still a challenge but an interesting one.
3) Master the rules, and obliterate the highest difficulty.  Game is done, goodbye and on to the next.

I really hate that cycle, and that's all that's really possible with an arms race with an AI, in my opinion.  I think when you're fighting yourself, it's a lot more interesting.
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Offline Mick

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2013, 02:45:01 PM »
"Unrest" sounds just very weird for what you described. Even though you tried to explain it, I think people are just going to see "My guys build unrest if their stuff isn't destroyed? Huh?"

What about calling it something like "Complacency"?

based off of Mick's (rather distressing, I must confess) notes

I'm sorry if I cause distress. I feel bad about that!

I'm really trying to be brutally honest because I want the game to be as good as possible. Believe me, I know it's way way easier to point at things and say "this doesn't feel balanced/challenge/fun" than it is to actually fix it.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2013, 02:51:14 PM by Mick »

Offline x4000

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Re: Depth of this game?
« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2013, 02:49:29 PM »
Well, in the menu I could say stuff like

Blue Hatred for Crete: 200
Red Hatred for Ivanast: 100
Total Unrest: 300

That way it's clearer.  Complacency is both a longer word (UI) as well as not sounding very negative.   I had thought originally about calling this "Rage," but I think unrest is more appropriate in many ways.
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