Arcen Games

Games => The Last Federation => Topic started by: Castruccio on March 11, 2014, 10:55:52 PM

Title: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Castruccio on March 11, 2014, 10:55:52 PM
I have spent a bit of time in the Alpha now.  As I do more combat missions one question occurs to me: why shouldn't I be playing Drox Operative instead of this?  What you've done with the new combat model (I never saw the old one because I'm a new tester) is turn combat into a simplified Diablo style ARPG in space.  The problem is that there is already a complex and fleshed out space ARPG out there that takes place in a 4X world (with races you can influence, anger, befriend, turn against each other, etc.).  Keith very much enjoyed Drox, if I recall. 

The space ARPG you've made inside your 4X isn't nearly as fleshed out as the space ARPG inside the 4X that Soldak has made.  This is due in large part to the fact that Soldak decided from the beginning that they were going to make an ARPG and their game has all the ARPG trappings and depth  (new equipment to loot, stat points to spend, gold to collect, multiple victory conditions etc.).  Right now TLF feels like a very simple ARPG tacked on to a 4X map and I'm not sure what game it wants to be because neither the 4X map nor the ARPG are especially compelling just yet.

I realize this is an alpha.  What I am trying to do is head off any press or player concerns about there being another very well reviewed and well liked game out there that does what you are doing much better than your game does because your game is still finding its identity (or, worst case scenario, never found it).  What you have going for you is that this is a STRATEGY game (in spirit)  whereas Soldak's game is a pure ARPG.   They made an ARPG and tacked on a strategy game, and you are trying to make a strategy game and tack on an ARPG.  Now that you've added the ARPG element, however, I worry that you may have bitten off a bit more than your strategy game can chew.  It will be difficult to develop both an ARPG and a 4X well, just as Valley 1 and 2 (as innovative as they were) had some difficulties being platformers with a strategic macro layer.

TLF was compelling in the early design stages because it was a macro level strategy game combined with a micro level strategy game. It was a strategy game for Arcen's strategy fans. Now it is a macro level strategy game combined with an ARPG (which is sort of what Valley 1 was or was intended to be waaaay back when it still had a 3/4 overhead camera).  Those are both very difficult genres to make "deep" and do right, I think you run the risk of having a game that is shallow and lacks replay value as a consequence of being a mash-up.

I am looking forward to playing a lot more in the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to get this out there for discussion.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Shrugging Khan on March 12, 2014, 04:00:00 AM
Now, I'm not in on the Alpha, but I just want to add another warning here: The space-4x-and-action gaming crowd isn't the largest group to cater to, and most who might be interested in TLF will in fact be aware of Drox Operative. And the similarities in general design - having played DO and read a bit about TLF, mind you - are rather striking. So don't go hoping that TLF will sell purely on novelty value, because the overlap between DO players and potential TLF players is probably pretty big.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Mick on March 12, 2014, 05:47:14 AM
Your comparison to Valley 2 worries me a bit. To me, I felt the (more interesting to me) over world layer was held back by the "I just want to get this over with" platform parts in between.

In this case the action part sounds interesting and integrated (but I really don't know), but it does seem to get a lot more development attention than I am comfortable with.

Is the meta layer deep enough to stand on its own? I'm asking rhetorically, not suggesting that combat should be cut.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Misery on March 12, 2014, 06:46:39 AM
Your comparison to Valley 2 worries me a bit. To me, I felt the (more interesting to me) over world layer was held back by the "I just want to get this over with" platform parts in between.

In this case the action part sounds interesting and integrated (but I really don't know), but it does seem to get a lot more development attention than I am comfortable with.

Is the meta layer deep enough to stand on its own? I'm asking rhetorically, not suggesting that combat should be cut.


I'm definitely thinking yes, it's deep enough.  .....and still incomplete, which means it'll get even deeper.

The sheer number of things you can do and the ways in which it all interacts, along with all of the various events and the AI of each individual race... even when it's not finished and all sorts of glitchy, I'm finding it extremely engaging.  Particular as I (very slowly) discover more about what some of the various actions I can take are.  And there's ALOT of them. 

Drox is a pretty good game, but honestly, this plays nothing like it.  One of the most basic concepts happens to be in both.... that's all.


Though, like Valley 2, alot of it will depend heavily on the player's tastes.  I personally really liked that game's platforming sections, even if they are rather glitchy at times. 
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Castruccio on March 12, 2014, 08:30:49 AM
I agree that this game is not Drox in many wonderful ways. I do think that it is becoming more like Drox with the combat change, and I am worried the ARPG combat can't be fleshed out in the time remaining and won't be as compelling to strategy gamers as strategy combat would have been.  Fundamentally my concerns aren't simply about Drox as a competitor game. They are about the game following in the footsteps of the Valley games, which everybody agrees were fantastic concepts and brave experiments, but which no one still plays. Meanwhile, AI War, a pure strategy game with a clear focus and identity, is still loved and played by many.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Castruccio on March 12, 2014, 08:49:03 AM

Drox is a pretty good game, but honestly, this plays nothing like it.  One of the most basic concepts happens to be in both.... that's all.


Though, like Valley 2, alot of it will depend heavily on the player's tastes.  I personally really liked that game's platforming sections, even if they are rather glitchy at times.


It plays a lot like Drox inasmuch as I am in possession of a single ship that I have direct control over with my mouse and my goal is to influence race relations.  My control over that ship is the means by which I interact with races that are interacting with one another and whose economies and relationships I can alter by means of engaging in ARPG combat missions with my ship. 

That said, the meat of the problem (as I see it) is in your remark that "like Valley 2, a lot will depend on the player's taste."  At this point I don't think Arcen can rely on another game that depends so heavily on player tastes.  This game is the biggest game since AI War and it needs to have a long life and do big things.  My concern right now is not that the game won't develop into something much fuller than it is now at this very early alpha stage (Arcen games always do). It's that there could be a deeper problem with the game which the Valley games--with their great success, bold concepts, controversy, and flaws--- could give us insight into.




Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Billick on March 12, 2014, 08:54:46 AM
I haven't played Drox yet (it's on my long List of Things That I Want To Play At Some Point), but I am getting a bit of a Valley 2 feel, in that it's basically 2 separate games;  a strategy game and an action game.  I'm not sure if that's good or bad.  I did like Valley 2 quite a bit. 
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Mick on March 12, 2014, 09:08:23 AM
This reminds me of the "Covert Action Rule". (Source (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_Action#Development))

Quote
The mistake I think I made in Covert Action is actually having two games in there kind of competing with each other. There was kind of an action game where you break into a building and do all sorts of picking up clues and things like that, and then there was the story which involved a plot where you had to figure out who the mastermind was and the different roles and what cities they were in, and it was a kind of an involved mystery-type plot.

I think, individually, those each could have been good games. Together, they fought with each other. You would have this mystery that you were trying to solve, then you would be facing this action sequence, and you'd do this cool action thing, and you'd get on the building, and you'd say, "What was the mystery I was trying to solve?" Covert Action integrated a story and action poorly, because the action was actually too intense. In Pirates!, you would do a sword fight or a ship battle, and a minute or two later, you were kind of back on your way. In Covert Action, you'd spend ten minutes or so of real time in a mission, and by the time you got out of [the mission], you had no idea of what was going on in the world.

So I call it the "Covert Action Rule". Don't try to do too many games in one package. And that's actually done me a lot of good. You can look at the games I've done since Civilization, and there's always opportunities to throw in more stuff. When two units get together in Civilization and have a battle, why don't we drop out to a war game and spend ten minutes or so in duking out this battle? Well, the Covert Action Rule. Focus on what the game is.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Misery on March 12, 2014, 09:49:54 AM

Drox is a pretty good game, but honestly, this plays nothing like it.  One of the most basic concepts happens to be in both.... that's all.


Though, like Valley 2, alot of it will depend heavily on the player's tastes.  I personally really liked that game's platforming sections, even if they are rather glitchy at times.


It plays a lot like Drox inasmuch as I am in possession of a single ship that I have direct control over with my mouse and my goal is to influence race relations.  My control over that ship is the means by which I interact with races that are interacting with one another and whose economies and relationships I can alter by means of engaging in ARPG combat missions with my ship. 

That said, the meat of the problem (as I see it) is in your remark that "like Valley 2, a lot will depend on the player's taste."  At this point I don't think Arcen can rely on another game that depends so heavily on player tastes.  This game is the biggest game since AI War and it needs to have a long life and do big things.  My concern right now is not that the game won't develop into something much fuller than it is now at this very early alpha stage (Arcen games always do). It's that there could be a deeper problem with the game which the Valley games--with their great success, bold concepts, controversy, and flaws--- could give us insight into.


That's the thing though.... you dont really interact with them via your ship.   That's only for actual combat.

The actual solar map.... the "ship" there is basically just a glorified cursor.  It does one thing, and ONLY one thing, which is that you hover it over whatever planet you want to use the menus of.   Though, even if this were otherwise, the method of contacting/dealing with each race doesnt really matter.... all that matters is what you can do with them.   .....and the fact that you never need to physically travel between them.  No space exploration here like in Drox.... aint what this game is about.

As for the combat.... I'm not seeing how it's like Drox at all.  There's one similarity only:  You're in space and you shoot things.   That's.... really about it.   This is much faster paced and dramatically more chaotic.  Drox is alot like Diablo.... there's not really a whole lot of movement, and for the most part you're not usually going to be actually dodging things.  You end up relying on your stats for everything.  In this game, that does not work.  You either avoid the crap being fired at you, or you explode.  And there can be tons of it.  Games like Drox are often called "action RPGs", but I notice with those that the action part always takes a backseat to the RPG part.  The stats, loot, and simple positioning to use abilities are all that matter.   You do have abilities in this game, but you wont be using them even remotely as frequently as in that game, and they all have limited (very limited) ammo.  Generally very long cooldowns, like 30-60 seconds.  You mostly use your main gun to defeat enemies, which requires actual aiming.

So.... yeah, I'm not seeing the similarity here.  They seriously dont play much like each other at all. 





This reminds me of the "Covert Action Rule". (Source (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_Action#Development))

Quote
The mistake I think I made in Covert Action is actually having two games in there kind of competing with each other. There was kind of an action game where you break into a building and do all sorts of picking up clues and things like that, and then there was the story which involved a plot where you had to figure out who the mastermind was and the different roles and what cities they were in, and it was a kind of an involved mystery-type plot.

I think, individually, those each could have been good games. Together, they fought with each other. You would have this mystery that you were trying to solve, then you would be facing this action sequence, and you'd do this cool action thing, and you'd get on the building, and you'd say, "What was the mystery I was trying to solve?" Covert Action integrated a story and action poorly, because the action was actually too intense. In Pirates!, you would do a sword fight or a ship battle, and a minute or two later, you were kind of back on your way. In Covert Action, you'd spend ten minutes or so of real time in a mission, and by the time you got out of [the mission], you had no idea of what was going on in the world.

So I call it the "Covert Action Rule". Don't try to do too many games in one package. And that's actually done me a lot of good. You can look at the games I've done since Civilization, and there's always opportunities to throw in more stuff. When two units get together in Civilization and have a battle, why don't we drop out to a war game and spend ten minutes or so in duking out this battle? Well, the Covert Action Rule. Focus on what the game is.


This bit has occurred to me as well, and it IS a concern.  They do run the risk of pushing away some strategy players with the action bit, and the same the other way around.  I think one of the big reasons for the high interest in relation to the initial preview videos was that the combat bit was "strategy" as well.... those familiar with Arcen probably had flashbacks to AI War, and assumed it'd be something like that.

The very dramatic change to the current style of action will be jarring for some, definitely.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Mick on March 12, 2014, 10:06:42 AM
A big part of my concern is I hear so little talk about the meta-strategy map portion of the game from the testers and the developers in comparison to the combat part (both before and after the major rewrite). I mean, maybe there are no problems at all with the strategy layer and that's why not much is said about it, but it sounds to me like in the old combat the testers didn't even get much of a opportunity to really dig into strategy map because the combat part was such a magnet for feedback.

I don't really have a problem with the combat segment existing. In fact, what I hear about the current iteration sounds very fun, but is the game about blowing stuff up in space, or is it about complex political strategic alien relations "stuff" (see, I don't even know how to describe the meta layer, because I'm so ignorant about it).
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 10:07:37 AM
Hmm.  This is a thought that had occurred to me -- the comparisons to the Valley games, not the one to Drox, particularly.

I don't really see this as an ARPG particularly, although I guess you could class it as that in some ways.  The line of reasoning that led us here was as follows:

1. We need a combat minigame.  Originally this was side-view 1v1.  Kind of vaguely inspired by FTL, though only in the loosest sense.

2. Okay, that got boring fast.  After many attempts to fix, let's instead go with our old standby of RTS.

3. Okay, that was promising, but quickly we ran into the problems of "space is empty" and all the related early balance problems.

4. Okay, let's solve that in the way that AI War did with guard posts, etc, in adding the "constellations" of turrets, etc.  And let's add some extra direct flagship abilities in there, too, because the player often does not have enough to do.  But now the combat is a lot more fiddly.

5. All right, let's strip this WAAAY back and just focus on you and your one ship.  This needs to be more streamlined, because the RTS controls of the other mode was just getting extremely cumbersome and time consuming.  While we're at this, let's integrate way better with the solar map, as well as having multi-factional battles, etc.

6. All right, that is actually working out really well, but I feel like I am just mostly driving my ship around and very rarely using abilities.  There needs to be something more for the player to DO throughout the gameplay experience.  Enter the direct guns on the left mouse button.

7. Now we're getting somewhere!  But we have a problem with the player ship either feeling underwhelming in an un-fun way, or being way OP.  There need to be more enemy ships to compensate, so the unit counts need to go way up.  Perfect!  Now we feel like Batman in space.  I'm having loads of fun.


And that's the story of how we got from point A to point B.  If we wanted to make a Paradox-type game, we could just abstract away the combat and not actually show it, etc.  But that would be very graphically boring for one thing, as well as I feel a lot less compelled by games like that (Risk and a few others aside).  Context-switching in games actually can be super successful in terms of adjusting the pacing of what is going on.  The good Final Fantasy games have a mixture of combat, story, exploration, and town/shopping segments.  AI War has a mixture of base building, tactical combat, scouting, grand strategy, tower defense, etc.

Context switches are good, which is why I've been so keen to retain a combat element here.  And I do feel like the current combat model is very fun.  Is it too divorced from the main gameplay, though?  That I do worry about some.

The problem with the Valley 2 platforming segments is that they were "let's prove you can do this" pieces.  In other words, there were no real decisions to make in a grander scope during those platforming segments.  They were fun and tactical if you like that sort of play (which I very much do -- I love Valley 2, actually).  But they were basically just a "skill check" in terms of the wider strategic game.  The thing I want to avoid in TLF is having that be the same thing.  I don't know that we really have that problem at the moment, or that we have a huge amount of that problem, anyway.  You aren't just fighting waves of anonymous bad guys, you're actually destroying stuff that is then gone in the larger strategic game.  You can make decisions on destroying civilian things, etc, that also affect the larger strategic game.

Is there a missing ingredient?  Maybe.  My thoughts:
1. Some of the combats may be too long.
2. We may need more in-combat things that provide alternative non-fighting ways of winning.
3. Directly aiming and firing guns and triggering abilities is something that simply may bother a lot of people.  I love it, but I can see why those looking for a pure strategy game would be turned off by that.  I'm not sure there's anything to be done about that.

In terms of the viability of the Valley games versus AI War, Valley continues to find an audience as well.  On Steam last year, the Valley games earned $109.5k.  That's not counting any of the bundles they were in off of Steam.  By contrast, last year Skyward earned $125k on Steam, and AI War earned somewhere a little north of $200k.  Given that AI War is much older, that's obviously a lot more impressive in some ways.  But it also has a ton of expansions, etc, and in general has more ways of making money.  So there is that.

Valley is very much still being played these days, but it doesn't have a thriving community like AI War I think mainly because it is just something that people play on their own, with no real explanations needed, and then put down.  There are a lot of games like that.  AI War is more about larger discussion and complexity and sharing crazy stories, etc.  My hope is that the larger metagame in TLF will be that same way.

Do we have a problem?  I don't know.  If TLF sells as well as Valley 1 has over its lifetime, then we will break even.  By my conservative calculations, I will have spent $182.7k making TLF by the time we're done.  That means we'll need to gross about $365k to break even.  We hit something like a third of that on Steam with Valley 1 in the first month-ish of sales.  Overall just on Steam to date, Valley 1+2 have grossed $379.6k.  Again that doesn't count any other sorts of bundles or whatnot, which jumps that up by another $20k at least.

Is the above math that I love?  Not really.

For instance, you can get a game like Bionic Dues that people love, but that just doesn't really take off.  I calculate that I spent $58k making that game, meaning that we needed to earn about $138k gross to break even on that one.  So far on Steam, it has grossed $75.4k.  It's grossed maybe another $10k or something on other bundles, etc.  I'm not positive on the exact numbers.  So that one is still $50k in the red, roughly.  I have confidence that over the course of the next year it will break even, but it's not something that was a smashing success immediately.

So, what to do?  That's something I'm mulling a bit.  A big part of me says "if this thing is really fun, and clear, then it will be okay."  We're known for making really unique things, and that counts for a lot.  Keith disagrees, but personally I think that part of the lack of Bionic's success was that it just wasn't unique enough.  Obviously marketing, a dark art style, a crappy name, bad timing coming out, and a few other things also were big contributors.  This time we have the name and the art style very much covered, and we're working on the marketing and the timing.

In the end, it's possible to rationalize anything.  We could make perfectly rational arguments that this game will do horribly because it's too similar to Drox.  You could have said that about Minecraft and the other block based mining games, though.  You could also make perfectly rational arguments that this will do super well, because it's really unique and the sort of thing that people would be excited to see from us.  But there are lots of failed games you could have said that about, too.

From my perspective, it's about minimizing risk.  Here are the constraints:
1. We can't sacrifice polish.
2. We can't gut the game so that it's unsatisfying.
3. We can't adjust the release date (no money left!)
4. We can't do something that will make the game incredibly niche (the Covert Action or Valley 2 issue).

#1 above requires time.  #2 above requires not making changes that are TOO drastic at this point, such as just cutting combat.  #4 requires thought, and possibly careful action or possibly nothing.  #3 is just a fact we can't do anything about.

I am open to discussion and suggestions, as always.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 10:10:07 AM
A big part of my concern is I hear so little talk about the meta-strategy map portion of the game from the testers and the developers in comparison to the combat part (both before and after the major rewrite). I mean, maybe there are no problems at all with the strategy layer and that's why not much is said about it, but it sounds to me like in the old combat the testers didn't even get much of a opportunity to really dig into strategy map because the combat part was such a magnet for feedback.

A large part of it is that the solar map side has been very confusing for players because there is so much undocumented stuff.  Lots of empty tooltips, etc.  It's stuff I'm working to fill in as soon as I can, though.

I don't really have a problem with the combat segment existing. In fact, what I hear about the current iteration sounds very fun, but is the game about blowing stuff up in space, or is it about complex political strategic alien relations "stuff" (see, I don't even know how to describe the meta layer, because I'm so ignorant about it).

It's both, really, and any sort of trailer and videos need to start getting that across.  The problem thus far has been our inability to do that because of interface ugliness on the solar map side.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Misery on March 12, 2014, 11:06:01 AM

Oh, lots of text here.  A few points I want to comment on....

The question of the combat being too seperated from the solar map stuff is definitely important.  From what I've seen of it so far, the one issue is that there typically isnt much in the way of decision-making in the combat... nothing optional, stuff like that.  Or deciding "well, I'm gonna try to help THIS faction win the fight", stuff like that.  The combat has a linearity in a similar way to Valley 2, in that it has a single, very specific goal, and you must push towards that goal, because there's no other direction to go.

For some mission types of course this is the only real way it can be done, like the bit about smuggling in resistance fighters, or the duels VS the Burlusk.  The problems in those missions are mere balance issues mostly. 

Now that being said, something like deciding which faction to help DURING a mission doesnt entirely make sense either.... you pretty much already made that choice when you went to a particular race and decided to do something for/against them.  If more of a choice-making element was added, it'd have to be something else.  Not sure what.

Wether or not this sort of thing MUST be dealt with, I dont know.  The combat entertains me easily, but then also I tend to like stuff like that by default. 


The question of it being too niche is also another important one, but.... how much can you really do about that?   Even if it was JUST the solar map stuff, it's going to be niche to some degree... much of the time, this is simply part of dealing with indie games in general.  You get some major exceptions that go on to become huge, but that's not the norm at all.  So, to me, creativity and willingness to try new things are what rules here.  Not that I know much about the business aspect of things though.    I also think there's just not enough feedback on it yet.  This is the first build where both the solar map AND the combat are truly ready for major testing.

And one way or another, the split nature of the game is GOING to have an effect on that, because inevitably some players will like one but hate the other.  I dont think there's really any way around that one without outright removing the combat entirely.... I'd rather not see that happen. 


On the note of Bionic Dues, honestly I have to agree with Keith on that one.  I found that the game was plenty unique.... it did quite alot of things different from most turn-based strategy games that werent pure roguelikes.  The excellent "meta" part of it, as well as things like the Diablo-style loot and heavy customization (which was almost another game in it's own right!) as well as the mission structures and goals, and the very heavy focus on the personalities and behaviors of the different bots (wheras in many similar games, there's often very few differences between enemy types that arent purely statistical... I think this one added to the game quite alot). 

I also think the release date hurt it pretty bad.  One thing I found was that many simply didn't seem to even know what it was.... but they sure knew about the large games that came out around that same time!  The game seemed to enter existence with a muffled thud, and then it sorta just got shoved out of the way, not because of gameplay or design, but simply because of outside factors. 


Overall, I maintain that this game has a TON of potential.  And the combat is now (to me at least) quite enjoyable, with the potential for much challenge.... and in addition to that, the altered combat model now seems to make a larger variety of mission types possible.  A 1 on 1 duel is ALOT different from, say, trying to pierce a pirate base.  There seem to be alot of mission types, and I havent really dug in all that far yet (mostly just because of bugs and such).

And since the combat is no longer made of problems, the testing on the solar map can get more focus now.

A big part of my concern is I hear so little talk about the meta-strategy map portion of the game from the testers and the developers in comparison to the combat part (both before and after the major rewrite). I mean, maybe there are no problems at all with the strategy layer and that's why not much is said about it, but it sounds to me like in the old combat the testers didn't even get much of a opportunity to really dig into strategy map because the combat part was such a magnet for feedback.

I don't really have a problem with the combat segment existing. In fact, what I hear about the current iteration sounds very fun, but is the game about blowing stuff up in space, or is it about complex political strategic alien relations "stuff" (see, I don't even know how to describe the meta layer, because I'm so ignorant about it).


I'm not too sure about the others, but for me there was one core reason why I hadnt talked too much about the solar map section of the game up until recently:  it just wasnt time to talk about it yet.  The initial builds with the solar map were.... well, they were hard to even mess with.  Things were a bit TOO unfinished, and even alot of experimentation seemed to accomplish nothing.  The combat, on the other hand, was having ALOT of problems. It needed more testing, it needed more discussion, because it was a big problem.

What people seem to have mostly said about the solar map section though was that it was really good, or at least that's what I recall anyway.




Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 11:11:39 AM
I wonder if going back to an auto-resolve option for combat is something that should be possible.  Possibly simply by having an OFF option for combat, to be frank.  That way, when combat happens, it just instead does some other logic, and just lets you play the strategic parts.  For instance, that was something that I really enjoyed in Total War, where I hated the tactics but loved the meta stuff.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Misery on March 12, 2014, 11:22:03 AM
I wonder if going back to an auto-resolve option for combat is something that should be possible.  Possibly simply by having an OFF option for combat, to be frank.  That way, when combat happens, it just instead does some other logic, and just lets you play the strategic parts.  For instance, that was something that I really enjoyed in Total War, where I hated the tactics but loved the meta stuff.


Probably a good idea.  I think there were plenty that thought the same way about Total War, and the series might not have done so well if that option hadnt been there. The two sides in that game do play very, very differently from each other.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 11:23:11 AM
Yep.  I actually just had some good ideas on how to make a more interactive auto-resolve rather than just having it be a button-press.  I am adding that to the spec right now for addition.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Penumbra on March 12, 2014, 11:39:28 AM
I actually just had some good ideas on how to make a more interactive auto-resolve rather than just having it be a button-press.  I am adding that to the spec right now for addition.

That sounds interesting. Usually the auto resolve is in games with a single victory condition coupled with a resource mechanic. You either win or lose in Total War, and the game can just determine how many units you lost. Final Fantasy(et al) is the same way, just with HP.

From your description of TLF's combat, it appears you could have multiple mutually exclusive goals, each with many different potential outcomes.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 12:18:38 PM
I actually just had some good ideas on how to make a more interactive auto-resolve rather than just having it be a button-press.  I am adding that to the spec right now for addition.

That sounds interesting. Usually the auto resolve is in games with a single victory condition coupled with a resource mechanic. You either win or lose in Total War, and the game can just determine how many units you lost. Final Fantasy(et al) is the same way, just with HP.

From your description of TLF's combat, it appears you could have multiple mutually exclusive goals, each with many different potential outcomes.
  • Success! Took 35% damage and ticked off the Evucks (well, more than usual ;))
  • Failure! Weakened an enemy planet
  • Didn't really have a goal at all! 25% damage, saw some scenery

Something like that, except a bit more interactive.  It's actually making it almost into a choose-your-own-adventure multi-step battle but in a GUI.  You choose a target and see the likely outcomes, etc, and then it changes the state.  You can then do something else or run away, or you have won, etc.  It's basically all the decision-making of the combat, but abstracted out some and without any need for actual fighting in the SHMUP sense.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Penumbra on March 12, 2014, 12:49:08 PM
It's actually making it almost into a choose-your-own-adventure multi-step battle but in a GUI. 

That sounds amazing!
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Cinth on March 12, 2014, 12:52:43 PM
Something like that, except a bit more interactive.  It's actually making it almost into a choose-your-own-adventure multi-step battle but in a GUI.  You choose a target and see the likely outcomes, etc, and then it changes the state.  You can then do something else or run away, or you have won, etc.

Reminds me of some old D&D adventure books I used to have.  Read a segment and come to a decision, make you choice, turn to the corresponding page and keep reading.  The reader had full control over the outcome in the book.  Very fun reads.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 02:08:37 PM
Hopefully this will prove the same!  It's not literature, but it does tell a "story" in a very loose sense, heh.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: nas1m on March 12, 2014, 02:14:42 PM
Yep.  I actually just had some good ideas on how to make a more interactive auto-resolve rather than just having it be a button-press.  I am adding that to the spec right now for addition.
To me this definitely sounds like the way to go if feasible to keep those who are interested mainly into the Grand Strategy/Simulation aspect of TLF from being alienated by a more Action oriented combat model. My guess is that the Strategy grognards will be the crowd that decides over (the initial) rise or fall of TLF - not the Action crowd. Only my two Cents of course...
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 02:17:34 PM
Yeah, I think you're probably right.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: nas1m on March 12, 2014, 02:20:47 PM
Any News on when round 2 will start? I am itching a bit to get my hands on your new baby ;D
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 02:28:06 PM
We're still in what I would technically called Round 0, honestly.  The solar map stuff is still just too confusing due to explanations just not being in place yet, and there are more bugs than I would like thanks to all the things we just changed over the last month.

I don't really have any more ETAs on specific rounds of testing, but we'll be letting in groups of 10ish players at least once per week from now on, often twice per week.  Right now I think there may be ~30ish people in the alpha, and we have another 70ish still waiting.  I plan to use everyone, so with around 4 weeks at most of development left, that gives some indication. :)
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: keith.lamothe on March 12, 2014, 02:30:10 PM
Right now I think there may be ~30ish people in the alpha, and we have another 70ish still waiting.  I plan to use everyone, so with around 4 weeks at most of development left, that gives some indication. :)
(mental images of infantry charges in trench warfare)

;)
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Teal_Blue on March 12, 2014, 02:44:43 PM
When i saw this post I thought, oh no! It seems at about this point in the testing, we all go crazy with worry, that the game is too much like this, or its not enough like that...

Anyway, I am trying to avoid that this time. I think it possible the panic produces frustrations on the dev side, and concerns on the new players and  forumite side. Maybe that is a natural part of the dev cycle.

But I was hoping we could sidestep the worry this time and just test what is there. Is the game fun? Does it flow smoothly? Does it fit with the next part over there? In other words very small and specific answers to very specific questions.

The over large questions of is this too much like this other game are really 'too much' to answer at this point. We are just starting to test a small part of a larger and more complicated game. And those over large worries just distract us from that process, and get us further away from what the game really is.

Anyway,  I'm hoping for the best and will be here when it is all 'baked and ready to go' :) 

-Teal

Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Teal_Blue on March 12, 2014, 03:16:41 PM
Just saw the idea with the resolve idea, that really sounds wonderful!!  :)  Looking forward to it!

-T

Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Castruccio on March 12, 2014, 04:26:39 PM
When i saw this post I thought, oh no! It seems at about this point in the testing, we all go crazy with worry, that the game is too much like this, or its not enough like that...

Anyway, I am trying to avoid that this time. I think it possible the panic produces frustrations on the dev side, and concerns on the new players and  forumite side. Maybe that is a natural part of the dev cycle.

But I was hoping we could sidestep the worry this time and just test what is there. Is the game fun? Does it flow smoothly? Does it fit with the next part over there? In other words very small and specific answers to very specific questions.

The over large questions of is this too much like this other game are really 'too much' to answer at this point. We are just starting to test a small part of a larger and more complicated game. And those over large worries just distract us from that process, and get us further away from what the game really is.

Anyway,  I'm hoping for the best and will be here when it is all 'baked and ready to go' :) 

-Teal

I mistitled the thread. My concern about Drox isn't as serious as my concern about the Valley series and its pitfalls.  I think Chris has a good point when he says that the game could still be successful even if it's like Drox (the way Terraria is a successful version of Minecraft in some ways).  The bigger problem, if it is indeed a problem, is that TLF has some real similarities to Valley 2 in terms of overall feel and pacing.  I think Chris's resolve to make this game a strategy game first and foremost is a good start, but I will be interested to see how that plays out with the combat.  Having an auto-resolve could be an indicator that the combat isn't fun, for example, but the plan now is to try to make auto-resolving fun.  But if auto-resolving is fun (or even more fun than the action combat) then what is the combat doing in there in the first place? 

I am glad that players are being given choices and different ways to play the game.  That said, those choices need to be in harmony with one another instead of being alternatives to one another.  For example, in AI War you can play the game 1,000 ways but you are always playing a pauseable RTS with a gazillion ships.  You can't choose NOT to play an RTS when you play AI War unless you are using the champion units (which past forum polls indicate need revisions because they don't quite feel right in the context of AI War).  In other words, arguably the least fun part of AI War (for strategy fans) is the part of AI War that isn't like the rest of AI War (which is otherwise a very coherent game concept: pausable RTS with a gazillion ships and great strategic decision making).  There's no auto resolve in AI War and there's no second genre of game shoehorned into the first genre (unless you count champions which could be said to be a controversial part of the game). 

And just to be clear, I think TLF has a ton of potential, especially if the concept is unified in a compelling way.



Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: keith.lamothe on March 12, 2014, 04:34:56 PM
But if auto-resolving is fun (or even more fun than the action combat) then what is the combat doing in there in the first place?
I think that is an excellent question :)

From the way things look to me right now the answer would either be "for that subset of players who want to play an action game inside the strategy game" or "because we've put so many months of work into bringing the combat part to where it is now, and/or the game wouldn't have enough meat without it".

But it's possible there's another answer I'm missing.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Cinth on March 12, 2014, 04:48:46 PM
But it's possible there's another answer I'm missing.

What's more satisfying? 
Lighting the fireworks or watching them go off after pushing a button?
Spreading rumors about you being the stronger, or slapping the **** out of someone, proving you are?
Or seeing that every possible "auto-resolve" answer says you lose, but you take command and win with skill?

Auto-resolve is a crutch, real player crush the AI with overwhelming force.  (AIW humor)

Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: keith.lamothe on March 12, 2014, 04:56:08 PM
But it's possible there's another answer I'm missing.

What's more satisfying? 
Lighting the fireworks or watching them go off after pushing a button?
Spreading rumors about you being the stronger, or slapping the **** out of someone, proving you are?
Or seeing that every possible "auto-resolve" answer says you lose, but you take command and win with skill?

Auto-resolve is a crutch, real player crush the AI with overwhelming force.  (AIW humor)
Well, certainly the action part of the game is more viscerally fun than the strategy part.  The question is whether and how the game as a whole can appeal to someone who doesn't like the action part.  I went down that road with both Valley games and, while I think we've done better than that here, I'm not optimistic about solutions which revolve around the action game being present but optional.  But I've been wrong before :)
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Professor Paul1290 on March 12, 2014, 05:07:07 PM
It's worth mentioning that a lot of people have problems with Drox because it is an ARPG and the combat is required.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Cinth on March 12, 2014, 05:11:01 PM
For some reason the Valley comparisons don't sit well with me.  TLF feels a lot different than both Valley games.  I get more of a 4x feel here.  Yeah, I know none of the "X"s are present here but the feel of shaping the solar system through diplomacy and directed military action are paths you can take in most true 4x games (just on a galactic scale). 

Could just be me though.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: keith.lamothe on March 12, 2014, 05:25:49 PM
It's worth mentioning that a lot of people have problems with Drox because it is an ARPG and the combat is required.
Yea, in Drox it's basically all the combat, in that you never leave that sort of direct control of your ship on "the combat screen" (the only screen there is, menus aside).  So it's really just an ARPG set in a unique (and very interesting, to me) context.  If you don't like ARPG combat then Drox is no more for you than Torchlight, nor does it really give any impression that it should be (imho).

Here there's more of a two-different-games thing going on, with the action (not ARPG) parts contained as discreet chunks inside the strategy game.  So there's more to appeal to someone who doesn't like action.  Whether it can, or should, appeal to that part of the audience while also appealing to the rest is an open question, but we'll see.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Pepisolo on March 12, 2014, 05:47:45 PM
First and foremost I think that the "fun-ness" of the current combat implementation needs to be completely focussed on. I wouldn't want testers to think "meh, the combat is OK, but I can auto-resolve to skip it so whatever". This seems like it would have a hugely detrimental effect on the action part of the game during the testing cycle. The combat really needs to work, and work very well otherwise it should probably be stripped out entirely. So, auto-resolve? As an optional extra, yeah, that might work and is something that could be implemented once the combat part is stable, as long as the reason for implementing it is to allow pure strategy buffs to get to the heart of the gameplay that they enjoy rather than to allow the average player to bypass a part of the game that really doesn't work very well.

Just how good is the combat and how well is it integrated into the whole game? Not being an active tester,  I don't know, but to be honest I'm a bit worried that there seems to be a general feeling that the combat part of the game could just be snipped off without too many problems. To me this suggests that there is a lack of integration between the strategy and action elements.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: keith.lamothe on March 12, 2014, 05:54:21 PM
I don't know, but to be honest I'm a bit worried that there seems to be a consensus that the combat part of the game could just be snipped off without too many problems. To me this suggests that there is a lack of integration between the strategy and action elements.
Just snipping it off wouldn't leave a product, really.  The remaining part would need to be fleshed out substantially to stand by itself (imo).

On the integration, it depends on what you mean.  Without any combat at all you wouldn't have a way of destroying fleets you thought the system was better off without.  Nor could you tear up civilian infrastructure, etc.

But are there any points of integration that couldn't be reasonably well done via an autoresolve-with-choices like Chris was talking about earlier?  Nah, I think that would handle all the integrated aspects of combat.

But is picking choices as much fun as space pew-pew?

On the other hand, is a strategy game where you pick choices for combat better than a strategy game where you have to switch to a different genre to play out the combats?

And, if you can choose between "pick choices" and "play an action game", is it a positive or a negative to have a completely optional action-genre part of the game?
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: ElOhTeeBee on March 12, 2014, 05:57:06 PM
I dunno how well this is gonna be received, but I figure I might as well mention it, since it seems at least tangentially related.

In addition to enjoying video games, I also play tabletop RPGs. One of those RPGs, Exalted, is an interesting one. It casts the players in the roles of the titular Exalted, former humans graced with a spark of divine energy that grants them vast power. There's several different kinds of Exalted, but the ones relevant to this little thought are the Sidereal Exalted, the chosen of the five Maidens of Fate.  The Sidereals are the mysterious witch that gives the hero a clue on his journey, the wizened old martial artist who teaches the young firebrand new tricks, the cunning vizier that pulls the strings behind the throne. They are, in short, professional meddlers, who ceaselessly work to keep Fate on its proper track, and the world as it should be.

But they're very few in number - only 100 at any given time, often less - and a Sidereal who is slain is dead for a very long time. If a Solar is killed in glorious battle with the mad princes of the chaos beyond the world, then the spark of Solar essence that was empowering him will likely find a new host within a year, because Solar Exaltations are drawn to great heroism. Sidereal Exaltations, on the other hand, are woven into someone's fate as they're born... which means waiting for the newborn to grow up, and then spending quite a lot of time training him in all the complexities of Heaven and Creation that he has to know to do his job. It can easily take a century or more before a Sidereal's replacement is ready to do his job.

Given that, most Sidereals take an interesting approach to personal combat... it's something to be avoided if at all possible. A Sidereal cannot afford to die, and so will actively avoid situations where that's a meaningful risk. Furthermore, Sidereals are constantly busy, and so have to be very efficient in their work. If a Sidereal needs someone dead, it's much quicker to hire someone else to do the killing, or to sell them a faked treasure map that will lead them to a tomb full of deadly traps, or talk their best friend into striking them down for the good of all. If a Sidereal needs a kingdom conquered, it's a lot safer to find some lucky chump to serve as a great general and prop him up with supplies and magic than it is to personally take to the field. It's much easier to incite revolution by quietly whispering a few choice words into the right ears than by getting personally involved in the region's politics.

When I first read about The Last Federation, it struck me as being Sidereals In Space, enough so that I used that little tagline when showing the blogs to my Exalted-playing friends. And, to my mind at least, part of that would be that our brave little Hydral should, in fact, be a total coward - he's the last Hydral, and if he dies before the Federation is formed, then there's no one left to pick up the torch. Personal involvement in combat should be a last resort, unless it's such an overwhelming victory that there's really no reason to play the combat out at all, or you're up against people who are actively trying to hunt you down and murder you; subterfuge is much preferred. Don't fight that Thoraxian army yourself, sneak a bomb onto their supply station and bribe a Skylaxian commander to be in the right place at the right time. Stuff like that.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Pepisolo on March 12, 2014, 07:00:14 PM
Quote
But is picking choices as much fun as space pew-pew?

Generally, surely space pew-pew is more fun than picking choices (although I know some would disagree). So, if picking choices happens to end up more fun than space pew-pew, something might be wrong with the this particular instance of pew-pew.

So, given that pew-pew is more fun than picking choices (assuming this is not debatable) then you would imagine more people would prefer the pew-pew to the picking choices, as long as both aspects are equally as well executed..... or something.

Quote
And, if you can choose between "pick choices" and "play an action game", is it a positive or a negative to have a completely optional action-genre part of the game?

I think having it optional suggests a lack of confidence in the quality of the action part of the game. Ideally, the game should be evaluated as a whole. If the integration of both aspects are good enough then it'll work for all gamers. Would Actraiser be better if you could choose either to play the platform parts only or the god-game parts only? I would argue it would be a significantly lesser game if you were to experience only one aspect. On the other hand, if you were to remove the silly overhead sections from Super Contra then that would actually improve the game as a whole. I think it's a matter of how good is the combat part and how well is it integrated into the strategy. If both aspects seem cool and gel then great, no need for auto-resolve except maybe as a afterthought cheat code or new game plus option. If both aspects just aren't gelling then get rid of the action and make it all strategy.

Additionally, these are tough questions which just broke my brain.

Quote
When I first read about The Last Federation, it struck me as being Sidereals In Space, enough so that I used that little tagline when showing the blogs to my Exalted-playing friends. And, to my mind at least, part of that would be that our brave little Hydral should, in fact, be a total coward - he's the last Hydral, and if he dies before the Federation is formed, then there's no one left to pick up the torch. Personal involvement in combat should be a last resort, unless it's such an overwhelming victory that there's really no reason to play the combat out at all, or you're up against people who are actively trying to hunt you down and murder you; subterfuge is much preferred. Don't fight that Thoraxian army yourself, sneak a bomb onto their supply station and bribe a Skylaxian commander to be in the right place at the right time. Stuff like that.

Actually, something like this does sound cool -- although I don't actually know whether the general gameplay is already anything like this or not. In Romance of the Three Kingdoms you could do stuff like bribe enemy officers, hide in certain cities to gather information, sabotage warehouses etc, as well as just being able to march an army into a city and wreck the joint. So, you could do all kinds of shady stuff on the global map without entering combat. Or you could delegate other officers to deal with certain battles rather than oversee it all yourself...also... actually I'm going a bit on a ramble now, but, basically I like the way you're thinking, although I don't know exactly how suitable it is for TLF.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: doctorfrog on March 12, 2014, 07:57:01 PM
I'd say the precedent for letting fiddly hands-on combat be optional is pretty well established. See the Master of Orion and Imperialism (feature called "Otto Play") series, for example.

Star Control 2 also had it, which was best used in the mid game when your ship was so powerful it could smash through most ships without breaking a sweat: here, letting the CPU play for you was a wonderful way to demonstrate how much you'd progressed in power, while also letting you take back control if you still found it desirable.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: x4000 on March 12, 2014, 09:07:13 PM
As a note: in this particular game, Auto Resolve is something I plan to have as a difficulty level with its own branch of stuff, essentially.  Aka, you can't just skip a fight in the middle of a regular game.  Playing auto-resolve means you're forgoing normal combat, but playing the game in a somewhat altered form with this other form of auto-resolution mechanics in place.  That's what I'm going for now -- because honestly, a lot of the things that would matter to someone doing direct combat would not be helpful at all in auto-resolve battles (we've been down this road before), so treating them as kind of wholly separate experiences is important.  I think that both can be really fun, actually, and I find myself actually excited about both, which is really odd for me.  I will almost always want to play with the battles on, but the auto-resolve difficulty level would be interesting for when I just want to speed through the strategy portion without dumbing it down any.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: chemical_art on March 13, 2014, 12:28:36 AM
I think that moreso for the early part of the game's lifecycle, establishing game-modes (for lack of a better world) to allow either complex grand strategy w/ auto-solving or light grand strategy with heavy combat will help provide an influx of players. It doesn't even have to be heavily developed as the game goes on as it focuses on the "full" experience of both fully used but I think it's ability to allow players to "dip-their-toe in" for their favorite parts will allow them to get immersed for the game.

Example: I never really played BD. I heard cool things about the meta and the loot, etc, but I couldn't get into the combat. Same story for Valley 2. The result? I never got to really experience their meta as I never played more then an hour in a game cycle. If I could have shortened the combat phase I would have seen more out-of combat things, and over time probably would have learned combat via association / length of play.

Another example: For the TW games, my dad hated the meta part, but loved the combat. He used cheats to basically make the campaign a sandbox for he could have played battles. Had this option to ignore the meta not exist, he would never have learned to love the game.

Again, down the road these "lite" modes of the full experience don't have to be fully developed, I think having them at 1.0 will certainly provide them with the most impact in the game's lifecycle.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: Misery on March 13, 2014, 12:45:20 AM
I think that moreso for the early part of the game's lifecycle, establishing game-modes (for lack of a better world) to allow either complex grand strategy w/ auto-solving or light grand strategy with heavy combat will help provide an influx of players. It doesn't even have to be heavily developed as the game goes on as it focuses on the "full" experience of both fully used but I think it's ability to allow players to "dip-their-toe in" for their favorite parts will allow them to get immersed for the game.

Example: I never really played BD. I heard cool things about the meta and the loot, etc, but I couldn't get into the combat. Same story for Valley 2. The result? I never got to really experience their meta as I never played more then an hour in a game cycle. If I could have shortened the combat phase I would have seen more out-of combat things, and over time probably would have learned combat via association / length of play.

Another example: For the TW games, my dad hated the meta part, but loved the combat. He used cheats to basically make the campaign a sandbox for he could have played battles. Had this option to ignore the meta not exist, he would never have learned to love the game.

Again, down the road these "lite" modes of the full experience don't have to be fully developed, I think having them at 1.0 will certainly provide them with the most impact in the game's lifecycle.


Completely agreed with this.
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: zharmad on March 13, 2014, 04:18:27 AM
 In Total War, battles eventually became a bit tedious, but I also knew that the auto-resolve system couldn't handle the odds that I'm comfortably winning with. There's an inherent problem with perfectionists who happen to be significantly above the average performance here.

 The integration of battle skipping as a separate game mode is more interesting. How would you implement a 'you lose the game' outcome that's not a clear suicide button? :P

 In the mean time (earlier in the test cycle), we could actually use an auto-resolving mechanic to get a feel as to how the strategic game unfolds as a mediocre action player, is or that well tested?
Title: Re: The Drox Operative Problem
Post by: khadgar on March 13, 2014, 10:31:31 AM
How would you implement a 'you lose the game' outcome that's not a clear suicide button? :P

This is my main question!

You have destroyed the WSS Space Crumpet, will you [continue] on attacking the impossibly strong Weasel Corps of Doom, or will you [withdraw]?
continue
It is very unlikely you will be able to take on the whole fleet by yourself. Are you sure?"
yes
The final worlds of the last hydral, to be remembered throughout the solar system, 'I'm not quite sure why I didn't withdraw!'

Game Over.