Author Topic: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP  (Read 2811 times)

Offline x4000

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Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« on: November 30, 2011, 01:46:01 PM »
Note: All of the below is really outdated and is not what we are planning anymore.  The new missions system keeps EXP around, doesn't have a difference between core and side missions, and so on.

This one I'm labeling as "design notes" rather than "brainstorming," because this is really more about collecting my thoughts and getting feedback/commentary on them, rather than truly going for a brainstorming session like some of the others.

None of this is set in stone yet, though, and I'm still working on the design to make sure it all fits together properly.  I've attached a photo of my whiteboard where I laid a lot of it out visually, to show the flow of all this.

REMOVAL OF EXP
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The civilization level and spellgem tiers are absolutely vital and central to the game, and aren't going anywhere.  EXP, on the other hand, is just a vehicle for letting you increase the civlization level.  Problem is, as a system it's actually a bit TOO flexible.  You can gain EXP by grinding bosses, grinding exploration, or in other ways.

Flexibility is often good, but not always.  But in this case the problem is even more core: the chief way that you gain EXP (defeating bosses) is also the chief thing that you need EXP in order accomplish (bosses being the main source of challenge).  So in other words, there's no way for me to make a disproportionate challenge without there also being a disproporationate EXP gain.  And, depending on player play style, EXP gain might rush upwards way faster or slower than it really should.

Those are just some of the problems, and I believe some of the reasons Keith was arguing months ago that we shouldn't have EXP.  This game just isn't an RPG in any way, shape, or form anymore, despite it having sort of started life slightly more in that direction.

The reason why only bosses give EXP at present is twofold:
1. We didn't want for players to have incentive to farm/grind smaller monsters.
2. We wanted to reward players for larger-picture task completion rather than all the minutiae that goes into completing the larger task.

The idea was that that would give some more flexibility into how you'd go about completing the larger task, but in reality as this game has evolved what we're finding is that most BOSSES are actually part of the minutiae of completing all sorts of other tasks.  They're still not as easy to farm as smaller monsters would have been, but it's still not an ideal situation by any stretch.  And it ties into some other problems with the game-as-currently-implemented.

ADDITION OF BINARY CORE MISSIONS
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This will be a major new addition to the game, and basically will provide the central "here's what to do next" guidance that is currently so lacking from the game.  I really like sandbox games, and this game will always be a sandbox title in a lot of respects, but there needs to be some central thread to hold all the other sandboxy bits on.

In AI War, which is also somewhat sandboxy in a lot of respects, the goal is implicit because you have a clear foe that is trying to kill you and who you are trying to kill.  But ALL the details in between that end goal and your starting position are pretty much left up to you, which is great for hardcore grognards (like me, I might note) but kind of stressed out some other players.  I remember RCIX, a longtime AI War player, talking about that as his biggest gripe, and he wasn't alone.  I think that the Fallen Spire campaign was really popular with some players partly because of this very phenomenon.

Anyway, but that's AI War -- as a strategy game, making it pretty open-ended works for a lot of people because it's really freeing and makes you feel MORE like a commander.  For AVWW, though, it's not a strategy game at core.  So that means that the freedom tends to make most people (including myself, I should again note) feel kind of aimless rather than empowered.  I have a blast with AVWW just with the visceral nature of the mechanics themselves, and it's fun to play with new enemies and spells and all that, but a lot of players, including myself, want something deeper.  Which we've always planned on providing, I should again note.  This is still early beta, after all.

Having a central thread of missions for the game is more of a new idea, though, in the last few weeks.  I keep thinking about Red Faction: Guerrilla and how much I loved the flow of that game: the central story missions are what advanced the state of that world, but there were all these side missions that I could do at any time, plus just general exploration and such.  Kind of like with GTA, you could just piss off the authorities and go on a romp if that's what you felt like doing.

Right now I think that AVWW takes that sort of sandbox spirit that those other games have, but without a central thread of missions that's something that winds up being pretty aimless.  Personally I played a lot of the original GTA and GTA2 and _never_ did the missions in them, so that's actually not super unappealing to me, but to some folks it really is.  And I find myself wanting some tough goals, in an AI War sense, to make interesting choices with.  With AI War, even though it's unstructured how you have to beat the AI, you can't just wander around and do everything because of the AI Progress and the fierce opportunity costs that come with every choice you make.

That's what I'm looking for here, rather than story missions per se.  Because this is a game about infinite play, and doing whatever you want, and so literal linear story-type missions don't make a lot of sense in that context.  We do plan to have a lot of story-type missions revolving around Personas, but that's really more Keith's area and I see those as either slotting in as occasional core missions or else being an entirely optional thread of the world that you can tug at if you're inclined to do so (with their own attendant rewards, of course, making them attractive as a way to pump yourself up for the core missions if you need to; but I'm getting ahead of myself now).

What makes the core missions "binary?"  Well, there will always be exactly two of them available to you in the world, rather than one as in most linear titles.  This was suggested by a player, and at the moment I forget who, but it's a really cool idea.  I think the example given was some similar mechanics for the story missions in Starcraft II.  Anyway, when you complete one of the two available missions, you get a reward connected to that mission, but lose out on the chance to complete the other mission and get its reward.

So, right there -- bam, fairly obvious opportunity cost.  You're choosing how to affect the world around you, and you can't just "do it all."

CORE MISSIONS REPLACING EXP
---------------------------
The next benefit of these core missions is that completing a mission would be a major watershed thing to do.  Each mission would be HARD.  At least past the earliest stages of the game.  And since you can't grind EXP (which would no longer exist), you can't just overlevel these to make them trivially easy.

Just how would you gain civilization levels, then?  Well, completing a core mission would increase your civilization level by 1, with all the various benefits that currently come with that.  This gets back to our core desire to reward players for making major progress in the game, rather than the minutiae along the way.

WHAT IS A CORE MISSION, ANYWAY?
-------------------------------
Well, it could be a lot of different things in the details, but the broad outline is that it's some form of special semi-scripted challenge that takes a sustained expedition to overcome.  These missions would occupy an entire region tile, I'm thinking, and everything in that region would be centered around the mission itself.

Based on the discussion in the Rethinking Warp Mechanics thread, I'm really realizing that in these missions the warp abilities need to not work at all.  Thus you get the sustained challenges that the game is currently lacking, possibly without having to mess with the warp mechanics that are so convenient elsewhere in the game. 

Mission regions would be inherently smaller than normal regions (aka not infinite and not filled with lots of random buildings and whatever else), and they're not something you could whittle away at to the same degree that you currently can most areas.  If you left a mission region, or lose in it, probably a lot of the enemies would come back... or something along those lines.  That part still needs the details figured out, and frankly will probably need some playtesting and iterations to really make sure that it's fun and sufficiently challenging without being annoying.

I'll also be doing the mission scripting through xml, so players will be able to design their own missions like they are currently able to design room maps.  Unlike the intro mission, there will be a much heavier procedural element to these missions (as with the room maps already, actually), making it so that these can be reused a lot more effectively and will seem at least somewhat different each time.  Thus preserving that infinite-play goal, compared to some sort of linear story progression.  I think that will be a lot of fun all around.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CAN'T BEAT A CORE MISSION?
----------------------------------------------
This is where the AI War style sandbox comes back into play.  The core missions will always be harder than you can initially deal with (hopefully, anyhow).  So to take on a core mission, you can't just go run right into the mission to beat it and move on to the next.  You'll need to spend your time on various side quests, gathering materials and crafting new stuff, or finding other various supplies, or using your NPCs to do various things, to make it so that you can survive the next core mission and come out victorious on the other side.

So the core missions wind up occupying this conceptual space of "here's the next big thing I have to do, but I'm nowhere near able to do that just yet," and meanwhile you go about making yourself stronger in various ways to tackle the mission.  Kind of like when the next ARS is on a Mark IV planet, and you have to figure out exactly how you want to structure your forces and then go after it.  And if you fail, well, then you re-tool and try again.

Given that this isn't actually a strategy game there isn't an opportunity cost to _everything_, unlike AI War, and avatar improvement plays a role in place of certain strategic concerns as is common in RPGs or adventure games.  But there will be opportunity costs to the various methods of avatar improvement, which I'll get into in a subsequent post (and which the whiteboard flow chart hints at in various major ways, based on ideas from other threads in this brainstorming forum from the last couple of days).
« Last Edit: December 14, 2011, 10:52:44 AM by x4000 »
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Offline Hearteater

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2011, 02:29:19 PM »
Sounds exciting and I look forward to being able to try this out!  Just a few comments:

I recommend even outside core missions that warp mechanics get adjusted.  Even if you use warp stones seeded very generously, it gives you a lot more freedom in what kind of challenges you can have in those areas.  Plus I think going from "No warping EVER" to "Warp to all the places!" is probably too huge a swing.  You just need to adjust your mental attitude to the game so much depending on the two situations and I think that might be too jarring.

Having a new core mission pair pop up each time you complete an old one might be a little too close together.  Some small breathing room might be useful.  I'd almost say tie it to some small improvement to your settlements if the strategic map weren't so optional.  But maybe you need to gather X of some supply for your settlement.  Something small and easy you can do in about 5 minutes.  It would be just enough that people who feel compelled to complete quests would have that space to do other things without that pressure of a quest in their log.  I know it sounds silly, but I've seen that so much in games like WoW.  People will complete a quest just because they have it even if they don't want to be doing it and would rather be fishing.

Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2011, 02:36:14 PM »
It's true, in all likelihood something still needs to be done with the warp system outside of the core missions, but I figure for starters we can probably leave that alone and see how it feels, then back into warp stones or whatever if it still seems needed.  The nice thing is that these two models CAN coexist for a while, whether or not they ultimately SHOULD, at least. :)

Regarding downtime between missions... that is an interesting point.  Perhaps there literally needs to be some gametime that goes by before the next mission.  Say a few days at least of gametime.  If someone is really in a hurry for the next mission, they could always advance the day/night cycle a few times to make it happen through Nightfall and Sunrise, heh.  Something like that could work as being a little more freeform while still having downtime.
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Offline TNSe

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2011, 03:28:23 PM »
Already exited, reason I like being part of betas is the constant influx of new! :D

Offline FallingStar

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2011, 04:52:24 PM »
I think the removal of EXP is going to be huge for me, since that balance between grabbing gems (and in doing so leveling my civ) vs making the gems I grabbed bad by out leveling them has been a key component of how I spent a lot of time in game.  New mechanics sound interesting, I just might miss some of that natural dynamic that the spell tiers brought (more on that at the end?).

I agree though on all that has been said about why it needs to go, perhaps just that RPG side of me I guess quailing at the thought of no exp.

On the mission side, I'm not sure I'd want to wait for new mission pairs to pop into the world.  If, as mentioned in the initial thoughts, the crafting based exploration flows naturally from needing to do it in order to complete the mission, I don't know if I'd need additional mechanics forcing me to go do other things before I could level my civ again -- I'd already be doing those things in the course of leveling my civ.

I can see it both ways though.  If missions = leveling now, most games have ingrained leveling = the goal, so players might feel like the entire game is doing the missions in a long chain, with a tossed in detour to kill a LT or Overlord now and again, and then the exploration side of things feels dimmed.  I guess making sure that the missions really were HARD would be key to it, so that exploration wasn't an option or a minor farming excursion, but the entire rest of the game had to work towards completing the missions (and the more flexible macro goals of overlords, etc).

I guess a final thought, on spell tiers . . .they seem a bit complex for the new system, just since you're leveling at a much more planned and incremented rate, and its not as much of a timer to need to go kill something before you outlevel your gear.  I know most of it is based on keeping challenge scaling infinitely without getting silly huge numbers, so perhaps its needed, but just struck me as something that might be excessively complex as currently implemented if you're going to a new exp mechanic.

Anyways, just thoughts off the top of my head.  Does certainly sound interesting, and seems like good changes, will be interesting to see how the full game play experience changes from such a system.

Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2011, 06:21:15 PM »
With regard to spell tiers, there's definitely no way (or desire on my part) to take them out, because past about level 100 you'd never need to craft anything ever again if they didn't get obsolete.  Granted, now in the game it will be harder to do many things at once (complete side objectives while also leveling), but at the same time with the addition of some of the Stacked Bonuses stuff (see other thread), actually you'll be able to top up your bonuses while you're working on getting gems or even working on a mission.

My hope is that some of those mechanics, plus the influx of some of the other macro game components that are planned (personas, etc) will help to scratch that RPG itch in a different way.  More on the "world feels more alive" direction than the "grinding for stats" side, though.  EXP has been really misleading people for the last few weeks anyhow, as when the civ level goes up people expect their stats to improve, but instead their stats are constant and monster stats (and eventually spell stats) are going down, which is counter intuitive when you pair it with EXP.

Hopefully this will all balance out well, but playtesting will reveal a lot of that I'm sure.  For now I need to get the last parts of the design nailed down and then actually start implementing all these changes, too!
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Offline Martyn van Buren

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2011, 09:20:38 PM »
This sounds great!  One thing that troubles me a little is the comment that a mission will occupy exactly one region --- does this mean they'll all be the same size?  I feel like some variation here is good to give a feeling of variety.

Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2011, 10:54:58 AM »
One thing that troubles me a little is the comment that a mission will occupy exactly one region --- does this mean they'll all be the same size?  I feel like some variation here is good to give a feeling of variety.

Well, all regions aren't the same size anyhow, so they wouldn't be homogeneous.  But, as my thinking on the continents stuff has been evolving, I've decided to move away from that one mission = one region thing.  Rather, now there won't ever be more than one mission in the same region at once, and the core missions at least will tend to take place in terrain that is specifically created for them rather than being part of the main areas you can just walk to before the mission becomes available.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2011, 12:46:41 PM »
Now that this is becoming a reality, moving it out of the brainstorming subforum!
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Offline superking

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2011, 07:17:29 PM »
all this redesigns are consuming alot of your development schedule.. was this always the plan?

Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2011, 07:27:25 PM »
all this redesigns are consuming alot of your development schedule.. was this always the plan?

Yep: http://christophermpark.blogspot.com/2011/06/more-musings-on-iterative-game-design.html

That's basically the only way I know to go about creating something really exploratory and new.  If we knew exactly how to do it right from the start, then it would be a too-obvious idea and someone else would already have done it.  Both AI War and Tidalis were built using this exact same windy process, over lots of iterations.  Obviously you've seen a lot of the AI War iterations post-1.0, but there were tons of iterations even before 1.0.  It started out turn-based for pete's sake!  :D
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Offline freeformschooler

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2011, 08:35:30 PM »
I will say that it is genuinely unique among even most games in public alpha/beta. I've never seen a publicly playable game go through this many fundamental changes in quick succession. Being a part of it was worth the price of entry :D It's hard to stay bored with a game when you know the next few updates will essentially make it a different, more fun game.

Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2011, 09:00:01 AM »
Thanks for that!  We've done the same sort of thing with AI War throughout its history, so we're no stranger to the process.  But we really feel like it works well in terms of bringing out some unique and innovative ideas.
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Offline MaxAstro

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2011, 10:49:36 AM »
Just my two cents based on playing lots of sandboxy games: I feel the best way to handle the core missions might be a mix of the current mission system and what you are suggesting.  I think if the core missions are going to be really impressive, difficult missions, one per civ level might restrict that (if you have to complete one every level, they can't be that hardcore).  And the "must complete main mission" syndrome does also seem like an issue.

And on the flip side, I really like the "lesser missions" giving level progress (moving away from the term "EXP", which is fairly loaded, might be part of a solution in itself).

What if, for example, the smaller missions gave partial levels as they do now, and then every time you hit a civ level divisible by five (or whatever) a pair of core missions would pop up - possibly even shutting out the smaller missions until they are completed.  By only showing up every 5 civ levels - and therefore being separated by a wide stretch of more sandboxy gameplay - you both avoid the impulse to do nothing but complete core missions and give yourself the opportunity to make the core missions that much more impressive (since they aren't something that is happening all the time; they are a semi-rare event).

This also gives you the chance to give a real sense of major accomplishment much like overlords do; any mechanics or items "gated" by a core mission will feel like a true reward (for example, if the first core mission pushes you to the level that unlocks the settlement screen) instead of being "just another level up thing".  Even if it is "just another level up thing", the fact that you have to complete a core mission to get to that level gives it an extra sense of achievement.

In either case, I like your complete-missions-to-raise-civ-level idea vastly better than the current EXP system.

Offline x4000

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Re: Design Notes: A New Binary Mission System, Plus Removal Of EXP
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2011, 10:55:38 AM »
I just updated the OP, but please note that all of the above is really outdated and is not what we are planning anymore.  The new missions system keeps EXP around, doesn't have a difference between core and side missions, and so on.  Core missions are definitely not on the table in any fashion, as we've come up with this really cool almost boardgame-like flow where your mission choices help you or hinder you as you pursue various larger goals. 

Having core missions really gets in the way of that, because then every so often you're forced to play these specific missions that might have nothing to do with your personal goals, and/or which might be far too hard for you to take on or trivially easy.  With the more freeform mission structure we now have, we're able to dodge all those problems, but still letting you feel a major sense of accomplishment as you... accomplish things. 

There's a lot of stuff we haven't talked about with the new system yet, but reading your post I think you'll like it.
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