Author Topic: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment  (Read 915 times)

Offline windgen

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A big problem with the game I and others have noticed is how much of a pain it is to manage equipment.  This is a new thread because I want to discuss my idea for a specific solution to the problem, Aquohn's thread http://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/topic,13836.0.html is for more general griping.

I think we need something like the "optimize" button in FF6, which finds the best equipment for a character.

I would take inspiration from Sid Meier's Civilization 4:  Colonization [1] in this one.  In case you're not familiar, Colonization is a Civilization-like game that takes place between the arrival of Europeans in the New World through the Revolutionary War.  (If you're into games from the mid-90's, this is actually a modern remake of a DOS classic [2].)  When you build a colony, you can put your colonists on the adjacent squares to produce different things.  For example, coastal squares allow fishing, mountains produce ore or silver, and prairie can grow food or cotton.  But managing all your colonists' positions in every one of your colonies is tedious for players, so the game provides a governor to help you by automatically positioning your colonists.



Part of the colony management screen is shown in (i).  As you can see I've ordered food and cotton to be emphasized, while furs and tobacco are de-emphasized.  The governor has decided to make two of my colonists fisherman (producing food via fishing in the upper right) and one colonist in the lower left to produce cotton (in the lower left).  (The cotton guy looks different for an interesting reason which I won't go into.)

If I don't like the governor's decision for a colonist, I can override it by dragging him to a new square and selecting what I want him to do there.  For example, say I drag-and-drop the bottom left colonist on the next square above.  That square can produce any of four things, and the game prompts me which one I want him to work on, this prompt is shown in (ii).  Afterwards, he appears with a "lock" icon, as in (iii).  Any or all of your colonists can be locked, and that simply means you've manually positioned them where you want them, and the governor will not reassign them until and unless you unlock them.

Positioning colonists in pre-Revolutionary America, and positioning equipment in exos, are actually pretty similar when you think about it.  You should be able to select what attributes you want to maximize.  So maybe Bionic Dues should have something like this:



The new column to the left of each stat is that stat's relative importance to the optimizer, I'll call it the "optimizer multiplier."  It's multiplied by the stat's current value to get the optimizer points from that stat.  So this exo would have e.g. 1300 optimizer points from sensors and 1650 optimizer points from damage reduction.  The optimizer multiplier is the same as the "deemphasized / neutral / emphasized" choice in Colonization, but using numbers instead of words gives it a more sci-fi feel.

The optimizer adds up the total optimizer points over all exos' stats, then tries to trade equipment from one exo to another, and from one slot type to another, and from the player's inventory to exo slots.  The optimizer will only trade equipment in ways that result in a better optimizer point total than the current configuration.  The optimizer also isn't allowed to move any equipment the player has manually locked.  The optimizer tries a bunch of different trades at random (maybe a million or so, whatever you can do in a second) and gives you the best result it could find.

Hitting the "optimize" button kicks off the optimizer, it tries to find a better disposition for your unlocked equipment and comes up with a report like this after a second or so:



You can then either cancel or confirm the proposed equipment modifications.  Of course it should have a way to hover over individual gear and see its stats.

Importantly, optimizer points don't directly affect the game mechanics in any way, they're just a reflection of how good the optimizer thinks a particular equipment configuration is.  They shouldn't affect game balance because anything the optimizer does, players could do manually with enough patience.  Players can still make strategic decisions about which attributes are important to which exos, by changing the multipliers.  (Each exo should have its own multipliers, because e.g. stealth might be more important to exos that have close-range weapons.)  And the player can always lock equipment in a slot, or even disable the optimizer entirely in settings, if the player actually enjoys micromanagement, or think the optimizer isn't good enough.

The equipment in this game is complicated enough, it's probably impossible for Arcen to program an optimizer that's always guaranteed to find the best solution [3].  The situation can be explained in-game by an excuse along the lines of "if the optimizer was any better, it would become sentient and attack us."  And it actually encourages the player to remain involved in their exo's equipment decisions if they know the optimizer is good at what it does, but not perfect.

I think this idea automates enough to get rid of the tedious micro.  But equipment isn't a black-box that randomly changes their stats -- the player can still see what's going on.  It doesn't turn the player into a spectator either -- they'll still need to set the multipliers to something that agrees with their playstyle, or move equipment around manually.

[1] http://www.2kgames.com/civ4/colonization/

[2] http://www.gog.com/game/sid_meiers_colonization

[3] Because the best possible solution might involve moving item A from propulsion to shields, which doesn't change the exo's stats, but frees up a propulsion slot for item B.  Or items C, D, and E might not be very good on their own, but they might all have bonuses that boost each other's stats enough to make them very powerful when combined.  And power management is its own issue -- a reactor that provides a lot of power but no other bonuses might enable lots of power-gulping improvements that make up for a power slot.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2013, 08:16:10 PM by windgen »

Offline Tridus

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Re: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2013, 08:15:46 PM »
This is something that I'd never, ever use, because the puzzle of getting the max on all my exos out of the items I have is part of the fun to me. It reminds me of allocating magic items in D&D amongst party members.

Aside from that, in this case it would have to figure out how to balance power generation, power reduction in systems, which weapons shoud be optimized for what (as each weapon has different needs), and would actually require some fairly complicated logic to do well. Then you want it to try and not throw all your best propulsion stuff on the assault exo so that the ninja exo can get it, and you actually have to optimize all of them at once in order to avoid one exo just taking the best of everything (as any single exo optimizer would naturally do).

I do understand the appeal for some people, but I have a hard time believing they could do this well before 1.0 and a bad optimizer is worse than no optimizer as it'll serve as a "newbie trap" by making mistakes that new players won't know are wrong.

Offline windgen

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Re: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2013, 08:24:22 PM »
> newbie trap

It's actually a feature aimed more at newbies to help them deal with all the unfamiliar equipment, and to help expert players avoid tedious micromanagement for "don't-care" equipment.

You want to manually position key pieces of gear and make sure your systems do what you want, but often (especially at the beginning) you end up with masses of "don't-care" trash equipment, you just want to shove as much of it as you can in any slot where it's an improvement over an empty slot or slightly worse trash, then pawn the rest.  And you don't want to spend twenty minutes doing it.  (Says the person who spent a couple hours writing an incredibly detailed post about how the game should be programmed to do it instead.)

> I'd never, ever use, because the puzzle of getting the max on all my exos out of the items I have is part of the fun to me

This is why it shouldn't be a mandatory feature -- some people enjoy it, others want to turn it off because it takes the fun out of the game.  And that's fine, the point of a game is to maximize the player's enjoyment, not force them into a particular playstyle.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2013, 08:27:04 PM by windgen »

Offline khadgar

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Re: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2013, 09:09:02 PM »
Like the concept, but do not want it in a heavily lootcentric game like bionic. If it was there, I'd always use it (assuming it worked, and if it doesn't work, why is it even in the game), and I've never bother looking at the stats or gear I pick up between missions unless I was trying to do something extremely specific. So then I'm not even seeing the items, I'm just playing missions, pressing a button between each mission and watching my numbers go up, and then playing another mission right away.

Not that I think that is entirely a bad thing, but why even have loot if you don't need to look at it?

Offline Pepisolo

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Re: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2013, 09:55:50 PM »
Tremendous concept, but wouldn't implementing something like this just be like saying "OK, the customization screen is so sucky that we need to bypass it completely". Which is not really treating the underlying condition. Or do you think that the data in this game is so complex that such a facility is absolutely necessary? Note: I'm not saying that the customization screen is sucky. It was pretty poor, but there seems to have been a lot of improvement in that area since I last played properly. I need to start playing some more before I can assess just how much better it is.  What is the general consensus on the current state of the customization screen after all the latest round of changes?

Forgive me if I've missed something, it's getting late and I really need to read through your post a few times Windgen to fully appreciate everything. Great post, though!

Offline keith.lamothe

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Re: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2013, 12:13:57 AM »
If y'all can find some features that you agree are good for the game, I'm happy to consider them.  I'm a database/spreadsheet nerd by nature and love "power tools" for working with complex stuff.

That said, I the original idea here is actually not good for the game.  One principle to remember in game design is that "just because you can automate something, doesn't mean you should".  This is heavily counter to, say, enterprise application logic/UI design, where you absolutely do want to minimize the load on the user in every way possible (until you get into suboptimal business practices where you have intentionally make some use cases harder to encourage alternate processes, but I digress).

The problem with applying that same approach consistently to games is that, especially in a game with no "reflex" or "twitch" component, it will essentially abstract away the entire game.  Games are, after all, simply contrived complexities :)  For the most part, anyway.


Where to draw the line between "helpful UI feature" and "feature that plays the game for you" is often tricky.  Personally I generally use the rules:

1) Where possible, minimize the effort (in wall-clock time, click-count, window switches, etc) the player must put forth to actually tell the game "this is my decision".  And the game should implement that decision with all haste.

2) Let the player make all the actual decisions.

3) If it really, truly makes sense to automate the making of a particular decision, it's probably better to rework the game design itself to abstract that principle so that the optimal thing is simply assumed to be done, rather than having the game pose a trivial problem and then solve it by itself.

Anyway, I hope that helps :)
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Offline Misery

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Re: Idea: Have the game help the player automatically optimize equipment
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2013, 04:20:56 AM »
I can agree that this one wouldnt be a good thing to implement here.

But it's not just because it makes things easy or anything like that.   I'd be against it for the very simple reason that I dont think it'd actually work.

There's ALOT going on in this game, accessible though it may be, and there's quite a large amount of depth and complexity in the customization/stats in particular.   When choosing any given part, you have many, many things to consider:  There's the current stats of the Exo that you're customizing of course, there's the overall team, as in, which Exos you have chosen, and how they work together and what roles they fill, there's often a need to decide on parts while keeping in mind the existence of parts in the store that you intend on buying after getting some more money, you may also have to consider what kinds of missions are coming up (and of course which parts you choose can influence that directly as well), and.... yeah.  There's so very much to it.   On lower difficulties, you have alot more leeway for mistakes and such, but as the player goes into the higher ones, you dont want any mistakes here, and an automated system in a game of this much complexity could actually get the player defeated, or at least put them at a major disadvantage in tough missions, as it'd be bloody difficult to make it so that it truly does pick the best stuff for your team at that time;  there's simply way, way too much to consider. 

Generally in the sorts of games that these systems exist in, the decision making is much, much easier, where you just want big numbers and dont have to worry about the order in which you get them or much of anything else, and in those games it's very easy to design something that really will choose the absolute best setup for your character.   Yet even then, in some of that type of game, it can go wrong.

The concept overall is never a bad one and does work for many games, but for this one specifically, I think it'd just be and cause alot of trouble overall.