Friday, November 29, 2013

Practice 2013: The Art of Strategy Games

Strategy Games (by Soren Johnson)
·         Soren worked on Spore, Civilization 3/4, Dragon Age Legends, founded Mohawk Games
·         Strategy games have limited options, unexpected events, disparate outcomes
·         Different from story games (The Last of Us, Spec Ops, Bioshock Infinite, Walking Dead)
·         Not talking about big budget games either (Braid, Dear Esther, Gone Home, Limbo)
·         Those games are static. Strategy games are dynamic (Street Fighter 4, NBA Jam). These games are meant to be replayed and mastered.
·         Dynamic vs. Static is a continuum. Some static games use dynamic systems (Deus Ex, Plants vs. Zombies, etc). Some dynamic games use static system (Puzzle Quest, Team Fortress, etc.)
·         Static games – the content is primary. Dynamic games – the mechanics are primary.
·         Strategy games are dynamic. The key factor is transparency (show players how the system works). Later Civilization games show exactly what happens during an attack.
·         Transparency in digital board games. Card Hunter, Hearthstone, Battle of the Bulge. Are these board games or video games? Board games are not defined by physical components, but by their transparency.
·         Memoir ’44 – battle dice, you roll a tank à a tank dies, you roll a flag àretreat
·         Shogun – cube tower, very clear and literal way to track your progress of power (now and then)
·         Power Grid – supply and demand track, as you pick up items from the track, the prices increase
·         Agricola – resource piles, as people don’t take cards, resources are added to them and pile up
·         The rules run inside the player’s head (not in the computer), strategy games should also exist inside the player’s head
System and Sauces (by Keith Burgun)
·         100 Rogues, “Game Design Theory” book, Auro, Empire
·         Deliver value as quickly and efficiently to the players. Don’t waste their time.
·         Interesting decisions are the primary producer of value in strategy games.
·         “Solution” vs. “Guess”. Solutions are deterministic and we perfectly understand (light 4 torches, hard counters, put square peg in square hold, QTEs). Guesses are random and we don’t understand at all (choose from two arbitrary paths, play one round of RPS, choose +1 attack or +1 defense at the start of a game, guess your rolls). Decisions are in the middle between solutions and guesses.
·         Interesting decisions are the source of value. Minimize everything else. Achieve elegance through determining your core mechanism (Mario’s jump, SSB’s movement and positioning).
·         Find supporting mechanisms, find the goal, and find the theme/metaphor.
·         Ultimately you’re building a gameplay system. Many games are not systems, they are inter-related smaller systems.
·         100 Rogues, started with roguelike model, boiled it down and focus on tactics, resource management is not a source of interesting decisions in roguelike. You can’t add interesting decisions to a system, interesting decisions are a property of a well-designed system.
·         Auro – boiled down roguelikes until there was nothing left, single actor moving on a grid, permadeath, created new system called bumping (knock enemies back), can bump enemies into water, use spells to change tiles
·         Empire – boiled down 4X games, core mechanism is managing diminishing resources, has some deck building mechanism (your deck gets bigger and bigger, but has less value because it’s being put into an increasingly larger pool)
·         Boil down something to its core mechanism
·         Sauces mask the system – mass content (mini-games, locking content, iron-lung game design), labor (grinding, fiddly processes (breaking bills inMonopoly), walking), spectacle, high execution and high randomness (people asking “can I do this?” instead of “should I do this?”
·         The substance is a system, a contest of decision-making.
How Double Fine Approaches Strategy Games (by Brad Muir)
·         Double Fine, Alter Echo, Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Iron Brigade, Brazzen
·         Current project is Massive Chalice, play as an immortal ruler, fight demonic creatures on a tactical human scale, strategy layer of managing the entire kingdom (spending resources, technology to research), cadence will attack every 10-20 years and your heroes will age throughout the time, you need to retire heroes and marry them together so they’ll have children who will defend the kingdom
·         Inspiration – XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics
·         Goals – character attachment through mechanics, permadeath, generational component inspires self-reflection, original fantasy world (no orcs, elves, dragons)
·         Open development – forums, blogs, team stream every 2 weeks, 2 Player Productions
·         Designing in the open is super weird, tons of feedback, difficult to sort, dealing with vocal minorities, beware of local maxima
·         Case Study: Relics, consolation prize for embracing permadeath, if your hero has enough prestige when he dies, he’ll become a permanent relic to equip a later generation. Avoid the design space of researched equipment, became an avenue for ancestor attacks (ghost dad attacks), can be like Catholic relics, but many fans were unhappy with it.
·         Relic redesign – lean into the flavor of generational weapons, human weapons are relics, when a hero dies, his weapon may become a family relic, relics continue leveling up over generations, relics are bound to a hero for life (can’t be used even if they are retired from the battlefield).
·         Leaves the door open for lots of research options (demonic weapons).
·         Critical hits are non-contextualize aspect of fantasy games, critical hits can be ancestor attacks.
·         Takeaways – don’t get too attached to your beautiful designs (the search for elegance and streamsline), a little inelegance is okay, remember your audience, obey the rule of cool
·         Designer’s responsibility to lead the player into wanting better things, not just the things they want now. Ultimately, it’s down to your choice about what goes in the game.
·         Facebook seems like the perfect place for strategy and board games (resource management, social aspects). But the things that board games do so well are endings, and that is non-existent in many video games. Losing a game is more palatable the shorter it is (Super Meat Boy), but when it gets longer and longer, the decisions have more weight in them (Neptune’s Pride).
·         Competitive strategy games are less compatible with business in the free-to-play model. “Magic the Gathering doesn’t have much of a system... it requires a max influx of content to survive.” – Keith Burgan.
·         What makes a game not transparent? When there’s too much complexity that the player is lost, when there’s too many choices with granularity.
·         Dynamic system “fetishes the system as an object” as opposed to the ineffable experience of the player. Does making a system elegant and super streamlined make it any more fun?
·         Dear Esther, Proteus, Gone Home… to Soren, these things are orthogonal to dynamic systems.. they’re not polar opposites.
·         League of Legends and Dota’s rules create a very negative experience and generate violent communities.
·         A game like Go is its own aesthetic experience.
·         Keith doesn’t use the word “fun,” he uses the word “value.”
·         MDA – designer created the mechanics, which creates the aesthetics. With music, we can start with message first or the melody first. With games, we can start with mechanics first or aesthetics/theme first.

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