Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Game Design Changes

I was thinking on my (long) drive home the other day about Praxis – specifically about the “buildings” mechanic. So here’s some insight into my design process, and maybe someone else can pitch some better ideas or just start the discussion. I’ve had some excellent discussions that resulted in great ideas with about a half dozen people so far, so there’s always time to discuss some more!

I know for Praxis I want the aggressor/controller roles to be almost pre-defined. In most card games, the faster, quicker pressure decks assume the “aggressor” role where they are trying to bust a hole through the defenses of the slower, more controlling “defender” before they can establish. And conversely, the controller is looking to stop the initial attack and tie the game down in the longer term. This is kind of a core concept of most card games (especially in magic) and becoming a good player often involves knowing when you’re filling which role – the slower of two very aggressive decks (or maybe just the one with the slower start) will have to assume the controller role and be prepared to, even if their goal was to be aggressive. Same with control decks. It’s part of the beast.

The buildings idea came from the original model, where each player had a role of buildings and these dictated your resources available, and while you were developing your board you were also trying to develop your buildings. It was ultimately a failure because it broke my “you can always come back from losing” role – once you were down a building, you were down on resources, which made it harder to control the board and thus you’d lose more resources. The obvious answer was to just remove resources from something so easily lost – but then the function of buildings still came into play. They served as an awkward win condition for awhile, jumping between the middle building being destroyed (which caused huge turtling matches), to X number of buildings being defeated (which was just clunky). Eventually they were scrapped when new ideas came in.

But once this defender/aggressor roles came into the picture, suddenly buildings made sense. The defender was looking to defend his buildings, the aggressor was looking to destroy them. Things were looking up for awhile, at least in theory, and I came up with the fun idea that when you score the building you gain positive effects, and when your opponent destroys it they gain cool effects. The catch of course is that the defender controls which pieces he puts on the board, and thus needs to weigh his potential gains vs the opponent’s and if its worth the risk. There’s still two big issues though:

#1 The ‘buildings’ don’t work in the current story. In the current version, there is one lateral that connects all three worlds, with praxis being in the middle. Where do these buildings come into play, what sense does it make “scoring” them, and why not just move your building locations away from the lateral, and why does a new building just appear in your past once you’ve “destroyed” the last one are still largely unanswered questions.

#2 They are kind of clunky. I wanted to make the defender gain more resource per turn, but have to balance between increasing their board state and working towards their goal. The attacker would therefor always be working on their boardstate and always working towards their goal. But here’s where things went wonky: I had to set a limit to amount of resources you could commit to a building per turn, to prevent an entire turn just being scoring a building (which you’d do on your last building to win). So then it was a maximum of 1 resource per building per turn. But it’s not an interesting choice, it’s just another (among many) choices to make. I thought about automating the process, but again it’s just more information going on in the background that’s whirling by, and they’d all go off at once (or relatively at once) which would be weird.

And to touch upon my latter point, the game already feels very… cluttered. It needs to be leaner, more focused. There’s this morale, and your main goal (playing things), buildings up upgrade, advantage check, a presence check at the beginning of the turn, these automated attacks, auto dial down of deploy timers, etc. It’s a lot to digest and it happens quick. I’m planning on removing the presence check entirely, as it’s not something you “build” towards, it just does things and is more to think about but not strategically utilize. I want minimal input with maximum impact, and even “automated” input is input because you still need to digest what happened (which is a new philosophy of mine). I like the advantage checks. I think they need more impact (somehow), but it keeps the hands flowing, and it’s fun to see if you can “beat” your opponent (although at the moment beating your opponent seems almost pointless) especially if something is on the line. Obviously playing things is staying around. I’ve toyed around with the idea of removing deployment timers, but it’s an easy feature and I don’t need to commit to removing just yet. If it turns out that most units only have DT of 1, then I’ll just make that a rule and possibly exceptions to the rule (like haste and something for DT of 2). And so that leads to buildings.

Building upgrades are next on the list to go. They have to. It’s just something new to worry about, it doesn’t make the game BETTER. I don’t get excited about buildings, they have all these stats associated (health, damage, resources left to score, passive effects, good/bad scoring effects). They take the focus off the game. The idea of scoring is eh too. They’re necessary in the fact that they are what establishes the attacker/defender model, but other than that they’re kind of odd. So what do we do? My current idea is to change from buildings to locations (or maybe destinations). There is no health on destinations, the goal of the attacker is to “breach” the defenses and arrive at a destination. If successful, the unit who breached is discarded as if he arrived at the destination and the attacking player “scores”. That score might tie into morale and if you fill your bar you win. But I haven't decided. It feels good, like you’re working towards a goal. But what’s the defender’s win condition? They have to stop you, but be able to do so in a quick 10-15 minute game. One way would be to tally up the opponent's units destroyed -- if you kill an army they can't attack you of course. Or you could revisit closing the portals -- amass some unspent amount of resources and win the game, or each one has a condition for closing. Another would be if the opponent can't win in X turns the defender wins. This is my favorite currently, but it means that the defenders games ALWAYS have to go to max turns which is kind of tedious and puts more emphasis on the attacker/aggressor model. It's just tough to say. This is where I'm really going to have to dig in (or maybe get some feedback from you readers). Developing a good game is tough, but I want to take the time to do it right.


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