The right and wrong of game design evolution

‘Evolving’ a popular design sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Lets look at two examples for today.

First up in the ‘doesn’t’ category is Castle Burn, a mobile game that tries to be an evolution of Clash Royale. Like CR, Castle Burn (terrible name) has you collecting and upgrading cards (troops, spells, buildings), waiting on key/chest timers, and playing 1v1 real-time matches against other players to climb a ladder.

Where CB tries to evolve is in its match gameplay/combat. Rather than the more confined/limited setup of CR (one map, two lanes, 8 card deck with a four card rotation, elixir is the only resource), CB has ‘more’. It has multiple maps with different layouts. You need to build resource collection buildings over crystal spots to increase your income. You also need to build camps to increase your unit cap. You pick a hero unit, and that unit has a special ability you can activate that is on a cooldown. You decide in each battle which units to use, which are in three tiers; tiers that unlock as you select two units from a lower tier. Units march up the field in a straight line, but can move to the side if they find a target. Units can be told to retreat using an ability that has a cooldown. There might be more, but that should give you a decent idea of what CB is aiming for vs CR in combat.

And the end result? Less tactical, more ‘spammy’ combat that doesn’t feel nearly as fun or impactful as CR (I’m currently in the second-highest league simply from using what is basically a ‘zerg rush’ strat, with goblins replacing zerglings, to the effect of like an 80% win rate). When you have so many different things happening, any one choice is less important. In CB you aren’t watching the result of a unit fighting another unit like you do in CR, because you are likely spam dropping more units, or have a different fight going on in a different part of the field, or those troops just don’t matter that much to the end result.

The beauty of CR is that every single point of elixir matters. There is a HUGE difference between killing a 3 elixir minion with a 2 elixir zap (+1 trade) vs a 3 elixir arrow (even trade). In CB that difference is negligible. In late-game matches you might have 15+ units on the field, so how much can one of those really matter?

Adding ‘more’ to CR doesn’t work for CB, because the extra stuff dilutes the core formula, rather than the intended goal of expanding it.

The second example is a new release called Graveyard Keeper, which is a game very similar to Stardew Valley, except the farm is a gravyard (which has farmland…). A LOT of the game is similar, from how movement/combat works, to having an energy bar, to talking to villagers and increasing reputation, and so on, to the point that if you enjoyed Stardew, I find it basically impossible to imagine you won’t enjoy Graveyard Keeper.

The big difference, and improvement IMO, is the passage of time. In Stardew seasons are pretty lengthy, and if you miss doing something, you have to wait a long time before that season rolls around again. In Graveyard the unit of time is a week, so everything comes back after seven in-game days. Also important is that aside from fresh corpses, nothing decays or is time-sensitive. Crops will wait for you to harvest them indefinitely with no quality loss, quests don’t expire, items don’t decay, and monsters in the dungeon don’t respawn.

This means you can’t ‘make a mistake’ that has long-term impacts, and that all progress is forward progress. This might sound like it makes the game easier, but in a game where there is so much to do, and so much progress to be made, it really just reduces the tedium (and this style of game isn’t about challenge anyway, other than the ‘challenge’ of grinding ever-forward).

If you want to focus on, say, making wine for one npc for a quest, you aren’t seasonally punished for ignoring everything else, like you might be in Stardew. I love that, because it makes it so much easier to relax and just accomplish something in each play session, rather than stress out about making sure you do all the ‘right’ things that you ‘need’ to do. This also relaxes the need to know things before you try them, like for example the fact that building item A isn’t nearly as optimal as building item B, and then getting A. In Stardew if you fell for that ‘gotcha’ design, you likely added hours and hours of work to your game. In Graveyard? Maybe 30 minutes, which really takes the sting of such things and lets you enjoy the learning process a bit more.

Graveyard isn’t perfect (the energy bar is too small, inventory management is still more of a pain than it should be, there are some seriously questionable UI design decisions), but in terms of pacing and how it affects your enjoyment, its an improvement over Stardaw Valley IMO.

Posted in Clash Royale, Combat Systems, crafting, Random | 1 Comment

Business is about to pick up

Little programming update for everyone: I’ve accepted a new job, which means two very important things. The first of course is here (yes, this post is 99% an excuse to link to that song, because come on, its awesome), the second is that the new position means going into an office again vs the current situation of working from home five days a week. And as we all know, breaks during office time is prime blogging time, so expect more posts here in mid-late September.

What will be posted here remains a mystery. I’m not currently playing an MMO, though the upcoming beta for Camelot Unchained has sparked some interest, and eventually Crowfall is going to happen… right? I do need to return to posting more about CoC/CR, especially since interesting things are happening in both. And then I’ve continued to play a bunch of single players games, the most recent being Battletech (excellent). There are also a bunch of games set to come out of Early Access, like Rimworld. Stonehearth actually came out of EA a few weeks ago as well, and I’d like to post updates on those titles and how well the whole EA process went.

Oh yea and expect a ton of Mount and Blade: Bannerlord posts when that game is released… in what is looking like 2050. I just checked Steam and I added Bannerlord to my wishlist Nov 2016. The game is still not in playable beta with no announced release date…


Posted in Camelot Unchained, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Crowfall, Mount and Blade: Warband, Random, Site update, Steam Stuff | 10 Comments

EVE: Ghosts from the past, from another world

Finally back from vacation, and while I was away I received (as TAGN did) an email from Rooks and Kings member LM about a new video he (they?) produced, focusing on the Chinese EVE server Serenity, and how the actions on that server caused a migration of Chinese players over to Tranquility, the main, or ‘not China’ EVE server.

The video is almost 40 minutes long, and some of it is very EVE-specific, but much can be understood even without playing EVE. As is usually the case, stories from EVE are above and beyond anything in gaming, MMO or otherwise, and this is no exception. The video is also masterfully edited and a joy to watch.

And yes… watching this video, along with reading about the current war in EVE, is scratching the itch a bit…

Posted in EVE Online, Mass Media

Pre-vacation update

No, I have not given up on the blog just yet. I actually have half a dozen posts in draft form, but none of them got finished. Ah well. Updates time.

I got a new keyboard during Amazon Prime days, a Corsair K65. I wanted a smaller keyboard because I use the pull out tray on my desk, and as that limits space a bit, they extra room the smaller keyboard provides helps increase mouse pad space. I’ve got a solid foot or so of space now for the mouse, and that finally feels like ‘enough’ when playing PUBG with lower sensitivity.

The keyboard itself I’m still getting use to. It feels like the spacing of the keys is a little different, as typing feels a bit off. I misclick ‘S’ all the time when trying to hit ‘A’. I’m sure I’ll adjust. The rest is all good. The keys feel nice and responsive, and the back-lighting can be adjusted to be very bright or a bit more subtle. So far I don’t miss the extra keys, including the macro keys (my mouse has plenty of those if needed).

On the gaming front I recently played a bunch of “Slay the Spire”. As mentioned, one of the draft posts was about that, but honestly everything Zubon has written about the game basically echos my thoughts. It’s a great game, and one of those “good games that’s aided by being different” rather than being reliant on simply being different. I can easily see it being a game I fire up for a run or two whenever its updated.

I tried getting into Conan Exiles, but just couldn’t. Mostly it was the fact that it felt very pointless, like playing an MMO solo would. Additionally while the combat was ok, everything felt very floaty, and while it’s not a bad looking game, it doesn’t look nearly good enough to run as poorly as it does. I also think I’m still mostly burned out on that genre from all my time with ARK. Seems that for me, unlike other genres, I’m just not that into other flavors of this type of game. Once you have bashed one tree and rock, maybe you’ve bashed them all…

Finally I just picked up Battletech, which I’m very much enjoying. I’ve already lost one campaign, but the second run is going much better. I fired it up pretty much blind, and the learning curve early is rough, as I think the game partly assumes you are familiar with the Battletech setting/rules. More on that game at a later date.

Posted in Age of Conan, Combat Systems, Random, Site update | 4 Comments

I called Skyrim UI devs child-raping Hitlers once.

I wasn’t going to post about this, but between the lack of any posting here, and how this snowball down shit mountain continues to roll, here we go. Buckle up because a few snowflakes are going to melt in the below fire-hot take (that is a self-identifying sentence, did you get it?)

Catch up on what’s happening over at Az’s site, including some of my initial thoughts on the issue. Overall, anytime someone is fired, 99% of the time its justified. Companies don’t go through the pain and cost of firing someone just for kicks, and especially at larger companies (which Anet is), even someone with an ax to grind (which isn’t the case here) will have a very hard time and risk a lot to fire someone without proper justification. I state this because whenever one of these “I was falsely fired!” stories pops up, its smart to always go into them with heavy skepticism for what the ‘victim’ is claiming.

In this case the situation is all the easier to see because of Price’s actions after being fired, to say nothing about the fact that there is no gray area around what she did; all of her statements are online, and they clearly show what happened (the fired male dev has deleted tweets related to this, for what that’s worth). You can’t straight-up attack customers as a rep for a company, in any business, and ESPECIALLY not when the initial interaction was harmless and you massively escalated it.

Which gets me to the point of this post; the twisting of that interaction into something far more. I read Polygon, not because its awesome, but because most other gaming sites are pure garbage. But in this case, Polygon has gone far off the deep end, with this article perhaps being the worst yet.

It starts off with the far, far stretch that the initial suggestion by Deroir was in any way offensive, and piles on to that stretch by pushing the fact that since Price is a female, suggestions towards her need to be phrased differently than towards a male game dev. Think on that for one second while keeping the word ‘equality’ in your mind. Continue to keep that word in mind and read this quote from Polygon:

“Players who think they know more than they actually do about development are common, and the belief isn’t always rooted in sexism. But Deroir’s lack of empathy for what happened throughout this controversy is notable.”

Basically, what happened here is what has been happening in gaming since gaming started; someone played a game, and said “X would be better if it was Y”. Every single gaming blog, this one included, does this (and often times far, far more aggressively than what Deroir did), and not once have I scaled back, or ramped up, a criticism because of the gender of the game dev (or if its Friday, a fellow blogger, just to be fully inclusive of who and why we flame people online). Again, equality.

Which isn’t to suggest the world is all roses and inequality doesn’t exist, and most certainly does. But stories like this are classic ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenarios. This isn’t an example of sexism in the gaming world (hell, a male and female employee got fired here, equality!), and so it dilutes the real issue. Actual victims of sexism look at Price the same way abuse victims look at people who misuse the #metoo movement; you aren’t helping, you are actually causing harm.

Then Polygon doubles down on this by adding a quote from someone who, from a very brief review, appears to be a professional ‘boy cried wolf’ artist, Adrienne Massanari. Her profile picture is a female with short hair holding a cat. Stereotypes, why do they exist?

“Why would people want to talk to anyone at all? But on some level, they need to have these social media presences, and be contactable. But this proves that people can be punished if you’re a woman and speaking out about an area of your expertise. It’s so predictable in a way, and that’s what makes me so angry.”

Let’s break the above down. Why would people want to talk online? Because they want interaction. That’s it. That’s literally the only reason to post on Twitter. For others to see what you write/think and react.

Second line, this ‘need’ for being online in social media. Was that part of Price’s contract with Anet? She’s not a community rep, right? So no, Price wasn’t online because of Anet, she was/is online because that’s a choice she made. Choices have consequences. If I was too thin-skinned to deal with the (hilarious) hate of others online, you know what I’d do? I’d get the fuck off the internet. I wouldn’t stay online and cry wolf or play the victim.

Third line, which builds on the false assumption that Price is online because Anet put a gun to her head and told her “Tweet about work and respond to fans, or get fired!”, and makes the immediate jump that Price got the response she got not because she is a dev posting about a game online, but because she is a female. Keep in mind, even in this exact story, a male game dev also got fired.

The agenda being pushed here that this is an issue about gender, and not inappropriate employee conduct, isn’t coming from Reddit. It’s not coming from people who want to tear down females in gaming or elsewhere. Gender was introduced, and continues to be pushed, by Price, and now by people claiming to be feminists, people who claim they want equality.

Equality here is a game dev talking online, and a subsection of fans flaming them, at times hyper-aggressively. Welcome to game dev, and welcome to the internet. If you believe you can solve the issue of people being asshats online (or in real life for that matter), please hold your breath until that happens, thanks! Inequality, and treating people differently based on gender, is looking at something that has been happening since Pacman, and trying to segregate female game devs into this corner, and male devs into another, with special rules for the females. That, more than anything else in this entire situation, is highly offensive and sets back progress towards equality.

Finally, Polygon is empowering, or at least giving fuel, to those on Reddit and the Internet who actually believe a mob can get someone falsely fired, when they frame this story as an example of a female being fired for ‘speaking her mind’ and people online getting her fired. If someone doesn’t have the time to fully dig into the situation, perhaps they only scan the headline and make the assumption that something like that actually happened. That actually is dangerous, in the same vein that ‘fake news’ is dangerous. Spreading false information, even if its just a click-bait title and the context of the article states otherwise, is a real problem, and unlike “people being mean online”, is fixable. Price is a lost cause based on her actions, and people like Adrienne are always going to be around, but Polygon should be better here.

Posted in Blogroll, Guild Wars, Mass Media, MMO design, Rant | 2 Comments

PUBG: The Event Pass is good

Let’s talk about the event pass for PUBG, shall we?

For those that don’t follow the game, the event pass costs $10 and lasts for 28 days. During that time, you have a large set of objectives/achievements to go after, some daily, some weekly, and some that run the length of the pass. Each time you complete one, you earn XP, and the more XP you earn, the higher your level and the more rewards you unlock. All rewards are cosmetics, some permanent, some temporary.

Here is why I like it. Of all the ways devs can come up with to fund a game you like, selling cosmetics is the best. They don’t effect gameplay, and they don’t consume too much dev time, all while usually making your game look more interesting and variety, regardless of whether you buy or not.

The event pass is also basically PUBG adding an optional subscription to the game, and again I’m a big fan of that model vs invasive F2P models. Combine the two and its a home run IMO, with the only people really upset about this being (guessing but not really) kids who can’t afford it and now either have to go to their parents for some money, or head to Reddit and bitch about it.

The different missions that come up can, should you choose, spice up your game a little. For example, normally you want to just kill someone, but if a mission asks you to do so with a pistol, suddenly that’s on your mind now. And it’s a risk/reward thing; if you mess around too much trying to force the issue, perhaps you go too far and get yourself killed in what would otherwise be an easily winnable situation. I did exactly that last night, where I needed to kill someone with a pan, so instead of finishing off someone with a gun, I went swinging, giving an enemy teammate just enough time to kill me. Of course this being PUBG, you care only until the match ends, and then queue up again and nothing really matters (so much so that ranked play isn’t even enabled on the newest map, and basically no one cares).

The addition of the pass, and the new map, as made playing the game with a squad a lot of fun again, and I could see that continuing going forward. Development should increase in pace thanks to the extra funding (and the motivation to keep people paying month to month), and because everyone now has some long-term (monthly) goals to go after, its additional encouragement to log in and play a few rounds nightly.

The execution isn’t perfect yet however. Sometimes you won’t get credit for a mission even though you did it, and some of the missions have been a real fun-sponge of a mess (get top 3 without killing anyone, how fun…). Luckily changes have already been made, both in fixing broken missions and removing/editing the funsponge stuff.

Good first step for PUBG, and one that I expect to only improve in the coming months.

Posted in PUBG, Review, RMT | 2 Comments

Fantasy Football is here again, join up

Quick note: We have two potential spots in our blog reader Fantasy Football league. If you are interested in joining, drop a note here (with a valid email) or email me.

Posted in Random