Design Troubleshooting: Rebuilding Resources

There’s still painfully little open discussion about the actual act of game design. In these articles I’ll be reviewing my own thought processes in trying to work my way through a game design challenge. This one was an interesting example of how interconnected and wholistic game design is and the way that can lead to a need for cascading changes.

Context:
Project is in the format of a CCG meant to emulate RTS mechanics.

In recent early mechanical playtests I found that the beginning turns of the game were very predictable. Decision making showed more promise once the game was under way. I thought there still may be potential once more mechanics are implemented for the first turn to matter, but especially with a design goal of potentially short turns something needed to change. The natural solution was to lower card costs across the board.

The costs were already low enough that this introduced a scaling problem between cards. So it was time to introduce a more formal stat budgeting system for the cards to try and keep their power levels in check. Statistically, re-budgeting and re-scaling the card costs was straight forward, but it lead to an unexpected conflict with the intended design.

There’s nothing wrong or mechanically complex with having one unit cost and be powered roughly twice as high as another. Except that starting at a unit cost of 1 necessitates the doubly powered unit also be the closest in power level and cost. No playtesting was needed to see that having units that are four times or more powerful than others appearing on the field so quickly after the start of the game was a problem. Not only did it downplay the importance of early turns, but also created a sudden power disparity inconsistent with the intent to emulate RTSs.

The first solution that came to mind was to raise the cost floor. The kind of scaling I was looking for seemed to materialize with the starter units costing 4 or more. The result was unit cost largely falling between 4 and 11, a much better spread. But the problems weren’t over.

Now I’m back to issues with my attempt to keep turns potentially short. Resources can be scaled up easily so that the pace is unaffected. But given the game can involve a large number of units in its attempt to emulate RTSs, the numbers involved need to be very simple to not inundate the player with math on even simple decisions. The important distinction here was that reading the costs needed to be simpler, not necessarily the costs themselves.

The current solution in development is to redesign the costs to incorporate 2 resources. Testing will be done to see if these should be functionally distinct such as minerals and gas in Starcraft. But even if they are equivalent with a direct, but purely implicit, exchange rate this should serve my purposes if done right. It may be something as simple as a base 4 stand-in, but to the player it will hopefully act as a psychological trick to make parsing the numbers easier.

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