Monday, March 15, 2010

Danger: Resource Conversion Ahead

Designing games right is hard.

I have been spending a huge amount of time lately working on FMB.  Every day when my chores are done (*cough*... certainly not in lieu of doing chores or anything) I sit down at the game board and play games against myself.  Back and forth the plasticine armies go, killing, stealing and conquering.  I learn a lot from these games and have managed to refine FMB in a lot of ways, slowly polishing and tinkering to make it perfect.  There are two things that are making my testing difficult though:

1.  Taking Sides:  When I am testing the red army vs. the green army I just can't force myself to be perfectly dispassionate.  I always end up rooting for one army or the other internally and I know that must affect my play.  For example, I was testing to see if an army with a large number of bad units would be better than an army composed of a small number of powerful units.  For no good reason aside from a hatred of zergling rushes I know I want the team of good units to win, but I need to test this situation without bias to make sure my current costing structure makes sense.

This is something that has always been true for me.  When I play games against myself I get myself into the mental state of supporting one side or the other and that side wins far more often than not.  Usually there is no blatant favourtism but it is hard to come up with devious plans for both sides of a conflict and not somehow favour one over the other.  Particularly when I know what cards both teams hold playing without bias seems like a bit of a stretch.  I wonder if others do the same thing?  Most likely they don't spend enough time playing games against themselves to know.

2.  Resource conversion is both appealing and dangerous.  I have designed many artifacts in the game and some abilities are easy to evaluate and some are not.  The most tricky certainly are ones that allow the player to give up some resources to get other resources because they generally require a very fine understanding of relative resource valuations based on game state to balance.

Example-Lucky Clover:  You get +1 on all your die rolls.

This one is easy to figure out.

Example-Demonic Altar:  Each turn you must kill one of your units.  That unit can be redeployed next turn at normal cost.  You gain + 1 Gold, + 1 Relic, + 1 Spell.

This one is complicated to figure out, and its value varies wildly based on game state.

I was testing green army (few powerful units) vs. red army (many cheap units) and green army totally smashed.  Fine I thought, good units win.  No problem.  Then I played again and red army mulched green army.  What is going on?  Turns out that in both cases the winning army got Demonic Altar as its first artifact and cruised to victory.  I guess Demonic Altar needs a serious nerf.  It is very tricky to play games against myself and actually isolate all the variables I need to make sure that I am testing the variable I want to test.  In scientific research it is of extreme importance to hold all variables but the variable being tested constant, and doing so here is monumentally difficult.  Because my games involve dice rolling and card drawing in order to test properly I will need a hundred trials and a ton of statistics to make properly scientific decisions.  Good thing I like playing games.

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