You might recall the discussion on Skinner Boxes we highlighted a couple weeks ago. Now Reddit user VMaikel continued that discussion in a new thread, partially taking it to a meta level by pointing out the difference between internal and external operant conditioning.
Clear language and a willingness to understand each other is what’s needed for better game design philosophies. We have to be aware of our own design goals and those of others. If we want to have more meaningful discussions we need to make a difference between disagreeing with a design goal and the methods used to achieve that goal. The fact that you disagree with a design goal does not automatically mean that the methods used for that design goal are ineffective.
Ryan Rothweiler, who has been working on a tool for strategy game designers to quickly prototype their new ideas, also recently wrote an article about how we can improve the process of game design.
The process of game design is filled with difficulties and road blocks. I’m not talking about games as software development — I’m talking about games as rulesets design. The wants and desires of software developers are entirely separate from the wants and desires of a game designer, yet both use many of the same tools. Game ruleset designers need better tools if they want to push the boundaries of the medium.
Interesting and practical talk by Soren Johnson (Civilization 4, Offworld Trading Company) about the nuts and bolts design decisions that went into Offworld Trading Company. Topics covered include:
-The consequences of converging resource buy/sell price to the same value
-Buying your own shares, buying other players, and combating snowballing advantage/complexity
-A “Game available” system for small multiplayer communitiies
-Allowing players to play singleplayer while queuing
-Eliminating players early early to mitigate kingmaking
-Initial bid to establish stating locations
-Requiring tournament players to stream to build a community
-The value of Discord as a community building tool
-Splitting a traditional RTS game along Macro and Micro lines because they simply contain so much
Micro: MOBAs Macro: Offworld Trading Company
At this year’s GDC, Stefan Engblom of Supercell talked about the team’s approach to card balancing in Clash Royale. While he pointed out a few areas where collecting data can be useful, he also emphasized that it’s clearly not everything. Instead, he underlined the importance of flexibility and quick iteration when trying to find the fun. But most of all, he recommends every creator to play their own game over and over again during development and after, to gain a deep understanding of and feel for the gameplay.
I claim that a designer who puts effort into making sure their game is a better Skinner box is, almost objectively, just making a better game.
In the article, he goes on to make the distinction between “operant conditioning” with ANY reward and operant conditioning with inherently valueless rewards, coming to the conclusion that it is the nature of the rewards and not the conditioning itself that is important. You can read the article here: https://bennycr.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/evil-evil-skinner-boxes/
A new piece by Vivafringe talks about a common pitfall in some kinds of strategy games, using Fire Emblem as an example.
Fire Emblem mostly has a good, clean interface, but scanning for abilities is an annoying exception. A given character can have different abilities, and these can only be noticed by proofreading the tiny ABC circles in the upper right corner. If you don’t immediately recognize an icon, you need to longpress it to see what it does.
Try to avoid having long-distance interaction unless it adds a lot to your game. Make pieces more like Go, where stones can only affect adjacent spaces, than Chess, where a Bishop can threaten a square from across the board. If you do want a Bishop-like character, try to have the squares it threatens show up as dangerous in the UI, rather than forcing the player to trace all of its paths himself.
Thomas Grip of Frictional Games, the creators of Amnesia and Soma, tries to get to the mechanical bottom of “Walking Simulators”. Comparing their core mechanism to other kinds of games centered around moving an avatar around, he concludes that it is probably not the walking itself that keeps players engaged. Instead those titles seem to require a certain “meditative state”. He is not content with assuming players will be wanting to reach that state of mind though. Instead he hints at new possibilities to densely pack the environment with important information, which Frictional seems to be aiming to explore in future games.
Walking forward is just a matter of pressing down a key or stick. And unless you are my dad playing a game, this doesn’t pose any sort of challenge at all. Your brain is basically unoccupied and the chance of your mind starting to drift is very high. Instead of being immersed in the game’s world you might start thinking of what to cook for dinner or something else that is totally unrelated to the experience the game wants you to have.
Recently some single-player strategy games, such as Auro: A Monster-Bumping Adventure or Minos Strategos, started using ranking systems of dynamic difficulty, specifically to combat some of the long-standing problems of the highscore model. In his new article, Ethan Hoeppner argues that this approach, while being a step in the right direction, comes with its own problems and can be improved upon further. He suggests presenting players with optional challenges, and discusses a difficulty format based on a single “par” number in depth.
Redless has a new blog post about gameplay mechanics and how they relate to goals, and what it means when you allow players to play toward a different inexplicit goal in a competitive game.
I suspect that many of my teammates and opponents are playing the game with a different goal that informs their decisions in the game. Specifically, I think they aim to make a lot of kills on opposing players, ideally amassing an overwhelming advantage and proving their dominance over said other players. Let me be clear; I think this is a fine (if unsustainable) thing to get enjoyment out of, but it’s problematic to me when players trying to enjoy self-improvement are playing the same game as players who are trying to enjoy dominating their opponents.