Archive for the ‘Game Design’ Category

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Prototype

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

So if you follow the weather in the US you know that we seem to be having another mini ice age.  Cabin fever has set in big time.  But this isn’t a complaint about productivity or cannibalism.  I decided to spend a little money and move my game prototype from sleeves and paper with text to actual cards and non scrounged up tokens from my own board game tokens.

So I made mock ups of the cards in photoshop and sent them out to Printerstudio.  The cards came back and they were excellent and pretty reasonable as far as price goes.  I bought some wound tokens and other items from MeepleSource and those arrived and work great.

But while I was waiting for the cards and tokens a funny thing happened.  I just sat down and started writing out the rules for the space strategy game that I have had in the back of my mind for a long time.  And like Athena, it just sprung from my head fully formed onto the pages.  So within a day I had the rules.  Within two days I had a prototype of a scavenged pieces up and running.

So now I don’t know what to do.  I’m going to have to choose one to move forward with and it needs to be a winner.

Both games are 2-4 players and have a nice mix of conflict and solo goal based play elements.  What I mean by that is you can choose to interact with other players or try and just play the system and go after victory points.  Figuring out when to do either is part of the strategy puzzle.

One is fantasy themed with swords, magic and a really clever push your luck mechanism.  It’s got some light rpg level up mechanics in which your “character” gets stronger as you acquire weapons, skills, spells, allies etc..  So you have to balance that with actually going after the objectives that will win the game.

The other is a mini space opera game with a tile based sector map, capital ships, attack dice, pd/ew dice and space carrier dice.  It’s got lots of resource cubes and operation card piles that you have to set up and advance to have fleet battles and invade planets.  You can expand and exterminate or just trade and mine exotic resources from planets you explore and claim.  You have 2 secret objective cards that you get from your high command and if achieved give you bonus Victory Points when the end game trigger goes.

That’s just scratching the surface for both games actually.  I’m going to have to pick one to push forward on.  Having researched the production process a bit, the component list for both these games is pretty similar and will be a decent capital investment.  I’m going to keep playing and testing both before I make a decision.

Won’t be anytime soon at least.

Here is a look at what my Fantasy Strategy Card Game looks like.  It’s titled “Assassins of Vance”

Meditations On Death And Failing

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

In game design, which is really just an extension of systems engineering, death is a “fail” state. The definition of fail can be debated to some extent but in general it is a condition where the system parameters/data is in a non-preferred condition and/or the system itself may now have become unstable or non-functioning. In Armageddon Empires the Mutants might have just nuked you and it’s game over man. In Solium Infernum you just lost your stronghold…but if you are playing multiplayer with other humans the analysis can be more complex since others have game states to manage and the game does not necessarily end when you do.

Game over is the ultimate fail state in games as well in life. The problem with offering games as entertainment instead of games as a simulation is that reaching the ultimate fail state is not really “fun” unless you change the meaning of fail or add some type of meta system to the set up. And by not really fun I mean game over means game over. You can’t enjoy pushing buttons and pulling levers on the state machine if it is locked up for you. So game designers often change the meaning of fail by respawning, removing lives, penalizing a game variable or two (i.e. your stats) or just ignoring the ultimate fail completely and letting you try again. Adding a meta game is something that is often done when the system is brutal and unforgiving. Imagine a hard core rogue-like that once your character died would lock up and never let you play the game again on that or any other computer. You can get ridiculous (although there are certainly some sci-fi novels I’m sure that have explored this)taking it one step further and imagine a system where when your character dies so do you. I offer just one (not very original) observation that almost all religious concepts of afterlife or reincarnation or even nirvana seek to add some type of meta structure to what we observe as our system of reality. So the ulitmate fail state… let’s call it perma-death has to be handled carefully.

Failing is actually not a bad thing. In fact according to the design theories of guys like Raph Koster (cf a theory of fun) failing is part of the “learning and mastery” process that makes games fun. Dwarf Fortress’ failing is fun ethos works on so many levels. Failing is learning. A complex system can only be learned by failing in many cases. Each failure adds more information to the picture or map that the player forms of the game system. This might be called “progressive” failure. Small failures that while deemed one step back serve to spur the protagonist forward. Read the biography of any successful interesting hero and you will most likely find a trail of fails that shaped the hero. So as a game designer I see my objective as providing opportunities to fail that don’t frustrate the player. Failure should rather open up new vistas and opportunities. In Planescape Torment failure in the classical sense of character death was actually required to progress the storyline. I’m digressing here a bit but as I approach the design of Rogue Expedition I do so with the goal of making failure and integral part of the design.

Besides the learning and mastery component, one aspect of engineering progressive failure into a game design is the classic risk vs. reward calculus that accompanies the decisions you present the players. Offering choices to interact with the game that cover a broad spectrum of risk vs. reward can ameliorate the “frustration” felt by players when failure occurs. This is because “if you don’t make it, it’s your own damn vault.” In Rogue expedition the key mechanic will revolve around facing “encounters” by succeeding in “challenges” that are resolved based on a player’s stats, the difficulty level of the challenge, and the opportunity for the player to arrange what I will call “tiles” via “heroic actions” to claim points. Claim enough points and you succeed in the challenge. That’s all rather abstract but I will explain it in much more detail down the road. The key thing will be that when an “encounter” is presented to a player, there will be several choices along the risk reward spectrum that each define unique challenges and ultimately unique rewards.

So here are some Design Axioms:
Failing is Learning
Learning is Fun
Choosing how to fail means it’s the player’s own damn vault
Not failing is exhilarating….where the exhilaration is proportional to the cost of failure

I want to conclude with the mention of two games that are on opposite ends of the spectrum in their treatment of failure but both of which I find to contain inspirational design elements:

Demon’s Souls is worth considering for its very unique and clever way of handling failure. Failure, that is death, has consequences but it is not entirely devastating. Basically you lose all the souls that you were carrying and you become a ghost. The souls collected by slaying demons function as both a currency and experience points which let you increase attributes or buy/repair important equipment. The interesting thing is that you can do a “stain run” to go collect these lost souls which can be a lot easier said than done. There is a great risk vs. reward mechanic going on here that you are always massaging in your head….since there isn’t a soul bank you have to always consider just how many souls you want to have on you and whether you should minimize the loss risk by spending some to trim your stash down (and the risk as well) Also, if you find that you are stuck on something in the game, you need to strategize a bit on spending some souls to overcome that obstacle…..that may take you in different directions for your character than you initially intended. Failing and learning by dying is par for the Demon’s Souls course. But the game has a wonderful group of mechanics that ameliorates the frustration and rewards inventiveness and calculated risk taking.

Puzzle Quest is another game favorite of mine that sits on the other end of the spectrum for handling progressive failure. Like Demon’s Souls you cannot end up in an ultimate fail state where it is game over (although consistent high risk fails in Demon’s Souls will gimp you terribly). Puzzle Quest however will pick you up in the most loving care bear embrace, dust you off and set you on your way. I like Puzzle Quest a lot but the one thing that it is missing in my opinion is some penalty or risk vs. reward mechanic to put the fear of “falling skulls” into you. I feel like something is wrong when I can challenge the same Ogre in his tower 5 times in a row until I manage to beat him without any penalty other than by bruised self esteem. Puzzle Quest is great in that it taunts you with persistent challenges that you can fail at and then learn from to best them when you try again but it is lacking a much needed tension because you have no fear of failing. What I do like about both these games it that they each solved the fail and reload problem in unique ways much like Planescape Torment did so many years ago.

Fail

Phill Cameron Chit Chat

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

I meant to post this but my mini-crunch on 1.05b side tracked me a bit. Anyway, I did an interview with Phill for Game Set Watch/Gamasutra where I pick open the fun game price scab and also talk about future plans for SI and my new project Rogue Expedition. I’m having a lot of fun putting RE together right now. Design is always the most kick-ass part of the whole process 🙂 I hope to have some interesting posts here soon on how I am approaching this Rogue-like board game on a computer…..influences, design goals, and what I am playing right now for inspiration.

Biting Off More Than….

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

you can chew….You need to be able to admit it and moving on is sometimes the best option as bitter as it tastes to swallow that pill. I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last few weeks – on and off trying to prototype a new twist to Solium Infernum that I was going to release as a free mini expansion pack. I have dropped it once, then moved onto a more compact mini-expansion idea and then tried another stab at the “big idea” approach and now finally realized that I need to moderate my ambition….otherwise a mini-expansion pack is going to morph into a full blown expansion pack and that’s just not something I want to approach at this point. But for S & G’s documentation sake here is how the “big idea” really was too big for now.

The “big idea” actually seemed pretty simple: Let one player assume the role of avenging Angelic Hosts that launch incursions into the Infernal Pit to punish the other players. The details proved however to be rather more complicated.

My main design goal was to do a twist on the Cults of the Wastelands mini expansion pack that I offered for Armageddon Empires except this time the role of the “spoiler” would be played by a human opponent. To do this I had to overcome a couple of big hurdles….invent a resource system for the Angelic Hosts player and come up with a win condition as well. The benefits would be great if I could pull this off. Ideally the Angelic Host player would offer yet another cooperate/defect dynamic to the game that would spice things up even more. It would be in all the Archfiends interests to make sure that the Angelic Host did not “win” the game but of course having the “Angelic Host” hammer your opponents would also be in a players interest as well. Balancing that dynamic would ideally add a whole range of new decisions.

The key design issues would then be how the Angelic Host player would interact with the Archfiends. Success for the Angelic Host player would mean loss of prestige for the players and most importantly the loss needed to be distributed unevenly. My initial idea was that the Angelic Host player would first send scouting parties to a Canton and then invest effort into setting up outposts and eventually stronger fortifications. This would result in an Archfiend having a continual drain on prestige the longer the Angelic Host operated with impunity in a players domain. I won’t go into other details other than I fiddled with a bunch of different rules variations…sometimes the outposts were hidden from all the players besides the one owning the Canton etc. Weight was given to locations that would border two or more Archfiends so that both would lose prestige and be able to act….and successfully removing an incursion fortification would gain the Archfiend prestige.

I already had a good idea how I wanted to handle the resource system for the Angelic Host player. I have always loved the design idea of players actions generating “negative action points” which can be used by other players to fuel resistance and roadblocks for the “acting” player. That type of system provides an elegant negative feedback mechanism to restrain would be leaders. One of the best examples of this type of mechanic is the wonderful little card game called dungeoneer So the basic idea would be that as the Archfiends used “souls” in their turn orders, the Angelic Host would be granted points to spend to torment the Archfiends.

The last key hurdle was coming up with a Victory condition for the Angelic Host and this was something that I only partially explored. There are a lot of possibilities ranging from the Angelic Host scoring Victory points to a build up for and conquest of Pandemonium that dissolves the Conclave and wins the game for the Angelic Host. I honestly didn’t get very far into this aspect before I realized that the whole endeavor was not working out well. In the prototyping I did getting the balance right for this idea proved really difficult. Putting a “spoiler” into the mix calls for a very deliberative approach to get it right and more importantly the design is way too ambitious for 4-6 weeks worth of work which is what I had planned for the free mini-expansion pack.

So I am going to back burner this and hopefully maybe come back to it as a more major expansion to the Solium Infernum universe. In the meantime I have gone back to the idea of a less revolutionary mini-expansion pack that smooths out some of the rough edges from the game.

So here is what I have in mind right now(and remember this could all change) and it will be a free addition for players who have already purchased the game:

Curses – Direct ways to affect your opponents’ prestige. The plan is for each Discipline except Diabolism to get a unique one.

Resource Fonts – Level up in a Discipline to level 3 and you can create an “Attachment” for a place of power/stronghold that gives you the chance each turn to receive a tribute card that contains an amount of the resource associated with the Discipline (Martial Skill => Ichor, Deceit => Darkness, Prophecy => Souls, Destruction => Hellfire) If you create one then your max Diabolism Level is capped at 6 minus the number of Fonts that you have created. Also if you create a font then the next font requires one level higher in the discipline you are choosing. i.e. if you created a soul font at level 3 Prophecy then a hellfire font will require level 4 in Destruction.

Assertion of Weakness – A new diplomatic action. Make an assertion of weakness before the Conclave against an opponent who has an unoccupied border hex adjacent to your holdings. The Conclave authorizes you to move into the single canton and remain there for X turns. If your opponent cannot eject you from the Canton (and only the Canton…this is not Vendetta) in X turns then you gain the Canton and he loses prestige (and you gain some as well).

New Praetors, Artifacts and Relics

New Events

A Regular Infernal Census
every 5 tokens where 1 prestige point is generated for each Canton held

I’m going to shoot for a May/June time frame for this and I’m still trying to think up a good name. 🙂

In a Design Mood

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I’m spending a small part of each day brainstorming possible game mechanics for my next game. I came across this article that has been in the news about the possibility of a Type Ia supernova happening a lot closer to earth than anyone had expected. You can read the article here.

I immediately thought what a great subject for a computer game this would be….and started coming up with ideas on how a player could be required to come up with solutions to avoid species extinction….maybe a Dyson shield with a Teflon coating 🙂 or an artificial black hole to warp the explosion around the planet or something on site at the white dwarf to prevent it from reaching the Chandrasekhar limit….. or maybe just a Diaspora fleet to find the lost Thirteenth Colony. And then turning to more conflict enhanced scenarios, I thought about a game map where advanced space civilizations battled it out by making stars go supernova… oh well back to more earthly pursuits.

QT3 Jason Lutes as Guest Podcast

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Tom Chick and Jason Lutes talk about SI and AE but make sure you listen to the whole thing as the discussion of emergent narrative is absolutely awesome and thought provoking…especially the examples cited. I’m in the early game design planning stages (when I get burned out on bug fixing and AI tweaking stretches) of my next project and emergent narrative is going to be a big part of the experience that I want to provide.

Also, just to set the record straight: The writing talent on display in the flavor text is completely attributable to Russell Marsh. And Russell tells me that he has made some very subtle literary allusions throughout the texts. 🙂

The Known, The Unknown and The Unknown Unknown

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

One of the fundamental design concepts of my first game Armageddon Empires was that you had to make a smart effort to gather intelligence about what was going on out in the vast irradiated wastelands that surrounded you. Reconnaissance was a real force multiplier and identifying incoming threats and as well as important targets was a key to survival and eventual victory. In Hell however it seems that there is very little privacy. The Solium Infernum design treats the legions like chess pieces for the most part. There is a lot of “perfect information” for the players to evaluate about the game state. There are some mechanics to obscure the strength and position of agents on the board but they are few and require concerted effort. With that in mind, I thought I would enumerate the known, unknown and the unknown unknown aspects of SI.

The Known

Legion Position, Attributes and Some Attachments: The legions are the main actors/agents on the game board. They have a group of attributes that define how they interact with other agents as well as the ability to have “attachments” placed on them that enhance or increase their powers and abilities. One type of attachment is an evil artifact which is seen by all opponents. The position of a legion unless affected by a ritual is known to all players.

Public Prestige: This is an important known piece of information. It represents all the prestige points gained by the public actions of a player at any given time in the game. It’s also a good indicator of who is leading in the game.

Places of Power: These special locations are always visible as is the status of their ownership and how much prestige they generate for their owner each turn.

Territorial Boundaries: This is pretty obvious but important. Claims on territory are absolute and ownership of territory can only be transferred by following strict diplomatic protocols.

Diplomatic Stances: This is a very important set of information about players and is visible to all players. If someone makes a demand of or hurls an insult at another player, it is done in front of the entire Infernal Conclave. A demand or insult that results in Vendetta can require concentrated effort by the players to resolve especially since prestige is at stake. A player involved in a Vendetta or even engaged in demands and insults by other players is more exposed to further “diplomatic entanglements.”

Items in the Bazaar: The Bazaar provides players with legions and most of their power ups (attachments). All players have perfect information about the items for sale and the minimum bids needed to purchase them.

Public Objectives: Each player chooses a public objective as part of their avatar’s build. The public objectives conform to the seven deadly sins and generally operate in a similar theme. The Sloth public objective for example requires that you end the game never having made a demand or insult….perfect for the Archfiend who wants to turtle away in his own private corner of Hell. Of course knowledge of this aspect may signal a lot to all the other players concerning the aims, objectives and strategies that will be pursued.

Conclave Tokens: The conclave tokens function as the game clock. Depending on the number of tokens you selected when you created the game, once that number has been reached (a chance to pull a token exists each time a turn is processed) the Infernal Conclave convenes and chooses a new ruler. If you have pulled 14 of the 15 tokens then all players know that the end of the game is near and they must take action accordingly.

The Unknown

Avatar Attributes and Perks: The key aspects of each players avatar are concealed from the other players. This means that you don’t know the scope of powers and actions available to any given player. Some perks can affect the outcome of the game as well and it is essential that their possession by kept secret. Anything that is secret of course can become known. A prophecy ritual as well as some events can reveal information to players about the attributes, powers and perks of other players.

Combat Card Attachments: These are bonuses that are “attached” to legions to give them an edge in a single battle after which they are discarded. They are generally hidden from other players. Like everything else that is secret, there are conditions (rituals and events) where they can become known.

The Vault: When you acquire an artifact, relic or praetor in the Infernal Bazaar they are sent to your vault. Here they are safe and unseen by your rivals (some rare exceptions included of course). Your decision is whether to deploy them to the board where they will generally be of more use but at a greater risk to be destroyed or even stolen by another player or to keep them hidden in the vault. Additionally all your resource cards are stored in your vault and their number and quality hidden from prying eyes.

Your Orders: It goes without saying that each turn your specific orders are unkown until they are executed. This includes important things like your marching orders for legions and your initiation of rituals.

Your Ritual Chamber: Each player has access to a ritual chamber that has a maximum capacity of 5 ritual slots. Slots are gained by increasing your Prophecy power level. A ritual slot can be used to perform a ritual which is special action like damaging an enemy legion, stealing a relic from a place of power, hiding your own legions from view….. etc. A handful of unholy relics must be placed in a ritual slot to unlock a special ritual power that they can perform. In general your opponents can not see what is going on in your ritual chamber.

Deceit and Prophecy Rituals: The player performing one of these rituals is generally unkown to the target unless the player fails the “detection challenge.” Here the computer rolls two dice for each player and adds the appropriate bonuses (based on the players’ respective power levels, perks and relics owned). If the player performing the ritual exceeds the adjusted roll of the targeted player then the player is not revealed as the performer of the ritual. Players who have achieved level 5 in the Deceit discipline can attempt to frame other players for performing any ritual.

The Unknown Unknown

This is my favorite part of the evaluation of any given system. For a game designer it’s a perishable commodity akin to letting the genie out of the bottle. In my Cults of the Wastelands mini expansion pack it corresponds to the strategy theme of each of the Cults that you encounter. The joy is in the energy of first contact and the palpable sense that you get that all is not as it appears…. that your appraisal or judgments lack something for complete understanding of the situation. In Solium Infernum I’ve tried to use the event system to provide this. There are a range of events that break rules, alter mechanics or simply provide Solomonic decision making. After playing the game several times and having been exposed to their existence and implications you will have broken the seal on the booster pack so to speak but you’ll be left with calculations based on anticipation of how the event deck unfolds. Each player draws a card or cards as the role of Regent is passed around the board. At this point I haven’t decided on whether to even include a detailed listing of the events in the appendix of the manual. Discovering the deck would seem like part of the fun and challenge. If I do include it for reasons of fairness (the knowledge of the events will be fragmentary for players and dependent on playing time) then I would strongly recommend that you don’t read the appendix at first and enjoy some single player games of discovery.

The Resources Must Flow

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

In most strategy games the resource system forms the base of the design pyramid. All systems process something according to some given rule set. In most interesting systems there is some type of transformation. In a nuclear reactor the kinetic energy of fission products is turned into heat, which eventually usually turns water into steam which imparts kinetic energy to turbine blades which moves a magnetic field relative to a conductor which generates electricity which powers any number of things. In a WW II grand strategy game civilians, iron, oil and rubber are commonly transformed into panzer divisions and aircraft carriers. You get the idea.

In Solium Infernum I wanted to meet the following resource design goals.

1. Control the resource pumps so that there was a clear trade off between guns and butter, action and potential (growth)

2. Control the resource pumps so there was always a scarcity that influenced the player’s decision process

3. Create symmetries in the way the resource sinks worked that influenced the player’s decision process

4. Use randomness to create a sense of expectation… i.e. what’s behind door number 1.

5. Use randomness to force the players the adapt their strategies to unforeseen events.

6. Despite random elements in the resource generation provide the players with a sense of limited control.

7. Decouple the resource generation from the game board so that it was more equitable and not as dependent on the vagaries of geographic distribution

8. Provide interesting ways to transform the resources as well as change the efficiency of the transformation.

As I have explained in a previous entry, the resources in Solium Infernum fall into four flavors: souls, ichor, hellfire and darkness. You request “tribute” from your minions both demonic and human as an order action and the next turn you are presented with a choice of resource cards. The quantity and quality depends mostly on your Diabolism power level. You can however also get additional bonuses to the rolls that determine the tribute quality by acquiring unholy relics, choosing special perks before the game starts, capturing certain places of power or playing some event cards. Once you have selected your resource cards they appear in your tribute section of your “Ministerium” user interface which consolidates all your game information into tabbed areas. Here is a screenshot.

Tribute Tab

You can organize your cards in the tray by dragging and dropping them. In this particular mode you are being prompted to pay for your bid on an Evil Artifact called the Great Scythe. You drag the resource cards from your tray and drop them on to the eight card slots in the top half of the dialogue box. Once you are finished you click on the commit tribute button to place the bid. This same type of pattern is followed for any order that requires resources to power it….. i.e. performing a ritual, increasing your avatar’s attributes/powers, responding to demands, creating combat cards etc.

Work Progresses In Hell

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Just a quick blog post to inform the faithful that work is progressing quite well on Solium Infernum. If you have read this blog before then you probably know that I’m a frustrated systems engineer. In that spirit I’ve been quite pleased to have finished my second pass on all the major system components save one.. the rituals system. I’ll be taking that one on this week and the law of unintended consequences has created some nice trouble spots to focus on.

One big thing is some of the complexity for special rules that only becomes apparent when you are working through other systems blocks that are involved. I realized while working on the standard interface for selecting a target from a list whether it be a legion, praetor, relic or even another player that some of my rituals were going to need a second pass. One ritual for example that I have mentioned before lets you place dummy icons on the board to confuse and misdirect your opponent. That’s all well and great until an enemy legion needs to be targeted and you choose to do so from a list rather than clicking on the icon on the map. How do you represent the dummy icons on the list…. multiple entries? I’ve chosen to hide the random selection aspect under the hood when selecting from a list. The legion’s name is highlighted in an unusual color… right now a purple since red usually means “no worky, not a valid choice.” So when you select the legion name on the list you are saying choose a random target from the entire group of icons with that legions name. If you prefer to be more precise you can always just choose a specific icon on the map by clicking on it. But the point is that sometimes unintended consequences pop up from what seem to be clever design decisions. Right now I need to go back and arbitrate all the rules and interface collisions from this type of thing.

Fun work this is not. But it is necessary. It also highlights in my mind why probably 95% of indie games never see the light of day. Putting your head down and churning out the second, third and fourth passes is tedious. The mind wanders and the song of the Sirens of new game designs beckons. The allure of starting fresh with an idea or theme that has caught your fancy is almost irresistible at times. The infatuation of that new relationship where you are creating something fresh and open, the untrodden path is very powerful. It takes discipline to continue down the well worn muddy rut you have been plodding down for 12 months. Luckily I have enough wax in my ears and good old common sense to know that if I leave the path and glance back over my shoulder, those new designs will indeed never see the light of day.

So Solium Infernum is moving along. The more I step back and admire the design the more proud I have become. I’ve been influenced by everything from Conservation Laws to Symmetry to basic game theory of interactive decisions while crafting all the major game components.

Here is a brief description and picture of the Dire Dissipation Ritual that crowns the top of the “Destruction” discipline that an Avatar gains levels in. It’s the most devastating direct damage type power in the game and in order to use it you usually need to be in Vendetta or Blood Feud with the owner of the target legion….a special deceit ability lets you target any opponent and frame somebody else in case you are wondering what the exception is.

Dire Dissipation Ritual

Dire Dissipation:
Target an enemy legion belonging to a player with which you are in Vendetta or Blood Feud and permanently damage its hit points and attributes if it fails a resistance roll versus destruction. Hit points are reduced by the power level obtained in the discipline of the player performing the ritual. Attributes are reduced by a random d6. Both the hit points and attributes are permanently reduced and cannot be restored.

Events And Scripting

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Soren Johnson of Civ and Spore fame made a recent post on his Dev Blog “Designer Notes” about the Seven Deadly Sins of Strategy Games. His first sin on the list was too much scripting arguing that used unwisely (as a core feature) scripting undermines the rules set/mechanics architecture by dirtying up the decision space aesthetics with lots of exceptions… like triggers and other “story hooks.” I tend to agree with him on this point. Over at QT3 there’s a good thread discussing the whole list and the first sin in particular.

I’m very interested myself in “Emergent Narrative” in strategy games as it’s often called. The ultimate idea would be to have a text/image based story produced at the conclusion of the game that chronicled all the important decisions made by the player and the outcomes of those decisions as well. I think that the old canceled space opera game “Stars Supernova Genesis” promised an HTML type newspaper to be generated during the game and at its conclusion. This would be the Holy Grail of emergent narrative for me. Just how much effort it would be to accomplish something like this is something I’m not exactly sure of. With my limited resources and time I’m not about to take this on…. as the famous saying goes “Don’t look at me. I’ve got my own problems.”

A good question that arose in the QT3 thread is “What are some examples of scripting done well in strategy games?” I’d like to think my Cults of the Wastelands free mini expansion pack could stand muster. Basically the idea was to augment the free form random sand box of the vanilla AE game with some scripted narrative elements…various cults pursuing some type of special agendas. The payoff was the ability to force players to make some interesting decisions like the confrontation with the messengers of the Great Kabaagh. The downside was that once the script has fired the surprise is over and the repeat enjoyment value is diminished.

What triggered off this whole blog entry was a combination of Soren Johnson’s post, the discussion on QT3 and my own work over the last couple of days on Solium Infernum. I’ve returned the the Events system and have been fleshing out some of the more involved and intricate events and there’s a huge scripted element with some of them. For a little background on all this you can read this post here where I discuss my original intentions to have some type of event system for Armageddon Empires. The short of it is that I cut it to finish the game but when I took up the design gauntlet for SI, I was intent on working the events idea into the games mechanics.

So in Solium Infernum events are actions that are played by the players as one of their possible turn orders. You can’t just play any old event though. You draw an event “card” each time you are named Regent, an honor which passes from player to player as the game goes on in a clockwise direction. You can easily see who is the current Regent by looking at your Diplomacy tab or reading the turn log entry that is generated each turn making the formal announcement. Depending on the level of your Prophecy power you can keep one or two event cards in your “hand” at any time. If you have a full hand and draw a new card you’ll have to choose one to discard.

The events fall into a range of categories and costs. Generally the more targeted the event’s effects, the more it costs to play. Many events don’t cost any resources at all to play because they affect all players or a random player (sometimes including the player who played the event). The effects are also usually doubled edged swords with a “screw you” twist. For example, many of the events are posed as “Decrees of the Infernal Conclave” which as a Lord of one of the Great Houses of Hell you are compelled to comply with. The “Infernal Legion Tax” decree forces every player to pay a tribute card for each legion that it controls on the board or lose Prestige points accordingly. Not a bad event to play if you have a warlord neighbor who has put together a large collection of legions and you only have a few to whip the Lemures into shape.

Some of the events are more involved and this is where the scripting comes in. For example you can play the “Angelic Host of Divine Retribution” event and a host of angels will descend on the board and start causing trouble for the players with the most prestige points. The challenges here were very similar to those I encountered with the Great Kabaagh. Pick your targets, do the pathfinding, dish out some retribution, check your status and when your mission is accomplished fly back to Heaven. Special scripted events like this often get their own piece of artwork. Here is the art for the Angelic Host event

Angelic Host