Thursday, 18 September 2014

Salvation - Design chance vs. skill

As I mentioned before, I am reading the Art of Game Design book and I'm currently reading about game balance. The book divides what it teaches into lenses, and I found lens #34 - The Lens of Skill vs Chance to be pretty interesting.

I had a thought pop into my head after reading this section about how Salvation deals with refugee ships and provides the player with the resources they need (population). Currently as it stands 4 ships are spawned per x amount of time and they can be 1 of any 4 races.

This means that when the level starts - a player will start receiving refugee ships, and they will be random. This is the chance that the book refers to in this chapter. It states that chance is used more in risk like elements and skill is used in more serious game mechanics. With this in mind I thought about how other city builders / strategy games handle similar problems.

For example many grand strategy games have random events that can occur. However these events are not completely out of the players control. A random event of some nature may occur if the player does something of the same nature. Starve your people and a relevant event may occur. Host a certain party or festival event and a random set of events based on the party type could occur. There is still an element of chance, to keep the player on their toes and to make the world seem more immersive. But they are not completely out of the players control. The play still have to initiate them to some degree.

The fact that the player is the one to initiate the events in the above example, allow them to take the risk that random events may occur. It is a good balance between skill (have I prepared myself for the events that could happen in I do this) and chance (what events are going to happen, did I prepare well enough? Will some unforeseen event happen to my town/city/population etc?).

With this in mind I went back to my refugee spawning. I want to give the player as much choice as possible when they build and run their station. For example lets say the player only wants one race to be allowed into their station. Currently there is no way for them to do this without being lucky. As random ships are sent, and if refugees are forced to leave the station could rebel. There are two interesting ways I can solve this problem, keeping the above in mind:

Solution 1: Plan for negative fallout

So the player has his station, it's blank and empty - the perfect canvas. Now they decide they want only Korr refugees, as they are Korr sympathisers and care nothing for the unwarlike and puny other races!

They build Korr living facilities and the game spawns random ships as it currently does. Because only the Korr can live in the station and the others are turned away, the player will need to prepare for the negative publicity that can occur and the fallout in their stat points. Happiness will go down much faster due to the other races being turned away. Additionally, the player will not have access to the other races buildings as there will be nobody to work them. A third factor will be the stations over all population will grow slower than, if they were to accept all other races along with the Korr.

Why would the player do this? What benefit would they gain? Other than making the game more difficult and because the player wants to roleplay - currently there is no reason. I am still working on this, but I like the idea that the player can decide how to scale the difficulty based on their in-game actions.

Solution 2: Communication Facilities

This next solution would add Communication facilities. Let's call them Comm Sats for the example. Each race would have one, just like the current living quarters work. This is nice as there is now another dynamic, another building in the game the user needs to think and plan around.

The refugee ships in this case would no longer spawn by default and they would no longer be random. They would not know the player station was there at all. Once the player builds a Comm Sat for a certain race, lets say the Klein, it'll act as a beacon for that races refugee ships. Once built, the Klein refugee ships would start spawning in and flying towards to player station.

This would give the player complete control over what race will ever find his station. That way, no refugees who are unwanted will be able to find the station. The player has more control on events.

Additionally this building can be worked on, improved in someway, to allow for more and more refugee ships to find the station - thereby increasing population. This would give the player even more control of events.

The benefits of this solution over the other is that is adds more building functionality, and gives the player full control of things. They can set the difficulty in terms of how they build the pace of their station. Fully upgraded Comm Sats for each race would be pretty hectic. Basic ones for 2 races and then 1 fully upgraded one for another would be easier. 

I am uncertain of which method is best and I'm still thinking things through. But I thought it was an interesting design idea and wanted to talk about it :D I'm super happy I got this book at least. I'm already thinking of design in a whole new way. Still can't wait to get back to code though :P

Thanks for reading peeps!


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