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Member Since 03 Mar 2006
Offline Last Active Jan 31 2012 08:51 AM

#4907315 Skills

Posted by on 29 January 2012 - 08:02 AM

Game economies are tricky. It is easy to trivialise the role of players as you try to avoid massive inflation or collapse.

If you want a player driven economy, the best way is to avoid having item drops and instead have the raw materials from from enemies )or be able to be collected near by). Then allow the players the ability to craft any and all items in the game.

What you also want to do is to have the quality of the items dependent on the character's skill and choices of the player. This could be though higher or lower quality materials for crafting and even allowing the player to change the stats of the items (within limits) by trading one stat for another.

As an example:
A player wants to make a sword.

They can gather iron ore and smelt that into steel. But the quality (or perhaps amount) of iron ore is based on their gathering skill and the quality of the steel is based on their smelting skill.

The quality of the steel and the characters forging(sword) skill then sets the base value of the stats of sword.

Lastly, given these base values, the character has the option to tweak the sword stats a bit. So they might drop the damage value to increase the attack rate, or they might drop the durability to increase the damage. Or any such modifications. This could also be extended to the gathering of raw materials. The player can set their gathering for speed, amount or for quality, thus giving the players more control over the end results.

You could then allow players to combine skills to make the more powerful items. And, if the skills needed for certain items could not be learned by a single character this will encourage players to co-operate to forge the more powerful items.

Using these ideas, you can encourage social interactions (players working together), and you can develop a better player economy. Also, by having the player's skills and choices affect the stats of items, this give players who make good choices and put in the time to develop their skills more valuable to the community, but by having lower quality items easer to get (as more people will have lower skills), they cater for new characters.

#4907312 How to put skill on the player and less on the character? (RPG/Roguelike)

Posted by on 29 January 2012 - 07:48 AM

The big mistake that Rogue likes do is greatly increase the power of the character as they level up.

For example:
At level 1 the character might have 100 HP and have a +10 bonus to hit. Then at level 2 they have 200 HP and a +15 to hit (maybe with gear and such).

If, instead you gave the character smaller increases in skill, then the gameplay would be about player skill rather than how big the stats were.

Another idea is to not increase the character stats at all, but instead have the player able to trade one stat for another and the higher the level the more total stat points they could trade.

As an example:
If the player had 3 Stats: Strength, Reflex and Health.

If they all start at 100 at first level, then for every level the player can transfer 2 points from one stat to another.

S0 at level 2 the player might have:
Str: 98
Ref: 101
Heal: 101

At level 10 they might have:
Str 80
Ref: 115
Heal: 105

This way the characters start of as a generalist, but can become more specialised as they level up and, as the stats are traded, the character will always have some weakness that keeps even low level monsters a threat.

Gear, of course, could still give a total increase to stats (in the example above there total was 300 points, but with gear that might increase to 400 or even more). This way gear is still important and does make the character stronger, but if you apply the first idea to the gear (ie: don't give massive increases), then you can keep the whole stat problem in checks and thus allow your gameplay to reflect the player skill/choices/strategy better.

#4798803 MMORPG in the hand of the player

Posted by on 15 April 2011 - 09:19 AM

I agree, the structure of story this needs to have some linearity. And it's full of NPC characters fully controlled by the "pre-created story". The evolution in the story can differentiate. Creating multiple options for a character can spend much resources, and it needs very much more resource to implement different pre-created storylines for more than one "persona".

Done right, it should require less resources in the long run. This design concept is not about creating lots of different paths the player can follow, but allowing the player to create their own path.

If you think of a fight in another type of game (Say FPS). During the fight the player has set goals (stay alive and kill their opponent). This is the "Story". However, how they do this is not set. They might use a sniper rifle and stalk their opponent in a game of cat and mouse (whole movies are made around this "story"), or they might use stealth to get in close and finish them off with a knife, or they might grab the shield belt and the chain gun and mow them down.

But, even within this there is still things going on. How their opponent reacts, how bot use the terrain, the near misses, the surprise moves the sudden reversals as one gets a lucky shot in (or fouls up an easy shot).

In even an FPS fight there is a story in the microcosm of events. In fact, this is a perfect example of Agency. The players might have a set beginning and end, and even the basic story is pre-set, but the players have Agency over their character's actions and this allows them to create a narrative as they try to achieve their goals (and even on a failed goal there is still a story - although it might be seen as a tragedy).

This can add options.
Having any objective (like "territory conquer") can be differentiated by giving player different challenges to gain it.
An objective that can be achieved in different ways. The player has to decide not only which one suits more to his persona, but which one is more easy for him.

It is not so much about the number of options or the variety, but it is about having the player's choice of option re-interact with future situations and options.

I think that giving the player some type of objective can entice him to develop his character's persona. That's why I think well-deisgned objectives can enrich a game.
I read something about the "agency", also for P&P Rpg.
Is there any article, book or other material where I can read some more about the "agency"?

I can't recall any one source where I picked up the term Agency. But a lot of it comes from Artificial Intelligence where the autonomous entities in a system are called Agents. It is because these "Agents" interact within the system and the system interacts with them in complex ways that the Agents express this intelligence.

So I suppose the first step to understanding and designing Agency based systems is to treat the user and the AI Agents on equal footing.

The thing is, Agency is used widely in games, it just is not used much in cRPGs. IT is about giving the player the ability to act in the game, not just react. It is giving the player the ability to say, how they reach the goal, not telling the player they must do it "this way" or "that way".

Let's see if I understand this. You mean something like the moral alignment of Planescape Torment?
Where action of the player define a part of the character (as I said the alignment).

That is an example of a very simplistic form of what I am talking about. However, it sort of fails as the paths the player takes through the story (the narrative) are still pre-set. So although they have the beginnings of Agency, it is actually an illusion of Agency.

If they had the NPC able to asses the player and make choices as to how they react based on various inputs, then this would make the game more Agency based.

Alas I am not sure to understand this one.
You mean that NPC relates with the PC in a different way (like the merchants in some MMORPG who sell things only if you have good reputation with a faction)?

Sort of, but again this just stops short of what I was talking about.

Again, this comes from AI Agents. In an AI Agent, the agents must be able to communicate between themselves in various ways. In AI Agents systems, if an Agent can know everything about the world at any time and can act on that in any way, then they cease to become an Agent and the system is no longer an Agent based system.

By limiting what any Agent can know at any time, and restricting their ability to act on the information they have, then each entity gains individuality. As each entity is an individual, then the actions of that individual will reflect its history and it can develop.

Story is about how a character grows and develops because of the events that unfold. Every story is a journey. If you force a player to follow a particular way through a story, then they loose their connection to this experience of development. Most cRPGs substitute this experience of development with the increasing of variables (level and stats).

This again is just a false illusionary substitute for story and narrative. Ironically, it is the cRPGs that that seem to be doing this the most, and it is in the other genera that more success is being achieved in giving players this control over their character's story.

If you mean Art of Game Design, I read it. And I like it very much.
Alas, in my country, I can't find anywhere the cards!

No, not Art of Game Design (good book though - you could probably get it from an online book store). This was a document written specifically about his game "Balance of Power". Here is a link: http://www.erasmatazz.com/page78/page146/page147/BalanceOfPower.html

I'm not so sure about this.
I agree that WoW is full of lame quests. They're not only boring, you also know that if you win or if you fail nothing will change in the world (yeah, ok you gain some items and xp, but it doesn't have any important impact on the world story).
One other thing is also the Setting itself, WoW (and also Ultima Online) were created on a setting with a deep story background.
But sticking to objectives and challenges WoW gives the players at least one interesting objective: wars and conflict between faction.
This type of objective is not a story itself, but it's a story creator objective.
I'm searching for them, to see if they are implementable, and to check if they add fun for a MMORPG.

I agree, WoW is a game with very little Agency in it. Even the fights are pretty much set pieces where you need to have the prescribed sequence to complete them (there is some variety, but not much - then again, just having variety is not the same as Agency).

See most of the work went into creating a back story that most players won't both with most of the time. In these cases, the designers had a lot of Agency in the story, but then never gave the players that same Agency. It seems as if the designers specifically wanted players to not have much in the way of Agency (I am not against games that don't have Agency, I just think that giving more Agency to players in RPGs is a way to create significant innovation in the genera).

Another way to understand Agency is to look at games that don't have much (or any for that matter). The point and click adventure games (Such as the Monkey Island series or the New Back to the Future series, and such - by the way loved both of these game series). These style of games have the least amount of agency in them. The player must complete puzzles in a certain way to progress, if they don't complete them in the way prescribed by the designers, then they fail to progress until they do. And then, the story progresses in a completely prescribed manner as well with no variation or option (and yet they can still be fun).

Games with little or no agency feel like the designers are dictating the story to you, that you are just watching the story unfold. Games with player agency (even if it is just an illusionary sense of it) feel like you are making the story up as you go along, you might know the start and the destination, but you control how you get there.

#4798018 MMORPG in the hand of the player

Posted by on 13 April 2011 - 11:04 AM

I like to use the term "To give the players Agency of their story".

The first step is to abandon the traditional cRPG style. This style was taken from the mechanics of pen and paper RPGs, but it also left what made them Role playing games.

In games like D&D, the role the player takes on is similar to the Ancient Greek Mythological Heroes. This limits the range of roles somewhat, but there is still a large scope for the variety of roles.

In this sense, "Role" is not the same as the game mechanic of "Class". It is actually more closer to the meaning of "Persona". So in terms of PnP RPGs I might have the class of Wizard, but this just states how I go about dealing with the world, but the "Role" is the personality of the character and the choices I have them make (and the rationale of why that choice was taken).

The problem with current cRPGs is that they use decision trees to map out every possible choice you can make in the game, and then they write into those the rational you are supposed to apply to why you made that choice. Giving the player Agency is giving them back the power to make their own choices and have their own rationale for them.

This can sometime lead to the player having less options at any one time (but not always). The way it is done is to give the player a full set of actions, even ones unrelated to the current situation at all times. You might have a choice and then sub-choices that lead directly from that, but once that sub-choice set has been dealt with, the player is brought right back up to the full set of choices as soon as possible.

As an example:

I am a Knight and lord of an estate in a fantasy medieval RPG. At the top level I have the ability to choose any of the basic actions, however, I choose to send in spies to a rival knight's estate to make the peasants revolt (in game mechanics, I build a spy unit, move it to the target territory and give it the order "sow descent"). However, at the top level I could have also decided to march my army into their territory and attack, challenge them to a due, or even visit different knight's manor house and conduct a trade negotiation.

Now, this allows me to create a persona for my character. If I want them to be sneaky, I'll send the spy. If I want to be militaristic I can send the army, If I want to make the issue a personal one and defeat them in an honourable fashion, I'll challenge them to the duel. Or, If I am not interested in battle I'll go conduct the trade negotiation.

However, the reason I do these things might be different depending on how I want my character's persona to be. I might choose the spy method, not because I am sneaky, but because I can't defeat them in any other way (they have a bigger army and they are better at swordplay then my character). Also, I might choose the trade negotiation because it builds the alliance between me and the 3rd knight and together we can defeat my (our) enemy.

So each choice can have many different reasons you would choose it. Giving the player Agency is giving them the power to form that rationale behind a choice and making the choice to reflect their character's persona.

There are games that have been doing this for a long time, right back into the 1980's they were being made, so doing this is not so much dependent on complex computer algorithms and processing capacity, but in how you approach the design of the game.

There are two things that seem important for this to occur: Memory and Communication.

The game must have a memory of the past actions of the player. This can be a complex system where it remembers specific events, or it could just be a single variable that stores a value that is changed by the choices made.

The other is Communication, which means that entities in the game must be able to communicate with each other about their attitude to your character. Again, this can be a complex system that tries to model real world information spread through populations, or it can be a simple variable with each NPC that gets updated each time multiple NPCs are in the same area.

Some games that do this are: "Balance of Power" and "Sword of the Samurai". Both of these are older games, and both had developers that worked on them that have gone on to become quite famous designers (so even just for the history of game development they are worth a look at).

Chris Crawford, the designer of Balance of Power, has even written a book on how the game was designed (IIRC it is available as a free e-book).

#4788227 Its not just a game... Its art!

Posted by on 20 March 2011 - 07:50 AM

The word that I use when I think of games and art has been used several times in this thread already: Craft.

But what does "Craft" mean?

Well dictionary.com has this (the stress is theirs): "an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill: the craft of a mason."

So Craft is a certain type of art, or at least has an aspect of Art in it. I think this describes games quite well. They can contain art, or even be art, but they aren't necessarily, explicitly art.

Think of a table. Basically a table is just 4 legs supporting a flat, horizontal surface. But, there is a craft to designing tables. You can, using skill, turn them from the basic utilitarian object into a work of art.

Such as it is with game. A game can be the basic "utilitarian object" where you play for fun (being the utility of a game is to have fun playing it). Or it can be something that has, through the skill of the designer turned it into an object that goes beyond the raw utility.

Which, if you also look at dictionary.com is part of the definition of "Art": "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance."

The important phrase there is: "of more than ordinary significance".

So just as a table can be made to have "more than ordinary significance" through the skill of the craftspersons, so too can a game gain more than ordinary significance if the designers which to do so and apply their skills to do so.

It is also why the issue seems confused. Because games can both be and not be art (because they are a craft) one can point to examples of either and make claims for either. It is the same as a table. Mu kitchen table is really just the basic utilitarian table and I don't think anyone would consider it artistic. However, I have seen tables that are amazing works of art, to the point where you would not use them as a table because of their artistic merit (you wouldn't want to damage it) and they effectively loose their utility as a table and become pure art.

But this same spectrum also exists for games. There are games that are almost pure art, there are also games that are pure utilitarian for fun, and then there are the games that range as a continuum between these.

So I think the best way to think of games is not pure art or pure utilitarian, but as a spectrum between them and this is the real of Craft.

#4778927 Forgetting How to Play

Posted by on 25 February 2011 - 09:03 AM

Biologically, this has an explanation.

During childhood, you brain is growing neurons quite rapidly and the neurons that you have are making as many connections as they can. This increases the potential processing that your brain can do, however, it is not very efficient in terns of speed or energy usage.

Around the time puberty starts and until around the age of 25, you brain starts to streamline its operation and begins a pruning process of removing unused (or little used) connections and neurons. This has the side effect of reducing the scope of thinking that you can do (along with a whole host of other things that explain a lot of the problems with adolescents.

The good news is even after this (and though it as well) your brain still has the capacity for making new neurons and making new connections.

You can do this by experiencing something new or learning something new (the new bit is the important bit). The chemicals released during learning or experiencing something new trigger an increase in neural growth and connections. This is why playing new games often is accompanied by a burst in creativity as you are building new connections and neurons and you can co-opt this for making new connections and neurons that will increase your creativity.

The problem is that your brain operates on a "use it or loose it" principal. So it is important for you to keep using the creativity inspired by this neural growth spurt and to keep trying new things.

It is easy for use to fall into habits and ways of thinking. The secret of lasting creativity is to know how the brain works and to use that knowledge to take control over it.

#4776304 Board Game Prototyping / Initial Playtesting

Posted by on 19 February 2011 - 08:15 AM

Making board game version of your designs is a very good way to test out the mechanics of most games. The reason is that games are complex and complicated things.

This means that it is impossible for someone (or even a group of people) to fully understand the system in their heads. When prototyping (either digital or non-digital) you can explore the possibilities presented by the mechanics far easier than you can in your head.

As the case in point, you were able to discover aspects of your game rules that you didn't suspect existed (or even design for, for that matter).

What prototyping allows is for you to discover, test for and improve Emergence in your games. Emergence comes about through the interaction of your rules, and emergent game play is a great way to get more players to play your game as it creates more depth to your game.

#4772843 Sandbox MMORPGs: advantages and problems

Posted by on 11 February 2011 - 08:48 AM

A Sandbox is literally just that, an environment you can play and make things with.

A Sandbox Game is that to some extent, PLUS other tools you can also play with and use in a flexible way. Such as combat and AI controlled environment

Minecraft does not have many additional tools, and therefore I would class it as much closer to a Sandbox than a Sandbox Game.


As to what there is new or controversial in my post worth commenting on... well, I would crystalize it thus: The Sandbox MMORPG concept is perfect, and the only problem with past implementations is that too many fundamental mechanics of the game were badly designed and not accessible enough.

I am currently running what could be considered an ultimate sandbox: OpenSim.

This is just a virtual world server that is like Second Life (it is based on the code for second life that was released as open source). You have to make everything. However, there is no Game-play in it (other than what you make yourself). It is also multi-player so you can play over networks too.

The above might not on the face of it seem very comment worthy, controversial, or new, but why then have those mistakes been repeated for every Sandbox MMORPG so far?! I can't imagine it being an impossible or even improbable extra effort to implement smooth versions of basic mechanics, and want to know introductions to said mechanics.

I think the mistakes that are made with Sandbox MMOs is that they treat them like regular MMOs but the player does not have to follow the story line if they don't want to. In most MMOs the players are PvE, which means that they are driven to interact with the environment and interacting with other players only comes about due to the difficulty of the dungeons (as multiple people are usually needed to defeat the enemies, especially bosses), but in a Sandbox MMos, the environment does not have any clear direction to it and the players can get lost or leave for lack of direction.

What is lacking is motivation to do something in the game.

The way to solve this problem is to think about the game differently. The main driver can't be pre-set quests and the quest givers, so the only thing that can really do this is other players. IF you just apply the old MMO model of player interaction, there is nothing they really need to communicate about. A player might need someone to help them through a difficult area, but the motivation for doing so is sole dependent on the player in a Sandbox game. Thus only the player who enjoy grind for the sake of grind will end up driving the game experience, not something that really works.

The idea then it so increase the depth and breadth of player interactions. Allow players to set challenges for other players and have the winners rewarded. This does not have to be that players create the areas, but it could be that there is some metric that players can gain by setting goals.

One example is that players can swear fealty to other players and can own land. The maximum amount of land you can own is dependent on how many vassals you have, the more vassals, the more land (although it does mean that you actually own it, just that you can own it).

Players can give other players missions to fulfil, such as attacking another player's buildings as quests. The player setting the quest identifies the location, the bounty that is rewarded for completion and the time frame the mission needs to be done by, and the game determines boss monsters and minions of the place. When another player take up this quest, and completes it, that player is rewarded by treasure and other resources and the player setting the quest is rewarded by capturing the location as their own and gaining some other resources (eg: prestige, etc).

The game-play between the players engaged in the area domination causes the story of the players playing the hack and slash to have motivation (quests). However, the skill that these players have in completing the quests feeds back into the game-play of the Area domination game to resolve their actions. Because of this, it is in the interests of the Area Domination players to provide the Hack and Slash players with interesting and fun quests as that will keep the good players around their areas, but as these will be inherently risky quests (but not too risky), then the Area Domination player must balance the risk against the ability to hold onto valuable players. It creates a complex interaction between both types of players that drives them to create more and more interesting game-play (as the Area Domination players are really competing for Hack and Slash players).

It is a sandbox game as there is not developer created missions, and player are really free to do what they want. Players would be allowed to be both Hack and Slash players and at the same time Area Domination Players. They would be free to spend as much or as little time on either as they see fit (or not player one or the other). However, the game-play is still focused and players would have direction and motivation at all times.

#4753978 Story vs Gameplay

Posted by on 03 January 2011 - 04:17 AM

Original post by Humble Hobo
Any other thoughts on how to add more depth/ use mechanics to make story mean more?

The short answer is: to give the player agency over the story.

What I mean by this is one can creaate an elaborate backstory and spend a lot of time working out a complex plot, but in the end, the story the player experiences is the one they make themselves, regardless of the effort you put into it. Your work can, at best, only act as a guid for the player and as a starting point. Beyond that, it is their actions in the game that create their story.

As an example: take the game "Sword of the Samurai" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_of_the_Samurai_%28computer_game%29 ).

In this, the player takes on the role of a Samurai and head of a family and works their way up to Shogun of Japan (and might take several generations to do so).

This is a game where there is strong role playing as the player has to take on the persona of a Samurai and act as if they were one. they have to make decisions that affect their families standing, and might even lead to their current character's death (althoguh if you have children you will take over them if your main character dies - but if you don't, then it is game over).

In this game, althoguh not usually classified as an RPG, I feel that there is deeper role playing more similar to pen and paper role playing and in traditional computer based RPGs.

When I though about this, I realised it is because the player has control over their story. The game's plot is set (the Samurai becoming Shogun of Japan) and doesn't change thoguh the game. It is the journy that the player takes their characters on to get there is the story, and it is the player who controles it. They have agency over the story (but not the plot).

I think by looking at games like Sword of the Samurai, we can gain a much better understanding of how to increase the deapth of role play in games and how to create greater deapth to them.

It also make it more meaningfull to the player. With a preset story eg: (Neverwinter Nights), the designer has to trick the player into taking on the stroy, and this usually ends up with cliches or just fails miserably (occasionally there is something that works - but once done it will be repeated and become cliche). When it does work, it usually only appleas to a small subset of players interested in that type of story.

I think this is why developed have not attempted to create true roleplaying and have just gone for the hack and slash "role playing" designes. It is not a simple thing to achieve, it is complex and there hasn't been a good theory to use to develop games like that. But the fact is these kind of games do exist, so it is posible to achieve player agency over the story. We just have to figure out how to do it.

#4753395 Story vs Gameplay

Posted by on 02 January 2011 - 01:44 AM

Original post by Nofootbird
Agree with Morri.

Maybe it is theoretically feasible to make a game full of action-results, yet developers have to add immense contents into a single game. As the growth of branches, the game content have to exponentially expand in order to complete the story. The storyline will like a binary tree, which is too hard to control and it will cost unimaginably plenty of time to accomplish the story.

I think it is possible. Back in the 80's you had PacMan. The player made choices and the game reacted. If you turned left at an intesection the game would react one way and if you turned right (or forwards, or backwards) it would react another way.

Now, the desigener didn't code in each reaction to every dsecision the player could make, that would have been impossible for the technology back then (even today it would be difficult). What they did was to create rules as to how the ghosts would react, not to a specific decision, but in general (iirc: One would head towards the next intersection the player would be at, one would head to where the player was last at, etc).

These simple rules created a situation where a great depth of gameplay emerged.

Now, if we could create a simple (although necesarily more complex than PacMan) set of rules that agents could impliment to drive a stroy then we could create games with dynamic stroies.

The way to visialise this is as a landscape and we need to create a pathfinding algorithm to traverse it. What we do is work out where the player is in this landscape (based on their interactions - as in what sunandshadow is taking about) and then find a path to where the designers what the game to go. Then the game (and NPCs) can take the necesary actions to drive the stroy along that path.

An example is that if the designers want the princess to be kidnaped, but the player never goes to the castle, then they can never find out (let alone feel the need to ) the quest to rescue the princess.

However, if the game can path find, then maybe some other NPC can be kidnaped, or maybe the kidnapers can become some other threat (it would depend on the landscape the designers want), or maybe the event waits and give the player a reason to visit the castle or get involved with the princess (maybe she tried to run away and become an adventureer and one of the player's party members is her).

Because certain things don't need to be resolved until they become important to the player (eg: if an NPC has a secret identity or not), these can be left unresolved in the plot until they become important. Like with pPacMan, it is unimportant about an intersection where noboty is, so the game does not try to compute any decision for that.

It is the same principal, just that we need more data and a more complex landscape than in PacMan.

#4736683 Opinions on Guarding inside Combat Systems

Posted by on 23 November 2010 - 03:53 AM

Blocking and Guarding are just names and animations put to options. They might just be Dodge (or even moving out of the way), or any other name.

What is important is how they relate to your other options. If blocking and guarding are unnecesary because your other options dominate them, then they won't be used and wont be fun. Also, if blocking and guarding are so much better than other options, then they will always be used (and other options won't be used) and will also stop being fun (for the players that don't use them).

The other problem with addin in options that the player won't use is that it is wasted effort and resources from you. Besides not being fun, unused options reduce the time and resources you could have spent making the options the players do use even more fun and exciting.

Luckily there is a happy medium, and this is what balance is all about (it is not just about makeing things fair).

If you create a game without balance being included from the start, then you are adding in unused options and wasteing your time doing so. But, by designing in balance from the start, you eliminate these unused options and have your time, effort and other resouces put to an optimal use.

Have a look at this article: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1733/rock_paper_scissors__a_method_for_.php

It comvers the actions of a player in a beat-em-up game and how to create a balance and interesting strategies, but it also applies to all other game genras.

#4485820 Gesture-based spell system

Posted by on 05 July 2009 - 05:52 PM

The richness of any system is based on the richness of what it can effect.

For instance, in Magic: the Gathering, you don't only have "health" that can be effected by actions. There are many other aspects of the game that can be effected like: Lands, Enchantments, Creatures, Spells, The "Stack", the cards in the hands, the card in the deck, the cards that have been used, and so on.

This is what makes Magic the Gathering fun and successful (and even if you don't personally like it you have to admit that it is successful).

These things act as "handles" into the game world of MtG. As the players can only act through these handles, then the more of them you provide the more options the player has.

Now, in the basic game you described, the handles are: Defence type, Attack Type and Health. Not all that much.

What we should try to do is expand what "handles the players have.

What if you could cause their screen to shake? This could disrupt the casting of a spell or at least make it difficult to cast it properly or quickly, but player skill is still applicable rather than just imposing a timed delay or such.

What if spells could give secondary resources? What I means is that if spells took Manna to cast (and did damage to health), the spells might give "Fire Energy" that allows you to cast more advanced fire spells, or do more damage with them.

If the players could see these types of secondary resources (maybe through another spell) of the other player, then this can be used as a "Signalling" gameplay element. As Players built up these secondary resources, their opponent (through spying spells or whatever) could see this and work out what spells their opponent might be trying to cast.

Also, you could use it to bluff your opponent but building up some secondary resources that indicated that you are going to cast say a fire spell, but then when they put up fire protections, you quickly launch a water type spell. This is using "Signalling" in a "Bluff" manoeuvre and turns a game of chance (because you don't know what your opponent is going to cast) into one of skill (reading your opponent and assessing what they are likely to do).

What if you could hold spells in a buffer and cast them from the buffer? This could add in some more flexibility to a player's casting. You could make these cost something, so that keeping them in the buffer might act as a continuous drain of power, but would give the player the ability to quickly cast these with out disruption.

These could also have secondary effects too. Spells in the buffer might act as protection spells, counter spells, Giving secondary resources, etc. It also means that there is another handle which can be used by the players (and targeted by your opponent).

What if spells can change the battle field? If you allow spells to be used to change where the battle is taking place, or the environment of the battle and these environments have some effect on the spells being used, then this give yet another handle that players can use to effect the game and try to achieve victory.

What if spells can be used in combinations? Secondary effects and secondary resources is like what I mean here. Using a series of spells to generate secondary resources would allow you to cast spells that use those resources. Also secondary effects might stack in interesting ways, like a water secondary effect, might stack with a wind secondary effect to change the environment of the battle to one of a storm (and lightning and thunder spells do more damage), or some thing like that.

You need to understand the difference between "Complex" and "Complicated" systems. Complicated systems are systems with many individual parts that don't necessarily have much interaction. Complex systems are systems that don't necessarily have many parts, but the parts that it does have interact with one another in many different ways.

So to simplify: Complicated systems are systems where the numbers are in the parts. Complex systems are where the numbers are in the connections.

Complex systems tend to be more interesting to people than complicated systems. IN board games, there is a split in the styles of games. In American style game,s they tend to be complicated games, but use heavily themed settings. In European (German) style board game, these tend to be complex games with a few rules and part, but they have heavy interactions between those parts, they also tend to be lightly themes (almost as an afterthought).

Both styles of games have their advantages and disadvantages. American style games don't have much replayability value and tend to be mainly for family (the simple rules and heavy themes are easy for children to grasp). Euro style games are less easy for people to initially grasp (especially for children), but have heavy replayability and are usually highly strategic.

And of course, there are hybrids of these two styles.

Which direction you decide to go down (Complex or Complicated) will depend on the type of player you are wanting to attract. IF you want to attract players who like heavily themed games, but don't like to think much about strategies and such, then a Complicated game is the way to go. If however, you want a more competitive player, one who like to strategy in their play, then a Complex game is what you will need to look at.