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I know it''s been discussed here before, but I can''t seem to find any of the threads. Ergo, I''ll start the discussion thusly: I''m looking forward a few games from my current project to something a great deal more complicated. The crux of my current question is this: When is it ok to allow the player to lose, and how long should you wait before you tell them? I''m thinking specifically of a complaint levied against Homeworld, where you might have to go back several missions to correct the force composition/numbers you''ve attained. The design I''m working with is space-operatic, but you play a small part of a larger conflict, probably protecting a single solar system from invasion. I am designing a strategy such that you can risk delivering resources (ships, mainly) to nearby systems, which would, to some degree, have a cascade of positive effect in terms of the larger conflict. It is also possible to request reinforcements from other systems, with the opposite consequence. Hence, while you are isolated in terms of the playing field, you are still able to achieve some gains on an epic scale. The question intrudes, however, of when to tell the player that all is lost. If, for example, every other system is lost, they are certainly SOL; it''s really just a matter of time. Has anyone encountered this conundrum, and if so what remedies were considered? thanks, ld

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i've run into something similar but my game design dictates that there is no moment when all is lost. the only way a player can really "lose" is to die. even when the player is in a situation, as you described above, where all allies have fallen and enemies are closing in, there are still courses of action left open. the player could flee to a safe place to plot a counterattack, or the player could choose to join the enemy to save himself. one element i really want to include is some status of subjugation, like prisoners of war or slaves. if you are captured by the enemy the game does not stop. rather, you must either submit to your captor's wishes, escape or rebel.

in other words, i'm not relying on the player to drive the plot of the game. major events will happen whether the player initiates them or not. it is up to the player to react to these events and situations as he sees fit, not as the game requires. in most games this choice is practically nonexistant; you play as the hero who saves the world, and if you don't save the world then you've lost. this severly limits gameplay possibilities and is something that i've been trying to avoid in my designs.

[edited by - syn_apse on October 12, 2003 5:54:30 PM]

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Lets take a moment to remember the Sierra Space Quest game, where if you accidentally left the plans to the Star Generator in the viewer device on Kerona, you don''t realize that you''ve lost the game until the end when you destroy the Star Generator that the Sariens stole.

THAT SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN.

Ideally, you end the game when the player screws it up. Of course, if failure is an acceptable plot device, you don''t wait until the end of the game to inform them that they screwed it up. At least turn into a viable ending.

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your idea needs work. it''s a good enough concept, but right now it is too vague to find a solution to your problem. think about all of the situations that the player will face. if this is an rts where the player is in charge of defending the solar system, then it is safe to assume that they are part of a military organization and would be in some degree of contact with central command. thus the player could be made aware of developments in other systems and could adjust strategy accordingly. if other situations apply then a different solution may apply. find those moments or circumstances where something could go wrong and find a logical way to make the player aware before it is too late.

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I am thinking about your problem and I cant help but think that this problem isnt really solvable. I mean, it''s quite similar to what happens in any RTS game, isnt it ? If you didnt start with an optimal resource management scheme, you are pretty much f*cked no matter what you do. I think you might find Ernest Adams articles interesting to your problem. I remember he had one about this particular problem. Although I do understand you are working on a different scale, I am pretty sure the problem is very similar.
The phenomenon AFAIK cant be prevented. The only solution is for the player to improve. Now the problem you CAN solve to avoid the player giving up to quickly is to start with a short time scale. you ll notice this in RTS, actually. When you are a beginner (in the first missions) the missions dont last that long. If you fail, you ll fail quickly, not wasting hours before you realise your mistakes. As the game advances, and as your skills increase (if the game designers did a good job to increase the difficulty) the length of the game is increased. But because your abilities have increased as well, it shouldnt be a problem.
I think the trick is to have milestones in your game where the player has to have a certain required level before he can have them. Here the idea to lock levels is not there as a challenge to the player to improve (like in racing games where you get better cars only if you manage to succeed with the crappy cars) but as a safety to prevent unnecessary frustration to the player.
If the Protoss campaign is locked when you begin Starcraft, it''s not to piss you off, it''s because the damn guys are as hell to play. You need a bit of experience under your belt with the game before you can attempt the campaign.

So I think maybe you should have something similar. Try to have the game play on a short scale at first, to get the player used to the game concepts and the "obvious" things that should be done that are not that obvious when you discover a new game. That way failure comes quickly if it comes, and the player doesnt get frustrated or bored.
As the campaign moves along, increase the tactical subtleties the player can have access to, trying to make sure that he has reached a certain level of proficiency before being let in to the next "level".

I realise I am stating common sense, really, a bit like you wouldnt send your kid swimming in the deep end of the swimming pool before he can swim without floating aids, right ?
But I cant help thinking it''s the right way to solve your problem : going at it from a different angle.
Ih, and Ernest Adams articles are on Gamasutra, there

I Hope that helps


Sancte Isidore ora pro nobis !

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quote:
Original post by liquiddark
The question intrudes, however, of when to tell the player that all is lost. If, for example, every other system is lost, they are certainly SOL; it''s really just a matter of time.



I don''t know if this is a fun design even if your side is winning. What if your star is in the middle and your only job is to provide resources to the front lines? Seems like a good strategy but could be boring to execute it.

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Inmate2993: Exactly. In my case, it's a little more flexible, since they can lose a battle without losing their particular piece of the conflict, and can lose their piece without losing the larger conflict, and furthermore the game should be meaningful even as they lose, but I still want let them know when defeat is imminent.

quote:
Original post by syn_apse
your idea needs work. it's a good enough concept, but right now it is too vague to find a solution to your problem.
(...)
find those moments or circumstances where something could go wrong and find a logical way to make the player aware before it is too late.

I'm not really interested in discussing the whole design here, as I've found that to be a fairly difficult and unrewarding exercise in the past, hence the vagueness. My apologies. At the same time, I don't believe that it's impossible to have an intelligent discussion of coarse-grained ideas on when and how the player should discover they've lost. If the ideas are vague, I'm ok with that.

Your second point there is exactly what I'm trying to do.

Perhaps I can satisfy some of the need for further information:
1) The game is not currently planned as real-time, but rather turn-based with real-time playback a la Combat Mission. This is to some degree derived from experiences with Warhammer's Epic 40k tabletop game.
2) The primary goal of the game is to explore the emotions and ideas common to space opera - the isolation or triumph when losing or winning, respectively; the use of mass media to transmit information and propaganda; the almost limitless scope of space as a battlefield.
3) Out of the 3 factors in 2) , I use the second (mass media) to give primacy to the first (isolation/glory). This thread is my first attempt to formulate some guidelines for the delivery of information that will have meaning to the player.

To tell the truth, I don't know if those points help or not.
quote:
Original post by ahw
Now the problem you CAN solve to avoid the player giving up to quickly is to start with a short time scale. (...) I think the trick is to have milestones in your game where the player has to have a certain required level before he can have them
(...)
Try to have the game play on a short scale at first, to get the player used to the game concepts and the "obvious" things that should be done that are not that obvious when you discover a new game. That way failure comes quickly if it comes, and the player doesnt get frustrated or bored.

First, thanks for the links; I read Adams pretty religiously, but it's been a while since I read the positive feedback piece in particular, and I think it may have kicked off some good wheel-spinning in my head.

I think I'm building the type of widening-scale consideration you're talking about into my current design, although not in this exact way. I'm going to revisit these elements with focus on how accessible things are for the player.
quote:
Original post by 5010
What if your star is in the middle and your only job is to provide resources to the front lines?

The design doesn't consider this because this isn't a consideration. It's not intended to be a game of galactic empire, it's intended to be a broad-scope conflict in which the player has a limited but not insignificant role. In this case, that role is chosen such that the player does indeed participate in the conflict.

ld

Edit: had to clarify a few points. Again. jeez. perhaps I should simply give up for the moment.

[edited by - liquiddark on October 13, 2003 11:25:55 PM]

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Getting into an unwinnable situation isn''t, in itself, a sign of bad design, nor is failure to realise it for some hours afterwards. What is a clear sign of bad design is not warning the player in advance that he could get into an unwinnable situation so that s/he can take precautions. For example, Curses, a text adventure, has many ways you can paint yourself into a corner, and in several of them, you may not realise for a very long time. But, because of the nature of the genre, I automatically save before doing anything potentially risky, and keep lots of separate saves. Of course, keeping track of the saves can get confusing, but it does all work somehow.

On the other hand, a game where you get shut into a locked room with a save point, and only after several hours of using everything with everything else, during which time you save over your one save slot several times, do you give up and consult a guide, which informs you that you should have picked up the key hidden inside the third newspaper down a certain stack in the newsagents about 15 hours into the game, and 20 hours before you got locked up, a game like that has a serious design flaw.

I guess what I''m trying to get at is that it''s OK to give the player enough rope to hang themselves if they know it''s a possibility and are given the chance to take precautions (in Metal Gear Solid there''s one sequence where it''s possible to lose without option to continue - except you can press a key at any time during the sequence and avoid it, at the cost of changing the ending, and you are told explicitly that there is temporarily no continue) but the minimum amount of time required to salvage a mistake should probably not exceed an hour or so and in most cases should be kept much shorter. Also, if the unwinnability comes from a specific decision or missed opportunity, it should be made reasonably obvious what the mistake was. If it''s just a matter of poor play-skills, then that''s a separate design issue (difficulty levels and learning curves).

The other, closely related design flaw is the undeclared stalemate - for example, XCOM 2: Terror From The Deep, has a bug in the research tree whereby if you research a particular advance from a particular type of captured alien, you don''t unlock the required research to unlock the final mission. If that happens, you can (presumably - I''ve never actually played the game far enough to find out) end up in the situation of dominating the game but being unable to actually close the deal. I suspect there''s a related bug in XCOM: Interceptor, where I did manage to play to a situation where I was clearly winning - the aliens were down to one last base, which kept respawning in random locations as I kept hunting it down and destroying it - but over the course of several months of game-time (during which I completed all available research) there was no further plot-related research unlocked.

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