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Combatting 'scrubbiness' in games.

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This starts off in the context of RTS games (specifically Warcraft 3) but I believe the problem I'm talking about it is common to all multiplayer games. Put simply, the problem is that gamers seem to form their own quasi-rules, or social rules, about what is or isn't 'fair'. This is covered on the great series of articles on sirlin.net about playing to win. Further, I see these social rules stifling the variety and creativity that makes these games fun in the first place. The particular example that brought me to write this is a Frozen Throne replay (here, from this page, if you have Frozen Throne). Watching the replay, it's plain that the human player has found a tactic that works very well against that particular orc's play style. Instead of being congratulated on his tactic, he is subjected to a stream of abuse. This sort of thing is so common in Warcraft culture, and it bugs me no end. The guy came up with a way to hit you without you hitting him back - that's the point of the frikkin' game! 'Strategies' are limited to 'build slightly more crypt fiends' or 'build slightly more ghouls', and every f*cking game looks the same... watching the replays from Blizzard's Warcraft World Invitational tournement, each player has one race they use, and one orthodox strategy that they use. They might vary their units a smidgen in the late game, but mainly it comes down to who has the better micromanagement and luck, which, in a game with so much potential variety, is stupid. What I'm trying to think of is a way to encourage variety. Maybe this is not possible, since this seems to be a purely social phenomenon, but I'm hoping... My best suggestion so far is to give each unit type a quota, spread over (say) five online games. So, if you're a habitual dryad masser, then you may be fine for three games, but then run out and have to spend the next three games with only two or three dryads available. Hopefully this way people will learn to use more than one type of unit. ...Ideas? [edit: repointed the play-to-win link to the second part, which introduces scrubs] [edited by - fractoid on March 6, 2004 11:52:17 AM]

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Hmmm... you have a good point. Many times people will say, "No attacking for 10 minutes", which essentially nulls several strategies, just so they can build up a base.

I would say this: make it so if you quit mid-game, it counts as a loss, and make it so the game creator cannot boot people, but they are booted automatically for innactivity (mouse or keyboard haven''t ben touched in 2 minutes, lets say). That way, if someone makes a lame rule, people don''t have to follow it. However, if they have their own server, that wouldn''t work, but then again, they should be able to choose the rules in that case.

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Yep, that sort of thing is one example of what I''m talking about, but at least that sort of thing is consensual. A bigger problem is the arbitrary designation of ''anything I can''t easily beat'' as being ''cheesy'' or ''cheap''. These words are thrown around places like battle.net a lot.

I actually gave up on battle.net around the time I figured out that *any* tactic I used would be ''cheese'', and there''s only so many weeks of verbal abuse I can take before it becomes no longer fun. Grunt rush? cheese wtf. Tower rush? cheese u fkn noob. More than three of the same type of unit? massing cheeser. A nicely balanced army? already wiped out by fifteen dryads. About the only tactic that doesn''t result in claims that one is playing unfairly is mass wisps, or something similarly unlikely to succeed. *sigh*

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The solution is extremely simple: just implement a filter that takes out words (and context) like "cheese" "cheap" "noob" etc.

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same stuff happens in other games too.

take team fortress classic, apparently over the course of time some rediculous rules about offense shouldn''t shoot at offense, no flag chasing, and a handfull of other pseudo-rules that are completely retarted. It''s partially the reason I quit the clan scene.

Where the hell does this crap come from?

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A lot of it comes from inherent game-balance issues. A particular tactic is shown to be too effective--ie, the number of tactics that can reasonably surmount it are few--but the tactic itself is easy to implement, requiring little work or effort on the part of the attacker. It''s like a lot of un-balanced fighting games I have seen, where a certain single move is deadly effective and causes enough of a reaction delay to prevent the defender from recovering and counter-attacking in turn, resulting in an easy "cheese" win due to the victim''s inability to react. The attacker found a legitimate (meaning: allowed by the game) way of winning the fight, so why does it feel so much like cheating?

Because of the lack of an effective counter. Tactics and strategy no longer apply; it becomes a race to be the first one to correctly execute the killer move or strategy, thus deciding before the match is even played out who the victor is to be. The rest of the game is just a meaningless charade, a waste of time.

Same with RTS games with the ability to execute tactics or builds others might regard as "cheese". I remember falling to many a deadly Zergling rush in my early Starcraft days. Building a small start-game zerg rush was extremely easy; defending against it could be very challenging, if not impossible in some situations. It was a valid tactic (the game allowed it), but it removed tactics and strategy from consideration, skewing the balance of power in favor of the Zerg rusher. As the game lengthened out, the brutal effectiveness of the zergling rush was dampened, and it became a non-issue, so many folks would try to forbid zergling rushes in early game, to try to level the playing field.

The best counter I can think of is proper game balance. If a particular build, tactic or strategy is brutally effective, it needs to be proportionately difficult to build in the first place. If a rocket launcher is a total game-buster, maybe it should be toned down in power a bit or paired with an appropriate defense to counteract it.

Finding a strategy that works well should of course be congratulated rather than reviled; but it lies upon the shoulders of the developer to ensure that such a strategy is not an obvious game-balance loophole that could conceivably be called a cheat and incur contempt due to lack of inherent balance. Such loopholes are not fun for other players (thus the revilement and abuse) and consequently destroy the whole point of the game for the players, which is to have fun win or lose.


Golem
Blender--The Gimp--Python--Lua--SDL
Nethack--Crawl--ADOM--Angband--Dungeondweller

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We in the Magic: the Gathering community have a word for things like that: "broken". You''re right, it is an issue of game balance, so us designers have to work out what kind of things are balanced.

void Signature(void* Pointer)
{
PObject(Pointer)->ShowMessage("Why do we need so many pointers?");
};

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Perhaps dynamic unit stats could help. For example, rather than banning rushes, have it something like; For the first 10 minutes of the game, units have half their attack rating. Or if you don''t like that, when a unit is created, it''s attack starts at a fraction of it''s full value and every minute or so raises a little, and after about 10 minutes will be at full strength.

It would slow down rushes. I don''t know what looking after underpowered units would be like tho.

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Most people moan about tactics because they lost. It is the same in every game. They want to play the game the way that suits them but you use a tactic, which is effective against their style of play. This doesn''t make the tactic too effective. If they had picked a different tactic the result may well have been different. For them to moan that you must play "fair" is stupid. What they mean is you should play the way that suits them best (and most likely lose as a result).



Dan Marchant
Obscure Productions (www.obscure.co.uk)
Game Development & Design consultant

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quote:
Original post by DrEvil
same stuff happens in other games too.

Where the hell does this crap come from?


Tabletop wargames. Well before multiplayer computer games took off. Often these games would go years without a revision of rules or even never get revised. Any inbalance issues (which there are always some of) get branded cheating, cheesy, beardy, cheap, unfair etc. Most people generally would only play once or maybe twice a week and so being beaten because the "rules" werent compelty fair in their opinion caused lots of frustration. This has speard and would ahve developed on its own into online gaming. How easy is it to say "I lost because the game wasnt fair". It''s all bullshit really. You just have to play how you want.

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Most of the people on Battle.net are kids - which is the problem. The kids beat the game, so that instantly makes them the best! They don''t realize that other humans are much more crafty than game AI that was designed so the player could win. If you manage to beat one of the kids, which is generally pretty easy, the kid calls you a cheat, and when you offer advice he/she tells you to "$#&!# off." I''ve heard that if you do a ladder compition the players are nicer, and understand that rushing is a good tactic. I stoped playing Battle.net because of the lack of maturity and sportsmanship in most of the games.

One idea tho, perhaps if you set up a game, and said "No swearing/cursing" it would keep the jerks off your server. Then again, it might just make everyone yell profanity in the game (causing you to boot them). About the only way I found to have a good game of Starcraft/Warcraft is to play with real life friends.

Honestly, if you don''t want people to "rush" in the game, then put it on an island map. If you know each other, a verbal agreement not to rush is ok too. The problem with Battle.net is no one really knows you, and there are probably as many trolls their as in the "Help Wanted" section.

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The thing is that these days Warcraft (still sticking with Warcraft ''cause I don''t play much else) is actually well balanced throughout the game. For instance, in the replay the human player was dropping his heroes into the back of the orc base, stomping all over the peons with a couple of area-of-effect spells, and then getting back in the zepplin and hiking off. All the orc had to do was build one defensive tower, and it would have chased the zepplin away. That''s what defensive towers are *for*. Instead of varying his own strategy, the orc just abused the other player and then quit.

Similarly with a tower rush - at one stage it was brokenly good, and a sure win. Fair enough, it wasn''t a fair way to play then. Now that things are more balanced, it''s actually a legitimate tactic, but usually it''s used against people who can''t be arsed getting seige weapons, so once again instead of varying their gameplay they just abuse the other player for not playing how they want.

I''m hoping that there is a solution in balancing games, as VertexNormal et. al. suggest. I like the varying-unit-stats idea - maybe have something like what War of the Ring does iirc, and have units actually get better as they gain experience.

I''ve got an unshakeable feeling, however, that the problem is mostly as Obscure and OneMind say. People are inherently bitchy and will call anything they cant beat ''cheating''.

OK, just had an idea which might help - at the moment most games have balance issues addressed in patches, which come out every month or few. What if, say, the top 50 ladder players could vote on what units are too strong/too weak?

I''m thinking instead of having the game balance hard coded into the executable (for a company with so much brainpower, Blizzard, that was a deadbeat stupid move) have a balance sheet which is downloaded each time you start a game. Every unit''s stats improve by 1% per day. Every game a ''balance moderator'' plays, or maybe once a day assuming they play a game that day, they get the opportunity to ''nerf'' a unit that they feel is too strong. Obviously with one person doing this, you''d end up with one race and one or two units that are brokenly good, and everyone would use them. But with enough different moderators, this sort of thing should allow the game to react much more quickly to newly discovered balance issues, and hopefully will converge on a well-balanced system.

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Teach someone else the technique then put yourself against it. If you find a defense, then I say do whatever it takes and feel guilt free.

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So far, I''ve never run acrosss a stratagy that could be defeated if my opponent was resourceful enough. The fact is, you can usually counter a stratagy by doing the exact same thing. People have defeated me even tho I did a tower rush, tank rush, peasent rush, and so on. I learned from what they did, and incorperated it into my play style.

When I used to play Starcraft on Battle.net, the kids would always rush me. I would alway have a few bunkers, and possibly a seige tank(if they were really stupid) waiting for them. Needless to say I won, generally because the stupid kids that rushed me would log out, the momement there 15-20 marines were killed by my bunkers.

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i think the best way to stop this is make unit/base production easy or remove it completely,


im thinking of making a 1700-1800 style warfare, with formations and cannons etc.

so its strategy isnt in the way the game is played but the way you see things

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The problem is one of balance as has been said. A tactic/strategy can be easy to counter without being balanced. In the example you give, a single defensive tower would have prevented the tactic from working. A tower doesn''t cost too much gold and resources, but in wc3 that little bit can make a large difference. Is there any way the orc could have known he needed to build that tower? If not, the tactic isn''t balanced because always building the tower would be a constant hit which gives everybody not using that tactic an advantage. Not building it guarantees loss to those using the strategy, so people playing against a race that can use that strategy is at a loss sometimes either way. From the sounds of it, a player that knows anything about the game could pull off the strategy easily without gving the victim a warning, so it would be overpowered.

Of course, this is just what it sounds like, and if this case does not fit the above, IME there are definitely others (well, at least in the previous version of wc3 as I don''t think I''ve played with the latest patch, but I hear from my friends that still play it competitively that it definitely is still no better balanced).

Also, some strategies are easy to beat and are still extremely annoying. For example, it was common at one time for orc players in warcraft 3 to build lots and lots of towers, because the towers were strong and could kill practically any unit. The counter is obviously siege, but still getting lots of siege is slow work, and destroying lots of towers takes lots of time. Its not fun to have to spend all that time just for an easy win when you actually enjoy a challenge.

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quote:
Original post by fractoid
The particular example that brought me to write this is a Frozen Throne replay (here, from this page, if you have Frozen Throne). Watching the replay, it''s plain that the human player has found a tactic that works very well against that particular orc''s play style. Instead of being congratulated on his tactic, he is subjected to a stream of abuse. This sort of thing is so common in Warcraft culture, and it bugs me no end. The guy came up with a way to hit you without you hitting him back - that''s the point of the frikkin'' game! ''Strategies'' are limited to ''build slightly more crypt fiends'' or ''build slightly more ghouls'', and every f*cking game looks the same... watching the replays from Blizzard''s Warcraft World Invitational tournement, each player has one race they use, and one orthodox strategy that they use. They might vary their units a smidgen in the late game, but mainly it comes down to who has the better micromanagement and luck, which, in a game with so much potential variety, is stupid.



Interesting article. I sort of agree with it, although the thing is I don''t really consider encouraging people to ''play to win'' as being a particularly desirable goal. I think that playing to win rather than playing for fun is responsible for the vast majority of the idiocy that goes on in online games and their attendent chat rooms.

If the vast majority of these ''scrubs'' tried actually playing for enjoyment, rather than playing for the sole purpose of enlarging their battle.net ranking e-penis and gaining the right to spam "omg lol ur a n00b lol roofle pwned scrub nextmap lol", they would not only enjoy themselves a hell of a lot more, but so would pretty much everyone else.

I''d like to see more handicap systems in online games.

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quote:
Original post by Sandman
If the vast majority of these ''scrubs'' tried actually playing for enjoyment, rather than playing for the sole purpose of enlarging their battle.net ranking e-penis and gaining the right to spam "omg lol ur a n00b lol roofle pwned scrub nextmap lol", they would not only enjoy themselves a hell of a lot more, but so would pretty much everyone else.

I''d like to see more handicap systems in online games.

You''ve hit the nail on the head. Almost all RTS games (and quite a few other game types) I''ve played are much more strategic and fun when people play for the enjoyment of the game, not just winning. For some reason people are more content to play the same strategy over and over again just so they can win rather than experiencing all the different elements of the game. The easiest way to highlight this is when games allow you to record your score or not (such as Generals). From my experience, games where people aren''t "playing to win" are always more fun as people are happy to try new things, and loosing can be just as rewarding as winning.

I remember Dark Reign was going to have a complex handicap system, and while it was moderately successful I think there is a large potential for them. It does make it hard for "ladder" games, however especially for LAN games it can allow experienced and less experienced player''s to battle it out on a level playing field.

Doolwind

---------------------------------------------------------
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life.
Matthew 6:27

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Have the game self balance on a per server basis. If a particular unit is being abused then the server can handicap that unit for future game. Not only will you have a more balanced game, but also a more varied game experience from day to day.

Just a random thought.

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Personally I think any solutions that involve constantly changing unit stats is a bad thing. It takes time to learn any game. and after a player has invested weeks to understand all his units and finish the single player mode, it's just wicked for him to log on to an online game not realising that his favourite units are now crap.

There are actually two issues that have been discussed here:
One is the issue of players who are poor losers and nothing can be done about them by the designers of the game.Losing is an upsetting thing anyway).
But Two is the issue of a 'broken' (or unbalanced) game. And attacking the symptoms of bad balance won't really solve anything either (e.g. most grunt rushing strategies are the result of the ease with which cheap attack units can be bought and thier extreme effectiveness against the base worker units - I'd imagine that a grunt rush in WC3 won't be effective against the undead as thier base worker units also happens to be an infantry unit).

I'll try not to get bogged down in specifics, but IMHO the only way to properly minimise imbalance (I don't think there is any surefire way to prevent it) is to properly playtest your game before release.

In the street fighter series for instance, even though there were imbalances in the fighters, to most players it felt as if most of the fighters were evenly matched. And even when you read cheat mags and found sure fire victory tactics they were usually so complicated that if you could actually pull them off you deserved to win easily (and you obviously were spending too much time with your console).
The end result being that every victory felt earned. Which is what most players want. What is upsetting is to be beaten in the first two minutes off a game an feel as if the person who beat you didn't really earn his victory ( all he did was click on the manufacture grunt button a dozen times wait one minute and thirty seconds then select his army and click in the general direction of the camp).

Remember that what is upsetting is the feeling . It's possible that in order to achieve his grunt rush the opponent had to spend ages honing his micro-management skills and learning to maximise every single ingot of gold but, if it doesn't feel that way to the person that is losing, your game will still be seen as imbalanced.

In the end it's ensuring that every advantage is worked for, and it is seen to be worked for.

*edit - formatting

---------------------------------------------------
There are two things he who seeks wisdom must understand...
Love... and Wudan!


[edited by - thelurch on March 9, 2004 1:18:28 PM]

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quote:
Original post by StaticVoid
Have the game self balance on a per server basis. If a particular unit is being abused then the server can handicap that unit for future game. Not only will you have a more balanced game, but also a more varied game experience from day to day.

Just a random thought.



Just as random a thought: This could actually work in the context of a tech tree, where new "discoveries" force players to stop relying on the same strategies again and again.

Good players would likely not be affected because they know a wide variety of strategies. It could also add alot of replay if it were done infrequently.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Sandman
Interesting article. I sort of agree with it, although the thing is I don't really consider encouraging people to 'play to win' as being a particularly desirable goal. I think that playing to win rather than playing for fun is responsible for the vast majority of the idiocy that goes on in online games and their attendent chat rooms.



Great point. However, even in a fun game there is something to be said for the sense of dominance and vulnerability that can crop up from a certain kind of strategy. I think what makes people squeal the loudest is when there is nothing you can do about a particular tactic. Camping is a great example in FPS games, and rushing maybe for RTS games (though you can do something if you know its coming).

Along with the good observations about play balance, I think that careful attention needs to be payed to the states that a player can fall into as a result of game mechanics. I remember one Halo game where some friends and I had boxed an expert player into an area and kept blowing him up with tanks, again and again, each and every time he respawned. It was cheap because there was simply nothing he could do.

Nobody likes to feel so helpless that they have to take whatever is happening to them. Even if they lose, people like to be able to go down fighting. If we want the latter situtation, we may have to consider toning down the rock-sissors-paper dynamics found in many RTS games and be careful about where other gameplay dynamics lead.


[edited by - wavinator on March 9, 2004 10:57:12 PM]

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quote:
we may have to consider toning down the rock-sissors-paper dynamics found in many RTS games


I always found it highly amusing that rock-paper-scissors is so often used as the example for the misbalance in RTS games. After all, I know of no game OTHER than rock-paper-scissors which is perfectly balanced.

Anyways, having units balanced in this way simply means you have to build the correct units to counter the enemies attacks (and/or defences) as effectively as possible - and if this balance is done correctly, it also means that there is ALWAYS a way to combat these attacks.

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It's inevitable that players will find a preferred play style and feel frustrated when they can't use it as they like. If they feel too railroaded they may put the game down and not play it again.

I for one pushed my way through Starcraft because I wanted to find out what happened in the storyline, not because I wanted to become a better player. The game always ticked me off by forcing me to get better at one play style and then not allowing me to make use of it in the next mission. I really hated that. By the time I played Warcraft III and realized I had to learn once again to pay attention to all aspects of my base maintenance, I decided not to buy the full game.

Any preferred nonconventional playstyle will eventually be called lame by someone. The general community will then agree that it is indeed lame, or it is in fact NOT lame, depending on who contributes to the conversation and what kind of support they have, and who shows a regular presence in the game and primary message boards.

Many people subscribe to the "if the game allows it, then it's fair" philosophy, but that can make many games be played the exact same way over and over again because one particular way of playing always works.

Games were so different when they were just single player and the story had more bearing. So many more variables are introduced in the multiplayer crowd, especially when it is across the internet instead of in a closed LAN room with people you already know.

[edited by - Waverider on March 9, 2004 11:26:43 PM]

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quote:
Original post by Kazgoroth
I always found it highly amusing that rock-paper-scissors is so often used as the example for the misbalance in RTS games. After all, I know of no game OTHER than rock-paper-scissors which is perfectly balanced.



It''s not really a comment about misbalance. It''s more about how it''s dull when a game relies only on that sort of balance. Same with making things equal by making them the same (which can either be by actually making them the same, or by doing the classic "faster fire but each hit is weaker vs. slower fire but each hit is stronger"). Mix it up. "Different but equal" is a good thing in this case.

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