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Is luck a strategy?

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I've been toying with the idea of making my strategy game entirly deterministic and so I thought I would throw the idea to wolves and see what kind of feed back the idea got. Essentially each time you start a new game a new seed would be generated which would be used to determine all the procedurally generated content as well as how all events resolve without player intervention. I would also reduce or remove much the chance from all aspects of the game. This means several thing the main one being that a player with knowledge of what obstacles are between them and a goal could determine if they will succeed or not given their current resources before they even attempt the challenge. What do people think about this? Do you prefer to trust in your planning skills and the winds of fate or would you rather be able to visualize the out come well in advance? In many ways it comes down to a simple analogy, which is better poker or chess?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Have you heard the term "Any Given Sunday"? Or to drop it down to one word "Underdog"?

The idea that at any given time, the person without the resources, skill and/or talent can triumph is what drives the human race forward! Probability might be painfully low, but it is hardly ever zero (i.e. the chances of me living forever is zero, the chances of me changing the gaming industry forever are darn close to zero, but at least is possible).

Removing (or reducing) that from the game removes the fun.

Now, you did mention that you will provide enough information so a person could determine if they should attempt a challenge, this is good. Just be sure that this is decoupled from their actual success (it can effect the probability, but not an absolute sense of success or failure).

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Chess is deterministic only in so far as the skills of the opponents relative to each other. Chess always starts off evenly. Situations where loss cannot be avoided occur when one player simply outplays the other. It can also occur when one player makes a mistake that they normally wouldn't make; such as the situation where a player makes a move, takes his hand off the piece, and immediately exclaims, "Oh crap! I didn't want to do that!"

If you ignore the psychological aspects of chess and poker, then both are deterministic based upon the pure skill level and judgement of the players involved.

Maybe I misunderstood your idea but it sounds like you want to make a game that may or may not stack the "deck" against the player. It's no fun if an experienced player starts the game, gets a bad seed, and realizes it's impossible to win. His only viable strategic option then is to close the game, and perhaps never open it again.

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Original post by TechnoGoth
This means several thing the main one being that a player with knowledge of what obstacles are between them and a goal could determine if they will succeed or not given their current resources before they even attempt the challenge.


Player: "It's a long shot, but it's my only chance: I'm going to swing across the chasm while shooting in both directions at the bad guys, then leapfrog over that pillar just before it collapses."

Game: "No, that won't work. Screw off."

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Sneftel, your example doesn´t work because your player input doesn´t fit the challenge. If you think abstract, like chess, it will work...

You don´t *need* a random element in a game to make it fun, not even if the odds are against the player. The player only needs to know that there *is* at least one way to solve the puzzle. The degree of difficulty doesn´t really matter.

Especially in a strategy game this can work, but I don´t think that you can do entirely without some sort of opponent. If you do have someone / thing working against you with the same set of means and methods then it´s only a matter of finding the right tools and giving enough, but not too many options.

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Well, I dunno about you but since you ask for opinions...
I am not entirely sure I understand you right, but from what you say it sounds like you could end up in situations where you just can't go any further.
Now, are we talking about one of those stupid MahJong games where you realise that the pile of tiles just can't be cleared because of the way it was generated ?

Because if that's the style of dead end you are on about (i.e. the kind that could be prevented with a good generation algorithm), then it's a big No no, IMO.

If you mean, something like Chess where the player could just end up in a Check Mate, sure. That's cool. That's pure strategy. I think it's rather rewarding for the player because they should realise that if they improve their skill enough, there won't be some random element that will come and still beat them.

Of course, the thesis of the lazy ass who couldn't be bothered becoming good, and would rather know that, yeah, if they get lucky enough, even _they_ can win; is also valid. Really it depends what you want to reward from your players...
(I differentiate that from the underdogs, BTW. The underdogs at least try hard to get better, which is why they deserve that one in a million chance to win)

I think dragging people upwards is rather more, I dunno, morally right, than rewarding laziness. Call me old fashioned. [grin]

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Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
Player: "It's a long shot, but it's my only chance: I'm going to swing across the chasm while shooting in both directions at the bad guys, then leapfrog over that pillar just before it collapses."

Game: "No, that won't work. Screw off."


LOL [grin] Yeah, if I were the DM, and if the player came up with something completely far fetched, but something that I just wouldn't have imagine they would dare try, I would give him that one in a million chance.
Possibly because I read too much Terry Pratchett [lol]

Also because getting away with something so outrageous would stay with them for the rest of their adventuring life... (Ah, I still remember when my character took on a Greater Daemon of Tzeench on his own. Ah the memories [rolleyes])

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Have you ever played Yahtzee?

While Yahtzee may appear to be a game of pure luck, it is really a risk management strategy game. Clever choices of when and what to reroll, and where to assign your scores can make the difference between winning and losing.

Of course, the element of luck is ever present, but it's hard for even a lucky player to win if he is weak on the strategy side.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Yeah... Everybody knows that million to one chances succeed nine times out of ten... But no one ever heard someone say "He's got one chance out of seventy three thousands and six hundres ninety-two, but it still might work..."

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Seeding from the start of the game and continueing to use the deterministic approach just forces the play into a degree of loss. For example, lets say I try to attack that Ogre, and the seeds indicate that I'm going to lose. When I reload and try again, I'll lose again. Whats effectively happening is that a game where I'm supposed to manage risk and strategize my way to victory has set up deliberate blocks to prevent me from winning. To make matters worse, if I beat up a rabbit before the ogre, the next pseudorandom number in sequence might assure me victory, so I don't even have a deterministic structure to depend on.

I think what you should rather do is eliminate random from the actual gameplay, for example: An Ogre always beats a peasent, but a Knight beats an ogre. However, you can "Shuffle The Deck" at the top of the game, I.E. use random numbers to generate which enemy AI strategies will be put into play, that way the players focus is now figuring out what the AI is thinking and RTSing the hell out of it.

edit: me am no gud spelring mastar.

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My only gameplay experience that comes close to this is Civilization III. Since I know the AI's cheating (production bonuses, alliances and free information) I tend to play with as much randomness as possible. I already know the playing field isn't level, and it's rare that a complex computer game is so well defined that good, fair AI can be written for it.

If you can reduce things to chess, though, and make the playing field as clear as the chess board is, then I'd have less of a problem with it. Generally, though, randomness helps in replay value.

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Well there seems to be a lot of confusion going on in this thread so I'll try and resolve the various questions.

What do mean by deterministic?

Well in brief, deterministic means that the same sequence of events will always result in the same out come. For instance in chess the same sequence of moves will always result in the same game; there is no element of chance or variation in the outcome. If chess was nondeterministic that would mean that the same sequence of moves could result in a different outcome. Such as, if you try and take a pawn with your queen but your opponent rolls double sixes, which means you loose your queen instead. If you added rules to chess involving chance does it make chess better? It definitely makes it less strategic and arguably less fun. What do you think? Would chess be as fun if you could win or loose on the second turn because of a lucky roll?

Perpetual Loss

I'm not sure where this notion came from but some people seem to think that if a game is deterministic it means you can reach a point when you can't proceed. This is both true and false. On one had you can reach a point where it is no longer possible for you to win the game, but then that is true with chance games as well. On the other hand it means that if you encounter an obstacle you can learn from past experience what you need to overcome that obstacle. The enemy facility uses level 4 biometric locks on all its doors? Well that means you need a commando with at least a skill of 4 in security and a data spike, or a sat-link and a remote data spike, or some walls taps to blow open the doors, or have already stolen the access codes. So the player has several different methods they can use to overcome the obstacle. However there are two dangers, one they don't have the knowledge in advance and can't plan accordingly and two during the mission something happens that removes one or more of the requirements needed to overcome the obstacle preventing the team from completing the mission.

I should note the mission pass/fail is only as important as the mission itself and it is possible to have degrees of both with some objectives completed and others not.

Procedurally Generated Content

Essentially all the non plot specific events, organizations, and their development is all procedurally generated. There is no such thing as a bad seed that makes the game unplayable since each seed will have its own set of challenges. The last game you played there where several wars being fought around the globe so you had a perfect market for your BioMutants, while in this game there is only one war being fought, so you can either try and start more or explore other avenues for BioMutant use.

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[grin] If you wanna see what Chess with some element of chance becomes, why not try this little French game (translated to English).

As I stated before, from a lazy loser perspective, randomness gives me a chance in Hell to beat my opponents.
From an underdog perspective, I'd say it only diminishes my accomplishments, because my opponents can now shout "well, it was just a lucky win!"

To make it clearer about the whole "can not be finished" problem, let's use an analogy. What you want is to generate a maze, in which your players can evolve. That maze is a metaphor for your game, with its challenges to be overcome, its branching and more important, one or more endings.
Your job as a game designer is to make sure that the game CAN be finished. In other words, you must make sure that their is at least one path from beginning to end in your maze.
If a particular challenge requires something (a door requires a key), make sure that this item is generated on the path _before_ the door is reached. If a dead end is reached, make sure the player can backtrack and continue the adventure.

The game would indeed be procedurally generated (the "maze"), and its contents thus subject to the whims of chance, but at the same time it couldn't be "broken" (like my MahJong example). The only way you couldn't finish is if you didn't overcome the obstacles on your way.

Does that make sense ?

To answer your simple analogy: Chess. (especially on a computer)

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Wow, a maze, that's great analogy. Why didn't I think of that?

Okay I'll use ahw's example of Maze which should illustrate the idea better.

The game starts off by generating a random maze that always allows the player to progress from their starting point to any of the goals. So you're out exploring the maze when all of a sudden you come across a small river which prevents you from contiuning down that path since you don't have any rope. Its not a big deal it just means if you want to continue down that path then your going to need to get some rope. So you go exploring some more and eventually decided to go back to river after you've found some rope. However since you where last there the river has now filled with deadly pirahna. Not to worry though because from your experience in finding some rope you have learned to always carry a fews sticks of dynamite in your pocket for just such an eventuallity. So now you've not only crossed the river but you've also gained a couple of bags of tasty cajun style pirhanna bits.

Now doesn't that sound like fun? Wouldn't you enjoy that more then having to get lucky enough to roll double sixes to swim across the river?

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Original post by TechnoGoth
Now doesn't that sound like fun? Wouldn't you enjoy that more then having to get lucky enough to roll double sixes to swim across the river?


Possibly, but it in the context of an adventure/rpg game, it does run the risk of creating a lot of backtracking or packratting type behaviour.

For example, I might not pick up the dynamite, in which case I have to go all the way back *again* and try and find it. And it might not be immediately obvious that the dynamite is the best way to get across the river - I might spend ages looking for a net, or some fish repellent or something, thinking that I need to save my dynamite for some other puzzle further on...

Done poorly, it could be much more annoying and tedious than just reloading and trying again until you get your lucky double six.

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Original post by Sandman
Quote:
Original post by TechnoGoth
Now doesn't that sound like fun? Wouldn't you enjoy that more then having to get lucky enough to roll double sixes to swim across the river?


Possibly, but it in the context of an adventure/rpg game, it does run the risk of creating a lot of backtracking or packratting type behaviour.

For example, I might not pick up the dynamite, in which case I have to go all the way back *again* and try and find it. And it might not be immediately obvious that the dynamite is the best way to get across the river - I might spend ages looking for a net, or some fish repellent or something, thinking that I need to save my dynamite for some other puzzle further on...

Done poorly, it could be much more annoying and tedious than just reloading and trying again until you get your lucky double six.


Arn't the issues there really thatin rpgs/adventue games there is only ever one place you can get dynamite and not many places and ways? And two you can only use dynamite to overcome the obstacle and not dynamite/a net/ or fish repellent?

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Original post by TechnoGoth
Arn't the issues there really thatin rpgs/adventue games there is only ever one place you can get dynamite and not many places and ways? And two you can only use dynamite to overcome the obstacle and not dynamite/a net/ or fish repellent?


Perhaps. To use the maze analogy, it's a maze with only one path to the end.

Backtracking is a fundamental part of maze solving - but it isn't really that much fun in a game. On the other hand, if there are too many routes to the end, the maze is no challenge, and that's ignoring the problems inherent in the designer trying to think of every path the player might want to take.

So while the maze analogy might be useful for certain things, I don't think it's necessarily the right mindset to use when designing a game - mazes rely on obfuscation, deception, complexity and in a way - luck - to provide a challenge. There is no strategy for solving a maze that is not likely to result in masses of backtracking - whereas solving it first time is generally pure luck of choosing the correct path each time.

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I've been following this thread for a while and at first I misunderstood your initial post (I think the wording of the second paragraph was the culprit). Anyway, it seems most people who replied made the same mistake.

So..., If I understand your second post properly, what you actually mean is that you want to remove all the dice rolling in the game. So for instance if a peon hits a dragon you can be sure it will do exactly 10 pts of damage not 1*d20 pts of damage.

So when you say "entirely deterministic", you don't mean totally determined by whatever original random seed was originally generated but totally determined by the actions of the player!

And in
Quote:

the main one being that a player with knowledge of what obstacles are between them and a goal could determine if they will succeed or not given their current resources before they even attempt the challenge.

What you mean is that when the player sees an obstacle, he can make a plan based on his resources and be 100% sure whether he will succeed or fail (Unlike most RPG's where dicerolls mean you can do exactly the same thing two times and get very different results)

I still not too sure what
Quote:
Essentially each time you start a new game a new seed would be generated which would be used to determine all the procedurally generated content as well as how all events resolve without player intervention.
means.
My original impression, and apparently that of most of the posters, was that you meant once the random seed was generated, there would be nothing the player could do to affect his 'destiny'. However, from your second post it appears this was wrong.

So to use the wildly popular maze analogy.

A.) A maze where there is only one possible path you can walk. All doors that deviate from this path are locked but any doors on this path are unlocked

B.) A maze where there are many possible paths and each time you meet a door a dice throw determines whether it opens or closes.

C.) A maze where there are one or many possible paths and each door requires a key which you might have or might be able to get.

Your question is actually B vs C and not A vs B

So, I'll base my reply on the rephrased question (If I'm wrong please feel free to shoot me out of the water). I.e. would I like my actions in a game to always produce dependable outcomes as opposed to being determined by a toss of a biased dice.

Personally, my answer is totally Yes!!!

I always assumed that the reason games used dice was becuase that was the closest way they could model the interaction of dozens of pieces without getting bogged down in calculation.
e.g
I'm a level 50 paladin wearing heavy armour and wielding a razor sharp broadsword, my opponent a high level ninja (monk)fighting, for one reason or another, with bare hands.
We are fighting at night, on my castle grounds. Who wins. In reality it will be a complex mixture of strategy, technique, location and equipment that will resolve this. On a game board it is so much easier to assign probability bonuses to each of the elements and toss the dice.

The problem with this is that dice throws tend to cripple strategy. True this is dependent on implementation but you could have what would actually be a perfect strategy in real life (e.g. lock yourself in a steel box with a small hole and shoot the swordsman with your SMG as soon as he enters the room) but in a dice based game one swordsman will eventually survive enough bullets to reach the box and, with his old rusty sword, will still be able to cut your heart out.

Now while games are not necessarily meant to be a simulation of life, what actually happens with dice is that, sometimes, failure is not your fault. Personally, I don't like that.

I will always prefer chess to yahtzee. (Not sure about poker though, it seems to be more about how good a liar you are and not how good your hand is. Still don't like it anyway)


P.S.
I was going to apologise for such a long post but then I realised an apology would only make the post longer [smile]

[Edited by - thelurch on March 18, 2005 10:39:19 AM]

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When I saw this thread, first thing I thought of was Final Fantasy Tactics. The only random element in a battle was whether or not you would hit. Damage was static. This black mage casting fire on that knight always did the same amount of damage in a given battle, assuming it hit. I think it would be possible to make a game without even that bit of randomness. You can always tell if you'll hit, you always know how much damage you'll do, etc.

Of course, now that I think of it, a better first thought would have been Myst, or Zork, or Shadowgate. Every action would either work or not work; there were no probabilities involved. They were still fun, still took thought, still difficult, and particularly suited to random generation. "Skills" would just change which things you're able to do. If you have speech but not sword, maybe you can't kill the troll under the bridge but can talk the ferryman into taking you across. No probabilities, just which "doors" (in your maze anaology) are open to you. It could work really well, I think.

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Quote:
Original post by thelurch
I've been following this thread for a while and at first I misunderstood your initial post (I think the wording of the second paragraph was the culprit). Anyway, it seems most people who replied made the same mistake.


I think many people misunderstood what I was trying to say but oh well, it wouldn't be the first time.

Quote:

So..., If I understand your second post properly, what you actually mean is that you want to remove all the dice rolling in the game. So for instance if a peon hits a dragon you can be sure it will do exactly 10 pts of damage not 1*d20 pts of damage.

So when you say "entirely deterministic", you don't mean totally determined by whatever original random seed was originally generated but totally determined by the actions of the player!


Thats the idea all though there would still be some dice rolling behind the scenes for certain things but it does mean that even those "random events" would not truely be random, as the same events would always occur if the player peformed the same set of actions.

Quote:

And in
Quote:

the main one being that a player with knowledge of what obstacles are between them and a goal could determine if they will succeed or not given their current resources before they even attempt the challenge.

What you mean is that when the player sees an obstacle, he can make a plan based on his resources and be 100% sure whether he will succeed or fail (Unlike most RPG's where dicerolls mean you can do exactly the same thing two times and get very different results)


Thats exactly what it means.

Quote:

I still not too sure what
Quote:
Essentially each time you start a new game a new seed would be generated which would be used to determine all the procedurally generated content as well as how all events resolve without player intervention.
means.
My original impression, and apparently that of most of the posters, was that you meant once the random seed was generated, there would be nothing the player could do to affect his 'destiny'. However, from your second post it appears this was wrong.


There is still confusion with this so I'll use another analogy to hopefully that will make it clearer either that or confuse people some more. [wink]

Let say the game took place in an urban center at the start of each game the city would be generated based on the seed. You home would always be the same you would have the run down flat with an old TV, and a broken CD player but the rest of the city would be different based. The buildings, shops, and people living in the neibourhood would be different. In one game your next door neibour might have been a two aspiring actresses you could try date. This game is a have crazed plumber trying to create an army of cyberneticly enhanced hamsters. There might be a shop that sells novelty ties where the dark alley that used to sell drugs in was the last time. In these ways the game world is both the same and different each time, there same resources exist in each world but they make come with different sets of obstacles and challenges is both obtaining and using them in each game. In this way the player should in theory have enough difference in each game they play to make that game as interesting as the last one.

The actions I spoke of are a combination of random events and emergent content based on the state the game world. For instance a random event might by a group intergalactic pirate wig makers beaming into your place of work and demanding everyone hand over their hair. The player will be effect the outcome of this event in different ways depending on how they choose to interact with event. Maybe they convince the pirates to attack the office of their rival, or maybe they have a bloody battle where you take them on with weapon you fashioned out of bent paper clip and a rubber band. But it will always resolve in the same way should the player choose to not become involved.

An emergent event might be the crazed plumber, if the player just ignores him he eventually leads in daring midnight raid to seize control of the boiler room denying heat to the rest of tenets. On the other hand if the player interacts with those interactions will gone on to shape how he develops and any related emergent events. You might join forces with him and use his cybernetic hamsters to rob a bank or steal them and take control of the boiler room for yourself. Either way the player’s actions have shaped any future emergent events generated by the plumber.

Does that clear things up a at all? Or are you just scared to finish reading the post now? [wink]

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i.e. the chances of me living forever is zero


ot, but this really depends on your theology ;)

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It seems to me that you're overthinking things. Plenty of games are entirely "deterministic": Super Mario Bros, Tekken, Doom, etc. Almost all action, adventure, fighting, sports, and shooter games are determined entirely by player skill, with little to no random rolling. The only time randomness enters into these games is in computer AI decisions, but even that can be rather minimal. For the most part, doing the same thing every time will produce the same outcome; the challenge is being smart/fast enough to always do the best thing in a given situation. Only RPGs and Strategy games make gratuitous use of random rolls to determine player outcomes, and that seems to be more a nod to their tabletop histories than an important element of their design. So, I'd say yes, of course a game that relies on player skill instead of randomness will work just fine. Plenty of games are and they don't fall apart. Barring chaos theory in regards to atmospheric interference, any sport is largely deterministic.

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