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Kest

Strategy vs Expected Strategy

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1a. You stumble upon a sniper rifle in your favorite FPS, then notice NPC snipers in the tree tops and/or distant enemies with long range weapons in a village up ahead. There are trees to climb and places to hide. 1b. You stumble upon an enemy camp, realizing you have a sniper rifle on your back with a decent amount of ammo remaining. There are trees to climb and places to hide. 2a. You start a mission with some satchel charges. The mission objective is to destroy a convoy. 2b. You start a mission with normal weapons. The mission objective is to destroy a convoy. You have some leftover satchel charges from a previous mission. 3a. You start a stealth mission. You use stealth to win. 3b. You start a normal mission. You use stealth to win. 3b-alt. You start a stealth mission. You kill everyone with sub-machine guns and frag grenades. You still win. Am I the only one who prefers the B situations? I have a lot more fun when it's my idea. I don't like playing through 'scenarios'. I don't like having the game hold my hand. And I don't like experiencing a situation where the choices are so obvious that very few options actually exist. Considering my examples, I'll recommend comparing Medal of Honor (A-like) with Operation Flashpoint (B-like). Any opinions?

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I agree that it's more fun to figure out your own way through missions. However, I am also afflicted with horders syndrome. If it is possible to take out the convoy without using my satchel charges, I will do so. Also, if I think it's possible to do so, I will keep on quickloading until I find a way to do so. Who knows, I might need them later. And I would be right to horde them. In 2b you give an advantage to the player who has horded the satchel charges you gave them in a previous mission. If you reward me for hording ammo, when will I ever use it? At the same time, you have to design your levels for people who didn't horde their satchel charges. Net result, a lot more work for me, the player, and a less fun game.

I never used nukes in Shadow Warrior, grenades in Fallout, or potions in Baldurs Gate. Why? Because I knew that the game had to be designed in such a way that it was possible to get through it without using them, because the designer had to know that I might not have them at any point in the game.

However, if I enter a situation where the game designer has made sure that I have satchel charges, and I can trust them to supply me with satchel charges in every situation that requires them, then I will use them.

Valve figured this out. In Halflife 2 there was a reason there was always an unlimmited supply of rockets nearby whenever you needed to use them to take out a helicopter.
Republic Commando always had rockets or grenades nearby when you were facing super battle droids.
Deus Ex was the master of emergent gameplay, but it made absolutely sure that they had provided you with the tools to accomplish the mission in a number of fun ways.

Obviously, different types of games require different approaches. Call of Duty was lauded for it's cinematic, scripted scenario battles, and Farcry was praised for being able to enter a fight however you wanted. But the more open a game is, the less you know what the player is doing, and the harder the game is to balance.

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Original post by CIJolly
I agree that it's more fun to figure out your own way through missions. However, I am also afflicted with horders syndrome. If it is possible to take out the convoy without using my satchel charges, I will do so.

I don't think you will if your challenge is dramatically reduced because of your choice to use them. If you still do, then that just sounds silly. That should be the reason you were hording them; to use them in a great situation.

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Also, if I think it's possible to do so, I will keep on quickloading until I find a way to do so. Who knows, I might need them later. And I would be right to horde them.

It is later. You do need them. By the way, Operation Flashpoint had no quickloading. It saves your progress if you get far enough, but usually, entire lengthy missions (20+ minutes) needed accomplished without a save. And this is a game where one bullet will end your life. Talk about sweating it out. That's fear of death. Trust me, in this type of situation, near the end and death around every corner, you will use the freaking satchel charges if it means increasing the odds of survival.

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In 2b you give an advantage to the player who has horded the satchel charges you gave them in a previous mission. If you reward me for hording ammo, when will I ever use it?

My point isn't very related to hording. The satchel charges could have been accessible through an enemy armory on that stage. But having the bombs come from a previous location makes the strategy even more your own and less of the designer's. Having the ability to take a certain amount of any equipment you choose with you on each mission (Hitman, Flashpoint) requires zero hording for this design to work. Hording would only make sense when the strategy uses something that is rarely given to you in the game. That's not at all what this is about. This is about the mission parameters being hard coded into the game.

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At the same time, you have to design your levels for people who didn't horde their satchel charges.

The level was already designed to be played without using satchel charges. But by using them, you get a better result. A better score. Less chance of failure. An awesome accomplishment, instead of getting half of your team killed.

The point is that the player is choosing how to win. The designer doesn't even need to be concerned with it. Just build a likley situation, make sure the player has a few options that will reduce the average difficulty of the mission, then let the player do his thing. But don't design the entire mission around the choices. Constructing a mission around three possible ways to win is just going to make it laughable if the player actually did sneak in some super weapons. It will no longer feel like an advantage by using an original strategy in a likely situation. It will feel like breaking the game.

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Net result, a lot more work for me, the player, and a less fun game.

I don't really follow this conclusion.

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I never used nukes in Shadow Warrior, grenades in Fallout, or potions in Baldurs Gate. Why?

Quicksave?

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However, if I enter a situation where the game designer has made sure that I have satchel charges, and I can trust them to supply me with satchel charges in every situation that requires them, then I will use them.

Of course you will. But that pretty much nulls any strategy existing in the use of them. Unless you're a production line worker, I don't see how you could appreciate this type of gameplay. It's amusing to experience, but it's not a very fun design, in my opinion.

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Valve figured this out. In Halflife 2 there was a reason there was always an unlimmited supply of rockets nearby whenever you needed to use them to take out a helicopter.

That was a cheap way out. A very cheap way out, considering how much work was put into the graphics and physics of the game. You would think a little more time spent on gameplay would have been easy. HL2 is one of the most A-type games I've played. It actually implemented fail-safes to prevent player strategy.

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Deus Ex was the master of emergent gameplay, but it made absolutely sure that they had provided you with the tools to accomplish the mission in a number of fun ways.

Deus Ex's attempt to hide the fact that there were certain set choices failed. I don't consider the A,B or C door choices player strategy. That's still very much designer strategy. So that part of the game I still consider very A-type. But the gameplay itself was not at all A-type. You could do whatever you wanted within the rules of the game to win, where the rules of the game did not change from mission to mission. You carried with you the equipment from previous missions, and it was possible to leave behind equipment and be at a disadvantage. Those elements made the whole game very flexible and ready for anything.

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But the more open a game is, the less you know what the player is doing, and the harder the game is to balance.

Don't balance the battles. Balance your simulation. Let the player's choices balance the battles.

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I'm not saying emergent gameplay isn't fun. I'm just saying that you have to be very careful that the player will take advantage of the simulation you've set up for them. I might have been side tracked a bit by your "you have some left over satchel charges from a previous mission" comment. It sounded like you were leaving too much up to chance.
You can see how there are two dangerous scenarios that stem from that. One is that the player used their satchel charges. Now, through no fault of their own, they are in for a very tough time. You have to have satchel charges available to them, either by putting them in the armoury, letting them buy them before the game, or making them common in the level. This isn't taking away strategy from the player, it is just making sure they have what they need to carry out a valid strategy.
The other is that they are horders, and don't use their satchel charges if they know they can get away without using them. Hording does happen unless ammo is plentiful and well placed. You need some element of A level design to let the player trust you enough to use their equipment, knowing that the game wont become unwinnable (or at least very difficult) if they do.

Emergent gameplay is all well and good, but you have to make sure the player has the tools to do the job in front of them. Deus Ex ensured that you would have the equipment you needed to do the job through it's skill system. If you were expert at pistols, the player would have a strong incentive to carry a pistol. The developers gave the player ammo from bodies and boxes. If there was a bot, there was always a way to defeat it built into the game (LAWS, consoles, stealth) on top of any homebrew strategies the player could think up.

The B's are fun, but as a level designer it is your job to make sure the player has an A they can fall back on. That way they can feel smug and brag about their cleverness to their less cunning friends. That is what Deus Ex did. Supply the A's, but leave the door open for people to use B's.

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Original post by CIJolly
The B's are fun, but as a level designer it is your job to make sure the player has an A they can fall back on. That way they can feel smug and brag about their cleverness to their less cunning friends. That is what Deus Ex did. Supply the A's, but leave the door open for people to use B's.

Absolutely.

My point was that I prefer B's to A's. I had fun sniping the tree snipers in Medal of Honor. But I had a lot more fun using leftover rounds from that same sniper rifle later on in that mission. I'm someone who hates playing stealth missions. But I love being stealthy to accomplish normal missions. This seems to be true for me in all of the games I play. It's entertaining to follow the designer's path. But it's a complete blast to create my own path. Is it just me? Are there players (of ANY game) out there who don't like these types of situations? I'm only suggesting that designers realize that this exists, and to absolutely not stop it from happening. Ever. Balancing the game should come secondary to enjoying it. If it's more fun unbalanced, leave it alone. If adding more fun by adding more flexibility unbalances it slightly, then why not? It's surely worth it.

I propose that instead of creating a mission that can be won by using (A) stealth, (B) guns, or (C) bombs, we create a set of game world rules that allow the player to implement stealth tricks and bomb planting in any situation, where guns will always get you out of a tight spot if all else fails.

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I agree with the sentiment, and with pretty much all the expressed misgivings.

I, too, am a hoarder, and if my inventory isn't maxed out, I look for a way to fill it while using one pistol bullet per enemy. The only time I pull out all the stops is when I can see the end of the level coming up and I know I can't take it with me.

Like Kest said, if I've got to destroy a convoy and I've got some satchel charges, who's to say that there won't be a ship that needs blasted in the next level? What if there's a great easter egg that I can only get if I have all three satchel charges at the end of the last mission? I worry about these things, so if there's a way to use an environmental hazard or melee attack instead of expending a non-renewable resource, I'll do it. I played too much Resident Evil to take my bullets for granted.

You only have to be crouched in a corner with eight rounds left once to think, "I'll never waste another shotgun shell again".

Here's my advice: Make the player leave stuff behind all the time. In Halo, I'd use rockets on Grunts, because I knew I couldn't take the rocket launcher, the SMG and the sword into the building with me, and the rockets would be least useful. I'd throw grenades willy-nilly because I could see some more just down the hall, and I can only carry four at a time. If you make it impossible to carry a museum of every item you've ever owned along with you, players will be more inclined to use their gear instead of saving it for a rainy day that'll never come.

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I agree with ICC; I'm a natural pack rat too, and I like it when there are mechanics that prevent hoarding. Actually, I don't like it, but I usually have a better time.

I think a carry-weight mechanic might help a lot. Does the player want to carry the satchel charges around to the next mission when instead he could be carrying 15 M-16 clips? If body armor makes a character move slower, might a player pass it up? Could the player cache his body armor and assault rifle behind some crates in an alley, perferring to sneak in the back door (silenced pistol in one hand, combat knife in the other) rather than storm into the main entrance with guns blazing and grenades blasting?

Also, you probably didn't use grenades in Fallout because the throwing skill sucked...at least it was a waste of experience to build it up.

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Here's a wacky idea: don't put any strategies into the game. AT ALL. Just give the player random stuff and let 'em loose in an area that's designed like something from reality. Say, for instance, you stick Times Square into...oh, I dunno, Half-Life and you need to slaughter everyone in the immediate area. You COULD just kill everyone with a gun or something and eventually win the day, or you could sneak into one of the many buildings, climb to the roof and lob grenades at the unknowing populace below from there. Or you could blow up the supports for a billboard with the Gauss and laugh maniacally while the massive thing crushes people upon landing.

GTA did this rather well. You could do things in that game that the designers probably never even THOUGHT of. Just make an area that you like, make everything not bolted down fully destructable, Worms style (the bolted down stuff is only PARTIALLY destructable), stick in a decent physics engine that includes people going squish if something heavy (such as the roof) lands on them, include a few laundry chutes that have people at the bottom (*coughgrenadecough*), permanant blood that doesn't magically dissapear and...yeah.

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I guess I emphasized a little too much on keeping items from previous missions in my examples. That really doesn't have much at all to do with my point.

I see no reason to prevent item hoarding. It's a lack of strategic skill on the player's part to miss opportunities to use items in good places. If you never believe the use of nice items warrants their loss, I have a simple solution. Turn up the difficulty, or stop saving the game every 30 seconds.

I stocked plasma grenades in Halo too. But I had a reason for it. I liked crowning Elites with them. So if I saw an Elite and wasn't too far away, out come the plasma grenades. I could pistol snipe them instead, needler them to death, or blast them with green plasma charges. So no worries if I run out of grenades.

In this respect, Halo is setting up rules and letting us go at it. From what I can remember, some of those rules..

Elites-Best: Plasma grenades
Elites-Good: Big plasma bursts, needlers, Warthog hit & run
Elites-Okay: Pistol sniping, fast plasma bursts, frag grenades
Elites-Bad: SMG, punching

TinyDudes-Best: Pistol sniping
TinyDudes-Good: Fast plasma bursts, punching
TinyDudes-Okay: SMG, grenades, big plasma bursts
TinyDudes-Bad: Needlers

GreenDudes-Best: Big plasma burst
GreenDudes-Good: Punching, pistol sniping, grenades
GreenDudes-Bad: SMG, Needlers

Hunter-Best: Pistol sniping (one shot on the yellow triangle on their back)
Hunter-Good: Warthog hit & run, rocket launcher, boxing
Hunter-Bad: Everything else

Hmm, I guess I remember more than I thought. Of course I wouldn't even know these things if I didn't play on Legendary mode. On normal, it doesn't really matter what you use. Everything works. I need to play that on Legendary again.

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Of course you will. But that pretty much nulls any strategy existing in the use of them. Unless you're a production line worker, I don't see how you could appreciate this type of gameplay. It's amusing to experience, but it's not a very fun design, in my opinion.

Ever thought about playing other games? ;) I think your issues aren't as much about bad design, but about difference in taste. You found Half-Life 2 to be cheaply designed, at least some aspects, I greatly enjoyed it. You prefer more open games, I quickly feel lost in them. That doesn't mean any one of those games are poorly designed, they're just designed with different publics in mind.

I understand your issue, and in some games I have the same feeling, the idea you're being pushed through a certain predefined tunnel, so to say. That's probably poor design. However, I've played various games that are essentially equally linear, yet still give the player the feeling they're doing it themselves. There's nothing that feels like an unnatural choice, so the feeling isn't broken - for most people, of course, as you can never please everyone.
Which makes me believe it isn't directly about the presence of multiple choices, but the presentation of them in the first place. Yes, giving multiple choices can really make things more interesting and it's something I would keep in mind when designing a level. On the other hand, masking a single choice as if it was an open choice can be effective just as well.

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I see no reason to prevent item hoarding. It's a lack of strategic skill on the player's part to miss opportunities to use items in good places. If you never believe the use of nice items warrants their loss, I have a simple solution. Turn up the difficulty, or stop saving the game every 30 seconds.

Aren't you the one now who's forcing people to play the way you like? ;) Some players don't play for the strategy, others see it as a skill to beat situations with as little resource waste as possible. I remember playing Tomb Raider, only using the pistols. I saved a lot, too. Still, I enjoyed the game a lot. That was my way to play it back then, it was my 'solution' and I had fun with it, and isn't that what you're trying to emphasize?

On the other hand however, I think preventing ammo hoarding can be quite effective. The original gameplay can be fun, but by preventing hoarding, the designers can enforce players to rethink their strategies because the ammo they trust on may not always be sufficient. Some players play (too) carefull and while they may enjoy a game that way, forcing them to finally make those decisions can unlock a new level of gameplay, one which they never would've gotten to by themselves.

I think it comes down to finding out what your public really likes, not just what they'll always try to do, and building gameplay mechanisms that bring out that best in them. Triggering your players to play the way they enjoy most.

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