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Ashaman73

The anti-casual game

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Ashaman73    13715
I'm developing a game which targets expert gamers. Not just core gamers who play lot of games, but gamers who are willing to handle complex gameplay mechanism, like dwarven fortress.

I'm not planning to make it more like a 'casual' game by removing some of the complexity, but I would like to make the game mechanism more accessible. What are feasable ways to increase the accessibility of a game ?
One important step is to use a gui, which has been integrated, but what else could be done ?


Edit: fixed a typo (causal=>casual)

[Edited by - Ashaman73 on November 12, 2010 12:41:17 AM]

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Tiblanc    560
Having the least amount of information visible while keeping all relevant information to a decision is a good way to make it accessible. Not enough information does not allow the player to make informed decisions on these mechanics while too much information will hide important information. One way to do it is to categorize things for the player to allow them to quickly compare complex data.

For example, in an SRPG I was working on, characters could have resistance to 8 elements from -100% to 100%. Listing the 8 percentages was flooding the player with information. Replacing them with up to 5 up/down arrows kept things simple while allowing the player to rapidly see which target was vulnerable to fire or ice. He couldn't see if the target had 33% or 40% resistance, but such granularity hardly matters anyway. Attacking a unit with 2 down arrows is better than 3 up arrows and that's enough information.

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snak    122
I thought you meant anti-causal in the 'cause & effect' sense - like things would happen, and then the player would have to react with the proper out-of-sequence cause, like a game played in reverse or something.

To make a game easier to understand it is important that the player understand the model of what is going on inside the game, and how the player's actions influence the model.

The civilization series (at least early iterations) is a good example of this - assume you are changing tax rates - you will see happy faces and gold coins going up and down as you change the tax rate.

Imagine instead if changing taxes had no visible immediate effect, and did unintuitive things like change external diplomatic relations and the chance of finding random gold caches.

In short, make sure that the purpose and impact of various actions a player can perform are clearly communicated and intuitive (even if they are numerous)

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Phil_ATS    100
You could increase the complexity gradually as the game progresses although I'm not sure if that's what you mean by removing complexity.

Making a tutorial could also help players understand it.

Dwarf Fortress uses a series of youtube videos as a tutorial.

Basing as much of it as you can in real physics may help. Like a broader spear head will do more damage except an armored opponent in which case a thinner spear head will perform better. The more ways to understand besides memorizing numbers and keys you can find the better.

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Tom Sloper    16040
Quote:
Original post
I'm not planning to make it more like a 'causal' game by removing some of the complexity

Quote:
by snak
I thought you meant anti-causal in the 'cause & effect' sense

Yeah, are we just looking at a typo here? OP, did you mean to type "casual" instead of "causal"?

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TyrianFin    122
If you can make complex game so simple to understand that child can play it,
then you have succeeded!. (So yes, remove all complexity from interface)

And targeting on specialized customer group is good choice,
becouse there is overflow of "casual" games that only get lost
in to internet noise. (one size fits all, is bad marketing idea!)

Accessibility or data visualization is hard problem there is no
clear rules. (but try to find & use, sollutions found from real life,
ie. what kind of icons are used in warnings, how LEGO instructions are drawn etc.)

/Tyrian

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Ashaman73    13715
@Tiblanc
Quote:

For example, in an SRPG I was working on, characters could have resistance to 8 elements from -100% to 100%. Listing the 8 percentages was flooding the player with information. Replacing them with up to 5 up/down arrows kept things simple while allowing the player to rapidly see which target was vulnerable to fire or ice. He couldn't see if the target had 33% or 40% resistance, but such granularity hardly matters anyway. Attacking a unit with 2 down arrows is better than 3 up arrows and that's enough information.

Aren't number part of an expert game ? For minor features (like elemental resistances) I could use icons instead, but for major features like character attributes I would prefer numbers. How about reducing the range (instead of 0-300 only 0-30) ?

@snak
Quote:

In short, make sure that the purpose and impact of various actions a player can perform are clearly communicated and intuitive (even if they are numerous)

But how ? As an example I got a quite complex and flexible crafting system. You can craft a torch from whatever you like, i.e. take a bone (handle), wrap leather around the bone and use water as fuel.
Well, in this combination you got a torch which would never burn. You got recipes of working combinations, but players are able to experiement with whatever fits the torch-recipes. When he takes dragon-blood instead of water the torch will be better than any standard torch,on the other hand, taking worm blood will lead to an other not burning torch. How to communicate this 'sandbox' crafting system to the player ?
When the player starts with worm-blood and got a not burning torch, he will most probably think about a bug and not a feature.

@Tom
Quote:

Yeah, are we just looking at a typo here? OP, did you mean to type "casual" instead of "causal"?

Oops, fixed it :-)

@TyrianFin
Quote:

And targeting on specialized customer group is good choice,
becouse there is overflow of "casual" games that only get lost
in to internet noise. (one size fits all, is bad marketing idea!)

Yes, the current trend is to make money, not games. I want to make an experimental game (and most likely not money :-) ) which targets game veterans, thought too much information and low accessibility will even scare them away.

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Ravyne    14300
Quote:
Original post by Ashaman73
@TyrianFin
Quote:

And targeting on specialized customer group is good choice,
becouse there is overflow of "casual" games that only get lost
in to internet noise. (one size fits all, is bad marketing idea!)

Yes, the current trend is to make money, not games. I want to make an experimental game (and most likely not money :-) ) which targets game veterans, thought too much information and low accessibility will even scare them away.


Still... be careful. "experimental" and "complex" are almost always at odds. Most innovative games we see these days focus very clearly on one experimental concept and fully explore that to its logical end -- think of Braid or Portal, which each had a single novel idea (a.k.a. The Experiment) and really delve very deeply into all the ways those mechanics could be used.

Firstly it is difficult to create a complex system out of entirely novel components, so you may only end up with a handul of new ideas glued together with The Same Old Thing.

Secondly, even if you manage to come up with many novel ideas that integrate well, it becomes increasingly difficult to explore them in any real depth the more of them that there are. I would recommend no more than 3 experiemental ideas or systems per project, and urge you that 1 is probably the more optimal number.

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swiftcoder    18431
Quote:
Original post by Ashaman73
I want to make an experimental game (and most likely not money :-) ) which targets game veterans, thought too much information and low accessibility will even scare them away.
And this is the pitfall.

Going back to dwarf fortress, it is in my experience neither particularly complex, nor particularly hard - both of those are greatly oversold by one of the most f***ed-up user interfaces ever designed. If he were to ship a graphical tileset and add a mouse-driven interface, I don't think it would be any more difficult than the Sims.

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forsandifs    154
Quote:
Original post by Ashaman73
But how ? As an example I got a quite complex and flexible crafting system. You can craft a torch from whatever you like, i.e. take a bone (handle), wrap leather around the bone and use water as fuel.
Well, in this combination you got a torch which would never burn. You got recipes of working combinations, but players are able to experiement with whatever fits the torch-recipes. When he takes dragon-blood instead of water the torch will be better than any standard torch,on the other hand, taking worm blood will lead to an other not burning torch. How to communicate this 'sandbox' crafting system to the player ?
When the player starts with worm-blood and got a not burning torch, he will most probably think about a bug and not a feature.


I love that idea! I was thinking of something equally sandboxy recently and asked myself the same question: how can the player know what is posible instead of shrugging his shoulders and saying "this is boring", or "wtf am I supposed to do"?

The answer I came up with is to have a short as possible tutorial that communicates the essential mechanisms to the player. Introduce your crafting in the same way you introduced it to us.

So you could have an NPC mentor ask the player to try to create a torch. First you could suggest creating one by combining a stick, a piece of cloth, and regular fuel. The torch would work. Then the NPC could ask the player to replace the stick with a bone, the cloth with leather, and the fuel with worm blood. The torch would not work. So the NPC could then ask the player to replace the worm blood with dragon blood and the torch would work. In this way you introduce the players to the many fundamental mechanisms involved in crafting and the player will learn what can be done intuitively, by pattern recognition and filling in the gaps.

Later on in the tutorial you could introduce another element of the sandbox possibilites. Ask the player to take a pick and shovel that he needs to create using your crafting system, and try to dig a hole in the side of a cliff. Then ask him to make the hole bigger. Then ask him to cut some trees and use the wood from them to create a fence with a door for the cave. The player now has a house. You have introduced your destructible and resuable environment. You've shown him what is possible in your world. Rest assured he will not hesitate to try what can and can't be done in your game.

If there are other fundamental mechanisms in your game the player is not aware of you will need to introduce them in the same exemplary way. Ask the player to perform several tasks that illustrate the basic mechanisms you want the player to understand, and presto.

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Ashaman73    13715
@Ravyne
Quote:

Still... be careful. "experimental" and "complex" are almost always at odds. Most innovative games we see these days focus very clearly on one experimental concept and fully explore that to its logical end -- think of Braid or Portal, which each had a single novel idea (a.k.a. The Experiment) and really delve very deeply into all the ways those mechanics could be used.

With experimental I don't meant to create an innovative game, but a game "experiement" not meant for the masses or to make money. It will be a game most likely in a constant state of flux (development wise). In some sense it is similar to dwarven fortress, thought there's nothing special about dwarves or building a fortress, still dwarven fortress is unique.

Quote:

Firstly it is difficult to create a complex system out of entirely novel components, so you may only end up with a handul of new ideas glued together with The Same Old Thing.

I will definitely end up with The Same Old Thing glued together in an other way. My game is a mix of many game elements already known (RTS+FPS+RPG). Some elements are complex, like my crafting system, but there're other simple elements which are combined in a single game which leads to an overall complexity not "often" encountered in "modern" games.

@swiftcoder
Quote:

Going back to dwarf fortress, it is in my experience neither particularly complex, nor particularly hard - both of those are greatly oversold by one of the most f***ed-up user interfaces ever designed. If he were to ship a graphical tileset and add a mouse-driven interface, I don't think it would be any more difficult than the Sims.

Yep, the user interface leaves a lot to be desired. The complexity is definitely above standard games, thought other simulations, even The Sims(never played it), could be of higher or equal complexity. You could say that my game is close to the complexity of a simulation.

@forsandifs
A quest tutorial line would help, still many people would like to skip "boring" tutorials.

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forsandifs    154
Quote:
Original post by Ashaman73
@forsandifs
A quest tutorial line would help, still many people would like to skip "boring" tutorials.


It doesn't have to be boring. But you DO have to illustrate the fun possibilities in the game somehow, and guide them through the actions needed to realise those possibilites.

Take Darkfall Online as an example of what not to do... I tried the free trial and it dumped me into a pretty much empty landscape (with bad graphics...). I saw some obvious NPCs in the distance and I ran to them and tried talking to them somehow by guessing at keyboard keys and using the mouse buttons. Eventually they told me to go get 5 rabbit skins... I was like, "wtflol, YEAH RIGHT!". Now, I know that Darkfall online is supposed to have great open world pvp and skill based character progression, and that is what attracted to me to it. But I had absolutely no idea how to find other people, no idea what I could or couldn't do in the game (apart from maybe kill and loot rabbits, yawn), and no incentive to explore because everything looked very dull, it seemed I had to run everywhere very slowly, and everyone in the general chat seemed to be speaking Russian or something. At one point someone said "go away noob" or something (that's the only English I got out of them, and no one seemed to speak Spanish either). So after running around a bit more, I cursed the game for having wasted my time and bandwidth and logged of, uninstalled, never to try it again.

Now, if an NPC had come to ME, and said "yo dude, there's a town over yonder, there you can find many people, bla bla, go take a look" or something, I would have very cheerfully done so and maybe would have found out what makes the game worth playing.

Integrating the tutorial into the RP setting seems like a very natural choice. TBH, it seems like the only choice. One thing more boring than a tutorial quest line is a frikkin' manual....

[Edited by - forsandifs on November 12, 2010 11:16:58 AM]

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Tiblanc    560
Quote:
Original post by Ashaman73
@Tiblanc
Quote:

For example, in an SRPG I was working on, characters could have resistance to 8 elements from -100% to 100%. Listing the 8 percentages was flooding the player with information. Replacing them with up to 5 up/down arrows kept things simple while allowing the player to rapidly see which target was vulnerable to fire or ice. He couldn't see if the target had 33% or 40% resistance, but such granularity hardly matters anyway. Attacking a unit with 2 down arrows is better than 3 up arrows and that's enough information.

Aren't number part of an expert game ? For minor features (like elemental resistances) I could use icons instead, but for major features like character attributes I would prefer numbers. How about reducing the range (instead of 0-300 only 0-30) ?


Yes, numbers are part of of the complexity. However, this complexity is irrelevant
when playing a turn. When equipping units, showing the actual number is relevant. When making a turn, it's noise. The player's decision will not be different if the target has 0% or 5% resistance because of damage variance.

Try to view the game from the player's perspective. What are the most important pieces of information that I need to take a decision at this point in the game? If the player needs to keep in mind more pieces than what fits in short term memory(about 7), then you need to rework the UI or the complexity of the game else the game flow will suffer.

For your torch example, you can categorize crafting components. That way, if the player wonders what kind of combustible he has, he simply goes into that category and has a list. A bad UI design would dump all components in the face of the player, letting him sort it all. The player would need to remember every component that is combustible and mentally sort them in his inventory, then pick the best one based on various factors. Dragon blood is good, but it's also used to craft some cool armor, while oil is less good, but has less immediate uses. With a sorted list, this comparison is easy. With an unsorted list, the player's brain will explode because he needs to remember more than what his short term memory allows.

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sitwind    137
I agree with Tiblanc that information hiding is one way to go.

Other than that, depends on your goal.

Goal 1: Complex gameplay mechanism, no matter if it is fun
(complex)
There is only so much you could do about the
accessibility/complexity ratio

Goal 2: Complex, but has to be fun at the same time
(complex && fun)
Cut away things which are not fun, especially those
which adds to complexity. Since complexity != fun,
I would say there is plenty to cut. And the game will
be more accessible with reduced complexity.

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