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Orymus3

[4X / TBS] Space Game - No ship Customization?

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Over a year ago, I came to you for advice regarding this question:

 

"Would it be viable for a 4X game to have no ship customization whatsoever?"

 

The feedback I've received then was invaluable, and I thank everyone that took the time to help me bring my design under a better light.

Today, I find myself revisiting that question, after much consideration.

 

The game I'm making has a strong focus on logistics. Ships have many duties, and it is up to the player to determine how to best utilize them.

(Example)

[spoiler]A "Cruiser" could be used as a scout (because it is fast and information is valuable), an armored transport/freighter (because it tends to have decent cargo space), a raider/interceptor (because it can take on smaller vessels easily) or a frontline "winger" (in that it can attack smaller ships-of-the-line on the battle front). A player might even willingly sacrifice it to a larger vessel to slow it down, or to weaken it to a point it can be killed by another vessel, or use more than a single Cruiser to "swarm" larger threats.[/spoiler]

 

Each faction have their own set of ships which drastically differ from one to the other, giving them inherent strengths/weaknesses and suggesting some form of playstyle (without actually directing it entirely).

(Example)

[spoiler]Race A might have a very aggressive scout, and lack strong battleships whereas race B might have a wide array of middle ships with lots of cargo space. Race C might have a few big guns but lack proper logistical support (all ships having relatively low cargo space).

Race A would probably capitalize on its ability to acquire information and apply concentration of forces to very specific objectives. It would lose a lot of ships, but would end up fighting the battles that are worth the most. Race B could do hit and run tactics: with it's high cargo supply, it could maintain a strong presence away from their resupply centers. Race C would be a moving threat, but their lack of transportation would slow them down, forcing them to establish outposts/colonies along the way, which would make them fearful of other factions' surgical strikes (A and B).[/spoiler]

 

When gauging the depth of gameplay, I find myself in a position where I believe there's enough for a skilled commander to remain interested in the game despite having no ship customization. I'm also at a crossroads where I feel that adding ship customization might add a bit of fun / strategy, but would add a significant level of complexity (micro-management) and this smells to me like a poor design decision.

 

So, assuming the above, let me ask you: 

 

"Would it be viable for a 4X game to have no ship customization whatsoever?"

 
Thanks!

 

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I feel that adding ship customization might add a bit of fun / strategy,

All this little nasty ideas creeping in  wink.png

 

In times where you catch yourself out adding/hanging on some game features, try to focus on the core concepts first. Is customization a core concept ? Remember, that you should only have one or two core concepts and each other sub concept build upon or support these one.

 

It sounds, like customazation is not a core concept, then the next question is, does it help to support the core concept, or is it just a funny addition which fits into the setting ?

 

And eventually ask yourself if you can include a customization feature which supports "easy to learn, hard to master". For "easy to learn" it should not be mandatory to play/win/like the game as long as it isn't a core feature. For "hard to master" it should be mandatory to win the game when played in a challeging mode (either multiplayer or hard setting).

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In times where you catch yourself out adding/hanging on some game features, try to focus on the core concepts first. Is customization a core concept ? Remember, that you should only have one or two core concepts and each other sub concept build upon or support these one.

 

Originally, it was, and to a great degree, I've found certain implementations of the model that worked for the most part. I don't think adding customization would make the model less fun, but in trying to do more with less, I'm left wondering if the game can still work without it.

 

In most 4X games, I'm turned off by the complexity of the customization system... My base reference for this design has a very limited/simple customization implementation, and for the most part, it works. But what I've uncovered after a while is that, the better you get at this game, the fewer actual "choices" you realize you have. For example, there may be 10 options for a given slot, but you'll grow into using a maximum of 2-3, with very narrow roles.

This left me wondering, what if there were more ambiguous ship choices, but no actual "component" choices? Given that components added to a ship cannot be changed afterwards anyway, I wouldn't lose any flexibility, and it would be clearer to newcomers that the "X-52 minelayer" differs in purpose from the "X-71 interceptor" for example, instead of having to remember that the "mark 4 photon torpedo" is good for mine laying whereas the "mark 7 photon torpedo" is a much better damage dealer in combat.

 


It sounds, like customazation is not a core concept, then the next question is, does it help to support the core concept, or is it just a funny addition which fits into the setting ?

It could support the core, and it used to be part of it, but I'm wondering if stripping it from my core idea would affect my MVP.

 


And eventually ask yourself if you can include a customization feature which supports "easy to learn, hard to master". For "easy to learn" it should not be mandatory to play/win/like the game as long as it isn't a core feature. For "hard to master" it should be mandatory to win the game when played in a challeging mode (either multiplayer or hard setting).

I agree. I feel that ship customization would have newcomers make a lot of unnecessary mistakes and lost a lot of games without understanding why. I'm inclined to have more ambiguous ships instead so that the knowledge acquired is tangible. Over the course of many matches, players would learn that, though the "stealth interceptor class X-99" is a very good ship, its purpose is very narrow (close-range interceptions) because its fuel tanks are short for example. They could learn to value more versatile ships even when they don't necessarily shine with firepower. For example, a high defense, high cargo and high fuel autonomy frigate could be a very strong ship because of its survivability and ability to sustain a campaign in enemy territory. It wouldn't necessarily require a dedicated logistic fleet to support either, unlike the interceptor or any given gunship.

I feel this should provide sufficient depth to the game, without necessarily requiring me to implement the option to put "better weapons" to scale up ship power as the game progresses, but this is a very critical design decision as it could make or wreck the game altogether.

 

I'm still looking for references of good 4X or TBS games (in space) where ships are not customizable, and that the gameplay is not affected.

 

One last key important notion about my concept is that ships are but a few (at peak, players won't control more than 100 or so ships). Each unit should be critical, and the player shouldn't feel like he's controlling "numbers". The way I anticipate this will happen is to have good ship variety and different purposed-ships, so that the player ends up forming battle groups of 3-7 ships and replicate the model across space. Provided this is fun enough, and not too simple, I feel it could work, but I'm left with a lingering feeling of: will there be sufficient meaningful player decisions in choosing what/how to build their ships?

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The old discussion :)

First maybe a personal advice, you like no ship customization, it's usually good to follow personal preferences of a designer, so in your case, no matter the arguments and such, I would still go for your personal taste.

Besides, you are so unenthusiastic about the ship customization that the one you make would be most likely boring or average at most :) Don't play on your weak points, play on your strong ones.

 

Ship customization is not needed, what is needed is fleet customization. Ship customization is one of the ways to achieve fleet customization. So, the question is, will there be fleet customization in your game? If yes, then probably ship customization would be redundant.

 

Plus... There are tons of 4X that have superbs (so they say, I don't like these) ship customization systems, so you are competing on a feature your competitors excell at...

As for me, I will probably skip ship customization in my game, part of the reason being that everyone and his dog implements it (and I have heard voices of players who don't like ship design, althrough they might be a minority).

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The old discussion

My Arch-nemesis :)

 


First maybe a personal advice, you like no ship customization, it's usually good to follow personal preferences of a designer, so in your case, no matter the arguments and such, I would still go for your personal taste.

 

Well, I don't like excessive ship customization, but my favorite 4X game has ship customization, and I like it a lot. I like having that level of control, even if it means that the only thing I can do is "not fail". There aren't many occasions where I can do better, but I can at least demonstrate knowledge of the game mechanics and avoid pitfalls.

 


Besides, you are so unenthusiastic about the ship customization that the one you make would be most likely boring or average at most Don't play on your weak points, play on your strong ones.

 

I actually have a fairly simple and cool customization system. Lightweight and efficient. And I am sure it would be fun (well, as sure as I possibly can be that is). I just don't know whether it is necessary...

 


Ship customization is not needed, what is needed is fleet customization. Ship customization is one of the ways to achieve fleet customization. So, the question is, will there be fleet customization in your game? If yes, then probably ship customization would be redundant.

What do you mean by fleet customization exactly?

The concept of fleet wouldn't be present per se. It would be up to players to choose to group ships together, but there wouldn't be any form of support in-game aside from, say, a movement command that allows one to "follow" another ship (thus inherently pretending this ship is the command ship, and establishing a de facto fleet without actually having a system for that).

I believe the strategic and tactical depth of my concept would gently force players to use more than a single ship type (ideally, 4 or 5 different ships at least), so there would be some fleet customization in that regard, but it would require fine tuning of each individual hull design (which falls down to "level design" and balancing).

 


Plus... There are tons of 4X that have superbs (so they say, I don't like these) ship customization systems, so you are competing on a feature your competitors excell at...

That's a very strong point. Since I'm probably not going to make my game more appealing because of my take on customization, I might have a better time marketing my game as a different product which breaks some of these conventions. This does put an extra strain on my ship design however, but I like that challenge.

It's still a tough call though.

 


As for me, I will probably skip ship customization in my game, part of the reason being that everyone and his dog implements it (and I have heard voices of players who don't like ship design, althrough they might be a minority).

My "battleplan" is to show these people the game can be fun even without (possibly more so). While I'm inherently excited about my ability to express myself through 4X games and spending a good amount of time in an interface to solve a problem (I need a ship that does "x and y" well, so what should I put onboard), I think a game with less (or no) customization promotes a different kind of challenge (I need to do "mission x and y" well, so what ships should I build from this list to make it happen?).

I feel it may be rewarding because the players will experience outcome of their decision and learn more about each hull design (why it works or not for them under different sets of circumstances).

Afterall, if the designs are ambiguous enough, it may be that, through personal preference, you'd prefer performing mission A with ship 1 instead of ship 2, even if ship 2 is technically better to achieve it, only because your global strategy has other side-uses for ship 1: you willingly accept making a sub-optimal choice for mission A, because you know that this ship will be worth its toll later down the road on other mission types (B, C, D, etc.)

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I'm all for you differentiating your 4X from others. Although you may be torn on the issue of customization, just consider the grand-daddy of strategy games: Chess. No customization, with highly distinct role specializations for each unit. Yes, there are huge distinctions from your typical 4X (perfect information, limited movement constraints, etc), of course, but I think it's relevant to your concern about late game lack of choices. I find that lack of choice in a more strategy focused game can be EXCELLENT for master players because you know the constraints and can project your strategy much, much farther than in cases where there are too many permutations to consider. And it can be really satisfying when you master a strategic projection and follow it through its twists and turns until it finally works.

 

It's probably worth mentioning, though, that this will place a much greater emphasis on really strong AI or multiplayer support. I think 4X's with lots of variability, be it through unpredictable results that flow from zillions of ship options, or random events or whatever, can get away with less strategic coherence and depth. A game with less customization isn't going to have that benefit.

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What do you mean by fleet customization exactly?
The player needs some means to "build his very own fleet", something he feels works because he built it that way (so the player can take the credit). Typically it's done on individual ship level (ship customization). But I see no obstacle to make it different way or on a different level.

The most primitive way would be the decision what ships (from a predefined set) to build.

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Although you may be torn on the issue of customization, just consider the grand-daddy of strategy games: Chess.

 

I was trying hard not to mention chess (Acharis would've, once again, taxed me to rebrand my game as chess in space!). But I agree. I love chess.

 


No customization, with highly distinct role specializations for each unit.

 

Agreeable, but the game is also symmetrical. I'm making an asymmetrical game, and I believed (possibly erroneously) that customization would be a means to minimize the gaps.

 


I find that lack of choice in a more strategy focused game can be EXCELLENT for master players because you know the constraints and can project your strategy much, much farther than in cases where there are too many permutations to consider.

 

Possibly. In that same train of thought, my game uses an "exact-random" algorithm. Basically, ship weapons can miss, but their miss rate is highly predictable (it is a seeded table). For example, a 77% accuracy weapon will always hit on the first shot, miss on the second, and hit two more times, etc.

It might feel a bit weird for people tracking this kind of information, but I felt it really made the system more deterministic and was more in line with actual strategy (no one wants to lose because of a triple miss when using a 80% accuracy gun: though it could happen in the real world, the player will feel cheated).

 

 


And it can be really satisfying when you master a strategic projection and follow it through its twists and turns until it finally works.

That's what I'm really hoping to achieve.

 


It's probably worth mentioning, though, that this will place a much greater emphasis on really strong AI or multiplayer support.

 

AI will be tough to implement, unless I plan on asymmetric gameplay (they start with more assets than you do) but even so, it would probably lack in the department of actual unexpected tactics. While I could seed a self-learning AI, I think the game will be primarily multi-player on release. It would be an excuse for players to face-off for the win.

 


I think 4X's with lots of variability, be it through unpredictable results that flow from zillions of ship options, or random events or whatever, can get away with less strategic coherence and depth.

I'm unsure about the unpredictable results... On the one hand, I like to manage risks when I play, but I hate being cheated by that. Though a small level of randomness can make a game much more replayable, I'm sort of ok with the game having a finite amount of permutations, if there are a sufficient amount. Chess, for example, has a finite number of strategies, and people will rarely create a new "play" nowadays because all of the "plays" will already be calculated by super computers. However, how players memorize these plays, or rather, how they understand how everything intertwines, is what makes them powerful players. I like this approach best, as the "best player" in a game will win, no matter what.

 

It could be that I need to choose between "random" and "customization" however, and in such regard, I believe that a small level of randomness would be less detrimental to the overall strategic feel and would allow players to master a new skill (risk management) instead of playing the counter-game (through customization).

 

 


The player needs some means to "build his very own fleet", something he feels works because he built it that way (so the player can take the credit). Typically it's done on individual ship level (ship customization). But I see no obstacle to make it different way or on a different level.
The most primitive way would be the decision what ships (from a predefined set) to build.

 

I believe this would work. Ships don't have a "hard" purpose, which means players can use a variety of ships that scale somewhere between specialist and versatile. Choosing ship X and imposing role Y would probably give them a sense of control which, I hope, would be sufficient to making these choices feel personal.

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For example, there may be 10 options for a given slot, but you'll grow into using a maximum of 2-3, with very narrow roles.

Well, this is the result of trying to add mass of options, but providing only a few real choices. This is bad gamedesign. Instead of adding (mindless) options, try to add real choices first. Eg. you have armor and hp (health/hull point). There's no real difference, because the effect is the same (taking more dmg until being killed/destroyed). Therefor you have 2 options (invest your resources in health or armor) , but no choice, because the best cost-value ratio will dictate the choice for the experienced player.

Either remove one of this options or add real choices, eg. different damage types like physical/energy damage. This way you have two armor types and 3 options to increase it (hp increases all armor types simultaneously).

 

 

 


One last key important notion about my concept is that ships are but a few (at peak, players won't control more than 100 or so ships). Each unit should be critical, and the player shouldn't feel like he's controlling "numbers".

I don't think that this will really work. Humans can only handle/differentiate a few states concurrently (5-7?), even in TBS games, and 100 ships which each being critical is mental overkill tongue.png If you want to handle this amount of ships, you need more abstraction and customization of single units is too much. As mentioned above, you could have many options, but only few real choices. Common options would be different ship classes, different customization of ships, different squadrons etc., but eventually you only have a few specialized groups, which can be build in many different ways (options) to maximize the effect for a certain task (real choice like planatary siege, planatary defense, fleet battle, escort etc).

 

Try to focus on real choices and use a manageable abstraction layer. Many strategy games adds hero units (eg. table top games), which could be customized and are restricted to only a handful of units. Standard units are then only classified accordingly to their specific role (attack bomber, shield unit, attack fighter..).

 

 

My sugguestion would be to boil down your gamedesign to real choices first, throw away all unnecessary options, then try to refine your game design to add more options which supports real choices.

 

PS: after re-reading my own text, it sinks in , that I'm in a similar situation (customization of 20-40 minions)...Darn ! dry.png

Edited by Ashaman73

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I have been reading recently on your beloved VGA Planets :) Note they seem to be about battlegroups, not individual ships (the player builds one "fleet composition" and then copy it for all/most needs).

http://www.donovansvgap.com/strategy/dreadlord.htm#III

 

100 important individual ships seems unmanageable. It's much easier to control 10,000 ships of more or less standarized setup :)

 

BTW, if you want "space chess" reduce both the board and the number of pieces.

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