engient Engient is Engineered Entertainment

26Sep/123

Post Launch Thoughts I – Score

Dear Friends,

One of the comments we get a lot is about the scoring system. For example, one user wrote:

You are "rewarded" with additional pieces and weapons, yet penalized if you dare use them all.

This is a fair critique and one we agonized over. Therefore, I think it might be nice to give some explanation why it ended up that way.

The score is here, but why?

When we started coming up with the scoring system we really wanted something that measured how much butt the player was kicking. We had two very simple design goals:

  1. Earning a better score should be fun. Obvious I know.
  2. The player should be able to iterate towards a better score.

The first thing we considered was Time. Unfortunately, small changes in the ship would result in huge swings in time. Therefore, violating rule #2.

The next idea was to measure how much Health the player’s ship had when the battle ended. Initially, we thought this one worked very well. After all, if you killed the enemy faster you would take less damage. If you placed your armour correctly you would take less damage. The Health of the ship at the end of the fight says a lot about how well you did. We were happy.

Then we started testing.

The first hurdle we encountered is that a lof of people didn’t understand how to take less damage. See in our game there was no way to completely avoid getting hit. The enemy was always going to hit you with a salvo or two before you were going to start taking down their guns. Therefore, the ways to avoid taking damage was to kill the enemy faster or to place your armour so that their attacks would lose strength. But that required an extra step of thinking that proved hard for a surprising number of people. When they thought about reducing damage, they thought about avoiding hits which just isn’t possible for how the game plays. This was disappointing, but may have been workable if it wasn’t for the next problem: Piece Overlap.

When you make a game that is a bit experimental there is always the chance you will make some mistakes. Building the ship around overlapping pieces is one of those mistakes. It might not seem like a big deal, but it had some big effects on battle and completely upended the scoring system. How could something so innocuous lead to so much trouble?

For starters it meant we had to give most weapons a blast radius. If you could just make a more armoured ship by putting wood beams on top of each other the game would be very dull. Therefore, the blast radius of most weapons drives the player to push pieces apart. That caused us a few headaches, especially in feedback to the player, but mostly it worked as intended: put two pieces too close together and they both get damaged, move them apart and only one gets hit.

Of course one side effect is that if your ship gets hit near the joint, then two or more pieces will be damaged. Now, when it comes to destroying the structure of a ship this isn’t a problem. If it takes four hits to sever the link between the Caplin and the gun, then it doesn’t matter if those four hits take out two pieces or one.

Until you start scoring the player on Health.

Suddenly, we have an Aliasing problem: if an enemy bullet lands in the center of a segment it will do half as much damage to your score than it would if it landed at the joint. Now this didn’t violate goal #2, that player could iterate towards a better score. Unfortunately, it caused havoc with goal #1, fussing with the minutia of placement to get enemy bullets to land at juuuuust the right spot was irritating.

 

Hitting the joint does double damage, which would hurt your score twice as much.

For players who didn’t see the joint problem, their score would fluctuate a bit unpleasantly but they would otherwise play the game as intended. However, for players that did see the issue they would be sucked into a game of making these miniscule irritating changes to maximize their piece placement. And with each tiny tweak a bit more fun factor was sucked away.

And that left us with Resource Minimization.

Oh that was a hard choice day in the office. We wanted players to have big crazy ships, but we also wanted scoring for a number of reasons. Thing is Resource Minimization just worked. Everyone understood the rules and the goals. The player could iterate towards a better score. And in the end it is fun. Of course, being efficient isn’t the same kind of fun as laying into the other guy with all you have, so it wasn't a perfect choice. But given the difficult constraints we had, we think we made the call that would provide the most fun to the player.

So now that you know the reason, do you look at the game a little differently? Or if you haven't played it yet, perhaps you might like the challenge of finding the most efficient solution to a given level. Or do you think we missed something and should have made a different call? Please, let us know on anti-social medial: Toot on Tooter, post on Gooplus, or even face the Book.

Until next time,

voicebox@engient.com

It is a little controversial, but a lot of fun if you like a challenge.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Well, this certainly makes me appreciate how hard it is to develop a good game! While this does explain why you went down the “minimalist” road, I still feel that there simply has to be a better way. I want something that drives me to complexity and forces me to make the most of all of my resources. It just seems wrong to say, “leave those guns and materials behind in this fight…they’ll hurt our score.”

    I’m not a game developer (I do engineering apps), so I’m essentially playing one of those annoying music critics who can’t handle a harmonica. Bear with me…

    Maybe this whole “iterate towards a better score” is the wrong way to go about it. We don’t have to follow the Angry Birds model (which is quite random anyways). I think the Kongregate/Steam badge model may be better-suited here. Winning is enough to progress to the next level, but there are multiple badges you can earn based on what you do. I talked something similar to this on the Steam forums, but I was still thinking of a star system.

    I realize that the time to win a battle can be random, but you most certainly have some control over it! More guns is better (especially if they are the correct kind aimed at the correct parts). Meeting a time-limit for a level gets you a star or badge for time. You can also have a star/badge for minimalist parts. I admit that the “least damage” looks to be very difficult. Maybe we should just have fewest guns lost (those are your men, after all). Perhaps some other goals, like a Full Disarmament badge for removing all weapons of the enemy instead of hitting the HQ.

    I’m just saying that REQUIRING the minimalist design became a real drag. This game is most fun when I just get to tinker like I’m messing with Legos. However, the competitive type just looooove the badges. Just look at Steam, Kongregate, XBox, etc. Everyone struts their stuff like ribbons on a general! You don’t have to hold back levels to make those guys want the badge status! The best part is that you can probably add badges with game updates to keep people coming back (and keeping word of your game alive).

    This is just one opinion. I really wish more would respond.
    - Jim

  2. Thanks for the feedback.
    The article didn’t really intend to describe the Star Gates that block progression, just the logic for why scores are calculated as they are. On the point of star gates, I am less sure they were a great idea. We thought that it would help more people discover the fun of pursuing the stars, and tried to make the requirements less daunting. However, they have proven to be less popular than we would like. While we haven’t made a final decisions, I am considering removing them in the next patch.

  3. sandbox mode :( I want to build a big machine of war and have it fight another big machine of war


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