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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Game design at Castalia

Over the years, I've noticed that most of the readers here are not terribly interested in the nuts and bolts of game design. Which is fine, it's a fairly esoteric topic that tends to require both extensive reading and extensive game-playing, which considerably limits the potential appeal of such discussions. However, those few who are interested in it tend to be very interested indeed.

So, I'm going to be doing the occasional post over at the Castalia House blog on some of my thoughts on a very particular game design for a tactical wargame on which I am working as part of the First Sword Kickstarter, about which you can read more in the Game Dev letter. And you can also read about my initial thoughts on doing something new with the design, which I think could potentially be as significant for tactical wargaming in the long term as the ASL morale model has proven to be.
If you subscribe to the Game Dev newsletter, you're aware that Alpenwolf has a new partner and I'm going to be writing the new rules for a certain SF infantry combat game. Without getting into any details concerning that, I want to discuss two of the primary principles I plan on utilizing as the basis for the core gameplay. I was recently editing a book by Martin van Creveld that we'll be publishing in another week or so, A History of Strategy, and one thing that occurred to me while I was working on it and reading his Technology and War, was how the great stress that Clausewitz placed on friction, and in particular, on information in war, was seldom modeled at the tactical level in wargaming. Clausewitz wrote:

 A great part of the information in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is somewhat doubtful. This requires that an officer possess a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give. The law of probability must be his guide. This is difficult even in the pre-war plans, which are made in the study and outside the actual sphere of war. It is enormously more difficult when, in the turmoil of war, one report follows hard upon another. It is fortunate if these reports, in contradicting each other, produce a sort of balance and thus demand further examination. It is much worse for the inexperienced when chance does not render him this service, but one report supports another, confirms it, magnifies it, continually paints with new colors, until urgent necessity forces from him a decision which will soon be disclosed as folly, all these reports having been lies, exaggerations, and errors.
Read more about my concept of a Tactical Uncertainty Principle over there, if it happens to strike you as interesting.

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28 Comments:

Blogger Nate March 19, 2015 9:03 AM  

battlefield intel. Now there is a contradiction in terms...

Anonymous indpndnt March 19, 2015 9:14 AM  

What is the probability of accuracy given the number of Bothans who died?

Anonymous jack March 19, 2015 9:21 AM  

I purchased Martins special at Castalia. I think Vox is using methods overt and subtle to try and teach us to be shadow warriors. Just in case, you see.

Blogger Student in Blue March 19, 2015 9:51 AM  

I botched up my first post rather hard, somehow. I guess I'm still waking up.

Anyway, I think a significant part of the problem is not just due to game design being fairly esoteric, but also the choice of genre.

I can only speak for my situation, but tactical wargames (and strategic too) were never my thing, neither among my friends nor family. About the extent of what I've done was Axis & Allies, so I was never the most qualified to speculate on wargaming dev posts. I mean wargames are already pretty niche, but game development of wargames is a double whammy.

Anonymous Mike M. March 19, 2015 9:54 AM  

I think the big headache is that modeling the fog of war requires a referee - human or computer - that reveals only what each player can see. A more accurate model would incorporate errors in time, position, and strength reporting. And perhaps errors in orders as well.

Blogger Vox March 19, 2015 10:06 AM  

A more accurate model would incorporate errors in time, position, and strength reporting. And perhaps errors in orders as well.

Those are two different things. Information vs command-and-control. A number of games already model the latter. And a referee is not required, only a series of tables. I'll spell it out in a future post; I already know how it can work without being a massive pain in the ass.

Blogger Brad Andrews March 19, 2015 10:20 AM  

A big problem with making a game is not making it accurate, it is making it enjoyable.

Air War was probably more accurate than most wargames at the time, but it was far too complicated for most players.

You have to know when to bring out elements specifically and when to abstract them into something more palatable. This will also vary by the scale.

Anonymous Donn March 19, 2015 10:29 AM  

Are these rules meant to be played out only on the computer? OT what about table top rules for a Selenoth game? Do you think there would be enough interest?

Anonymous Jack Amok March 19, 2015 10:33 AM  

Excellent idea, I look forward to the series.

It's too bad more people aren't interested in game design. Perhaps it's a bit self-serving since I'm a game designer myself, but I think we'd a be a hell of a lot better off with more game designers and fewer lawyers in the various legislatures. Game design requires you to think about how the rules you create will influence the way people play.

Blogger Vox March 19, 2015 10:37 AM  

Are these rules meant to be played out only on the computer? OT what about table top rules for a Selenoth game? Do you think there would be enough interest?

No. Probably. Eventually.

A big problem with making a game is not making it accurate, it is making it enjoyable.

True. But I'm from the ASL design-for-effect school, so I think I can keep the simulation instinct under control.

Blogger Tim March 19, 2015 11:29 AM  

A quote that springs to mind (paraphrased, I am operating off old memories here) is "in war everything is very simple.......but the simplest things are very difficult". Is that what you are trying to capture?

Anonymous MendoScot March 19, 2015 11:37 AM  

Since I´m in the market for a new laptop, what are going to be the system requirements for play?

Anonymous MendoScot March 19, 2015 11:38 AM  

And by the way ... diabolical idea.

BWAHAHAHA!

Blogger Vox March 19, 2015 11:48 AM  

A quote that springs to mind (paraphrased, I am operating off old memories here) is "in war everything is very simple.......but the simplest things are very difficult". Is that what you are trying to capture?

No, but that is Clausewitz. I just find it interesting that such a fundamentally important aspect of war has been left so completely unaddressed by most wargames. Now, it's obviously a pain to handle with board-and-counter, but it's very easy on computers. That tells me that most people are still designing computer wargames from a 2D perspective.

Anonymous Athor Pel March 19, 2015 11:58 AM  

"Vox March 19, 2015 11:48 AM
...
Now, it's obviously a pain to handle with board-and-counter, but it's very easy on computers. That tells me that most people are still designing computer wargames from a 2D perspective.
"



It's the same way in map making. People still think in terms of paper maps and all of the limitations inherent to that medium.

But we're slowly working our way out of that in data storage and data presentation. Geographic information systems wouldn't exist otherwise.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza March 19, 2015 12:48 PM  

No, I am interested in nuts, bolts, details, given I'd read them not able to state the next step. Dont know much of programming but enjoy what goes into making a great game. Castalia also has a interesting must read on how equality; impossible.

Anonymous Mike M. March 19, 2015 1:34 PM  

""A more accurate model would incorporate errors in time, position, and strength reporting. And perhaps errors in orders as well."

Those are two different things. Information vs command-and-control. A number of games already model the latter. And a referee is not required, only a series of tables. I'll spell it out in a future post; I already know how it can work without being a massive pain in the ass."

I'll be interested in seeing how that works. I've been mulling over trying to create a First World War naval war game that is both playable and reasonably accurate. The basic approach is probably going to be to treat squadrons of ships, instead of individual hulls, as the unit of maneuver.

But the real head-hurter is trying to replicate the fog of battle. Little things like not knowing precisely where you are, and even less precisely where the rest of your force that is out of sight of the flagship is...to say nothing of where the enemy is.

Ditto for command and control issues.

Any good solution would be most interesting.

Anonymous Leonidas March 19, 2015 2:24 PM  

That tells me that most people are still designing computer wargames from a 2D perspective.

Interesting that you make that comment literally just a few days after I was discussing something very similar with my students at the dojo. Even in a one-on-one encounter, the third dimension can make a big difference. And most people have never been trained to think that way. Many couldn't even if they tried.

Anonymous Leonidas March 19, 2015 3:06 PM  

Also, along similar lines to what you're doing here but not taking it as far: my good friend Dan Baker at Oxide Games has added one of the first truly 3D line of sight calculations for fog of war effects into the Nitrous engine that they're developing. I think that's definitely an improvement over existing systems, but I have to admit that I really, really like what you're talking about here with mis-identification being a factor as well.

Anonymous indpndnt March 19, 2015 3:11 PM  

Leonidas,

Have you played the Homeworld games at all? I'm not generally a fan of RTS games, but that series really drew me in with the 3D environment.

Anonymous Leonidas March 19, 2015 3:26 PM  

No. I strongly prefer turn based over real-time strategy games. I have a really hard time keeping up with things in real-time once it gets beyond a small handful of units, so the games stop being very fun to me. The early RTS games (Dune 2, Warcraft 2, Command & Conquer, etc) that could only handle a small number of units anyway were a lot of fun to me. When they started adding a lot more units, I lost a lot of interest. Weirdly, now that the games are adding even more units, I may start finding them fun again soon because they've also improved their AI a lot and made it a lot more feasible to group units together into a group and give them orders to execute rather than having to micromanage everything.

Anonymous Leonidas March 19, 2015 3:29 PM  

But I'm actually generally too busy to do much gaming these days, so I haven't tried all that many to prove my theory.

I will be trying out the new one that Stardock just announced, though, because friendship (they're using Dan's game engine).

Anonymous Athor Pel March 19, 2015 4:17 PM  

" LeonidasMarch 19, 2015 3:26 PM
No. I strongly prefer turn based over real-time strategy games. I have a really hard time keeping up with things in real-time once it gets beyond a small handful of units, so the games stop being very fun to me.
..."



I'm the same way. Here are the real time games I like.

Total Annihilation - this one is very old
Supreme Commander - spiritual descendent of TA
Supreme Commander 2

Mech Commander - very old
Mech Commander 2 - old

I have yet to dig into Planetary Annihilation but I own it.

You might notice a theme here, robots, lots and lots of robots.

But also game design that allows you to build self managing defenses so you can focus and one part of the map and not worry too much about losing because your base got overrun while you weren't looking.

Anonymous Leonidas March 19, 2015 4:47 PM  

Appreciate the advice, although the big factor is time. Too many plates spinning at once. These days my video gaming mostly consists of playing Lego Batman with my five year old son.

Anonymous Eric Ashley March 19, 2015 5:01 PM  

"I build in black, um, black, and very, very dark gray."

Blogger Brad Andrews March 19, 2015 6:22 PM  

I liked Age of Empires 1 and 2 the best. I wish they would remake those with the modern updates that came out later in the series.

I know they did an update of AOE2, but I don't think it did that much from my look at it.,

AOEO had a good game, but making it an MMO was a horrid idea.

Blogger cavalier973 March 19, 2015 7:05 PM  

Imperialism would feed you incorrect information on the size of an enemy's army if you were preparing to invade one of the enemy's provinces. As I recall, the more experienced your General, the more accurate the information.

Anonymous Titus Didius Tacitus March 20, 2015 3:31 AM  

From the point of view of fun, it matters what extra book-keeping the player has to do.

Suppose you know that unit X is going to report any tank as a tiger and any artillery fire as 88s. So you get your report, and that is penciled on your map with a circle or however you want to record this information that you know to be unreliable within certain parameters.

Now, how is it with the player? Can he too conveniently record what he likes, based on how reliable he decides his information is? Or does the game force a spurious precision on him, and does he have to keep his own pen and paper records to support his memory?

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