Sunday, June 26, 2005

Space Crack: Using Planets to Build Territories

Introduction
This part 7 of an ongoing game design document written as a blog. Be sure to catch up on previous posts. In the last installment, we described the Planet token and its use in player-created environments. This time we'll extend the concept of player-created environments with the notion of territories.


In order to create fully realized player-created environments, we need to define some rules that lead to interesting large scale structures within the environment. Remember that one of our requirements for a successful player-created environment is that it does not converge on a small set of strategies. By introducing larger patterns of environment evolution that emerge from a simple set of rules, we can help ensure that this rule is met.

Territories: A theoretical underpinning
Again, I’m going to steal a concept from Go that I’ll call ‘capturing a territory’. You see this same concept in the old arcade game Qix. The idea is simple. Given a large board of tokens, you can create a perimeter that encapsulates a certain number of tokens. Any tokens within the closed perimeter are captured.

I could wax philosophical about the beauty of this system for a long while. Larger areas are more valuable, but end up being more risky. Players spend much of their time jockeying for position on the board in an attempt to break the other player’s perimeter. A deftly positioned token can turn the tide of the battle by capturing a large number of tokens instantly. With the addition of a relatively simple rule set, we get loads of game play.

Increasing player involvement through historical context
Let’s compare the player-created environments of territories to a typical real-time strategy game. In an RTS, many major strategic elements are determined ahead of time by the designer. A few obvious static elements include the location of the most valuable resources, the positioning of various choke points on the map, and in many single player levels, the ebb and flow of the battle with the scripted introduction of enemies.

With territories, the player builds the major strategic landmarks in the environment one move at a time. These maps are more engrossing than many designer-created maps or randomly generated maps because they have historical context. A particular territory is not important just because of its location on the map.

  • It is important because it was built with sweat, blood and intent of the player.
  • They remember building it.
  • They remember defending it.
  • They are emotionally involved as the creator of that little sliver of the map.
Heaven forbid that another player try to alter another player’s little bit of paradise.

Implementing Territories using Planets
Imagine an array of planets, perhaps 50 or 60 on a 2D plane. When a ship travels from a conquered planet to an unconquered planet, a line is created joining the two planets. This line is the perimeter. Planets that are part of the perimeter are called perimeter worlds.

When the perimeter completely encloses a set of planets, those planets are captured and they become core planets. The perimeter, the perimeter worlds, and the core worlds contained inside the perimeter make up a territory.

So using the simple verbs of building a ship and moving the ship, we’ve created a new complex verb called ‘capturing a territory’. Here is an illustrated example of how capturing works.












The reward you get from capturing a territory
Document note: Every new action must have a meaningful reward. Games are made by layering action / reward pairs. Break this rule and you no longer have a game.

Once you capture a territory, what do you get?
  • Each ship on the perimeter worlds are immediately given an attack bonus based off the number of core worlds. Bigger territories are worth exponentially more than smaller territories.
  • You also get a production bonus each turn with bonus Crack flowing into your coffers.
Territories become like M&M’s; a hard candy shell with a tasty inside. Everyone wants to build them since owning a nice territory creates vast wealth for the player. Everyone wants to destroy them since not only do they take away the enemy’s advantage, but if you can break through the perimeter worlds, you can wreak havoc in the interior.

Balancing a new game mechanic
Each time you add a new game mechanic, there are inevitably unpleasant effects that ruin the game. It is worth ‘playing the game in your head’ or in a prototype and seeing what major problems occur.

With territories and simultaneous turns, I want to be careful of situations that involve ‘tit for tat’ tactics. Ray captures a planet needed to complete his perimeter and five minutes later, George recaptures it. This encourages micromanagement. Each turn should be decisive and not involve micromanaging your perimeter.

One possible fix:
  • Temporary immunity for recently captured planets: If a planet was captured in the current turn, it cannot be recaptured.
Conclusion
The combination of planets and territories gives our players a wonderfully rich and varied gaming environment. We’ve also described our a major risk / reward sequence.
  • Action: Conquer a loop of planets.
  • Reward: There are several.
    - Production bonus: You gain more resources to spend on expanding your capabilities.
    - Territory: By creating an easy to defend perimeter, you capture territory and reduce the other player’s options.
  • Failure:
    - Since Command Points are scarce, there is a large opportunity cost associated with attempting to create a perimeter.
    - Also, when you expand without closing off the perimeter, you spread out your forces and make your planets ripe for attack.

Next we need to discuss how planets are captured. This leads us first to Ships, the most kick ass token in the SpaceCrack world.

The next post is up Read it now!

take care
Danc.