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GDC 2012, Day 1

Today was the first day of the main conference.

To give you an idea of the pulse of the industry, here's my summary of the vibe in as few words as possible:

"Facebook, iOS, social, monetization, clones, and I thought I was going to die making this game."

Thinking you're going to die making a game has been mentioned a surprising number of times by different people, all independently, and in each case is not meant jokingly but rather to convey the physical and emotional distress that people are feeling. We heard about it in great detail from the Super Meat Boy and Fez teams. A guy who gave the cloning games lecture also said it. Today I talked with Steve Swink, indie superstar who was working on the awesome Shadow Physics, but he cancelled it due to difficulties in the relationship with his programmer partner. He explained to me he had ulcers and other stomach problems and felt like he was going to die. Later in the day, Portal 2 won best writing at the game awards thing. Imagine what an "indie game developer" actually looks like. This guy was like, the opposite. He was wearing a suit I think, and looked like a mature adult. Anyway he mentioned that he thought he was going to die making Portal 2. So this is a like a meme but at the stage where people don't realize everyone's saying it.

Speaking of the game awards, in the Independent Games Festival awards, best game design went to Spelunky. Shout outs and congratulations to Derek Yu, who is a cool guy. The award for best game overall went to Fez, and Phil Fish was so choked up that he couldn't even speak. This makes the Indie Game: The Movie especially poignant, given that we saw his torturous backstory.

Flash Forward

Today started with something the GDC hasn't done before. Every speaker of the entire 3-day conference presents all in a row, 45 seconds at a time, telling us what their upcoming sessions will be about. There was quite a diverse range of presentation styles, but I guess I don't have time to go into that. At the 45 second mark, the huge array of stage lights suddenly turn red and a very loud and unpleasant buzz sound goes off, so the speaker knows they went over and must stop. A few people incorporated the buzz into attempts at jokes, such as one guy pretending he was unsure what the buttons did on the podium. At the end, the organizer of the Flash Forward thanked everyone and said it reminded her of a story about her Grandfather who would always--BUZZ!!! *red lights*

Sid Meier

I sat by Soren Johnson, which was an interesting perspective, given that he worked with Sid Meier for 7 years. Anyway, Sid's talk was kind of surprisingly basic. Or maybe not that surprising because the last talk he gave at GDC was also basic. I don't think there's anything wrong with his points, and I know he's super smart, I just wish he kind of went past the elementary level.

He said he "googled himself on the internets" and found that the most common thing said about him is the quote that "games are a series of interesting decisions." He says he thinks this was from his 1989 GDC presentation. Wait, that can't be right, I think that's older than the conference? I don't know. Anyway his whole talk was about decisions that we present to players.

Interesting decisions are ones where players don't just choose the same thing every time (if that's the case, let the computer do it automatically) and they aren't ones where you choose randomly. It has to involve actual thinking. He explained many different sources of interest, such as choices that have differnet levels of risk. Or that are short term vs medium term vs long term. Or that are tradeoffs along some other dimension. Or that even involve non-gameplay customization, as that is very interesting to lots of players too.

Sid cautioned us that we aren't "paid by the decision," meaning that game designers sometime have a tendency to think more decisions is always better. This can lead to overwhelming the player though. I sure know about that from working on my customizable card game, btw. In an attempt to make the gameplay deep enough to last years without new sets of cards, one version of it involved so many decisions, than even I was fatigued and exhausted from playing it. There is a limit where it's just not fun anymore. Apparently Sid ran into this same limit a lot in developing Civilization, so he'd cut the number of technologies or whatever available at any one time down to like 3 to 5.

I thought was interesting that Sid also emphasized what's really the flipside of his point, which is production values and the fantasy of whatever your game is about. What that means is, if you think of your game as a series of interesting decisions, then through that lens you're seeing "the system." You're seeing the functions and numbers and mechanics, and everything under the hood. Yes that needs to be good, it needs to create interesting dynamics and be balanced and so on. Sid is saying that when you feel you've reached that, you need to spend effort "remystifying" your game. So if your game is about pirates or something, make sure the art and sound and story and all the trappings that surround your game make the player really feel like a pirate, or feel they are in a pirate's world. The true power of the medium is when you have that fantasy AND you have the solid system of interesting decisions to back it up, says Sid.

A Fireside Chat with Markus 'Notch' Persson

Chris Hecker interviewed Notch (creator of Minecraft) on stage in front of a plasma tv showing an animated 8-bit fire. Chris Hecker often says the words double down, a priori, and bring to the forefront.

I think I got more out of the tone of Notch than anything else. I know nothing about him and played minecraft I think like 2 minutes, so he was completely new to me. He struck me as oddly jolly, like he kind of wandered in and will tell us some stories and stuff, but nothing too deep. I don't mean that as an insult or something, he just had an unexpected (to me) lack of intensity. I mean minecraft is some huge thing, so I expected him to be all Jonathan Blow, like lasers coming out of his eyes and hating lots of stuff he thinks is crap. Probably he'd be more likely to pet a cat.

In Minecraft, if you destroy the blocks that make up the base of a tree, the rest of the tree still floats there. Also, if you have a "tray of drinks" and spin that tray, the drinks won't fly off (no centrifugal force). Hecker's question here is why certain things are not simulated while other things are deeply simulated? Is there some underlying reasoning about what's abstracted out and what's included in the simulation? Notch said that the things he includes are the things that seemed right to him, and that's about it. He said the same thing about stuff like fire, water, wood, etc, that he chose these things because in each case, they seemed missing to him, so he added them. Hecker wondered if it was because of some carefully chosen set of relationships between all these materials that allowed crafting to be just right. Notch said no, it was just the stuff he wanted to add, then they figured out crafting like however made sense to him.

Hecker asked if there are things Notch regrets doing in the game, and Notch said that half-blocks are one of those things. At one point, everything was 1 meter cubes, with no other shapes, then they added some stuff that wasn't quite that, like axe blades and lanterns or something. Notch said the idea was stick to 1m cubes, but deviate when it just doesn't work, like water doesn't feel like water if you *only* stick to that, so minecraft water is a bit sloped. Also stairs don't look right either if you have no other sizes to work with. But putting in some half height cubes really just made people ask for more half height cubes for every material ever, and then why are you even doing that? All you're doing is increasing the resolution of the game and making there be 2x the cubes in the world, which is not something he thinks is good. Hecker asked if Notch could take the half height cubes out then, and Notch quickly responded "no." He said he can't remove anything that would mess up existing structures becuase people spend a long time on those.

Hecker said some hardcore people are complaining that Notch always makes changes the screw over the "mob grinders." A mob grinder is an elaborate contraption you can build in Minecraft that involves you putting a thing that spawns monsters such that monster automatically falls into some death trap like lava or spinning blades or something, then gets filtered down through a grate and a funnel, and then items pour out the bottom. There are competitions for how many items per minute can be created and I think Hecker said it's up to 167,000 items per minute (wtf??). Notch laughed and said he thinks that's awesome. He also said that such a thing has sooooo many dependencies on the very fine details of how the simulation works, that if you change anything at all about the game, it probably affects or somehow messes up mob grinders. He isn't trying to mess them up at all, it's just an unfortunate consequence of changing rules and AI and stuff. He said sorry about that, but it happens, but he needs to change AI and behaviors and that most people just have a new experience when that happens, and it doesn't mess up something they built. Removing half blocks would screw up way more people.

Let the Games Be Games: Aesthetics, Instrumentalization & Game Design

Oh my. I really don't even know where to start on this. At MIT there was a group called LSC that showed movies all the time, and I went often. My friend would ask me immediately after each movie what I thought, because he liked I had some clever line or something usually. After the movie A Clockwork Orange I said "I'm just glad I don't have to write an essay about that." A year later, I took a film class and I did have to write an essay on it. That felt like this. There was so much more content and nuance to Eric Zimmerman's lecture than to any other session so far at this year's GDC, that it's daunting to even try to summarize. I think most people probably didn't get it at all. Maybe I didn't either, but I think I did, so I'll try.

Eric explained that this is the ludic century. We've had the industrial age and the information age and now we're in the ludic age. Games are the now the most important cultural media and they define our times. This is obvious so let's not dwell on that. I'll add that he discussed the concept of "literacy" and that it can mean that a person knows how to read, but it also has other similar meanings, like knowing how to hear and understand a language is a form of literacy. There's even visual literacy, like understanding the various symbols of our world, or cultural literacy as in understanding customs. A basic understanding of interaction...of part of today's cultural literacy.

The "instrumentalization" of games bothers Eric a lot. I think that's a long and strange word, and I would prefer something like "deconstruction." Or maybe another word I can't think of right now because I'm completely exhausted. What he means is thinking of games as a just a bare-bones system is losing the magic of them and kind of losing the point of them too. This is hard to explain because it sounds similar to stupid things he didn't mean. He didn't mean that researching games is bad, or that rationality is bad. He thinks such a narrow view of what games are or can be is bad.

In order to further the discourse, he wanted to look at a more mature medium that had lots of creative evolution as well as a full set of literature devoted to criticism of the medium. He chose the field of art, and he had some book that is like 1800 pages of collected art criticism essays from a wide range of people on a wide range of topics. He was overwhelmed at the prospect of just reading this, let alone figuring out which parts apply. So he picked a few pages at random and found that every single time, whatever he found was exactly applicable to games. He showed us 3 such "core samples" he drilled from this book at random, and in each case he showed the quote and then showed it again with "art" replaced with "games" and it was eerie how close the fit was. In some cases, the point was even *stronger* when applied to games.

One quote was about thinking about the artist (game designer) rather than the art itself (game itself) and how the ego, whims, views, personality, etc of the artist is flung forth like a lasso or something. The point being to look at art specifically as expression of the artist. A second quote was about the dérive, which is where you wander around a city and you simultaneously don't have any goal (so you wander without paying attention to where you're going) AND you pay attention to where you happened to be pulled. The point here is that the layout of the city itself, the flow of people, the landmarks, and so on subconsciously pull you certain ways and repel you from others. Seeing "city" replaced by "game" was downright spooky because damn did that quote work better for games than for cities, ha.

There was some third quote too, but you get the gist. There's a lot of different ways of looking at art (or games). It's not like you need to pick one. It's not like they are all right or all wrong. They are all right in their own way, highlighting some particular point. Some of these ways of looking at art or games overlap. Some ways contradict other ways. This is the rich and varied nature of these media, and shows how lacking an "instrumentalist" view of games can mean.

Eric made this point more clear, I think, when he talked about pickup artist techniques. He means the art of seduction, where you follow a certain method to get women to sleep with you. If you are not aware, there is a whole community surrounding this, and a very clear methodology to do it. Eric showed diagrams that look like flow charts of some computer program, but are actually diagrams of the conversation and behavioral techniques that the pickup arts recommend. It's broken down to a science and all.

By the way Eric says he tried this for a while, and that it is just as effective as claimed. He says maybe you are upset by the entire idea, and why is that? One thing that isn't much of a question is if it works. Yeah it works, and it's effective. Maybe you are mad that it objectifies women, he says. But probably you are mad because it instrumentalizes the entire thing. Love and relationships are complicated, magical, interesting, multifaceted and there's something very wrong feeling about reducing it to this diagram. And the same damn thing about games. So if the "right" way to look at relationships involves embracing the complexity of them, the many different ways of looking at them, and the contradictions that abound in them, that is analgous to embracing of art criticism that he talked about earlier. And this mechanical view that the pickup arts gives us...what's that analgous to? Gamification.

Think of the most terrible and cynical uses of games. The worst side of gamification, where it's transparent tricks and monetization schemes. The facebook thing with that energy meter you have to refill or something, spend some coins because we asked you at just the right time, which we know from mountains of metrics that we study, and buy these collectable doodads, and so and so forth. This kind of thing just needs a game tacked on somehow, because that's really incidental, you know. It's about the marketing and monetization and how we can use this to generate interest in the new Ford car or Marvel movie or whatever the heck.

Eric says that the instrumentalization of games is us showing the world our medium in the worst possible way. Remember how Roger Ebert says games aren't art and can't be art? Obviously that's stupid but the bad kind of gamification is fueling Ebert's argument. If a game is just an instrument to sell cars or virtual coins or whatever else, of course it's not art. It's just a lifeless thing. But the pickup arts existing doesn't make love not a thing. And the "answer" to the bad feeling you might get from the pickup arts is just to embrace real relationships. Meanwhile we are slipping into more of the bad kind of games and bad view of games, he says.

Eric talked about how our medium is seen, and how we're always apologizing for it, and he thinks that's terrible and we shouldn't. We should be snobs and connoisseurs of it, not apologists, he says. He said imagine if we were book lovers (as many of us probably are). We wouldn't be saying books are good *because* they can be used for education. We wouldn't even talk about educational books versus non-educational books "whatever that means." We wouldn't try to have book studies in schools, because books are just a thing you use to learn, one of many. We wouldn't talk about bookifying the world.

Eric also talked about what he calls an impoverished idea of what games are or about what education is when he looks at how some people view games a medium only to spew facts at students. But no other media is looked at so narrowly in education. For example, books CAN convey facts, but they are also enlightening, inspiring, spirit lifting, joyful, and so on. They offer experiences that are valuable in themselves, apart from the particular facts conveyed. And this is actually far more relevant for games, because games can allow you to deeply understand a system. Games are interactive systems, so you can get a sense for them--you can LEARN about a system--from a game more easily than you could learn about that system from another medium, at least often that's the case. He's just saying games are good for a whole lot more than conveying facts, but if you believed a game is only to convey facts (or to sell cars, or trick people into clicking the right buttons on the web, etc) then you're reducing them--instrumentalizing them--into this pick-up artist, impoverished thing.

To further illustrate his idea of not apologizing about games, he quoted someone, I musician I think, who at the end of some long thing said "And when people play Guitar Hero, they aren't *really* learning anything, but at least a few of them go on to learn rock and roll guitar." Eric was very upset over this quote, because he says the more you think about it, the more sinister that assumption is. The assumption is that playing rock and roll guitar--a thing considered horrible and satanic just a few decades ago--is here just assumed to be good. Why? Because music is part of the human experience, an expression, a form of play, a discipline of study, etc. I mean obviously music is good, right? Yet somehow a game is assumed not good in this quote. The game is only good if it is a tool--an instrument so to speak--in getting people to do an actual worthwhile activity, such as playing the guitar.

Eric says that Frank Lantz responded by saying that in a few more decades, the kids will be doing some other new fangled thing, and someone will say that that thing doesn't have any value, but at least it got a few kids to play video games.

The Future of Japanese Games

Keiji Inafune, formerly of Capcom, told us his view of games made in Japan. (Note to self, link my coverage of his GDC presentation from a few years ago, where he says the most shocking stuff I've ever heard at GDC.)

His presenation was extremely simple. When he left Capcom, he said Japanese games were in a terrible state and getting worse, and this caused much controversy, moreso in Japan than here. He now says that time has shown him to be exactly right. When he travels outside of Japan, he realizes that Japanese games are a "blast from the past." They are nostalgic like a '63 Corvette or something. Their time has past, and the best Japanese games can do now is update their old stuff in HD or port to new consoles or whatever. They are barely maintaining the old glory, rather than actually progressing.

He says technology-wise, Japanese games are behind Western games. He says that much of the advertising at stadiums or whatever, used to be for Japanese companies. Now it's for Samsung, LG, and other Korean companies. Korea is overtaking them in many kind of electronics, and currently those electronics don't sell well in Japan, even though they do in the rest of the world. This even further shows how Japan is falling behind.

Inafune emphasized over and over that Japanese no longer have the will to WIN and that this is the most important thing. He does have the will to WIN and he is trying and trying to bring this spirit back to Japan. He talked about this idea over and over, and he even drew a super hero that looks like Captain America except that it's like Captain Japan, and that he will somehow bring about this Japanese hero who will win and turn things around.

I actually thought the most interesting thing was what he didn't say, rather than what he did. It's what he thinks it means to win. He definitely thinks that what winning means is really high sales. He worked on Megaman Legends and then after that on Resident Evil 2, and he said it was night and day how one didn't sell, and the press didn't care, and other sold a lot and the press cared a lot. Winning means *global* sales, he was very clear about this point, and that Japan is not thinking globally. He said Capcom actually thinks more globally than any other Japanese game company, and that this needs to be way more common in Japan.

Anyway, it never would have even occurred to him to define winning as making something he loves. Or winning as a form of personal freedom or expression. I think his view of winning is completely antithetical to the entire indie game movement in the US, which is all about spirit and expression and doing your own thing. And it's kind of all about love. The opposite of all that is the US mainstream game market which is basically all about selling as much as possible as globally as possible. In other words, it's about winning, the Inafune way.

Reader Comments (26)

The Keiji Inafune talk is

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergarcia1000

Thanks for the recap Sirlin. I find this very fascinating. I've enjoyed video games for most of my life and reading about things like this and your own insights into gaming is awesome.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertodzilla

So, to touch on the IGF awards controversy: I'm not going to call them corrup, clique-y, or whatever else the angry mob throws around, but I was a bit disappointed by their picks this year. Previously, I think they did a good job at giving recognition and exposure to games that deserved more of that than they got. Maybe that's not even the intended purpose of the IGF, but it'd be great if someone did that. Hell, just dedicate more to this sort of stuff than the Nuovo award, and they'd be done. But as it is, it's starting to gravitate towards the "usual" awards show fare, celebrating already known and established titles. To illustrate:

Fez - about the fifth time it's at the IGF, already won an award once, it's in Indie Game: The Movie, got a publishing deal from Microsoft (along with an Xbox exclusivity clause).
Spelunky - a XBLA (exclusive) remake of a 2009 game from an IGF grand prize winner.
Antichamber - won Make Something Unreal, had a demo like two years ago.
Botanicula - from the IGF award winning Machinarium guys (who also made the Samorost games and some other stuff).
Dear Esther - remake of a years old HL mod, already on Steam and profitable.

I don't know, maybe it was a slow year for indie games. Or maybe it's just that I paid way less attention to the indie scene all those years ago.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

Actually pkt, the problem is you have wildly mischaracterized those games. Fez won an award FIVE YEARS ago then was never seen again publicly until PAX East last year. It was presumed cancelled and fell of everyone's radar. It was rebooted like 3 times. That you framed that against the game when it was an epic struggle to get it done at all is really disappointing.

Also Dear Esther is like the opposite of what any regular game would be, so it's kind of the ultime indie thing.

March 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I really loved your coverage! The part about Eric Zimmerman's lecture was really interesting, making me link this article to all my friends ha. But i really don't find Dear Esther the ultimate indie makes me remember visual novels like saya no uta.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercaiooa

Regarding the history of Fez you're at a bit of an advantage, having seen a movie about its development just days ago. All I had to go on was my hazy memory and zero fact checking, so it turns out I was indeed wrong. You're correct, the game was only entered to IGF 2008 and 2012. It never fell off my radar, that's probably why I reconstructed the incorrect "facts" from my impressions.

The rest of the facts are accurate though (afaik, obv.), so I'm not sure how you generalized that mistake to apply to all the other games.

As for Dear Esther, yes, it's the ultimate indie thing, but so was the original mod (with less shiny graphics), that's the point. You seem to be under the impression that I'm against these games being successful or something, but I tried to make it abundantly clear that it's the IGF I'm disappointed in for putting the spotlight on games that already have plenty of that.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

>>>The true power of the medium is when you have that fantasy AND you have the solid system of interesting decisions to back it up, says Sid.

I'm actually just about to write an article for Gamasutra that says the exact opposite. If you compromise the mechanisms even a tiny bit for the sake of fantasy, you've made the game worse.

If it's a good game - which it should be - then you aren't thinking about the theme, anyway. You're melting that shit away and thinking about the game on an abstract level, because this is the only way our brain can actually make difficult decisions: by thinking about ONLY the important information.

So, if you want to have a fantasy on top of a great game, that's fine. Just don't let it compromise the game, even a drop.

I'd say the same thing for a directed "fantasy simulator". Don't let "game elements" compromise the fantasy simulator, either. Then, people who like games get better games, and people who like fantasy simulators get better fantasy simulators. Everybody's happy.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

Also, to Eric Zimmerman:

I think "digital interactive systems" are loose and can be just about anything - simulators, interactive fiction, a bizarre art-installation or some shit no one ever thought of yet. But there is a specific type of system that we have no better word to point to than "game", and so being an "instrumentalist" is good when pointed at this specific type of system.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

"I'm actually just about to write an article for Gamasutra that says the exact opposite. If you compromise the mechanisms even a tiny bit for the sake of fantasy, you've made the game worse."
Absolutely incorrect (and by fantasy I assume you are talking about aesthetics, the entertainment, the role-playing). I guess that kind of statement is possible from a roguelike developer though.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterinfernovia

Keith, I think it can be difficult to identify a "compromise" in a game's mechanics in the first place. I can imagine making changes to a game that are solely in the interest of fantasy, and those changes could be totally awesome and improve the game even from a purely mechanical standpoint. Or they might make it worse, or I might really not know for sure, whatever. The point is, if what I *do* know in this scenario is that Mechanical Change X improves the player's ability to be immersed in the game's fantasy, then maybe it's fine to implement it, even if it isn't in line with my purely-mechanical idea of how the game should work. Obviously if it clearly weakens the game in some way that blatantly makes me feel worse about it, that's a different story, but I take a bit of issue with your "not even a drop" mentality.

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristoph

Kristoph, a good example would be "ambient gunfire noises going off" in the background of Company of Heroes. I think another good example would be that you can have like 350 zerglings in Starcraft. You can believe that that's just plain bad game design if you wish, but I chalk it up to wanting to simulate the Starship Troopers fantasy.

March 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

You're melting that shit away and thinking about the game on an abstract level, because this is the only way our brain can actually make difficult decisions:

I think there are scientific studies suggesting the opposite: that people are generally worse at thinking about abstract stuff than things grounded in reality. People did terribly at a simple, abstract logic puzzle, but when the same problem was given a social context, everyone was able to figure it out. (this experiment was the "Wason selection task")

I think another good example would be that you can have like 350 zerglings in Starcraft.

Did you just say that Zerglings having a supply cost of 0.5 with a food cap of 200 is just "plain bad design", regardless of all other factors? Because that seems to rest on a boatload of unstated, unsupported assumptions.

March 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

>>>Did you just say that Zerglings having a supply cost of 0.5 with a food cap of 200 is just "plain bad design"

Yes. Let me ask you, would you be able to see the problem if it were magnified by 5? If the food cap were 1000, and you could have 1,500 zerglings in your army, would you be able to see the problem then? The point is, we should be expressing our games in as few strokes as possible. More isn't better. And 150+ unit armies are just silly noise.

March 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

Yes. Let me ask you, would you be able to see the problem if it were magnified by 5? If the food cap were 1000, and you could have 1,500 zerglings in your army, would you be able to see the problem then?

Supreme Commander tries to do something like that, I'm not sure how well. Still, that game only has an abbreviation in common with Starcraft, and your thought experiment here is just as irrelevant. Your original numbers are already exaggerated enough, given that they require you to have basically no other units, including workers.

More isn't better.

Obviously. I just think it's silly that you criticize SC2 of all games for this, when it was deliberately designed to have the fewest parts possible. That's why units got cut from going from SC1 to SC2, and will be cut from WoL to HoS.

And 150+ unit armies are just silly noise.

Right, so you've said just now, but never explained, which is what I took issue with. Care to detail what your proposed alternative would be, that's less "noisy" but works the same way otherwise? As far as I can see, Zerglings fill a well-defined role in the game the way they are right now, and preserving that would not at all be trivial.

March 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

Obviously, you want to reduce the number of elements players have to keep track of - whether they be units, gold, or some other resource - to the *lowest common denominator*.

Not that this would fix all of its problems, but Starcraft would be a flatly *better* game if the quantity of units were halved (and unit HP/damage were multiplied by two). The issue is that you rarely need to control "one zergling" - most of the time, your force of zerglings is like, 20 zerglings. So let's just make 20 zerglings into one on-screen unit.

Company of Heroes *mechanically* does this, but because it's still concerned about being a fantasy simulator, doesn't do it visually (a "unit" of soldiers is represented visually by like, 6 tiny ass little troops).

March 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

Taking multiple units and merging them into a single one, like some sort of Zergling Archon is indeed what I had in mind as the trivial non-solution. Also I'd think the game is pretty close to the *lowest common denominator*, considering that single units already do make a difference in the early game.

You'd need to consider that surface area changes how effective units are: 3 zerglings beat 1 marine, but 10 marines beat 30 zerglings. So cutting the number of units in half has implications for game balance by itself.

The granularity of your damage output is unit-sized: your damage output drops a set amount with unit that dies. So having fewer units means larger sized grains, leading to more volatility. Having 20 lings be a single unit is too coarse-grained, when with a 6pool, your crippling army consists of 6 zerglings. It's not hard to see that 6 lings vs 9 workers would work differently from 2 lings vs 3 workers.

All other things being equal, reducing the total number of units would effect the pacing of the game, with players hitting the cap in half the time. So do you double resource costs to compensate? Or increase build times?

The squad system in CoH has a number of easily identifiable issues. If you still want to have the same unit-sized grains of damage output, you'll need a way to reinforce squads. Magically teleporting in the reinforcements would lead to hilariously stupid situtations like a lone zergling getting away and hiding behind enemy lines, to later come back as a full pack of twenty. If you want the reinforcing units to travel to the squad normally , then you've come full circle, back to individual unit control. Also, positioning is incredibly important, so without being able to issue commands to part of a squad, you'd end up with annoyingly imprecise controls.

The above isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of issues, just an illustration of what I meant by a "boatload of unstated, unsupported assumptions".

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

So cutting the number of units in half has implications for game balance by itself.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that the change would be *trivial*. Yes, you'd absolutely have to re-balance Starcraft to make it a non-ridiculous execution test. In fact, it may even be that you need to re-design the game from the ground up.

WarCraft III was a step in the right direction with the 100 food cap and the upkeep system (although it took a few steps back with heroes who have friggin items? Really? It's like the poor person who wins the lottery and immediately blows it all on junk and then is exactly as poor the next day).

I'm not saying CoH is the answer either. Personally, I don't think there *is* an answer to solving the inherent problems of "Real Time Strategy". Some ideas are just bad ideas, and I think that that's probably one of them. RTS games should be looked at the way that boardgames with dexterity elements (like "first person to slap their hand on the card!!!") are looked at, because they're the same goddamn thing.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

Cool, you just went from dismissing one of the most popular eSports as plain bad design to dismissing the entire genre (...or even multiple genres? It wouldn't take much to apply your logic to fighting games as well), all the while dodging any specific questions I've raised. So much for any kind of reasonable discussion. I guess I'll leave it at that, I've dragged things off-topic enough as it is. Feel free to start a thread over at the forums, though.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

Just so we're clear, your counter argument is: "but it's popular".

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Burgun

No... his argument is that SC2's complexity has already been reduced as far as it can go without destroying the entire system. Your points are valid in the abstract Keith, but they don't apply here mainly because individual units are already viable! If you HAD to have a swarm of 20 zerglings in order to have a viable attacking army then by all means make a single "20-zergling unit." But a single zergling can be incredibly useful.

The better complaint (forgive me for redirecting) is that micro needs to be simplified, but that's an interface issue. Physical barriers to competition should be removed as much as possible and APM requirements are a serious problem... but you don't fix an interface issue by distorting the entire balance of the gameplay.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAtma
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