Back from NZGDC - Playing the Game with Fresh Eyes!

I had the opportunity to travel to and present at NZGDC on prototyping/game design, which was a fantastic experience. The talk slides can be found here

One of the key components of my talk was to present the idea of failing early, focusing on game mechanic development and finding the 'fun' or engagement in a systematic way. But I've also tried to promote the idea of chaotic idea generation - finding inspiration in everything and subverting player/genre expectations where you can.

Regardless, I'm back in Melbourne now and have been driven by a lot of positive feedback by friends/acquaintances to continue these blogs. Some people had been keeping tabs on this project, affectionately now known as 'Afterciv'. I'll blame you all when I get sued.

Coming back to Afterciv

With fresh eyes, a hazy memory and less bright-eyed enthusiasm, I took today to 'replay' the game from the initial rule set to see how it went. So a key advice here - record all of your rule sets as you develop them. I found that having a list, largely linear, allowed for me to open the prototyping round almost the same as a board-game setup. Clear the tiles, pieces, read the setup and start placing pawns down. I decided to start this round with two objectives:

  1. Play until I had completed all existing rules.
  2. Try to stabilize the game economy so that I can work out what the next rules are. 
  3. Assess how the opening sequence feels if I move my 'survivor' pieces a bit further before making camp. 
 
The opening round begins the same - Survivor and Scavenger. I hadn't yet applied the resource pressures yet and I'm not convinced it is a good idea at the start but it ends up having merit.

The opening round begins the same - Survivor and Scavenger. I hadn't yet applied the resource pressures yet and I'm not convinced it is a good idea at the start but it ends up having merit.

 

At the opening round, I've noticed that there's a little problem - I haven't yet defined what sight lines are. How many tiles, conditions of sight, how pawns can see or discover new tiles based on tile properties. Following from that, I've had to include a new tile condition - the 'discovered' Fog of War. This is pretty common product and mechanic in many games and it has a few key uses - some of which don't apply to prototypes on paper, but down the line, they're necessary for performance and calculations 'behind the scenes'. 

I haven't yet determined how important Fog of War is, but I've stumbled onto an interesting concept - when the initial resource 'down tick' is applied due to the pawns requiring upkeep, the Fog of War becomes a menacing element. At a high consumption rate you only have 5-6 turns to not only find a camp but also to offset your food/water debt. Discovering a lake or forest becomes critical to settling - and I've already screwed myself in this specific instance. 

 
Some key elements to notice here: I've moved too far south, moving into the wasteland tiles. I'm down on water and food, it'll take me a couple turns to move back up to make camp. Also, a UI prototyping thing, I've changed the resource counters to have more feedback.

Some key elements to notice here: I've moved too far south, moving into the wasteland tiles. I'm down on water and food, it'll take me a couple turns to move back up to make camp. Also, a UI prototyping thing, I've changed the resource counters to have more feedback.

 

So today I've hit that dread moment when you need an excel sheet to start recording tile values and conditions. This is because I don't like having to guess/ make-up values of tiles being worked. The key approach I've found that worked well with tackling Excel has been to focus on the most basic formula that you need - which for me was 'Survivor Pop has -1 food and -1 water upkeep per turn'. The rest of the calculator is now based around this core concept, as it gives me an oversight of each unit's population size, the overall pool and the upkeep of each unit. I linked all the tables together so that I can play with values rapidly, as playing with those values is an entire job in itself.

The next step after this is to build the table for tilesets and their conditions so that I can calculate the positive/production values each turn, to help offset the upkeep. This should allow me each turn to see if we're operating at a deficit or surplus, and also be able to properly play the game rounds without doing pen/paper. This might not seem like an important step, but I want to rapidly move towards a 30x30 grid to play on. 

AC07.PNG

So after this I included in a quick calculator to help me figure out what happens to tiles when they're being worked - I actually royally screwed this up, as the table isn't a good solution to how I can calculate the overall production/upkeep per turn. I'm going to need to figure out a good solution to that and probably brute-force the entire table. At this stage of prototyping this is quite necessary to figure out some internal system design if this ever moves onto an interactive digital prototype and I don't want to delegate any of my time figuring out raw values.

AC08.PNG

The basic idea behind this value table was that I wanted to immediately apply production bonuses for having units on a tile, with the intent that work crews can further build things on them -and- buildings can be added on owned tiles. This table is useful for now, but I'm going to have to rework a lot of the base structure so that I can add 'how many tiles are being worked' and 'by whom/what conditions', in order to get a total sum value of all production occurring per turn. 

That's it for today's log - we've covered the digitization and automation of some basic rules. The opening moves of the game plays well and there's a sense of pressure to immediately get started on a camp as your supplies run low. I'm going to work on a bit more of the basic rule loops and fix that table. 

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