Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Game design feedback

I’ve been away on holiday!  Whilst sitting in the sun, (in the UK too…woot), I read ‘The Design of everyday things’, which is an old, but great book. It has nothing in it about game design but nevertheless I found it inspirational. Mostly the book complains about doors, phones, windows and other things that often get strangely redesigned to be inferior, and impossible to use. It was fitting, as I stayed in a hotel that had some of the worst usability design imaginable. A computerised fancy-ass lighting system that lets me select ‘relax’ or ‘ambient’ but doesn’t let me have 1 bedside lamp on and 1 off, and isn’t even consistant. The lighting had coding bugs…. Also the phone was unusable, and the idiots running the place tried to overcharge us. Grrrr. At least the food was awesome.


One of the points in the book is that usability is partly tied to giving feedback. A good switch turns on a light when you press it, or at least clicks, so you know something happened, and hopefully, what happened. In reading endless rants about this, I concluded that the lack of feedback is one of the BIG design mistakes in GSB. It’s all very well being the case that experimentation and tweaking is a bit part of GSB, but how clear is it that weapon X does Y damage, and that weapon A is better vs shields than weapon B?

Given this, I think a lot of careful thinking is required to get the design of GTB right. Some things I am considering:

  1. Making shields a Mech-only item. Tanks don’t have them. Nor do turrets. They look best around moving mechs anyway. This keeps things simple.
  2. Weapons do different damage vs unit types in some cases. Specifically, flamethrowers totally massacre infantry, but do little or no damage to anything else. The same is true of machineguns.
  3. You fight shields with lasers and armor with ballistics. Maybe lasers do 10% damage vs everything but shields, and ballistics are the reverse. There are no fancy exceptions. Fight an army with mechs (and shields) and you need lasers. Otherwise, you use ballistic weapons.

This would, I think be easier to remember, and still make quite a lot of sense. I can’t see a problem with it, because many tower defense games have used similar restrictions. Some towers battle flying units, others ground, others both. In any event, I intend to do a lot of thinking and experimenting with these mechanics before I spend any more time worrying about any new features or any graphical fluff.

13 thoughts on Game design feedback

  1. I’d expect the opposite behavior for lasers and ballistics. Armor (at least modern armor) is specifically designed to cope with ballistic attacks. If energy weapons become a big deal, I can envision energy shields being the reaction to cope. Or put another way: high tech lasers defeat low tech armor, but low tech bullets fly right through high tech shields designed to thwart lasers.

  2. bah…. What you say does have a certain logic to it, especially considering Dune….
    Hmmm. So it’s not actually immediately apparent which way makes sense now…

  3. One more vote for shields being weak against ballistics and armour being weak against energy. That’s the way I’m used to.

  4. Yeah I bought GSB back at launch and boy was it daunting to figure out what was doing what. Feedback is important, especially detailed tooltips.

    I think a good rule of thumb is to make it clear what goes well with (or against) what, and then to be able to upgrade those, or buy more powerful versions of that, rather than have a huge number of different things that are sometimes good against some things.

    For example as you say above, flamethrowers against infantry. Then you can upgrade the flamethrowers to be longer range, or do more damage, or to do DoTs, or to scatter upon impact, etc.

    I guess what I’m saying is I like branching “tech” trees than a blob of abilities :)

  5. Could always add a third type for a simple rock/paper/scissors kind of strategy element eg: lasers/ballistics/??? – not really sure what the third could be and maybe forcing something in there just for the sake of having 3 is not great design but if you could think of something that fitted you’d have a straight forward system that had plenty of variation.

  6. Missiles! Which can be defended against with point defense.

    Actually I could see a wide range of possible weapons and ‘specials’:

    – Lasers
    – Flamethrowers
    – Sonic projectors
    – Cannons and Railguns
    – Artillery
    – Machine guns and Autocannons
    – Anti-Aircraft Flak Guns and Point-Defense Lasers
    – Cruise Missiles
    – Short-Range Missiles
    – UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)
    – Aerial Bombardment
    – Orbit-launched Missiles (“Thor”)
    – Orbital Lasers

  7. In games like SC the penalty was as much as 33% of normal, or SC2 I believe is in the 50% neighborhood. You hear people talk about “counters” but in a game that polished there really are no hard counters, a superior positioned and micro’d force will often win out of “A counters B”.

    I think you are over-compensating with 10%, but I realize this is all just blog talk and there’s still plenty of room for catching overbalancing in testing. Let’s say I really like flame throwers, and I go all out with total tech path towards max flame thrower upgrades. Do you want to allow me to be successful? Should I fail a mission or encounter because I failed to account for a counter for a specific unit?

    Just make sure the incentives are right. Also, where do I preorder/eventually buy so that you get the maximal % of the purchase?

  8. Feedback is so important.
    Also it is important to not limit the experienced players.

    I find it utterly lame when I just need to cope with some rock/paper/scissors matching algorithm. Some fleets in GSB are like this! Just go in, look what they got, design a countermeasure and off you go.
    You could do roughly the same thing which a (highly sophisticated maybe) algorithm could do for you… much more faster and much better than you.
    Congrats on gaming -> you accomplish nothing!

    So what’s in it for me? Art!
    If I design a way for the enemy to go through my tower-defense games I like how it turns out and works, how the enemies run and get nearly stopped by my ice/temporal towers – strategy that meets the eye. (Or something like that.)

    Same is true with tech-trees. While I like upgrades of course, I don’t like that you have just some levels and then it’s over.
    What about putting a massive amount of money in the development of a hotter-than-hot flame thrower just because I LIKE THEM?
    Why does the game stop me from doing that?
    If it’s spitting plasma after some more upgrades it could also stop heavy machinery. Maybe not shields, but not just only soldiers.

    If I want to upgrade JUST THE RANGE of the machine gun tower – I would gladly pay much more for this one – why won’t some games let me? Please please?
    I would really like it when the tower could be built on _that mountain_ to be able to hurt the whole valley!

    That said, I liked “Akte Europa” (don’t know how it was named in enligsh, though), where you could put some big monies into creating a new weapon. It was like a random generator and the ‘scientists’ came up with some bad or some good design. I had some artillery with long distance and high explosives in it at some time. Then I loaded a savegame from before that and never got it again :-( .

    In Defense Grid Shields are good against Lasers and Flamethrowers – so every heat-based weapon.

    +1 for big, big Railguns!!

  9. Take a hint from Starcraft: Weapons should not be utterly ineffective against some targets. Sure, Siege Tanks do twice as much damage versus armored targets, but they are still good against anything else (due to splash damage). Thors are good versus Air. That doesn’t mean that a single Thors can wipe out a group of Void Rays, or be useless against anything on the ground.

    Hard Counters do not lead to deep gameplay, but rather pure RPS (game starts, you know who’s going to win it already) or the “need one of everything” phenomenon, which is the opposite of strategy.

  10. Rock-Paper-Scissors is one of the worst possible design foundations one might rely upon.

    Making certain things inherently “better” against some other things makes your guesswork more important than actual team balance – if you KNOW that you are going to encounter lots of infantry, equip 75% of your men with flamers and you’ll inflict insane damage upon them. If you don’t know, then it’s either guesswork or trial-and-error, neither of which are fun. And if you use a build with lots of flamers when there are no infantry opposing you, you are at a clear disadvantage – simply beacuse you guessed wrong.

    Kdansky made a good point. Starcraft is a perfectly balanced game. One might lear a lot about proper strategy combat design from it.

    Problem with GSB mostly was with the way information was presented. There was no way to easily evaluate post-combat which ship types performed better than others, and for what reason (they hit more often, inflicted few but hard hits, survived for longer etc). Tinkering-style games cannot afford not having extensive post-action statistics. GSB was expanded quite a bit in this direction later, but there is still lots of room for the improvement here.

  11. I quite liked that book, drags a bit towards the end though but for weeks afterwards I found myself shouting at door handles and explaining to my wife why the door was stupid.

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