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

Stripping back the game to a simple start

I’ve been having a few days of angst (ok a few weeks) regarding game design and ‘fun’ in Gratuitous Tank Battles. I guess I was panicking at the intangibility of ‘fun’ and thinking I might be constructing a huge and very elaborate ‘system’ and ‘simulation’ rather than a game. Essentially, it became clear to me that the game was a bit too much like company of heroes and not enough like chess.

Now COH is a great game, but I think it suffers a bit from unit-balance hell. This is something GSB really struggles with, especially for new players. Chess, on the other hand, is awesome in this regard.

Chess only has a handful of unit types, and their capabilities are simply explained. Chess is all about the complex interactions between simple units. This is a good game. COH and GSB are about the super-complex interactions between complex units, and a huge number of them. This is a deep, but also hard to learn, and possibly frustrating game.

I’m pretty sure I’ve sorted it all now :D. Essentially, GTB needed the starting game stripping back to very few unit types. Maybe 9 units to attack with, 9 to defend. That already makes it a fairly complex tower-defense style game. The joy of GTB is that there are so many more layers for the player to explore beyond that basic game. For example:

  1. After the player has got the hang of the basic UI and mechanics, we can flip things and make them the attacker instead of the defender. yay!
  2. After that, the player can unlock extra units on top of the starting nine. Yay!
  3. After that, the player can start to customise his units, choose different modules for them, and also edit their colors to look distinctive. Mega yay!
  4. After that, the player can try different game modes (Rush, or possibly waves rather than continous attack). And also try online challenges (eventually).
  5. After that, the player can fiddle with the built-in level editor and design their own maps either to upload and share, or to play against the AI. Woohoo!

So, if I can get that basic 9 types vs 9 types defence game working just great, then I am pretty convinced everything else will fall into place quite nicely. It just needs a ton of work, but that doesnt bother me at all. I’m just keen to get the initial mechanics of the early game to be perfect, and I made decent progress on that today :D.


10 thoughts on Stripping back the game to a simple start

  1. Nice cliff, keep going!

    Also when I paint my units neon-yellow the will get shot faster in the dark, right? :-)

  2. Cliffski, hopefully you’re only talking about single-player campaign or tutorial structure with “GTB needed the starting game stripping back” and don’t plan to lock features behind a “time played” gate as that would be a Bad Thing. Please give players access to all features immediately on purchasing the game. Thank you!

  3. I think this is a good direction to go, and certainly sounds like it’s moving away from one of my biggest problems with GSB. I definitely like the idea of the game being as complex as the player wants it to be. The idea that you can have fun placing pre-built towers, or you can tinker tinker tinker once you understand the game more, whatever is your thing, is appealing, and I think that is what it sounds like what you mean.

    Also, Mike #1, I don’t think Cliffski said he was trying to make the next Chess? He said he was drawing inspiration or making a comparison with one particular aspect of Chess, which is not the same thing at all.

  4. The real issue is the game industry doesn’t have a theory of game design when it comes to unit statistics. Look at the rise of DOTA type games like league of legends and Heroes of newerth from Warcraft 3. It’s proof that many developers just throw stuff at a wall and hope it works.

    We can see how stale the RTS genre has become because no one really grasps the underlying concepts at all.

  5. And if I have to rebuild my computer/buy a new one, there will be a cheat that lets me unlock everything straight away, right ;)?

  6. I just hate oversimplification, one of the charms of games like GSB, cliffski, is that you can crunch numbers, run tests, narrow down builds with crazy complexity… its fun to do all that, but still addressable from a front up standpoint.

    I’ve no problem with making games easier to manage for beginners, but the game should scale to accommodate styles of play, and i just hope you don’t get rid of the ability to do crazy levels of customization. (Although sometimes in GSB, the outstanding number of similar modules was frustrating, i would imagine the ability to tweak modules themselves, with micro modules is a smarter plan, on that level.

    chess is a great game, but its also a separate entity from the kind of game your approaching here, when thinking not only of the meta game, but also raw statistical data.

    A great thing to do for approachability is to hide upfront complexity behind non-essential drop downs or tabs… thats my favorite way of making a UI look clean and spiffy, but also simple.

    I guess what i wanted to say by this rant is:



    With lots of anticipation,

    Jake (The World Is Flat)

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