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

More is not better. (Why I’m frustrated by hearts of Iron 3)

Having been kicked from a game of red orchestra, for no explicable reason (I presume another of many bugs), I fired up Hearts Of Iron 3, to give it another go. I lasted less than 1 hour of game time (5 minutes of real time), and quit in frustration. The game is, in my humble opinion, a design train-wreck of epic proportions, despite being a game production miracle of awe inspiring proportions.

The older and more experienced I get, the more I understand Peter Molyneux. That probably amuses some people…

I remember people giving him a lot of stick about wanting to simplify combat to just one button. I agree, that’s a bit extreme, but the direction is possibly the right one. game designers, especially very insular ones with no hobbies or interests outside games, tend to go way too far in the direction of over-complexity and over features. The result is a game like HOI 3, a game which absolutely bludgeons you with exceptional levels of micro-management and geekery. In my view, Men of War does the same thing. If I can control what ammo is used, what target engaged, what stance is adopted, and what hat is worn by my troops, and even take direct control of them, do NOT give me 150 of them in one mission. That just INSISTS that I will spend most of the battle frustrated, panicked and annoyed. The same is true with HOI3. If you must add diplomacy to the game, please ignore Costa Rica, Guatemala, Andorra, and other countries whose impact on world War 2 was at best marginal. Do you really want to spend world war 2 micromanaging the rate at which you sell electricity to Nicaragua? Really?

Buying production rights from Bhutan, is not something spielberg will make a movie about any time soon.

The usual game-designers excuse for this behavior, to people who complain (like me) is that there are ‘AI-managers’ that you can switch on to handle the tedious stuff. That is a horrible sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Do not tell me that people who enjoy complex turn-based strategy games are happy to turn over some decisions to an AI manager. We are not. We are tyrants and megalomaniacs who want TOTAL control over our universe. We don’t want to admit to anyone, even ourselves, that we are overwhelmed and giving control over something to someone else. I would rather not play HOI3 at all, than play with most of the game being played by the AI. I don’t boot up my PC so the AI can enjoy itself. Ship me a simpler game, that uses less than 800MB of RAM before the menu screen, please…

This, in essence, is part of the rationale behind GSB. GSB does not pretend you can control 300 starships in a complex battle. it admits you can’t, and thus doesn’t make it an option. Some people hate it. Over 100,000 enjoyed it enough to buy it, so I can’t be the only person with this point of view.

Controlling all the lasers would be frustrating and hard work, so GSB doesn't make it an option

A company that really *gets* this, is popcap. In game design terms, their products are absolutely awesome. I may not like the styling, or the subject matter, but they know how to boil things down to the bare minimum required to capture a particular feeling. I *want* to feel like I am Winston Churchill, leading the British empire to ultimate victory over the Nazis. The key is, I want to FEEL like I am doing it, not actually do it. I don’t want to give over my life to worrying about the diplomatic situation in pakistan and whether or not the armor plating on the decks of the 23rd oil-transport flotilla that goes from Cuba to Portsmouth is sufficient. Churchill did that because it was his full time job, a matter of life or death, and a neccesity ( and he farmed stuff like that out to underlings, anyway). This isn’t the case when you sit down to play a PC game. You don’t have to find a quiet spot in combat during call of duty to go take a crap. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to leave out the boring stuff.

You might think there are not enough complex strategy games for the PC, and maybe you are right. The problem I have is that we have Popcaps games, and then Hearts Of Iron 3. There isn’t enough stuff in between. I’m trying to fill that gap.

30 thoughts on More is not better. (Why I’m frustrated by hearts of Iron 3)

  1. I bought GSB and I still hate the lack of control… also I think you’re being a little bit black and white. What gamers want is to PARTICIPATE in the battle. They don’t have to control 100 ships. But you can give them something to do like jumping into controlling turrets and where they are aiming during battle. Battles in GSB tend to get tedious because there is nothing to do but watch… when you find yourself hitting the fast forward button after the first few games, that is not great game design.

    GSB is a nice toy and I think most gamers bought your game because we want to see if you can actually become a good game designer. Many hardcore gamers understand that game development is extremely difficult and time consuming and for a lone indie developer on his own we decided to support you because the industry stopped listening to us.

    Don’t become filled with hubris because GSB did ok. That is why the game industry is so bad.

    As a designer you need to make a game that allows all kinds of players to enjoy the experience, putting in some mild ability to control things in GSB while not interfering with the auto-battle for those who hate interactivity and participation is not a bad thing.

    I’ve often wished game designers would combine interfaces of different genres. For instance imagine a real time strategy game and a first person shooter combined into on game where RTS players can play and build stuff from “top down” and first person shooter players can play in first person and enjoy direct control over the action.

    You need to start thinking about how you get players with different tolerances for participation and energy expenditure to have fun.

    Games are meant FOR PLAYERS ignoring their complaints is not a good strategy. You need to a problem solving approach : How do I give enjoyment and cater to to these different demographics within my game and not alienate people who can’t handle controlling things (interactivity)?

    Thats the fundamental challenge. I’d really like to be able to participate in battle as a gunner, you could put in a special ship that isn’t particilarly strong to compensate for the fact that you can control it directly. It would be it’s own game-type.

    You need to start thinking someone who wants to give something to players instead of designing in a narrow box.

  2. On another note:

    Modern games are simple because games stopped selling on gameplay, they sell on graphics and cinematic experiences. That is why molyneux went towards the one button approach. The industry hasn’t completely realized it yet – but the expansion of gaming was brought about by high fidelity graphics, it attracted people who wouldn’t have normally been gamers during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. These kinds of people really aren’t ‘gamers’ they want movies they can move around in. They don’t like deep interesting games or interactivity to gaming.

    You’re confusing complexity and bad design in your post, there’s lots of great games which are complex but are designed well. It’s a game designer challenge to create an interface for the player and/or hide/mute more complex aspects of the game that newbies like yourself can’t handle. Hearts of iron is a specific for a specific audience that likes depth. If anything it should interest you in “how would I make this game better WITHOUT breaking what the players like about it”.

    That is what you should be asking.

  3. You play HOI3 and you complain about the diplomacy? What’s happened to the enormous techtree which takes like 3 hrs to read? Or the management of your troop HQ’s? Sir, you only saw the tip of the iceberg! ;)
    But nether the less I enjoy this game very much. Maybe thats because I really like to sink British-Nicaraguan electricity transports with my U-Boot’s ;)

  4. The humble opinion of this gamer is not that HOI3 gives the player too many options. The sheer breadth of features and detail was what actually attracted me to the game. What killed it for me was the complexity of actually playing it. When I have to resort to wiki pages within 5 minutes of firing the game up just to work out what I’m supposed to be doing, the game has failed. It is possible to make a complex game accessible – I think this is partly what you’re getting at in your post, Cliff. But like some above my post, I agree that we want more control than GSB gave us. Don’t assume that because I bought the game I thought it was perfect. Although BOB is pretty blunt in stating his opinion, my viewpoint is similar – that I bought the game to support you as an indie developer with some neat ideas.

    GSB is a good game, but it is hardly a perfect game. For me, the ability to dynamically set targets to fire on would go some ways towards making the game more fun and less frustrating to watch at that point where it becomes obvious and inevitable that your ships are taking too much of a pounding and there’s nothing you can do about it. Power ups and retreat/reform orders issued at just the right time would add to the satisfaction.

    I see Frozen Synapse as a great example of a game with deep complexity but an extremely accessible interface. You have near-total control over your troops but the simplicity in how you go about tasking them is what makes the game shine and turns that “No no! Don’t attack that ship!” into a “damnit! If only I turned right instead of left – oh well, I have no one to blame but myself for not checking my corners”.

  5. GSB is definitely not perfect. The hands-off gameplay is partly a way to engineer the asynchronous challenge system that is built into the gameplay

    Gratuitous Tank Battles does have (at least in the non-challenge mdoe) direct control of target selection and path-choice for your units.

  6. BOB, I don’t think there are 100,000 bleeding heart gamers out there willing to support cliffski’s ‘practice’. I certainly didn’t buy GSB for any of the reasons you outlined and only got onto this blog after playing the game.

    As for your other points, you’re delving into ridiculous ‘please everyone all of the time’ territory. It is not feasible, practical or even likely to result in something worth playing. It is far better to define an audience and design a game that focuses on that specific group.

  7. To adress this even further. I think that HOI3 does make the correct choice. It integrates lot’s of OPTIONAL features. You may trade electricity with Nicaragua if it pleases you. But you can always conquer areas which supply you with energy (like Norway). Also different countrys will offer you a trade agreement if they see that you lack e.g. electricity or fuel. You don’t have to trade/espionage/use diplomacy to win the game (at medium difficulty level). You can just ignore it.

    Only if you play at the highest difficulty level you will be forced to use all of your strength and possibilities to win the war.

    It should be this way with every game. Offer the player at least the possibility to boost his game performance. If the game is flat and dull he will lose interest soon enough. But if there is room for improvement he will continue to strife for perfection.

    A personal tip Cliffski. Do not play with GB. I think it’s one of the hardest countrys to play with. You have the whole world to rule and protect. It will overstrain you. I suggest you play with Italy or USA for starters… You have a somewhat passive stance and you can find your way into the game. You are not the leader of any faction and you do not have to bother with diplomacy ect.

  8. @Greg

    You never understood what I said at all. My comments don’t veer towards ‘pleasing everyone’, because they are framed in terms of a game design which you obviously didn’t grasp. Gaming is fundamentally about participation. GSB has almost a complete lack of it. GSB is a toy and cliffski has openly called it a toy with the exact same same language.

    You’re one of the gamers I was talking about – you’re so focused on the graphics you can’t see that you don’t actually do much of anything but watch. Don’t confuse your aesthetic like of the games graphics and the customization and ship placement with good gameplay.

    Cliff is making games for players and as a designer he has to think about who’s buying his games – I bought his game and I’m saying “this annoys me, but I do like the direction you are going in but we could use a little interactivity”.

    I understand you as the type of gamer you are – you don’t like expending effort, you want to sit back and watch the pretty explosions boom, you most likely have an inflated opinion of how ‘strategic’ gsb is. To put it bluntly: You’re not at a place of understanding to comment on my comments because you don’t have anywhere near the experience either I or cliffski has that is apparent from the words we use in our writing.

    A good game takes off quickly if it is any good. GSB got stuck around the 100,000 mark and most likely took significant time to get there. Sales do speak to how fun a game is whether you want to admit it or not, the only place this is not so true anymore is in AAA because they have massive budgets and can use hollywood special fx and huge marketing pushes to drive sales. I want cliff to become successful indie and make more money and I think criticism from a real long time passionate gamer who can articulate with precision what is wrong is much more important then someone who doesn’t really get gaming or buy a lot of games.

    I understand how gamers tick, I understand that not everyone has the reflexes to control stuff, or the IQ for deep games and just wants to watch shit blow up. But I also understand there are gamers who really want games to play in rather then spectate. Gamers who want games to play are the ones that matter. Otherwise Cliffski really should make facebook games because GSB is almost the equivalent of a facebook game given its low barrier to entry and almost complete lack of participation, we have a company that designs those games already – they are called Zynga.

    There’s lots of pent up demand for great games out there (magicka is proof of this) because the AAA industry became too obsessed with trend following.

  9. Wow, BOB, you should take a moment to read the following:

    Note that I never said why I bought GSB (or any other game), I’ve only said what didn’t make me buy it. You’ve decided that you KNOW everything about my game purchasing and playing habits and desires, and then attacked my imaginary position.

    Your argument boils down to basically, “Make the game that I want and blow everyone else. They should be more like me anyway”. You don’t really understand how gamers tick. You maybe understand a bit about what , assume that everyone else wants just the same as you, or else they’re not worth considering. They’re just superficially “focused on the graphics”. You have no theory of mind, no real ability to appreciate a person occupying a position other than your own. All of this is actually evidenced in the things that you’ve written here, rather than fancifully imagined and then applied as honest truth to argue against.

    You get on a whiff of the real truth when you mention that different people want different things. As a games designer if you can identify some significant subset of that, make a game that appeals to this subset, and then they pay for it and you make money from it, what other measure of success do you need? As I said before, no one has ever (successfully) made anything that pleases all of the people all of the time. That is in essence what you are demanding, and it would be foolish to even try, even if you weren’t a one-man-band.

  10. Bob, Minecraft is one of the most absurdly popular games of recent years. At one point, it was making a quarter of a million dollars every day, despite having 16 bit textures and a world made out of large boxes. Gamers are not just buying games that look pretty, or have cinematic experiences. There are some gamers who look for that, yes, but I would wager most look for other things as well.

    Both I, and other people I know who play games, enjoy a range of games, and I wonder if that’s something both you and Cliffski and under-appreciating. I play and enjoy Call of Duty, Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress and a bunch of Popcap games and a whole mess of other things. Call of Duty is all about looking pretty and a cinematic experience that makes you feel like you’re a badass while not having to think too much, while I’ve never met a game that is so aggressively user-unfriendly and complex as Dwarf Fortress, but it’s incredibly satisfying to play. Sometimes I want that, and to put that effort in, and sometimes I want to just feel cool with minimal effort and I don’t care that the gameplay isn’t anything special or unique.

    Also, if GSB is a toy, does that matter? I don’t agree with you that it is, but going along with the idea, why does it matter if it isn’t a ‘game’? People clearly enjoy it enough not just to buy the game, but to buy expansions for it, which proves they weren’t hugely disappointed in their original purchase. As a ‘toy’, rather than a ‘game’ it is something people want and are willing to buy for the price offered, and I don’t see how this difference in label devalues it.

    Ultimately, the games market caters to what people want. There are huge numbers of games out there, and some do well and some do not. This will be affected by marketing, but isn’t solely. Again, the popularity of Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress, which had no marketing, and the fact that Duke Nukem Forever sold half as many copies as the publisher expected despite the vast amount marketing, suggest that marketing doesn’t entirely control where people go for games. You shouldn’t insult game developers or game players because they don’t agree with you, because game developers are doing what is profitable and game players are playing what they enjoy, and I don’t think you can blame either for either. Cliffski explicitly states, and I believe the point of the post was, that he sees a gap in the market, and he is trying to fill that, and that sounds like what businesses should do. If what Cliffski did with GSB was so terrible, people really should not have bought it (and they could have tried to the demo first to see if they would like it). That is how a free market works.

    Also, the idea that people are willing to throw money at the feet of indie devs is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in a while. The World of Goo devs posted that they saw an 80%-90% piracy rate of their game. I cannot imagine that a majority, or even very many at all, people bought GSB solely because they wanted to support an indie developer and see if he does better next time.

  11. Grats on the 100k Cliff. As for your rant, I both agree with you and I don’t. I own HoI3 and am a bit frustrated with it, but the problem is not with it’s depth, but with my own time limitations. This is a game I would have loved 10 years ago when I was a teenager and had the time to sink into learning and playing it. Now, with 1-2h per day at best, and often non, I need a simpler game since I just don’t have the time to invest in something as complex, and probably won’t until I retire, if people are still alowed to do that when my time comes.

  12. I couldn’t agree more! Oh to be 13 again with loads of time. I played HOI for a good 2 hours as italy last night, but I not only hadn’t got to see the start of the war, I wasn’t even able to shift my neutrality enough to even join the allies. That was on maximum speed.
    I can’t see how a game that takes so long to play, and has so many options can ever really be play tested or balanced properly. It’s insanely big.

  13. I have played a lot of Hearts of Iron 1&2 and even was one of the beta testers for HoI2. I wasn’t particularly good, but for sure I understood all the features and their links together. When HoI3 came out I bought it and tried it, but failed to learn it even with the manual. I mean, the individual features themselves make sense and I know how to do things with the interface. But all the time I somehow feel I’m missing something making me fall behind the AI due to non-optimal selection of policies, construction and research. The game makes me feel incompetent, which isn’t a nice feeling.

    That said, it is still great that HoI3 was made. Knowing the developers they are an ambitious, passionate and talented lot. Nobody else could have made a better all-encompassing WW2 game. Not a game for me, but surely for a certain niche. There are so many WW2 nerds out there, that they deserve that wet daydream. Especially when it is very easy to mod, so can be kept alive for years and years.

  14. What I feel that GSB needed was more complexity options. At first, building a fleet and playing the single player was fun. Eventually, I unlocked everything and found a fleet setup that beat almost any level. At that stage I wanted more. I wanted more orders to give and more complexity. The game needed an advanced mode (for example, a promotion to ‘Grand Admiral’ that unlocks more orders to give). The challenge system then simply needed a check box for ‘Normal’ or ‘Advanced’ challenge types. Players that want to play with the expanded complexity can then choose it without impacting other players.

  15. @Greg, Xen

    You didn’t address any of my points at all. This is what I mean by you’re not at a place to comment on my comments. I do clearly have a theory of mind this comment proves it when I said to cliff:

    “You need to start thinking about how you get players with different tolerances for participation and energy expenditure to have fun.”

    That is the essence of my argument, which clearly demonstrates I have a theory of mind. I’ve thought about why gamers do and don’t like games _a long time_ and I can break it down into specifics and exactly point out where. I can break gamers down into what they do and don’t like because it’s necessary to design good games.

    You both can’t even articulate any specifics against my valid points, which is proof you don’t understand what I said. You both spend a lot of words saying nothing without honing in on anything. Without getting into specifics you are both suffering from misunderstanding my comments as a personal attack on what you feel is ‘your’ game. You feel the need to defend gsb “as it is”.

    GSB is the kind of game where cliff can keep GSB as it is today add a new game mode that doesn’t interfere with how you play GSB or future versions of GSB at all. This is what I mean by you both not getting game design. The same way deathmatch and capture the flag both exist in a first person shooter. The existence of Capture the flag does not interfere with how you play vanilla deathmatch.

    Three gamers besides myself both want more goals, more stuff to do in the game. This feedback is necessary because Cliff is running _a business_. Not a charity. What value proposition is there for the gaming audience to continue to buy cliffs games? What are they getting for that money?

    Lastly games really are about pleasing a diverse set of people when you get down to it, the point is knowing where you can expand and where not to over-extend it. Hence this is why you both don’t understand.

  16. @ BOB,

    I think I know where you are going. You are saying that you can break down GSB to a puzzle game. Find out what your enemy is using in terms of weapons and defense and then counter it.
    In that regard it’s a fairly dull game I grant you that. As you said there are other people (like me) who just love space games and explosions. I just bought the game because I saw the trailer with lot’s of ‘splosions in space!

    And well it worked. I had like 2 days of fun with the game. But then it was over. I had beaten every mission and so on. Later came the challenge mode and the galaxy conquest mode but it was just more of the same. Of course there are hardcore fans which are pleased with that but not the average gamer.

    I think the game is missing a roleplaying part. I always get addicted on games which offer me some kind of techtree with experience and so on.
    Best example is “World of Tanks”. The game itself is dull and repetitive. But you have to gather XP to unlock new tanks and weapons. That is very motivating because you strife to become better and better.

    A very important thing is specialization. There is no specialization in GSB. Later in the game you have access to every technology and ship there is. But if you would integrate some kind of techtree it would enhance the game alot.

    But it has to be a system with drawbacks. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a very bad example. In this game you could max out every skill. That’s what I would call redundant. A good techtree branches out which means that the player can create a unique game for himself. And has the drive to start a fresh game to try a different approach. Best example would be Diablo 2 I suppose.

    Well enough rant for the time beeing. Over and out ;)

  17. @Eich

    The game needs more challenges, goals and tasks that are *interesting* and a challenge.

    The rpg elements: weapon upgrade/tech tree or weapon/item collection needs to be expanded. But this also would entail enemies also having counters or also increasing in strength to keep the game interesting. Keeping you always trying to figure out or grok the enemy to keep it interesting.

    All games come down to fundamentals – interest, novelty, ‘mystery’ (learning about the unknown), and challenge.

    For instance when we all first got GSB it was a mystery what everything did until we learned it – this learning process was fun for us we tried to ‘grok’ the game to get the ideal configuration of ships, get all the upgrades. The process of fun is in that learning and growth process against an opponents strengths and/or challenging tasks you don’t fully understand.

    As you get more experienced with the game you learn what works and what doesn’t and interest starts to wane because you run out of things to do (as in GSB) .

  18. @BOB (that’s the way we do things right?)

    I’m going to put aside that you commit fallacy after fallacy (fyi you’re still maintaining your original strawman, then there’s repeated ad hominem arguments, and even a false-alliance), and I’ll even ignore how inherently offensive it is that you insist that no one is mentally capable of engaging you in argument (because you say so). What I’m going to do is give you the benefit of the doubt and address directly your accusation that I haven’t addressed your points.

    My original argument, and the only one that I’ve maintained, is that you’re demanding some version of “please all of the people all of the time”. My main source for this is where you say:

    “I’ve often wished game designers would combine interfaces of different genres. For instance imagine a real time strategy game and a first person shooter combined into on game where RTS players can play and build stuff from “top down” and first person shooter players can play in first person and enjoy direct control over the action.”

    Once again putting aside the fact that there are games that are like this (or at least in some respects like this – Tribes 2, for instance), this is not a meaningful or coherent way to go about games design. It is a high-concept picking and choosing of nebulous design options for reasons and motivations other than what is appropriate for the concept at hand and what would constitute good design. It is saying, “some people like this, and other people like that, surely if we put the two together lots of people will like our thing”. It is not an example of looking at the needs and challenges a particular example throws up and designing elegant or effective ways to satisfy the needs and overcome the challenges.

    To take my example of Tribes 2, I’m sure the tactical overhead interface didn’t arise as a result of people thinking, “FPS is popular, RTS is popular, FPS/RTS will be the most popular”. Instead I think there was a problem of having a multiplayer game where there can be 64 people with 20 vehicles on a free-roaming field, multiple objectives and only a chat server to try and coordinate them. The solution was a tactical view that showed resources and statuses of all units, a quick intuitive access for switching control between matériel on the field, and could seemlessly issue orders and objectives to individuals or groups that are viewable in the FPS interface. The major point is that it isn’t an either/or mode, for some people to play to the exclusion of other features but rather one that improves the experience and abilities of anyone who uses it and contributes to the overall design of the game.

    That is the issue that I have with your arguments, that you espouse a paint-by-numbers high-concept approach to design, rather than an holistic needs-must approach.

  19. @Greg

    Like I said : You’re not at a level of understanding to comment on what I said because you’re misinterpreting it completely. The comment about RTS and FPS is just a commentary about PLAYER PSYCHOLOGY, which was leading up to players having different needs. Good game design is about understanding player psychology. When people buy a game an audience of a million people are all going to have different player psychologies that will fall into a few dominant archetypes. Different things in a game activates players brains and causes them to feel stimulus. Whether your game succeeds or fails is based on whether you meet the stimulation needs of the players (the sum of which we call fun), period. The point of a business is to succeed financially – that is you want as many people buying your games as you can or at least enough not to go bankrupt. There’s tonnes of lessons from the AAA game industry of developers that died because they didn’t grok the audience or player psychology. Your whole post demonstrates you haven’t understood what I’ve said.

  20. That seals it. You’re clearly convinced of your own genius and the phenomenal ignorance of everyone else. The only reference to psychology that you’ve made up until this point is a passing mention of IQ (a highly controversial and unreliable measure). I’m fairly certain now that I understand your own posts better than you do.

    Beyond the bluster, buzzwords, polemics and vitriol your points are hollow. After this I shan’t be replying to you anymore. All you seem capable of doing is insisting that no one understands you and then repeating the same unsophisticated point in every permutation and complication you can think of. I then say, “No I do understand what you’re saying and here’s some reasons why its wrong”.

    I’ve really got more rewarding things to do than retread the same ground over and over, someone being wrong on the internet notwithstanding. So just assume that after everything you write from here on I’ll just be saying “no you are”.

  21. @Greg

    Hardly. Game design is a constant learning experience, but when you get down to it – it comes down to trying to understand “why something worked” and “why something didn’t” at the end of the day. You can have amazing artistic and coding skills and then go build a technical and graphical marvel but isn’t very fun because the developers didn’t understand the principles behind what stimulates players. The whole point is to understand our own minds – to develop models of what different players like and ask questions about what stimulates us so we can start speaking about games with precise language and make them better.

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, don’t confuse hours of hard work and exhausting analysis with arrogance – much of what I have said is exactly true. You just can’t understand it because you don’t have the proper concepts and understanding in your mind to bridge the gap. You confuse this with arrogance, the truth is often painful and harsh for those who don’t understand it or reject it outright because they’ve never given it serious thought.

  22. No you are.

    I don’t disagree with anything in this part of your post:

    “Game design is a constant learning experience, but when you get down to it – it comes down to trying to understand “why something worked” and “why something didn’t” at the end of the day. You can have amazing artistic and coding skills and then go build a technical and graphical marvel but isn’t very fun because the developers didn’t understand the principles behind what stimulates players. The whole point is to understand our own minds – to develop models of what different players like and ask questions about what stimulates us so we can start speaking about games with precise language and make them better.”

    But how could anyone disagree? It’s prosaic platitudes, oft repeated, essentially true but functionally incapable of being meaningfully applied to a practical situation. Nothing – NOTHING – that I have previously said has placed game design behind graphics and technical wizardry. In fact I have only written of the importance of design, because that’s what was relevant to your posts and my disagreement with them. Only you have have said that I occupy any other position with your specious and wholly unfounded and ignorant descriptions of me and my arguments.

    To set all records straight, I bought GSB because after playing the demo the I liked the idea of the game where you’re presented with one problem that can have multiple solutions, solutions which you can save and analyse later. Similarly (as became the deal in the campaign mode) there was also the possibility of a tantalising single solution that could solve many problems.

    You think you know everything about me but actually nothing. Rather than imagining that I’ve thought seriously hard and know it all, while actually inhabiting an intellectual bubble, I’ve studied two degrees both involving psychology, interactive design and games design. I’ve read research on player motivations, and I’ve actually engaged with other people who play games to refine and test designs. And yes, as that implies, I’ve worked on designing and testing several student-level games. What I know is on the shoulders of many other people more experienced than me, not from pontificating in isolation as a noble keyboard warrior. Even worse, I don’t sit here accuse others of being unable to comprehend the sicknasty genius of my arcane thought processes, despite the meagre authority apportioned to me through formal education and amateur experience.

    So no, you are.

  23. Cliff,

    You must get Solium Infernum and Sengoku. Those will satiate your appetite for strategy games for a little while at least. Aside from that, if you’re looking for a little more action included into the mix you might want to give S.P.A.Z a try! (Space Pirates and Zombies – yes that’s the name).

  24. A little off topic, but John has just reminded me with his recommendation. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Sengoku, but nothing yet has shown me what makes it different/better than Total War: Shogun 2, aside from the lack of the real time battles which you can auto-resolve in Shogun 2 anyway, if you really want to. I’m quite curious, as someone who enjoys turn based strategies, and people seem to like Sengoku. I just haven’t seen what makes it special yet, or what it’s ‘niche’ is, bringing it back more on topic.

  25. @ Xietanu, erm maybe the whole characters part which is essentially the point of the game. Of course you can raise armys and destroy all kind of things. Or you marry your kids to the right people, assasinate some heirs here and there and *drum rolls* another Daimyo title is yours ;) It’s so much more rewarding in many ways compared to Shogun 2. Also Shogun2 sucks. Go play Medieval2 ;)

  26. Cliff,

    There is this game called sword of the stars by Kerberos Productions that attempts to simplify and abstract many things while still allowing a good 4x game. The game is a bit old tho so it might feel somewhat aged. A sequel is coming out soon tho.

    Disclaimer: I’m not being paid or anything to endorse Kerberos

  27. I’m not sure I agree here, cliff. The only reason most complex games AREN’T as popular, is not ‘poor game design’ or ‘weak mechanics’ but the inability of developers to cloth their games well, with strong user interfaces and delivery of content, games that many people expect to be very simple are in fact, more complex than one would imagine. they are dressed in a way that makes manipulating those features a one-at-a-time thing, which doesn’t overwhelm you despite a game’s veiled complexity.

    The biggest problem I see with most games is the inability of developers to hide the rediculous number of statistics floating around, and making them addressable on a need to know basis, and only in areas where those statistics are important. (Like Star Ruler for instance.)

    Clear, consistent user interface experiences are so colossally overlooked by most developers.

    GSB for example wasn’t enormously complex, it did have its excellent share of statistics to nerd over, and one reason I’ve enjoyed it so much, is that it does an excellent job of making those statistics available on a need-to-know basis, when you want to see them. they make sense to you as you play, like ship health, weapons, you don’t have to know what it all means, You get an Idea what something does, and slap it on. Its simple, but once you understand it, you can take on complex parts of designing ships, placement in battle, ect, and at that point its quite fun, because you know it all just by making assumptions through playing, without being overwhelmed. (Although a stronger in-game tutorial would have been useful too.)

    And because its complex, its more satisfying, the battles are an excellent experience, and having it all come together, your designs, assumptions, experience, its so satisfying. The strength of GSB is that the information is not dumped on your head, and your not told to ‘go have fun.’ not understanding anything. A laser gun is a laser gun.

    Don’t get me wrong, GSB has PLENTY of faults, numerous, but its a great game, and changing design philosophy, and switching out your strengths in exchange for fixing your weaknesses is not the way to go in my humble opinion.

    (And for the record, one of the reasons why I liked GSB so much, and most of my friends, is the LACK of real-time involvement. Don’t be cowed by the ‘Vocal Minority’, most of the GSB players I know would never post on a forum or blog, but represent that opinion.)



  28. Overall, true– certainly if you’re looking for mass-market appeal, Popcap is the way to go.

    I’d just like to point out, though, that there are a lot of guys out there who WANT to have to micromanage things like tank repair down to the rivet.

    They’re called grognards. There are fewer and fewer of them every year, I think, because tabletop wargaming of the old rivetcounting style is a dying hobby. But they’re out there. I’ve seen them.

    There is a reason the HOI guys make HOI. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t like it themselves. They wouldn’t do it if people didn’t buy it.

    The popcap market is huge but unbelievably saturated. The rivetcounting market is a small niche market but is underserved. People in that market buy every title that comes out, and will pay $30 or so for them.

    The FPS analogy is ARMA II vs COD. COD games will always serve a larger market, but that means that the market is dominated by big fish. Milsim games don’t appeal to so many people but the competition is much lower.

Comments are currently closed.