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.

Anyway…

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.

GTB game mode thoughts.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the different game modes in Gratuitous Tank Battles. Here are my current thoughts:

Classic (Tower Defence) Mode

In this mode, you play a standard tower defence game. The enemies come at you in pre-scripted waves, and have to get across the map in sufficient numbers to win. When the final wave ends, the player has won. The player earns supplies for shooting down incoming units, and spends supplies by placing new turrets and troops in one of the many pre-defined squares along the multiple attack routes in real time.

Reverse (Tower Attack) Mode

This is the same, but swapped over, with you as attacker. The player earns a steady stream of supplies over time, and these supplies are spent on new units. The supply level is capped, so you can’t just sit there for ages and not place anything, as you waste potential troops in that way. The victory conditions are just like classic mode. This requires a fair bit of AI by the defender, who will intelligently (I hope) place defences along the routes that are most under attack, and select defending forces that balance out, and can best deal with what is being thrown at them.

Assault Mode (attack OR defence)

This is a mode that will also work online in challenges. The player, either as attacker or defender, has a fixed budget to build up an entire army in one go (or for attack, possibly in a number of separate waves). The army then tries to storm past all the turrets without any interaction by the player. The army can be uploaded as a challenge either by an attacker or defender.

Pitch Battle Mode

This is like GSB, but without any pathfinding :D Essentially the maps series of paths meet in the middle and big armies start at one end or the other, marching / driving towards each other and blasting away until one army is destroyed, or everyone is out of range of each other. The last (or biggest) army standing wins. This can also be done as an online challenge game. This is the only mode where both sides have moving units.

Of course, it’s impossible to really say which of these game modes will really work, and which will suck, A lot of it depends upon the exact implementation and numbers. I really think I should implement at least this list though, and give them all some decent testing before deciding if they work or not.

There is SO MUCH to do.

Gratuitous Tank Battles, and designing units

One of my gripes with standard Tower Defense games¬† is the lack of control over upgrades of towers. The decision the player has is basically ‘upgrade a tower, or build a new one’. I think that’s a little limited. gamers these days are happy to look at a choice of ten guns in an FPS, and choose the one whose weight / accuracy / rate of fire / ammo suits their playing style. I think we should at least give the player those sorts of choices when they pick their turrets in GTB.

A problem that Gratuitous Space Battles had, was the huge range of different weapons, and no hints as to what one is best for any particular situation. All the stats were there, but comparing them in the initial (1.0) release of the game was tricky. later patches fixed this, but it was still a bit overwhelming. Add in the extra DLC weapons and there are even more.

One of the ways I’m fixing this in Gratuitous Tank Battles is by sharing weapons across classes. Another is augmentations.

In GSB you had cruiser guns, frigate guns and fighter guns. GTB has large, medium and small units (mech/tank/turret) plus infantry. The difference is, a lot of the guns are interchangeable this time. So a fast gatling laser, for example, might be mountable on a medium or heavy tank, mech or turret. There are suddenly a LOT less overall choices to keep track of.

The second feature is augmentations. These are like little mini-bonuses to a component. One of them is a range-booster augmentation. This could be applied to ANY weapon. So you can combine it with missiles to get long range missiles, or with a ballistic weapon to get a long range cannon. Again, this means a lot less choices to suddenly spam you with, but still a lot of interesting combinations.

Some units have 2 augmentation slots, some 1, many have none.

I think this system works very well, it solves a lot of the design issues I had with GSB, and I wish I’d thought of it before. It’s similar to the ‘perks’ in Call of Duty, which is pretty much what made me consider it.

Hopefully this moves GTB towards the holy grail of strategy games which is ‘quick to learn, lifetime to master’. GSB was more ‘lifetime to learn’.

See… I do listen to gamers opinions :D Tell me what you think. Is this a good move? If not, why not? :D