Sunday, October 5, 2014

Code Red - Dev Diary 2: Design Philosophy

After talking about the early steps and the birth of the project I´m going to cover the design philosophy in todays update.

Source: Southern Utah University

As I´ve outlined in the last post there were some points about Force on Force that led to the rule changes ultimately resulting in this ruleset. But being at odds with someone elses design is not enough to create a good game. Any good game needs a vision, a set of goals the system should achieve, points it has to adhere to and principles it is founded on. Modelling complex system requires you to stick to the basic aspects, identify the core principles at play and find simple ways how to
create an abstract mechanic to achieve a similar outcome...

Or more to the point: If you don´t know what you want, you´ll never get it.

So what are the basic ideas behind our Modern Rules, the points that we tried to emphasise and will the system be to your liking?

The first point I wanted to emphasise is Decision Making. The player is supposed to manage the chaos of the battlefield, he has to make touch decisions with limited resources without perfect knowledge about what´s next. Leaders on the battlefield never have perfect foresight, they´ll rarely be able to bring all their assets into action at once, usually the friction on the battlefield prevents that.
Many aspects of the game have been reviewed through this perspective - does the mechanism add a meaningful decision to the game? Are there other tempting options or is a certain choice a no-brainer?  Is there a good balance of risk vs. reward?
The main point here is gameplay - is the game posing an interesting challenge to the players?

Of course, these aspects are also closely related to the second aspect: Tactical Realism - does the game model reality in a decent way, a way that requires real tactics to be employed to be successful or at least favor the application of real tactics over other decisions? Are bad tactics punished in an appropriate way?
In this respect, we´re talking about simulation - are the mechanics appropriate to model reality in a decent way, or will the result be a Hollywood movie?

The third aspect is Narrative Quality. Are the game mechanics suitable to create a coherent story in the players (and observers) minds? Is the flow of events modeled in a way that mimics reality sufficiently to create a strong suspension of disbelief?
It´s an important aspect for me because I´ve been a role play gamer for a long time and in my opinion, wargames are perfectly capable of telling a memorable story if they´re designed not just with the outcome in mind, but with a good hint of an explanation of why things have gone so bad (or well).

Scaleability became an important factor to me as I noticed how some very cool rulesets are restrained to a certain game size due to the mechanics they use - for my own system, I wanted to keep the flexibility that Force on Force provides regarding the scale of combat, anything from a Squad to a Platoon plus (or at a stretch even a company on a large battlefield in MP games) should be playable. Size of units should not matter mechanic-wise like in FoF where more manpower in a unit = more defense, instead different unit sizes should have it´s own pro and cons (having many men pinned down vs. small teams that are more fragile and cannot sustaint as many casualties and keep going)

And, of course, Simplicity - the question hovering about any of the aspects above -can the system be simplified further without losing the required detail to achieve the other goals?
This contribues to a smooth and easy gameplay - the goal is to minimize the amount of die rolling, calculations, looking up effects or rules in the rulebooks, etc.
In my vision, the rules should allow players to focus on the really important aspects and decisions outined above - not keep them busy with calculations and endless generation of random numbers.
Simplicity does not mean the game is supposed to be shallow, to the contrary - the catch phrase here is efficiency - how to achieve the desired effects with minimum complexity. It should also help to avoid the typical problem of forgetting a lot of rules even if you´re new to the game, while still modelling what really matters.

So, my vision of the new Modern Rules is a game that is simple to learn but hard to master, providing a memorable playing experience with important decisions on how to best employ your troops in a variety of situations, rewarding real tactics and thus creating a believable scenario.

Another important detail that does not concern the game mechanics itself (the on-board experience) but is an indispensible part of the ruleset and a cornerstone of the game before it has even begun is scenario design. I know a lot of people who are opposed to point-based games and prefer scenarios. On the other hand I see the benefits of point based systems, the ability to bring two lists and play a pick-up game without putting a lot of though into a scenario.
Scenarios have to be playtested extensively to create a balanced setup that can be won by both sides.
On the other side, they offer the more believable playing experience by creating an imbalanced order of battle that is offset by assymmetric victory conditions, something much more realistic than having two forces of roughly equal capabilities. . 

But I´ve been asking myself why there´s this endless discussion of Scenario vs. Points - do these systems really have to stand as opposites?  This question and the experience I gathered while designing my own scenarios for FoF lead to the belief that they are not mutually exclusive.

How do you balance scenarios? By adding/removing forces, modifying victory conditions or game time limits - usually at the designers whim. It´s not impossible to rate these aspects of scenario balancing, making them comparable and creating a trade-off between more units or more objectives.
I don´t say it´s easy, but it´s entirely possible - scenario designers have been valuing these aspects for ages but they did so unconsciously, without putting a "price tag" on their hunch.

So in my opinion, it´s possible to create a point-based scenario generator  - a system that allows players to throw together two lists including forces and objectives (in effect creating imbalanced scenarios where objectives outweight the inferiority in numbers), bring their troops, set up a scenario and play the game while both having a realistic chance of carrying the day - without three playtesting sessions for the scenario.

The details are subject of another dev diary later on, but I can tell you that we have already made good progress and my theory has not yet been proven wrong - we´re making good headway to create a system as outlined above and I think it´s one of the major features that distinguishes our game from other systems.

But I think we´ll be talking about Command and Control in the next diary.

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