Monday, July 16, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #14: Intermediate Rewards

Here's what Neil Sorens sent me after last week's post:
Subject: enjoyable activities with high failure rates

Batting in baseball
Old Arcade Games

Speaking of old arcade games, Cyberball was another football game where stopping the opponent from scoring was really tough. It made up for this with the damage mechanic – even if you couldn’t stop your opponent from scoring, at least you could make a player or two explode and force your opponent to make do with an inferior robot at that position on his next offensive possession.

The other activities listed also have little things that are satisfying, even if the ultimate end is often failure: in baseball, simply putting the ball in play is rewarding. In gambling, you’ll often have quite a few hands/spins/rolls that go your way, even if you end up down. In pinball, you trigger a bunch of lights and sounds just by keeping the ball in play, even if you don’t complete any of the main modes. In old arcade games, you can beat a stage even if you ultimately lose the game and don’t get a high score.

I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in Gridiron Solitaire, but maybe these examples will spark some ideas.

Well, that's incredibly clever and extremely helpful. I've always had a conceptual problem with how defense works in the game, but have never been able to explain it clearly. I want defense to be different, so having a multi-play goal makes sense, but it also means that if you fail early on, your chances of stopping the driver later are extremely low. Failure, in these cases, is almost guaranteed, and the possibility of success--even if remote--is crucially important to maintain.

Neil's e-mail, after I thought about it, raises some interesting design possibilities.

First off, I could make defense play-based instead of drive-based. This is an interesting path, potentially. Defense could be designed such that playing X cards on any single play stops the drive.

The problem with this approach is that real football is both play-based and drive-based. So yes, you can stop a drive on any play (with a turnover, or a stop on 4th down), but the results of previous plays affect your chances. For instance, if it's 3rd and 1, your chances of stopping the offense are low, and the chances are low because of the results of the previous two plays.

The game models that extremely well in its current form, really. The problem, though, is that it doesn't matter how well something is modeled if it's not fun. Actually, that's not even the right phrase--it needs to be fun for as many people as possible.

What's not fun about playing defense right now is that if you play poorly early in a drive, your chances of stopping the drive on the last play are very low, and there's nothing else to achieve if you don't stop the drive. While I like it just fine (along with some of the other beta testers), the percentage of people who don't like it is definitely too high.

As Neil's e-mail adroitly points out, ultimate failure is often entirely acceptable in games if there are intermediate successes along the way. So instead of completely changing how defense plays, another approach would be to add intermediate goals. I like this idea quite a lot, because even on the last play of a drive when the cards have gone poorly for you, you might still achieve the intermediate goal--which must be worthwhile, of course, or you won't care--even if stopping the drive is unlikely.

On defense, the most useful reward would be additional resources, and the defensive resource in the game is Big Play uses.

There's an obvious way to do this--just award an additional Big Play press on any defensive play where the user plays more than X cards. Cap the max number of Big Play presses available to preserve gameplay balance, adjust game balance as necessary, and it should work just fine.

The only thing I don't like about the obvious approach is that there is no decision-making involved for the user. There's no decision to make, and nothing has to be given up.

In a gameplay sense, I don't like that. I don't like giving the user something without there being possibilities/consequences.

Considering that, here's the non-obvious approach: give the user one additional Big Play press if they end the play without playing a card.

I know--that sounds odd--but hear me out first.

First off, to gain the additional resource, the player must concede the play. They have to give something up to get something back, and the decision-making needed would be far more interesting than having a guaranteed bonus after X cards are played. If there were no matches on the playing field, you could decide to concede that play without using the Big Play button. You could decide to concede when it's the last play of the drive and you still need to play a ton of cards to stop the drive. You could also concede when you only have a few cards needed to stop the drive and there's more than one play remaining.

The advantages are that it's more interesting strategically, and not conceding on individual plays would actually reduce the overall length of the game (always a big benefit for a card game). The disadvantage is that it's another rule that needs to be explained to the player, and it's less intuitive than just saying "you get X bonus if you play Y cards on a single play."

I'm going to try one of these approaches out, and hopefully be able to discuss the outcome next week. I'm also going to talk next week about how important it is to frame perceptions for a new player.

Site Meter