Monday, January 07, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #37: The Mistake

I've made lots of mistakes, really, but this one is more substantial.

I'm satisfied with how offense plays. It's logical, there's a logical correlation between the card play and real football, and the Big Play button has a logical correlation as well.


Defense has always been far more challenging, in a design sense. Instead of playing cards to move forward--as on offense--the player is playing cards to stop the CPU from moving forward. So the logic is inverted, because the more cards you play, the fewer yards the CPU gains. You're moving backwards from the maximum possible gain.

I struggled with this, conceptually, from day one. I knew I wanted to make the Big Play button matter, but in a different way than on offense. And I wanted the drive rhythm to be different than on offense, too. It's more fun when you have the chance to score, so I wanted defense to play more quickly than on offense.

What I wound up with was the idea of a CPU drive consisting of anywhere from 1-5 plays (which I revised to be 1-4). Instead of gaining yards with each card play, like on offense, the outcome of a card play was that the little players in the drive graphic moved toward each other, and when they collided (if you played enough cards before you ran out of plays), then you stopped the drive.

This was an attempt to maneuver around the issue of yardage gained by having a larger goal of stopping the drive, although the CPU would gain yards at the end of each play based on how many cards you had played.

There was also a Big Play allotment by half (no unlimited presses like on offense). What's happened quite a bit, though, is that it's easy to burn through the Big Play allotment early in the half, and if that happens, it's very, very difficult to stop a drive. So there are too many occasions where defense doesn't have any drama, because there are times where you just have to concede a touchdown.

That's not good enough.

The mistake I referenced was that after I had offense working the way I wanted, I was satisfied to make defense "sort of almost" as good.

I realized last week that I was totally wrong in my approach. My goal should have been to make defense better than offense, then try to make offense even better. That's the kind of attitude that creates a game with excellent gameplay. Without that, all of the detail in the game world won't matter one bit.

I sat down and thought about this for several days, and finally came up with a list of what had to be preserved as part of a new defense mechanic:
1. The speed of the game. Experienced players have to be able to play a game in 15 minutes.
2. The random influence of the cards. The normal ebb and flow of the cards has to remain prominent.
3. The Big Play button. I still want it to be an integral part of any new mechanic.
4. The visual of the players running toward each other. That might be my favorite image in the game, and it captures the feeling of football very well.

I also sat down and tried up to come up with a list of problems in the current mechanic:
1. Not enough Big Play presses are available in a strategic sense, but allotting more would unbalance the game. Not having more, though, severely limits the strategic choices of the user.
2. There are too many plays that seem inconsequential when no Big Play presses are available.
3. Yards gained is not well-abstracted. It's just not very intuitive.
4. In an effort to make defense play more quickly, I removed all intermediate goals. That's not how most people want to play.

There are a couple of approaches I could take with this. First, I could just restructure the existing mechanic, perhaps by reducing the number of card slots (reducing the number of matches, on average, which would let me add more Big Play presses). So I wouldn't be adding any new strategic choices, but I'd be adjusting the balance of what's already there. I could also try to figure out some system of intermediate goals.

The other option would be to add strategic depth to how defense is played. Something that fits into the existing football world, with the obvious choice being to add a "blitz" button. Figuring out what a blitz should do, and how it should be balanced, though, would be very challenging.

So there are lots of choices here, and I'm trying to work through them carefully. I do feel like the "just right" gameplay mechanic is in my my head--somewhere--but I haven't found it yet.

[Please note: After writing this on Saturday, I came up with what I think is a substantial improvement on the existing gameplay. But since this weekly post is as much about process as outcome, I'm going to wait until next week to talk about the new gameplay mechanic.]

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