Monday, May 20, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #56: Arghhhhh!

Collectively, we had a good idea last week. John Harwood started it, sort of, and then it kind of went from there.

Boiled down, the idea was to expand the use of the drive canvas to include both offensive and defensive plays for the human player.

Originally, here's how it looked for defense:

As soon as the play started, you'd see a receiver stationed by the Max Gain (in this case, fifteen yards), and he'd move back towards the line of scrimmage each time you played cards.

It made sense to expand this to offense for the human player, because the canvas tells a little story as the play progresses, and those stories are entertaining.

This sounded easy. Very easy. I estimated that it would take less than five hours to put in and test.

Whenever I make a time estimate and it blows up in my face, I say something was "non-trivial." Boy, was this non-trivial. Try 20 freaking hours of non-trivial.

Okay, let's look at some screenshots. First off, the very basic setup:

There are a few additions--in particular, a goal line and goalposts. The problem, though, and it's immediately apparent, is that the min and max gain labels on defense are nice framing mechanisms for the player. With this design on offense (because there's no min/max gain), there's just a big open space to the left of the goal line, and it needs framing.

That's on the "outstanding issue list" now.

On running plays, it's all very straightforward, and if that was it, I might not have been willing to expand the feature. The payoff, though, is on passing plays.

Since day one, there's been an issue with showing how many cards are still needed to complete a pass, and to show the completion itself. I had a kluge in place where a "completed pass" card was shown, but really, it wasn't satisfying. At all.

Now, though, there's this:

Before cards are played, you just see a quarterback in the "poised to throw" position. When you play cards, the quarterback pose changes to post-throw (shown here), and you see a receiver with his hands in position to receive a pass. The ball changes position each time you play cards, and if you play cards with any speed, it looks like a little stop-animation as the players poses change and the ball moves.

Once the receiver catches the ball, the next time you play cards, you see the receiver like this:

It's a much better story than when the CPU was on offense.

Because of the goal line being included on offense, it made sense to include it on defense, too. Unlike offense, though, the position changes, depending on how far the CPU is from the goal line, and the possible max gain:

That's a crappy screenshot, because at the beginning of the play, the runner was actually in scoring position. He moves back each time you play cards, and instead of looking at the ball on the field, you can look at the drive canvas and see if the CPU would score if you ended the play at that point.

This all seems so simple, but it was hell to put in. Absolute hell. And there may still be additions (like a down marker and first down marker), but now, if you don't want to just watch the ball move across the field, you can watch the story unfold on the drive canvas.

It feels more like football.

I've started to understand that my problem in terms of gameplay is that the cards really aren't the gameplay--they're the luck. The variability of the cards represents a very entertaining luck spectrum. The gameplay, though, is in all the football-related decisions you make during the game.

That has to be explained to the player, to frame their expectations. And it's not going to be easy.

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