Monday, February 24, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #95: The Future

Overall, I've been very fortunate with the launch of GS. It's been very stable (there have been a few small bugs reported, but they're all rare). People have been very positive on the Steam forum.


Taking a hard look at the game, post-launch, I see four things that have to be improved, and that's going to be the plan going forward. What makes this a little tricky, though, is that numbers 1-3 are all tied together, and because they all affect play balance, they're going to have to be tested together and rolled out at the same time (probably in 1.3, which will be released end of March/early April).

Here's the list.

1. Run/Pass Balance on Offense
Running is just too viable as a dominant strategy. Because of that, I think it's easy to create a cookie cutter strategy on offense and go on auto-pilot mentally. For most players, they would gain rushing yards in a 2-1 ratio over passing yards. That's the reverse of the NFL, where passing is 2-1.

No more.

In 1.3, run matches are going to be worth three yards, not four. In some early play testing I've done, that forces exponentially more attention to down/distance than previously. And my yardage profile is now about 1.5-1 passing to rushing. Not quite at the NFL level, but much improved.

I also tweaked turnover frequency, because turnovers are about 3.5x more likely to happen on a passing play than on a running play. So passing has huge yardage rewards compared to rushing, but correspondingly more risk.

On a side note, what I'm basically trying to do here is tweak everything to match the NFL data as closely as possible, because pro football is an extremely compelling game, and even more compelling when the experience is compressed into a 15-20 minute period. I usually find when I match the data successfully, the gameplay works right away.

As this relates to rushing, it's now very safe compared to passing--in a turnover sense--but it's not viable as a primary tool on offense. That's how it should be, and even though I'm still tweaking, I'm pretty excited about how this is going to work.

Plus, there are smaller benefits as well. Before, all the yardage gained was a multiple of four (four yards for rushing matches, eight for passing matches). Now it's a combination of multiples of three and four. That means that yards to go suddenly has all this variety it didn't have before on offense.

I never even thought about that, but after it was changed, I noticed the difference right away.

2. Defensive Gameplay
The changes made to offense are going to make it more difficult, and because of that, I can reduce the difficulty on defense, which is a welcome change. Previously, games felt like they were mostly scoring drives punctuated with an occasional defensive stop.

On defense, that was because at the higher difficulties, the yardage penalty for a missed play call was borderline punitive (particularly on Champ). So, in many case, the biggest drama of the play was over as soon as the play call was made.

I need to fix that.

There are going to be two significant changes. First, max yardage based on play call match/mismatch is no longer going to be staggered by difficulty. Instead, it's going to be a basic 15/25, with the difference being that more big play presses are awarded at the lower difficulties.

This is more fair, and it's also easier to adapt to in terms of understanding how defense works as you move through difficulty levels.

The other change is that I need to come up with something so that the CPU still has a chance of getting a first down, even on third and long (besides the Big Gain possibility). I'm not sure what form that's going to take yet--maybe a higher gain, but more yards are reduced with each card match--but there needs to be some sort of mechanic in place.

3. Special Teams Viability
Up to this point, a high Special Teams rating was of limited use. Sure, it helped with field goals and punts, but if there was any rating you wanted to ignore in the offseason, it would be this one.

Now, though, that will no longer be the case.

Why? Kickoffs.

I didn't want them originally because I thought they would slow down the action too much, but I have a way to resolve them in about 3 seconds, so it won't hurt the flow of the game. And it's a huge benefit in terms of rewarding a player with a high Special Teams rating, because the resolution is 100% ratings-dependent. A team with an "A+" ST rating, for example, will have better starting field position (by up to ten yards, on average) than a team with a "F" rating. Plus, when they kick off, the highly rated ST team will have far more touchbacks than a team with a lousy kicker.

Until now, a high Special Teams rating might benefit you on 6-8 plays in a game (field goal attempts plus punts). With 1.3, though, there will be more punting because of the play balance changes (making field position more important), and that high Special Teams rating will now provide a benefit on 15+ plays a game.

All the upper and lower performance parameters are based on real NFL data, too, so an "A+" rating means that your special teams perform at the level of the best in the NFL, and an "F" rating means they perform at the level of the worst.

More like real football, in other words. Much more like real football.

4. Offseason Player Card Personality Enhancement and Usage
I talked about this a few weeks ago, so no need to track back. Suffice to say that the player names will play a more integral part in the game in terms of statistics and team records, and will be more closely identified by the user as individuals instead of numbers.

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