Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Gridiron Solitaire 1.3

It's hung above the chimney with care, so to speak.

So 1.3 is done. New card decks, all new background screens, big new scoreboard, and changes in the way text events are presented. Lots of good stuff.

It's not released yet, because I'm trying to sync up with the revised materials for marketing, but I'm probably letting it go tonight. It would be helpful to build up a few forum posts about the new version before I make an aggressive push for press.

Ha. "Aggressive push for press". "Aggressive" and "push" are not really part of my personality--not anymore, at least.

There's one other change to the game that I want to mention, and discuss. Defensive gameplay has changed, and after about 20+ games with the new rules, I think it's significantly improved.

The basic principle of defense has been that the opposing team starts with a gain, and you play cards to "rewind" (reduce) the gain. I have always strongly believed that the right approach, conceptually, and still do.

The details, though, have been difficult.

In the old system, the max possible gain for the CPU was based on whether the player matched the CPUs play call. It still works that way, but the details are different. Here are the old yardages on Veteran difficulty:
Run/Pass match = 15 yard max gain
Run mismatch = 30 yard max gain
Pass mismatch = 35 yard max gain

Once the max gain was established, card play could then reduce the gain (2 yards at a time). However, in practice, the play call was much more important than the card play, because missing the play call was so punitive in terms of possible max gain. If you missed the play call, you needed 15-18 " card matches" to get down to 0 gain. If you matched the play call, you only needed 8.

Such a large disparity in max gain meant that it tended to result in a few fairly predictable situations after 1st down. Match the play call on 1st and 10, and it was going to be 2nd and 30 (roughly). Miss the playcall, and it was going to be 2nd and 10-15. The full range of down and distance situations wasn't represented.

I've spent so much time on tiny things in the game, things that almost no one will ever see or notice, and yet this major gameplay element wasn't working nearly as well as it should. So I desperately wanted to make playing defense more dynamic and robust.

One day a couple of weeks ago--after thinking about this almost non-stop for several days--I wrote down all the mins/maxes and the reduction per card play and started watching a movie. I've found in the past that sometimes thinking about a problem as part of multiple streams helps me, particularly when I'm trying too hard to solve something. In this case, watching the movie made defensive gameplay a background task.

I don't know why that works, but it does.

Early on in the movie, I was looking at giving 3 yards per card match instead of 2. Definite benefits there: fewer cards to play, more sense of progress on defense, etc. But there was still a straight line problem with how many card matches were needed for matched/mismatched play calls. It was still too punitive to miss a play call.

A while longer watching the movie, and then it just kind of hit me: why not give different yardage credits?

To me, that's absolutely counter-intuitive. The more I worked on the details, though, the more it made sense. I started playing games, and it worked better than I could have even hoped.

Let me cut to the conclusion and show you how it works.

Now, if you match the CPUs play call, the max gain is 20 yards, not 15. And you get 3 yards gain reduction per play of cards.

If you miss the play call, the max gain goes up to 35, but you get 4 yards gain reduction per play of cards.

The math: if you match the playcall, it takes 7 card matches to get the gain to 0. If you miss the play call, it takes 9.

Why does this work? Because previously, I was double-penalizing the player for missing the play call. The max gain was 2X or more, AND they had to play a ton of cards. In a gameplay sense, that didn't work.

The penalty for missing the play call is still there, but your players (the cards) can more readily recover and reduce the gain. However, if you don't manage to play cards, the max gain is still punitive compared to the gain if you matched the play call, and that's as it should be.

Because of the changes in max gains and credit per card play, the full spectrum of down and distance is represented now. The formerly predictable down and distance situations don't happen nearly as often. It makes calling defensive plays more challenging, and more interesting.

It also makes the game more dynamic as a whole, with a wider spectrum of game types and scores. I'm very happy about that.

It's funny how I thought this game was "complete" when it shipped. Like a novel.

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