Monday, July 09, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #13: Polish and Design

I made a series of small changes this week that don't seem like much individually, but they add up to a nicer user experience. Adding more information to the scoreboard, modifying the help screen text, and adding a sound when the user selects a card (a single typewriter key, which was suggested to me and sounds very good).

I've been trying to find a suitable (football-related) sound to use when clicking a card for months, really, and the typewriter sound was just what the game needed--it's nostalgic and evocative without being annoying.

The same person suggested to me that the position of the Big Play buttons and End Play buttons should be switched, so that the End Play button was to the right of all active play elements. That makes perfect sense, and I have no idea why I didn't do it that way to start with.

In a larger sense, though, this week is about design.

The balance between offense and defense is crucial to the game. I wanted different gameplay mechanics for each one, so that the game didn't get repetitive, and I wanted each to feel substantially different.

In real football, teams on offense have a large degree of control compared to when they're on defense. The rules are set up in such a way that the game generally favors the offense, and playing defense is a very different experience.

I very much wanted to model that in Gridiron Solitaire. And that creates an interesting design issue.

There's no question that in real football, it's generally more exciting and rewarding to watch your team on offense. More good things happen, generally, than bad things when a team is on offense. And in a "gameplay" sense, it's fun to see your team score.

Because of that, when you're on offense in Gridiron Solitaire, you'll generally score on 60-80% of the drives. That varies, obviously, depending on whether you're playing at home and what the team ratings are, but on offense, you definitely have a degree of control.

However, for the games to be close, that means you need to fail 60-80% of the time when you're playing defense.

Conceptually, this means that when you're on offense, with unlimited Big Play presses (that could trigger an event), the game is about managing risk. When you're on defense, with an allotment of Big Play presses (that only rarely trigger an event), the game is about managing resources.

To drive that home: Offense = manage risk. Defense = manage resources.

To me, that's interesting at an abstract level. However, creating a gameplay mechanic where people fail greater than 50% of the time is going to be a difficult adjustment for some users, and it's an adjustment that some people just won't like.

I want everyone to enjoy the game, but to simulate the struggle of a real football game, there need to be moments where there actually IS struggle. And it's going to be difficult to get that concept across in the first hour, which is when most people will decide if they want to continue playing the game.

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