Monday, February 03, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #92: Reality and Verisimilitude

The most difficult aspect of designing Gridiron Solitaire was the combination of reality and verisimilitude.

In part, the game feels real because there is so much NFL data used behind-the-scenes for playcalling, special teams data, statistical boundaries, etc. There's quite a bit of reality spread throughout the game.

However, this is also a game that uses cards and takes 15-20 minutes to play. So in addition to reality, there must be gameplay mechanics that somehow create the illusion of reality, or rather, create the same feelings you get when you watch a football game. The gameplay is a distillation, and that has been difficult, particuly for defense. I think the defensive gameplay mimics the lack of control on defense very well, the triage, but it didn't seem to mirror real football at a tactical level to the degree I wanted it to. There are always going to be some sacrifices to fit the game into the time window (Red Zone efficiency, in particular, has to be very high), but I want to make it as realistic as I can.

Late last week, I had an idea that I believe will improve the defensive gameplay substantially. Two ideas, rather. The first is very simple: if there is a "Big Gain" roll on defense, why isn't there a "Big Stop" roll as well?

There should be, and there will be shortly. If you match the CPU playcall, there is a dice roll for the "Big Stop", and you might stop the CPU offense immediately for zero gain. That mirrors the "Big Gain" mechanic, where if you miss the CPU playcall, there is a dice roll for a max gain of 50 yards.

These are not frequent events, but they add a little bit of spice and variability (and drama), and I very much like how these two mechanics now mirror each other.

Also, the overwhelming consensus in the forums was that people wanted to be able to sack the CPU quarterback. After all, the human player can get sacked via text event, so why couldn't they sack the CPU? I couldn't answer that question intelligently, and I thought they were right, so I wanted to add a sack mechanic to defense.

I went through quite a few iterations, hated them all, and then just stumbled on what was correct. There's this thing that I feel when something is intuitively correct, and I immediately felt that when I thought of this mechanic.

If you remember, passing plays on offense require three matches for the pass to be "complete". In the drive canvas, you see a football traveling between the quarterback and receiver until the third match, which gains 8 yards, and every subsequent match is worth 8 yards.

The defensive sack is going to mirror that gameplay. If you match the CPU playcall on a passing play, the minimum gain will now be -8 instead of zero. If you played the gain back to zero-- in essence, "rewinding" the play-- the quarterback changes his pose back to a preparing to throw motion, and a defensive player appears. If you make three more matches, the defensive player sacks the quarterback.

With each match, the defensive player moves closer to the quarterback, mirroring the ball moving toward the receiver when the human player is on offense.

As an additional wrinkle, on both veteran and champ difficulties, missing the play call on a CPU pass play means that the max gain will be 5 yards greater than the max gain for a running play. So now, different play types have variable gains, which is something I've wanted to do for quite a while, but could never design satisfactorily.

It feels right, it adds some temptation to defense (it could be fool's gold to use Big Play presses to get the sack, but it's going to be very difficult to resist), and I don't think it will affect game balance much if it all.

I wish I thought of this two months ago, but I'm very pleased with how it's working.

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