Friday, June 17, 2011

Complexity for the sake of Complexity

Recently, one of the comics I read came uncomfortably close to reality. A game, about battles in space, which makes itself extraordinarily complex, and therefore not that fun to play. Huh. Seeing as I'm attempting to design a space battle game that's incredibly complex, maybe I should spend some time thinking about this.

There's a thing I call "upkeep", which generally means any sort of mechanical action you have to perform to play the game. "Mechanical" in that it's rote work, not like basketball. Every turn in RISK you have to count every country you own, divide that by three to get the number of units you'll build that turn. In pretty much any card game, it's shuffling and dealing out the cards. Let me give you a more detailed example.

In the game Lords of the Realm II you run a medieval kingdom, both the economy and the armies which you then use to assault other people's counties. It's a fun game. But every turn when you start a new one you've got to go to each and every one of your territories and make sure all the local economies are optimized. If you've got three territories, no big deal. If you've got fifteen counties you're going to have to spend a couple minutes every turn making sure nobody's starving. Setting up a successful economy is one thing. Micromanaging it entirely too much sucks the fun out of the game.

So back to the comic at hand. The game they're setting up involves complicated vector movement in space. I intend to use complicated vector movement in the Terrible Secret of Space. Why? Because I think it'll make for more interesting battles, and because I've been striving for the hard science fiction aspect of this game. I've also been flirting with the idea of a non-hex grid.

But using the tape measure to measure distances, and calculating out vectors, that all qualifies as upkeep. Whenever you're designing a game, you want to minimize upkeep, so that you have less boring parts in between the fun parts. To a certain extent I'm willing to let it slide in this game because I'm intentionally shooting for a more complicated, strategic game and that sort of thing can stand a little more upkeep. Still, I'd prefer to keep it to a minimum. Hence my joy a couple days ago when I realized the physics could support never having to keep track of spaceship fuel levels.

So how do I square that with non hex based vector movement? An excellent question. For the first, I'm splitting combat and non-combat movement apart. Non-combat movement just means getting from one point in space to another, and once you've derived the initial equations it's pretty easy to get Excel to do all the relevant math. That is, "how long will it take me to get from A to B?"

Combat movement is different. You have to be able to maneuver. If I was keeping everything to a physical board, I'd probably just rip off the triplanetary rules wholesale. On the other hand, this game is going to be played over the internet anyway. I'm thinking it shouldn't be too hard to make a program that will track positions and velocities of ships, and from there allow you turn by turn combat without the hexes and without too much upkeep. It remains to be seen if I can get that sort of a program running, so in the meantime I plot other things out.

So lets bring all this back to my original question; is my game overly complicated? Possibly. Adding complication to games makes them more interesting; Axis and Allies having varied unit types versus the undifferentiated masses of infantry from risk makes the former a better game. But too much complication lowers the interest level any of your players will have in a game. Seeing as I'm intentionally looking towards a chess by mail level of though to be put in to each individual turn, it's arguable that I've already gleefully skipped over that event horizon.

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