The past and future of Empire

eI wanted to write a quick post about Empire, which I haven’t really been able to focus on recently, due to finishing my book and all the madness about getting Auro out. This is a little bit like a “post-mortem”, but not quite. For one thing, I resent the term; it reeks of the old “release it and forget it!” model for games, which as you might know is the opposite of the way I treat my games. But also, I don’t know whether there will be future work on Empire or not.

I am ultimately not in control over whether there is or is not future development on Empire. The game is owned by Crazy Monkey Studios, and right now I know they are working on another project totally unrelated to Empire, not designed by me. That doesn’t mean that they definitely won’t come back to it – they may, but it’s not directly in my control. If it were directly in my control, if I could just make builds myself as I can with Auro, I’d be making balance patches every few weeks, as needed, essentially forever.

Before I go into specifics, if you want there to be more work on Empire, probably the best thing you can do is help us get it passed on Greenlight. Probably even Empire’s detractors would agree that it should be on Steam if some of the other games on there made it on through the Greenlight process.

On Empire

I still think the game has a long way to go. There were dramatic changes happening in the last few patches, as people probably know. These were attempts to make higher level changes to fix a fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is that there are two “screens” – the overmap and the combat – and they fight with each other. This is not something that can be solved with high level changes. One of the two “screens” needs to be dramatically reduced in complexity.

In other words: the fundamental problem, funny enough, is that Empire does not conform to the Clockwork Design pattern, which is what I just spent the last year writing a book about. How the hell did that happen?

Well, I actually designed Empire – the core of it – around three years ago (~2011). At that time, Auro was in its infancy; we didn’t yet know that it was going to be all about “bumping”. I didn’t quite grasp the concept of “core mechanism” and how important that was.

Somewhere in 2012 I guess, I was approached by CMS about making a game. I had the design doc for Empire lying around, and I had even tested a paper prototype version of the combat, so I was very excitedly like, “let’s do this!” One of the members of the team had previously worked on the Age of Wonders series, so it seemed pretty natural to do a “4X” style game with them.

So like Auro, Empire started out as a “copy of a non-thing” (a non-Clockwork Design). In Auro’s case, that non-thing was “a Rogue-like.” In Empire’s case, it was “4X Strategy games”, whatever that means.The difference is that I was able to spend the years required to mold Auro into a thing, whereas I wasn’t able to with Empire. So the solutions thus far with Empire have been essentially stopgap solutions.

There were some reactions out there from the Empire changes that we were changing way too much about the game, and turning it into a completely different game. I agree with that, and that’s a totally reasonable response, but what those people didn’t maybe know is that I think the game needs even more drastic changes to really work.

Going Forward

Again, I have no direct control over whether there’s ever another patch or any other Empire thing, but I’d like to talk about some ideas for what I would do if I get the opportunity.

Like I said, there’s a fundamental design issue, which is the two different screens. I think that of those two screens, the combat-screen is the richer, more-ripe core mechanism. So the question is, how do we focus on that?

I haven’t really begun any formal process of digging into that yet, but I have a rough idea in my mind of how we’d approach it. Essentially, I would start by trying to see if we can completely remove the other screen. I’d try to make it work somehow by just being “combat-combat-combat-combat”, with maybe some very simple screen in between that showed score/stats in between. With this change, I would add more cards that do more with deck management, and some cards that produce units.

If this didn’t work, I would start to scale up a bit from there, and see if there are elements from the overmap that can be used.

Another question is how do we actually offer this? Ideally, I would actually have this mode over-write the existing mode, since the existing mode really just is not up to snuff. However, for a lot of practical reasons, we probably won’t do that. An inoffensive way to offer it would be as a “mode” in the Empire app, like Blitz mode or something. Or I’d be fine with it being another app, like Empire Blitz, or, much less preferably, Empire 2.

I’m still excited about the future of Empire! I hope that we can continue to make changes to the game and eventually get it to a really good place. Again: help support us on Greenlight – that’s the best shot we have for the future of the game. Thanks for reading!

Randomness and Game Design

For thousands of years, we’ve relied on randomness of various kinds to help our interactive systems work. While there will always be a place for randomness of all sorts in some kinds of interactive systems, I believe the current assumptions with regard to randomness in strategy games are largely wrong.

The major point I’d like to make is that noise injected between a player’s choice and the result (here referred to as output randomness) does not belong in a strategy game.

dice

What is “randomness”?

For the purposes of this article, randomness refers to “information that enters the game state which is not supposed to ever be predictable.” The process by which random information is generated is designed to be something that humans can never figure out. Classic examples of random systems are rolling dice, shuffling cards, or random number generators. Continue reading

Why Elegance Matters: The Lifecycle of Games

EmpireHeader

Editor’s Note: Hello all! Since I’m done with my book and Auros finally out, I can get back to writing game design articles, and I’ve currently got a few in the pipeline. Today, however, I have a great guest article from Fabian Fischer. Fabian has a German-language game design blog of his own over at Nachtfischer’s Ludokultur. Enjoy!

Many modern videogames are content-based. They can be “beaten” or “completed” and have, once started, a more or less strictly defined “expiration date”. Some tell a linear story, others provide a set number of pre-built levels. What they all have in common is that their lifecycle, the period of time during which they are able to provide “fun” or value to the player, is directly dependent on the amount of content included. Once the player literally “sees it all”, there’s no more enjoyment to be had and it’s time to buy the next title. But on the other end of the spectrum, there are systemically complex games of strategic decision-making, which are usually much more replayable and therefore tend to follow a match structure: You win or lose and then play again. But even these games are not infinitely interesting. It’s just that the player determines when they stop providing value and then decides to stop playing. The following article takes a closer look at this decision-making process and the involved factors, making a case for elegance, depth and efficiency in game design. Continue reading

Site Redesign

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on redesigning my site, for a few reasons. One, I finished my second book – Clockwork Game Design – and I am changing the visual design of this site to reflect that of the book (hence the black gears around the place). What you’re seeing now isn’t necessarily final, and there are probably still bugs, but let me know what you think overall.

One of the coolest things is an idea I got from David Sirlin’s site. For a long time I’ve wanted a way to show all my best articles in a more digestible format than just some giant list. What Sirlin did was put them into a nice grid. I’ve done pretty much the same thing. Tap on “Design Articles” above to check it out (or click here).

I’ve also gone back to many of my old articles and improved them a bit; I’ll continue doing that in the future. Your article is your baby! I’ll also take some offline when they’re no longer relevant or are covered by another newer article.

As to the book: it’s scheduled for release sometime in early 2015, but I’ll certainly have more information soon!

Comments: I’ve now re-enabled comments. It was too much of a pain to use the Dinofarm Games forums for discussions. Bring on the comments!

Auro is out!

Hey – remember that game Auro that I’ve been working on since… God, 2010? It came out the other day, on Android. I’ll be writing a big article about its game design and why it’s so special soon. I am really, really proud of this game, and I just can’t wait to hear what people think of it.

play store screen 1

 

The game will be coming out on iOS and PC pretty soon too, so keep an eye out for that stuff.

In the meantime, Android users, go play it now!