Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Talk about Sarah's upcoming game in the Rebuild series.

Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby sarahnorthway » Tue Feb 11, 2014 7:19 am

You've probably noticed the game being way too easy, or way too hard, because I haven't spent any time balancing it yet. When we hit beta I'll probably have a survey about it, and I might make a config file available so you can tweak the difficulty settings yourselves. But in the meantime, here's a question:

If the game realizes that you're playing well, or badly, should it become harder or easier to compensate?

I considered this approach for R1 but threw it out, because you can never lose a game if it keeps getting easier the closer you get to dying. I made an important note for myself: "this is a game you can lose", and I added difficulty levels.

But I keep coming back to it. Maybe just a LITTLE help from the game would make it more fun to play. Maybe if you won the last 5 zombie attacks in a row without breaking a nail, the next fight will suddenly be twice as hard? Maybe if you've been starving for the last week, you'll see more events where you get free food?

There's already so much randomness in the game that you're likely to get screwed by, so I could think of it as counteracting some of that. But there's also skill and experience involved in playing well, and balancing on the fly would undermine the high scores at the end.

Any thoughts?
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Marcus_Arnhold » Tue Feb 11, 2014 8:58 am

sarahnorthway wrote:Any thoughts?


I dont see it as a good idea. It is like punishing someone for playing well or gifting someone for playing bad. We will have difficulty opptions because of that: if you play good, then try the next difficulty, if you play bad, try a easier one.

I think the randonness is enought to balance a game through the time. Randon events that makes bad things happens with no counteract will be enough.

Right know, i think the game is far too easy for a few combined reasons, but all starts with this: food is too easy. I literrally started one game with 2 huge farms fencing the fort. And there were thousends of more farms around. I don't recall that this game was placed in a rural area. Because that many farms, food became a easy constant resorce REALLY fast. And since i can ALWAYS trade food for the same value, i get to buy whatever i want from the others factions, and i have a safe resource to gift them every time.

About the zombies hordes attack, i want to recall that on R1 e R2, when you start a winning game event, you would be constantly attacked by hordes. I liked that, and i think it is a must have, but this time you should also have a enemy faction attacking you all over.

Also, i find the multiple objective of the game a interesting thing, but it make the game toooooo easy. I would like to suggest something more like WAR boardgame. You should get your objective randonly. 1 realy hard objective, or 2 medium objective, or 3 easy ones, after that you could build your cityhall.

Randonly getting hard objective, you will know it on the first day (KILL ALL FACTIONS) - the game add 1 faction to the inicial faction number and make it very strong and farb away.

Randonly getting 2 meddium objectives, you will know one in the first day and another after you achive the firts one (Scout every block ---- Reclaim 1/3 of the city)

Randonly getting 3 easy objectives, you will know one in the first day and another after you achive the previos one (have 100 days of food ------ ally with one faction ------ Reclaim 1/4 of the city).
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Louis8k8 » Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:45 am

I think there shouldn't be a mechanically harder penalty for playing well, but there should be more challenges with their respective bonuses available to the player that they can obtain at their own choice if they have the ability to.

Example: With radio broadcast tech, you receive a distress call from a faction of 5 high-level survivors stranded in a city block 4 blocks away. They are surrounded by zombies and don't have enough people to bring food back alive. Your goal is to reclaim their block in 5 turns before they die of hunger.

There is no punishment, only challenge.

I think perk system should be reworked and the options you are given are rewards from these mini challenges.

Example 1: Any squad with 5 or less members that directly attacks a zombie swarm and survives gets the reduced injury/death rate perk option.

Example 2: Scavenger that has scavenged 10+ building materials and demolished a building gets the bonus build material scavenge perk option.

Example 3: Any survivor that has completed build, scavenge, kill, research, recruit mission all within X turns gets the super person perk option. OR maybe 'any squad with 3 or less members'. The problem with this is research quests end so fast and so easily, there might be none left.

==========================
The game is too easy and RNG can be too harsh.

Food is too easy to over produce. Food can also cause too much problems if you're just unlucky with spawning. I think you should change the spawning algorithm so that farms can't spawn in clusters and cut the overall number that spawn. And then raise the amount of food you can scavenge from blocks (maybe reduce their rate of scavenging per turn). I think there should be unique farm-heavy zones around the city borders, making those areas more desirable. This means a starving player will beeline for expansion towards the border because that's where most of the farms are likely to spawn.

There should be an option to abandon a square. When you abandon a square, it has a reduced zombie spawn rate (because it's still fenced) and it no longer counts as part of your base so the danger rating from adjacent squares are no longer counted. This makes it possible to shift your base without increasing your danger rating to a point that you can't handle it.

I think zombie fighting should scale harder with death/injury rate than mission duration. Mid-late game zombies takes so long to kill but they still can't hurt anyone on my team.

======

Happiness changes:

- I think there should be a happiness toll for expanding base. When your population vs tile ratio is below 1 (or 1.10, 1.20, 1.30) person for every tile, your faction begins decaying in happiness. They feel more lonely and stress from the sparse density and larger borders with zombie hordes. This means you can't just go on an expansion rampage.

- I think after finding a faction, you are defaulted to 'ignore them'. But at any moment, you can establish a trading relationship. Once you establish a relationship, your happiness will take a decay over time when your faction is significantly inferior to the neighbors. Your happiness will very lightly increase over time if you're significantly superior.

- When a zombie horde is adjacent to you, you should clear it or it'll slowly decay your happiness with their constant ominous groaning. If you can't deal with it, use bartenders or preachers to counter the decay. (This might warrant a change on spawn frequency of hordes)

- Can you still throw parties? I think throwing a feast with excessive food expense should give a small burst in happiness.

============

Science research needs a cap research time. I finish every research in 1 turn once I can pile enough people into it, it makes the game too easy as well.


Appreciate all your hard work, Sarah and team!
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby jaydedman » Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:55 am

I've been a long time RB fan, so I'm on the experienced side. The current alpha is way too easy even on Impossible. Until you actually balance the game, it's difficult to say if any changes are needed.

Some thoughts:
--the Technology Research doesn't work right now (right?), so I don't bother researching. But in RB1&2, if I didn't start researching food technology early on, I'd be starving by the end because my crops would be wiped out by disease and pestilence. That's fun because it means building/finding a Lab was very important ASAP, as well as dedicating some important defensive people to this task.

--In RB2, the zombie hordes attacked harder and more frequently as the game progressed. This was cool because I knew I needed to hurry up or else I'd be overwhelmed. This forced me to balance recruiting as many people as possible vs finding enough food to feed them. Managing these balancing acts are what makes the game fun.

--As discussed on other threads, the factions are very wimpy. I'd expect on Impossible that factions are tough and real competition. I should be so worried about them taking over my squares that I should be forced to negotiate and do trades that might even be bad for me. Anything to slow down their attacks. Maybe strong factions demand tribute adding more pressure.

So I vote for having an Impossible level that really is almost impossible. One wrong move....
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Chah » Tue Feb 11, 2014 11:37 am

Scaling Challenges
I've felt with previous Rebuilds that while the early game is hard, once you stabilize it can turn into a long and boring mop-up mode (although most of the time there would be a win-con I could work towards by then). So I'm in favor of scaling challenges.

However, maybe the difficulty boost doesn't need to be tied directly to your performance, but rather to your town size.

Players should face new challenges as their town grows. It could be that you face more hostility from factions like the Last Judgment Gang. They take notice of your growing town and want to impose a regular levy. Or maybe you receive more attention from Zed hordes as they sniff out your location due to increased population. Maybe when your population grows there's a higher chance of mutiny from unhappy survivors and if they succeed, they split off as a separate faction, taking half of the town.

Chance for Comebacks
I also felt that once you suffered a few bad losses and started to fall behind, there was usually no way to make a comeback. Earlier versions of Rebuild were like a race against an ever-growing horde. You had to keep attacking every turn to keep their numbers down. If you suffered some accident and missed the chance to attack a few turns, you just fell further and further behind.

On the one hand I really liked how you could actually lose the game (a lot!). But on the other hand, I didn't like how in that situation you only saw circumstances shift in one direction. It would be more exciting if there was some amount of leniency so that some back-and-forth developments can emerge.

I do think the game would be a little more fun if a successful attack by the Hordes caused them to become "satisfied" and less fierce for a few days. Maybe this factor only has effect in the early game. In the late game (based either on the date or town size), the Hordes remain relentless whether they succeeded or not.

In addition to that, I feel the game should have some other built-in ways that give players a brief time of respite so that they have a shot of turning things around. These don't necessarily need to be tied to player performance; it could be something that always happens. For example, tower defense games have enemies attack in waves, and you have a chance to rebuild your position in between waves. And in fact, the RB1&2 Hordes served that purpose to an extent.

I'd like to make another post about back-and-forth play that I've experienced in Rebuild and how I think it can happen more.
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby davea » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:46 pm

Having the difficulty change based on your actions makes it impossible (or useless anyway) to compare results with another player, or even with yourself. I am against this. Easy mode should be easy. If I start up impossible and I suck at it, I should lose. Suppose I start up at impossible difficulty and suck, and the game gets easier, and I win after 30 days. Another player starts up at impossible difficulty and does really well, and it gets harder, and he wins after 31 days. Did I beat him? No. We can't compare. I also can't see if I am getting better, because the game is adapting regardless.

There are some kinds of games where I feel it makes sense to adjust the difficulty level so that the player always feels happy. Those are games which use psychology / addiction to keep you playing. I don't think that is the right goal for a strategy game.
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Louis8k8 » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:57 pm

Ooo a question for others here: Did you beat RB2 Impossible Largest map with a new team? I tried maybe 2 or 3 times but ultimately died and stopped trying. The easiest way to beat it was helicoptering 5 people with level 10 all disciplines carrying rocket launchers to a new map. Then it became a cookie-cutter method to beating impossible with almost 100% success rate.

I feel like RB3's impossible needs to be harder than RB2's impossible. But not in the "how much random bad luck events you will get" department. Maybe lower scavenger materials, lower survivor spawns, higher zombie rating for hordes attacking your borders, stronger factions.
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Chah » Tue Feb 11, 2014 2:23 pm

davea wrote:Suppose I start up at impossible difficulty and suck, and the game gets easier, and I win after 30 days. Another player starts up at impossible difficulty and does really well, and it gets harder, and he wins after 31 days.

I don't think it needs to work like that. You start at impossible difficulty and suck, the game gets easier. But then you start doing well, and the game gets hard again. To win that map, you have to pass through that hard state every time, so you get to compare with your own past results or others'.
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Ophryon » Tue Feb 11, 2014 8:28 pm

I’ll echo what others said: I like to know that I beat a strategy game because I made smart choices. It’s good that randomness can screw me as long as I feel I was able to make good choices in preparation for (or recovery from) such disasters. Knowing there’s a difficulty-throttle behind the scenes would diminish somewhat the value of my choices.

That said, there is one method of having the game adapt to my situation that I would enjoy seeing: varying the strength of newly recruited characters.

Currently, it’s a bit of a downer when a new recruit comes in with an equal or higher skill level than my best guy/gal, whom I’ve been slowly building up the entire game. I think it’s because I haven’t been testing on hard enough difficulty. I’m cruising along, enjoying the performance of my team, so the new high-powered recruit feels unnecessary. If I were in serious trouble, though, I would be grateful for a tough soldier. (I recall feeling like that at times in RB2.)

So maybe the escalating difficulty of the game could stay the same, but the strength of new characters would serve as the throttle. If you’re doing well, new characters will come in weaker; draining fort resources the same but not adding much to fort strength. If you’re doing poorly, the new recruit who comes to the rescue will be strong and maybe start with a perk like Half Rations or Camper.

The difference is that hiring that new recruit would be my choice. Let’s say I’m doing great and choose to recruit more. Thematically, that would be like bringing in all the weak survivors to protect them. I’m choosing to increase the difficulty by taking them on. (I'll likely need them eventually but this would add another consideration to the gameplay question of when to recruit.) On the other hand, if I’m getting hammered, I could choose to focus on recruiting and the game would reward me with a strong soldier or a good farmer. It would feel more a part of the story than a gift of free food would.
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Re: Balancing - should the game get harder if you play well?

Postby Chah » Tue Feb 11, 2014 10:18 pm

I feel like some people are imagining a particular balance where the game virtually auto-pilots your town, and are criticizing that particular balance they pictured.

However, I don't think anyone hates that event where a trader stops by your town, sees how desperate you are, and decides to just give you food out of charity. Do you hate that event? Do you want it to be removed because it takes away skill?

If you didn't want that event to be removed, but are against dynamically adjusting difficulty, the question should not be "are you for or against dynamically adjusting difficulty" but rather "In what ways should the game respond to your situation? In what ways should it not?"
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