Sunday, September 21, 2014

Prototype Version 2 coming soon!

The mockup (and I must stress it is just a mockup) above should be familiar to anyone who's played Crusader Kings 2 or indeed any game that used Paradox Interactive's Clausewitz Engine.  In this blog post I'm going to go over some of the new directions our next prototype is going to go, taking a lot of inspiration from the aforementioned games.

Prototyping is all about figuring out what works and what doesn't.  this is something we're learning the hard way by prototyping our way to a version of Party Animals that we're happy with.  After we released the first prototype last month for feedback, we had another meeting at the Glorietta 4 food court and decided on a few changes.

Adding Campaign Staff

We'd discussed the idea of recruiting "Party Animals" into your campaign before, but we decided to give them a more prominent role in this new prototype.  Instead of all the actions being taken by your candidate, you now have campaign staff that can travel around the island to do actions for you.  This gives the player a lot more flexibility in terms of decisions.  Whereas in the previous prototype the player was restricted to doing actions only in the district where they were located, now your staff can prepare a district for your arrival even while you're conducting a campaign in a far off district.  This means a wider range of strategic options, which is ultimately more entertaining.  Additionally having the staff front and center plays to the name of the game.  Choosing the right "Party Animals" now becomes central to your strategy.

Getting rid of the itinerary

While I thought that the itinerary system was quite clever and fit the theme of the game very well, it became quickly apparent that filling out a scheduling form is just as boring in games as it is in real life.  It also introduced difficulties when trying to reconcile it with the addition of campaign staff, so we ultimately decided it wasn't worth keeping.  We're replacing it with a much simpler calendar that tracks the time it will take for actions to resolve.

Shifting towards a strategy audience

If Paradox Interactive's motto is to make "smart games for smart people" we went into Party Animals wanting to make "smart games for regular people", the idea being to combine the depth of the games we love with a more humorous, approachable look and feel.  When combining two disparate elements there's always a risk that you will end up with a product that pleases no one, and we noticed that with the first prototype there was strong polarization between people that liked it or were bored by the game.  The people who really seemed intrigued by it were the kind folks on the paradoxplaza subreddit who if anything thought the game was too simple.  So we're shifting towards that audience by creating the deeper, more strategic gameplay that they enjoy.

The new prototype should be up very soon, and if you're interested in trying it out, please do join our mailing list!  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Machinations of Politics

We are currently overhauling our prototype based on feedback from players and discussions between the team on the direction the game should take.  In the meantime, here is our designer Tristan to talk to you about one of the tools he uses when designing games.

There's already been a few posts regarding the technical and art side of Party Animals but none yet that looks at its design. Let's tackle the basics here first, then hopefully we can examine each individual mechanism through succeeding posts. This initial post will give an overview of the core system which , and of Machinations a tool we will be using to a great extent in designing and examining the game mechanics.

To start with the design of Party Animals borrows heavily from the concepts described in Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams, and Joris Dormans, specifically the chapters on Emergence, Complexity and Internal Economies. It's a very good book which looks at the workings of games in- depth, especially those games which run on internal economies( RTS, 4X, Rpgs).

To better understand our game design process, it is best to wrap one's head around these concepts:

1) Almost everything in the game can be considered a resource. Any event which helps the player win gives him the abstract resource "advantage" for example. Resources can be either concrete(has a physical form in the game, example: gold, time) or abstract, which is computed from the current game state( I won't be explaining what game states here are sorry, look it up).

2) Mechanics in the game facilitate the interaction between these resources. Resources in the game will be converted from one form into another and will stay 'within' the game . As of the present, the only resource I can think of in the game, that is created from nothing is the gold resource, all other resources are converted or created from other resources.

3) The more connections between these resources, the more complex the game will be, but the greater possibility for emergent gameplay.

Every mechanic in the game was designed with these concepts in mind, from the event system( uses resources as triggers and checks), district actions(converts resources into other types), and Kapitans(gives the player certain advantages). Hopefully this will create for a more strategic and repayable game in the future. Also, thinking of the game in terms of these concepts make it a little bit easier to analyze it in the future(easier with the machinations tool which I will introduce later).

The player is doing sortie too much? Let's try increasing the cost of sortie. But sortie is how the player gets reputation, which in turn allows him to get bastions, which affects gold production. Looking at these chain of events, we see that the player will be set back by increasing the cost of sortie. The player won't feel the loss immediately but it will slow him down in the long run.(More on this when we come to feedback loops in the game)


As I mentioned above we will be using the machinations tool to make quick prototypes of game mechanics that we will be adding in the game. Using the machinations tool, won't recreate the whole mechanic exactly but it will give us a peek into what to expect, or how a certain mechanic will play out when included in the game. You can check out the machinations tool here.

I also suggest getting a copy of Mechanics: Advanced Game Design, or checking out the Design Patterns Library , also located in the url above.

So now, about the machinations tool. The tool is built around the concepts I've stated above. The tool has three major parts: Nodes, Resource Connections, and State Connections. Under Nodes are the following:

Resource Pools- Collects resources. In Party Animals, the following are resource pools: gold, reputation in a district, relationship with a Kapitan. A resource stays in a pool until it is moved.

Resource Connections- Dictates how much of a resource is transferred from one node to another. In the game, a resource connection says how much gold is needed to be converted to reputation.

State Connections-Dictates how a change in one node affects another node. For example two nodes can have either a positive or negative relationship. When two nodes have a positive relationship, an increase in one node increases the other node( and vice versa), likewise a decrease in one node will result in a decrease in the other node. In a negative relationship, a change in one node will have the opposite effect on a connected node. In Party Animals, there is a positive relationship between bastions and gold production. There is a negative relationship between a player's stat in an issue and the sortie difficulty for that issue( the higher the stat, the easier it is for the player to get reputation).

These are just the basic node types in the machinations tool. Advanced node types include gates, converters, sources and drains, but those are for another day. As you can see, using the machination tool, it becomes easy to create models of game mechanics before making a full blown prototype of a game.

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