Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pax Galaxia: Accessibility of Turn-Based Games

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Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

First, I would like to add a small list of games, which depend heavily on the mentioned mixture of turn-based and real-time gameplay.

The oldest one I can think of is Battle Bugs. Remeber it? You command a bunch of bugs quite like in a RTS game but you can use a very prominent stopwatch to pause the game. I think the game even paused automaticly when you clicked on a bug.

X-Com: Apocalypse could be played in two different modes. One mode worked just like the old, turn-based prequels. The other one was similar to games like Syndicate but from what I understood, it was also possible to pause the game to issue more detailed commands. My expierence was that in the second mode, often aliens suddenly jumped from a corner and my team was dead before I even could press the pause button. I prefered the strict turn-based mode.

While we talk about the X-Com series, we can also mention Laser Squad: Nemesis. There, the game is paused every 10 seconds or so. When the game paused, you are able to issue comands for the next 10 seconds. By ending the turn, the "time flow" contnues another 10 seconds. All units act simultaniously, which is good for the play-by-mail mulitplayer system.

Finally, Civilization: Call to Power had a system, which worked quite like you mentioned. When you moved every unit, the game automaticly advanced to the next turn. You could deactivate this function if you didn't like it. I always did. The function frequently leads to situations where I want to do something during a turn but the game finishes the turn before I had the chance.

You see, when a turn begins, automaticly a unit is selected. Your first instinct is to move the unit, especially if you can attack some enemy or discover new land or something. When you moved a unit another unit is selected and it goes on an on. All the time, in the back of your head you try to remember that you want to produce a different kind of units in a certain city, for example. However, suddenly you moved your last unit and the turn is over, you missed your chance and quite possibly even lost a lot because of it.

Also, because in Civ, turns get longer and longer as the game proceededs, ending the turn by pressing a button gives you a better feeling of how many turns have passed.

But I agree that the turn-based excit feels very real-time, which is very good. I think the idea to end turns automaticly only works if the overall game mechanic is suitable for it. In case of Civ:CtP, it simply isn't.

I think it has to do with what you can do during a turn and expecially if something happens between your turns. In Civ, a lot of stuff you do in a turn is optional. You can micro-manage cities, move every unit, engage diplomatic contacts, etc. The possibilites become endless as the game gets larger. There is no way finding out if a player did everything he wanted to do in a turn. Chess might be similar to civ because you are moving units too, however you always can move only one unit, no matter how many you have.

Also, in Civ, the computer moves when you end a turn. If a turn ends too quickly, you might loose a lot. In excit, there is no real punishment for ending turns. This kind forgiveability makes it especially suitable for automatic turn ending.

08 August, 2006 13:50  
Blogger daniel / sirleto said...

as i said already: really complex games need the option to disable automatic turn ending. or a undo button to go back to the last turn, which is most often pretty difficult to implement - and therefor left out.

but for actions that you can do in a turn but need not to - those actions like build units in civ - where you fear you could miss them before automatically ending the turn, simply those actions need a different way of interfacing, so that you neither forget about doing them, nor have to do complicate maneuvers until you can do them. a good way for complex strategy games is to have a "results from last turn" summary, before the player can move units, on this results page one can build units etc.

x-com apocalypse had the problem most sequals hav: it is simply to hard, balanced for pro's not beginners. it feels great while playing strictly turn-based, but when playing the same balancing in realtime i felt totaly overrun from enemies, allready in earlier easy stages - no chance to survive.

08 August, 2006 14:14  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

I agree with your analysis of X-Com: Apocalypse. The game wasn't designed and ballanced to work real-time.

But also, this is why I think it is a bad idea to build in an option for disabling automatic turn ending. If automatic turn ending makes such a big difference, we shouldn't leave this for the user to decide. It's our job as designers to find out and decide which one works best. If there are good reasons for both, manual and automatic turn ending, then it is a sign that something is wrong with the gameplay. Just like in X-Com: Apocalypse.

Just think about it: this kind of option increases the complexity of the game even more because you have to implement some kind of User Interface to offer those options. Further, you have to explain to the user what impact the option has on the gameplay which is almost impossible if the user plays for the first time and still hard if he didn't notice that it was round-based.
Even if a "pro" (there is no such thing) still decided to use manual turn ending, for him it will be the lesser of two evils. Most of the time, he will be annoyed by having to press the "end turn" button but he takes that for granted if he can prevent the automatic to screw up his game.

Another way to look at it what Yu-Chung said in his Prince of Persia post (http://gamedesignreviews.blogspot.com/2006/07/prince-of-persia-3-short-rant.html). You implement a feature which doesn't really work with your gameplay and screws up the game sometimes. Instead of fixing the feature or the gameplay, you implement ANOTHER feature on top so the user can decide if he want the crappy feature or not.

08 August, 2006 15:42  
Blogger daniel / sirleto said...

clever tought ... on the one hand, on the other hand i don't think that in reality one can design the perfect thing. so, why don't we let the pro-gamer (and of course there is such a thing ;) decide for himself. the chance is high, that the pro is noch nicht einmal capable of deciding on a objective basis, but he decides on a subjective - takeing the lesser of two evils.

of course, better than having to stick to something that the player feels to be bad and doesn't even have a chance to ask the designer to hear that this one is definitely the better choice, as is typically in games.

08 August, 2006 19:00  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

If fact, it doesn't help the player at all. It just helps the designer. It is nothing more then a convenient excuse: if you run into problems, instead of solving them, give up the responsibility to the player so the designer be blamed.

If we say that "pro-gamers" will end up using manual turn ending then ultimativly, all players will end up playing manual anyway but they will have to go through quite a burden to arrive at that solution: a player starts playing with automatic, then has to understand and learn that he can turn turn ending to manual and then he has to change his playing style to manual because he learned the game playing automatic. Just like the menu/keyboard shortcut duality we have discussed already. So in fact, you are offering not the lesser of two evils but simply three evils at the same time: automatic, manual and the fact that players have to switch.

Sure, there is no such thing as one, perfect solution. But is that an excuse to give it up entirely and let users do what we are supposed to do in the first place?

I think your idea of an undo button goes in a better direction. It makes the game more forgiveable so it becomes less important when exactly a turn ends. Hece, there is less need for an "end turn" button. Hoever, note that you are just exchanging one button for another. Also, you run into problems of quicksave-creep. The forgiveness of the game should not be created by a feature on top, but should come from the gameplay. Attention should be shifted away from the fact that there are turns onto other gameplay elements. Just like in excit.

09 August, 2006 10:52  
Blogger Diodor Bitan said...

I'm the designer of Pax - thanks for choosing my game for a review.

I agree about the controls - I think they're the best part of the game by far. The review mentions how to give a movement order between two stars: make a drag and drop movement from the source star to the destination star. It gets better: there's no reason why the movement cannot be continued to a third or a fourth star, creating a linear path across the map. A stroke from one's star to an enemy star causes the former to attack it. But at this point there's no reason to let go of the pushed mouse button - to attack the same enemy star from another direction one only needs to move the mouse to that star and return to the attacked enemy star. Likewise, an attack across a broader front can be executed with just one stroke of the mouse, going back and forth from the stars on my front line to those of the enemy in a long drag and drop zig-zag motion.

Regarding the automated end turn. I think that's more of a function of how the game rules work. There can be no end turn button in chess, yet in Civilisation the automatic end turn is promptly disabled.

I think the main difference between turn based and real time is the amount of events that happen during a turn. At the real time end of the spectrum that amount is very small. Realtime simulations may have tens of turns a second - Pax has about a turn a second at the average speed. Gameplay is reactive and fast - for any move there needs to be a quick counter-move. At the turn based games a lot can happen in a turn - it is therefore important to think very thoroughly what may come.

Laser Squad Nemesis is a good example. A real time simulation, with turn based controls. The brilliant LSN gameplay, of anticipation and planning and thinking ahead would pushed aside if the controls were real time.

That's why Pax is a real time game mostly. It's a click fest game of rapid action and reaction. The pause button doesn't really change this (there's no pause in multiplayer games btw).

That being said, there is a turn based mode of playing Pax, although I've never really toyed with it or given it much attention and I have yet to see someone too enthused about it. The hot seat mode gives each of the players control of his faction for a period of time - when one player is in control the other players' forces move automatically according to their previous orders.

13 August, 2006 12:37  

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