Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pax Galaxia: Information Design, Responsiveness, Theme

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Blogger daniel / sirleto said...

i think there are some things i'd say against your points - but i'm to lazy right now.

but what i need to yell is the answer to your trivia quiz: 12 monkeys! super cool =)

12 August, 2006 16:47  
Blogger Diodor Bitan said...

The information design criticism is spot on. I have played the game extensively and am used to keeping an attentive eye on the deployment of forces and still find myself lost at times. It's worth contemplating a different method of displaying the relative forces on the map, hopefully one that goes well with the SF theme. Half solutions like font size can also help.

The theme - frankly I chose it because it was one of the few things I could draw. The stars are just a way to draw blobs of color that don't look too bad - a star's color is significant in the game. I agree it might create false expectations. I do advertise a RISK connection, so I don't feel entirely guilty if some expect Master of Orion. The title does suggest that quite strongly though. I've changed it once (used to be Pax Solaris) so I'm not doing it again :)

I'd be inclined to argue against the strong criticism of the game rules - the game is as manifestly a frantic excercise of athletic mouse handling as any RTS game you can name (a short visit of a multiplayer session or playing with the higher speed option set can prove it easily). The criticism does however expose a design flaw in that the game does not demonstrate it's fun producing qualities with sufficient speed. I am at a loss as to how this might be remedied - I have to go easy on new players with regards to game speed and difficulty. This might give an impression of general boredom.

It is also possible that playing the game without knowing what is strategically important may lead to boring gameplay. The purpose in Pax is to cut off enemy forces and force them to surrender by attacking and taking their last star - these forces are then added to the conquering army. Knowing this, the game becomes much more eventful. Capturing just a few armies can rapidly triple one's forces and result in a blitz victory and unexpected overturns.

On the other hand, simply attacking can be very counterproductive if all that is achieved is pushing the enemy back one star at a time.

It's interesting that you mention Slay. Not only I'm a fan of that game - I was one before writing Pax and it was a strong influence. It's where the core idea of Pax gameplay (attaching strategic importance to breaking enemy territory apart) comes from.

13 August, 2006 13:24  
Blogger daniel / sirleto said...

hello diodor,
great that you took some time to read our reviews :)

"pax is a game [about...]athletic mouse handling as any RTS game"

that's a very interesting point - believe it or not, i'm playing it pauseing every turn or so. playing it realtime is way to quick for me. either i'm truly to slow, or balancing of the maps is simply to hard for realtime.

13 August, 2006 18:47  
Blogger Diodor Bitan said...

No, you're not too slow you're just inexperienced. The main activity in single player Pax is placing forces on the border in such a way that the computer player does not attack it (the AI only attacks when he has a certain local superiority). The result is that the borders become stable, and you can focus all your attention on a place to attack. It is certainly possible to win most maps on the hardest difficulty without superhuman abilities - though figuring out a few tactical tricks is necessary.

In multiplayer games however they like the 2x speed and often the 4x speed. It's hell :)

13 August, 2006 19:17  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Hello Diodor,

thank you very much for taking your time and sharing with us your thoughts. I found them very exciting.

Reading my post again I feel embaressed because it sounds a bit too harsh, especially at the end. I apologize.

I agree with your observation: being an inexperienced player I'm not used to interpret the feedback correctly. I don't understand the overall strategy. Thus, the game appears much less responsive and exciting. This impression is even enhanced since Daniel Renkel suggested playing it like a turn-based game. Playing it some more, I have noticed that I begin to understand the feedback better. As you have mentioned, it would be a good idea to somehow adress this hurdle. My guess is that more audivisual feedback would already do a lot.

Also possible would be some kind of different game mode, where players have to consciously apply a specific strategy - a puzzle mode. A similar stategy worked in "Chu Chu Rocket". In normal mode the players have to exhibit split-second strategy skills and constantly adapt to a rapidly changing environment. But there are also 2 puzzle modes with more emphasis on strategy and more time to think about what you want to do. In this game, the puzzle mode works well as a training to understand the mechanics of normal mode.

It is fascinating that your game was inspired by Slay. I saw the connection to RISK but I wasn't aware of the similarites to Slay. The reason is that the advantages of splitting an enemy territory are much more obvous and visible in Slay.

I think it is good that there are players oot there, who don't understand it as a game of "athletic mouse handling". It is a sign of flexible gameplay.

I hope our discussion will help you to enhance the Pax Galaxia expierience. Of course, we will continue to playing it! :)

04 September, 2006 23:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Posted by CAESAR on the forums

Okay, I think the reviewer missed a lot of the point of Pax. They completely focused on details without making any sort of sense. It would be like if I wrote a review of Monopoly and spent the entire review talking about how the colors of the properties don't adequately reflect their values.

Let me go through the reviews bit by bit:

You just setup where ships from one system are redirected to and the ships fly automaticly between star systems. For some reasons, if you are moving from one friendly system to another friendly system, your fleet moves just a few ships at a time... The result is that you constantly whish you could move those 30 ships in the back to the frontline.

Why is this a problem? It means long term planning and gives the little guy chances to come back. It may be frustrating, but it makes the game more challenging. "What!? You have to pay $75 in Luxury Tax! This is outrageous!"

There is no immidiate feedback besides when you have conquered a system or colonize a new one. Hence, you do not have the feeling that you control what is going on. The game constantly dribbles, you change this and that but quite a lot of time goes by until you see a change.

No immediate feedback? There are arrows pointing in the direction of movement, animations of the ships actually moving... Do you want some kind of epic CG animation every time a star is taken?

In Pax Galaxia, this kind of high-level game design obviously did not happen. The ships are simply numbers, there are (quite colorful) stars but no planets, no aliens or other visual clues of any kind of population. I am supposed to destroy civilizations but I can't see that in ANY way. It is even extremly hard to recognize and understand where there are ships currently fighting against other ships because the visual clues are so obscure. There is a tiny red arrow between two stars and very slowly, some numbers change. It doesn't have to be a full-blown rendering with glowing engines and lasers but I must admit that I would expect at least some reduced sci-fi themed icons. Even Risk had it's little soldiers and cannons.

How is this in ANY WAY relevant? Pax Galaxia is meant to be simple and fun, not flashy. First of all, since when do graphics make a game fun? Pax is a joy to play! And again, this is a game review. You should be talking about mechanics and gameplay. You just spent a huge paragraph talking about how the game is "trying to pass itself off as sci/fi when clearly it isn't." What does that matter?

You raise some interesting and not-so-interesting points. The speed at which ships move shouldn't be changed - that's an integral part of the game mechanics. Should the graphics be changed? Sure, if Diodor wants, just as a fun side project. But I don't think it would change my enjoyment of the game.

05 September, 2006 14:07  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Thanks for analyzing my review.
It's funny that you always mention Monopoly as if it was some kind of a perfect game. In fact, Monopoly has a lot of flaws as well, but this has littlte to do with our discussion.

I aknowledged the fact that moving ships between friendly planets is an important and integral part of the game mechanic. My point is simply that it feels less responsive.

As I mentioned in the review, I don't suggest pompus CG animations but I think slightly more visual feedback then just an arrow would help making the game more attractive to new players until they are able to appriciate the deeper aspects.

I think the way the game graphics reflect the theme of the game is a very important topic of game design. I agree that you can't make a good game with graphics alone. But then, you can't BREAK a good game by using more suitable graphics, can you?

As you suggest, I adress mechanics and gameplay as well, yet you compare that to complaining about Luxury Tax. I guess that is is a complicated way of saying I shouldn't say anything at all ;-)

Please note that it wasn't my intension "bash" Pax Galaxia. As a game designer, I often find negative critique more helpful then unconditional praise. If you felt offended, I apologize.

05 September, 2006 14:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Posted by CAESAR on the forums

No need to apologize. I didn't feel at all offended. Even though I agree with some of your points, I just felt the review was lacking AS a game review.

I agree that criqitue is important. And I don't think anyone here would give "unconditional" praise to Pax Galaxia, as evidenced by our MOST POPULAR thread, "Suggestions for New Version:"

I know Germans treat board games like the Japanese treat video games, so maybe Monopoly was a bad example. Maybe I should write Klaus Teuber and tell him that the towns in Settlers should better reflect a 17th century colonial village, rather than just being a little house-shape, because in the game's current state I lose site of the theme of the game.

In any case, I thought the review focused too much on nit-picky little details (that aren't really NEGATIVES, more like NEUTRALS) and didn't really mention much in the positive. Giving negative feedback to a designer is fine and, I agree, welcome. Contacting the designer directly or posting on the message boards is the appropriate place for this. A game review is not, as a game review should cover all aspects of a game, positive and negative.

06 September, 2006 00:13  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

I am not sure how Japanese treat video games but trust me, although germany produces a lot of board games, they aren't really treated any different there. You won't find people playing Risk in subways or something.

You may think that the Settlers scenario you presended sounds ridiculous, but there are, in fact, people who aren't satisfyed with the game materials delivered in the standart editon. There is a special 3D edition quite popular among enthusiasts. The reason to produce the simpler, standart version is not because it is a better game design but simply because it is extremly cheaper to print trees on cardboard. Note however, that for example in both cases, forests are presented with a quite a recognizeable and attractive rendering of trees. People made quite an effort to reflect the theme in the game materials. I do think that the standart Settlers game would be much less popular without the pictures of little sheep on the cards and the tiny cute houses and the little waves on the sea hexagons and details like that.

Contacting the designer directly or posting on the message boards is the appropriate place for this. A game review is not, as a game review should cover all aspects of a game, positive and negative.

Oh, I see, this is a simple misunderstanding. Thanks for pointing that out! Our reviews aren't ment do say everything there is to say about a game. It is impossible anyway. Our goal is not to rate games, we think there are enough gaming magazines for that. Instead, we look at games and try to find aspects about them, which are worth discussing. We tried looking at every aspect of a game in our earlier articles but we quickly found out that the articles get incredibly long and lose cohesion. Insead we focus on a few, juicy details. If something is left unsaid, we can always write an additional article. I focused on a few negative details because they were left out in the other article abot Pax Galaxia, written by Daniel Renkel.

06 September, 2006 00:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dominion says -

i read this article and was amazed someone could write so many lines and have no point to show =(
i discovered this game maybe 2 months ago and despite paying out 30-40 pounds every few weeks on games {{ all stratergy games}} that after a period of time became flawed this game - pax galaxia - has held my interest everyday.
you see - its not just numbers you see as you play galaxia - after a while you know the people you play against,their style, you see like chess, a few moves agead in time and pre-empt, you know the maps weaknesses and strengths and you play to win!
this is a simple game to play - but like chess, a very hard game to master.
if you want more than numbers arrows or colours go pick up a latest copy of final fantasy series they have stunning effects and gameplay - but if you want a game that intregues you,frustrates you and makes you truly smile when youve won a game that seemed impossible at the time then maybe check out pax galaxia.
i do hope you write another review for this game - but only when you have beaten me say 3 times in a row =)

21 November, 2006 01:49  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Some people try very hard to make a gameplay vs. graphics debatte out of my article. Unfortunatly, it wasn't my point. I don not promote graphical representaion to make things look "beatiful" or "stunning" but to improve readout. I'm talking about information design:

25 December, 2006 15:57  
Blogger daniel / sirleto said...

seems hard to understand what we want to do here :)

i will give another example: the worldwide quite popular board game : torres. (allright, sorry, again a german one)

it is a good example for a boardgame that has great gameplay (truly good working mechanics) but has some problems for beginners to understand everything, because a lot of card wordings, detail rules and main rules are not intuitive, counter each other, are not representated with something recognizable or easy to remember (something fitting to the theme / or atleast visuals). and a lot of rules seem at first to conflict with other similiar ones.

the game truly seems very complex, with a lot of basic and additional detail rules and a lot of results of handling. this game is great, many love it (me to), but from a game designer perspective only the gameplay was developed well - the materials to represent it, could be made much better. (and i don't mean the great colors, graphical boarddesign or packaging).

18 February, 2007 13:07  

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