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WFTO Wednesday #57: Player Research

Haze

Disciple
Mar 31, 2013
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Moscow, Russia
The decision to give all units their abilities at level 1 (save for a 'special ability') was made consciously with the simple reason in mind that it allows all creatures to fulfill the roles they are meant to fulfill right from the get-go.
IMO: "role" is a complex idea. Units can have most part of their abilities at level 1 and it will be enough. Otherwise:

"Back to WFTO my concern is that the levels will feel 'grindy' and pointless, only to attain a level 5 for a skill to make your unit stronger. And i feel that a large amount of skills at level one will make the levelling process even more boring. ... Reaching 'max level' should feel an 'achievement' during the campaign." (c) Aierwin.

Not only leveling becomes boring. Players lose great deal of strategical elements. For example, when I know that some unit will get ability X at level Y, I will use them in a different way from that time forward - concentrate, train and heal them to level Y or do not pay attention, it is an additional player choice! Additional replayability (like to train my mistresses, spending more time just for new indicative abilities and effects)!! Or I can train another type of units for another ability at level 8 and get another tactic. All abilities at once - meh...

I want an army of quickly regenerating undead units - it will take time, but to make skeletons regeneratng at level 1, it's just... Not enough reward for player's devotion. Not interesting.

"Leveling minions isn't something that the player has to actively devote all his attention to"? Can anyone really agree with this? Not that it should be "actively" consuming all attention, but it is a great visual and strategic difference throughout developing one's forces. New level REALLY becomes something new for a game (new effects, combinations), not just a bit more of the same soup. I mean - hey, one of our wizards can use great offensive magic, let's make a new assault strategy, based on it!

"i would also argue for 'base' abilities to be had at level 1, but also having other different abilities come available at certain intervals." (c) Aierwin.
 
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Aierwin

Bloodling
WFTO Backer
Jan 4, 2013
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IMO: "role" is a complex idea. Units can have most part of their abilities at level 1 and it will be enough. Otherwise:

"Back to WFTO my concern is that the levels will feel 'grindy' and pointless, only to attain a level 5 for a skill to make your unit stronger. And i feel that a large amount of skills at level one will make the levelling process even more boring. ... Reaching 'max level' should feel an 'achievement' during the campaign." (c) Aierwin.

Not only leveling becomes boring. Players lose great deal of strategical elements. For example, when I know that some unit will get ability X at level Y, I will use them in a different way from that time forward - concentrate, train and heal them to level Y or do not pay attention, it is an additional player choice! Additional replayability (like to train my mistresses, spending more time just for new indicative abilities and effects)!! Or I can train another type of units for another ability at level 8 and get another tactic. All abilities at once - meh...

I want an army of quickly regenerating undead units - it will take time, but to make skeletons regeneratng at level 1, it's just... Not enough reward for player's devotion. Not interesting.

"Leveling minions isn't something that the player has to actively devote all his attention to"? Can anyone really agree with this? Not that it should be "actively" consuming all attention, but it is a great visual and strategic difference throughout developing one's forces. New level REALLY becomes something new for a game (new effects, combinations), not just a bit more of the same soup. I mean - hey, one of our wizards can use great offensive magic, let's make a new assault strategy, based on it!

"i would also argue for 'base' abilities to be had at level 1, but also having other different abilities come available at certain intervals." (c) Aierwin.
This is specifically what i was trying to get across. Using your units differently depending on their levels offers so much more. Maybe you would completely re-group your minions based on levels due to their skills and abilities.

I hope this is read, as it makes a very compelling argument.
 

Mozared

Juggernaut
WFTO Founder
Feb 17, 2013
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"Leveling minions isn't something that the player has to actively devote all his attention to"? Can anyone really agree with this? Not that it should be "actively" consuming all attention, but it is a great visual and strategic difference throughout developing one's forces. New level REALLY becomes something new for a game (new effects, combinations), not just a bit more of the same soup. I mean - hey, one of our wizards can use great offensive magic, let's make a new assault strategy, based on it!
Just to note: when I said the line you quoted me on above, I was comparing leveling minions in WFTO to leveling a character in WoW. The reason the latter can feel boring in WoW is because it is literally just you, one character, grinding through constantly similarly looking content by yourself. And you can't do other stuff while you're doing it - you have to keep picking up quests and grinding mob after mob. This doesn't even compare to the attention a player in WFTO has to put in to leveling his creatures. Imagine if you'd HAVE to be watching the Barracks constantly for your units to actually level while training in it - that'd be the amount of attention that leveling in WoW takes.

That said, I realize that adding more spells and enabling them at certain levels can add a form of strategic depth to the game, and I'm pretty sure Simburgur does too. The thing is that there are also a couple of specific downsides to this:

1. It requires the team to make far more abilities, which equals more work. If the system would add enough to the game this won't be a dealbreaker, but obviously piling on more work than planned is a bad thing. In turn, adding more abilities is bound to also create a lot of bloat where abilities overlap with others - or, if this bloat is prevented, units are going to go through entire stretches of levels without learning anything new. And either of these two leads to the fact that...

2. It's impossible to balance very well. If you add abilities to certain levels, units will suddenly start making power jumps. A level 2 Cultist may be relatively weak but a level 3 Cultist may unlock a really powerful debuff. This makes the game A) more inaccessible to newbies, because to be effective in multiplayer a player needs to know exactly what level on what unit unlocks what spell to fully determine his strategy (and think about it: there's no elegant way of conveying this information to the player), and B) makes the balance go honky-wonky and fairly RNG. A player only has limited amount of control over the level of his units, and as such trying to get that Cultist to level 3 quickly becomes a gamble. What if you get attacked by a player using a few really strong units (against which the level 3 debuff would be really powerful) while your cultist is at level 2.7? To an extent, this issue already exists with the level 5 'special' abilities, but at least there it is offset by the fact that players will generally know ahead which units are going to be reaching that level as it is something they can really consciously plan ahead for, like getting a super-unit.

3. A small one, but nevertheless a downside: it places the focus of combat more on specific units of a higher level. This was never the intention: the idea is that units function as a group or as an army and that the player wins a battle because he has tanks blocking the enemy, supporters supporting and damage dealers picking off units. Not because his tanks are all level 3 and deal massive AoE damage because of a skill they get at that level.

All in all I'm not saying having units learn abilities as they level up is a terrible idea. In fact, I'm pretty sure Simburgur still considers it an option if playtesting shows that the current system doesn't work. But the thing is that the team (and when the decision was made, me as well) believes that the current 5-level system can be just as fun, easier to balance and less work than something more intricate. Theoretically, this thought is sound - but we'll have to wait for it to actually be tried in practice before anything more can be said.
 
Likes: Antking

Nutter

Frost Weaver
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Jan 19, 2013
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@Aierwin

Would it honestly make you feel better if rather than increasing the attack damage of the Cultist's basic attack spell, they unlocked a basic attack spell+ at level 2... then a basic attack spell++ at level 4 or whatever?

Getting to level 5 will be just as difficult and time consuming as it was in DK, you'll just require more exp to go up to the next level. In terms of it being "grindy" I think you need to look at some of the ways you can increase your creatures experience. It's just not just a case of locking them in a training room anymore. The Witch Doctor unit for example, has an ability to increase exp gain during battles and within the Spirit Chamber it can even give a unit a big boost in exp using either gold and mana or spirits as currency. Obviously if all you do is lock a creature in a training room then it's going to feel grindy, but there are other options and it's only as grindy as you make it.
 
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Likes: Antking

Haze

Disciple
Mar 31, 2013
91
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140
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Moscow, Russia
That said, I realize that adding more spells and enabling them at certain levels can add a form of strategic depth to the game, and I'm pretty sure Simburgur does too.
Good. That's the maximum I could hope for.

"It's impossible to balance very well"? The best balance will be anyway determined though gameplay. Perfection through calculation before never helps. Simply, bonus abilities should be reasonable to have, but not overwhelming.

"If you add abilities to certain levels, units will suddenly start making power jumps"? This is exactly what makes the game interesting, replayable, maybe somewhat unpredictable about choosing strategies and petting units. IMO interesting and complex game is better, than simple and perfectly balanced. Otherwise we have chess, tetris and stuff.

"It requires the team to make far more abilities, which equals more work"? Not necessary. At least some basics could be put as a basement. Maybe 3-4 basic abilities plus 1-3 bonus abilities. Or even 1 bonus ability at level 4 for example, developing more later. The same amount of work before release, but more potential for growth and balancing ("at level X this creature is not useful at this campaign, but at level Y you can use it as a distraction").

"it places the focus of combat more on specific units of a higher level"? Taking into account what I said before about choosing balance as a result of playtests, it won't be a problem, but a feature. We can't calculate now, what power distribution will be better. As it is now, basic strategy will possibly look like "collect everyone and send them to battle". Am I wrong? How can one win against this simple approach without traps in multiplayer in equal conditions, if not specializing? Veins aspect here is not enough IMO. (About throwing away units, specializing this way - we don't have a lot of time to be choosy in multiplayer.)

"This makes the game more inaccessible to newbies, because to be effective in multiplayer a player needs to know exactly what level on what unit unlocks what spell to fully determine his strategy"? Again, complex and multiversion game is always better than simple and perfectly balanced, at least for PC. Plus, newbies still have sanbox skirmish mode or some option like "choose partner according to your experience".

"we'll have to wait for it to actually be tried in practice before anything more can be said", definitely.
 
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Castigator

Gargoyle
WFTO Backer
Dec 30, 2012
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Germany
I would like to add, that the current level and stat algorithm feels a little bit flat to me. Flat in the sense, that you can calculate, that a creature at level cap has about twice as much power than at level one. That makes it feasible to spam units without remorse, since leveling them doesn't yield enough power.
The game gains a lot of its appeal due to the fact, that your powerful creatures are not actually expendable. Sure, you can sacrifice level one beasts, to help your Necromancer, when he needs his first Ghouls, or you take a low level scout to scan an area for traps, so you don't need to risk your powerful units. I am missing the part of the game, where powerful creatures of high level are your dungeon's greatest asset and greatest weakness, since you have to pay them. Currently, it's likely more efficient to sacrifice your powerful units and mass weak and faceless goons. It feels absolutely underwhelming, since you have absolutely no attachment whatsoever to your creatures.
You just place a flag and let the numbers play out. The other arts of fighting seem to have died out. Dropping a number of advanced units to halt enemy aggression? Impossible, the enemy zerg will cut them into pieces.
Possessing a high level creature and fight the intruders? Impossible, your elite is just twice as strong as their mook and they have hundreds of those.
The core problem is, that the return of training has been set too low. The currently used increase of 20% would be absolutely perfect on a level scale from one to ten, but on a scale from one to five, the individual creature can't gain the momentum to decide battles or even prevail against a bunch of low level enemies.
I absolutely like the used algorithm, since it is easy to use and predict. Due to its exponential nature, the leveling curve would go totally out of hand, if the cap was set to 255, or 128, or even 64, but on a scale from one to ten, the stats will just quintuple. That is probably less groth in absolute power, than in DK1, since the creatures will already know most of their skills. And in DK1 the stats quadrupled, going from one to ten. You can calculate a creature's final stats in DK1, if you multiply its base stats by 4,15. Currently, in WftO, the top stats differ from the base stats by just 2,07. If you extend the curve from one to ten you get an acceptable 5,15. And like you said, you do not have the jumps in power, that made the Wizard in DK1 go from harmless at levels one to four, to anoying, at level five, when he leaned both heal and rebound, to one of the most fearsome enemies from levels six to ten, due to freeze, hail, drain, slow and meteor.
I also remember, that KeeperFX allowed abilities to scale with level, which made high level Warlocks actually useful, since they could deal noticeable damage and support a fight. They were still slow and squishy, but it felt like a tradeoff and not like they were designed to be useless.
Levels should impact a fight, since the entire genre is heavily influenced by the RPG. It should make a great difference, whether your four creatures at level one meet a lone hero at equal level, or get slaughtered by a hero at max. level. Currently, the four monsters at level 1 attacking our knight at level cap are likely to win. It doesn't feel right and leaves a bitter taste.
 

Psycix

Dryad
WFTO Founder
Jan 9, 2013
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About the creatures starting off with their role-abilities on level one:
I actually preferred when they didn't. In DK1, your level 1 warlocks were useless in combat. Training them to level 2 introduced them to the ranged DPS role. Training from 1 to 2 didn't take much time, but it DID introduce a nice piece of micro, especially in the beginning of the game, when you want to research as fast as you can. It's nice to have to choose between short-term military power and faster development, which pays off in the long term.
Especially because some creatures wouldn't go to the training room by themselves, training those into something combat worthy was a lot of fun. The fact that they are now shooting fireballs is because YOU made them train to that level and you don't want to lose them. This causes the player to bond with them.

In DK2, the warlocks knew fireball from the beginning, which made the character a lot more shallow. No matter what level, the warlocks would use fireballs at range. There is simply so much less to it when creatures have their combat role available "out of the box".
It makes them extremely expendable, which is something I sadly feel in WFTO as well.

I'd say bonding with and expendability of creatures is the only problem I'm worried about in WFTO.
 

Mozared

Juggernaut
WFTO Founder
Feb 17, 2013
1,132
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At this point we seem to be reiterating a lot ("But I like a system where units gain skills as they level") so I'm not going to respond to all of it anymore (honestly, that's fine - I've only been trying to explain reasons for not picking that system initially), but there's two things I wanted to touch on;

Again, complex and multiversion game is always better than simple and perfectly balanced, at least for PC. Plus, newbies still have sanbox skirmish mode or some option like "choose partner according to your experience".
That doesn't quite fly. You're falling into the famous trap of equating complexity and depth with difficulty and inaccessibility. A good game has a lot of depth while still being very accessible to new players. A complex game doesn't necessarily have to be inaccessible or difficult. Depth or complexity is achieved by giving the players a variety of tools to work with and them presenting them with a plethora of problems they need to solve with said tools. A game is difficult in the right way if a player then has to find the right combination of tools for the job. Giving units spells on a per-level basis is really quite arbitrary since there is no intuitive way to introduce this 'tool' to the player; it's really just a spreadsheet of stuff you need to learn to be able to compete.

Extra Credits explains it better than I can.

Levels should impact a fight, since the entire genre is heavily influenced by the RPG. It should make a great difference, whether your four creatures at level one meet a lone hero at equal level, or get slaughtered by a hero at max. level. Currently, the four monsters at level 1 attacking our knight at level cap are likely to win. It doesn't feel right and leaves a bitter taste.
I'm assuming you've missed the discussed we had about this earlier (on page 6 or 7, I believe), but this simply isn't true and I think it's important people get out of this mindset. The fact that there are only 5 levels doesn't mean that we're using the 10-level scaling you're used to 'anyway' and that level 1 units have more of a chance against a level 5 unit than they do a level 10 unit 'because they are closer in level'. The differences per level are larger. A minimum level unit will have roughly the same chance of beating a max level unit in any rendition of the leveling system, whether you use 2 levels, 5, 10, or 100.
 

Haze

Disciple
Mar 31, 2013
91
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Moscow, Russia
A complex game doesn't necessarily have to be inaccessible or difficult.
Surely, obviously. Please see below:

Giving units spells on a per-level basis is really quite arbitrary since there is no intuitive way to introduce this 'tool' to the player; it's really just a spreadsheet of stuff you need to learn to be able to compete.
Frankly, there is no need to introduce new spells. Maybe, a little bit more description in unit's extended info. Also there is no need to memorize comparative spreadsheet.

Why? Because player will train someone anyway! Common strategy for me is to train favorite types, such as mistresses and someone else for support. This is usually enough. 1) One will pay more attention to individual units for cute visual effects and powerful attacks and a little different strategy, 2) another one will train favorite types mostly as an assault group and 3) the third one will try to level up his whole army at once (and throw them into battle at once, possibly, what really should be designed as inferior approach).

If some abilities will be too powerful, or some combinations too universal - playtests will show it for sure, and by editing simply one preprogrammed field (or so) problem will be solved. Accessible, yes.

...aaand I do not want someone to know literally everything about game after rushing through campaign. Boring, too simple. Yes, I don't like multiplayer and prefer turtling through campaign with heroes, throwing different powerful units near accidental group of heroes just to look what happens. Thus, some different effectiveness, territory-dependent or some difference in experience and abilities through training in different conditions will add a lot of spice to replayability.

What if there is a 1/100 chance, that my new wizard will cast spells two times faster? Or that new Augre will forge slowly, but strike enemy faster? Or human-like succubus will appear (same animation, different model)? And at least 3 powerful regenerating skeleton knights with fire swords and burning eyes, even if I have to sacrifice my necromancer for this gift.

"Feed your wizards with mushrooms, and there is a 15% chance that one of them will predict what is under fog of war... Somewhere there - he won't be able to choose exact location." - reveals small piece under fog of war, for example, in a random point.

More about strategy - if we're talking about real dungeons, a couple of powerful units should be able to hold a tunnel for a long time. This is realistic. This is somewhat intriguing limitation. Bring an Augre for breaking through or vampire with teleportation ability...

In DK2, the warlocks knew fireball from the beginning, which made the character a lot more shallow. No matter what level, the warlocks would use fireballs at range. There is simply so much less to it when creatures have their combat role available "out of the box".
AI flaw, definitely. Warlock there was a boring character. Ability to modify combat role on the fly is a problem/perspective, worth thinking about. For example: AI should use fireball against a single enemy when far from it, use "slow/barrier" spells when running away, mass-strike spell first when at front near many enemies.
So, we can only hope for adequate AI in WFTO.
 
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Castigator

Gargoyle
WFTO Backer
Dec 30, 2012
433
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Germany
At this point we seem to be reiterating a lot ("But I like a system where units gain skills as they level") so I'm not going to respond to all of it anymore (honestly, that's fine - I've only been trying to explain reasons for not picking that system initially), but there's two things I wanted to touch on;


That doesn't quite fly. You're falling into the famous trap of equating complexity and depth with difficulty and inaccessibility. A good game has a lot of depth while still being very accessible to new players. A complex game doesn't necessarily have to be inaccessible or difficult. Depth or complexity is achieved by giving the players a variety of tools to work with and them presenting them with a plethora of problems they need to solve with said tools. A game is difficult in the right way if a player then has to find the right combination of tools for the job. Giving units spells on a per-level basis is really quite arbitrary since there is no intuitive way to introduce this 'tool' to the player; it's really just a spreadsheet of stuff you need to learn to be able to compete.

Extra Credits explains it better than I can.


I'm assuming you've missed the discussed we had about this earlier (on page 6 or 7, I believe), but this simply isn't true and I think it's important people get out of this mindset. The fact that there are only 5 levels doesn't mean that we're using the 10-level scaling you're used to 'anyway' and that level 1 units have more of a chance against a level 5 unit than they do a level 10 unit 'because they are closer in level'. The differences per level are larger. A minimum level unit will have roughly the same chance of beating a max level unit in any rendition of the leveling system, whether you use 2 levels, 5, 10, or 100.
I did not miss that point, but if I apply your argumentation consequently, then you can keep the level cap at five, but you should do something about the base of the function, then and raise it into the interval ranging from 1,45 to 1,50. That way, you reach a similar growth in power to the 20% growth for ten levels. In case you misunderstood my point: It is not necessary to have ten levels, but a creature at level five should be able to deal with a number of fresh recruits, before its health drops critically low. There are already little to no spells, potions and abilities, that allow your creatures to prolong a fight indefinitely, so your offense will run out of steam eventually, but your well trained creatures should not automatically lose a fight against level one armies, that slightly outnumber your forces.
You already stated, that it would take considerable time to nurture your creatures up to the maximum level. That effort all goes to waste, if there is no reward at the end of it. Especially, when your Barracks will allow training up to level three and you have to get the remaining levels through a combination of combat and using the Spirit Chamber.
A creature will get an additional skill at level five, which seems to be a consistent rule, but the levels one to four are not really increasing the creature's damage and survivability to competetive levels, so unless a creature has a level five ability, that is too good to pass up, no one will bother to train his creatures.
It is true and has nothing to do with my mindset, that the fight between a Chunder at level 5 and a Chunder at level one should be an unequal fight. Unless you gang up on a high level creature, it shouldn't be easy to defeat a creature, that has been trained to the apex of its power.
Sure, you will need a bunch of units even at level five to stand a chance against a super unit, but you already had to sacrifice a Cultist at max. level to just get a super unit's interest. They shouldn't be afraid of running into a small bunch of level one creatures, but it should be possible to fight these giants, if you gather your well trained armies and manage to bring him down, it should feel like an accomplishment, not dissimilar to defeating the boss of a ten man raid in a good MMO of your choice.
And from the revealed information, there is a chance that a super unit strays into your dungeon and you have to defend yourself.
If the enemy bothers to bring his army along, you are going to experience an intense and epic battle and this should be the moment, where the training, you invested into your army pays off.
 
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