Difficulty, Balance and Replayability

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Spolokh posted this 15 July 2017

Hello Julian & other team.

I would like to share an Idea that can improve game replayability, provide us (game fans) more fun and broke game development routine. There are three topics to be discussed:

- Save/Load exploit as game mechanics

- Rich mechanics on high difficulty levels

- Balance as difficulty level

Usually difficulty levels differs in strait way, monsters are nor tough and resources are more rare. I propose to differentiate difficulty levels by different/orthogonal approach. 

 

Save/Load exploit as game mechanics

First I would like to talk about game difficulty and save load mechanics. Ironman mode usually comes as different difficulty dimension. Some people, including me, never use this option. I do not think ironman is a good option to be integral part of game difficulty, especially for games like XCOM, where mechanics is not 100% transparent.

On the other hand I think save/load mechanics must be limited to avoid exploit, and planning of where and when game should be saved must be a part of game strategy on non basic levels. It makes game exploration more attractive if you can undo some action and see what can happen if you behave in a different way without repeating whole the way.  otherwise exploration is a tricky way and games looses this dimension in my eyes. For example such problem appeared in Darkest Dungeon. A single mistake ruins whole the game and I just feared to improvise. This exploit is good for the basic level where game mechanics is learned, but on high difficulty it should be limited. For example two saves per game month or 3 saves per 10 battle turns

As far in forest the more tough are partisans or give us more rich mechanics on high difficulty levels

It would be nice for game to force player to challenge high difficulty levels by making game mechanics more common. Just more epics on high difficulty levels. Youy skip the rest of chapter you you understand what it is about. Otherwise "stay and listen" (C) D.Cain.  Let me explain it on example.

Let say that game could provide to player an access to epic weapons as psionic or high-tech via some events. Player has to fulfill some strategy to make those events happen. 

On base difficulty level those abilities are redundant/Not vital and thus those events are very rare.  Not vital I mean that game is easy without them and player can skip this mechanics to reveal the main plot, (yet some scenes could be missed). In other words plots that allows epic weapons are just for fun and to expose this mechanics.  Even more, on this difficulty both development ways ( to find psionics or find high-tech weapons) could be even forbidden to happen in a single walkthrough. Anyway p[layer should be so bored when he achieves them both so he should finish the game as fast as it happens.

On middle level  those strategies are vital, and player have to seek an access at least to one of them. So access to them is less depends on random. I mean that player should not waste his attention to make those event to happen. The game should be balanced such way that player should rush for game end once any of the epic abilities are reached. There could be no time to explore another way.

On high level player must have them both (psionic and high-tech)  and thus have to fulfill both strategies. Even more, once both abilities are reached, player can find that there is a synergy and epic weapons are multiply power of the team instead of simple sum.

And for the impossible levels the following dimension should be used 

Balance as difficulty tool.

Game should be balanced - is today dogma. That is a good rule. Especially in the multiplayer. In single player this rule is a good one, but in a game where player straggle with unknown, I think it should be broken on extreme difficulty levels.Why? Because victory strategy should be determined in the game and not the outside. On this difficulty level player should decide by himself in every walkthrough who is the most dangerous enemy and what is the most powerful soldier class instead to get from the forum that each squad must have a medic and canoneer.

Yet,  there could be some preset balances. For example one for melee units and other for ranged. Additionally they could be hidden until game with this balance is won. User can have option to select"
-  already "opened" balance,
-  any of hidden
- just random and look for clues to find out  what is the current balance

 

 

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Spolokh posted this 15 July 2017

Additionally and I think it is most difficult one - truly random. It is clear that in such way there could be a lot of easy games, but some of them could be really tough and even impossible. It is important that every such balance is well-defined and reproducible, so players could share them in community. 

 Thank you for attention

 

 

Mazy posted this 16 July 2017

Regarding Ironman mode, IMO this is an integral mechanic to any X-COM style game, ideally it would be 'ON' by default (with the option to turn it OFF). Playing without Ironman on kinda defeats the whole object of the game, it's pointless playing it if you can go back and 'undo' mistakes.. Permadeath is vital.

Playing without Ironman on makes it a non permadeath mode, this allows you to go back and regain lost soldiers/lost battles.. as such, a non Ironman run isn't very interesting or rewarding when you can just replay any turn or do-over any mission (it generally leads to unrealistic end game stats to).

NoWorries posted this 16 July 2017

Personally, as it's a single player game, I believe players should be empowered to play it however they gain the most pleasure. If they want to stomp all over the aliens or save-scum every potential tactical or strategic outcome, then let them. Or if they want to play an insanely hard mode they are likely to lose unless they're lucky, then let them. Of course, variables on difficulty are contingent upon a real solid balance being found, and so I'm all for that, too... as an option. 

That said, the new alien mutation gameplay mechanic is an interesting twist on the genre, as the aliens will adapt to how players succeed. And new types of strategies might arise which, while they seem like exploits, are actually sound military tactics for a desperate humanity. E.g., sending rookies out to get slaughtered by aliens who you have the tech to overcome easily just so that the Pandoravirus might keep those aliens on rotation a little longer. Even so, finding easy, moderate, and challenging gameplay balances for this new mechanic likely will take a fair bit of playtesting. So yay to beta backers!

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Spolokh posted this 16 July 2017

Ironman is a suitable difficulty for XCom style gamy, but, IMHO, it is to heavy. In games like XCom a single mistake could vanish the whole squad. There is no partial sucess. So the most mission either flawless or the whole team is wiped. 

If the mode is turned on and save/load is exploite - all the missions became flawless and player just miss some mechanics. 

 

It would be nice to have something in a middle by a partial Ironman mode as it described by the topic starter.

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Ped posted this 17 July 2017

for me playing in ironman mode is a must, without it there'd be no tension, emotional investment in any actions or events or even challenge, if something doesn't go your way you just roll it back and try something else, or even worse try the same thing over n over until the roll goes your way. 

But everyone likes different things and plays games for different reasons so I definitely think it should be optional, wouldn't have a problem with default to on though. 

One point though, I've never really found a single mistake will destroy an entire playthrough, if your 'A' squad gets wiped and your 'B' squad is a bunch of rookies then IMO you've not been planning properly. Never run a mission with full A team, always have 1 or 2 lower rank soldiers that you're leveling up with the help of the top dogs to keep them out of trouble.

I'm not sure about the need for a middle mode though, you either play ironman or you don't, if you only want to save scum 3 times a month then do so at your own discretion?

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Spolokh posted this 17 July 2017

Ped said:

for me playing in ironman mode is a must, without it there'd be no tension, emotional investment in any actions or events or even challenge, if something doesn't go your way you just roll it back and try something else, or even worse try the same thing over n over until the roll goes your way. 

But everyone likes different things and plays games for different reasons so I definitely think it should be optional, wouldn't have a problem with default to on though. 

One point though, I've never really found a single mistake will destroy an entire playthrough, if your 'A' squad gets wiped and your 'B' squad is a bunch of rookies then IMO you've not been planning properly. Never run a mission with full A team, always have 1 or 2 lower rank soldiers that you're leveling up with the help of the top dogs to keep them out of trouble.

I'm not sure about the need for a middle mode though, you either play ironman or you don't, if you only want to save scum 3 times a month then do so at your own discretion?

You are, but I look on the middle mode as advertisement. It should encourage people that scum save/load to try a new game aspects. They missing some game mechanics and it is a way to allure them. Especially in case high difficulty levels will provide more epics

Julian Gollop posted this 20 July 2017

This is an interesting and fundamental discussion. Our objective should be to make sure the game  is fun for all players at all levels of capability. This means if the lowest difficulty level is the right challenge level for a player, it should be as much fun to play as for a more skillful player on a higher difficulty setting. There is also the idea raised by Spolokh of having a difference experience for each difficulty level based on game elements or content which may or may not be exposed to the player at different difficulty levels. My inclination is to focus on the fundamentals first - get the game fun for everybody. We are still considering some adaptive difficulty adjustments to avoid the 'spiraling into oblivion' feeling that you can get with complex strategy games.

91stCataclysm posted this 20 July 2017

I'd be interested in a New X-Com 1 style "Bronzeman Mode", where you cannot save during missions but are free to restart a mission that you feel you screwed up fundamentally. The reason for this is that that I (and i imagine many other players) simply don't have the patience and free time to sink hours into a playthrough only to have it almost irrevocably lost due to a couple of bad decisions (or worse, a couple of bad RNGesus outcomes), but we do not want to be tempted to save-scum to perfection every turn.

 

Thus, the ability to "Ironman" an individual mission BUT still be able to retry it if it goes catastrophic due to a moment's incaution/inattention/stupidity would be a happy medium to me.

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woah77 posted this 20 July 2017

Personally, I don't really like having an iron or bronze man mode, because I like to save whenever I want to. Sometimes I just need a break, and I like to take it when I want to.

Ped posted this 20 July 2017

woah77 said:

Personally, I don't really like having an iron or bronze man mode, because I like to save whenever I want to. Sometimes I just need a break, and I like to take it when I want to.

you can still save whenever you like with Ironman mode, it's just that it always overwrites your last save from this playthrough so you can't savescum. But in terms of taking a break, it puts no limitations on you.

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woah77 posted this 20 July 2017

Well the bronzeman mode they described only lets you save inbetween missions, not during them.

Spolokh posted this 20 July 2017

Julian Gollop said:

Our objective should be to make sure the game  is fun for all players at all levels of capability. 

I would like to drag attention once more that light version Iron-man mode (as I described above) could serve this purpose due to the following reasons:

1. Save/load scumming can hide some game mechanics from players. From example their soldiers will never hurt. That leaves out of their experience the whole game layer. Those solders should be kept in safe positions untill end of the mission. Those soldier had to be healed after. Rest of the team can pass traning at this time. For example in XCOM2 Long Wart thay can be Resistans leaders and pass AWC and officer traning.   

2. It is a little bit hurt to start a regular Iron-man game because one mistake can ruin entire game. Light Iron-Man version can help to deal with it and can learn how to deal with such problems without a fear that they can loose the game that was half won. 

Ped posted this 20 July 2017

woah77 said:

Well the bronzeman mode they described only lets you save inbetween missions, not during them.

I'm not sure of the exact wording of what's been said, but I would imagine the implementation would be more along the lines of you can save whenever you like, but you can only create alternate restore points inbetween missions, anything else would be crazy.

kompan posted this 21 July 2017

Being a casual (read: lazy) gamer I'm voting for save/load without any limits, at least on easy/normal.

However, on the battlescape - and on higher difficulties - instead of "Save game", you can have the "Report your status to HQ" option. This reporting/saving would cost some resources, be it money, equipped radio batteries or simply gold action from your support soldier, who has the radio/satellite/comm link skill (or equipment). No comm specialist in your squad? Well, on larger maps you can put some abandoned radio stations that may serve as checkpoints to report your position from.

I know, it starts to look like some action-rpg with savepoints and mana crystals But in my opinion it would provide extra layer of managing your resources, preparing support soldiers, communicating with base and planning routes to capture radio station in the middle of the map.

Mehukannu posted this 21 July 2017

Ironman mode would be pretty neat. I am currently playing openxcom: tftd with ironman mode enabled and my aquanaut death toll is ominiously nearing 100 by now. Sort of looking forward to have somewhat similiar experiences in Phoenix Point.

Though some obvious problems from ironman mode is the occasional fatal misclicks that you can't undo, so just from that point of view I don't see any reason to force players into an ironman mode and ironman to me has always just been a challenge mode basically and should be treated as such.

CaptainGeneral posted this 21 July 2017

Well I play Ironman mode when it's in a game but really I haven't save-scummed in 20 years or so of gaming- there's no challenge to me if I complete a game reloading when things didn't go my way. I start at the beginning again. People should be allowed to play however they like though, and if people are going to 'cheat' they're going to 'cheat'... and there's no reason they shouldn't be allowed to. Optional Ironman mode is nice but generally just there to look nice in steam achievements.

woah77 posted this 21 July 2017

I like the *option* of ironman mode existing. I dislike it being forced upon me. Ironman is usually an option that you can select and that's the way I like it.

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Wormerine posted this 22 July 2017

Iron man isn't, and has never been intergal part of XCOM. It wasn't present in UFO: Enemy Unknown. It was introduced in Firaxis remake. I like Ironman. I forces me to live with my mistakes. I do, however, like what you are proposing. Similar system was introduced in Invisible Inc. I was against it at first, but it is a great addition. Inv. Inc. was a one save game. It is still that way but they added "rewind" - at the higher difficulty levels you can rewind back one turn up to two times. While I don't believe that dice rolls are an issue (if you are in a situation where missed 95% kills you it was YOUR fault for bad planning). However, games can be buggy. I would play XCOM2 on ironman if I could rewind whenever game breaks. Or you can misclick. For those limited "rewinds" are perfect.

the other ideas not so much. Cutting off gameplay mechanics from players just sounds like a bad idea (you want to play on easy? You won't get fun toys!). I think I understand the idea (making game difficult via complexity, not higher stats/numbers) but I don't think it works that way. Higher difficulties should force you to engage more with the mechanics (creating smarter combos, minmaxing, smarter team compositions) but artificially adding this experience by literally cutting out content for lower levels sounds silly.

Xcom has never BEEN balanced. Alien forces are always in bigger numbers and more capable than your soldiers. Then tables turn. That was XCOMs arch and from what we have heard PP will go the other way (superior humans and mutations catching up to them). That said Firaxis Xcom felt way to controlled to me. You have to be careful as some of the bull**** thing which would happen in UFO just won't pass today. And it's a good thing. Hopefully the procedural generation of aliens will be robust enough to get free many thrills. Please be careful about using word "random". You really really really don't want ANYTHING in your game to be completely random;-)

Spolokh posted this 22 July 2017

Wormerine said:

 Cutting off gameplay mechanics from players just sounds like a bad idea (you want to play on easy? You won't get fun toys!).

Men, you totally miss an idea. Nobody are being cut from nothing. There is always a possibility you will get fun toys. All my proposition is that you can get more fun toys on high difficulty level

Wormerine posted this 22 July 2017

Spolokh said:

Wormerine said:

 Cutting off gameplay mechanics from players just sounds like a bad idea (you want to play on easy? You won't get fun toys!).

Men, you totally miss an idea. Nobody are being cut from nothing. There is always a possibility you will get fun toys. All my proposition is that you can get more fun toys on high difficulty level

 

haha Did I? It seems like two sides of the same coin: you get less stuff on lower difficulty levels/you get more on higher difficulty levels. Lets use an example of XCOM Enemy Within to see if I got it right and, please, correct me if I am wrong:

I play on normal and I get usual soldier classes to play with. On classic in addition I get access to soldier mutation, which are required by higher difficulty level. On Impossible I get all of those plus mech. Isn't that the idea? If yes, than what is the point of cutting those features from lower difficulty levels?

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