DC: Next Game Post 1: Taking in the Wider View

Work continues at a steady pace on DC3 : Barbarossa but we are starting to give some thought to what comes next.

While there are plenty of obvious candidate conflicts that would benefit from a similar treatment we are pondering something much more fundamental.

Take the following. It’s straight out of my head and highlights four key design elements.

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Fun is obvious. No point making a game if it isn’t fun. The higher up the fun scale you can climb the better.

Replayability is important although these days a lot of games are designed to be played once and then forgotten about. Reliving the game through multiple play throughs isn’t as important as the ‘experience’. Once it’s done, it’s done. Move onto the next shiny light.

Is this something we’d like to emulate?

No. We firmly believe that a game should be able to deliver over a prolonged period of time.

Historical accuracy is something that can be safely ignored in a lot of genres but if we are discussing military orientated games then it’s a definite consideration.

Accessibility is the murkiest of the four. By this I mean how easy is it for a Player to drop into the game cold and get going? The Civilisation series are highly accessible. You start with a few units on a small section of revealed map. There are very few moving pieces and only a few decisions required. It’s very easy to sit down and play with the games involved and intermeshing mechanics being introduced gradually over time.

These interact in a variety of ways. Having them in a square layout doesn’t make much sense for a war game. I’d shuffle them around into a starfish with historical accuracy at the centre.

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Taking DC3 : Barbarossa as a example I’d call it like this (below). This is a subjective assessment from the designer of the game so your views may differ but, for the purposes of discussion, it’ll do.

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The slider between historical accuracy and accessibility is all one way traffic. The game has a lot of UI elements to smooth the learning curve but it still presents a new Player with a whole mess of counters and complicated mechanics right up front.

This is the inevitable nature of a set piece historical recreation. Accessibility is going to suffer.

Replayability takes a hit as well. DC3 : Barbarossa took the approach of providing a detailed, in-depth campaign with a lot of features that enhance replayability but there is no getting around the fact that every time you play you are recreating the same military endeavour.

Once again another consequence of a game centred around a set piece historical battle

What about fun? Does a strong adherence to historical accuracy preclude having fun? No it doesn’t. What does change is the type of fun. The person who plays an historical war game gets enjoyment out of an immersive experience full of interesting decisions rather than the pure adrenalin rush that comes from a cinematic shooter.

War games in general offer a very dry, cerebral type of fun. DC3 : Barbarossa goes a step further by making people a big part of the game in an effort to negate this. Dealing with people is always going to be more enjoyable than a straight diet of applied numbers.

Is it a step to far to say that fun is independent of historical accuracy? That one doesn’t influence another?

DC3 : Barbarossa has a very strong historical focus. Certain areas of historical fidelity have been deliberately streamlined whereas others are extremely detailed. Overall I’d score it, relative to typical war games, quite high on the historical scale.

It’s also a lot of fun. Which would give credence to the view that a game can be fun regardless of how historical it is. The two elements are independent of each other. My star fish model should reflect this.

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All this provides a basic design model for a war game. We could give D-Day, the battle of the Bulge, the Soviet drive on Berlin, the African campaign, or others, the DC3 treatment and we’d end up with a similar looking starfish.

Which is a possibility.

The star fish depicted above – we’ll call it the DC war game starfish – has a strong appeal to a certain type of player. How big is this pool of players?

Hard to say (although we’re getting a good idea with the release of the third game in the series) but I’d go out on a limb and say that the closer the three sliders are to the historical starfish heart the smaller that pool. Conversely the further out the sliders move along the radial arms of the starfish the larger the pool.

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Examples of both could be the aforementioned Civilisation series at one end of the scale and perhaps a hypothetical ‘Monster’ type of war game at the other that overflows with complexity and counters. Once again a subjective viewpoint by myself but Steam Spy tells me that the latest iteration of Civilisation has sold north of 8 million copies.

Could you call it an historical war game? I think you probably could but one that has a very loose historical affiliation befitting it’s emphasis on replayability, accessibility and fun.

A more interesting question is whether my hypothetical monster war game with it’s hyper focus on historical accuracy at the expense of all else could sell as well? Even if it was a really fun experience would the lack of accessibility and replayability – eg. The massive time investment, the huge amount of counter shuffling, the complex mechanics, the repetitive replaying of the same conflict – still preclude it from climbing the best seller list?

Back to our war game star fish above. There are some big implications here. The further the game moves away from a strict historical adherence to the facts the more scope there is to enhance replayability and accessibility. Increasing the degree of both of these may well increase the potential pool of customers, a-la-Civilisation.

Unfortunately, in my war game model, replayability and accessibility directly conflict with historical fidelity. The closer the game tracks what happened historically, the lower the degree of replayability and accessibility available.

Take an example such as Finland in DC3 : Barbarossa. Historically it entered the war against Russia on a certain date. If we moved the historical slider all the way into the centre of the starfish then that’s going to be exactly when it initiates hostilities in the game – always. Replayability has sunk to zero in this instance as a player knows exactly what is going to happen and can plan around it.

Alternatively we could shunt the slider all the way out to the end of the radial starfish arm and have Finland invade Russia at any point in the game to the extent that in some games they’ll just sit there doing nothing the whole time. Replayability is maxed out. Who knows what those crazy Finns will do in a given play through? But what about historical accuracy? What Axis player is going to accept a potentially inert, comatose Finland?

‘Hey, they attacked in ‘41, what’s going on here?’

Accessibility is similarly opposed to historical accuracy. Who would be willing to play a game about Operation Barbarossa that started with a few unit counters on either side? Would promises that more will arrive over time, once you get familiar with the game, be enough to placate players? Could they blitzkrieg their way into a near empty Mother Russia with a solitary Panzer Division?

I doubt it. They expect to see a full, historically correct, line up of Armies and Panzergruppes as well as access to the full suite of game mechanics right from the get go. Any dilution of the number of units or game mechanics that is done to ease players into the experience would be viewed as straight out historical heresy.

Hence my starfish war game model. You can have historical accuracy OR you can have replayability and accessibility. Of course you can move the slider to various points in between but in doing so you are compromising one element in favour of another.

Vic points out, rightly, that this isn’t necessarily so. An historical war game could still remain accessible to the general public if it featured a high level of automation. It could also have an extended time line that could offer divergent play and increased replayability.

It’s not cut and dried and I’m certainly no expert on the subject.

So does meant the end of the road for the grognard orientated Decisive Campaign series of games? No.

It can be quietly satisfying to create a detailed historical simulation. There is a definite market for these type of games however at this point we are thinking big picture and aren’t ruling anything in or out.

I’ll finish this with a few questions as we’d like to see what other people’s views on the subject are.

Cheers,
Cameron

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