Post Mortem: TerraTanks: Dominion (Part 3) What I did well

This post was surprisingly hard to do. As much as I would like to think I can be a pompous jerk (because they are the ones that get what they want at the expense of others) I am a pretty nice and humble guy. It took me a while to formulate what it was I did well in TerraTanks.

Be very communicative with your player base:

You are definitely not going to get everything right the first time. It is frustrating when the simulation that you run in your head about how fun something is going to be is not how the users end up using it. Make sure they have channels to tell you what they don’t like. In my case I wrote a form that goes on the bottom of all of my pages so the user can post a comment to me. Their comment is stored in my database with their identifier so that I can talk to them in game. I also made a built in reward system so that I could give people things for pointing out my mistakes. A complaining user is so much more valuable than a quitting user. Treat them like a valuable member of your project.

Listen to your players frustrations but remember that you are the game’s architect. Don’t implement a feature just because a user wants it. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in a class about Quality was that the end user, most likely, will not tell you what THE problem is, they will tell you what THEIR problem is. You are the expert of your game and you need to make sure that you are alleviating the pain of the end user while not throwing off the game or compromising what the experience is supposed to be about. A great example of this is that when people started playing the game they were confused about what to do or how to do things and they would ask me specific questions. “Do I need a surveyor to survey a planet before I build? How do I get units from my highliner to the planet?” I asked if the tutorial that I force everyone to go through did not explain it well and usually they just said that they skipped through it and tried to start playing. Throwing up my hands and saying “well it is your fault for not reading the tutorial” is actually not the correct answer. Instead I made a series of video tutorials for the game.

Another way I made communication easier was to include a forum in the game. I am using phpBB, but I integrated it directly into the game by creating the forum account when the user’s game account is created.

Games are interesting when they make sense:

One of the things I strived for when building TerraTanks was that if something happened to you that was unexpected, it would at least make sense. The simple visual presentation belies the depth of cause and effect that goes on in the game. Here are some examples of what I am most proud of:

  • In order to find out about enemy locations to attack them you have to use your spies. To keep with the global management theme, you just have one ’spy level’ that is used for your character. When you spy on someone the game compares your spy level with their spy level and you are given spy report based on how you compare. The spy level is only based on how much you are willing to pay in gold every day so while larger players should have a better spy level, they need to play it correctly to do so.
    When you get your spy report on a player, you will find out about all buildings that exist a set distance away from your closest base for every week the building has been around. So if the distance is 25 for every week I will see buildings that are 50 distance if they are 2 weeks old.
    While this system seems complicated, it expands the strategy of the game. New players are harder to find and attack giving them natural setup protection. Building a base in enemy territory becomes a good strategy for scouting. It gives you a reason to keep expanding in new places. It balances old big players with new small players. It makes sense that it would take a while for your spy network to find a newly populated planet.
  • Combat is designed to play out more realistically. There are bonuses for different combinations of units that you use. For instance, the APC (armored personnel carrier) will make your foot soldiers and sappers harder to kill. If you have Scout tanks and Behemoth tanks, the scouts will act as spotters and you will destroy more tanks during that attack. Also, battles go more quickly if the forces are lopsided. If you go in with an even number of troops, you will have to slog out several attacks with fewer troops dying on each side. The attacker is charged action points for each attack and he would probably want to use those points on other things. Lopsided battles are over quickly and produce many more casualties on both sides.
  • Actions in game frequently require the use of action points. You acquire one action point after some set period of time. It makes sense that as your empire expands it would take longer for you to do things. The refresh rate goes from 15 minutes when you have nothing to 1 hour when your empire is very sizable. This helps new players get set up more quickly.
  • Bases are the central hub of your civilization. You put a base on a planet and you can have things up and running very rapidly. As you build on planets further from the base things cost more and take longer to build. This is a common strategy in games but it made sense to the story of the game.
  • Moving your ships around in system takes 10 minutes of real time. Systems are spaced 1 hour apart from each other. When thinking about space, solar systems are pretty densely packed when compared to distance from one system to the next.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this post-mortem. I would love for you to come and try out my game and let me know what you think!

Wish there was more?

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Jake is a games nut. He flips out and makes games without even thinking twice about it. He is good at rulesets, balancing (games, not on a beam you idiot), and knows things about coding. Like all mammals, Jake likes board and video games and makes both (like Jake constantly fights his arch enemy Sarcastro and hopes knowledge of his weakness, visual design, never falls into the wrong hands.

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 balancing, combat, design, postmortem, terratanks
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Building Browsergames is a blog about browsergames(also known as PBBG's). It's geared towards the beginner to intermediate developer who has an interest in building their own browsergame.


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