Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

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Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by iceiceice » September 30th, 2016, 5:44 am

While spectating one of the International Wesnoth Tournament games, there were a number of things that occurred to me in regards to how we can make the timer work better. A small discussion took place among observers there.

Here are my thoughts. Note that there are probably two or three independent development ideas here.

1.) The current timer features are not that useful and should perhaps be reworked.

The "per-action" time bonus has a flawed design:

- It has a tendency to penalize the defender, who may have to think just as hard about a potential fight that is brewing, but doesn't need to reposition as many units if he is not advancing a whole line forward or something.
- It can be exploited or gamed -- if you didn't get all possible action bonus in a turn, but you are ready to end turn, you can get the rest of the bonus by twiddling your units back and forth pointlessly. I am told that more experienced players have figured out that they should do this always if they didn't hit the action bonus cap yet, to ensure they start the next turn with maximum possible timer. A better designed system would give the player any bonus they could get for free by tediously twiddling units around.
- If the system is not understood by all the players, it gives the more experienced ones an advantage. It would be better if the system were simpler.

On the other hand if you play with a flat timer, 5 minutes per turn, or 10 minutes per turn, say, there are still problems.

- Five minutes per turn is fairly harsh. It often happens in wesnoth that people need to tend to some other business or take a bathroom break or something. If you play with a 5 minute timer, and you miss 2 or 3 of your minutes, your turn is ruined -- usually once you have twenty units or so, it isn't even possible physically to click on all your units and actually execute a bunch of attacks in less than a minute, and you can't hope to do it in the strategically best way that you would want to in less than two minutes.
- At the same time, something like ten minutes per turn is pretty lax. The majority of your turns really should be performed in less than five minutes.
- I don't think this is really like a goldilocks issue, of getting the timers "just right", I think actually, there is no "just right" here. You want a system that usually requires you to make your moves quickly, but occasionally allows you to take extra time.

2.) Another aspect of the issue is that if players have much more time than they need, they will often use it if they can do so at no penalty.

- One thing a player can do is, even if they have no intention to attack in this turn or the next, spend an extra three minutes on their turn, just to make the opponent think they are thinking about attacking. If you end your turn too fast, your opponent may conclude that you aren't planning any surprises. If you take your time they may be much more careful in their positioning in the next turn.
- Also, it may be good to put your opponent "on ice". Many players are quite cautious by nature -- even if they have you on the back foot, you can essentially try to intimidate them by holding your turn a long time and then positioning your units very deliberately.

I think it would lead to a better multiplayer experience if players were somehow encouraged not to waste time if they can avoid it, or if they had to pay for it in some small way.

- One idea would be to make it work sort of like gold works in wesnoth campaigns. Say, you get 4 minutes per turn, plus 40% of what your timer was at end of last turn.
- With a system like that, you have an incentive to end turns quickly, so you can "bank" your time.
- But you can't actually bank an arbirarily large timer this way. Once 4 minutes is less than 60% of your timer, you are going to have a smaller timer the next round no matter what. So it will only oscillate between like 4 and 7 minutes or so.
- The baseline and percent could be adjusted.

3.) Another idea has to do with, what should the penalty be for running out of time.

- The current rule is pretty harsh -- if you run out of time, you lose, game is over. This is actually pretty unsatisfying for all parties if it happens.
- A different possible consequence could be, you may continue to play, but at a small disadvantage.
- One possible mechanism that I like: You get five minutes to make your turn, and you can exceed this, but if you do, your luck will be mechanically and ever so slightly worse for the rest of the turn and the next turn. Specifically -- every unit of yours will have 0.5% worse defense everywhere, and every unit of your opponent's will have 0.5% better defense. Thus whether you are attacking or defending, you will be affected by the penalty. The penalty would be applied once for every minute over the limit, let's say.
- The benefit of a system like this is that, on the one hand, it sounds very draconian to a wesnoth player. Wesnoth is a game where a large part of the strategy exists between 40%, 50%, 60%, etc., so getting your odds shifted like this sounds devastating. But on the other hand, if you think about it, such a penalty is not very likely to noticeably affect the game. Suppose I have a large army, with twenty units -- let's assume they have an average of three strikes. If all of them attack, that is 60 strikes. The expected number of strikes whose random number falls in a 0.5% window, is 60/200, between 1/3 and 1/4. So in fact, the most likely outcome is that not a single strike changes from hit to miss as a result of this penalty -- only about 1/3 or 1/4 of the time, a single strike will change from hit to miss or vice versa. Sometimes a single strike changes the outcome of the game, if it causes a line to break or a mage to be killed etc., but only some of the strikes in a large battle are consequential this way.
- So In most games, even if someone runs over the timer, the game won't be ruined, and may only be barely changed. But because of how human psychology works, the players will try hard to avoid the penalty. A flip side is also that it makes the opponent happy when they run over the time, instead of being bored / annoyed -- for every extra minute that their opponent takes, instead of being "iced", they know that the odds are being tilted in their favor.
- It basically establishes a cost for running over the timer which is sensible in terms of the game. If you spend an extra minute beyond the timer, then you may think that one strike in the next round will change from hit to miss against you or vice versa. If the extra thinking is not helping you more than that, then you should definitely end your turn.

I guess I view that as a separate thing from the "carryover" timer, I'm envisioning just a flat timer, with a penalty for exceeding it. You could try to combine them, but it would get more confusing.

I'm not sure if the 0.5% should be explicit in all of the damage calculation screens, or just silently applied. It will add some "noise" when you are making your turns if all of these odds are shifted slightly -- normally I guess you don't want the players to think about this. At the same time, people rely on those screens being accurate, so maybe it's a bad precedent to set if some factors like this aren't displayed. (That being said, I think the screen is not currently accurate to 0.5% levels anyways. It will be in Wesnoth 1.14 when the rng implementation switches to mt19937. There were some emails about this on wesnoth-dev mailing list some years ago.)

3.) In regards to timers, and more generally, the game configuration settings:

There should be an easier way to inspect, after the scenario has started, what the settings were after the fact. There is already an mp configuration settings screen, but we need a way to see what were the settings, now that we are in the game. This would help to make sure that tournament games were configured correctly, it would help people who are making add-ons who are troubleshooting weird mp behavior, and it would help people to collect info for bug reports.

For that matter, for campaigns, there needs to be a way to inspect what the carryover units were, when the game was set up. Sometimes there are bugs where carryover units get lost or mangled somehow. Often associated to mp campaigns that I've played. If there were a screen like this it might make some of these bugs more tractable to try to solve. Right now when it happens, it's anyones guess whether the problem happened when the old scenario ended, when the new scenario started, somewhere in between... If there were a debug-mode menu to look at this stuff I think it would be helpful.

---

I would like to solicit thoughts from players and developers on any of this. I might potentially be motivated to implement some or others of these, depending on reception.

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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by zookeeper » September 30th, 2016, 9:20 am

The current timer settings are pretty intimidating and confusing for someone who isn't familiar with them, such as myself, so I might be missing something.

One of the main source of confusion has surely been that the timer settings had no tooltips to explain what they actually do, which is inexcusable. The new experimental MP interface does have them though, so I presume the lack of tooltips was simply a GUI1 limitation. Still, even with the tooltips, it's still utterly unclear how it works.
iceiceice wrote:2.) Another aspect of the issue is that if players have much more time than they need, they will often use it if they can do so at no penalty.

- One thing a player can do is, even if they have no intention to attack in this turn or the next, spend an extra three minutes on their turn, just to make the opponent think they are thinking about attacking. If you end your turn too fast, your opponent may conclude that you aren't planning any surprises. If you take your time they may be much more careful in their positioning in the next turn.
- Also, it may be good to put your opponent "on ice". Many players are quite cautious by nature -- even if they have you on the back foot, you can essentially try to intimidate them by holding your turn a long time and then positioning your units very deliberately.

I think it would lead to a better multiplayer experience if players were somehow encouraged not to waste time if they can avoid it, or if they had to pay for it in some small way.
Doesn't the reservoir already mean that if you exhaust the timer on a turn, you'll have less time next turn? Not that I know how exactly it works.
iceiceice wrote:- One idea would be to make it work sort of like gold works in wesnoth campaigns. Say, you get 4 minutes per turn, plus 40% of what your timer was at end of last turn.
- With a system like that, you have an incentive to end turns quickly, so you can "bank" your time.
- But you can't actually bank an arbirarily large timer this way. Once 4 minutes is less than 60% of your timer, you are going to have a smaller timer the next round no matter what. So it will only oscillate between like 4 and 7 minutes or so.
- The baseline and percent could be adjusted.
Seems like a pretty simple and nice system.

Would there still be need for some time bonus based on for example the number of units, though? You might want 4 minutes when you're in the thick of battle, but 4 minutes would probably usually be excessive for the first couple of turns. You shouldn't receive more time based on how many units you have since that would favor spamming cheap units, but maybe it could be a function of how many units there are on the board in total? Whether that would allow a perceptive player to look at the timer and deduce something about their opponent's units still hidden in fog, I don't know. Anyway, I'm not sure if that would be necessary since you'd still be incentivized to end turns quickly in the beginning in order to bank some time.

Possible alternative: you get X seconds per turn, and you have an extra reservoir of max Y seconds that starts empty but which you can "fill" by ending turns early. Well, maybe that's how the current reservoir works? Who knows, since it doesn't say.
iceiceice wrote:3.) Another idea has to do with, what should the penalty be for running out of time.

- The current rule is pretty harsh -- if you run out of time, you lose, game is over. This is actually pretty unsatisfying for all parties if it happens.
If you run out of time, your turn just ends, right? Surely that could mean game over in many situations if your units are left exposed because of it, but I can't tell if that's what you're referring to or whether you're saying you literally lose immediately, which certainly isn't or at least shouldn't be the case.

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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by iceiceice » September 30th, 2016, 3:10 pm

zookeeper wrote: If you run out of time, your turn just ends, right?
You're right, I just misremembered exactly what happens.

But it's still often game ending. If your turn ends up with, you attack with half your army, and those guys get zocced or whatnot, it's probably the end for you. If you already attacked with your leader, and can't cover her up now, it's probably over. Sometimes, if you can't recruit at the proper time, it means a scout runs rampant through your villages or something.

But yeah it's not actually instant game over, at least I've never seen that.

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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by beetlenaut » September 30th, 2016, 3:15 pm

iceiceice wrote:You want a system that usually requires you to make your moves quickly, but occasionally allows you to take extra time.
Is there any reason why the timer shouldn't work like a chess clock? Each player gets a time bank for the whole game, with a small bonus added at the start of each turn*. That does exactly what you said. The only objection I can see is that nobody knows how many turns the game will last. That's OK though, you just add some time after a certain number of turns (also like a chess clock). For example, you get a 60 minute time bank at the start, and then at move 20, everyone gets 15 minutes added to their clocks, and another 15 minutes every 5 moves after that. (I don't play a lot of multiplayer, so these numbers might be totally wrong, but you get the idea.) The times should be implemented as percentages of each other though, so one slider could change the number of minutes for all the turn blocks at once. There could also be map settings or more complicated time blocks. (A common chess timing is: two hours at the beginning, one hour added at the 40 move mark, and a half hour added at move 60, with a 5-second turn bonus.)

* The bonus is intended to give you enough time to physically move the units, but not enough time to do any actual thinking. That's what the time bank is for. I would guess the bonus should be three or four seconds per owned unit on the map. When your time bank is down to zero, you only have the small bonus each turn. When that reaches zero too, your turn ends immediately. You don't lose though, and when the next time addition arrives, you have some breathing room again.

Edit: Ending your turn might be game ending, but the justification comes from the fact that you have spent more time thinking than your opponent. If you are ahead, that may be why, and if you are even, you are the worse player because you needed to think more to keep up. Also, when you only have your turn bonus left, you need to prioritize your moves to try to hang on. That's part of the game.
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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by zookeeper » September 30th, 2016, 6:19 pm

iceiceice wrote:You're right, I just misremembered exactly what happens.

But it's still often game ending. If your turn ends up with, you attack with half your army, and those guys get zocced or whatnot, it's probably the end for you. If you already attacked with your leader, and can't cover her up now, it's probably over. Sometimes, if you can't recruit at the proper time, it means a scout runs rampant through your villages or something.

But yeah it's not actually instant game over, at least I've never seen that.
Sure, you're probably screwed if you don't have time to finish all your moves. I'd argue however that it should remain that way; the idea that the timer tells you how much time you have is incredibly simple and intuitive, and you constantly see how much time you have so it's really only your own fault if you run out. There could be some kind of system where, for example, you can exceed the timer by 1/4 but that extra time is then deducted from your next turn's timer, but letting the timer have any effect on the gameplay mechanics seems extremely fishy to me.

When the problem is that you have X seconds to perform Y moves and you have to figure out how long you can afford to spend thinking about each one, then that's the kind of thing humans seem to be pretty good at (or at least they learn it very quickly on their own), so I'm inclined to think that what helps the player most is keeping the problem simple and intuitive so they don't have to consciously contemplate it. In this case I can see the interface being a bit of an impediment, though. It might be hard to assess how long you might be stuck watching animations when you're rushing to do your final moves before time runs out, especially if you forgot that one of them involves an Ulfserker. Something to suggest the use of substantial acceleration when the timer is used might be a good idea.

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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by beetlenaut » September 30th, 2016, 6:34 pm

zookeeper wrote:Something to suggest the use of substantial acceleration when the timer is used might be a good idea.
Even better would be a system that automatically accelerates as you get close to the time running out. It could double every 45 seconds or so during the last two or three minutes of your time. Assuming you weren't playing with 16x already, it would be a nice, visual reminder of time running out, or of having just been added, without you having to look at the clock. It's also quite natural that your units would panic as the time counted down.
beetlenaut wrote:it's really only your own fault if you run out....but letting the timer have any effect on the gameplay mechanics seems extremely fishy to me.
Yeah.
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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by iceiceice » September 30th, 2016, 8:38 pm

zookeeper wrote: Would there still be need for some time bonus based on for example the number of units, though? You might want 4 minutes when you're in the thick of battle, but 4 minutes would probably usually be excessive for the first couple of turns. You shouldn't receive more time based on how many units you have since that would favor spamming cheap units, but maybe it could be a function of how many units there are on the board in total?
So, this is a good point.

In principle yeah it could be a problem, and you might want the timer system to account for how many units you have.

My belief from playiing, is that usually, the size of the map / which map you play, basically determines the size of the armies for most of the game. On the kinds of maps that people currently play, the players don't camp endlessly and there's usually a major engagement in the first 12 - 18 turns. There's only so big the army can be at that point. If you want to play on Arcenclave Citadel, then you should set a longer timer, because yeah you have a lot more gold, the map is huge and the armies are much bigger. Most maps of size similar to e.g. CotB, Weldyn Channel, Elensefar Courtyard, can have similar timers.

So, I think you can usually just tune the timer settings for map size rather than have a setting that tracks instantaneous size of army or something. But that might be a good idea for a setting.
zookeeper wrote: Whether that would allow a perceptive player to look at the timer and deduce something about their opponent's units still hidden in fog, I don't know.
I believe that you basically can't see your opponent's timer in the current system.
Spoiler:
So I don't think you need to worry too much right now about timers indicating units hidden under fog. But it is a pretty good point, I could certainly see how in some very campy, banking games, one player will realize the other player has started to spam units by seeing their timer value change.
beetlenaut wrote: Is there any reason why the timer shouldn't work like a chess clock?
Yeah, I guess that's the same as setting the carryover to 100%. The thing is that, I think, you'll probably end up accumulating huge time reserves, because the moves that require more time are relatively infrequent. It might be better to have there be a built in maximum, not sure.
zookeeper wrote: Doesn't the reservoir already mean that if you exhaust the timer on a turn, you'll have less time next turn? Not that I know how exactly it works.
If I understand the way it works right now:

- Reservior = Current time on your clock
- Turn bonus = Amount of additional time you get on each turn start.
- Action bonus = Amount of additional time you get for ordering a single action. * Edit: I was wrong, you only get a bonus for attack, recruit, and capture, apparently, according to the tooltip.
- Maximum = Max reservior size
- Initial = How much you start with.

The two things I proposed wrt to timer settings I guess are:

- Carryover % = Amount of reservoir that gets carried over to next turn.
- Luck penalty = An option which causes luck penalty when the timer is exceeded.

And I guess I propose to change:
- Remove action bonus?
- Remove initial timer, making it the same as turn bonus?
- Or, relegate these to some "advanced" panel or something to reduce clutter?

From looking in 1.12.5 settings:
- It doesn't appear to be possible to set the maximum reservoir size to infinite. That is unfortunate. If we could do that, then we could already configure it to work similarly to the way that Beetlenaut suggested, where you get a fixed bonus each turn, and any leftover carries to the next turn.


Zookeeper wrote: Edit: Ending your turn might be game ending, but the justification comes from the fact that you have spent more time thinking than your opponent. If you are ahead, that may be why, and if you are even, you are the worse player because you needed to think more to keep up. Also, when you only have your turn bonus left, you need to prioritize your moves to try to hang on. That's part of the game.
Yeah, so in a tournament, or a competitive context, I can see why basically making one of the competitors lose instantly when they run out of time makes sense. If you want to have a strict rule and people getting disqualified if they take too long, then that's the appropriate outcome for the game.

But, the timer is also sometimes used in more casual settings. Like, oftentimes people will play casual 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 on the server. Many of them simply don't play with a timer because they don't want to deal with it and just hope that they don't get someone who is really slow. But, a lot of players don't enjoy that and want to use a timer when they play with strangers.

The problem is that basically, running out of time is so devastating that it ends the game. Even if it does mean the player is worse, when someone gets their turn ended half way through, usually they just concede and leave immediately, and even if there is an observer that would want to continue the game, you can't easily change it back to the state before their turn was ended. In many cases if the game was really good right up to that point, the competitors may want to allow it to proceed, and forgive the timer violation somehow, and see how the big fight was going to turn out. They are just playing for fun, they only have the timer because it improves the play experience if people *actually do* move in a timely fashion.

The luck penalty is more in line with these kind of players. It seems like its almost as bad as having your turn ended prematurely, but in reality, the game can often proceed just fine even if it happens. The important thing is that the players try hard to avoid the penalty, not that it is actually game-endingly serious.

Basically what you want for casual play is some mechanism which tries to get people to move fast, but is otherwise benign. A lot of people aren't willing to play a casual game with a timer, they just get stressed out by it and their play deteriorates. I think it's desirable to think of some sort of "soft" penalty for violating the timer. Maybe not the luck penalty, but some sort of game-related mechanic which is less dramatic than ending the turn prematurely.

Edit: I guess one thing you could do is make it gold based. Like, you lose 1 gold per minute that you exceed the timer, or something like this. And your bank account will go negative if you have no gold.

A drawback of gold-based is that, in some multiplayer games, a player will concede all their villages and go on a suicidal death push toward the other leader. Or, in a 2 v 2 game, one side will adopt the "loyal army" strategy, by recruiting a normal sized army, then giving all of their villages to their ally. Then their bank account will go wildly negative, but their ally can recruit extra units and together they overpower the enemy.

In this case, if the side with no villages exceeds the timer they effectively don't have a penalty. But this is really a larger design issue (flaw?) in wesnoth game mechanics, independent of timer system. :whistle:

Edit: Instead of you lose one gold, it's probably better to say, your opponents gain one gold. This way, your gold is not changing during a turn, and it slightly sidesteps the issue of what if you have no villages anyways. If neither of your opponents have any villages then usually it means you are winning by a lot and don't particularly need any benefit of taking long turns in order to win.

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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by Jarom » October 2nd, 2016, 6:12 am

I'm currently playing in IWT and I can share my experience with timer:
- I always has as much time as I need
- Games lasts about 30 turns and 1,5 hour, like in chess.
- It's impossible to do any break, so I need to have food prepared before and 2 hours protected from any distraction
- Peoples sometimes do their moves and then do nothing for about 2 minutes. I don't know what causes it, I try to be laid back and ignore it on tournaments, but other times it's annoying.

What I want to change is:
- Add "Break" option. It blocks scrolling and all actions, but gives you 5 or more minutes to go to the bathroom or somewhere you need. Can be used limited times in one game (configurable from options screen and default should be from 1 to 3). Opponent is announced then, and has a screen with checkbox or something similar that can be checked/unchecked any time and can force enemy break to last for 5 minutes (if you want to spend this time more effectively than waiting) or let him end it any time (if you want to start as quick as possible). I though also about special timer replacing the feature above, that works like "Break" but the time you can use is counted just like normal timer, with 100% carryover and turn bonus, but I think event if we limit entering break timer to once per your turn, it will be used to annoy opponents.
-Add a feature that can be turned off, that if all units except leader has no movement remaining, then timer is set to 20 seconds, if leader has no movement too, it ends turn after 5 seconds, if all units have moved (leader not counted) then sets to 45. Also, if left timer is less than value it may be set to, it won't change.

Carryover will be good. I don't like the idea that there should be any other results of hitting the timer than end of turn. I don't know how exactly action bonus works, but I think if it is like iceiceice said in previous post, it should remain the same. Initial timer makes the game more configurable and eventually allows beetlenaut system to work (but not with current cap).

Also, we need settings sets. Timer is what needs it most, because when you play in many systems (ladder, tournaments, with friends and for testing add-ons) changing every setting is annoying. Other options aren't changing so much, and you have "Use map settings" that is used for constest systems. Giving games a name needs improvement too, but it's another topic.

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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by Gravellu » October 2nd, 2016, 1:12 pm

beetlenaut wrote: Is there any reason why the timer shouldn't work like a chess clock? Each player gets a time bank for the whole game, with a small bonus added at the start of each turn
I think the best solution: it enables everyone to better manage their time and also to "get up from the board" for short breaks.
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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by Sapient » January 23rd, 2017, 12:38 pm

beetlenaut wrote: Is there any reason why the timer shouldn't work like a chess clock? Each player gets a time bank for the whole game, with a small bonus added at the start of each turn
The current design was based upon the chess clock idea. So... not sure what you are trying to say there. Also, allow me to explain again the reason for adding the action bonus:

Wesnoth has so many possibilities other than just 1v1 tournaments on standard maps. One possibility which can occur is where you are playing a 2v2 or 3v3 and your allies' army is crushed, but you are able to claim a large enough amount of territory so that the overall game is still even. However, without the action bonus, you would then be unable to complete all your moves, because the timer is not adjusting to compensate for the fact that you are now controlling a much larger army than anyone else.

Needless to say, there is no parallel to the above situation in chess.

As you may have guessed, the reason the action bonus is only granted on attack, recruit, or capture is of course to prevent timer abuse such as spawning lots of cheap units or moving units back and forth needlessly.

Here's my reaction to some of the other ideas in this thread:

Carryover % - this sounds like a really interesting idea. Of course you can always set a limit instead (and I think there should always be a limit. Who wants to wait for infinity?) But if there is a problem with the reservoir getting too big, too quickly, then this is a possible solution. Alternatively, you could set it above 100% and give players a low initial amount of time and they can build up their reservoir to the limit more quickly. Downside is, it is confusing. If people can't understand the action bonus after all these years how will they understand this?

Luck penalty- this sounds like a horrible idea... timer affecting gameplay. just no.

Automatic loss- I guess if the turn bonus is zero and the timer reaches zero then it makes sense. Otherwise, no. Let them resign manually if they feel it is unwinnable.

Taking a Break feature- It seems like a nice thing to have, maybe even a necessity if the game is going to be multiple hours long. But it depends on how the feature is implemented. I would prefer if the number and duration of breaks is predetermined. E.G. after X minutes, when the turn ends we will all take a break N minutes long. Perhaps there should also be a way for all the players to then waive their right to a break, if, for example, they are really near the end of the game.

Unit acceleration- I rather control this myself, rather than the game getting cute about it. There is already a shortcut for accelerated mode.
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Re: Multiplayer Timer Settings, and more (!)

Post by Zap-Zarap » February 11th, 2017, 5:27 am

Why not simply give the host of a game a server command to add some amount of seconds to any players timer? That would help in the case of a network lag or a restroom break. If using the command would be announced in a message to all players, misuse would be impossible.
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