Of different approaches to scenario design

Discussion and development of scenarios and campaigns for the game.

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zookeeper
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Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by zookeeper » May 5th, 2008, 2:05 pm

(I wasn't completely sure whether to put this here or in Game Development, but maybe this is better since I intended it to be a bit more Wesnoth-specific than it maybe appears)

Basically, we all know what an average Wesnoth campaign scenario is like: you start in a castle, you see where the enemy castles are, all sides mostly recruit units normally and there's no major scripted and unpredictable or hard to predict events occurring during the scenario which would warrant big changes in strategy mid-scenario (not counting unpredictable combat results, because it's predictable unpredictability).

However, some people seem to prefer creating scenarios which completely differ from this: two mainline examples (I'm sure there's plenty of others in UMC) would be Cliffs of Thoria (HttT) and The Long March (TSG). These kind of scenarios are pretty much completely focused on steady scripted enemy spawns providing the enemies to fight and often even having them work as full tomato surprises (enemies spawning within striking distance of the player), instead of just having normal enemy leaders in castles recruiting units, (mostly) getting their income from villages according to normal rules and the player generally being able to predict what they might be able to do.

Now, I'm not sure why that is. I personally prefer the standard scenario type and don't much enjoy the ones which use a lot of scripted enemy spawns and such, and I don't quite understand what is it that some people like in them. The fundamental difference which I see is that while the average standard scenario is basically winnable the first time you play it due to the fact that what the enemies might do remains predictable (because they work "according to the rules"), these other kind of scenarios are usually not: you don't know how the enemy spawns work, where or when they'll activate and thus you'll most likely end up having to replay the scenario several times before you understand how the mechanism works, after which you can work around it and win. On the first try you're prone to just moving a hero to some location which you have no reason to think of as dangerous (because there are no enemies nearby) and then suddenly getting some enemies to spawn right next to him and subsequently kill him. Just as an example; naturally small spawns and other unpredictable events can also simply slowly eat away at your economy or kill precious units and speed your defeat that way, instead of one single move making you lose.

Since I'm quite a game design and playability advocate myself, I do find this phenomena a bit puzzling. In my opinion, good game design means (among other things) that unless it's clearly a very luck-based game (a simple card game for instance) then whenever the player loses, he should always feel that he lost due to his own mistakes; that he could have reasonably been expected to do better. It is always frustrating when you lose even when you can't see how you could have prevented that no matter how smart or skillful you'd have played considering the information you had. For example, if you were playing an FPS, would you feel annoyed if you were crossing a bridge, and without any warning it'd just collapse, killing you? Of course you would, because there would have been no way for you to know that it'd happen. Would you feel as annoyed if the bridge had first started to creak and fall apart gradually, giving you a window of a couple of seconds to jump to safety? Probably not, because just by reacting in a reasonable time you could have saved yourself, so it was more your fault that you died than the game's fault.

If only newbies would create such scenarios then I'd probably just count it as them not really understanding what makes up good gameplay and thus making mistakes in design like that, but considering that people who have played and created content for Wesnoth for a long time apparently still don't mind it themselves. So I'd guess there's some fundamental difference in how people derive fun from games:

For me, I usually just want to plow through the game, see what there is to see, and generally have a good time experiencing what the game has to offer. I'm initially uninterested in micromanagement, trying to get a great score and all that, and generally playing "against the game". Although once I'm familiar enough with a game I well might try those things; for example playing shamans-only or something similar in Wesnoth. However, that always comes after I've played through the game in a normal fashion. Nasty surprises and having to learn things that you need to learn to stand a chance the hard way tend to be rather unpleasant for someone having this approach.

However, for some other people, it seems the main interest is in having a challenge set to them, and then not having to only beat the challenge, but also to work hard to discover how the challenge works exactly in the first place. And not minding if that means "unfair deaths" or otherwise having to replay the thing over and over again; if they step into a room with invisible poison gas of which they couldn't have known of and then immediately die, the response from this kind of gamer is more like "Heh, that's cool. Better not go there again I guess" instead of my "This is stupid, how the hell could I have known?".

Ironically enough, I think the nasty surprises and unexplained but vital to understand mechanics often (in Wesnoth; not sure about other games) seem to indeed be intended to give the player a "different kind of experience", something which naturally sounds more geared towards people having "my approach".

***

So...do you recognize yourself as belonging to this other group of gamers who don't mind a game seemingly unfairly screwing them over, and for whom the fun of playing games (or only some kinds of games?) comes more from treating the game as a challenge and then overcoming it, rather than from the experience itself that the gameplay and the game world present? Would you consider yourself a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer? Are there some relevant pros and cons to the two different approaches that I've missed?

(do note that I'm mostly only talking about single-player games and campaigns)

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Girgistian » May 5th, 2008, 2:45 pm

I agree with you about the surprises. Personally I prefer scenarios with something special instead of a regular game after another, because it brings some new elements to it and tells that the creator had some imagination and (possibly) fun while doing it. It also serves as a good refresher, and doesn't make the gameplay feel like you're just doing the same stuff over and over again, just with a different setting. Same [censored] in a different package. Special scripts and scenarios just have to be done correctly and - most preferrably - without unfair surprises that would ruin an otherwise good tactic. Things that might alter it in a way that wouldn't wreck the whole thing and could be reacted to without overwhelming difficulties are fine by me, but the sneaky unit-spawns and out-of-nowhere enemy reinforcements are sheer sadism from the scripter. If you can react to them or if they are warned about, however, then they're not as much of a pain in the ass.
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by zookeeper » May 5th, 2008, 3:12 pm

Girgistian wrote:I agree with you about the surprises. Personally I prefer scenarios with something special instead of a regular game after another, because it brings some new elements to it and tells that the creator had some imagination and (possibly) fun while doing it. It also serves as a good refresher, and doesn't make the gameplay feel like you're just doing the same stuff over and over again, just with a different setting. Same s*** in a different package.
Oh, I agree. I didn't mean that I'd prefer only having basically identical scenarios without any notable scripting and such. Surprises are indeed just fine as long as they're not potentially game-breaking; for example surprises that help the player are always nice.

Extra variety in gameplay can also be created by having different objectives and/or optional bonus objectives, making the player and enemies use units which give more tactical options, allowing the player's actions to affect alliances or other things or just giving the player advance warning about surprises (for example making the player wade through a forest littered with ambushing woses would be fine, as long as the player is aware of what he is up against; stumbling upon a wose wouldn't really be an unfair surprise).

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Blarumyrran » May 5th, 2008, 3:22 pm

pre-placed units in general are good for the atmosphere imo; they dont have to always be surprisey.

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by turin » May 5th, 2008, 10:07 pm

I basically agree about how annoying "tomatoes" are.
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Ratha Shadar » May 6th, 2008, 3:05 am

zookeeper wrote:So...do you recognize yourself as belonging to this other group of gamers who don't mind a game seemingly unfairly screwing them over, and for whom the fun of playing games (or only some kinds of games?) comes more from treating the game as a challenge and then overcoming it, rather than from the experience itself that the gameplay and the game world present? Would you consider yourself a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer? Are there some relevant pros and cons to the two different approaches that I've missed?
No. Neither. As far as I go, you could probably replace this whole game with a book. I'm in it for the story, and the story only. A choose your own adventure compendium of the mainline campaigns would do just fine for me.

Okay, maybe I appreciate the gameplay a little, and I think this is a wonderful story telling medium, but outside of that? Not really.

As far as the rest of your questions... you'll hate to hear this, but you're giving me ideas. Scenarios where more of the enemies soldiers just appear each turn? Yes! I'll do it! And then you have to reach each of the 'recruit' points and kill the place they appear too! Heh!

(The author of this post has gone mad with power. He appologizes for the temporary inconvenience, but would like to assure you that he is just being a devil's advocate in his own terribly messed up way.)
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Derekkk » May 6th, 2008, 3:34 am

For those 'tomatos'-rich scenarios, I think that it is in most cases obvious that there will be surprises. It's just that you don't know where and when the surprises will come. So in my opinion, this is a matter of risk-managing, i.e.To prepare youself against these risks. To a certain extent, this has the same benefit as the current hit&miss system. And what's more, in a well-designed scenario, the surprises should not be game-breaking anyway.

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Devrailis Colandore » May 6th, 2008, 2:25 pm

Ratha Shadar wrote:
zookeeper wrote:So...do you recognize yourself as belonging to this other group of gamers who don't mind a game seemingly unfairly screwing them over, and for whom the fun of playing games (or only some kinds of games?) comes more from treating the game as a challenge and then overcoming it, rather than from the experience itself that the gameplay and the game world present? Would you consider yourself a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer? Are there some relevant pros and cons to the two different approaches that I've missed?
No. Neither. As far as I go, you could probably replace this whole game with a book. I'm in it for the story, and the story only. A choose your own adventure compendium of the mainline campaigns would do just fine for me.

Okay, maybe I appreciate the gameplay a little, and I think this is a wonderful story telling medium, but outside of that? Not really.

As far as the rest of your questions... you'll hate to hear this, but you're giving me ideas. Scenarios where more of the enemies soldiers just appear each turn? Yes! I'll do it! And then you have to reach each of the 'recruit' points and kill the place they appear too! Heh!

(The author of this post has gone mad with power. He appologizes for the temporary inconvenience, but would like to assure you that he is just being a devil's advocate in his own terribly messed up way.)
I'd pretty much echo Ratha's response here. For me, gameplay isn't the only factor that I consider when I play a game like Wesnoth. I expect at least a certain level of interesting plot development in Wesnoth campaigns, otherwise I lose interest. For me, the incentive to playing a campaign is the plot, otherwise it would be nothing more than a sequence of multiplayer matches against the AI, and I have the multiplayer server for that. I find scenarios where you have a castle, they have a castle, and the battle dialogue is nothing more than a shouting match to be very dull. I remember reading on the wiki an entry on scenario design that criticized UtBS' use of the Tomato Surprise by turning Garak against you. But of all the moments in that campaign, I remember that one the most vividly. Yes, it wtfPWNed! me the first time I ran into it, but it was done so effectively as a plot-point that I didn't mind, I went back to play the scenario all over again to see what would happen next in the story, which for me trumped the fact that I had lost the game the first time around.

I find that marching through spawn events in sequence is very conducive to a linear style of story telling and it lets me pace the story, rather than restricting myself to throwing a mess of loud exposition at the start and end of the scenario. I will find it annoying if Tomato surprises kill me outright AND are used often, that would be irritating, but used in moderation, or used where it won't pose an immediate threat to the player if they play smart is fine with me.

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Geos » May 6th, 2008, 5:41 pm

As many are saying here, I guess it depends in how much you rely on story and how much on strategy. It is true that some tomato surprise are nasty, but, if done well, they add spice to the story, and when somebody is playing a campaign, I believe is more because of the story than because of the game. Personally, three "Defeat enemy leaders" scenarios and I feel bored.
Still, there are good tomatoes and bad tomatoes. I will illustrate this with an example

Example 1 (Bad)
In a scenario objectives change, one reached one point, or killed some enemy leader or whatever, the player has to cross back the map, with tones of foes suddenly appearing on the way back. So, the second time, the player just leaves the leader close to the run-back location, and when condition is matched, just moves and finishes in one turn

Example 2 (Good)
Same as before, but with two options. The objectives change event triggers ONLY if is performed by the same character that has to run away, so the trick will not work OR it is not just moving the leader back to the location, but all units left away will not be able for recruit.

It is true that, when making a campaign, is not that easy to design good tomatoes.
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by CarpeGuitarrem » May 6th, 2008, 5:47 pm

Derekkk wrote:For those 'tomatos'-rich scenarios, I think that it is in most cases obvious that there will be surprises. It's just that you don't know where and when the surprises will come. So in my opinion, this is a matter of risk-managing, i.e.To prepare youself against these risks. To a certain extent, this has the same benefit as the current hit&miss system. And what's more, in a well-designed scenario, the surprises should not be game-breaking anyway.
Exactly. The Long March was a good scenario, IMO, because it was interesting and challenging. The surprises kept me on my feet, and I came to expect them after a while. So I would bunch up my units, and finish off each bunch of enemy fighters before moving on. Scripted scenarios feel much more like an adventure to me, as opposed to battlefield scenarios, where I have to plan meticulously.
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Boucman » May 13th, 2008, 3:04 pm

I think it's important to understand where those scenarios come from, i.e what is the reasoning of the author when writing them.

the starting hypothesis (which I think is true) is that "normal" scenarios get boring after a time, and we need to break the pattern.

i.e : the usual
* recruit from a castle
* go beat the ennemies in other castles
* victory
is good because of predictability but is too repetitive.


So tomato scenarios try to break the pattern by forcing you to play differently. They do that by forcing you to move around to find your ennemies. Simply stating that you have to reach the exit and leaving a classical scenario would lead to players first beating ennemy leader to death, then moving on.

The only scenario I know that managed to do that correctly is the first one of HTTT, but it does it because the player has no recall, little army, and heavy support from AI teams.


I think we need to come up with more ways to break the pattern in mainline... a map with lots of "one keep one castle" block where recruiting would destroy the castle would force leader to move too,

Most people are like zookeeper and don't like tomatoes, but tomatoes are the best way we have found so far to break the pattern

I think we need more imagination in our scenarios to break the pattern, and tomatoes will disapear by themselves....
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by vicza » May 13th, 2008, 4:28 pm

Boucman wrote:Simply stating that you have to reach the exit and leaving a classical scenario would lead to players first beating ennemy leader to death, then moving on.

The only scenario I know that managed to do that correctly is the first one of HTTT
At least, in the same HTTT, also Ford of Abez and Home of the North Elves. Kill enemy leaders there is hardly possible, especially in the second one.

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by CarpeGuitarrem » May 13th, 2008, 6:46 pm

The Heist is a campaign that manages to play around with standard victory conditions, quite well. Although one or two scenarios there are rather frustrating to figure out, they're rather puzzles in their own right.
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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by Rhuvaen » May 18th, 2008, 12:03 am

The question probably is how to handle "hidden information" in some scenarios. There are always different layers of hidden information in scenarios:
  • 1. you don't know the exact recruit list and total gold of your enemies (true for all scenarios)
    2. fog will keep the info from 1. hidden longer
    3. shrouded maps hide the map the first time they're played
    4. random maps always have a different layout
    5. custom, event-driven surprises
So in a sense, there is always some information hidden from the player.

I like scenarios where as a player I am allowed to estimate the terrain and opposition and make a plan of where to move, which locations to choose for the battle, etc. And then watch the dynamics of the scenario unfold - either making my plans come to fruition, or making me run to a different spot and improvise. These scenarios need some things for certain: a well designed map and balanced AI settings.

Sadly, many scenarios have roads from the starting keep leading right up to the logical place to fight, with little room for maneuvering or spreading along several fronts. Also, the AI is sooo predictable when it comes to moving that there is often little room for surprise (it usually can be baited and lured from any position). Finally, the campaign dynamics themselves mean that either I have enough gold to completely overwhelm the opposition in time for a nice bonus on top of whatever I already have, or I will struggle to make it in time, losing valuable units and getting closer to hitting the starting gold gutter.

To avoid players getting too much into the comfort zone regarding gold and recall lists there are scenarios where the player can't recall, where they can't recruit, where they have such limited time that they can't spend all their gold, or where they lose all their gold on upkeep. However, all of these are rather on a meta-level and inexplicable to the player (who finds it natural that a keep grows wherever his leader goes, so why not in this scenario? Time limits are also one of the most often mentioned causes of complaint). These things never get mentioned in the story. Of all these, the time limit (coupled closely with the map design) is probably the strongest design aspect in driving a player towards strategies that are more uncomfortable to him than just battling it out with the AI on his own terms.

Compared to the meta-aspects of time limit, hidden information and surprises just melt into the story. I mean, yes, a time limit can be worked into a story (think Blackwater Port in HttT or Clearwater Port in TRoW), but I still find it odd that I'm battling the orcs near their headquarters on one turn, then suddenly board ship the other. ;)


Of all hidden information aspects, I dislike those the most that make me gasp in surprise and pain the first time through the scenario, and then let me effortlessly pass it on a second run when I know what I'm supposed to be doing. This really leaves me with an empty feeling where there would otherwise have been a strategic achievement. The worst offender here is probably the original version of Dwarven Doors (although it had other aspects that made it strategic). But really, any shrouded map is a bit like this. The sense of exploration sadly wears thin quickly. Some map randomization really helps here.

The one place where I find full-tomato surprises legitimate is when they convey plot twists. The assassin in UtbS seems fitting for the role he plays, for instance. The campaign feels more lifelike if the story twists happen during the scenario rather than just the scenario intro and end dialogue. I don't even mind re-playing those story-driving events.

I found the Long March incredibly annoying when I first played it. The fact that I was prompted to walk into an ambush both by the story and the red crossed-sword marker made me feel stupid. I mean, I knew there was this ambush waiting for me, and exactly where it was, yet I had to go there and trigger it... of course I could prepare to meet the ambush, but that felt like cheating :roll:. Then there was the fact that if my men didn't entirely trust Afalas, and if he was leading me into ambush after ambush, why would I be trusting him? It all made little sense.

With the random ambushes, you cannot restart the scenario and just repeat the moves and expect the exact same behavior again, and any unit can trigger the ambushes.


To make this short: hidden information = an interesting component in scenario design. But hidden information that you have to pretend you don't know already = :augh:

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Re: Of different approaches to scenario design

Post by CarpeGuitarrem » May 18th, 2008, 4:04 am

Playing through the mini-Ooze campaign, the final battle has a number of tomato surprises...but except for the last, they add to the feel of a chaotic battle. The enemy just keeps coming, and they toss curveballs at you to keep you on your feet. I kinda like it.
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