Saturday, May 13, 2006


I mentioned that I don't like playing real time strategy games competitively. The reason for that is simple enough that it makes a good essay just before going to bed.

I play a lot of games. And most of those games, I don't mind playing competitively. However, tactical and strategy games I don't like playing competitively, even though I enjoy them hugely single-player.

The reason is simple: positive feedback loops. This is basic game design - if you already know what I mean, you can skip the rest of this essay. It's review. There may be a quiz tomorrow.

The problem with tactical games - whether real-time or turn-based - is that once you start to lose, you tend to lose more. This means that any tiny little skill difference between the players is magnified a hundredfold. That first tiny little advantage turns into a second, not so tiny advantage. Then to a significant advantage, then a large advantage, then you die.

This positive feedback loop is pretty much universal in tactical games, and it means that once you start to lose, the next hour is spent just watching yourself lose. How exciting!

This is especially irritating to me, since in tactical games I am the Gozar the Constructor. I'm not really interested in the warfare side of the game, in all honesty. My version of warfare is "build a ton of units after I've finished creating enough infrastructure to reach Mars with stacked cash."

So I invest all my resources into architecture. If Anna loses fifty mechanical spiders in an attack, she shrugs her shoulders and builds more. But if my base is damaged, it amplifies the positive feedback loop: every building destroyed makes it more difficult for me to recover.

Rise of Legends has an economic victory mode: if you trade with the neutral structures enough, they join you without being conquered. I enjoy that option, but it doesn't change the basic fact that my base-centric design amplifies an already deadly positive feedback loop.

So, no competitive play.


Patrick Dugan said...

I feel the same way and have the same base-building style in RTS games.

I think if you're going to do tactical RTS competetive play, you should do it with a finite number of units. Eliminate the resource game and focus on the tactics and strategy. Myth had wonderful multiplayer for this reason, and the RoN mod I played worked the same way, it was great fun.

Craig Perko said...

That doesn't stop the feedback loop: it just turns it from being base-heavy to being unit-heavy.

If it got easier to do stealth-related things as you lost more men, or if your men got steadily more powerful as they grew more desperate, that would add a useful negative feedback loop. :)