Tags are Magic

I was going through some playtester comments, one of which noted that diplomacy-related magic wasn’t as useful as it might be. So I did a quick review of the four blessings that seemed like they would relate to diplomacy. And while I’m not sure I was looking for exactly what was reported, it did seem like they could be more important.

Understanding: Helps our dealing with foreignersI’ve mentioned before that scene tags have been very useful. One of the diplomacy-related blessings is called “Understanding.” It’s implemented as

+1 in scenes tagged @foreigners

Diplomatic missions can be sent to a variety of people, so scripts like news_GiveGifts (which reports on simple gift-giving) can’t simply have the tag. But tags can be dynamically added, so making the magic more broadly useful was a matter of

RemoveSceneTag(ThisScene, "@*")    # Any previous dynamic tags
[otherClan.culture = 'other] AddSceneTag(ThisScene, "@foreigners")

Even though it takes two lines of OSL, I like this better than something like

[HasBlessing(ourClan, "Silvertongue")] b += 1

(which another blessing needed) because it affects the entire script, rather than just a specific branch.

The game makes extensive use of tags. The scene compiler uses a few to make sure scripts with very particular conditions are triggered from a single spot. Unit testing uses ten tags so it can set up the right context for running scripts. The UI code checks for tags that determine that a scene needs special elements like a text field. And there are over 100 tags that help categorize scripts, including whether magic applies to them.

Tutorial

One of my goals was to make sure the game had a better tutorial than King of Dragon Pass. Its tutorial was fairly brittle — it was too easy to get off track.

Tip about emissariesWe came up with a different approach, which worked fairly well for explaining all the parts of the game. When you first visit the Relations screen, you get a note explaining it (and to avoid a giant info dump, get more information the next time). There are no exact steps to follow, so the tutorial can’t get confused. And you can learn about a dialog when you get to it, instead of trying to learn everything in a short period. Our playtesters all seemed to like how it worked.

But our playtesters tended to be self-selected as having played King of Dragon Pass. When I added another QA tester who had not played before, and had a friend try out the game, it became apparent that the reactive approach didn’t work well for new players.

Some smaller fixes helped. For example, while the contextual tips served the purpose of a tutorial, they weren’t in the traditional form of a small subset of the game. New players didn’t consider this to be a tutorial. So we renamed our tutorial to “Guides.”

But nothing really helped brand new players get oriented to the game. So I came up with a new design. Rather than try to show you everything (like the King of Dragon Pass tutorial or the Guides), it tries to explain a few topics (particularly things that might be a bit different from other games). It’s even more directed, so you can’t accidentally do the wrong thing. And it hides information, so it’s less distracting.Tutorial Summary

The Tutorial doesn’t go through an entire year, and you can’t continue the game. Its purpose is to give you enough understanding so that when you do begin a real game, things make more sense. And do so interactively, so you can learn by doing.

The context-sensitive Guides are still there, since they cover things the Tutorial doesn’t. And there’s still a quick introduction and a detailed manual.

Right now we’re testing the new Tutorial, but it seems promising so far.

Difficulty Level

When I started seriously thinking about Six Ages, I decided I didn’t want to have difficulty levels.

This is partly because King of Dragon Pass didn’t do a particularly good job with them. The hardest setting was certainly harder than the easiest one, but I think calling the easiest one “Easy” was a mistake. The game itself wasn’t particularly easy, and if a player thought they were experienced at similar games, they might try a harder setting and become frustrated. (I changed the labels to begin at “Normal” as part of the version 2.0 reworking, to clarify this.) And the effects of the settings weren’t explained. In general, King of Dragon Pass stays immersive and doesn’t mention game terms, but this is before play begins.

Even if they had been explained, it’s one more thing to decide before you get to the meat of the game.

So my plan was to focus on tuning the game, and make sure that was right.

Then I asked Ken Rolston to give some feedback on the latest Six Ages build. One of his key items was that he missed KoDP’s difficulty options at the beginning of a new game.

We had a short discussion about this, since Ken said, “when working with Raphael van Lierop on The Long Dark, the single most important thing I worked on was persuading Raphael to add difficulty levels.” I’m pretty sure Ken made many other contributions, but at the very least I needed to reconsider my design.

Certainly difficulty levels are a simple way to accommodate players of different skill. They also hint at replayability (your future self after winning is likely to be at a different skill level, so you might want to try a more challenging level). And while Ken didn’t say this, if he missed difficulty levels, other players might as well. Starting players off with even a minor disappointment isn’t the best experience!

So I will be adding three levels of difficulty: Normal (since this is how I expect people will play), Hard, and Harsh.

I haven’t figured out exactly what these mean, but the basic idea is that Hard will make careful resource management more important, and Harsh may feel like all Glorantha is against you. The game system has a lot of difficulty levers, including

  • starting resources
  • likelihood of raiding
  • level of external threats (e.g. Undead and Chaos in KoDP)
  • harvest quality
  • various parameters for adaptive difficulty

I want to show an explanation of the chosen difficulty, so I mocked up a couple UI designs. Now that it’s in the game, I may further tweak the intro (because it is indeed one more choice, and takes up space on a screen that may make other items less prominent).

And I’ll start adjusting things to see how big a difference it makes.