We are currently overhauling our prototype based on feedback from players and discussions between the team on the direction the game should take. In the meantime, here is our designer Tristan to talk to you about one of the tools he uses when designing games.
There's already been a few posts regarding the technical and art side of Party Animals but none yet that looks at its design. Let's tackle the basics here first, then hopefully we can examine each individual mechanism through succeeding posts. This initial post will give an overview of the core system which , and of Machinations a tool we will be using to a great extent in designing and examining the game mechanics.
To start with the design of Party Animals borrows heavily from the concepts described in Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams, and Joris Dormans, specifically the chapters on Emergence, Complexity and Internal Economies. It's a very good book which looks at the workings of games in- depth, especially those games which run on internal economies( RTS, 4X, Rpgs).
To better understand our game design process, it is best to wrap one's head around these concepts:
1) Almost everything in the game can be considered a resource. Any event which helps the player win gives him the abstract resource "advantage" for example. Resources can be either concrete(has a physical form in the game, example: gold, time) or abstract, which is computed from the current game state( I won't be explaining what game states here are sorry, look it up).
2) Mechanics in the game facilitate the interaction between these resources. Resources in the game will be converted from one form into another and will stay 'within' the game . As of the present, the only resource I can think of in the game, that is created from nothing is the gold resource, all other resources are converted or created from other resources.
3) The more connections between these resources, the more complex the game will be, but the greater possibility for emergent gameplay.
Every mechanic in the game was designed with these concepts in mind, from the event system( uses resources as triggers and checks), district actions(converts resources into other types), and Kapitans(gives the player certain advantages). Hopefully this will create for a more strategic and repayable game in the future. Also, thinking of the game in terms of these concepts make it a little bit easier to analyze it in the future(easier with the machinations tool which I will introduce later).
The player is doing sortie too much? Let's try increasing the cost of sortie. But sortie is how the player gets reputation, which in turn allows him to get bastions, which affects gold production. Looking at these chain of events, we see that the player will be set back by increasing the cost of sortie. The player won't feel the loss immediately but it will slow him down in the long run.(More on this when we come to feedback loops in the game)
As I mentioned above we will be using the machinations tool to make quick prototypes of game mechanics that we will be adding in the game. Using the machinations tool, won't recreate the whole mechanic exactly but it will give us a peek into what to expect, or how a certain mechanic will play out when included in the game. You can check out the machinations tool here.
I also suggest getting a copy of Mechanics: Advanced Game Design, or checking out the Design Patterns Library , also located in the url above.
So now, about the machinations tool. The tool is built around the concepts I've stated above. The tool has three major parts: Nodes, Resource Connections, and State Connections. Under Nodes are the following:
Resource Pools- Collects resources. In Party Animals, the following are resource pools: gold, reputation in a district, relationship with a Kapitan. A resource stays in a pool until it is moved.
Resource Connections- Dictates how much of a resource is transferred from one node to another. In the game, a resource connection says how much gold is needed to be converted to reputation.
State Connections-Dictates how a change in one node affects another node. For example two nodes can have either a positive or negative relationship. When two nodes have a positive relationship, an increase in one node increases the other node( and vice versa), likewise a decrease in one node will result in a decrease in the other node. In a negative relationship, a change in one node will have the opposite effect on a connected node. In Party Animals, there is a positive relationship between bastions and gold production. There is a negative relationship between a player's stat in an issue and the sortie difficulty for that issue( the higher the stat, the easier it is for the player to get reputation).
These are just the basic node types in the machinations tool. Advanced node types include gates, converters, sources and drains, but those are for another day. As you can see, using the machination tool, it becomes easy to create models of game mechanics before making a full blown prototype of a game.