Reconciling turn-based play with multiplayer
By now you’ve figured out that we are huge fans of turn-based strategy games. We also enjoy RTS games, but honestly, have never been great players. While the competitive element of a multiplayer RTS bout is fun and all, getting whooped repeatedly didn’t always strike my fancy.
At one point around Thanksgiving last year, the three of us were all in a room playing Civilization IV. We had noticed that none of us had really played multiplayer Civ before, and we were concerned that maybe we just hadn’t given it a fair chance. This would have been a wake up call if we discovered that we thought it was really fun, but there were still not many active players. As it turns out, while we have great respect for Sid Meier, Brian Reynolds, and Soren Johnson among others who have contributed so much to the Civ series, the multiplayer game is simply not good. The early game is especially bad. You move one or two units, and then wait. And wait. And wait. By the time you get to anything interesting, you are already bored with the game.
A key innovation that we came up with to combat this was simultaneous turn resolution. As it turns out, we were not the first to come up with this idea. The board game Diplomacy used it back in 1954. Now Diplomacy has other flaws, such as mandatory backstabbing to win, but we’ll save that for another time.
The main point here, is that by relaxing some of the play assumptions, we end up with extremely flexible gameplay. Your units are no longer guaranteed to execute your orders the way you asked them to if they get intercepted by an enemy. Think about that for a minute. It’s a huge shift in the way we’ve been thinking about strategy games. You are no longer an all powerful deity, but can consider yourself in the position of a political leader or general with imperfect information and follow through on orders. It’s a risky idea, which is why it takes an indie studio to deliver on it.
The flexibility we gain is twofold. First is that the waiting time to play your turn is completely decoupled from the number of players. When I set out on this project, I wanted to make a game where we could have 100 players in the same game, with a mix of cooperative and competitive elements. Crazy? Maybe. Time will tell how well the gameplay scales in reality. The second flexibility we gain is adaptability to different paces of play. With a turn-based strategy game, people have different preferences as to how long they like to spend on a turn, and our game adapts to that. You can have a speedplay game with 1.5 minute turn timer, which our initial testing of our Alpha indicates works reasonably well, or you can have something closer to play by email, where you drop in once a day to play your turn. Of course, we’ve cut out the archaic nuisance of emailing around save game files.
We would love to hear what people’s thoughts are on this.