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KarmaQU_EU

Tierpoint system, if applied to TW:A

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TL:DR read part 2, part of the design for a new WoWs revealed, for the first time ever! Don't miss it!! 
In fact if you don't usually read everything I write anyways just forget about part 1. Part 1 asks the questions for which answers were reserved in part 2. The questions are less important than the answers. I think I lost my train of thought some-way through part 1 as well.


Ah, a nice cloudy morning, perfect for musing. (Then regretting attempting to use 200 lines to express something of which conclusion was already reached in 20 lines and 2 minutes, mentally)

This post has two main points. First part is some musings on "Projected Agency" and ramblings on TW:A, while the second part is an example of the Tierpoint system I originally envisioned for WoWs, explained in the context of Total War: Arena. The first part is may be helpful for understanding some decisions made in the second part.

 

Part 1: Projected Agency ...

We all know about "agency". It describes immersion versus control at a personal level. High immersion combined with great control and feedback creates an illusion of "agency", in which the player is "inhibiting" the game asset controlled. This is a highly sought after quality for game design and player experience, it is a very large contributor to player enjoyment, and one of the primary reasons people play games.

Some counter-examples are how with books, even well-written novels which allow for as much immersion as desired, but due to lack of existence of any actual control or feedback loops, "agency" cannot be achieved. But with rudimentary toys, even just some stick-figures and marbles, "agency" can be achieved as there is direct control, and projected feedback. The first implication of this is that the experience of a game is not necessarily linked to the quality nor nature of its context ... its primary function is an utility, which I explained more in an earlier post.

The second implication, which has more to do with the topic of today, is how this "agency" and "feedback" loop can be "incorporeal", even "projected". But this has some conditions.

As the saying goes, "to make games is an art, but it is also an art to play games (correctly)". "Correctly" here means "as the creator intended it to be experienced, interpreted, explored". It holds that games are not simple one-way interactions of players navigating a maze like a white lab-mouse to an objective end, but is instead a complex and multi-layered process. There are many assumptions, presumptions, and delicate push-pull questions-answers going on all the time, and the logic which goes on is much deeper than a traditional "problem solving" procedure. And due to the nature of trust, and external immersion, this is a picky negotiation process which has a very real danger of breaking down. And that is the end of a game. But in successful examples, where a mutually delightful relationship occurs in continuity, it will be because a sustainable yet dynamic balance has occurred, and players continually find interest and fun in the game. In more cases than not this was by purposeful design to a semi-planned result, and there are many techniques and leverages usable, but they are not the topic of today. The point is, for a very specific function of achieving pre-conditions of "agency", the in-game assets must be of a fitting logical structure to "receive" the player's "inhibition". This may or may not require them to be i.e. neutral, relatable, of a definitive design, or adhering to whatever picky tastes players may have or matching presumptions and expectations for the context. But a very basic requirement is "to have life". In that they react, at a certain scale, with intelligence proper to a living form. (Scale of intelligence explanation not included, done in other posts). This is mostly achieved via A.I., even rudimentary condition-reaction loops only applicable to the structure of the game.

And the player will thus "project" into this unit, character, operative, etc. the proper amount and nature of operative agency, and willfully operate, for it, not for themselves, in high immersion and a "visceral, intuitive, instinctive" game experience. My personal preference is that a intuitive, soft-logic gameplay is more desirable than hard-logic or any other state of gameplay logic there is (but this is going off-topic). And to illustrate the point, I will use TW:A as an example.

... and TW:A

Most of us will probably be familiar with the Total War series and their signature RTS experience, even if we do not know of TW:A. In TW:A, each player is in control of only 3 units of infantry. Not 4, not 5, not 2, not 6, not 2x3 (an important point later on), just three. I guess this was reached via conclusion of how many units the average player could keep in mind as well as manage satisfactorily, in a pressured situation. This is not wrong. However, it could have been not the only conclusion. In short, while controlling, micro-managing units to mechanical interaction may have been a signature experience of TW series, it was most certainly not the only experience, even only combat-wise. There are many less-signature features, such as a weather system, and a formation system in which the game organizes for you, your whole army into a historically-based ranged at front, cavalry at sides formation or etc. but as of my personal experience this is rarely used amongst players as most battles are highly terrain dependent which the auto-formation cannot take into account, nor judge for specific tactics and preference players will have in mind for their unit compositions and battle matchups. In short, TW:A took a most identifying feature of TW, but only that feature, and along with all its benefits but also pitfalls, and developed that wholesale into a game, which magnified all these characteristics be they good or bad, while leaving out all the rest.

This decision while theoretically sound, could only result in a lukewarm reception and limited growth. My outlook for the future of TW:A is not optimistic.

One of the major factors for making this decision was how surprisingly little I gave a flying care about the units I controlled, supposedly human beings, warriors, of distinct culture and tradition. I cared not for their traditions, nor their lives, they existed only for the instrumentality of bringing pain to the enemies in return for pitiful gains, in make-belief and arbitrary scores, not even economic gain. Even if I could become the most skilled player it would mean nothing, I would not enjoy it and no one would enjoy me, and as for the advertising of "step into the shoes, be the heroes of old" thingy, even someone of great imagination could scarcely achieve that form of "play game as intended", if it could even be something describable as "playing as creators intended". For it was beyond even a question of willpower, as it was just so, so easy to see past the facade of the sad, engineered, dead design of the game, killing all "immersion". And as for wishful thinking of players getting hooked onto the game, well, there are much better-made products of psychological poisons, psychological drugs out there, and lets not go in that direction.
The game is fundamentally about utilizing the player itself as the construct, with the units only as a medium, in attempt that all interactions are highly obviously player-interactions. While this allows for, in some cases, a serendipitous blend and highly desirable balance of fictional and realistic character, to an interesting outcome, e.g. WoT level balance of player-tank versus player-tank, in other cases, it too rawly projects and transfers the power disparity of player interaction, especially toxic interactions, to other players. In other words, a unit hurting a unit becomes a player hurting a player. A unit bullying a unit becomes a player bullying a player. This game goes over the line, even amongst WG titles, by obviously disassociating the player-existence with the units, leading to some very grey thinking.

Combined with how the infantry are thrown to their deaths incessantly, and players using them too instrumentally with much disregard to contextual and historical details, the next questions players will mentally ask is "is that how the developers view these warriors as well? Is that how they view us players as well?" Though of course not, it still gets ugly real fast. For if one cannot even convince themselves, they will never convince their audience. And once the audience doesn't even trust you, well good luck with that.

 

But I digress. The main problem is that the units are unreactive, dead, more soulless than two inorganic chemical compounds reacting together. This is exacerbated in how they are the first attempt of WG to use human beings as medium of war, with all past titles all being primarily about machines. Yet they are less lively than a tank. Perhaps it was precisely because a tank is a tank, and we can imagine it is crewed inside by humans, that makes it acceptable in that context, and which makes any special quirks extra human-like. Compounded by the fact that there are three units, neither of which is "you", in fact they even have a specific "commander" which is also not "you", just begs the question, wtf is the point of you? As an unnecessary observer? Or as the one the little toy soldiers will blame when you position them badly and they get a cavalry in the [edited]? No, they are so lifeless they are incapable of even that. And that is precisely my point. 

 

Back on projected agency, is that my measure of a healthy amount of inhabitable mass is nothing short of a minor army. The scale is not the main limiter, and why it has to be an army, but the cohesiveness. Control either one unit, or one army. Controlling 3 units should be controlling a cohort, even a regiment, not 3 separate units. A game in TW:A with 12 players is not an epic battle with 12 armies, but 12 players controlling 3 units each, be they bandits or unorganized mobs. or static 3D geometry with HP bars. You see the point? The TW experience is about controlling leading an army, not micro-managing 3 units and getting cavalry in the hind. While the developers thought it was theoretically significant a player could still at least have 1 unit to fight with if 2 units were down, thus "solving" the longstanding "problem" of WG titles having only 1 unit, this is missing the peacock for the wing. A lost unit is still a lost unit, and a crippled player is still crippled. And honestly, I'd personally prefer to go down in a heroic, correct last stand than flee (unsuccessfully) because I picked the wrong unit for the wrong time in the wrong place. Even if whatever is the equivalent of "repair fees" is 100% waived can not save that progression model by this point. Even if all the player needs to worry about is gaining more exp for their units because no repair fees is present will not solve the fundamental problem of not looking forward to playing with the units at all. The next things you could do then, is waive the exp gain too, and just unlock all tier 1-10, but because of (rightly so) worry that once the player see past the facade they will simply quit the game, which is why WoWs took so long to officially introduce a "developer mode" training room even though it was unofficially available via mod. When players won't even want to play your game, for free, with everything unlocked, it's a problem. A different kind of problem than say, how to part players with their cash, and other more "fundamental" problems, which everyone else is mostly bothered about and are not-at-all embarrassed to "address", but a problem nevertheless. Sigh, even if only an indicator.

And to another point; the game while theoretically allowing for combining and matching different units, in reality offers pitiful experience of doing it, except maybe for pure melee infantry leaders. The simple fact that it is possible to achieve a "wrong" combination, in which the player does something wrong and becomes less efficient, is bad game design. Yet what is wrong with getting tired of cavalry in the hind and deciding to take matters into your own hands, instead of relying on unreliable pub teammates? Well, I never done it, but I can empathize with and pity the ones who do. Because I am just as confused as them as to whether I should find this game "fun" or not, and how I am "supposed" to play it, much less enjoy it. Be unicum and be machine-efficient? That's being all business and machine-efficient. Glory in that is a delusion (though may be enough for some).

 

The structural limitation of 3 units, THREE UNITS screams at my face every time I think of the game. I dislike it. Why control only 3 units when I can control an army? Why control 3 units when I can now control an orc army, with dragons and vampires and loads of fun? Without having to worry about compositions? Just to match up and 'grind' together with other players? In a "dead" campaign in which my only progression is gaining units with slightly higher stats to grind against the same units with slightly higher stats? No, you mean "support" teammates? But protect and guard does not work like that. It touches on another highly complex topic of love, compassion, etc. but just take my word that there is not a whole lot of it in that game. I have no desire to project anything into the game, not just because I can find nothing to project it to. There is no charm in this mechanical contraption. For once we know that 3 units is but a limitation, unlike other WG titles in which only having 1 unit was theoretically and objectively sound, having 3 units is now actually a new thing to be dissatisfied and worry about. And god forbid games introduce more things for you to be dissatisfied about.

And this is what happens when lack of cohesion occurs. The design virtually falls apart at the seams, and so does the experience. It ceases to be a "work", but only about statistics. No interpretation allowed, thus no immersion allowed. Much less creator-intended interpretation, which is supposed to be something very singular, definitive, decisive, final, that it is worthy of being expressed and engaged over not, and desirable to be immersed in.

So the conclusion is that the "form" of TW:A does not lead player to desire to have agency in it, while the difficulty and lack of proper inhibition for agency discourages agency. Worse, raw un-moderated player-player power disparity interactions are toxic not positive, and lack of long-term, scaleable meaning, while not going all the way in the other direction (e.g. being fully exploitative and predatory on player's wallets, but in more subtle ways), spells almost certain slow doom for that game, too. And after another 3 years, when problems for that game start to be addressed, well, future-gen games will already have arrived. Even WoT will not hold its ground in the face of those.

And thus the question: How could one structurally address these problems? 

Part 2: An application of the Tierpoint system in TW:A

The "Tierpoint" system was a system designed to specifically allow tiers 1 thru 10 to play together in a same match. Why this is desirable is the key question, and possibly the only question. For WG titles with only one unit, this was a very legit question too (such as how one would willingly play a lower-tier unit), but in TW:A, but this major theoretical obstacle practically disappeared for TW:A, by how one could have more than one "unit".

The "Tierpoint" system is defined by the concept of assigning to each and every unit a specific power score relevant to their tier, loadout, utility, etc. It is assumed this score is quite accurate and precise. Thus by matching the total scores of each team's composition, it is assumed a relatively fair chance is given to each team, as lower tierpoint individual cost allows for swarming in more numbers, while more elite high-tier units allow for more individually pressuring roles. Ideally, mis-and-match of many different units of different tierpoint scale is the best and assumed most desirable outcome for a highly efficient army. As incentive for more varied armies, as it was imagined for WoWs, "fleet" types would allow "discounts" on Tierpoint cost for certain ships, or even some bonuses and extra equipment options, up to a specific number and type,  if they fit within the "mold" of that fleet, e.g. a light escort fleet, a main BB battle fleet, a CV strike fleet, etc. This would have an effect on how they approach objectives, maps, and teamplay, assumed supporting mechanics of the game allows for gameplay at such depth, variety, and continuity.

The second most defining characteristic of the "Tierpoint" system is scaleability. A low tier ship mounting high-tier equipment will incur more tierpoints, as accurately reflects. A larger ship mounting more equipment will cost procedurally more than a smaller or lower tierpoint ship mounting the same equipment, e.g. a BB mounting a better AA gun will have more of that AA gun than a DD. Due to how skills would also scale and interact with this, even AA barrage interaction was different for each and every class, and how skills would have to be designed to be still applicable even in varying forms. It is certainly an extensive overhaul. But the point is, the Tierpoint system would work for both low and high tier, small and large fleets. Which leads to the point, due to how units are very stats based in TW:A, this would theoretically allow for easier integration into an encompassing tierpoint system than WoWs ships which scale in ship class (e.g. from light to heavy cruisers) with tier. A player choosing some low fodder infantry for their javeliners can choose low-tier fodder if they so wished, but with high-tier javeliners, and the MM should count them for less than a 3xT10 player. And this would be as simple as matching the tierpoint to the stats, scaled off the infantry, so even the exact number of infantry per unit you wished could be customized. The tierpoint will simply adjust accordingly.

(But the tierpoint system was still imagined with a team-centric focus, and much was attempted, and still attempted, to better the experience for the individual player at an arcade level. For WoWs, Game-phases, respawning in fleets, continuous and procedurally generated objectives and scenarios,  more options for repair, survival and team-covering and protecting from insta-deaths, and death in general, more continuity beyond single-game matches etc. Some of these could have still been useful if applied to a TW:A game design. But simply by allow multiple units, and "modular" death even for a single player, it is undoubtedly a much higher starting point of design.)

For TW:A, a player could theoretically control the equivalent of a whole WoWs "fleet" by themselves. In that their army would have varied units, their for a specific purpose. But this implies more than 3 units will be needed. It may be the case, but perhaps no more than 3 unit types would be. In fact total unit type could be a meaningful variable for different "army" types. But in the case of few distinct unit types, "micro" units factor would be introduced. E.g in the beginning of part 1, I mentioned 3x2 units. This means there are 6 units of infantry, of 3 different types, 2 of each type. Theoretically one could have 2 of the first type, 3 of the second type and 1 of the 3rd type. Now form these units into a meaningful army formation, as mentioned in the easily overlooked original TW structure. Now you have a "super-unit", of which 12 of these on the battlefield would be equivalent to 12 armies battling together. This transcends the TW experience, and only a scale of innovation at this level would justify the competitiveness of a new title, and a new WG title.

Now many practical questions occur, but I will not list them individually. The main answers to the questions will be how even though this is an arcade version, e.g. simplification of the impacts of formation of units, much of the delicate details could be overcome by minor A.I., e.g. minor and automatic formation adjustments. Simplified and qualitative army-wide commands given by the player could address more strategic decisions. (This "formation + levelled assistive A.I." draws from 2 other separate designs of similar level to the WoWs design, plus the air sphere of the WoWs design. Do not waste it). All in all, the "army" the player controls, be it a very large army or a minor elite regiment, acts and functions as a whole, or will at least attempt to. There will be options to separate a unit from the army and send it off e.g. cavalry to scout a base, then integrate it back into the army seamlessly, but it will be as smooth and flexible as jello goo. Using the increased processing power of modern hardware, large-army and large-theatre operations with many players can be simulated. When two armies collide, the units will behave as if in an actual scenario without you having to micro-command each and every one. They will behave, lifelike and intelligent as if commanded by their own minor officers (of which imaginably, even behaviour one can customize) and the minor officers can have auto-cast abilities and items if so desired, and traits and skills as well. Formational preference of the army, even automated reactive formations (such as tactical retreat with cover, even splitting or sacrificing units) and fluid transformations (such as when changing direction) can be customized and pre-tested for the supportive A.I. if not already available (but anything available will be continuously improved based on both feedback from players and data analysis of the A.I. on developer side, even machine learning can be considered), and even custom formations may be possible, if pre-designed by the player to be loaded in battle. All in all, this allows for many, many possibilities, and as I always say, possibilities is joy. Also, how many overarching "commanders" (similar to the current commander system) (maybe 3 max) one can have in this mini-army of theirs may also be a factor. You can also make the development and growth of these commanders into a mini-game. Hire some writers. How exciting this will be.

And to address the "form" question from part 1, now that we have addressed the technical structure question, yes this will improve immersion, and projected agency. "Projected" agency is when traditional agency in the inhibition sense does not occur, but the player projects (guesses) a coherent picture for an unit based on what details are available, and also projects (outwardly engage) their own personal meaning, like highly willed resonance, without actually taking full control of actions. The "form" of a minor army, a cohesive whole, hints life and meaning beyond singular existence. It incorporates many qualities and transcended meaning for the particular context of historical warriors and such. The minor "reactions" of individual units in light of a larger picture, the engagement of two armies, hints at life and intelligence as well. The proper separation and threshold of operation of the player, allowing the player to make the proper strategic decisions of the higher level, as qualitatively fitting, compared to minor details of macro-ing units, even micro-ing units, is beneficial to the cohesive experience of the game as whole. It is also less fatiguing. (Also what is with every WG title having those low camera limits). 

Scaling meaning from even a small, 4-unit army to a 20-unit wave of men. And more-so, if we want to add meaning to player-skill and allow them the "proper glory", then in the "grand-scale" battle, the higher a rank a player holds for ranked, the more "total" tierpoint their army can be. As they deserve to, and are probably capable of managing and making the decisions for a mass army, as well as carrying the fates of their teammates on their backs. Yet, the lower-ranked player has no pressure nor shame, they can focus on a more specific task with a more dedicated task force, and can still experience the "mass army" experience of many micro-units, just with cheaper units. And if they do a good job, well, isn't that as much as one could ask for? Sometimes a scenario is beyond your hands. As was historically so. And with good design, all difficulties of the implications this bring, too, can properly be weathered. (Such as ensuring your avatar officer survives. Idk, arbitrary or not, many small to large designs are possible.) (This may or may not involve an overhaul of the design of the progression of the game, but hell, campaigns for the WoWs version too were part of it, so progression was definitely changed).

Now, while I am certainly very happy the tierpoint system could be so smoothly applied for TW:A instead of WoWs, there are also specific features of WoWs, contextually accurate too, TW:A can not replicate. Such as WoWs having aerial sphere, how one ship and its damage control systems is so important, how reinforcements, vision, and modern battle-tactics work ... all-in-all, it allows for a different "feel", "form" than TW:A. Yet, it follows some common core game-design structures (just like how WG titles all do), one being the tier 1-10 system (yes tierpoint is compatible with tier 1-10). Of which I will shameless remarck, I believe is a better system to follow than WG using the current tier 1-10 system the core of their every design (yet with less individual, unique adjustments per game, every game is almost the same rock-paper-scissors with hp-bars mold.) A qualitative ideal, so to say, as standards, principles, over a rigid and dead specific system that is cheapening the WG experience. And also, to address yet another part I don't like about part 1, the developers do not trivialize their context. It is this horrendous game system which makes it seem like so. The wrong conclusion of what was signature of WoT was drawn, and was continuously drawn throughout WoWp, WoWs, and now TW:A (but part of the wrong conclusion was also drawn from TW series, in the unit micro-ing over more ... hard to describe general experiences and qualities). This is not a player-centric design approach, as the player cares not what you think (nor does the bumblebee), only what they play and enjoy, defying all your laws and rules in how they can do so. But with this, I view optimistically, for it is all the more possibilities, and possibility is joy.

Idk, I'll probably regret ranting off like this after I've had more coffee.

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I asked my boss if I could get a day off to read the OP's post.

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44 minutes ago, KarmaQU_EU said:

But I digress.

no sh1t

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Beta Tester
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Honestly, I'd prefer I could explain anything and everything with only 3 lines. But my desire to explain something overrides my concerns of it being legible when I bother to try. Still, I understand this is inconsiderate and wrong.

 

But as of now, one option I have is to illustrate it, since it seems you people like pictures. The only other way I can think of to explain it in a way accurately enough to do the idea justice, is to comprehensively compile all the notes into a chaptered essay, which would take even longer than drawing. Neither of which is practical to do. I also instinctively do not wish to leave the ideas too clear and openly on public forums. 

 

I mean, it only took me a few minutes to read part 2, and no more than 5 to read it twice, which should be enough for generally understanding it. Though neither of us will pretend this was written with the clarity of a manual, so there are no hurt feelings here, I churn these out during short breaks anyways. But still, considering the amount of time we put into even a single in-game match, 5 minutes to read a post really isn't much. I was always open to actual questions and discussions anyways, if clarification was needed.

 

But I think I'll simply stop.

 

Merry Christmas y'all.

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Also, if you want an example of a well-written, readable, short, authoritative post, here's a recent one which describes an observation matching precisely the mechanisms of "projected agency". Even the "creator's intent" part. How convenient. (Note: Not my version of projected agency, I don't do it justice. But projected agency as the theory itself, the concept in its own proper, true form. Even if temporarily indescribable, or unviewable as a whole yet.)

 

I will also say that I noticed this only from checking the weekly roundup on Kotaku, and certainly did not try to fudge you guys with plagiarized insight gleaned from elsewhere, even if you probably won't believe me. But do know that it is not easy to directly show the truth, or anything worthwhile, really, and honestly if I was able to do that I wouldn't be here trying, attempting to triangulate vague concepts by unwittingly dancing around them.

 

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-12-19-how-ico-flipped-the-script

 

 

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