Saturday, 21 December 2013

Sloth wasteth the sluggish body

You may have noticed that there have been no updates on the game development section of the blog for an embarrassingly long time now. I can make the usual excuses - I'm planning a wedding; I've got five essays and a book to write over the next three weeks; I'm too exhausted from work and am putting my free time into Hearthstone instead - but to be honest it's more because I'm lacking certainty in my convictions.

The problem is that I'm making a game where I should really be making a prototype. The foundations are all there, but currently the only way to actually play test mechanics is to code them in and then try them. This works, but takes a lot of time and effort because adding even quite a simple mechanic (e.g. an absorption effect) requires the alteration of a huge amount of existing code in addition to the new stuff piled on top. Oh, there are ways of mitigating the damage, which I've done, but the problem is that rapid prototyping just isn't really do-able with my skill-set and time restraints.

The solution to this, I've decided, is to take the game out of the computer and model it as a board game instead. There are, I think, a number of advantages to this approach. First, it makes rapid prototyping much easier. Instead of spending an hour unpicking my dearly-devised code I can simply print some more cards. Second, it forces me to simplify. There are always some mechanics which are better suited to a computer, even in turn-based games, but when you're having to map things physically it really forces you to question their necessity. For example, I'm currently running with nine (nine!) debuff categories, which can surely be consolidated. Third, it means that instead of having to worry about interfaces and so on (I know they're important but I don't want to be having to code an interface just to know if Frostbolt works as a mechanic) I can focus purely on the mechanics. Finally, it makes it easier for me to get my fiancée involved, and I value her opinion highly.

So, I'm going to go away and have a think about it, and get some cards and counters drawn up, and then when it's running I'll take photos and so on and show you all how it works.


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Patch Notes or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Metagame

So right now there's a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on because Blizzard have released their most recent patch notes for Hearthstone, and instead of fixing what the people on Reddit think is broken today, they've tried to fix what people on Reddit thought was broken yesterday. In particular, lots of people are angry about Mages, and Mages didn't get nerfed. In fact, claim some of the subreddit's more brilliant minds, the fact that things were nerfed that were not Mages means that Mages are actually being buffed.

As usual, the internet is overreacting, and here's why.

It's not actually that hard to make a deck that can reliably beat a Mage. People have been doing it for a long time, and it usually comes down to a combination of weapon (or other direct) damage, healing, and large minions. If you don't believe me, go and get the Trolladin running and try it out. Hilarity will ensue. The problem with this, as I'm sure you've realised, is that these three components fare extremely badly against the current popular metagame, which revolves around large swarms of cheap minions (Curi's Warlock deck is probably the definitive example of this). Mages are one of the few decks that can really deal with the swarm meta because of their large numbers of freezes and board clears, and so we have a Rock-Paper-Scissors arrangement: Trolladin beats Mages, Mages beat Swarm, and Swarm beats Trolladin. Reddit is angry because they don't have a deck that beats Swarm and Mages.

This isn't quite as unreasonable as it might sound, because currently the number of Mages is too low to make it worth playing Trolladin, but high enough to significantly dent the win ratio of anyone playing Swarm. Add to this the dominance of Mages in a recent tournament and you can almost understand why people are crying. So, if there is a problem, how can we fix it?

Friday, 6 December 2013

Making a physical Hearthstone set

I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone recently, and while I love it dearly, I do feel the lack of the physical element that accompanies other board/card games. In particular, I can't play it with my fiancée because she doesn't have a beta key. And even if she did, playing a game like this on two separate screens or tablets just feels silly. So, how can I make a physical version of the game that we can enjoy together? No, I don't mean a box with a tablet in it, cool though that undoubtedly is. I mean a real actual card game with cards and counters and the like.

Before we start, let's lay down some ground rules.
  1. No-one is allowed to say "but that's impossible". You can recreate the entire game with nothing more than a pen, (a lot of) paper, dice and a stop-watch. If you have a digital stopwatch you don't even need the dice.
  2. However, we want to make it as simple and easy to play as possible without changing the mechanics. Paper and pen (or more likely a small wipe-clean board and marker) is a last resort for cases like Lightspawn being buffed to 80HP and so on. I'm aware that other, real TTG/CCGs like MTG have wonderful things like damage counters and indicate status through card orientation and so on. Ideally I'd rather have something more obvious, even if it requires extra gubbins, because I've never played any other games like that and neither has my fiancée.
  3. Finally, we want to make it as cheap as possible. This is going to be horribly expensive and I don't want to declare bankruptcy until I've accumulated enough debt to really hurt the bank. Obviously this is in direct opposition to our second objective, so it will have to be something of a balancing act.
Right, let's get on with it.