1. Progression vs Extension in competitive play

      written by Ray Benefield
      Another early Sunday morning post. The difference is that this weekend I don't have to GM a Pathfinder session so I am actually spending today working on Aggro as well. I've gone through lot of work as of late. My main focus over the past few days has been creating diagram graphics to use for explaining the rules of Aggro Tactics. Hopefully they'll be ready for next week's post. Today's discussion is an observed concept that had me thinking and I wonder what your guys' thoughts on the subject are.

      Observed theory

      So I haven't done any research on this and I wouldn't know where to start, but many months back I got to thinking about something. When Noklu first experienced playing Aggro the TCG, he had mentioned a very particular experience. If I remember correctly he enjoyed the fact that unlike in a lot of games, it was nice having every option at your disposal from the get go rather than having to build up a resource or level up or what not. Early this year when I got to thinking closer about it, the skill that exists in Aggro is based around maximizing your steps toward success without overextending and leaving yourself vulnerable. This is quite different than a lot of other games.


      Many games are built around a concept of progression to a level of power. MtG is focused around building mana and progressing towards a suitable position first and then stabilizing. Starcraft and other RTSs run off this same concept and are about efficient progression in order to stay at a higher power level than your opponent. RPGs are about leveling to the proper level, like WoW and hitting max level before the real fun begins. And even then it becomes about acquiring better gear. To me progression games are defined by the concept of an heavily additive experience. You are focused more on pure gain rather than worried about setbacks. Aggro is far from an additive experience.


      For lack of a better term, I'd say Aggro is about adding while minimizing subtractive elements. From the very beginning of Aggro almost EVERY option is available to you from the start, as time goes on your options diminish as you lose pieces, and lose momentum. There are other games that play off this concept. Heroscape and a lot of tabletop strategy games are based around this concept. You don't gain more power, it is about how you use that power, take away your opponent's power, and minimizing your own loss of power. Your post powerful resource in "extension" based games are options. Halo and other first person shooters feel very focused around option based play. Especially in games where there aren't weapons on the map. You have to use what you are given to its maximum potential.

      Point of Failure

      Each type of game has what I'm coining as a "point of failure". This is a point where you feel like it is pointless to continue and you have lost "inevitability". A typical competitive match starts out with equal levels of inevitability and as time goes on, that shifts to a single winner as advantage velocity is at a point where the difference between the sides are too large to make up. In progression games I'd wager that this point is kind of "built-in". Your skill of how efficient you are at progression in that game is stacked vs the other player's efficiency. These levels are arbitrary and is why players compete in the first place. But as time goes on that level becomes apparent and the loser is revealed. For players closer in skill this may take a LONG time, which is why matchmaking is so important. People don't like to feel like they are losing. A Starcraft pro vs a general hobby player will lead to a very quick "point of failure". And with casuals that point is existent even before competing. Less competition happens as a result because of this "pre-failue" feeling that it comes with.

      I see extension games as having a more dynamic Point of Failure. During extension games the Point of Failure starts to happen at your overextension. You slowly allow your opponent to take options away from you as he maintains his own or even adds more options. Extension games allow for more frequent competition because failure isn't as pre-determined. Even veteran players can miss a key tactical option and leave the way for a less experienced player. And the problem isn't your efficiency it was your lack of observation and anticipation. It IS possible for a mediocre player to overcome a veteran, if the veteran calculates wrong and the mediocre player finds a key play. Veterans will be more likely to not let that happen, but it can happen and often. The key of vets in these kind of games is to learn what not to do. Novice players lack this and are more likely to miss opportunities.

      Why's this matter?

      This concept isn't one set in stone. No game is strictly progression or extension. Starcraft has a lot of extension properties where poorly chosen decisions at a stalemate can cause failure. This concept is more of a scale and every game tips towards one side more. For Aggro Tactics the goal is to focus on pouring out all of your options in front of both players and say good luck. I always hated the build up to the conflict. I LOVE when both sides become equal and every decision matters going forward. Games like WoW PvP frustrate me because it is obviously never really equal. Games where every factor is the same I guess helps define extension based games as well.

      So why's this matter? Because I have a strong belief that the more you know about your game the better decisions you can make for it's design. Because I feel like I know where I want Aggro Tactics to go, I can make better decisions because of it. Sure Aggro Tactics has some progression aspects to it, but in the end the focus is on the play by play not how efficient you come in at the time. This allows players to jump in at any level of experience and still maintain a decent chance of success. Games like Aggro Tactics are the key representatives of the phrase "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings". That line doesn't really come into play very often of progression games, because when someone has the lead and momentum... they are LONG gone. Momentum can bounce back and forth in Aggro and to me that is more exciting.


      So what do you guys think? Do you think this theory has any sort of merit? Do you see any other examples, or maybe more characteristics for each style? Perhaps there are many holes. It is just a quickly observed theory, so maybe others throwing in their thoughts can help define the theory a bit more. Or the concept might exist already and you might know where from. SPEAK UP!!!


      Mitch Turtle said...

      I haven't read your blog in ages (and I see you took a break from it and gaming for a while too) but I used to absolutely love your maps and unique ideas back in Reach.

      I think my favourite of your maps was, despite never having enough friends to play it with, (I can't quite remember the name) your Halo turn-based strategy game that revolved around spawning armour abilities to allow people to move. That was one of the most unique things that I'd ever seen in Halo, and it seems like it could have been a lot of fun to play too!

      I am aspiring to become a game developer, and I have actually been planning a competitive game that I may get around to starting actually developing soon (perhaps :D). This was a really interesting article, and I think due to my Halo background I'm going to go for a more Extension-based game where everyone starts out the same but map control is very important, however a few in-game (you develop your abilities mid-game, rather than the COD-like multi-game progression) )progression mechanics could make the game more interesting and unique.

      I have signed up to your mailing list and I cannot wait to continue reading your blog and finding out about your game development! :D

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Thanks Mitch, I definitely miss playing Halo Tactics. Was loads of fun and a great idea. I never thought it would turn out so great. It definitely flourished on the xbox where vocal communication is actually prevalent. I definitely think maybe one day I'll look back on Halo and the hundreds of great gametypes made for inspiration on where to go forward if things work out and I do build a small dev team that actually publishes something. It is a very difficult task. Everyone can start a game, finishing and publishing one is one of the single most difficult things around.

      Thanks for signing up for the mailing list. It is good to hear that I actually have readers. Hopefully you'll keep up with the comments, and if you ever start getting into game dev I'd be more than interested to hear about it man.

      Mitch Turtle said...

      Ah- Halo Tactics, that was it! :D

      I've never got far enough to even start thinking about publishing a game: at the moment I'm just doing some level design with the Unreal Development Kit and some programming with UnrealScript.

      I currently have many other things to do instead of games design (I'm learning PHP to help me make websites at the moment), but I do wish to pursue it as a future career and I'll probably start doing it again soon :D I've had several ideas for a variety of games, and now it's just time to learn how to make them!

      Mitch Turtle said...

      Also, on a side note: I love the effort that you put into these posts and the immaculate grammar that they contain. It makes me happy when people use the wonderful language of English properly, and I cry on the inside when they don't :)

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Well thank you Mitch. I'm glad I'm not butchering it with my very stream of consciousness style of writing. I never really plan these out and just speak and try to organize as I go.

      UDK is definitely a great start. I prefer Unity3D much more because it is a lot more GUI centric and more rewarding. It plays more off of the WYSIWIG type of development. I've introduced a couple of friends to Unity3D and many agree. UDK is powerful, but for jumping in I think Unity is a much better start.

      I am actually improving my PHP and mySQL skills as that is something I do at my new job (I finish my initial 90 days on the 17th!). They are powerful tools and definitely worth it. I'll be using PHP and mySQL for the data side of things for Aggro Tactics. The game will use PHP on a webserver to connect to the database securely and get the information it needs. The bonus of that is that pretty much anything I create can interface with these scripts whether it be on the web or in an application, giving me the ability to add in game specific details for any forums/site I build for Aggro Tactics. Definitely excited.

      Gotta get back to development now. Got a lot of tickets to finish up this weekend so I can move forward.

      EXEM said...

      like you already own all your tactical legos to destroy each others bricks instead of having to build a lego factory out of legos first. legos.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      That's awesome...

      EXEM said...

      One of the things about Frozen Synapse that bugged me is that while it's a total information game there's plenty of important elements the game doesn't exactly communicate to you: the attack range of the vatforms besides the rocket launcher which is infinite, the velocity of the rocket, a marker on your path or range communicating the maximum range in a turn, the time without broken line of sight it takes to acquire and fire on a target with different vatforms of different proficiency levels, the accuracy of those attacks when the shot is fired dependent on what the target's doing (moving quickly, moving while aiming, standing still, crouched, etc). That's a lot of info and yes complexity but if it's in the game it's better the game tell you then having to search forums for other user's test results and guesstimate considering it's asynchronously turn-based and you've all the time in the world to make your next move provided your opponent doesn't want to clear their game queue.

      On another note FPS on a hole could do a much better job of communicating what has become an invisible stat in many games: shot damage, hit points and hp regen rate. Maybe not in-game, but somewhere in the loadout menu tooltips.

      And on that note and the hidden info of which weapons are where, I really dig what 343 did with H4's weapon waypoints despite their botching some of the ordnance options and not having a proximity threshold option (like there was with grenades vs. weapons) to avoid screen clutter. Which meant reliance on good old non-waypointed weapons on map, and again, prior research of hidden advantages.
      Now you'd have to dig a bit into the E3 vids and Bungie podcasts for confirmation, but Destiny's taking a big step in the right direction by replacing power weapons on map in PvP for generic heavy weapon loadout slot ammo and having those "ammo drops" waypointed. So that gets rid of the need of one level of info (which weapon is this?) in terms of HUD clutter meaning less need for a proximity filter because you just need to know where, not what, when you are pursuing the option "get more firepower". Time will tell as far as custom arena ammo drop timer options, but for vanilla gameplay that's nice. Personal loadouts fed by the entire game's loot stream on the other hand, the jury's out on, and I understand the skepticism.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      I completely agree about frozen synapse. It was a game with a TON of complexity. Which had a lot of depth, but the ratio was way off. Because of the abundance of information, they had to clutter their UI and they still couldn't fit enough info into it. Something that I've liked about Hero Academy is how much more simple it is in comparison. The concepts are all simple and because of that it is easier to get the full picture and work into mastering the game earlier.

      And yeah Halo took a step in the right direction, but I'm not sure they understand why that choice is a good one, and as a result other choices they made overshadowed that one. Oh well...

      Noklu said...

      Like chess. Chess is primarily extension based. Once beyond the initial progression stages of the opening (which, given the computing of the opening million combinations, is so well-understood that the only challenge is managing the most efficient opening moves).

      What that suggests to me is that the correlation between "starting with equal resources" and "extension-based games" is not necessarily the case. In certain cases, like chess, the initial stages of the game become progression based—in other words, securing the best strategic position. In Halo, a similar strategy would be to, say, secure a camping spot. Say, sword room on The Pit. In some games, this strategy of camping entirely eliminates the extension-based gameplay. Therefore, not only does progression/extension exist on a spectrum but it is also dynamic: players actions through the course of a game affect where the slider bar falls.

      Of course, this is common sense: it's just obvious that players actions affect how a game is played!