GDD Section 2 - Design Notes

At the heart of the challenge of communicating your fantabulous idea, wether in person or in written form (even harder!), is figuring out what actually makes it fantabulous; then you have to convince your audience that is precisely as fantabulous as you think it is fantabulous. [That was just gratuitous, sorry]

If I tell you that my idea is about a medieval strategy game with characters, and resources, and villages, etc. that pretty much sounds like every other game ever made that contains those things. But mechanics alone dont make a game great, of course, and games are more than the sum of their parts. Collectively, the components of the game deliver an experience which is what makes us enjoy them. If any of those components is weak, then the whole thing can suffer - but rarely can one or two great components make up for the rest being poor. As an example, great graphics alone wont make a great game, but crap graphics can limit the enjoyment of a game.

So I want to follow up on the concept from last week with an insight into how we think we can manifest that idea into an attractive experience.

Player Engagement in the Kingdom Game

There are two vectors that impact player engagement in a game of this type: games that go on too long, and the perception that the game is unwinnable. Either of these on its own may lead a player to abandon a match, but there also a positive feedback loop between them. Beyond these factors, there are other countless reasons why people might leave the game - they hate it, their device exploded, they have discarded all modern technology and decided to live on top of a mountain, etc - that we cannot mitigate.

We are currently shooting for a typical game lenth of 2-4 days. We think this is the minimum for all the early game build-up and the end-game resolution to feel rewarding. [In Supremacy 1914 some games can literally last for years] Most other real-time strategic games tend to have longer cycles with the end result that few people ever see the end of the game, and the end-game itself loses a lot of tension. Having a shorter game cycle also gives the players more opportunities to iterate through the beginning-mid-endgame progression loop - this is more fun on its own and also encourages experimentation.

In order to address the second angle, the perception that a game is unwinnable, we simply redefined what “winnable” means. Ultimately, whoever claims the throne is rewarded for winning that Kingdom Game, but beyond that the measure of success is Prestige earned. I am going to explain this key concept over the next few sections, but the gist of it is that you can always “win” the game, even if you are the weakest player, by supporting a stronger player.

Characters Are Important

Everything a player does in the Kingdom Game is carried out by their characters. This means that there is an implicit opportunity cost to every action because it takes time and resources to move characters around. Furthermore, the number of characters that a player can deploy at a time is limited.The most direct implication of this is that if you are busy conquering one half of the game map, then you are not in a great position to respond to events occuring on the other end of the map.

However, since the number of characters you can deploy at a time is not tied to your success in the Kingdom Game, even the weakest player can still be a valuable asset because they have their own set of characters to act with. So because characters are so important, so is cooperating with other players.

Power, Player Interactions and Prestige

Power is earned at a regular interval at a rate determined by the number of map settlements you control, as well as any titles your characters have (which come from holding particular groups of settlements). This means that Power is a zero-sum game. The design for interactions between players is focused around requesting things in exchange for Power.

A player with a strong grip on the map is therefore going to be earning the lion’s share of Power. This means they will have greater opportunity to entice other players to help them. In a situation where players are comparatively powerful, then Power is less likely to be used to request assistance and more important for securing titles (to try to increase your Power gain compared to other players).

Lastly, if you do not finish the game then you do not earn Prestige, because the Power -> Prestige conversion happens only at the end.

The Experience

We think the core mechanics around Power and Prestige will create interesting and tense situations centering around player interactions and success in the Kingdom Game. If we achieve that degree of cohesiveness, we think that the Dynasty management and player progression part of the game will very naturally extend that richness into an experience people will want to share and repeat.

We main driver being Fealty has always been how to present sticky political situations to players naturally in a way that captures the drama present in feudal history. Lords betraying each other, feuds between great families, unlikely alliances against tyrants overlords.

At times in the past we thought that these sorts of moments could be captured through a role-playing game with a vast library of hand-crafted events. Most recently, we thought the key thing was low-level simulation with excruciating detail. The first design we found was hard to plan for and felt too random, and the latter was too complex and unsatisfying.

What is so incredible about where we are now is that the gameplay has drastically changed but also captured our goals in a clearer and refined way. I hope more of that is starting to come through as we talk about the game.

Lastly, Three Things

Having said all of that, there are three things that we think are important to the success of our game.

The first thing is that the Kingdom Game has to be great and rewarding. We want the game to be accessible, offer a breath of strategic options in how you build and employ characters, and feel fun until the end wether you are winning or losing. Furthermore, we think single player is important as a legitimate game mode on its own, but also for exploring the game and trying new things. This is why we are leading preproduction with the Kingdom Game prototype and leave the progression for later.

Secondly, we think that one of the best parts of gaming is players, and that any game that makes a point to encourage player interaction and community is better for it. If you played MMOs in the 90s you may have some concept of this but, sadly, its less present in game design nowasays. [I think the reason for that is that the greater a game drives collaboration, the less accessible it becomes from a time perspective - and that shrinks your player base if your game is too “hardcore” - but that is really a whole new topic] Therefore, the experience we want to build leverages that as part of the core gameplay.

Last is monetization. The thing that has ruined this type of game for me, and I think I have played (almost) every “real time strategy” game available on mobile or browser, is that their monetization undermines the strategy and/or meta progression gameplay. Carefully made and executed plans are moot when the opposing player can simply drop $20 to instantly reinforce/move/etc their units. From their popularity I have no doubt that these are effective monetization models - predicated on the whales concept - but it feels like crap for everybody else and draws a sharp distinction between haves and have-nots. I think there are alternatives (around content and player services, crowd-sourcing) that we can pursue in order to both build a business around the game while maintaining the integrity of the gameplay.

Now that we have gone over the concept and our design goals, we are turning our full attention to the Kingdom Game. Next time we will talk about the Kingdom Game prototype design, and our roadmap for the near future.

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