Pressuring Design Detail

Pressuring Design Detail

Heya everyone :D I’m going to try something a little different this week. Normally I try to avoid the long-winded, overly-granular design discussions and give you something short and punchy about our latest feature. I thought for a change it might be interesting though to show you guys a more granular level of the thinking that goes into how we pick what to do each week. Disclaimer as always, everything is in a state of flux and it liable to change (hopefully for the better!). So here we go!

We’ve been considering the soup “satisfaction system” that went in a week or so ago and the flow-on effect it’s having to ‘pressure’ on the player in game. Currently, the level of pressure feels somewhere between mediocre and frowntown. :( Here’s a run down of the current system, the results and some potential fixes.

Satisfaction system: Customer satisfaction starts at 0%. Shipping soup increases satisfaction between 5%~15% depending on how much they like the flavour shipped. Satisfaction slowly decays over time and sending a bad flavour can sharply reduce it by -5%. Money is earned each payday from shipping the soup to satisfy customers.

Motivation to ship soup: 

  • Buy research (the research and upgrades purchased are all quality-of-life improvements related to building a base & shipping soup).
  • Collect as much money as possible for Soup Co. to fulfill an end-game condition (effectively a high score with no functional application beyond bragging rights).

Here’s the two pressure points that are currently in-effect.

ENEMIES: Spawn conditions:

  • Fail to ship soup for a while (punishes players already under-performing).
  • Ship bad soup (punishes players already under-performing).

Available design knobs:

  • Spawn timing
  • Number spawned
  • Relative strength (HP, damage)
  • Behaviour (flying, charge attacks, lays eggs, aim target buildings)

OXYGEN: Spawn conditions:

  • When outside, the player’s oxygen bar depletes over time until it runs out and they suffocate. Linked to the world environment, it is omnipresent and unchanging.

Available design knobs:

  • Suffocation speed

Current pressure problems: Neither of these are currently tied into the gameplay cycle. A regular player will never be attacked and not engage with the leash-range of the oxygen. Without external pressures there is no forced validation of your base design (“Oh noes! My eastern wall and corridors were breached. I need to build more towers over there and change the corridor angles!”). This also means there’s no “Yay” moment to watch your newly improved design overcome previous challenges.

The research rewards are related to soup shipping but, that activity itself doesn’t produce any pressures (“Yes a new robot and quicker soup factory! Now I can make even more soup faster!”). These rewards are helping perpetuate the current pressure-free play cycle.

On the note of “pressure”, what constitutes “good” and “bad” pressure for Inc?

Good pressure: Present a problem that has multiple solutions requiring player action.

Bad pressure: Present the player with a problem that has no engaging counterplay. Can also be short on available design knobs to turn for tuning or balance.

So what do we do?

The first low-hanging-fruit change would be to tie enemy wave spawning to soup launches or the satisfaction percentage. Pressure it creates will naturally scale relative to player base size. More soup exports on a bigger base will certainly incur more enemies, but a bigger base also implies further research progression and better defenses. This should feed nicely into the soup export reward-cycle which already produces things directly related to the act of building a base & shipping soup.

A potentially more impacting long-term test (albeit difficult with our low number of developers) would be to try replacing the oxygen system with a fog-of-war. Fog-of-war maintains a similar vibe to the oxygen while also creating a new currency of ‘vision’. Buildings produce a light radius, so base building for safety is still necessary. Navigating the dark is also a problem that comes with better risk/rewards (restricting information can lead to enemy attacks or your base being partially destroyed rather than the time-tax of returning for air vs death).

Let me know in the comments if you guys enjoy this sort of thing and I’ll try to do one every now-and-then. Or yell if you just want more GIFs. :P

Analysisbot

  • Jared Eastman

    Not a backer or a current purchaser though I’m liking the ideas thus far, very interesting world.

    With the current approach as the player is managing an independent factory/franchise off world works well into a franchise business-style game play.

    The challenges presented would only hinder those who are already struggling, while not engaging enough for those who are succeeding. How about the more the player succeeds the harder it is to defend against a competitor (for now I’ll say it’s Stew, Inc.).

    The higher the profits, the larger the factory, the more ‘covert-bots’ Stew, Inc. sends to try and impede production. The worse off your factory, the less of a threat you are to Stew, Inc so they stop using resources to attack the player. If a player is defending the covert-bots well, perhaps Stew, Inc. will start to send real agents instead with more firepower… perhaps to the point of even sending ships with rocket payloads of stew to damage the player’s operations requiring clean-up prior to production resuming.

    Oxygen is a good boundary mechanism, however instead of it being an umbilical horizontally along the surface, make it a more vertical umbilical that requires upgrades and air-shafts with mechanics that draw critters to the machines (because they are noisy?) which need to be defended which needs more power. It’ll be an additional money/time sink and would also give Stew Inc another point of entry into the player’s factory “through the air ducts”.

    Research should also include ways to get to new planets, branch to allow ways to take over Soup Co (long term goal?) and other options. Perhaps instead of research, replace it with marketing or add in marketing? With research comes new soup, with marketing comes new customers.

    I believe the above notes what the good pressures would be: Defend in order to expand, if decimated game not over just returns back to easier difficulty to regroup and strategize anew.
    Soup Co. will need more of the profits from the player in order to market/defend against Stew Inc. itself. The larger the profits the more Soup Co. takes out percent wise making expansion/profit an ever increasing difficulty.
    The use of multiple planets, and travel back to said previous planets that have been built upon, would be engaging and fun as the larger installations may occasional require maintenance from the player meaning more money and time to be spent.

    Bad pressure would be game over with little idea how the problem started. If the enemy is getting in, how? Why?
    Once an issue presents itself, warn the player with a small pop-up monitor showing the issue (perhaps a covert-bot crawling through the air duct all sneaky like) to give the player time to react to the situation and redesign it if needed.

    Research for the sake of research is not fun or engaging. The player should be rewarded with new shiny things, new soups that require more equipment, new soups that have a different clientele. Perhaps research consumers, part of marketing, to find out WHY a soup isn’t selling as well to this planet as the other instead of just knowing what soup to make. Soup Co would direct “Sell to this planet! Make Money!” then it’s up to the player to research, market, study and find what soups to send to that planet to make a profit.

    Oh, and I certainly love this type of discussion. I love to pick people’s brains and be a bouncing-board for ideas. :)

    • William Zack Wood

      Yea, I was also thinking competitors could attack you if you are doing too well, in addition to customers punishing you with enemy attacks if you are doing poorly. The enemies could have different behaviors (maybe the ones punishing bad players aren’t as difficult?).

      • Rowan

        This. We’ve had similar ideas for a “rival company” that could be convenient for thematically applying pressure where/when we want it. Hopefully we can find time for a test at some point.

  • William Zack Wood

    That was definitely interesting- were you looking for any specific ideas or feedback, or kind of just showing us the thinking that goes into this stuff?

    Briefly venturing into risky darkness areas to maybe get cool goodies or maybe get attacked would be heart-racing fun, imho.

  • ccwdev

    This is a very cool update, and I would love to see more like it! Since you are tackling a relatively new design space, maybe I can throw some ideas in as well?

    I would say that Inc is an evolution of the Minecraft / Terraria genre, and there are some ideas in those games that would be very useful here. In an early Minecraft game, the day / night cycle splits play into two phases: Defend and Rebuild/Explore. Day feels “safe”, and encourages exploration, while night feels “scary”, and encourages fighting and hiding. As you become safer at night (with torches and defenses), this phase of play starts to shift from hiding to expanding your home base, and organizing the materials you found while exploring. The game is literally split down the middle into “mining” and “crafting” phases, which I find hilarious!

    Okay, more on topic… as you mentioned, maybe the enemies can “smell” it when you produce soup, so it triggers a wave to attack your base? The power of the wave could be based on what kinds of soup you have shipped in the past (so if the last soup you shipped was the same type, enemies have “learned” that you are making their preferred soup, and more attack your base). Changing recipes and shipping to a new planet could give players a break from heavier waves, and the money they earn could build up defenses.

    Probably the easiest way to make soup shipments a goal would be to make money a resource, like anything mined in the world. What if every object you could find or build had a price? You could order “Mushrooms” or “Gun Turrets” and have them shipped from space directly to your base, in capsules that rain down from the sky! Not only would this help players get 1 more ultra-rare diamond to craft their laser defense system (for $30,000, heh), it would make everything that you could build and find in the world visible, in a simple menu.

    In this format, I think customer satisfaction should only change how much money you get for your soups. If you ship the right recipes for a long time, you earn more per shipment (and you earn less per shipment when you ship the wrong soups). Because money would have a real advantage in the game, you wouldn’t need any other motivation to get players to satisfy customers. AND! The more you ship the right kind of soup, the harder the enemy waves become, meaning earnings and difficulty could be linked!!!

    Okay, next idea! Oxygen/suffocation would negatively affect exploration, and encourage staying near a home base. While I do like the idea of protecting your soup factory, I think exploration is a major component of these games, and there should be a way to increase your range (when your base is self sufficient and you want to start a new one).

    Maybe they could be modeled like food in Minecraft? You could store Air Tanks in your inventory, and these would increase the distance you can travel from your base. They could be refilled in a similar way to cooking food – just load Empty Tanks in an Oxidizer and refill one at a time. The delay gives the player time to organize the materials they found while out exploring, repair / improve the base, or manage the automated soup shipments before their next expedition. I think these cooldown periods are a large part of Minecraft/Terraria’s success, because they create calm moments in an otherwise stressful game.

    Okay, I think my post is approaching the length of yours, so I’ll leave it at that. Is it obvious that I’m working on my own game design in this genre? =) I’m really looking forward to Inc, so please keep the updates coming!