Questionnaire Metrics

I don’t think data-driven game design is the best approach to a narrative game, but it’s a valuable tool. It’s certainly worth gathering data to see if players are actually experiencing the story the way the designers intended.

Unfortunately, it appears that in my eagerness to measure outcomes, I went past the design limits of Flurry Analytics, and am not actually tracking everything I thought I was. But I am capturing a lot of anonymous data, and I thought it might be interesting to share some of it.

The clan questionnaire establishes the backstory of your clan. As usual, there is no best response, though a few affect difficulty. The questionnaire gives you an interactive introduction to the game, and lets you decide on how you want to play (these are the choices your ancestors made, and determine how they will react to your choices made in other contexts).

Which of the gods did your ancestors favor?

Players had no strong preference. 53% picked the Earth Goddess.

Which famous event of the gods did your ancestors support?

The most popular gods to help were the trade goddess, the warlike sun, and the cow goddess.

Who was your ancestral enemy?

The forces of water were a slight favorite. Perhaps players remembered that this was a weaker foe in King of Dragon Pass. (That’s not necessarily the case in this game.) Presumably the elves and dwarves are poorly represented here because both are not early enemies, and are available as choices only if you pick “Our worst danger came later.”

Which god did your ancestors bring from the Golden City?

Apparently our players were keen to be master redsmiths, over half of them making sure to bring the god of bronze working as they fled their home. 25% retained literacy. Only 5% brought the secrets of glass making, which I guess is represented in the artwork (other than the user interface, I don’t think we explicitly show any glass).

Which group of the First Division were your ancestors?

Given the importance of herding to the Riders, it’s not surprising that 44% of players decided that their ancestors were the best herders in the First Clan. I always figured that the most dissatisfied members were the ones who most wanted to split, but this isn’t a popular choice.

Who did your ancestors meet in the Second Migration?

The most popular choice was herders, followed by farmers.

Almost everyone adopted them, and most players made them full citizens of the clan.

How hard will life be?

The final question is primarily to establish your starting conditions. This is a difficult game, so it’s totally fine to start at the Easier setting. Most games were started at Normal. Probably players only play at Harsh once they have mastered things.

Analysis

Getting metrics is relatively easy. Effectively analyzing them can take a lot of time (I worked on one game where there was no analysis until after the game shipped.)

Actually taking action can be tricky. I’m surprised that so few players chose dwarves or elves, but I think it would break the story flow to give them more equal billing (as well as presenting more choices than necessary at one point).

Although I don’t think any of this particular data will result in design changes, we have been doing some tuning based on what we see. It may be subtle, but some of that will be in the next update.

Tags are Magic

I was going through some playtester comments, one of which noted that diplomacy-related magic wasn’t as useful as it might be. So I did a quick review of the four blessings that seemed like they would relate to diplomacy. And while I’m not sure I was looking for exactly what was reported, it did seem like they could be more important.

Understanding: Helps our dealing with foreignersI’ve mentioned before that scene tags have been very useful. One of the diplomacy-related blessings is called “Understanding.” It’s implemented as

+1 in scenes tagged @foreigners

Diplomatic missions can be sent to a variety of people, so scripts like news_GiveGifts (which reports on simple gift-giving) can’t simply have the tag. But tags can be dynamically added, so making the magic more broadly useful was a matter of

RemoveSceneTag(ThisScene, "@*")    # Any previous dynamic tags
[otherClan.culture = 'other] AddSceneTag(ThisScene, "@foreigners")

Even though it takes two lines of OSL, I like this better than something like

[HasBlessing(ourClan, "Silvertongue")] b += 1

(which another blessing needed) because it affects the entire script, rather than just a specific branch.

The game makes extensive use of tags. The scene compiler uses a few to make sure scripts with very particular conditions are triggered from a single spot. Unit testing uses ten tags so it can set up the right context for running scripts. The UI code checks for tags that determine that a scene needs special elements like a text field. And there are over 100 tags that help categorize scripts, including whether magic applies to them.

Tutorial

One of my goals was to make sure the game had a better tutorial than King of Dragon Pass. Its tutorial was fairly brittle — it was too easy to get off track.

Tip about emissariesWe came up with a different approach, which worked fairly well for explaining all the parts of the game. When you first visit the Relations screen, you get a note explaining it (and to avoid a giant info dump, get more information the next time). There are no exact steps to follow, so the tutorial can’t get confused. And you can learn about a dialog when you get to it, instead of trying to learn everything in a short period. Our playtesters all seemed to like how it worked.

But our playtesters tended to be self-selected as having played King of Dragon Pass. When I added another QA tester who had not played before, and had a friend try out the game, it became apparent that the reactive approach didn’t work well for new players.

Some smaller fixes helped. For example, while the contextual tips served the purpose of a tutorial, they weren’t in the traditional form of a small subset of the game. New players didn’t consider this to be a tutorial. So we renamed our tutorial to “Guides.”

But nothing really helped brand new players get oriented to the game. So I came up with a new design. Rather than try to show you everything (like the King of Dragon Pass tutorial or the Guides), it tries to explain a few topics (particularly things that might be a bit different from other games). It’s even more directed, so you can’t accidentally do the wrong thing. And it hides information, so it’s less distracting.Tutorial Summary

The Tutorial doesn’t go through an entire year, and you can’t continue the game. Its purpose is to give you enough understanding so that when you do begin a real game, things make more sense. And do so interactively, so you can learn by doing.

The context-sensitive Guides are still there, since they cover things the Tutorial doesn’t. And there’s still a quick introduction and a detailed manual.

Right now we’re testing the new Tutorial, but it seems promising so far.

Difficulty Level

When I started seriously thinking about Six Ages, I decided I didn’t want to have difficulty levels.

This is partly because King of Dragon Pass didn’t do a particularly good job with them. The hardest setting was certainly harder than the easiest one, but I think calling the easiest one “Easy” was a mistake. The game itself wasn’t particularly easy, and if a player thought they were experienced at similar games, they might try a harder setting and become frustrated. (I changed the labels to begin at “Normal” as part of the version 2.0 reworking, to clarify this.) And the effects of the settings weren’t explained. In general, King of Dragon Pass stays immersive and doesn’t mention game terms, but this is before play begins.

Even if they had been explained, it’s one more thing to decide before you get to the meat of the game.

So my plan was to focus on tuning the game, and make sure that was right.

Then I asked Ken Rolston to give some feedback on the latest Six Ages build. One of his key items was that he missed KoDP’s difficulty options at the beginning of a new game.

We had a short discussion about this, since Ken said, “when working with Raphael van Lierop on The Long Dark, the single most important thing I worked on was persuading Raphael to add difficulty levels.” I’m pretty sure Ken made many other contributions, but at the very least I needed to reconsider my design.

Certainly difficulty levels are a simple way to accommodate players of different skill. They also hint at replayability (your future self after winning is likely to be at a different skill level, so you might want to try a more challenging level). And while Ken didn’t say this, if he missed difficulty levels, other players might as well. Starting players off with even a minor disappointment isn’t the best experience!

So I will be adding three levels of difficulty: Normal (since this is how I expect people will play), Hard, and Harsh.

I haven’t figured out exactly what these mean, but the basic idea is that Hard will make careful resource management more important, and Harsh may feel like all Glorantha is against you. The game system has a lot of difficulty levers, including

  • starting resources
  • likelihood of raiding
  • level of external threats (e.g. Undead and Chaos in KoDP)
  • harvest quality
  • various parameters for adaptive difficulty

I want to show an explanation of the chosen difficulty, so I mocked up a couple UI designs. Now that it’s in the game, I may further tweak the intro (because it is indeed one more choice, and takes up space on a screen that may make other items less prominent).

And I’ll start adjusting things to see how big a difference it makes.