Friday, June 18, 2010

Solve the Game

I’ve started playing a Facebook game called Backyard Monsters. It’s a fun game. You build a base by harvesting sticks and stones to build buildings, and defenses like turrets and cannons. Then you harvest Goo to make Monsters to attack other peoples bases. If you are successful, you can loot their sticks and stones and goo.
The game has been fun, but recently I’ve discovered that some players have done a little number crunching, calculating Monster Health, Tower Health and Attack Speed and other variables. These guys pounded on their spreadsheets and came up with the ‘ideal’ base design. Now if I had done that, I’d keep the secret to myself and dominate the game. But these guys published their findings on the official forums. Now as I get to a higher and higher level in the game, I see more and more people copying this design. It makes your base nigh impregnable unless your opponent throws wave after wave of monsters at you, depleting his Goo resource in the process.
I think it’s a danger in any strategy game. The game is not so much won, as it is solved. Now the developers are working on ways to break this strategy so that it isn’t ‘the way’ to go.
I see something similar in the development of WoW. The players crunch the numbers and come up with the ‘ideal’ spec, or the ‘ideal’ spell rotation. Then we get what amounts to the solution key in the form of Boss Kill videos via Tankspot and the like.
The Developers try to mix things up and change some of variables each patch, and then change all the variables in an Expansion. WoW adds the added element of execution, but in many ways the game is solved, more than won.
For players, it can become a difficult decision. If you don’t use the ‘ideal’ base layout, you’ll have your resources farmed all day long. If you don’t use the ‘ideal’ talent spec, or spell rotation, or Boss strategy, you’ll get kicked from groups as a ‘noob’. But somehow I think we’ve lost something along the way. Our games our solved now, not won through our own trial and error.
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