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Battle Reports - Angerak - 02-13-2017

One of the aspects that Cohorts shares with many other games is the infamous Battle Report.  The key bit of information that tells you that tells you what happened to the playing pieces that were involved in a battle.

As far as I can surmise, there are 4 different types of reports:

1. Very high level - which describes the sides that took part in the battle and which side one.  It may or may not include some basic details about important pieces that were involved and/or how much damage each side took.  This may or may not be described in the form of prose.

2. Detailed outcome - which describes in detail which pieces took part in the battle, what their starting and ending status was, and who won.  None of the details as to how the battle unfolded are provided.

3. Detailed description - which describes each piece that took place in the battle and describes on a round by round basis who inflicted damage and who took damage.  This too may or may not be in the form of prose.

4. Graphical replay of the battle - showing the pieces moving about the battlefield in a graphical manner - either as pieces on a board (like moving playing pieces about) or something far more elaborate with animated figures and animated action.

In my mind, option 1 is useful as a bit of summary information that you might want to look back on to see what battles you might have engaged in.  Or, it might be used as a more "global history report" that all players would get access to, showing them who'd been fighting who (assuming a multiplayer game).

Option 2 is likely my personally preferred option.  Give me the facts, tell me the outcome and let me plan my next turn.  What this lacks however are the details as to how the outcome came about.  Did either player make a mistake and not load the right spells, equip the right weapons, put their units in the correct battle slots?  With just a bare-bones summary, the player will never know.  If the game designer likes a bit of mystery as to how their engine runs, this is a good method.

Option 3 is good, but if the battle has a lot of pieces in it can become lengthy.  If the blow-by-blow descriptions are presented in prose, a single battle can easily turn into a 30 page document.  Quite frankly, I don't think anybody wants that.

Option 4 is fun.  No doubt about it - watching a battle unfold is entertaining.  But my guess is, it is entertaining the first few times you watch it - and then you'll opt to skip the animation and go back to wanting to see the output from Option 2.

From a game designer point of view, trying to find the balance between too little and too much information is a tough call.  One could opt for "give them all the choices and let the user decide" but there is a development cost to that.  With an unlimited budget and unlimited time, giving the ultimate solution is always best - but when we're dealing with a niche market like PBM games, we have to be frugal and get the most bang for the buck.

Does anybody have any opinions on this?


RE: Battle Reports - Davin - 02-14-2017

I like #2 as well - that's the method we use in Galac-Tac.  But #3 is nice if the battles are small enough not to need vast amounts of output.  Sometimes this can involve just abbreviating the details in some fashion, skipping trivialities or grouping several together into one statement.  This is the method that we've been considering for our future game currently under reconstruction.


RE: Battle Reports - Angerak - 02-14-2017

Davin, without the detailed accounting of the battle, do you find your users ever asking/complaining that the outcome of the battle did not match their expectations?


RE: Battle Reports - GrimFinger - 02-14-2017

Well, since you asked for opinions, I'll toss in some thoughts of my own off the top of my head for you.

I think that it misconceives the nature of the problem, and that it underestimates (or under accounts for) the diversity of taste that inheres in the human form.

Not everyone likes the same thing. Therefore, it stands to reason that not every player is going to like or to prefer the same kind of report, which is the form and the degree of completeness to which information/data is presented to them.

I think that designing a game is like cooking. A good cook can make virtually any of the options listed above turn out to be a scrumptuous part of a delicious meal (gaming experience).

Some games have a lot of depth to them, whereas others can be fairly simple in design. A battle report is but a single component (a piece of a game) of a much larger whole (the game, itself).

There is game design, and separate from that there is the player experience. The individual components of a game's design are not the exact same thing as the individual components of a player's gaming experience.

Whenever I would play Hyborian War, to use that PBM game as an example, I would simply skim over the reports. It's been a few years since I last played that game. My love for the game remains undiminished, however. It isn't because of the battle reports, though.

More recently, I have played a few turns of Alamaze. A recent battle report contained fresh text narratives and are presented with some degree of detail, yet I did the same thing with it that I did with Hyborian War battle reports that I have seen countless different times down through the years - namely, I skimmed over it. Why does a player skim a battle report, anyway? It's to extract certain information from amongst the mass of what all is presented. In an RPG, the details contained in a report would likely be vastly more important to scrutinize than every last textual detail presented in countless other games. In Middle-earth PBM, the text contained on index cards from other players tended to be more important than the details contained in many battle reports. When I became Er-Murazor the Witch-king of Angmar, those little index cards were all that really distinguished me from any other player who donned that role i the game. In that situation, a blank index card presents the challenge to the player of how to become memorable? How do you seize another player's attention? How do you drag them into the experience more?

[NOTE: See Gary Campbell's article about contact cards - http://www.middleearthgames.com/gsiart/diplmcy1.html]

Imaginatively written battle narratives, for example, are not the same thing as whether a game captures a player's imagination, and it is the latter rather than the former that will ultimately determine whether the players stays with the game or not.

Not everyone likes the exact same thing, so I think that there's more than one way to be successful in capturing the imagination of players. Likewise, there's also multiple paths to failure, even using some of the same basic components of game design.

If you were to ask every game designer, or even just every PBM game designer, to cook some fried chicken, do you think that it would all taste the same, even if they all had the exact same ingredients to work with? I don't. The same holds true, I think, where game design is concerned.

Some of the more popular PBM games ever developed down through the years were pretty sparse with the information that they provided. Thus, I think it is more about getting the experience right than it is about which of the options listed above is the best.


RE: Battle Reports - Angerak - 02-14-2017

Grim, I'm not sure I'm following you. Your answer seems to be that you have no answer (or that there is no answer).

There may in fact never be one best answer, but if you poll 1,000 people and 800+ of them give you a consistent answer - then you can have a pretty good idea of where the mindset of the general population is. If the response is completely flat, then you either have to try to please everybody or you should try and please as many of them as possible within the constraints of time and budget.

In my mind, even though you seem to be saying there is no one answer, I believe you have cast your lot towards #1 or #2. If you are simply skimming the battle reports from Hyborian Wars and Alamaze, it means the lengthy details are less important to you than some specific details that you are seeking. Whether the game is an epic adventure filled with vast numbers of characters, military units, cities, etc. or whether it's a single character RPG, what I want to know is "did I win or lose?" and "how much damage did I inflict and/or take during the battle". Is it safe to assume that this is also the information that you are skimming the battle report looking for?

Regarding the cooking of chicken ... each game designer would most likely create a different taste experience. Some will make chicken the tasters will love. Some will make chicken that the tasters will hate and some tasters will simply be indifferent because they would prefer beef. Knowing the palettes of your tasters will make it much easier for the designer/chef to prepare them a taste experience they will enjoy. I love spicy food. My wife prefers less spicy food. I can prepare the very best spicy chicken ever made - but my wife will not eat it because it does not suit her palette.

I am expecting that the readers of this forum comprise a decent cross section of PBM gamers along with their likes and dislikes. I want to provide the taste experience that is most palatable to the largest possible audience.

... and now I'm hungry for fried chicken ...


RE: Battle Reports - Davin - 02-16-2017

(02-14-2017, 12:01 PM)Angerak Wrote: Davin, without the detailed accounting of the battle, do you find your users ever asking/complaining that the outcome of the battle did not match their expectations?

Actually, no, because of way this game is played.  Combat in Galac-Tac is strategic in nature and is not directly controlled by the players.  Most combats are very one-sided, with a large fleet snuffing out a small one without effort.  More evenly-matched battles are infrequent and even then one side usually has little damage while the other is often left in shreds.  The combat report for these mostly tells you which side you were on.  But that, in itself, is important.  By looking at the relative sizes and compositions of the fleets you can tell whether your personal ship designs were effective or not so that you can make any adjustments necessary in ship design and fleet composition to do a better job next time.

In many wargames, combat happens with various units each taking distinctive action, and it's that activity that's important in the combat report, hence step-by-step details are useful.  In Galac-Tac it's more about predefined configurations and the randomness of battle.  Each shot doesn't matter as much as the average of many random results, and the overall outcome reports on that average performance.

In a similar vein, assume two opposing units of sword-wielding infantry.  What's most important is their positioning/activity and which side is dying faster than the other, rather than where each foot is placed for balance or the sword strokes used and how they're blocked.  So even a detailed report isn't really detailed in that respect - it's just telling you what's important about that battle.  You might think of this as the short-term average result of many combatants behaving independently.  You'd want a whole different level of detail if the entire combat was just two heroes facing one another for the fate of the game.

So the detail level of reporting that's useful is mostly determined by the design of the game you're playing.

FYI - I do get occasional complaints about the outcome not being what was expected, but that's not due to any details of the combat, hence showing details isn't helpful.  The complaints run more along the lines of "I have a big fleet and he has a small one, why did I lose?"  The answers are more along the lines of "He's got massively advanced weapons that are doing five times as much damage as yours, as you'd see if you looked at your starting combat report."  And the response, "Oh!"


RE: Battle Reports - Angerak - 02-16-2017

(02-16-2017, 04:16 PM)Davin Wrote: FYI - I do get occasional complaints about the outcome not being what was expected, but that's not due to any details of the combat, hence showing details isn't helpful.  The complaints run more along the lines of "I have a big fleet and he has a small one, why did I lose?"  The answers are more along the lines of "He's got massively advanced weapons that are doing five times as much damage as yours, as you'd see if you looked at your starting combat report."  And the response, "Oh!"

I think this only goes to show that more often than not, people won't bother reading the details of a report. All they're really interested in, is the outcome.


RE: Battle Reports - Davin - 02-16-2017

(02-16-2017, 08:35 PM)Angerak Wrote: I think this only goes to show that more often than not, people won't bother reading the details of a report.  All they're really interested in, is the outcome.

Generally true, I would think.  But if they're surprised or confused they start looking for some of those details and hopefully they'll have something there to help them out.


RE: Battle Reports - Angerak - 02-16-2017

(02-16-2017, 09:26 PM)Davin Wrote: Generally true, I would think.  But if they're surprised or confused they start looking for some of those details and hopefully they'll have something there to help them out.
I agree.  That's why I struggle with not including a detailed battle report even though it will never be looked at 95% of the time.  I suppose, like most things, the end result as to whether or not I include it will depend on time and resources to allocate to the task.  I guess it also depends how many resources should be spent satisfying the 5%.