Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 01, 2013
Stopping the grind

Many games, even those that aren't "role-playing games" per se, these days have game mechanics in which you get rewards for playing, and those rewards improve your stats and thus your chance of success when playing further. That leads to the weird dichotomy where people say they like games to be difficult, but actually spend most of their time in the game to get the rewards that make the games easier. If ever you face content in such a game that is too challenging for you, the best strategy is to go back to easier content and "grind" it for rewards that will help you to overcome the challenge.

To some extent this is also true for Card Hunter: The experience point system allows you to go up in level very fast (you get a full level of experience for beating an adventure 2 levels above your characters' level, half a level for beating an adventure of your level, but only 10% of a level for an adventure 2 levels below you); but if you were to consistently go for high-level adventures from the start, you would at some point run into difficulties due to a lack of gear. Running low-level adventures repeatedly will level you up a lot slower, but provide you with a much more extensive inventory of items which you might need later.

But Card Hunter doesn't work like typical MMOs, in which challenges are very similar to each other. In Card Hunter different adventures have different themes and different challenges, so the build with which you easily beat one adventure might not be optimal for another adventure of the same level. For example skeletons have armor cards that make them immune to piercing and slashing weapons, while slimes have armor that makes them immune to crushing weapons. Switching from an adventure against undead to an adventure in the sewers necessitates a change of weapons. And that is just one of many examples, there is also armor that helps you against specific enemies but isn't much use against others, and so on.

So what the devs from Blue Manchu wanted to avoid was somebody optimizing his build for one adventure, and then grinding that one adventure over and over to collect gear. It would be quite effective, but of the "optimizing the fun out of the game" variety. Thus in Card Hunter any adventure you finish becomes locked until the next day, forcing you to play different adventures. This effectively stops grinding. While you can play through many different lower level adventures in a day, they aren't pushover. And if you try adventures more than 2 levels below you, not only do you not get any xp, your characters are also automatically downleveled (which usually forces them to wear lower level gear as well).

I like the idea, but I was wondering whether a day lockout wasn't too much. Right now the adventures up to level 6 are kind of a tutorial and relatively easy, so new players tend to run into difficulties directly after that, in the level 6 to 8 adventures. While I don't think these adventures are inherently too hard, I do think that for new players it would be good to play through the lower level adventures more than once to stock up on gear. As it is, some people get frustrated because they can't beat the next adventure in the campaign (which you need to unlock further progress), but can't go back to lower levels either because of the lockout. Maybe a 1-hour lockout would work better to prevent people from grinding while still allowing them to play the same adventure more than once per day.

I agree, the full-day stop is a bit too much in my opinion. Not only for the reasons you mentioned in your article, but also because I personally hate being forced to play based on what others decide is good for me (in this case, the developers).

I can understand the need to stop the furious grind, but why do they impose me to take a break for a day? It reminds me of those bad mechanics we've seen in Znga/Facebook games, where you spend energy to move/craft and then you have to wait (or pay, to get a full refill).

At the same time, I don't fully understand why developers want to avoid furious grinding. Does limiting your gameplay time really improve the overall experience?
I haven't tried multiplayer much in Card Hunter, but oddly enough there seem to be rewards *for* playing a lot of MP games in a day! Maybe it's just SP grinding they wish to discourage.

I'm not convinced about the 'optimum builds' issue, because you will get enough gear for a variety of builds. If there will be armoured skeletons you can load up on bashing from your overall inventory, and switch the stuff out just as easily. I think knowing how to beat a level quickly would be more conducive to grinding, but in truth you don't need to grind anyway because there are so many drops in the ordinary course of events. People make mistakes and blame their loss on a lack of gear.
Just a quick question: I've been reading CH is getting a lot of beta requests. How's that when you open the lobby (multiplayers) you just see few people available online?
I'm not sure that "progression" and "challenge" can go hand-in-hand unless you're at the top (= you cannot overgear the challenge because "better gear" does not exist).

In all other scenarios, there's always "better gear" to get which will make your life easier, and it seems noone has come up with an idea to reward it which does not involve grind. Honestly, all the locks/daily/etc. stuff are more there to enforce a lower speed, preventing a massive (= even more massive) spread between players who can grind and those who can't.

The "preventing optimizing for one adventure" does not prevent anything. Instead of just one build you'll have a set of them and instead of grinding an adventure, you'll grind a set of them. It may limit burnout, but it's not a solution. It could actually make things worse as people need to grind more to get separate "best" sets (a bit like the LotRO problem in the past).
There is an obvious answer why the lockout is so long. It is to artifically lengten the time players spend for playing campaign (as you cannot progress without good gear - even when you outlevel the module, you get beaten with subpar gear).

More time spent playing = more subscription money. Plus if the gear is not coming fast enough players may also be tempted to buy "magnificent chests" with pizza.
Ofr course, the lockout can also help to push players into PvP. PvP lobby is still not well-populated, and I occasionally get computer opponents.
Well, pushing players to purchase stuff "while locked out" sounds like a douche move. Of course I understand fun and business don't always go hand in hand too.
Well Rugus, the thing is that it's not so much for your own good as it is the good of everyone else as well.

The gamer is his own worst enemy when it comes to grinding. Your average WoW expansion would have virtually no grinding IF you putzed around at a slow enough pace to actually have fun all the time, reading quest text, quitting when you get tired or a bit bored, whatever.

It's when you add in that guy who plays for forty hours a week and is obsessed with being the most powerful/first/whatever. Those guys create a vortex of competition as people try to keep up with him, and other people try to keep up with the people keeping up with that guy, and so on that ends up driving the culture towards this insane idea that if you 'only' spend 10 hours a week on this one game you're casual.

So keeping a lid on the OCD players to prevent a competition vortex from sucking the fun out of the game.

In this case they may or may not be ideal to set it at 24 hours, but I applaud them for realizing that letting the hardcore people go crazy is bad for the game in the long run. If I were running some sort of non-profit MMO where I didn't have to worry about selling boxes or subscriptions, I'd cap each account at 10 hours per account specifically to prevent the sort of brinksmanship that makes MMOs such a life sucking waste of time.

We don't know how many are in the beta (just that there are as many as they want, because there is a waiting list).

"you cannot progress without good gear - even when you outlevel the module, you get beaten with subpar gear)."

Somebody just beat one of the scenarios people were complaining they didn't have enough gear to beat... without any gear!

> I'd cap each account at 10 hours
> per account specifically to prevent
> the sort of brinksmanship that
> makes MMOs such a life sucking
> waste of time

I'd let the player decide. Who am I (as a developer) to decide how much time you're supposed to spend?

Imposing a time limit is quite annoying, it reminds me of WoW dailies and/or raid lockouts and so on. I find them too artificial.
Somebody just beat one of the scenarios people were complaining they didn't have enough gear to beat... without any gear!

I can name two modules which you cannot beat without proper gear straight away.

First, there is "Beneath the Frozen Earth" scenario featuring Troggs who have Crude Plates armor (often two cards each) which work on roll of 3+ (66%) and block 4 points of damage, and if they do prevent damage, Trogg is pushed back 1 square. Furthermore, all Troggs attacks have range of 2.

What happens if you wade in there without gear? Your warriors and priests will have attacks of 2-4 damage with range 1, and your mages will have small zaps in addition (damage 3, range 2). Troggs will attack your party safely from range 2, and when you move in the melee and strike them with your puny attacks, not only your attacks will be absorbed by armor completely, but you will actually push them out of your reach (but they still will be able to reach you with range 2 attacks).

In short: without penetrating attacks and armor-boiling spells you're toast even in level-appropriate gear.

There are also Pools of Slime, inhabited by slimes and oozes. Without gear, the only attacks that will harm them are mages' small zaps (all others are crushing melee attacks). You can probably do it, but at best, you're looking at 3-4 hours long "fire small zap then run away and wait for the next small zap" session.
Note that beating a battle once is not actually any indication of difficulty, because of the randomness involved. I managed to beat the last part of my first campaign by "dying my way through" the battles, restarting them over and over until I happened to get the perfect draws and the enemies didn't.
That's true. A good example is when you get those cool 10 damage fire "traps" that trigger the damage on the next turn.

If you get two of them with your opening hand... that's a HUGE boost. I've won some tricky fights this way (at level 10). Note that I use one gear set for everything, a choice that makes some fights quite harder.
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