Subscribe

Get updates via e-mail:

Tuesday
Jun172014

Yomi Kickstarter launch!

The Yomi kickstarter is up right now!

Yomi now comes in two 4-deck sets called Round 1 and Round 2.

The other 12 decks will be sold individually, but they will release over a period of several months after Round 1 and Round 2 ship...UNLESS you back Yomi on kickstarter. Kickstarter backers only will be able to get all the decks months ahead of everyone else.

10 of these decks are new characters that we've tested for years, but that haven't had a physical release yet. The other 10 are reprints and updates of the original characters. There's balance tweaks, art tweaks, a new layout for ability boxes, way better looking character cards, and a new stat reference card for each deck showing every ALL your character's moves at a glance.

The EX Powerup Expansion

There's also a surprise expansion on top of all that! The EX Powerup expansion gives you overpowered cards with new art(!) and new abilities that you can add to your decks. When you play an EX character, during the powerup phase you get to search for any card in your deck, not just for Aces. This mode is not intended for tournament play, but it's a blast!

Just as exciting is the 2v2 tag team mode. It's sort of like in Marvel vs. Capcom games where one player on each team is on the bench, healing (and getting more cards), and also capable of switching in and doing team combos. You can even do assists.

The EX Powerup expansion also comes with a special, oversized Deathstrike Dragon card that allows you to play as Master Menelker in a 2v1 mode. Can you defeat two challengers at once?

You also get a premium knockdown token. This token is a cool way to mark who is knocked down at any given time. The Round 1 and Round 2 games come with one too, but the EX Powerup one is higher quality.

The BOX is also incredible. I'll reveal how great it looks soon (not yet!). It's designed to hold all 20 decks in a pleasing way, with a character select screen inside to show you what goes where.

Other Ways To Play

You can play Yomi right now on the web or get the iPad version or print-and-play versions. This kickstarter is for the all-new tabletop version though. Visit the kickstarter page for Yomi now, pledge your support, and help unlock more stretch goals for everyone!

Saturday
Jun142014

Yomi Kickstarter Coming Soon

The Yomi kickstarter will launch June 17th at 12:01 am Pacific Time, if things go well. (Might be a slight delay...we'll see.) You'll be able to get all 10 expansion characters, all 10 base characters reprinted and refined, as well as a surprise extra.

Yomi's been many years in the making. You can read about the process of balancing the game here, and you can listen to an hour+ long podcast about the strategy of the game here.

Stay tuned for more info, and please pass the word on to any fighting game fans or strategy card game fans who think might be interested!

Monday
May262014

Chess 2 Update

There's a new version of Chess 2 out on OUYA now. (And yes, other platforms are in the works.) The main new features are:

  • Asynchronous play
  • Improved graphics and 1080p resolution
  • New Ranking system

Asynchronous Play

You can now play an unlimited number of games simultaneously, and your opponents don't have to be online at the same time you are. Go ahead and start 10 games at once!

Improved Graphics

Improved lighting and a resolution bump to full 1080p HD make this update even more crisp and beautiful.

New Ranking System

You can now earn titles in the new ranking system to show off to your opponents. Who will be the first to show off some Grandmaster flare?

Update Now

You can push the update to your OUYA with this button:
Friday
Apr182014

Game Balance And Yomi

To celebrate the release of Yomi on iPad, I'll tell you some stories about balancing Yomi. First I'll give you two myths about game balance, then tell you about tier lists and matchup charts, and then a bunch of specific balance problems we had to solve.

Game Balance Myth 1: If it's too well balanced, it's boring.

I understand where this one comes from. Game balance is really hard, so if you had a cast of characters (or RTS races, or card decks, or whatever) and some of them were too good vs other ones, what should you do? The easiest thing is to smooth out anything one that has that's too different. Make things more and more homogeneous until it's fair. Yeah that's one approach, but it makes things boring. The harder way is to try to preserve as much asymmetry as possible AND to make it fair. When we do things the hard way, the good way, it doesn't make things boring. Furthermore, balanced just means the matchup is fair. It doesn't say anything about the dynamics of how interesting it is. A balanced game could be boring or interesting.

Game Balance Myth 2: Sirlin only cares about balance.

From the outside, I can see why someone would think that because I work on games that require a lot of balance work. But the testers who work with me would laugh at this. I'm the one always pushing back on balance changes because other things are more important: good flavor (mechanics expressing the right personality), good dynamics, and elegance. I want fewer words, fewer elements, things to be as simple as we can get away with, and for characters to feel right. If you allow balance to rank higher than those things, you get a terrible feeling game. If you make only balance changes that respect all those constraints, it's hard work, but you can still have a balanced game.

Measuring Balance

At first, I think it's best to get tier lists from testers. That where they put all the characters in a few tiers (groups) to say which characters are all pretty much tied for strongest, which are tied for next strongest, etc. The goal isn't to eliminate tiers, because even you had a 100.00% perfectly magically balanced game, testers would still say there are tiers because of their imperfect perceptions, and that's fine. Tiers help you get a sense of what's going on with balance though.

A helpful format is:

God Tier (S rank). Any character here is brokenly good, above the maximum level that should be allowed, and obsoletes the other characters.
Top Tier (A rank). The group of strongest characters. Being here doesn't mean there's any problem.
Mid Tier (B rank). These characters are noticeably weaker than the top tier, but still very useable.
Bottom Tier (C rank). These characters are noticeably weaker than the mid tier. They are still useable.
Garbage Tier (F rank). Any character here is too weak to bother with. Something really went wrong and they need a boost to become a real part of the game again.

Players are going to disagree and argue, but there will also be some low-hanging fruit here. Even if everyone is arguing about whether CharacterX is high or mid, they might pretty much all agree that CharacterY is garbage or CharacterZ is God tier. The first thing to fix here is to nerf anything in God tier (since even a single thing there ruins the game). The next thing is to buff anything in garbage tier. After that, try to compress the tiers so that being a tier below only means you're barely worse, not like hugely worse.

Matchup Charts

The next level of zooming in on balance is a matchup chart. That's where you create a grid of every character vs every character and then give a rating to how difficult the matchup is. The notation is stuff like 6-4 or 7-3 which means if two experts played 10 games, we expect the expert using CharacterA to win 6 (and opponent using CharacterX wins 4), for example.

It's actually best not to use numerical data to determine these numbers. Yes, really. It's faster and more accurate to get to the bottom of things by relying on expert opinions, and then having those experts argue, and then play each other to sort out disagreements. Think of matchup chart numbers as a kind of shorthand for this:

10-0. Not possible to lose when you play how you should, which you can always do.
9-1. Horrifically bad matchup. Impossible to lose unless something very unlucky happens.
8-2. Really hard for the other player. Multiple "miracles" required each game for the disadvantaged player to win.
7-3. Very hard for the other player. Clear disadvantage for them, but they can still win.
6-4. Somewhat advantage for you. Pretty close overall.
5.5-4.5. Very close match, but you can slightly detect an advantage.
5-5. No advantage to either character.

I want to emphasize just how important it is to get expert opinions on this, rather than adding up numbers from matches. Experts can get a good sense of what's going on in a match much, much sooner than data will reflect. I mean like months or years sooner, even. Imagine two experts played a certain matchup 20 times and the more they played, the more unfair it got. In our example, there is a certain way of playing that the other character just can't deal with and both players are coming to realize that truth more and more. It's entirely possible that they (correctly!) declare it an 8-2 matchup even though their results are no where near that bad. Lots of their games were before they fully understood what's going on. And if we lump in the data from anyone other than experts, it's likely to be worse than ignoring it because they probably aren't playing the match well enough.

With 20 characters, that's 210 matchups (190 non-mirror matchups) so if every non-mirror matchup was played 20 times, that's 3,800 games. Wow is that a lot to even do a first pass with the numerical method. And you get extremely bad data if you do. Let's say a matchup is really 5-5 and you're lucky enough to have found two expert players of equal skill. The chance that result will be 10 games to 10 is just 18%. Finding catastrophically wrong results (the chance of a player winning 14 games or more, indicating a 7-3 MU or worse) is 12%. You're really better off just asking the experts, letting them argue, and letting them sort it out by playtesting, and that's what we do.

Here's Yomi's matchup chart as of today. Of course it slightly changes as players gain more and more understanding, but it's fairly stable:

To put it into perspective,

Click to read more ...

Monday
Apr142014

Codex Design Diary: The "NPE"

In this story, one thing leads to another.

At the Game Developer's Conference, I let some of the conference associates play Codex. Link Hughes (designer on Guild Wars 2) was among them. He didn't have much time to get into it and he had to leave early, but he gave several comments about what he called the "NPE." The New Player Experience. I thought it was so stupid to have a jargony acronym for this that I have remembered it ever since. (Sorry Link, I'm not saying the concept is stupid!)

He was talking about various reasons that it's bad if a game is hard to learn. Yeah sure. There's a lot to games like Magic: the Gathering or Codex and it's kind of inherent to games of that complexity that they take some effort to learn. Codex in particular is trying to do something very different than other games of its type, too: it's trying to be a strategically interesting after years of play, even without *having* to endlessly refresh the card pool. (Sort of like how you can play Starcraft or chess for years without needing new pieces for the game to be interesting.) It's been so much effort to make the game really work how it needs to that I've been much more concerned with that than how we end up teaching it when it's done. That's not something you can even directly work on until you have it all hammered out.

Plus, every time we make any decision about the game, we're indirectly considering the new player. It's often easy to solve some design problem by adding more stuff: more rules, more words, more pieces. But that's not elegant and I always push back. At every step, I try to fight off the feature creep of more more more to keep things as elegant as they can be, given what we're working with. So the beginner benefits from all that.

Link just really went on about this NPE thing though, it was clearly very important to him. I told him how the "NPE" in Codex is that we suggest you start by playing just one hero instead of three. That this simplifies the game quite a bit. It's not just those hero cards themselves, but all the spells and units that are associated with those heroes that you don't have to worry about for your first game. It's cutting 2/3rds of the cards right off the bat, basically.

Link thought that was a good idea. He was looking for more ways to make it easier for a beginner though, or ways for them to care more about trying the simplified version rather than skipping it.

Designing The NPE

Later on, I thought about what Link said. I thought about how I've had to spend all my effort on making the game work correctly, so that's why I hadn't put that much thought into New Player Experiences other than the "only one hero" thing, which is a pretty good way to start. But...what if I really cared about this? What if we said this is super important, and we maximized for the NPE? What would it even look like? I like to do that when things like this come up, and it's basically what we did for asynchronous play a year ago. If we had to change everything around to support this new idea, what would we even do?

The good news is that

Click to read more ...