4: Utility Curves (food for thought)


Strategies in strategy games often can be defined as early, middle or late game. The timing of where each strategy shines often makes for interesting rock-paper-scissor dynamics, for example the timing of military vs economies in realtime strategy games or pawn vs piece development in Chess.

Playing Imbroglio recently I've noticed how different weapons are good for different points in the game. Play with all weapons that are most useful when maxed out in rank and it can be difficult getting there. Some weapons, like the 1 that sends enemies 16 turns into the future are useful from the beginning but don't gain new utility until they are maxed. Others like the Blink Dagger and Echo Harp have low utility at the beginning, then scale in utility as they are used. Dwindling Brazier begins with extremely powerful utility and fades to null the more often it's used.

Some Dominion decks revolve around getting money quickly then buying up Provinces to end the game. They dwindle in utility with more Provinces and so are susceptible against decks that earn VP and maintain utility through other victory point cards, like VP cards that double as actions or bonuses that give extra utility per Estate.

In thinking of how to design a good strategy game, supporting multiple strategies is a good place to start. I think viewing strategy in terms of its utility curve (early-middle-late) is a good skeleton to start experimenting with.

I still wonder how such a curve can be designed into the meta-game intentionally and made to be a smooth experience that results in a myriad of strategies in opposition to each other after a hiearachy of succeeding strategies.

For example, consider a game where C beats B and B, B beats A, A beats new players only. Then D could beat C,B and A and so on (and perhaps D is a combination of C and B), but eventually I want players to have choices between say, E,F,G,H as viable strategies. Fighting game characters, a race in a strategy game offer opportunities to granularly define these strategies.

The first part I think is the easiest. For exciting gameplay, however, the resulting field of strategies must not just be interesting to play against each other but support the emergent production of new strategies. I think Chess did this very well, even if not intentionally.

Many fighting games do this unintentionally and others more intentionally.

Playing Guilty Gear, there are clearly easier characters to learn as (in Revelator, Sin, Ky and Sol are arguably the easiest to get started with especialy if you have experience with the "Shoto" archetype in other fighting games). Learning Ramlethal or Venom, with their complicated set-play, proves more challenging at the beginner level.

The tier lists in Guilty Gear have, at least in previous editions, gotten flatter with more characters moved towards the middle, suggesting the designers are trying to support competitive play.

Categorized under food for thought.

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