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Balancing Acts…

I sat down and playtested Cryptic Stitching (that being the name of my game) from start to farthest-point-along yesterday and was rather depressed to find that over a hundred cards = surprisingly little content. I got through it in about two hundred clicks or so, including some time spent grinding. (At forty clicks a day, that’s…err…five days of play, or thereabouts.) Mind you, I knew exactly what I was doing and where to go to do everything, so I can get through it a bit quicker, but…still.

On the other hand, having over a hundred cards would make me one of the larger games in the StoryNexus catalog, assuming it was playable. (I write fast.)

I started a new character in Fallen London, on the other hand, which apparently has over 3000 cards, and was immediately a bit overwhelmed. There were some clear options, but there were also a solid dozen “You can’t unlock this yet!” options with way too much information. I spent a good bit of time boggling….and I’ve played it before. And am a gamer of long and illustrious standing. And have a passing acquaintance with the system from the back end. And I can imagine new players staring at all of the options and then closing the browser and never coming back.

So I need more stuff to do in my game, while not having it all appear in the first ten minutes and knock the player flat. And I’ve got the problem while there’s some fairly lengthy plot-related quests, there’s not nearly enough small incidental stuff, so you wind up getting the same two merchants and minor cards over and over once you’ve cleared out the plot-stuff, which will of course bore our hypothetical player to tears.

The first-ten-minutes problem I can probably fix by setting a “newcomer” marker that turns off some of the content until the player has gotten through a couple of establishing quests. (Now I just have write those establishing quests…!) But the extra-content stuff can only be fixed by…well…writing extra content.

(Stuff I really DID like and had forgotten about Fallen London–the sidebar with flavor text! There isn’t an option like that in the standard Story Nexus engine that I’ve found, alas. And it’s made me think about moving a couple of cards around for ease of player access…)

Part of the problem, I think, is that the developers suggested at least twelve cards in the “draw pile” for any given region, to ensure a good mix in the draw. And even then, I started getting the same cards over and over and over and thought “Oh god, I need at least a half dozen more…”

Oy. I didn’t think I was anywhere close to done with Act I, but I was hoping that I was farther along than I thought…

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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Re: Fallen London and "And I can imagine new players staring at all of the options and then closing the browser and never coming back.", that was me. I have friends that play it, I love the steampunkish venue, and some of the color text was intriguing, but the game play itself lost my interest in less than half an hour.

All that aside, I am so very much looking forward to seeing what you do in this medium.

*nods* I played a bit when it first got going, and enjoyed the heck out of it. Came back a few months ago, and it lost me FAST. Just too damn much stuff, and little of it actually playable at that moment, which made me feel like the game was wasting my limited turns.

It's things like this that make me roll my eyes at the people who complain about the cost of buying a new video game these days. It's sixty bucks for a REASON. A little card game like this, built on an existing engine takes how many man-hours?

Now add in designing the engine, and full world graphics, and and and and and...

If you've got art and a general landscape/worldview map, I'd be willing to do text of side stuff on cards. I run up limericks and 100-1,000 word snippets to walk away from fairly easily. It wouldn't have the same flavor as yours, but it would cut some of the drudgery.

I appreciate the offer, but I'm really not a collaborative type, I'm afraid. And lot of this involves writing flavor text, realizing that I can't use it there, and either deleting it or chopping it apart, so even if I were, I'd hate to sacrifice somebody else's work to it!

Would it be possible/ethical/playable to add variety to minor incidental cards by a random filler generator? Like how the Unitarian Jihad names are generated by combining sets of adjectives and nouns? Just so you could pull a merchant card half a dozen times without having it be the same merchant every time.

Alternately, can copy/paste one card into a dozen, with minor differences added. "This one is blue!"

My goodness, I had forgotten about the Unitarian Jihad. Good times.

But you raise an interesting possibility, and it reminds me of my beautiful pipe dream of game making: a completely computer-generated game that is unique every time you start a new game. A randomly generated map , a program-written storyline, all the extra characters voiced by bots that can actually have a conversation with you... Exceedingly difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well, but what's the point of a beautiful dream if it's easy to make it come true?

Brother Pointy Stick of Reasoned Debate

Hmm. I can't swear it's impossible, but it would certainly be well beyond my capabilities, and I'm not sure I'd want to if I could. I mean, the names aren't the problem. *grin* And I kinda like having people get to know the various deranged merchants and so on.

I'm enjoying playing Fallen London, but the biggest thing that annoys me about it is that when something is locked it doesn't usually tell me why it's locked, and where to go to get the thing that unlocks it.

Really? I've never had that problem; most of the "you need bluh item" boxes that you get on a locked storylet seem to tell you where to get it.

I can't seem to help comparing Fallen London to Kingdom of Loathing. Fallen London frequently gives you instructions for how to progress in a quest, whereas KoL never tells you anything -- it'll point you at the area you should be toiling in, perhaps, but little else. (I think you're meant to treat quest completion as a sequence of puzzles.) This led me to rely utterly on the KoL wiki. You probably shouldn't need a third-party wiki to get through a game, now that I'm thinking about it, but it works alright for me.

Okay, didn't really think you'd want to take me up on that, but thought I'd offer. Startling to think of it as "collaboration" though, at least for me. The cheek! Me, offering to collaborate with a Hugo winner!

I like the idea of getting to know the same deranged merchants. Reminds me of Eddings' Belgariad, etc. where they'd run into the same people from time to time, watching the rise & fall of their fortunes. Maybe that's what you should shoot for; give the merchants a random "doing better/worse than last encounter" factor? If the computer random generator will support it, you could use it to make the decisions/purchases the player chooses more fraught. "Do I stiff this guy/gal who's been good to me, to get what I really need? Or pay what it's worth?" or "Which of the potentially useful objects they're offering should I buy; which ones do I *really* need?"

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