Thursday, January 26, 2006

Strategy vs. Tactics 3

Because a few words are never enough, here are several more on how strategy, operations, and tactics differ usefully from each other.

1. Each of the three main levels has an enabling characteristic that distinguishes it from the others:









What this means is that the capability of players to perform at a particular level will be determined by the breadth and depth of in-game features that support the enabling characteristic.

For example, the range of tactical options available to your players will depend on how completely the environment is modeled. If all you offer is line of sight, then "tactics" will amount to two guys running up and hammering on each other as fast as possible until one of them falls over. The more that players are able to interact with their environment -- the more gameplay-relevant features the environment has -- the more tactical options will become available.

(I discuss my ideas for environmental richness in "Environmental Richness and Tactics" and Environment and Tactics.")

Likewise, satisfying operational gameplay depends on players having in-game features allowing them to create and fill organizational structures. (The system I describe in "Player-Defined Organizations" for allowing players to design their own organizations in MMOGs is intended in part to support this goal.)

And fun strategic gameplay depends on integrating logistical action and high-level organizational control -- in other words, on being able to move significant quantities of specific resources to where they're needed. "Resources" could include not just people, the greatest resource of all, but the food products Seth mentioned as well as transportation systems (and their requirements), housing if necessary, repair/maintenance services, and so on, and all in big quantities. That's a very different kind of challenge than tactical action, and it requires a different kind of thinking that isn't often called for in MMOGs... which seems like a shame.

It seems to me that the only reason there aren't many games that offer all these features is time. Doing a good job on one level means less time available to focus on another level.

That's not always a bad thing. Take Advanced Squad Leader, for example, which is still the gold standard of tabletop tactical-level simulations. ASL was detailed -- hoo, boy, was it ever detailed -- to the point that you wouldn't want to have to also deal with higher-level needs. You'd go nuts!

But having said that, I don't believe it's necessary to go all the way to "simulation" to get a lot of the fun out of the three levels of engagement. The trick -- and it's not an easy one, I'll admit -- is to find the right balance point among the three levels for the environmental, organizational, and logistical features that you offer players.

And then test that whole system like crazy!

2. When we talk about tactics and operations and strategy we typically assume the subject is military action, but that's not necessarily always the case. In fact, these levels show up in any multi-person competitive engagement of an appropriate scale.

Sports, for example, is often described using military terminology as metaphors. So is business. And that's because the range of possible actions in both of these competitive fields is determined by the same enablers as in combat: environment, organization, and logistics.

This can be applied to MMOGs. Tactics and operations and strategy don't automatically imply combat -- they can also be enabled in other areas. In particular, I believe they could be implemented to great effect in an economic subgame.

Can anyone imagine the analogs of "environment," "organization," and "logistics" in an economic/business context within a MMOG? What might an economic subgame look like that offered detailed environments, organizations, and logistics?

3. But getting back to combat.... of all the questions related to implementing interesting tactics and operations and strategy in a MMOG, one of the toughest is: How do you deal with failure in combat?

In a military context, failure = death. ("War is hell.") In a MMOG, that means character death; there has to be some meaningful risk worth the reward of controlling something of value (like territory).

But players don't like permadeath. They really, really don't like permadeath. And yet anything less is easily shrugged off as just another trip from the cloning station or magical resurrection.

I don't feel too bad about not being able to suggest some magic bullet solution, given that no Professional Game Designer has been able to accomplish that, either. :) Still, it's worth some further thought -- maybe the strategy/operations/tactics categorization will offer some inspiration.

No comments:

Post a Comment