Shannon V. OKeets
From: Honolulu, Hawaii
Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant
(September 18, 2005)
World in Flames is a complex game in almost every way. MWIF will have 70,200 hexes, 13 types of hex terrain, 7 type of hexside terrain, over 3,000 units spanning over 60 different unit types, 238 countries/territories, 81 sea areas, and 5,084 coastal hexes. The official rules for MWIF (RAW 7), runs to over 60 pages of small font, double column pages. To sum up, how to play this game is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer.
There will be four primary sources of information for the player to reference to learn how to play MWIF: the help system, the tutorials, the AI Assistant, and the player’s manual. The last I will cover in a separate thread next month. Right now I want to focus our discussion on the first three because they will be computer based.
Almost every software application includes a help system. And almost universally, they are a source of intense frustration for the purchasers of the software. I aspire to have the help system for MWIF to be the exception. In particular I want the phrase “context sensitive” to be meaningful and not just some marketing hype.
MWIF actually has a structure that lends itself to context sensitive help: the sequence of play. Because there are so many stages, phases, and subphases within each turn of MWIF, we should be able to have a pretty good idea what kinds of questions the player is hoping the help system can answer based on where he is in the sequence of play.
Now the help system is simply going to retrieve textual information and present it to the player. I don’t see this as the place to produce an elaborate game situation example with depictions of units on the map. If need be, we can let the player jump to the tutorial system, where colored graphics will be used as part of the explanations.
What I would like your advice on is which parts of MWIF you think players are going to: (1) find confusing, (2) need a short refresher course on from time to time, or (3) need to understand in fine detail before making a move or decision. These should be questions that arise while playing a game.
Before players start playing MWIF it would be really nice if they read through a tutorial. Of course, it won’t be mandatory, but charging right into MWIF blind could be a real eye-opener as to how much you don’t remember, or never even knew, about WIF. But the goal is get players playing the game as fast as possible. That is the sole purpose of the tutorial. Definitive expositions on arcane aspects of WIF are not welcome here.
In order to get players who are new WIF started playing the game quickly, and experienced WIF players started even faster, there will be several tutorials. The primary set of tutorials will be for the experienced WIF player. A superset of the primary tutorials will include an introduction to WIF itself.
At this point I haven’t thought about the tutorials any farther than that. They will have a beginning and an end with chapters, or some equivalent, as their structural format. I don’t like cutesy-poo tutorials myself, with little animated figures popping up and making comments about “be sure to notice”, “here is a useful hint”, and the like. My style is to just say what I want to say directly, with as much clarity and precision as I can muster. Graphical examples of units on the map are essential and I want to go beyond the few that were included in RAW.
Any suggestions you can make about what topics the tutorials should cover, the order in which they should cover topics, how they should present the material, would be of great help to me. There is also the issue of navigating through the tutorials, perhaps letting players choose the sequence in which they view the information. What would you like to see?
The AI Assistant, AIA, would go beyond the help and tutorial information in that it will base its advice on the current game situation. The idea for the AIA is that it would help the player make decisions. Now I am somewhat reluctant to make this an extensive part of MWIF. There are several reasons for my reluctance.
(1) Giving good advice in WIF is hard. Excellent players can argue for hours about what is the ‘correct’ tactical, operational, or strategic plan in a typical WIF game.
(2) Choosing advice that integrates with what the player has been doing for the past several turns is hard. There is the very real possibility that the AIA advice will be diametrically opposed to what the player is trying to accomplish.
(3) Assessing a game position is hard. I am writing code to do this for the AI Opponent and it is non-trivial. If all that is needed is a superficial evaluation, then that can be done easily enough. However, any thoughtful analysis that takes into consideration the trends in losses and builds over the past year and the expected changes in production levels for the next year seems too ambitious.
(4) Identifying opportunities for great attacks for yourself (and for your opponent) strikes me as the heart of WIF. To have the AIA go do the work for you, and then tell you what to do, is like having a grand master tell you what move to make in chess. You might beat your opponent senseless, but have you really played the game? Who really is the senseless person in that contest? Along the same line, I never understood why players want to know how to cheat. If they simply want to have the highest score in the list of champions, I can let the players edit that file directly.
(5) Comparing the importance of the AIA to other game elements, leads me to the conclusion that a lot of effort could be expended on the AIA with either less being done in other areas, or the release date delayed.
So, I want there to be an AIA, but I want it to “think small”. The player should be reminded to do things. He should be prompted to think ahead, have a strategic plan. Perhaps post notes to himself for what to do next turn. Since I plan on providing Preplanned Decisions (PDs) as a way to enter moves in advance, there might be a way to tie the AIA advice into the PDs.
Where do you think there would be a high payoff in terms of making the product better by adding advice from the AIA? What things do you think would be used a lot by the players? How do you feel about having the AIA tell you which hexes to attack and which units to use in those attacks?
All your suggestions and comments are eagerly awaited by me.
Perfection is an elusive goal.