Nations Forum

The Big Three: Game concerns from a long-retired player 16 replies

Goliath said on: 2009-08-14 05:14 pm
3413 Days, 9 Hrs, 50 Min, 0 Sec ago
Warning: Long post is long. Also, I'm having a devil of a time with post formatting. These tags don't seem to work anymore. =x

It would have been easy to write a whole laundry list of suggestions for Nations, but instead, I wanted to offer a few carefully-chosen observations regarding the game’s problems, since I doubt anyone could completely overhaul it overnight, nor would that necessarily be healthy for the game or the community.

#1: Nations is a war game that discourages war.

A long time ago in a Nations galaxy far, far away, upper-echelon players did everything they possibly could to avoid combat. (Maybe they still do. I wouldn’t know!) Tech-farming guilds would go so far as to institute non-aggression pacts and alliances with their top competitors. Why? Attacking takes turns, turns that cannot be recovered for improving non-vulnerable tech. Besides, attacking others usually nets you hits from your competitors.

Really, this all gets down to one key problem: Players are ranked only by their R&D and their land, and one is vastly superior to the other (so much so that players have engineered “1 land” strategies to sidestep the danger of combat). If the two were linked somehow—for example, if land was required for pursuing R&D (think of it as developing your land), each land allowed for a certain amount of R&D, and R&D points could change hands through combat and gaining/losing the corresponding land—this would completely change. All of the sudden, combat would become a viable alternative to peaceful R&D for pursuing a high score. Okay, maybe that’s not emphatic enough: Combat might just become necessary for earning a high score. Nations would become the “quest for world domination” it was supposed to be all along.

Why stop there, though? I would suggest a couple other measures. First, create a second set of turns: R&D turns for pursuing tech, and a smaller number of combat turns for… well, combat. The two would be separate, so you could, say, engage in routine espionage without slowing down your research. A “combat turns” system would make the “readiness” system obsolete, and make a lot more sense for the game. Second, make the “reinforce” feature more robust and relevant. Allow allied players to shift their forces freely from one nation to another, and make the game conceptually more “geographic” by allowing for huge combat between a massing attack force and a team of defending armies all within a single player’s nation, or for an attentive player with the right intel to counterattack while an aggressive player’s forces aren’t at home.

War should take some strategy, and it should also be highly rewarding. That’s the idea here.

#2: Nations is not the “few minutes a day” game it’s advertised to be.

Despite the game’s lack of emphasis on combat, it’s rather plentiful anyway, especially in the end-game. What does this have to do with time requirements, though? Everything, particularly for those at the top of the leader board: Attacks take place instantly. That means, unless you’re glued to your computer during the home-stretch, you’re going to be belted at some point, and you won’t have a chance to respond. Defending is a part of war, too, but an instant-attack game structure heavily favors the attacker.

It would make more sense for attacks to require a certain number of turns to “resolve”, preferably an amount equal to or higher than the maximum number of (combat) turns a player can have at one time, so the attack is guaranteed to resolve while the defender is present. So, if you attacked on your combat turn 500 of the game, and players are allowed a maximum of 20 combat turns at one time (just an example), your attack might resolve, say, 25 combat turns later, on your opponent’s combat turn 525. This kind of an “attack resolve” system does two things:

- Allows players to respond to attacks “as they occur” on their end, while they’re actually playing the game;
- Opens opportunities for improvements to other areas of the game, such as espionage. What if, for example, you could sniff out an incoming assault and summon the aid of your allies before it hits?

Maybe, just maybe, an “attack resolve” system would make last-minute “land-passing” a thing of the past, too.

#3: Nations is sloppy with its variables and wasteful or ineffective with its game functions.

Once upon a time, I endeavored to calculate exactly how much food and oil various military units consumed. After all, with that kind of info, one could learn how much Agriculture and Refinery R&D one would need to support any given number of units. I did eventually narrow it down through some tests, and what I learned disappointed me greatly: Every unit type consumed the same resources! How could 1 guerrilla possibly require just as much food and oil as 1 plane or 1 submarine? I only have one word for this kind of design and programming: lazy. (I’ll grant the benefit of the doubt for now and assume this is no longer the case.)

This kind of sloppiness also extended to other parts of the game, such as the combat system. It became obvious in short order that after the attack system changes that were implemented around 2004, Nations was using simple percentages to determine combat losses. This led to annoying (or hilarious, depending on who you are) quirks, such as the dreaded “1 plane attack”. It should be patently obvious that if, say, a force of 10 planes goes up against a force of 100, and the two have roughly equal combat capabilities, the force of 100 is going to win big (and maybe even come out without a loss). Percentage-based losses are also the sole reason why competitive players are afraid to stockpile land or money.

This isn’t the easiest thing for me to suggest a fix for, since I’m not a programmer and wouldn’t know what to do with the code even if I were looking at it. But surely the game’s combat logic and design could be made just a wee bit more… uh, realistic.

Improving, altering, or even removing some of the other game functions would also be a welcome sight:

- What competitive player ever uses the “Purchase” or “Bank” functions? Perhaps the bank could actually become more like a bank, and allow players to deposit money and gain a return on it (of course, with the caveat that you’d lose access to said funds for a while).

- What point does the “Government” function really serve? Not a blessed thing, that’s what. Maybe if your selected Government type did something more interesting, such as change the tech values of R&D categories so players could pursue different research strategies, it would have some relevance.

- Why is the market VIP-only, anyway? If it’s to prevent market crashes, you’ve got a different problem: the nature of the market resources themselves. They’re either too few or too homogeneous. After all, if everyone is selling exactly the same food or oil, there’s no reason to choose one buyer over another. Besides, Nations only has a handful of resource types that can be sold there. Perhaps if quality ratings were added, and the quality of a seller’s items was tied to specific tech categories for different items, buyers would have reason to choose one seller over another. Purchasing higher-quality items and troops could confer bonuses to buyers, such as the occasional extra point of Refinery/Agriculture, or that slight edge in combat.

- If the above isn’t feasible, you might as well just establish separate VIP and non-VIP leader boards, since you’ve got two sets of people playing two fundamentally different games. (Yes, having market access really makes that big a difference.)

Why did I bother writing all this? After playing for a year or so way-back-when, I felt like there was nothing left for me to experience, because the game was so simplistic and uninteresting. There was no strategic war game or "quest for world domination"; there was only a research-based math game with combat on the side.

Perhaps things have changed over the past few years; maybe some of my concerns have been addressed and I don’t even know it yet. Really, I just hope to see Nations become a top-tier browser-based war game someday. It’s not there yet—judging from the size of the game community compared to that from 5 years ago—but with the right improvements, there’s no reason it can’t be.
ShadyKnight (Mod) said on: 2009-08-14 05:31 pm
3413 Days, 9 Hrs, 32 Min, 54 Sec ago
This is EXACTLY what I've been saying. I am going to put this into the Admin forums right away. I like how much thought and effort you put into this, and hopefully it might guide some working efforts.
AK47 said on: 2009-08-14 05:51 pm
3413 Days, 9 Hrs, 13 Min, 16 Sec ago

i skimmed through your post so excuse me if i am off with the following comments, although i like where you are coming from for the most part.

a few disagreements...

1 land is not used to avoid attacks. it is used to produce massive food/oil, while focusing on the necessary researches to solidify your chances of achieving top-notch tech. on top of that, it is more turn-effective to prerise off someone for the land towards the end of the round then it is to explore which increased turn usage per every 50 or so land.

as for the vip, the whole point is to have an advantage. thats why games in general offer such a feature. so why would the admin separate the ranking boards? that would be lame.

and last (i think)...the game isnt a war game. it hasnt been for years. people need to get over this. i think people are generally content with it being a tech game. theres a reason why people dont bother warring and clans establish these NAPs.

but again, i commend you for investing time in seeking what seems to be, beneficial changes. maybe youll play a round or two and get a better perspective on things, that way you can harden your case.
ShadyKnight (Mod) said on: 2009-08-14 05:59 pm
3413 Days, 9 Hrs, 5 Min, 28 Sec ago
AK, I must make one important point: What would happen if everybody were to try to win at the same time (as a game normally is) instead of following suit and sacrificing for people? I doubt anybody would be trying to lowland if there weren't people playing support roles.

Honestly, I'm not all that fond of the tech-heavy gameplay, and think that forcing people to get land to research would be a smart idea. As you mentioned earlier, it is currently turn-efficient to "prerise" for your land, where you're getting >1 land per turn, but I wouldn't consider it attacking when it's off of somebody that is allowing you to. Nations as it sits now is basically a political popularity contest where everybody plays diplomat in attempt to not get attacked. I also read one of the ONEs say something that holds true to me:

"What is the point of playing if you already know who's going to win?"
Scott54 said on: 2009-08-14 05:59 pm
3413 Days, 9 Hrs, 5 Min, 4 Sec ago
Wonderful, I agree completely.
Goliath said on: 2009-08-14 06:08 pm
3413 Days, 8 Hrs, 56 Min, 5 Sec ago
AK47, it's true that the "1 land" strategy is designed to produce massive food/oil. However, that doesn't negate my observation at all. The purpose is to earn your funds through the market instead of through your nation's population, which allows you to pursue tech while impervious to attacks score-wise. In a sense, you've highlighted the means, while I've identified the end goal.

Regarding VIP status, I'd say it's a problem any time you have to pay to access a critical feature of the game. It would be different if the subscription offered you "flavor" or "aesthetic" bonuses, such as more skins for Nations, different fonts and effects for messages, a flag-building tool, or what-have-you. But the message of the current VIP perks is rather clear: "Competitive players need not apply without paying first." That scenario isn't exactly conducive to building a burgeoning game community, anyway.
Jing said on: 2009-08-14 07:16 pm
3413 Days, 7 Hrs, 47 Min, 57 Sec ago
As a former hardcore lowlander and a current warmonger, I agree with many of the things you've listed in your post.
Good job.
ChaoticLaw said on: 2009-08-15 04:58 am
3412 Days, 22 Hrs, 5 Min, 44 Sec ago
Goliath, great to see you here again.

I'd just like to make a few points. To start, no one that has played this game for more than a round or two thinks it's a war-based game. There are people that pop up from time to time and shake things up with mass attacks and what-not (ie WARBEAST), but these players aren't trying to "win" just make things interesting for themselves.

While I like a lot of your points, I think the separate leader board for VIPs is unnecessary. I've been gone lately, but in the past I know there have been competitive and winning nonVIPs.

The attack resolution sounds good, but I don't think it'll exactly take away the end of game last second rises/attacks. It will simply make them happen earlier (to allow the resolution) and they will be to be very well coordinated.

I forget what other comments I had, but overall I agree with you Goliath.
Stormbringer said on: 2009-08-15 05:19 am
3412 Days, 21 Hrs, 45 Min, 32 Sec ago
Brilliant post Goliath.
/ Applauds
Stoutn said on: 2009-08-15 08:19 am
3412 Days, 18 Hrs, 44 Min, 55 Sec ago
I find this very internesting, may actually may Nations a bit more fun :P
Goliath said on: 2009-08-15 08:50 am
3412 Days, 18 Hrs, 14 Min, 24 Sec ago
Good to see you too, CL. =)

I would call the "two boards" idea a last resort, really. That's not something you'd want to fall back on until you've explored all other options, simply because it could reduce the "fun factor" of the game.

You're right about attack resolution--on its own, it would just move the timetable up a bit for performing end-of-round "rises". At the very least, though, the delay would provide opportunities for spies to catch such players in the act and launch attacks to bring them down to earth.

Of course, there are always other methods for writing land-rises out of the game (which, IMO, would be a wise move, as there's no reason such a questionable and exploitable mechanic should define the end-game). For example, if you tie R&D to land, you could remove land's tech value, and slightly increase the value of R&D categories to compensate. Then you could add an "integration" period for new land (and therefore R&D) earned through combat, where after you take the land, its associated R&D is progressively (X points per Y turns, not a percentage) added to your totals over time. That would carry the risk of making rewards feel disjointed from war, of course.

[Added at 08/15/2009 10:02:27 by Goliath]
*Alternatively, retain land's tech value, but integrate both R&D *and* land over time.

[Added at 08/15/2009 12:19:21 by Goliath]
*Poorly worded edit, sorry. What I mean is, in the example where land retains its value, the tech points from land would be gradually rewarded as the associated R&D is integrated into your nation.
Fruithog said on: 2009-08-15 09:38 am
3412 Days, 17 Hrs, 26 Min, 12 Sec ago
Excellent, didn't know so many people agree that nations is a war game and all should play for the win.
Ahso said on: 2009-08-15 09:40 am
3412 Days, 17 Hrs, 24 Min, 26 Sec ago
Goliath, you be my Nations hero...

Gray_Ghost said on: 2009-08-15 11:31 am
3412 Days, 15 Hrs, 32 Min, 51 Sec ago
We ought to be begging G to return as a player.
Everything he says makes sense. It has all the ingredients to make this game "winable" by anyone not just VIP's, or, those who can find someone to "lay down" for them at the end of a round.
PFC-Hepburn said on: 2009-08-15 11:52 am
3412 Days, 15 Hrs, 11 Min, 54 Sec ago
Goliath, nice to see you around! I agree with your post and also think the one land deal is not only to produce massive oil and food but to also deter attackers. (I mean why attack if you get nothing from it, right?)

Any who! We will PROBABLY NEVER see these changes because the game has many faults that have yet to be fixed. I also agree that you shouldn't need VIP to win the game, but you need it to win these days.

BTW, when was the last NON-VIP win?

I miss the days where anyone could win!!
IronSinew (Admin) said on: 2009-08-18 06:10 pm
3409 Days, 8 Hrs, 54 Min, 3 Sec ago
I do think this post has the potential to spawn some good ideas towards the potential adjustment of Nations. There are a few things that I agree and disagree with, but I don't think I will go into any sort of detail of them all.

Combat system:
I agree that the combat system is quite flawed, but how the game is currently designed to re-write it would be to basically re-write a major portion of Nations which would take a fair amount of time. Instead of doing this, Tom and I elected to create a new game that has many more flexible strategy applications and I believe will satisfy the strategy palette much more.

Alternative rankings:
I've had an idea rolling around in my head for some time of how I can encourage different styles of play amongst Nations players. I came up with a few ideas and I will discuss one or two here. Add an Honor System. What does that mean exactly? Each unit has a certain military value when destroyed, and that is a separate ranking system tracked by the game. If you kill a guerrilla, you gain x honor, a submarine will net you y. Players are ranked by honor during rounds as well, but a flaw that seemed apparent to me is that attackers can pick on techers or whatever. I'm still trying to iron this one out a bit.

I also thought about a trophy system that could give you medals to show off to others or what not, but this idea has lots of potential for other things that I still intend to implement, but not necessarily for weekly achievements. More info will be presented about the trophy system later.

I hope that this thread can be a catalyst for some discussion and ideas. As long as it doesn't involve re-writing a major portion of the game, I am willing to try to implement some features that will create other competition. As a side note, top non-VIP players are rewarded with 1 month of free VIP time, so I guess it is already somewhat divided for the prizes given.

Goliath said on: 2009-08-18 06:39 pm
3409 Days, 8 Hrs, 25 Min, 17 Sec ago
Thanks for your post, IronSinew. I'm encouraged to hear that you're looking for this thread to become a vehicle for Nations discussion--that's what I was hoping for as well.

I need to strongly recommend against implementing an honor system--that is, unless you're prepared to rework the combat system at the same time. In short, combining it with the existing readiness system will create another undesirable product: "military farms".

Just as we currently have "land farms" who allow allies to attack them for massive end-game rises, you'd have a new breed of farm where players would pursue high military, drop their readiness to 0% through attacking, then restock their troops without spending more turns and allow allies to mass them for huge honor points at minimal cost. Even worse, if such a player saved enough money beforehand, he could repeatedly re-purchase troops (or buy them for cheap from VIP allies) and allow allies to continually mass him without ever having to spend another turn (which would replenish his readiness).

It's absolutely imperative that you modify the combat system if you want to add an honor system to Nations.