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Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency

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1 Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Tue May 04, 2010 5:42 pm

I believe things so far have been very interesting, and the discussions so far have really brought out some great questions and answered some difficult problems. However, I think that there are a few things that will greatly increase the quality and polish of the game when it is released that we should start thinking about now.

Tighten the scope: Many of the most interesting creatures on Earth have amazing abilities or live in unlivable conditions. These organisms don’t follow the rules when it comes to nature, and that becomes a problem when we’re trying to build a rule set around them for a game. A recent issue was brought up with the undersea thermal vents and how many unique species live down there. I agree these organisms are fascinating, but maybe now is not the best time to attempt to work such a unique and independent ecosystem into the game. Also, are we including both eukaryotes and prokaryotes in this game? Are we even going into that classification system? If we are, perhaps we should think about maybe excluding chunks of diversity for the sake of more stable gameplay.

Focusing release: Right now, as far as I can tell, cards are being made and released based on which ones are submitted. While this gives an excellent array of different cards from different habitats, attempting to build a cohesive deck out of them is almost impossible. I think we should focus the card production to one or two broad habitats (forests and freshwater would be a good combination) so that people will be able to build reasonable decks earlier than it would take through the current system. It would also give us a chance to play test the game rules and scoring system earlier and provide feedback in a timely manner. Think of it as a card series in other trading card games. Pokemon had “Jungle” and “Fossil,” Star Wars had “Hoth” and “Degobah,” and we can have “Forest streams” and “Coastlines.”

Emphasize Event cards:
I’m using the term event to describe all Challenge, Safeguard, or any other effect card which comes into development. Since this is the main way for a player to alter the course of his opponent’s ecosystem, it is important to play it up. If a diverse collection of event cards which effect many different types of situations can be quickly developed, it will help with the playtesting, and will in my opinion make the game have more staying power, and more fun. This will also be a chance to tackle the problem of monoculture systems, as challenge cards could be made to offset this tactic.

I would really like comments on what people agree and disagree with. Thank you for your time.

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2 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Tue May 04, 2010 8:33 pm

I'm going to agree that we definitely need to tighten the focus. Undersea vents are awesome, but it gets away from the core idea:

Kids should be able to recognize species that live near them!


Most kids will never visit an undersea vent. This may be an awesome expansion, but gets away from the original core.


Perhaps the best way to deal with this would be to focus on 4 habitats. Splitting them by climate makes the most sense so we have one for each.

This is being done in English, so the regions should focus on a specific area in English speaking countries. (because these will be the kids seeing the very first cards. other regions can get focused on later) Tigers are awesome, but kids aren't going to see them in their backyard if they speak English!

If we pick regions, it should probably be one Canadian, one US, and one UK habitat. Canada gets Cold, UK gets cool, US gets warm, Australia gets Hot. That covers the majority of English speaking countries with at least one starting deck option.

That covers one habitat for each and then reps from each of those can fight over what particular habitat people think we should focus on. (prairie, broadleaf forest, bog, etc)


Focusing on one for each will give a wide spread of species while also giving it enough focus to build around.

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3 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Tue May 04, 2010 9:56 pm

@fenrislorsrai
I prefer an europe habitat to an UK habitat ;-)

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4 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Tue May 04, 2010 10:03 pm

Europe in general is fine, but much of Europe doesn't speak English, thus why I picked the UK to start with. Then you Europeans can argue over a smaller set of focused climates than if you had all of Europe to argue over Razz

Since there's also a Polish version of the rules, I'm fulling expecting whoever did the rules to come up with a set of cards for Poland. Smile

Arguing over what region of the US to focus on will involved a lot of bloody knuckles.

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5 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Tue May 04, 2010 11:53 pm

Before the end of May, I'll get some folks in the lab to go full speed to publish all existing cards (I think we have enough for over 100 right now, and by then maybe a collection of 120+). I think from that we can look at trying to build sets from it and kind of go from there.

The art is the rate limiting step, but my lab has been fairly successful at just asking for permissions on artwork found on deviant.

Anyway, when all of these cards are up, we can try to see what things are missing, what is needed etc, and work towards making usable decks. How's that sound?

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6 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Wed May 05, 2010 1:48 am

I think Dave is right -- we should just get playable content to start with, and then worry about specializing later. And who knows, maybe making it all *too* specific would be a bad idea. Most kids won't see a whole lot of tigers around their houses, sure, but tigers are fricken' awesome, and what better way to catch their attention? It seems that we should definitely not try to limit ourselves, as fenris suggests, to mundane, everyday critters. I mean, which sounds more exciting -- a bengal tiger, or a field sparrow? How about a giant squid vs a gray squirrel? (Eastern or western, take your pick. It doesn't really matter.)

It's a good goal to have players recognizing local species, but if we want to keep the game interesting to the average kid and not just the budding-biology-nerd types, then excluding non-local species is simply a bad idea.

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7 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Wed May 05, 2010 3:10 am

Wootfish wrote:I think Dave is right -- we should just get playable content to start with, and then worry about specializing later.

I think this is where we disagree the most. I believe the two are tied to each other a great deal in that you wont be able to create playable content in a timely manner without some focus and specialization. Say 100 cards end up going online by the deadline. Also assume they're randomly distributed among the different climates and terrains. Anyone who has played a trading card game knows that attempting to create a deck that spans all card ranges weakens the effectiveness of that deck a great deal. With the number of climates and terrains currently in game, a reasonably focused deck would only be able to choose from 10-15 odd unique cards.

I think the more effective way of doing it is paring down the range to a few habitats and building those 100 cards around them. That way, we begin testing with players able to create decks out of a greater pool of cards. The increase in playable variety as well as the tighter habitat focus will, in my opinion, lead to more meaningful beta testing. If people are using similar decks to play against each other, we start by shoring up the rules for this small set. We then bring more cards in to match this set of rules. This is much easier than taking a small quantity of highly different cards and attempting to playtest a rule set around it.

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8 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Wed May 05, 2010 3:44 am

Just to clarify - I don't it's best to create a starter deck with a diverse range of cards. Just saying that as our cards are limited to the art submitted or collected, it will understandably be tricky to create these unified decks quickly. However, we do have a fair number of images, and images are coming in slowly and surely, so hopefully as the pool of total cards gets bigger, it'll be easier to make these more thematic decks.

As well, I see the "starter deck" as a straight-up pdf file (created probably by someone clicking out the cards necessary and then printing a pdf) and that this pdf file will go along with the rules.

In fact, as the rules get more and more polished, the definition of what a good starting deck or testing deck will also presumably get more and more polished.

Anyway, just so that we addressing both trains of thought, I'll see if my lab can actively try to get more "common" backyard type creatures (like temperate urban sorts of things), to curve the selection that way a little (I'm actually giving a talk on the project this Friday, so maybe I can make a shout out).

At the end of the day, we don't have any urgent deadlines here. Baby steps are o.k. As things progress, I think interest will naturally increase, and thereby offer the chance for continued expansion and improvement of the project overall (although I may be a little too optimistic!)

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9 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Wed May 05, 2010 4:04 am

TheCharles wrote:
Wootfish wrote:I think Dave is right -- we should just get playable content to start with, and then worry about specializing later.

I think this is where we disagree the most. I believe the two are tied to each other a great deal in that you wont be able to create playable content in a timely manner without some focus and specialization. Say 100 cards end up going online by the deadline. Also assume they're randomly distributed among the different climates and terrains. Anyone who has played a trading card game knows that attempting to create a deck that spans all card ranges weakens the effectiveness of that deck a great deal. With the number of climates and terrains currently in game, a reasonably focused deck would only be able to choose from 10-15 odd unique cards.

I think the more effective way of doing it is paring down the range to a few habitats and building those 100 cards around them. That way, we begin testing with players able to create decks out of a greater pool of cards. The increase in playable variety as well as the tighter habitat focus will, in my opinion, lead to more meaningful beta testing. If people are using similar decks to play against each other, we start by shoring up the rules for this small set. We then bring more cards in to match this set of rules. This is much easier than taking a small quantity of highly different cards and attempting to playtest a rule set around it.

I see your point, and to a degree I have to admit I agree with it. However, I don't think that tight habitat focus is what the project needs at this point in time. Surely, there will be a time when it's exactly what we need. But in my opinion, that time is after we've handled other aspects of the game.

The intent of the sentence you quoted was that we shouldn't worry about how to market the cards to our intended audience at this phase. We should just make cards we can play the game with, regardless of who's going to find these species in their back yards. I'm of the opinion that until the game is playable, our first priority ought to be taking whatever the artists / art-finders can get us and working with it. The cart of end-user appeal can't go before the horse of gameplay -- that's where almost every "edutainment" (wince) project messes up. If this results in a somewhat thin spread of species per habitat, so be it. We'll make it work, and there's always time to grow out the content of the game. Down the road, I'm sure we'll find that tweaking content is far easier than tweaking rules.

And honestly, I think 15 different species would really be plenty for basic play-testing. Bear in mind of course that you wouldn't want just one habitat, most likely, due to environmental challenges that affect that environment. Having somewhere around two environments that your deck specializes in, plus some environmental challenge cards, should give you plenty of cards. And besides -- we wouldn't want many duplicate species cards in the actual game, but they're allowed in the current game rules, so what's the harm of having a few in playtesting? It seems to me like it would be a rather poor idea not to include them, in fact.

Another thing to consider: since the rules are still taking shape, it's good to keep the content built around them somewhat general. Suppose for instance that we want Urban cards to work differently. Would it be easier to modify and playtest 15 Urban cards, or 30?

And lastly, if we only specialize in a few climates, then that gives an unrealistic view of how the game works. If we had, say, 3 "main climates", then species that bridged 2 or more of those 3 climates would serve a multi-purpose role that one would not find if there are, say, 10 developed climates, as one would find in the intended end product. So using a smaller set of climates would not only be mostly unneeded, it could actually have the potential to skew the results obtained from playtesting.

---

Edit-- Dave posted while I was writing this up, which is why his comment isn't addressed in the body of this message. Nothing personal -- sorry! Anyway, as far as I can tell, what Dave is saying is that the supply of cards is controlled entirely by the flow of artwork into the system, and so our supply of cards is rather diverse, but that this doesn't mean we should make diverse decks. Instead, we should wait until we have more cards to work with, then start making good decks.

I agree with what he's saying to a degree, however I think that as long as there's a sufficient baseline level of diversity (like say a minimum of 5 species cards for a given climate, for instance) it won't be too much of a problem if we just repeat cards for now. Obviously this wouldn't be the final version that we distribute, but for testing purposes it'll have to do for now. I for one would like to get most of the kinks ironed out before we build up a huge mass of cards, because if we change how a card works, we don't just have to change the text on it -- we have to test it all over again to make sure it hasn't become overpowered by itself, or that it hasn't become overpowered in conjunction with this card, or that it hasn't become overpowered with relation to this environmental challenge or that play strategy, et cetera. It's simply too difficult to do this with very large numbers of cards. It's wonderful to have lots of art to make into cards, but we mustn't get carried away quite yet.



Last edited by Wootfish on Wed May 05, 2010 4:23 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : Added the note at the end of my post)

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10 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Wed May 05, 2010 7:40 pm

Heads up: May 22nd is International Day of Biodiversity. Will try and have all cards ready by then (with maybe a 2 week publishing buffer - 14 cards saved for the next two weeks)!

cheers
dave

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11 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Thu May 06, 2010 11:00 pm

Conveniently I have a game meet on the 23rd, so I shall demo it for people then and they can do their damndest to break the cards and the rules themselves.

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12 Re: Opinion: Proceeding with Efficiency on Thu May 06, 2010 11:09 pm

Nice. I know a few people I could test it with as well -- I'm hoping to do so this weekend, if I get a chance.

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