TL;DR: My business partner and I disagree about how to implement "territory acquisition" in an MMO RTS we are close to (alpha) launching:
- My view: Small squares (5m edge) that get larger as you "level up", up to about 500m edge
- His view: Fixed sized squares that are always 5km edge
Which is the better approach (mainly from a game design perspective)? And if you feel that my approach is better, how do I convince him of this?
I’m an indie game designer and developer. My business partner and I are close to (alpha) releasing an MMO RTS, but we are stuck on how to handle one feature: territory expansion.
First, a few details about the game so that the answers can be in context:
- It’s played on a map of the world using the Google Maps API
- It is a “true” RTS – very little is abstracted.
- There are actual buildings you can place on the land, actual units that you can move around the world etc.
- Territory acquisition is currently by way of moving an infantry unit onto a “square” of land, which turns it blue meaning it’s now your territory (you can build buildings on it etc.)
Also, some details about our partnership:
- We have a 50/50 partnership on costs (and hopefully one day, profits!)
- We have shared, 50/50 responsibilities on design
- Everything else is assigned roles:
- Me: technical lead, coding etc.
- Him: Art, UI, marketing etc.
- We have been working together on this game for almost 2 years
- We live in different states and only work together remotely (although we have met in person)
Where we’re not seeing eye to eye is how territory expansion should work in the game. My view is this:
- Players start with a small “square” of territory (about 5m x 5m) and expand by claiming adjacent “squares”
- Once they hit a number of squares equivalent to a larger square (5 x 5 small squares, or about 25 x 25m), they can then claim squares at that size
- This keeps increasing until they can eventually claim 500 km x 500 km squares
- There is a mathematical model behind this, but I think all that is relevant is that the sizes align to degree increments, and that I have modelled it so that there are 10 “map levels” in the game, with the largest map level having about 2,500 large squares across the globe
I believe these are the pros and cons to my approach:
- I feel that it adds a lot of “flavour” to the game having players grow in size and power from owning territory the size of a room in a house, then maybe a house, then a block, then a suburb, city, state etc. all the way up to small country size squares
- It allows players of different “power” to compete against each other in the same game world. Players at the smallest map levels can only see and claim territory from players of equivalent power, and likewise players at the largest level compete for vast tracts of land, and can leave smaller players alone
- It looks very neat – map squares always align on a grid, with no overlaps
- Using this approach, players would not be able to see other players’ territories at different map levels. This is because territory would overlap, which not only looks terrible, it’s just not the way maps are represented, and also causes technical issues wherein any API you use (e.g. Google Maps) doesn’t know which layer you meant to click on
- However, players can see other, more/less powerful players’ territories by clicking on some up/down buttons so that players can see what’s going on around them at different power levels
His view is this:
- Squares should always be a fixed size, say 5 km x 5 km
I believe these are the pros and cons to his approach:
- It’s simpler! My life as a developer and designer would be so much easier if squares were always the same size
- All players can always see all other players’ squares because everyone is basically at the same “map level”, all the time
- It makes the game feel like a large checkered board game, or a big version of Risk rather than an RTS
- Basic grids like this have been done before in other games – I feel that my approach is more novel and interesting (albeit a bit risker since it’s new)
- Acquiring territory may feel “quicker and easier” as you start the game since you already start with a massive chunk of land, but I think that will quickly turn into a grind once you realise that there are about 26 million squares of this size on earth
- There is less aspirational value to capturing “more” squares, as opposed to a psychological player reward associated with being allowed to capture “larger” squares as you level up
A few more facts at this point:
- I was previously a professional game designer, so I believe I usually know what works and doesn’t work in games (although I’m only human, and can obviously be wrong)
- My business partner has no experience in the game industry. He is coming at this problem from a “this feels right to me” perspective
- I have already coded, implemented and tested my approach and it works perfectly (albeit with the constraint of having to choose to go up/down to view larger/smaller players’ territory)
- It has taken me about 2 months to design and develop this approach and it is an integral part of the (pre-alpha) version of the game
- The game has only been played by very few family members and friends, and we are maybe a month away from a private alpha launch to a closed group of people whom we both know
He is suggesting that we either go with his fixed square approach, start completely from scratch, or stop developing the game altogether (after almost 2 years of time and money, with maybe a few weeks to go before an alpha launch).
I guess I’m looking for advice on two things:
- Which is the better game design approach: gradually increasing square sizes (with the constraints I mentioned above), or fixed square sizes (and their associated pros and cons)
- If I’m convinced that my design makes more sense from a design, gameplay, technical, aesthetic and financial perspective (since I don’t want to waste the couple of months working on this feature, let alone the couple of years working on this game), how do I convince him of this?
Any external, objective advice on this is much appreciated.