Monday, February 14, 2011

The Disciples III delay

I would like to claim that I am late with the post this week because I wanted to wish everyone a happy Valentines day. This would be a lie. Before writing the post on implementing the buttons, I decided to play a couple hours of Disciples III. As with a lot of strategy games, the next thing I knew it was two in the morning. The fact that this happened is a clear indication that the low reviews the game received are not the whole story. Certainly, waiting until the game went on sale allowed a lot of the bugs to be fixed, so my experience with the game is probably a much better one than the reviewers had, but there were still a lot of bugs in the game. Bugs are one of the bigger issues that the game has. The big issue that I have with the game is with the campaign design. I have always found that the best way of learning is by making mistakes. If you can learn from the mistakes that somebody else has made, that is even better. So I am going to delay DDT again but since the source for the game is going to be released soon it might actually be better as then the articles can focus on the theory. Still, I have to get into the habit of writing the articles as I create the code instead of procrastinating, but nobody is perfect.

For people who are not familiar with the Disciples series, I highly recommend going to Steam or to GOG and getting a copy of Disciples II (2 not the latest one). It is fairly cheap and is a really good mix of Strategy and RPGs. The third one adds 3D to the series as well as expanding the combat system. The hex-based combat is similar to the combat system that I am developing for my own larger-scale games that are in development and is quite fun. The problem is that the new combat system makes each combat last a lot longer and as a result slows down the game considerably. If the game would have had less combat to compensate for this time-sink, it may have been better. Of course, you have the instant combat option and the auto-combat option but these are badly broken.

Instant combat is far too decisive as it doesn't take strategy into account, just troop strength. As a result a battle in which I would have easily won despite my weak troops results in a devastating loss. The reverse also happens meaning that a battle in which you are probably going to win but will take a lot of damage will result in a no-damage victory. The auto-combat is a bit better, but has the problem of really dumb AI. I suppose one could complain that this is the problem with the Disciples III combat system is that the AI is really poor. Once you have a rough idea of how the opponents are going to react, it is easy to take advantage of the flaws in their logic. This is a problem that most games have so really isn't a flaw but rather a shortcoming of current game-AI approaches.

The problem comes down to having too much combat resulting in combat fatigue. But that is only half of the problem with the campaign. The other problem is that the maps are fairly linear and not very well balanced. There seems to be very little incentive to have more than a single hero, as you are for the most part following a single path that twists over the map. Part of the fun from this type of game is exploring the world. When the world becomes a single path (with a couple of minor sub-paths), you lose the feel of exploration. I should point out that I am only on the 6th episode of the human campaign so can't say this problem extends to the other two campaigns but I suspect it does.

The combat balance is off as mix of easy and hard encounters seem pretty random. There are many cases where a minor game resource has the equivalent of a boss fight while the key points are guarded by pawns. The other problem is that the big boss battles tend to be the whack the big beast who seems to have a huge amount of health, armor and spell immunity until it dies. While these bosses are definitely tough, the battles are extraordinarily boring. Whack, heal, whack, heal, whack, heal, whack, heal, whack, heal. No strategy required, just patience and luck. This is the reason I tend to hate game bosses. While there are some really well designed bosses which make the boss fight exciting, far too often designers just have a tank as a boss.

The game, however, is fun in small bursts so if you have finished the other games in the series it is worth playing. I think the move to 3D may have put too much emphasis on glitz and not enough on game play but can only hope that this is not the end for the Disciples series. Sadly, poor sales often result in the death of a series so I fear that this may be the end of a really promising series.

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