Coupling of strategic arcs

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by MichaelSinsbeck, Aug 25, 2017.

  1. The recent thread "What is the value of tactics in strategy games" made me thing about the interplay between different strategic arcs (in the sense are described on Keith's blog). More specifically, how can arcs on different levels be coupled so that they "inform each other"?

    For simplicity, we only consider two arcs: a lower-level arc ("tactics") and a higher-level arc ("strategy"). Let's say the tactics level is some sort of fighting system in which you fight one enemy and the strategic level is a system that decides what enemy you fight next (for example by moving around on the map).

    To have these two systems coupled, you need at least one of the following three properties:

    1. The two arcs emerge from one large system
    2. Contradictory incentives
    3. Multivariate gamestate
    Let me first start with a bad example, that does not have these three properties. Assume that the two arcs are made of two different "modes". The player moves around on the map, and as soon as she hits an enemy, the game changes to fight-mode. After the fight, the game switches back to the map. Furthermore, assume that there is only one quantity/resource that is communicated between these two modes (for example the health of the player) and that this resource is always good (meaning that it is always better to have more health).
    In this example, there is no information flow from the strategic layer to the tactical layer. On the tactical level the optimal play is always to play for maximal health. This optimal play is independent from anything that happens on the strategic layer, so there is only a weak coupling between the two strategic arcs.

    Now let's go through the three ways of coupling the strategic and the tactical layer.

    1. The two arcs emerge from one large system. If we no longer assume that the two arcs are implemented in form of two different game-modes, they automatically are coupled. Let's take Auro as an example. While it is often said that is is almost tactics only, there are still some strategic decisions: How fast do I move towards new enemies? Do I pull them out individually, or should I run into the crowd of enemies. These considerations are naturally coupled to the tactical play: If I want to avoid running into a crowd of enemies, then on the tactical level, some methods are not available to me: There might be a clever way of killing one enemy, that forces me to move forwards.

    Takeaway for designers
    : Don't create individual strategic arcs by hand, let them emerge from one large system.

    2. Contradictory incentives. We can also create a coupling between strategic arcs by having a resource that is not always good to have more of. Let's get back to the initial bad example with two separate modes. Imagine that there are some mechanisms that sometimes reward you for having much health and sometimes punish you for having much health. If these mechanism work on the strategic layer, then they automatically inform the tactical layer. The optimal play is no longer to have "as much health as possible", but depends on the situation. Examples from real games: In the board game "Settlers of Catan" there is the robber-mechanic that makes you loose resources if you have more than seven resources cards on your hand. That way, it is mostly good to have more resources, but not always. This triggers some interesting decisions. Another example is the video game "dead cells". In this game, there is a sword that deals more damage, if you have less then 50% of health. Here again there are contradictory incentives, which may reward you for taking damage.

    Takeaway for designers: There is potential in contradictory incentives.

    3. Multivariate gamestate. By this, I mean that there are at least two resources (health, mana, gold, ...). If there is only one resource, then it is easy to rank two different situations: 10 health is better than 5 health. But with two resources, this is not as simple: What is better, (a) 10 health and 100 gold or (b) 5 health and 250 gold? Without further context, we cannot decide. This missing context, however, can be provided by the larger strategic arc. Here are some examples: We might know that we need at least 8 health to survive the next enemy (after the current one). Then option (b) is not feasible and (a) is better. There could also be the opposite case, where we will soon arrive in the shop and an important item costs 150 gold. Then option (b) is clearly better. Or there could be a healer that heals one health point for 10 gold. In this case, we have a direct exchange rate between the two resources (but this rate may change over the course of the game).
    This, by the way, is related to multi-objective optimization, which is an interesting topic on its own.

    Takeaway for designers: Have multiple resources with an changing/obscure exchange rate.

    I am sure, there are more ways to couple the individual strategic arcs. What methods can you think of?
    Hopenager and keithburgun like this.
  2. Bucky

    Bucky Well-Known Member

    Development of tactics provides new options on a strategic level. "I can bait enemy A away from enemy B and square-dance it to death" only makes sense as a strategy when one has both skill at manipulating the enemy AI and competence at whatever tactic square-dancing entails.

    Meanwhile, tactical failures have strategic implications. Good play on long arcs means leaving an adequate margin of error on each short arc to minimize the chance of losing to tactical blunders.

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