EMPIRE Beta Impressions

Discussion in 'EMPIRE (by Crazy Monkey Studios)' started by Nachtfischer, Aug 13, 2013.

  1. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Alright, I put a few hours into the newly released 1.0 beta version of Empire! After reading the help screens I went ahead and played through a whole game on my iPod Touch 4 and then another one on my iPad 3 (which I initially used to take notes during my iPod playthrough). So, here are a bunch of hopefully helpful impressions.

    At first some "meta"-comments:
    • Performance: The game ran pretty decently on my iPod 4 (the frame counter on the top showed between 15 and 25, sometimes there were some menu lags, especially in the deck viewer as the deck got bigger), although the battery drain was quite heavy. I basically drained an almost full battery completely in around 2 hours while playing, which is e.g. much more battery than Auro takes. This has probably to do with Unity.
      Anyways, on my iPad 3 the game worked perfectly fine and loading times were surprisingly fast.
    • Bugs: Besides some wrongly implemented cards and little quirks here and there, I was surprised how stable the game already is. One reproducable "show stopper" I found was that all units freeze after you resurrect a unit. You have to force the game to quit and reload which causes your turn to get lost or something (but you can continue to play then).
      The other major issue was an iPod-only one that the units, after the movement phase, "shake" in place for a while before they stand still and you can continue the combat. This sometimes almost took 20 seconds and is obviously very annoying.
    • Graphics: The game already looks pretty awesome, I think. The existing card artwork is great, the map looks really neat and at the same time pretty informative, although some things could be clearer (I'll get to that). Also, the 3D in combat doesn't hurt at all. In fact, the models and animations look pretty cool and there is basically no time wasted just for "flashy stuff".
    • Sound: Is there sound yet? I had to play on mute, so I can't comment on that yet.
    And now some rather random feedback extracted from my notes:
    • Some things take more taps than they probably should. E.g. in combat when selecting a unit to move, you have to tap the unit, then okay, then the tile to move, then okay again. It's okay and on the iPod it actually felt reasonable to avoid mistapping on the small screen. But maybe give users the possibility of a shortcut? Like double-tapping to avoid having to go to "okay" each time?
    • The HP numbers are pretty low, maybe consider showing them as numbers instead of bars. That would be clearer, I think. And by the way, the unit types - while they might not be balanced yet - seem very simple and focused and clear and intuitive to me. Nice!
    • I really like the combat system. The positioning and getting into formation etc. reminds me of Rune Raiders a bit, which had a neat concept, but a whole lot of crap in the game.
    • Probably you should be able to see where units attack, HP and damage values when tapping a unit in combat. Currently you'd have to go to the help screen every time to get the information if you haven't memorized everything.
    • The city upgrade bars could also be clearer, especially on my iPod I was never sure if it's this turn or next turn that a city will get an upgrade. Maybe also show a turn countdown as a number?
    • MINOR: The "center on city" buttons don't show the city names, so you sometimes have to tap through them until you find what you wanted. That's not a biggy though, because you have three at max anyways and most of the time you probably will decide what to visit when looking at the food production values.
    • I love how your deck gets necessarily bigger the greater your empire holds up. So you actually get stronger, but also way more inefficient. Thematically this also makes a whole lot of sense (think of it as decadence arising). That's a great mechanic tied closely to the whole deck building aspect.
    • The grid is sometimes shown very "light", almost not visible. Especially in combat I wished it was shown clearer sometimes. Maybe make it an option?
    • When you're shown recommended building places, you should probably see the food/material produced at a glance and not have to tap "settle" every time to see the values and then "settle" again to compare and so on.
    • While your own units are totally clear (cavalry, archer, warrior), the monsters are somewhat hard to recognize. I assume that artwork is not final, though.
    • You should be able to see your army when in "upgrading mode" (to be able to make your decision on what unit type to build).
    • There should probably be a button to go through all the existing monster nests.
    • The "remaining actions" counter in combat is pretty small. Especially on my iPod I sometimes didn't look at it when I should have.
    • The whole "world map" and deck-building part seems freaking interesting to me! There's a lot to decide and manage. I e.g. think I should've probably gone a lot more for trashes (I acquired some in the second game and things seemed to go much better). Then there are the feasts, which can give you some good points, but then you won't be able to build up your empire/army. It's all really neatly tied together and everything has its pros and cons.
      Also, the "drain, explore, move on" cycle already works pretty well. And obviously the world gets more dangerous the more you (have to) move around. That's awesome dynamic gameplay.
    Concerning balancing:
    • In my first game I had to fight a LOT of very easy fights against just two monsters where I basically lost nothing for more than an hour or something. That made the game drag quite a bit early on.
      In my second game I immediately had to face four monsters in my first fight and didn't really know why (I immediately went to attack the nest). After that the balance seemed much better than in the first game.
    • Huge combats can get a bit puzzle-ish (you have to figure out where everything will move and stand in a few turns considering every monster in every case etc.). That's not necessarily a problem (it's basically just planning ahead after all, and you still have the randomness of the card draws). What I found odd though is that you get the same amount of points for winning such an epic battle as for winning against two monsters in just a minute.
    • Some of the easy combats (mostly againts two monsters) are actually little time wasters. I had multiple fights where I basically knew from the first turn that I had to do nothing but press "pass" and I would win. Other times I shifted one unit around and then just passed for the remaining fight.
    • One lost big battle (or even worse, one lost town) was a trigger for a "death spiral" in both my games, that I couldn't escape from. I know, it's all about dying in this game (which is great!) and the "impending doom" thing feels really good already. It's just that when I lost one city in my two playthroughs, I basically got swarmed and couldn't get into the game again at all. I had to wait too long for one single unit to get produced while the monsters were attacking all the time. The rest was just not fun, I wasn't able to get a single point anymore and it was all just about "getting beat up". Well, likely it's just my skill-incompetence at this point. But probably it's also an issue of the game going from "everything's fine" to "okay, now you go down and down and down" in a snap, while it should probably be a bit more dynamic?
    • Materials are a total NON-ISSUE. In my first game I actually explored pretty much every turn and still had TONS of material resources left. After the first few turns, I didn't care about it at all.
    • While we're talking about exploring: I'm not sure about how it exactly works. Is it always good to explore (if you have the resources)? The question is: Do monster nests spawn in unexplored areas or only in explored ones? In the latter case, it would be wise to not explore too fast and only if you want to move your empire (i.e. abandon a city and build a new one and you're looking for a new great place to build).
    My results:
    • First game: Day 97, 11 points. More than two hours.
    • Second game: Day 91, 16 points (and even a feast, yeah!). Around an hour.
    Yeah, that's it for now. It's a fun game already that has A TON of potential and with some more work put into it it'll really shine, I think. :)
    vivafringe and keithburgun like this.
  2. EnDevero

    EnDevero Well-Known Member

    Wow, Nacht, that was a great write up. You covered *literally* all of my concerns and more. The materials and exploring stuff bugged me in particular along with the puzzle-ish combat and the death spirals.
  3. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Just finished another game in around 45 minutes. I lasted 133 days and reached 29 points.

    The main advantages I had this time were a huge amount of Improvisation cards (i.e. redraws that made me go through my deck almost at will, especially early on) and lots of FARMS, that vastly increased the upgrade frequency of the cities.

    Obviously there's not enough data yet, but those two things COULD be a bit overpowered. Making getting Improvisations a possible undair randomness issue and Farms almost a no-brainer to choose. I'll keep an eye on those.

    EDIT: Also managed to get in a feast on the last turn before I died. Ha! :D
  4. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    Nacht, amazing post. Thanks so much.

    Also I should mention that I've been working on this game for maybe 9 months or so, and yours is the first feedback AT ALL I've gotten from anyone (well, except Blake who played it earlier today). So it's really good, both of you gave critical, but generally positive reviews. When you work on something for so long without any outside influence it's scary to finally show it to people.

    We're going to be removing "recommended building places" since now, all three tile types are (or should be) equal in value. Forests give tons of food, but die quick. Mountains give lots of material, but die sorta quick. Plains give a little bit of both and stay for the longest. So plains are best for a city that you want to make T3.

    Good call. You know monster lairs have Tiers? They get little add-ons, like your own city does. So maybe T1 will give 1 point, T2 will give 2, and T3 will give 3 points, or something similar.

    I also agree that the game gets too negative-snowbally sometimes. It's just gonna be a balancing act with that.

    Also for minerals, I want to instate a maximum, and any beyond your maximum are wasted. Or some similar rule to that.

    Right now, only explored. In the next version, in both. I also have some other ideas for improving how monster lairs work, like maybe they move very slowly (one tile every 5 turns or something).
  5. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    As for balance, yeah. If you think something's imbalanced, you're probably right at this point!
  6. EnDevero

    EnDevero Well-Known Member

    I feel like a big part of the death-snowball stuff can be attributed to having only one army. Say an enemy attacks your city and you lose because your troops died, now you've lost a city AND you have no army to protect yourself from any other incoming threats. There aren't really any ways to get back on your feet fast enough to retaliate. I could just be missing something, though. Anyway, I'm not suggesting there should be more armies (though maybe that's worth looking into), It's just something to be aware of and focus on.

    Edit: Also, the fact that you send all troops to war at once no matter what is worth noting.
  7. Dasick

    Dasick Well-Known Member

    Perhaps some sort of injuries/fatalities system is in order? Not only is it realistic, but losing a fight would only make you lose one or two units, while all others are temporarily incapacitated. You could determine fatalities by some sort of betting system, or some other way players can risk units for a bigger advantage. Like, maybe crossing midpoint of the map or something.

    This is all theorycrafting as it appears that the android version is still some time away. Sadface :(
  8. EnDevero

    EnDevero Well-Known Member

    Haha, it's pretty good theorycrafting, though. Definitely something to consider.
  9. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    Yeah the big knob we have for this issue is how many is the max number of units you lose in a battle. Right now it's three. For awhile, it was 1. Maybe 2 is best.

    Not really crazy about the injuries system because one, it sort of breaks our resource system too much, and two, it's a bit complicated (who gets injured? Do we have to tell the user how long each guy is injured for? Etc), and also I think it will make the player a bit too strong.

    As for the android version, I'm not sure how far off that is. For all I know we might be able to build that for the next version. I'll ask.
  10. Bucky

    Bucky Well-Known Member

    My first game was 18 VPs. My second is on 78 and still alive and involved fighting off a death spiral with only 3 units (going down to 2 briefly), at one point fighting 7 camps in 4 turns. And I can confirm the 3-unit loss limit.

    Death spirals are recoverable with tight combat play and aggressive monster-bashing.
  11. EnDevero

    EnDevero Well-Known Member

    There's a 3-unit loss limit? I didn't even notice... Also, I suck at this game. My highscore is 13 VPs. I realized I have a lot of room for growth in the tactical portion after I beat a group of baddies with nothing but an archer and a nice set of movement cards, though. I feel stupid since I didn't get the point of moving back archers until that crucial moment. I'll be working on really understanding the tactical uses of all the cards and troops.
  12. keithburgun

    keithburgun Administrator, Lead Designer Staff Member

    Bucky had a very good point about the fact that units beyond your 5th or 6th unit actually just became liabilities. So I'm wondering if maybe 6 units should be the maximum. All the more reason to consider a materials cap, also...
  13. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    Yeah, I noticed that, too. I once got to 9 units to get the additional trashing ability, but it didn't seem worth it. You likely won't be able to save every single unit when the battlefield gets that crowded, which gives you more disadvantages than you can make up for.
  14. Bucky

    Bucky Well-Known Member

    For all I know, Warrior balls might not function at all with less than 6 units. I think the real issue is that you don't get 9 turns before the first shots are fired, and the cards that move multiple units mostly suck right now. I can't imagine getting my 6 Warriors to reliably form a ball in the first place.
  15. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    I'm not too sure about lairs evolving in unexplored areas. I actually like how exploration is a "necessary evil" right now. You need it to keep finding valid places to build cities, but it also opens up more possibilities for monster spawns. If lairs spawn inside the fog of war, not exploring would probably always be even "more evil".

    Lairs in unexplored areas would also add another luck element. It reminds me of Shifts where you have this huge unexplored space map in the beginning and you need to find four colonizable planets, but you just don't know where to go is best, so you just guess, and then get lucky or not. With monster lairs there's a similar danger of them developing without you knowing at all and suddenly you bump into this high level lair (while on the other hand you could get lucky and find them shortly after they were created).

    But I guess the whole exploration balance will change with materials getting less abundant anyways.
  16. Senator

    Senator Moderator

    I haven't really been able to play more than about the first 10 minutes of the game, but I feel like Empire needs an auto-explore button, a la Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup or Brogue. It seems like 80% of the decisions I make, at least in the early part game that I've played, are the following, both essentially non-choices:

    1. Explore or let materials build up?
    2. Which direction to explore?

    It's very possible that I'm missing something else that I can/should be doing in the early game (aside from upgrades, the timing of which I can't control), so that this perception of mine isn't valid. Guidance appreciated!
    vivafringe likes this.
  17. Nachtfischer

    Nachtfischer Well-Known Member

    But how exactly should it auto-explore? Different tiles are (depending on their distance to the next city) associated with different exploration costs. And different tiles are more (or less) valid to explore in certain situations than others (depending on the surroundings you can already see). I don't think it's a "non-decision" as in Stone Soup.

    What's kind of a problem concerning this aspect though, is the new rule of monster lairs spawning in unexplored areas.
    1. It makes "guessing the right exploration direction" (in terms of finding the newly spawned lairs quickly) a thing, that is probably even more important than finding valid building places through exploration.
    2. It probably makes exploration necessary every turn. It's like a no-brainer.
    I don't know. Since viva has similar feelings, maybe that rule change should be reverted?
  18. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Here is an idea. One of your squad members says, "SHH. Did you hear that?" And it pings you in the direction of the nearest unexplored monster lair.

    I would definitely appreciate a "I don't care where, just explore something close to my base" button.
  19. Senator

    Senator Moderator

    OK, it doesn't sound like I'm wrong about the extent of options available outside of upgrading and combat?

    @Nacht: If there were coherent features (e.g., mountain ranges, or trails of world-blight that moved across the world) that could give me some reason to look in a specific direction, I might agree that there are real choices to be made in exploring. But from what I've seen, it seems as though placement of landscape features is totally random--so what choices am I really making in regard to direction? (Also, you say that material costs depend on direction to next city. I thought they depended on the number of fog-squares to be revealed...?)

    Here's how I would probably want auto-explore to work. Each turn:

    1) Focus on a 90 degree cone of vision centered on north.
    2) Spend as much of my materials as the fog-ablation interface allows in that cone.
    3) Stop when I hit the auto-explore button again, when a city is ready to upgrade, when a valid site for a new city is unveiled (if I have a settler), or when some other event happens.
    4) If we don't stop, look east (then south, then west, then north again, etc.) and start the process over.

    Again, this is based on a total neophyte's impression of the game, so maybe I'm missing some very important aspect of exploration. In any case, though, auto-explore would happen only when the player wants it to--regular exploration would also be available.
    keithburgun and vivafringe like this.
  20. vivafringe

    vivafringe Well-Known Member Staff Member

    No, you're pretty much correct. You just want to explore whatever's closest to your bases, trying to spend as much material as possible.
    Senator likes this.

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