Monday, August 30, 2010

Testing Strategy for Dense and other Traits

So I finished off Dense this weekend. I had to go back and re-do some of the testing earlier in the week because my fundamental approach was wrong. I'd forgotten the lessons I (just) learned from Size and went back to testing half AP on Dense Body and half AP on one of 4 defenses (Mixed Armor & DP, FULL DP, Force Field, FULL ARMOR). That didn't work.

I've discussed why not--but I want to go into it again because it brings up the real question for this post (and that 'real question' becomes more important as I move on to testing Super Strength ... and then ... everything else).

Why The Original Spread Doesn't Work
Remember that my test-bed is composed of 16 "Normalized Herd" attackers who all have one of four attacks (gun, punch, blaster, sword) and one of four defenses (DP, Armor, Mixed, and 2-on-1 half-point attackers). These characters are designed as roughly 60% Defense, 40% Offense mixes. We consider that "normal" builds (rather than a strict 50-50 Offense Defense build that the Test Characters are).

The four test characters combine half their points in Defense with half their points in a weapon. That's how I tested all the standard attacks and a bunch of the weirder ones and concluded that the first 8 AP should buy more power-per-point than every 8 AP after. That was a big breakthrough that is coloring everything else I do.

So, right.

Then we start getting to powers like Dense and Size and (now) Super Strength. What's different about them?

Well, what's different is that they combine Offense and Defense in the same 8 AP level. They do it in odd ways too (that's what the "real question" is--I'll get to it below). For example, Size combines STR, BLD, and DP with bonuses to Reach and bonuses to be hit. Dense combines STR, BLD, and DP with ADP, bonuses to be hit, Armor (with extra PEN Defense), and lower Initiative than normal for the character's REA.

Super Strength is comparatively simple: Extra STR and Extra DP--and that's it.

So what happens when we use the previous "weapon-test" build is this: we get, for example with the 32 AP Test Characters, 16 AP in a defense and 16 AP in Size. Makes sense, right? Wrong.

Size isn't just an Offense--it's got a lot of both Offense and Defense. So let's assume, as I do, that the points are split 50-50 in Offense and Defense for each level of Size: for 32 AP that would be: 16 DEFENSE (FULL ARMOR) + 8 DEFENSE (half of the AP spent on Size) + 8 OFFENSE = 24 Defense/8 Offense.

When you pit one of these guys against a 60 DEF/40 OFF herd they tend to do very well since they are over-defended and the Normalized Herd has a hard time hurting the FULL ARMOR guys (but the others like FULL DP don't do nearly as well). The fights also take a long time--like 9 Rounds.

So what we have to do is change things up: the character becomes (at 32 AP):

16 AP in the ability (Size, Dense, Super Strength)
8 AP in 1 of the 4 specific defenses
8 AP in an attack (such as more STR or a Sword)

This, as it turns out, provides much better numbers: everyone wins around 50% with maybe an 8% spread. I could ask for no better validation of the system than those numbers. It means that if characters are being built in a fairly rational manner they, even with some weird, complex powers, come out pretty damn balanced.

It, however, does not mean there is a degenerate case where you put half your points in Armor and 'ignore' most of your attackers (note: this won't happen anyway: in a real game not all attackers will be 60 DEF/40 OFF and not all attackers will be 'at your same APs' and so on--if you really try that it probably won't work as well as it does in the simulator. However: I have not yet proved if this is better than anything else one might do).

What's The Real Question
The big question now is about A-Cost. Let's re-cap. A-Cost is "Attack Cost" and for something like Fire Blast A-Cost is simply equal to the AP spent on the attack. So if I pay 12 AP for Fire Blast it has an A-Cost of 12 AP. That means I can buy a similar attack like Frost Blast at 12 AP for just 1 AP! Because we want to reward flexibility and for characters with more than one attack they'd almost always be better just have 24 AP in Fire Blast or Frost Blast and splitting them (remember that, yes, while in, like, a certain genre of Fantasy Game there will indeed be some creatures "Immune to Fire" but that's not a given across all of JAGS and isn't even true for a lot of Fantasy).

So the question is: how do I look at an ability like Dense and determine how many of the 8 AP per level (or 4 AP for a half-level or 2 AP for a quarter level) are spent on OFFENSE and how many are spent on DEFENSE. I need to tell the player this because if they spend 32 AP on Dense and it's 50/50, they now have an A-Cost of 16 AP. That effects:

  • What kinds of abilities like Fast Company they can buy (or other abilities like Speed that cost based on your A-Cost compared to your Total AP)
  • What other attacks they can get for 1 AP (that character can then go and get 'Flame Vision' for 1 AP at 16 AP level)
This is fairly important so, as I said, I have to tell people. Moreover, this is not uncommon. Almost all Generic Archetype Traits (GATs) will mix Offense and Defense. Many, many Traits will as well. More often then not the case will be where an ability is combined rather than being pure attack or pure defense (even armor that gives extra BLD mixes OFFENSE and DEFENSE as the bigger you are in JAGS, the harder you hit).

There are several options in doing this split. I'll discuss them:
  1. Do The Math. The "best" way would be to use some sort of scientific approach to determine how much of the 8 AP is off/def. The problem is that I'm not sure how to do that.
  2. Add Up The Damage And List That! A tempting solution is to simply take the damage dealt and list the A-Cost as what it would cost you to deal that damage if you bought that and nothing but that. This is quite possibly (a) fair and (b) fairly easy to compute. There are, however, problems with it. For one thing for abilities like Dense Body that not only give Offense and Defense but also some /degraded defense/ (easier to hit, slower) the damage-cost actually comes out close to the AP cost of the ability. This "implies" that the DP, ADP, and Armor (and extra PEN Defense) is free. For example, for the L1 Dense Body the damage that gives it a balanced 50% POV is +11 Impact. If you just spent 8 AP on Power-Punch (or whatever) it would give you +13 Impact Damage. For a player who doesn't read this blog, it's going to appear that 2/10 Armor and +7 DP and +7 ADP are, well, free when those things should cost around 8 AP all by themselves (the secret is that +2 to be hit and -2 to Init really cut into that). This is confusing and may not necessarily be right. Also: the numbers will be fractional in many cases and I want to avoid fractional account as much as possible.
  3. Half and Half. My current approach is to simply declare that half the AP of Size, Dense, Super Strength, and so on is Offense and half is Defense. This has the advantage of being, well, simple (no fractions) and it makes a certain amount of sense as the characters are winning about 50% of their battles which is what we expect when the break really is 50% in a defense and 50% in an attack. In other words, however they get there, the raw % of victory indicates that 50% in, say, Armor and 50% in, say, Fire Blast gives you a 50% POV--and that holds true when you buy Size as well. So it's hard to argue that it's just plain wrong (and, remember, if something is 'pretty' then, if it is also 'true' that's like a huge win for me as a game designer).
So that's where we're at right now. As I run Super Strength test scripts I keep looking over the numbers and wondering what the deal is.


No comments:

Post a Comment