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How do you stop a randomized game from randomly being boring sometimes? (arstechnica.com)
95 points by yread on May 23, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 92 comments

Discovered a quote from Sid Meier's the other day; he says "A game is a series of interesting choices."

From that perspective, the definition of a game and what constitutes gaming changes dramatically. It undercuts the question here. Preventing a game from being randomly boring is an odd question. A better question might be, how can we keep the player's decision-making interesting, regardless of what is generated? The article says it directly, but misses the golden quote which I think is essential. That quote offers up some really unique ways to define a game too. Very cool.

Working on console games, I got out of the habit of using a random number generator directly for anything. I noticed RNGs producing boring events frequently. Instead, I started using a random shuffle to guarantee events aren't repeated before all other events have happened, but it still feels random. There were also cases where I thought random would be good at first, and later discovered that I preferred a simple hard-coded pre-set order repeating in a loop... It would feel random and go unnoticed by most players, but being able to see the pattern allows some players to take advantage. Usually I'd use random to avoid that, but occasionally realized it was okay and actually made that moment in the game more fun.

A classic example of this is Tetris, where the official version provides a random permutation of the seven pieces, then another random permutation, etc. This gives you variety and unpredictability while simultaneously guaranteeing that you never go without any particular piece for too long. Many clones just provide pieces purely randomly, which tends to give you a feast or famine situation for useful pieces.

> Instead, I started using a random shuffle to guarantee events aren't repeated before all other events have happened, but it still feels random.

Another option for a similar effect is to keep a counter and compare it to sequences of prime numbers: when the count is a multiple of 23 then X happens, if the count is a multiple of 7 and 11 then Y happens, and so forth.

Balanced with enough thought this will ensure that enough happens without it seeming too regular to the player.

XCOM2 has a slightly controversial "randomness compensator": repeatedly missing increases your chance to hit, and being hit repeatedly by the aliens lowers their hit chance.

Various games (L4D is the first prominent example, there may be others before it) include "AI directors" that try to keep the player involved through balancing exiting events and periods of tension. This makes it a lot harder to have a "boring" game, or one where you get "unfairly" hammered by the randomness.

In fiction I'd trace this to Asimov's Foundation series, which is premised on "psychohistory" being a sort of fully deterministic fusion of economics and psychology enabling the development of future society to be predicted. Until a few books into the series where the "mule" is introduced, who is an individual powerful and unpredictable enough to throw off the determinism of historical inevitability.

This reminds me of the AI rubber banding implemented in many racing games, including Need For Speed.

Full disclosure: I work as a Software Engineer for Ghost Games and was involved in the development of Need For Speed (2015). I am not an official spokesperson for Ghost or EA and I am not authorized to speak on their behalf.

In Need For Speed, AI racers will slow down when you're behind and speed up when you're ahead. The idea was to always make the player feel like they were having a fun challenge, regardless of skill level.

In the end, the AI rubber banding was such a strong effect that, when the game first came out, it was one of the main complaints. We ended up fixing it in the very first patch.

IGN reporting on it: http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/11/23/need-for-speeds-most-... Our announcement which first mentioned it: http://www.needforspeed.com/en_AU/news/future-plans

This was the worst part of F-Zero GX, to the point where the best strategy for some of the story missions is to stay just behind the lead until the end and boost at the finish. I had a truly hellish time playing through that story mode because of rubber band AI. I'm surprised it was still a standard game mechanic in 2015.

I've seen this in an older version of NFS on PC. I can't remember which one it was (I think Underground?). The way they always caught up with me when they were behind was insane.

I actually tried a bit to look back and see it happen beacuse, I was wondering, do they just teleport or actually drive at like 800km/h.

this feature is literary called "Catch Up" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_mechanics#Catch-up and has been a thing in racing games since before 2000. Diddy Kong Racing (1997) had it, so did motorhead in 1998, then EA got familiar with it and we got Hot Pursuit 2/Most wanted and burnout 3.

The original Mario Kart did this with the strength of Powerups (and maybe speed as well?)

This sounds very similar to what I've noticed from the Mario Kart series. It's a hard game to consistently win, as the AI is always compensating. It seems to do this with powerups for multi-player as well - it wants you to get ahead, but when you start to do well, it gets a lot harder to stay ahead.

> XCOM2 has a slightly controversial "randomness compensator": repeatedly missing increases your chance to hit, and being hit repeatedly by the aliens lowers their hit chance.

Many games do, actually, and it's an interesting topic in of itself. In case someone wants some further reading:

- http://www.redblobgames.com/articles/probability/damage-roll...

- http://sinisterdesign.net/unpredictability-and-control-in-tu...

- http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RogerHgensen/20101123/88511/C...

- http://techland.time.com/2012/10/12/why-xcoms-random-results...

- http://forum.zdoom.org/viewtopic.php?t=50643

Another funny anecdote is that Wesnoth had to include a FAQ entry about the game being unfair because it relies too much on "luck": http://wiki.wesnoth.org/FAQ#There.27s_too_much_luck_in_this_...

Dota 2 does this as well for chance based skills. For certain skills, each subsequent failure will increase the chance that the next test will pass. When the test passes, the bias resets. Patch notes will sometimes talk about switching a skill from "true random" to "pseudo-random" to indicate this change. It's generally seen as a light to moderate boost because it ups the reliability of the skill noticeably.

XCOM 2 had a few interesting implementation details. You can actually see it all in the source code provided in their modding tools, which is a really awesome thing IMO, to be able to see a huge chunk of XCOM 2's actual code.

On the two lower difficulties (equivalent to "easy" and "normal") there is a relatively minor, invisible bonus to your next shot's chance to hit if you have a chain of misses. On the "hard" difficulty, this correction factor actually increases to compensate for several other changes that make the game much less forgiving of tactical errors. Then when you get to the "legendary" difficulty, the bonus goes away entirely and you're fighting a completely fair RNG along with all of its streakiness. I think this puts an interesting perspective on how "RNG fairness" works.

It's funny, when I see XCOM2, I think Terror From the Deep, into which I sunk so many hundreds of hours during my misspent youth. Although various guides online indicate that the game is actually winnable, I never managed to beat it. And it certainly didn't try to compensate you for, say, not detecting any alien subs until July and then having your crew slaughtered by giant lobsters.

I can't remember beating it either! Although I did beat the original original XCOM.

The story behind TFTD's difficultly (you may have heard this one) is that people complained that XCOM was too easy, even on the hardest difficulty. But this was due to a bug: save/load did not persist the difficulty level properly, so most people played one or two missions on ultra-hard and the rest on easy, without ever realising. So when the developers turned up the difficulty and fixed the bug, suddenly the sequel was incredibly hard.


> repeatedly missing increases your chance to hit

That’s amazing—a logical fallacy as a feature!

So here's the thing. We (the playing public) expect different types and standards of "fairness" from games of skill and games of chance. We expect that games of skill are beatable by playing better and that they should generally be beatable. People get very upset if they've sunk hours into something to discover that it's unwinnable, especially if it was unwinnable all along as soon as the random seed was chosen.

In games of chance on the other hand, people understand that you can work at making better bets but you can't make yourself "luckier" by force of will. So it's easier for people to blame the RNG gods than berate one another for lack of skill.

Edit: remember in game design, especially human vs. AI, it's not about beating the player but about maximising their enjoyment of the process. You have to make the defeats fun as well.

It's interesting, because it means that on average you'll do substantially better than your expected hit rate. For poisson processes a lot of the expectation of the time taken "comes from" long tails.

If you're rolling a fair dice, if you cap at 12 (i.e. the 12th roll will land a 6 no matter what) then your expected time to roll a 6 goes down from 6 to 5.4.

So by applying a "correction" on strings of misses without applying a similar correction to a string of hits it skews the mean down which actually changes what your average hit-rate is. It would be interesting however if the tested hit-rate was adjusted lower to account for this effect, that would make it "fair" again by the hit-rate stat reporting the average hit-rate, but would make the randomness generate "appear more random" to humans.

How is this a logical fallacy ?

Technically you would see the effect of your shot (i.e. too much to the left) and adjust your aim (more to the right).

He is referring to the Gambler's Fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler%27s_fallacy). That is, the belief that in a series of uncorrelated events, after a long string of losses, you are more likely to have a win.

Thanks, I knew about the Gambler's Fallacy, but I really didn't make the connection (also since they are not really uncorrelated... :) )

Yes, although in XCOM it's applied across all shooters and all targets, so a miss by trooper A against alien B will improve the chance of trooper C to hit alien D.


the mistaken belief that, if something happens more frequently than normal during some period, it will happen less frequently in the future, or that, if something happens less frequently than normal during some period, it will happen more frequently in the future

It's not so unusual. Sid Meier has talked about a feature like this, and I think even Civilization (the first) had it.

Mario Kart certainly has a "the more you're losing, the faster you go" .. or at least the inverse implemented.

Along with "the further behind you are, the more likely to get a blue shell".

That's a catch-up mechanism, that's different than merely smoothing out outlier streaks.

Though I think that the reason this feels necessary, isn't that people are irrational and believe in streaks - it's that they used a poor random model in the first place. Maybe a spearman should simply never beat a battleship.

also many racing games etc, have speed bonus if you are behind , ex: wipeout allows speed up, if you are tailing an opponent.

> XCOM2 has a slightly controversial "randomness compensator": repeatedly missing increases your chance to hit, and being hit repeatedly by the aliens lowers their hit chance.

Do you have a source for this? I'm not doubting you, but I've played copious amounts of XCOM2 (until it broke on NixOS..) and didn't notice. But now that I think about it, the hit chances are less predictable than in the prior games.

wow is another good example of something like this for the "collect 10 wolf pelts" types of quests. in the beginning you had a drop chance of, say, 30% and a dice roll on every kill. so after ~30 wolves you should have your ten pelts. but if you were really unlucky you could 100 wolves and still not have enough.

--- note: seems i remembered this wrong, and i can't find the source for this anymore.

iirc, they fixed this by creating a "random queue", i.e. a fixed size queue (say, twice the average) with the amount of needed drops randomly distributed. this way the players bad luck streak would have an upper bound.

--- note: what they actually did was increase the drop chance progressively, but it might be that this was only for single item drops?

Linear Regression of Progressive Percentage in World of Warcraft


>XCOM2 has a slightly controversial "randomness compensator"

This is because human brain is Terrible at statistics. Many games curate random events into Normal distribution, otherwise you get complaints about all those missed 99% accuracy shots.

This really resonates with me, especially since he mentioned Master of Orion. I grew up with Master of Orion 2 and I can't even make an estimate of how many sessions or hours I played. Another game which I still play actively is Magic: The Gathering. I mention this, because I think the contrast between these two games highlights the subject at hand.

I have experienced more incredible stories unfolding in both MoO2 and MtG than I could possibly remember. Both are games where careful strategy and tactics combined with randomness can lead to some unbelievably epic moments. Here's the thing, though: in MoO2, despite a lot of random events, I can't remember a single time I played a session which wasn't exciting or didn't feel fair. In Magic, this happens routinely. Just Google "mana screw" or "mana flood" for more results than you can read, complaining about randomness leading to boring matches where you, as someone put it, "don't get to play Magic"[1].

I still play Magic on a daily basis, and I still love the game, but I've spent a lot of time damning the frequency of these boring matches and wondering if there was a simple strategy or rule change which would fix this, while still leaving the soul of the game intact.

[1]: https://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/4c2f65/what_funda...

I've heard it argued that Netrunner avoids the worst of those problems by always giving you the option of drawing a card. Of course the flipside is making the game less random which has its own impact on the meta. Take that to the extreme and you have Mage Wars, which a friend described as "Netrunner chess"; there's almost no randomness, which makes for a more strategic game - but in its own way that makes it less fun, particularly between players of different ability.

Have you heard of David Sirlin's game Codex? It's not out yet, unfortunately, but I think it takes an interesting approach to this (I've yet to see how it actually plays).

The basic rules resemble Hearthstone, but rather than building a deck beforehand, you just pick one of seven 10-card starter decks, and 3 of 20 "codices", and then at the end of each turn you take two cards from your codices and add them into your deck. So there's still luck of the draw, but not to the extent of having to shuffle a 30 or 60 card deck beforehand. (Also you go through your cards Dominion-style rather than one-card-per-turn Magic style, but I'm honestly not sure as to whether that counts as an increase or decrease in luck!)

I've heard this compared to Mage Wars, but looking that up, it looks like that just lets you cast spells straight out of your spellbook, no deck at all. Is that right? So I guess Codex is another intermediate step there.

(As regards "mana", it doesn't follow Hearthstone, but rather takes the fairly-common approach where any card from your hand can also be turned into a mana producer (this permanently removes them from your deck, so you can remove cards as well as adding them).)

> The basic rules resemble Hearthstone, but rather than building a deck beforehand, you just pick one of seven 10-card starter decks, and 3 of 20 "codices", and then at the end of each turn you take two cards from your codices and add them into your deck. So there's still luck of the draw, but not to the extent of having to shuffle a 30 or 60 card deck beforehand. (Also you go through your cards Dominion-style rather than one-card-per-turn Magic style, but I'm honestly not sure as to whether that counts as an increase or decrease in luck!)

Sounds very similar to Dominion et al then - just slightly hybridized. I take against Sirlin based on his writings and his emphasis on reading your opponent which isn't a mechanic I find fun; I enjoy deckbuilders but there are plenty of them out there.

> I've heard this compared to Mage Wars, but looking that up, it looks like that just lets you cast spells straight out of your spellbook, no deck at all. Is that right?

Yeah - each turn you choose two cards from your spellbook and maybe play them.

Yeah Dominion is an obvious comparison, but I don't think it's a very accurate one, because you don't need to spend your resources deckbuilding; you just add in any two per turn. So while I guess building your deck during the game ultimately comes from there, I don't think Codex really falls in the deck-builder genre that Dominion started. Hence why I've seen it compared to Mage Wars, but I guess it's not quite that either. (Anyway Sirlin already did a Dominion take-off, it was called Puzzle Strike. :P )

> I take against Sirlin based on his writings and his emphasis on reading your opponent which isn't a mechanic I find fun

Huh, I'm surprised. There's a lot of dislike of Sirlin out there obviously but I haven't seen many say it's his writings they don't like. I think they're some of the best writing on game design I've seen! To the point that I'd basically count myself as a "Sirlin fan" even though I've only played two of his games of which one is pretty mediocre. :P (Namely, Flash Duel. Kongai, though, was great, back when people actually played it...) I don't think there's anything too advanced in most of what he writes -- a lot of emphasis on such notions as even playing field, cutting out extra steps that get in the way of playing the real game, the focus on contested skill rather than unconstested skill, that yes strong competitive balance is achievable -- but these are basics that all too often go neglected, IMO, so it's good to see someone explicitly talking about them. There seems to be this philosophy out there of "Well, we don't really need an even playfield..." or "C'mon, nobody can actually make a balanced competitive game with that many characters" and I'm glad to see somebody countering that. Whether he's good at it or not, Sirlin is, to my mind, somebody who gets what game design should be. Would you mind elaborating on what about his writing you don't like?

I'm aware of Puzzle Strike. He wouldn't be the first designer to release similar games.

Writing... I find him pretentious/self-important/self-impressed, and he doesn't seem to acknowledge the validity of other points of view.

Hearthstone fixed this mana issue by having the mana automatically increase by 1 each turn, up to 10. This means that every card you draw will be a spell you can cast or a minion you can play - you at least get to play 'hearthstone' during the match.

The link I provided as reference was actually a reply to this very suggestion. It's something I found interesting when trying Hearthstone, but it does remove a lot of the interesting tactical decisions involved in playing cards which require different colors of mana.

Another interesting idea was a format which someone suggested[1] in which any non-land card can be played as if it were a land producing colorless mana and any land has cycling 1 (for 1 mana you can discard it and draw a new card). I found this a fascinating idea, but I feel like this would completely wreck the balance of the game, especially when played with decks specifically built to abuse these new rules.

[1]: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/magic-fundamentals/magic-...

They also went with 30 card decks (max 2 each card) rather than 60 card decks (max 4 each type) which further reduces variance of hands.

Top-decking is still very real in both games, sometimes you just need that 1 card to win or you'll lose next turn.

Unfortunately, Hearthstone's card design has aggressively worked against their randomness-mitigation in the game structure.

In their search for 'dramatic' cards, they've started introducing "triggers on draw" effects, "get a random creature from your deck" effects (maybe it'll cost 2 mana, maybe 10!), and my favorite - "play this card, then shuffle it back, then play it again, then all your creatures become different ones".

The card designers have consistently chosen exciting events over stable gameplay, to the point where it's far more random than MTG.

Sure, there are decks where you must pray to RNGesus that you get the effect you're looking for. Those decks will not get you far up the ladder, however. Nearly every player above Rank 10 is using a predictable deck. Elise/map/monkey isn't a game-winning card.

Also, if you're still seeing top decking in Hearthstone, you haven't progressed enough in the ranks to see the long-term players. There is rarely any top decking going on past even rank 15.

I definitely haven't gone to the highest ranks of Hearthstone lately - it wasn't worth fighting up the random parts of the ladder when so many other games exist. I did well with it for a while around the Nax release, then abandoned it because I wasn't interested in paying for the expansions and didn't want to keep up with the power creep.

I don't think the core, high-ladder gameplay is broken, but I think a lot of their design efforts are badly counterproductive. MTG's long-term survival can largely be credited to fighting power creep and strong-but-random effects, and I think Hearthstone's design looks more like a shorter-term cash in on those effects.

The new "standard" mode doesn't allow Nax or GnG cards in your deck, which levels things out a bit. Maybe you would like giving it a shot now? My advice: use gold to play arena. You'll always get a card pack, and get to practice with cards you don't otherwise have available to you. It's worth the extra 50 gold (which you'll likely earn back if you make it to three victories anyway) for the exposure to other cards/combos.

There are still RNGesus decks in the lower rungs of the ladder - I play one. But above 15 or so and most decks are using predictable cards with few random effects.

Woah, that's a huge change since I played. Some of those cards were definitely frustrating me, as was the fact that the card pool made the 'random' effects hard to anticipate. My biggest complaints were probably about League of Explorers and Blackrock cards, but it's still progress.

Arena was definitely my preferred playstyle - it had a lot of variance, and I never felt punished for not having all the right legendaries. On the main ladder I felt like I was hitting a ceiling where I played lots of netdecks I couldn't "afford", and just lost interest. Maybe it's worth another look!

Elise is a staple in most control warrior decks I've seen, and often the lategame comes down to who gets the best monkey RNG

True, I do see Elise in control warrior decks on lower rungs, but less so in higher ones. Mostly classic stand-by cards, and/or Reno Jackson.

I do agree about the general feeling that Hearthstone is a bit too random in odd and spectacular ways. However, could you expand on the "triggers on draw" comment? Which cards do this in a bad way? I know there are Magic cards with effects which trigger whenever a player draws a card, without harming the game.

> I know there are Magic cards with effects which trigger whenever a player draws a card

The cards he's talking about trigger when they're drawn, not when another card is drawn while they're in play.

For example, Flame Leviathan[1] which deals 2 damage to all minions when drawn. Or Iron Juggernaut [2], which shuffles a 'mine' into the opponents deck, dealing 10 damage when drawn (personally I think this one's ok, as at least you can plan to mitigate it most of the time)

  [1] http://www.hearthpwn.com/cards/12290-flame-leviathan
  [2] http://www.hearthpwn.com/cards/12295-iron-juggernaut

Exactly it, thanks. I don't really object to Juggernaut - I've seen several other deckbuilding games with similar effects, it's something you can plan for (and in some games, avert with lookahead and reshuffles).

Flame Leviathan annoys me a lot, though - it's a complete board rebalance that neither player can anticipate. It's not even a good card (I wouldn't expect to see it high on the ladder) but it's aggravating to have such high variance on a zero-mana outcome.

The context is that the author wrote a negative review of a space strategy game because he had poor experiences with it. This article seems to be a way of saying that he was wrong to say the game is objectively bad without denying his own bad experiences are an objective problem.

The solution is to tune the game and add additional mid-game content (the part of the game with the most room for dynamism), which the author points out is on its way.

One of the more interesting comments said that the game would be well served if its developers collected play through data and started prioritizing the game seeds that tended to cause the most interesting games, arguing that there would be enough seeds to hide the lack of randomness.

This article seems to be a way of saying that he was wrong to say the game is objectively bad

Where did he say that? People seem to keep mistaking reviews for impossibly objective analyses of games.

"Seems" - it's not explicit, but the implication is that objectively saying a randomised game is bad when it's only been bad from a subjective perspective isn't the best approach.

But I'm not seeing where the reviewer made the claim that the game was objectively bad?

It's in the linked review[0] that he wrote, and the subsequent follow up by the developer[1].

[0] http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/05/09/stellaris-review [1] http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1solvon

It'd be really strange for any publication to claim their reviews are "objective" (there's objectivegamereviews.com, but it is intended as humor). The usual view is something along the lines of a review being just an indication of one person's experience with a game at a specific time. And as far as I can see, the latter is the case here as well.

Neither page you link to contains the word "objective". The only mention of the words "bad" is in the phrase "bad luck", in a sentence specifically talking about how other people might have a better experience and Rowan might have been just unlucky. There is a score, but to interpret that you'd look at the review guidelines for IGN. To quote: Under no circumstances are review scores influenced by anything other than _our own opinions_ on the quality of the product in question. (Emphasis mine).

Neither of which contain the word "objective", and the second one says "lower than liked score" and "opinion".

Assuming the random events are also based on how the game progresses, and not just from the starting seed (if they were, then at the start of the game you would be able to predict all random events for the entire game to come, which sounds implausible for a complex strategy game), then the seed won't help you much in predicting game events. Pseudorandom number generators are chaotic, otherwise they wouldn't be called pseudorandom. This means that if there is, say, an extra random number generated in the middle of your game, it would likely completely change the random events in the remainder of the game.

What would help is, instead of prioritizing seeds, looking at optimal distributions of random events that lead to fun gameplay. This might mean for instance making your next random event dependent on previous ones (e.g. to compensate previous bad events with more fortunate ones, and vice versa).

Preserving a seed like that wouldn't lead to a similar game without a lot more work. If there's one more or less combat, or you meet the other factions in a different order, you'd "desync" the stream of random numbers and have an entirely different sequence of random events later on.

Even better, they might be able to find a pattern in the seeds that are more interesting (They could be prime, or a power of two), and generate or manipulate seeds to conform to that pattern.

Assuming that the seeds are actually seeds for any sort of half-working random number generator, and given the amount of different subsystems which will depend on that seed, that sounds incredibly unlikely.

I didn't mean that they would find a pattern in the random number generator, rather a pattern in the interesting seeds, that they can then abuse to make random seeds interesting.

An example of this is that perhaps numbers that are even produce more interesting games than those that are odd, so they could then write something like the following:

  int new_seed(void)
    int seed = random();
    if ((seed % 2) != 0)
    return seed;
which makes seeds less random, but is more likely to produce interesting games.

Finding an obvious pattern in the seeds implies that the random number generator's output has an obvious pattern. Given the point of RNGs, that seems unlikely.

From my experience so far, Stellaris will benefit greatly from performance and feature patches (I hear lots of complaints about grinding late-game framerates even in modestly-populated galaxies).

It does seem to suffer from a lack of gameplay options. I think a useful comparison is Civilization V at launch versus after its 'Gods and Kings' and 'Brave New World' expansions, both of which added many new gameplay avenues.

The game seems to be more organic than strategic, lacking crossroads where your decision is based on your priorities. The major exception is the research system, where the 'choose one of three' feature means selecting one option closes off the other two possibilities for an indeterminate period. But besides that, in my experience the game is about expanding like a slime mold and gradually wearing down your opposition (as conquest is the only viable victory type).

I have a feeling from looking at the patch notes and plans for the future, that they intended the ethics system to be a much more diversifying effect than it currently is. ie. You would have a lot more factions within your empire and sector rebellions would be something to deal with, making the mid-game more exciting. Instead, if you can get a happy empire running, it's pretty stable all the way through and the mid-game can get very boring.

Have to say that I love the research system though. It completely turns a lot of standard 4x/strategy style gameplay on its head by preventing 100% forward planning.

I haven't played Stellaris, but I looked up the research system after reading your comment. It does actually seem really cool and like a good use of randomness.

It reminds me of Master of Orion 2, which also had non-deterministic research. There, each point in the tech tree was a category containing multiple items and, when research into that category was done, you got a random item from that category. If you wanted one of the others, you'd have to get it by trading with or spying on other races.

Yeah, it does lend the game a bit of a Moo2 feel. In other strategy games like Civ 5, or even in RPGs, it tends to be very straightforward to work out the "optimum" strategy. eg. You have to get this tech as quickly as possible, you have to unlock that ability.

After a while of playing those games, I tend to get a little bored as I'm pretty much following the same strategy over and over. You get the feeling that you're just ticking off the boxes on your perfect playthrough and when I have that realisation, I get immensely bored with the game.

By adding some randomness and preventing the player from ever being able to follow a perfect plan, they've actually made a very interesting highly replayable game. And like all Paradox games, it'll only go from strength to strength as they patch it and release new content for years to come.

IIRC it only worked like that if you had the race pick Uncreative. Normally you got to pick which tech in the category you wanted to research. So you could plan ahead if you were going with particular strategy (like Darlok spying with all the spy techs).

But Master of Orion 1 did have a somewhat randomized tech research series.

Yes, you're right, I misremembered. Most races got what they selected. But only being able to select one at least limited what you could research.

Uncreative races got a random one in the category they chose and Creative races got all items in the category they chose. It was far too simple to play as a creative race, such as Psilon.

It's a perennial struggle for each new generation of game designers when their internal theory of gameplay mechanics comes into conflict with the general public's completely off-based intuition about statistics.

Basically, people at large don't grok statistics at all. Instead they think of randomness in terms of permutations (drawing cards from a deck). When you pit them against "well-designed" statistical randomness, you are rewarded with a cacophony of complaints about how the simulation is cheating, rigged and unrealistic. Sid Meier had a great GDC keynote about his multi-decade struggle to convey basic concepts like "Something that has only a 1% chance of happening will still happen sometimes." This gets worse when you realize that a million daily active users means one-in-a-million events are a many-times-daily occurrence. That means every day someone will complain that "I rolled a one out of ten SIX TIMES IN A ROW!!! That should never happen! You are explicitly cheating me! I demand my money back!"

So, yeah. Don't rand() in games. Do the shuffle and everyone will be much happier.

Related: I wrote a mahjong game many years back (the tile matching version; not real mahjong).

It turns out you can have unwinnable boards if you build them purely randomly.

So I ended up having the app play the board in reverse to make sure it was winnable!

It still managed to hit stalemates, while playing backwards, but they were very rare. I just restarted instead of trying to avoid that situation algorithmicly.

If the universe is a simulation, maybe this is why life sucks: User boredom if it doesn't.

"Why is God punishing us?"

Having had "play a 4x space strategy" on my gaming bucket list for quite some time, how does this game compare to others that I've had my eye on like Galactic Civ 3 or Sins of a Solar Empire?

Firstly, I'll say Stellaris is a great game, but I would also say that Stellaris isn't actually a pure 4X game if that's what you're looking for. Something like Gal Civ 3 or Star Ruler 2 would be better on that front. Stellaris is more like Civilization in space, or Crusader Kings.

It's grand strategy, about managing empires at a high level, whereas a 4X game tends to be more about resource management, research, and building spaceships.

> whereas a 4X game tends to be more about resource management, research, and building spaceships.

I think those three are represented as well in Stellaris. As mentioned above research is done very well, and presents often dilemmas when you want to research multiple things and you don't know when a certain option will be available again.

Ships can be designed by the player and offer a lot of customisability. Resources are abstracted behind three basic resources so is probably not as deep as other games, but it is in.

I really like the randomness of Stellaris, not only of the research options but also the randomly generated galaxy and AI empires, which means you never encounter the same systems or competitors (unless, of course, you start in the Sol system or let certain empires spawn, which can be chosen at game start).

The article seems to be of someone who doesn't really like the game. Arguably it isn't as fleshed out as other 4X games, but to me it doesn't seem fair to blame it on the random generated content.

I'd actually suggest MOO 1 as a good place to start, as it's considerably simpler.

Sins of a Solar Empire is a real-time game (vs a turn-based game like Stellaris or GalCiv), so it will play out very, very differently.

Stellaris is real-time too, although in single player it's common to pause frequently

Sometimes intermittent boredom might be what you want...

Here is a game reviewer pointing out that one particular game (Sunless Sea) appears to be somewhat improved by having stretches of monotony interrupted by more interesting gameplay.


There is a theory that multiplayer is more interesting than singleplayer because you are playing against unpredictable characters.

Someone toyed with this idea by letting the player of the game play against animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DXiuzAQztU

Well, sometimes you can't

Freecell is a good example, some games are trivially easy or too hard (not sure if there are impossible games)

Freecell would be a perfect example of how to tune difficulty.

Consider: some initial layouts can be solved without using all four free cells; others can't be solved without five or more cells. If a Freecell game implements a solver that can find the minimum number of cells needed to solve a given layout, then it could easily tune the difficulty - by only giving players layouts that require certain numbers of cells, or conversely by varying the number of free cells depending on the layout.

Impossible freecell games are easy to generate. Game number negative one is an example.

not really related, but i wrote a freecells solver some time ago. it either solves the board in a couple hundred milliseconds or runs out of memory in a couple of minutes for unsolvable boards.

one thing i've been interested in was seeing how my solvers results (i.e. # of steps, visited boards, time to solve) correlated with perceived difficulty for a human player - i didn't go that far though.

Well you got to have a story arc for the players experience. A short-term arc and in the long term story-arc of which the luck is just part. Randomized positive/negative Events occur more often, the longer a arc is monotone.

Bugs. Make sure it crashes at random times, then it takes longer to become boring.

Fantastic question! Quick and dirty solution is simply to choose a distribution that isn't uniformly random!

Instead of starting with your random number generator, build up the discrete probability distribution function first. The histogram can have any shape you want.

So, for example, in Tetris, rather than choosing a uniformly random next piece, we give a 10% probability to a straight one, 20% to right-sided L, etc. Now we begin to see patterns that can make gameplay challenging or interesting. If a shape has not appeared in a while purely out of chance, alter the distribution. Keeping track of what cards have been played and what moves have been made forms the basis of a feedback loop that constantly evolves.

Tetris is actually an interesting example:


Officially branded Tetris games are required to use a "random bag" algorithm where they generate random permutations of the 7 tetrominos, so that for every 7 pieces (aligned with the bag start) you get each type once. You can only get two in a row if they appear at the end of one bag and the start of the next, and conversely there's a maximum of 12 pieces between duplicates (start of one bag, end of the next). Three in a row will never happen.

I was hoping for more, but it only talks about strategic video games.

An incredibly... Unpolished strategic video game, in particular.

Constraint propagation solvers seem to work well.

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