原作者：Fabian Fischer 译者:Vivian Xue
另一个对战略游戏至关重要的因素是透明度，即清晰的游戏机制。当然，这并不意味着玩家应该了解应对任何情况的最佳方法（正如之前提到的，这会破坏决策过程）。然而，玩家应该始终清楚当前的情况是如何发生的，存在哪些行动方案，以及它们对游戏状态的直接影响是什么。透明化需要游戏规则在任何时刻都能被清楚展现。一个非确定性系统（non-deterministic system）也可以完全透明，只要几率是已知的，比如通过掷一个六面骰子来决定怪物被击中还是躲避了攻击。索伦·约翰逊（Soren Johnson）将透明度视为桌游和电子游戏的主要差别。前者的游戏机制通常十分明确，而后者经常(有意或无意地)模糊他们的内部情况(比如他们那巨大而神秘的数据)。
优雅虽然不太容易被感知，但它同样是一个重要的概念。杰西·谢尔（Jesse Schell）在《游戏设计的艺术》中这样描述道：“优雅是任何游戏中最受欢迎的品质之一，因为它意味着你的游戏上手简单且容易理解，但又充满了各种有趣、新兴的复杂性。”因此，优雅的基本原则是“易上手，难掌握”。这意味着整个系统必须由易理解的元素(这些元素本身没有复杂性)组成，并且只有这些元素一起运作时游戏才表现出了众多深度和可能性 (即新兴的复杂性)。换句话说，系统的各个部分相对微弱，然而组合成的系统本身却具有强大的功能。一款游戏可以同时具备高度复杂性与优雅性，但条件是游戏仅依靠规则的内在复杂性来实现深度化。反过来看，一款简单的游戏却不一定优雅，如果它的一切都流于表面的话 (比如三连棋)。尽管如此，一个伟大的设计通常尽量少而简单。这使玩家能更快接触到真正的战略深度，并使整个游戏生命周期中的学习曲线更加乐观。总之，优雅是高效价值传递的基础。
上述的新兴复杂性促进了另一大标准：多样化。一款好的战略游戏中会出现各种各样可能的情境。关于这一点，沃伦·斯佩克特（Warren Spector）曾经把基于系统的游戏称作“永恒的新奇发动机”。玩家将不断遇到新情况。因此，他们不能简单地依赖于记忆中的知识，而必须运用他们系统的认知来寻找创造性的解决方案。理查德·加菲尔德（Richard Garfield）和他的同事在《游戏的特点》中将这种行为描述为启发法的应用：玩家在逐步学习理解系统的过程中建立起了“经验法则”。在面临任何情况时，他们都会决定是否遵循这些法则，甚至完全放弃或修改这些法则。深度的多人游戏具有高度的多样性，由于对手的行动永远无法被真正预测，因此每一场比赛都可能成为一种新的体验。此外，影响游戏的初始设定的输入随机性(例如《文明》系列中的随机地图)能够促进游戏状态的多样化。在单人策略游戏中，这种随机性是绝对必要的，否则一旦玩的时间长了，玩家将不加思考，仅依靠记忆进行决策。
游戏系统的连贯性指的是游戏机制的相互关联性，比如各个元素间的联系的数量和强度。一般来说，我们希望元素间存在许多紧密联系，因为它们不仅促进了新复杂性的产生 (通过在多个机制中紧密合作)，并且它们能使游戏设计更加优雅。如果一个元素与许多其他元素相连，它便能在整体系统中发挥多重作用。反过来说，这也意味着任何或多或少孤立于系统剩余部分之外的元素都必须被剔除。即便是一个松散结合（loosely coupled）的元素也应受到质疑：这种联系能以某种方式得到加强吗？这个元素能够与其它元素联系起来吗？如果答案是否定的，那么最好把它完全移除掉。基思·伯根在《游戏设计理论》中甚至提出了一个围绕单一核心机制进行设计的理念：“理想状态下，游戏中的每样事物都应直接支持核心机制——任何与核心机制无关的东西都可以被剔除。”
为了探讨这个概念，让我们以Dinofarm Games的游戏《奥诺》（Auro: A Monster-Bumping Adventure）为例。这款回合制策略游戏的核心理念是，所有的操作均围绕着核心机制“碰撞”间接发挥作用。比如玩家无法直接向怪物射击火球，而是（通过多种方式）让怪兽撞击预先放置的火焰圈。怪兽从不会直接攻击玩家，只会在地图上挪动一格。玩家需用各种道具技能让怪兽掉到火中或水中。游戏中“只有”九种不同的技能，但经过多年的平衡和打磨后，它们无论是自身还是同彼此结合均能最大程度地发挥趣味性。此外，这些技能还能与不同种类的地形和怪物(怪物也具备各自的战术技能)以多种方式互动，由此产生了高度的复杂性。但最重要的是，系统对玩家精彩而机智的表现给予丰厚奖励，玩家们通过在连续的操作获得高分，例如在多个连续回合中巧妙地组合使用不同技能。这鼓励玩家们不断思考创新性的打法。
但话又说回来，“包装”无疑是几十年来整个行业的一个主要关注点。尽管上世纪90年代至2000年间，由于技术的飞速发展，视听效果丰富的游戏占据上风，策略游戏的流行程度大大下降，但近几年来它又呈现出了某种复苏之势。不可挽回性和以技能为基础的游戏再一次受到瞩目。像《超越光速》（Faster than Light）、《以撒的结合》（The Binding of Isaac）或《节奏地牢》（Crypt of the NecroDancer）这样的游戏都非常成功。“roguelike”几乎成为了一个热门营销词汇，以及用来判断游戏是否真的具有策略性的指标。除此之外，桌游（一直以策略游戏为主）也在不断数字化，桌游改编游戏占领了iOS策略游戏类别。策略游戏的黄金时代才刚刚开始。
In the context of this article, strategy games are defined as “contests of decision-making” and therefore a very specific form of interactive system. These potentially highly replayable games are usually played in matches and demand creative finesse in coping with diverse challenges. They can’t be “beaten” and are therefore fundamentally different from linear games with a preset story or level structure (such as Uncharted or Super Mario Bros.). The following article elucidates the core concepts underlying these systems to then derive specific quality criteria for their gameplay design.
Designer and author Keith Burgun would simply call decision-making contests “games” in his taxonomy of interactive forms, thus separating them from goal-less toys, solvable puzzles, and “pure” contests (which measure a single specifically defined skill). A decision is defined as a situation, wherein the player has enough and insufficient information at the same time: On the one hand he can’t be completely sure as to which action alternative is the best one, else there would be nothing to decide since the correct solution is already known. On the other hand the player must have some information on which to base his choice, otherwise every alternative would effectively be the same, again destroying the decision (in other words, it might just as well be “decided” by a die roll). On top of that the decision has to come with permanent consequences. If it didn’t the player wouldn’t decide anything, but merely try out the options
Further, a contest of decision-making is an interactive system wherein at least one player makes decisions, whose quality is then evaluated in the context of a specific goal, and finally leads to winning or losing. The word “contest” does not necessarily imply multiple human players or an AI simulating a human opponent. In the case of single-player strategy games the system itself is the “opponent”. An obvious criterion for the quality of such a system is the interestingness of the decisions themselves, which is directly connected to the range between solution and guess (see slide on the left, taken from Burgun’s talk at Practice 2013): How difficult is it to choose between the given alternatives? Do I have enough knowledge to make a well-founded assumption as to what the optimal option could be? Do I, at the same time, have too little knowledge to be completely sure of the qualitative ranking of all the actions? Then I’m probably facing an interesting decision. The following sections will explain a few more (possibly less obvious) criteria by which to assess the design of a decision-making contest.
Efficiency and Transparency
Efficiency describes the frequency with which interesting decisions occur during gameplay. It can thus also be called “density”. Assuming the (primary) value of the system really lies in making these decisions, more decisions per second are of course better (given equally high interestingness). In general as little time as possible should be spent waiting or performing mentally trivial tasks. Besides obvious examples such as cutscenes, housekeeping busywork and manually adjusting the camera, this also concerns more subtle elements such as animations in turn-based games. They have no mechanical meaning and therefore do not affect the decision-making process (in contrast to real-time games where the time an animation needs to play out is an actual resource). Therefore they should either not exist or run asynchronously to the player’s input so that he can still issue commands as quickly as possible. Essentially this principle comes down to valuing the player’s time and making sure not to simply waste it. Along similar lines Keith Burgun calls for efficiency in strategy games: “If players give you five minutes, that’s a huge gift and you owe it to them to make sure it is completely rewarded.”
Another factor of central importance for strategy games is transparency, the clarity of the game’s mechanics. This does of course not mean that players should know what their best action is in any given case (again, this would destroy the decision). However, it should always be clear how the current situation came to be, which action alternatives exist and what their immediate consequences are regarding the game state. Transparency is concerned with clearly laying out the rules of the game at any given moment. A non-deterministic system can also be completely transparent if all the odds are known, for example when rolling a six-sided die to find out if a monster was hit or missed. Soren Johnson views transparency as the primary difference between board and video games. While the former are usually mechanically very well-defined, the latter (intentionally or not) often obfuscate their exact inner-workings (simple example: huge and mysteriously calculated scores).
Elegance and Variety
A little less tangible but at least as important is the concept of elegance. Jesse Schell describes it in “The Art of Game Design” as follows: “Elegance is one of the most desirable qualities in any game, because it means you have a game that is simple to learn and understand, but is full of interesting emergent complexity.” Thus the basic principle is “easy to learn, hard to master”. This means that the overall system has to consist of elements that are easy to understand (having little inherent complexity), and only in working together create a lot of depth and possibilities (emergent complexity). In other words the system does a lot with relatively little. A game can be immensely complex and still elegant if it just creates far more depth than it has by the inherent complexity of its rules alone. The other way around, a simple game can be inelegant if there’s actually not much more to it than what can be seen on the surface (see Tic Tac Toe). In general though, a great design expresses itself in as few and simple components as possible. This allows players to access the actual strategic depth more quickly and makes for a much more pleasant learning curve throughout the game’s lifecycle. In short, elegance is the foundation of efficient value delivery.
The mentioned emergence in turn contributes to another criterion: variety. A good strategy game allows for and generates a broad range of possible situations. Warren Spector, on that note, calls system-based games “engines of perpetual novelty”. Players will consistently be facing novel situations. Therefore they cannot simply rely on memorized knowledge but have to employ their systemic understanding to find creative solutions. Richard Garfield and his colleagues describe this behavior in “Characteristics of Games” as the application of heuristics: Players develop “rules of thumb” over time as they learn to better understand the system. In any given situation they then decide whether to follow these rules or not, or maybe even discard or revise them altogether. Deep multiplayer games offer an especially high potential for variety since the opponent’s actions can never be truly predicted, therefore potentially making each match a novel experience. Additionally, input randomness affecting the game’s initial setup (such as random map generation in Civilization) can support the emergence of varied game states. In single-player strategy games this form of randomness is in fact absolutely necessary. Without it there can be no decisions since long-term it would just come down to memorizing and executing the perfect solution.
Coherence and Balance
The coherence of a gameplay system describes the interconnectedness of the mechanisms of a decision-making contest, i.e. the number and strength of the connections between the individual elements. In general many solid connections are desirable, because not only do they support the idea of emergent complexity (in multiple mechanisms working together closely), they also tend to make for a more elegant game. If one element is linked to many others, it potentially serves multiple purposes within the overall system. Conversely this also means that no element should be added to the design that’s more or less isolated from the rest of the system. Even an only loosely coupled element should be questioned: Can the link be strengthened somehow? Can connections to other elements be created? If that’s not the case, it might be worth removing this element altogether. Keith Burgun, in “Game Design Theory”, even describes the concept of arranging a design around one single core mechanism: “Ideally, every single thing that’s inside the game should be in direct support of the core mechanism – and anything that has nothing to do with the core mechanism can probably be removed from the game.”
Next up, a game’s balancing is not only concerned with the systemic elements but also the decisions themselves. When a decision-making contest is “in balance”, all the action alternatives are weighed against one another. There can’t be dominant strategies because those are essentially solutions, decisions already made before they’re even considered. On the other hand, there shouldn’t be obviously inferior elements that never play a role, since in an otherwise coherent system those would in the end just be “dead weight” – noise obfuscating the systemic clarity. For example, consider a fighting game that has a “strong kick” and a “weak kick” attack. Assuming strength and speed are the only factors, the strong kick can’t also be the faster one. If it were, the weak one would never be used in a competition between rational players, and shouldn’t even exist in a well-balanced system. Every single element has to serve a particular purpose and have “its place” in the overall game. The act of balancing saves elements from irrelevance.
Secondary Criterion: Creativity
A strong sense of coherence and the potentially resulting emergence in combination with well-balanced action alternatives will in turn incentivize players to employ their creativity. Decision-making contests live by the fact that not every small step the player could take and the according reaction of the system is pre-planned by the designer. Situations aren’t manually assembled but emerge dynamically in-game. Indeed a lot of videogames allow for creative play, but in most cases that’s just a “cool shenanigan”, a move that will get the player imaginary “style points” in front of his friends but has no actual relevance in the game because it’s far from the optimal way of doing things. A good decision-making contest enforces creative play by making the “cool” move the mechanically optimal one that causes the best possible systemic feedback.
To exemplify this concept we can take a look at Auro: A Monster-Bumping Adventure by Dinofarm Games. The core idea of the turn-based tactics game is that all actions work indirectly, centering around the core mechanism of “bumping”. The player for example doesn’t shoot fireballs at monsters, but he tries to maneuver those monsters (by several means) into previously placed flame traps. Monsters are never directly attacked for damage, but only ever pushed one tile further. The player has to find ways of moving them into fire or water, over ice, through the air and any imaginable combination of all those. There are “only” nine different skills but they were balanced and honed for years to be maximally interesting on their own and in combination with each other. Additionally, they also interact with the terrain and all the different monsters (who in turn all have their own tactically relevant special abilities) in a myriad of ways. The resulting emergent complexity is absolutely massive. But on top of all that, the most spectacular and clever way of dealing with a situation is usually the one that’s most rewarded by the game system. Players receive the highest amount of points for big action chains, cunningly combining various skills in multiple consecutive turns – i.e. for employing their creativity in repeatedly coming up with these satisfying little strokes of genius.
Luck and Execution
By contrast, a “natural enemy” of the decision-making contest is the dependence of a player’s success on mere luck, for example caused by output randomness (like rolling dice to determine the amount of damage done in an RPG) or input randomness with unfairly high variance regarding its effects on different matches or players. These elements are in immediate conflict to the system’s core: the decisions. The more the outcome of a match depends on luck and randomness, the less weight a player’s decisions have in the end. On top of that, the systemic feedback is distorted by chaos: Did I win because I made better decisions? Or was it just luck? In most cases it’s simply not possible to draw a clear line between the two factors. The phenomenon of “imagined agency” is therefore closely related to this problem: In the case of defeat many players assume they were just out of luck. Any victory however they quickly ascribe to their superior skill. This may seem like a positive feature at first from a psychological point of view, but it is actually completely based on players willing to consistently fool themselves. And a design relying on such a thing can only be called dubious at the very least.
Besides dependence on luck, a big impact of motoric execution on the outcome of a game is also problematic. If the result for example depends to a non-negligible amount on who has more dexterity, the decisions are of accordingly reduced importance. For example, in a match of Starcraft it’s possible that one player constantly makes better decisions but loses in the end because his opponent was able to click way faster and more accurately. In an ideal contest of decision-making though, the end result wholly depends on the choices that were made. Decisions are questions of “Should you do X?”, whereas an execution requirement asks “Can you do X?”. In this sense real-time games always call for a bit of skepticism. A borderline case is for example Spelunky which has an important execution component, but its relevance is at least rivaled, and often trumped by decision-making.
Of course all these criteria and observations are mostly mechanical and systemic affairs. And indeed in terms of the ruleset design (which is the focus of this article), things like story, characters, setting and even theme play a subordinate role. For a decision-making contest the main purpose of a theme is to make the mechanisms feel more intuitive. It’s for example easier to grasp and internalize that “the sword fighter can only attack adjacent enemies, while the archer can attack enemies in a distance of two tiles” than a more abstract “the square stone can only remove adjacent stones, while the round stone can remove stones in a distance of two tiles”. Theme means using the player’s common knowledge to ease him into learning the rules. By extension, the presented criteria inherently incentivize innovation: Two decision-making contests that only differ in terms of theme (not in terms of how intuitive they are), but are mechanically equivalent, do actually not differ at all. In the case of the newer of the two, there was basically nothing to design except the packaging or, to say it with Raph Koster, the “dressing”.
Then again, said “dressing” has without a doubt been a major focus throughout the whole industry for decades. And although the form of the decision-making contest lost a lot of momentum in the 1990s and 2000s due to rapid technological advancements enabling audiovisual spectacle to take over in terms of popularity, there has been kind of a revival over the last years. Permanent consequences and skill-based games count for something again. Games like FTL, The Binding of Isaac or Crypt of the NecroDancer are very successful. The term “roguelike” has almost become a marketing buzzword and often basically an indicator of whether or not a system actually is a decision-making contest or not. On top of that there has been a fusion of the digital realm with board games (which have essentially always been dominated by decision-making contests), especially indicated by a huge amount of board game adaptations taking over the strategy game genre on iOS. This could just be the beginning of a golden age of strategy games.
In the end, what’s truly unique about the decision-making contest and provides it with “evergreen” potential is the systemic learning it allows for. To master a deep strategy game is to see through a complex web of interconnected parts (whose cautious and elegant composition can be of immense aesthetic value) and be able to reliably manipulate it to one’s own advantage. It’s about finding correlations between individual elements through the repeated examination of hypotheses about the system, and piece by piece building a mental model of the game’s possibility space, a giant network of heuristics. In witnessing one’s own understanding and the resulting finesse of play grow, is where the core value of strategy games lies. It truly is, as Frank Lantz put it, “thought made visible to itself”.（source：Gamasutra ）