Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Designing for Low-Skill Players: Subtle Rightness

One tendency of LSPs that I find particularly surprising and unintuitive is that they don't read cards.

Oh, they'll glance at them and get a feeling for what the card does. But they won't internalize the rules text; instead, they'll form a vague mental impression of the card's effect ("big dragon", "mana elf", or "lightning bolt") and only call to mind the actual text when it becomes relevant. In short, they evaluate cards by feeling as well as mechanics. This tendency is shared by many HSPs as well, but it shows up far more at lower skill levels.

Our job as game designers is to match the card's feeling to the mechanics as well as possible. A card which behaves in ways that are different from what the player expects is a recipe for confusion and frustration. Here are some of the tools at our disposal for getting the card to feel right. 

Name. Words like Gravedigger and Fireball go a long way towards forming an idea of the card. Even for simple creatures, players will have an easier time visualizing a Minotaur Abomination or Axebane Stag than a Groffskithur or Vizzerdrix.

Art. Some uses of art are obvious: don't draw a Whippoorwill in flight if the creature does not have flying. But there's also something to be said for capturing the emotions of the mechanical side. Take a look at these two Millstones:

Notice that the repetitive grinding of lost cards is captured very well by the former piece, with its static, symmetrical composition, muted color palette, and resigned stony face. The latter card looks more like an instant called "Crush with Rocky Wheel".

Rarity. LSPs often use rarity as a proxy for "epicness", which is not quite the same thing as power level. Rares like Mercenaries and Shrieking Mogg are certainly more powerful than, say, Eye of the Storm in limited. However, they don't have the expected level of excitement, which makes them feel wrong as rares. Indeed, the Theros scry lands, despite being quite strong, received a lot of criticism for not feeling rare enough.

Types. Lords notwithstanding, the words on the type line are basically there to evoke flavor. As always, this flavor needs to match the mechanics. The "Summon Titan" on Mountain Titan looks mighty silly next to 2/2 stats, as does "Creature - Elf Shaman" on a 5/7. (You all know who I'm talking about.) It's also important to reinforce the mechanical connotations of each creature type; Renegade Demon as a vanilla in Avacyn Restored was a bizarre outlier.

Flavor Text. This is the part of the card that players are most likely to ignore, but it's still an opportunity for additional theming. The best flavor text reinforces what the card does: Deadly Recluse and Glimpse the Future are excellent examples of this. The worst flavor text is confusing or irrelevant: Check out Root Greevil or Dwarven Pony.

This post is partly inspired by Jules' comments last week. Next week: wrapping up with a discussion of indulging or teaching LSPs via design.

1 comment:

  1. this one was very helpful. thank you. what I didn't realize before was about the flavor text.