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How The West Will Be Won: Michael Bayne on Bang! Howdy
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How The West Will Be Won: Michael Bayne on Bang! Howdy


October 2, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

GS: The "cool-down" mechanic is one of Bang! Howdy's most unique features. Can you talk a bit more about how it helped reconcile the problems you were seeing in RTS's and turn-based strategy games?

MB: In a turn based game, one generally either has to wait for the other player to complete their turn entirely before you get to make any of your moves, or some games use a simultaneous turn based structure where each players makes their moves at the same time without precise knowledge of their opponents' actions, then some sort of conflict resolution mechanism is used when players give conflicting orders.

Real-time strategy games generally allow a player to order their units at any time and assign a certain amount of real time to the completion of any action, be that moving across the board or attacking.

Bang! takes an approach somewhat closer to the real-time strategy approach in that there is no fixed turn during which all units can move and attack once, instead there is a global game "clock" which is ticking forward about every three or four seconds (the speed of the clock is varied a little during the course of the game). Once a unit has executed a move (or move and attack) they cannot execute another until four ticks of the clock have elapsed.

The thing that gives Bang! a different feel from a normal RTS is that this post-action delay is very much tactical information that one makes use of in the course of a game. We visually communicate the state of every unit on the board and you frequently find yourself making decisions based on the number of ticks remaining before your and your opponents' units can move.

By discretizing this information and presenting it to the player, we create an experience that feels like a fast moving turn-based game rather than a slow moving real-time strategy game.

GS: Are you at all worried that turn-based play will discourage more casual players?

MB: I think turn-based mechanics are more accessible to casual gamers than real-time strategy mechanics. That said, Bang! is pretty fast paced and we recognize that this is likely to be a bit more than many match-three gamers are looking for…

GS: What is your intended audience for the game?

MB: We're aiming for what I've heard called "broad core" gamers: people who have played video games in some form, but are not hardcore players. This means they don't have the latest hardware and they don't necessarily have deep experience with the any particular genre. They want a fun, console-like experience on the PC with more depth than your average casual game, but not something that requires hours of investment in learning how to play nor a two or three hour minimum gameplay session.

With Bang! we've provided a core experience that can be as short as ten minutes. Then we're building on top of that to create half hour and longer experiences for situations where players have more time on their hands and want to really immerse themselves in the game.

At the same time, we've been careful not to neglect the longer term accomplishments that are frequently absent from casual games. If a player spends ten minutes playing Bang!, we want them to feel like they've taken one step toward a larger goal, be that leveling up a Big Shot unit, or earning enough scrip for that fancy cowboy hat or raising their ranking in a particular game type. If they have time to play longer, they can take more steps toward those goals, but we don't want even the shortest play session to feel meaningless.

GS: Bang! Howdy's quick-to-access setup and relatively short learning curve certainly make it accessible for a player without much time to spare. But how do you think this semi-casual approach will impact the development of online communities?

MB: No doubt players that are looking for a casual, low-time-investment experience are less likely to expend effort to form and participate in communities relating to the game. However, we don't believe this attitude is incompatible with the formation and preservation of community, just a challenge to be overcome. To do so, we provide a number of systems that help players to maintain and create communities on various levels.

At the most intimate level, we want players who come to the game with an existing group of friends to be easily able to coordinate and play with them. To that end, we've developed a "Pardner" system which is basically an in-game buddy list. It tells you which of your friends are online, where they are, and makes it very easy to get together with them to chat and play games.

Next, we want to foster the development of new friendships even if only in the context of playing the game, which we're doing with a "Friendly Folks" system. It is sort of like bookmarks for people. Using this system, a player can give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to any player they play with and any time they are in the Saloon (where games are match-made) we will let them know when any of their Friendly Folks are also there and make it easy for them to chat and play together. Even if the player takes no action to communicate with people they've tagged, we automatically favor matching players up with other players they've marked as friendly and we avoid matching players up with other players they've marked as unfriendly.

To foster more structured communities we are implementing a Posse system where players can band together into a formal organization. Like the Pardners and Friendly Folks systems, this helps bring players together for games, but the Posse system also provides meta-gameplay with intra- and inter-Posse rankings. We emphasize players rank among their Posse members rather than their rank in the overall game, which is a very big pond and a much tougher competition. Further, players collaborate to raise their Posse's rank among the other Posses by playing "feud" games against members of other Posses. We also have plans for Posse-sponsored tournaments to allow civic-minded Posses to offer prizes to their own members or to anyone in game-wide tournaments.

Beyond the in-game systems for supporting community, we also host message boards and a wiki which is maintained collaboratively by us and the players. Both are integrated with the game in that the same account is used to log into them all and we make it easy to use ones in-game avatar as a forum avatar.


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