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The Harmonics Engine: A Revolutionary Approach to Community Created Content
The Harmonics Engine: A Revolutionary Approach to Community Created Content.
If there is one thing that sets CoreTechs apart from other games, it’s the ability to accept and incorporate user content. If a player so desired, s/ he could design and create entire decks that would have the potential to become mainstream and open to all users. Unfortunately this strength poses a potential weakness: how does one present a perfectly balanced game and yet still allow user content? If every card is to be balanced against every other card, then how does one ensure that the potentially hundreds of cards being made per day are all acceptable? The potential for an unbalanced catastrophe is precisely why other game companies do not allow user creations to become part of the game.
In order to allow a massive inflow of potential user-made cards while maintaining our goal of a balanced system, we must have a method in place that assures balance and is independent of in-flow. We could therefore assure that user content would not screw up the game in two ways: first we could limit the user created content to aspects of the game that do not require balance, like art or music. However, people are not stupid and they would notice immediately that there is an enormous aspect of the game (namely the actual function of the card itself) that they do not have access to. Or secondly, we could devise an intrinsic algorithm that would weigh the “awesomeness” of the card against some standard to ensure that the in game costs of playing or using that card fit. In other words, a card may be severely awesome, but it costs a heck of a lot of resources to play.
Great. Now we have a vague idea of how to balance each card: cost vs benefit. However, we still must devise a way to weigh these cards and compare that weight to the relative scarcity of each resource in game. Well, in order to weigh something, one must develop a metric of weight, be it kilograms or dollars, or in our case “awesomeness.” In order to develop such a metric, we must understand what makes a card awesome. Firstly, there is the cards actual statistics, which, if high, contribute to awesomeness: is the card nigh invincible, does it move really fast, does it hit really hard, etc. And secondly, there is the cards ability: does it summon a huge creature to fight for it, can it be easily combo-ed with another card to produce some devastating effect, etc. It seems fairly plain that the two domains of a cards’ awesomeness are physical and potential or inherent in nature.
The entire premise of the game is based on the manipulation of physical laws. The notion of bringing beings into existence and these beings having special abilities relies not on magic (in our case) but on an advanced scientific technology. Where better then, to look for a metric for physical and potential awesomeness than science? And so the Harmonics engine was born. Each card is treated as a complete system of kinetic (stat based) energies and electrical (ability based) energies (for all those physicists out there, we are treating each card as being at the same elevation and as not storing any energy per say). Thus, if we model the stats of a card as a mechanical system (mass, velocity, acceleration, etc) we can calculate exactly how much energy it would take to develop such a system. This is the cost of summoning such a card. In fact, dealing with the stats is extraordinarily easy, as they are numerical in nature to begin with.
The hard part in the modeling of a card, comes in trying to assign a numerical value to its ability. There are standardized methods that we employ such as duration of effect, radius of effect and numerical impact of effect (life lost, etc), but with more complex abilities and the potential for combos, this is no easy task. This is why we employ The Gauntlet. The Gauntlet refers to the battery of play tests a user-made card must go through in order to become cannon. During these tests, players are encouraged to fill out questionnaires at the end of the match. These questionnaires will help our game designers determine what about a particular card needs changing, as well as filtering out any inappropriate content. In addition to the questionnaires, real time data from every match is accumulated and analysed via a flagging algorithm (that’s a story for another time) that allows our game designers to quickly view which potential cards are broken, why they are broken, and what can be done about them. As a result, we may ask you if you wish to revise the card in order to make it cannon. An actual match between decks of fully canonized cards is also a sort of Gauntlet. Indeed, real time data (such as how many times has a card been involved in a winning condition vs a losing condition) and information from questionnaires is still accumulated. Therefore we are always checking and back checking and revising to make sure balance is guaranteed. Once a card reaches a certain amount of time as cannon without being revised, it becomes Super Cannon, and is guaranteed never to be revised again.
The Gauntlet and Harmonics engine are powerful tools in that they allow us to make a game that blends user-created content with our own content homogeneously. They allow for a game that does not require a lot of actual money to get good at. We realize that while there are some bad ideas, most ideas aren’t and we look forward to seeing what you make of them.
Dr. Alex Botros