A dozen battles into the awesomely violent pixel gladiator game Domina, I received a humourous message to the effect my avatar (the lanista) had died of thirst, thus ending the game.
My response: "Wtf?!"
The aim of the game is to run your own ludus, to become the best ludus in the land and have champion gladiators. In short: the core gasmelay is to a manage gladiators. Giving your lanista a drink is something one would assume would be abstracted; given you can't walk around with her or anything and she's just an icon on the screen. Keeping track of finances and, say, overall food supplies for your ludus makes sense; micromanaging every glass of water does not.
Before you race to comment: I later found that water was a resource to be managed (it linked to gladiator training)... ...but the point was stuck in my head...
While googling my water dilemma, I then noticed the biggest gripe from players is how the research skill "Mind Control" - which allows you to directly steer a gladiator - make the game too easy to win. Again, by allowing you to control a gladiator, the game is stepping outside its core gameplay - managing a ludus. It's be like if a football management game allowed you to control a single player allowing you to wtfbbqpwn Real Madrid with Luton Town's reserve striker who works at Woolworths.
These musing have applications for game design:
What is the focus of the game? What can be abstracted? What can be micromanaged and what should NOT be micromanaged?
A lot of games fall into the trap; the general can control each individual sniper or aim each cannon. A tank commander should be able to designate individual targets; but should a division commander be able to do the same?
Domina is hilarious pixel violence as you control your own ludus (gladiator school). I found myself shouting "tis but a flesh wound!" as a pixellated trident-and-net dude hopped around clutching an amputated leg...
Why people are failing to make the next Mordheim
I've often discussed how the skirmish campaign genre lacks a torchbearer since Mordheim/Necromunda. Funnily enough, there are many skirmish games with much better tactics and mechanics already. I actually think the real reason most have failed as the core of these games IS a ridiculously deep and complex campaign system. Most games since then have focussed on improving gameplay while tacking on a "simple" and "elegant" campaign/advancement systems. But I think they've missed the point. Mordheim was pretty basic (and imbalanced at times) in terms of gameplay, but the nostalgia lingers. Why? Tellingly, the most successful imitator (Frostgrave) has rather meh, bland gameplay but has a deep magic system and plenty of meat on its campaign mechanics. Along with an appeal to nostalgia (a searching a ruined city for artifacts...) I think Frostgrave has successfully indentified what makes a skirmish campaign successful - the campaign/advancement/skills/base building part. I always liked LOTR:SBG, and it's Battle Companies campaign system elegant and simple... ..and you'd think I'd love it... ...but it's too simple; as it does not hold the depth of play of its GW predecessors.
Busywork - aka meaningless grind or activity
Besides the focus of the game, Domina reminded me of "busywork" - contrived or added work/grind in a game for the sake of it. A good example is found in open world survival games - ARK - an awesome (but terribly optimized game) where you can build bases, ride dinosaurs, and fight other people while riding said dinos. A key "feature" is how you need to constantly eat or die; you need to scarf down berries every 5 minutes, or your HP steadily and quickly drains until you die. It's busywork. Grind for the sake of grind. It doesn't even make it feel realistic. It's LESS realistic. A few hours without a meal shouldn't kill you. There can be a penalty - reduce stamina, or XP gain, or -1 to all stats or something... but you shouldn't be constantly hunting berries. That's not realistic survival - it's busywork.
Does a game track something that can be abstracted or ignored? Are there dice rolls or extra actions that are "tacked on" to a game? Has each element of the game been looked at; and asked the question "Does this add enough to the game to be worth the extra time/complexity/recording?"
I fail to see much difference between Diablo and clicker games... What is a clicker game?
Perhaps a little off topic (although this is mostly a rambling train-of-consciousness post anyways). Talking about core game design and what the main point of your game; I've always wondered:
What is the point of ARPGs? (PC games like Diablo)