[TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

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sinewav
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[TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by sinewav »

This is a personal rant, part of the Adventures of TRON subforum. In absence of a community blog I'll use this space, and so can you.

You might wonder why I would bother to write about Armagetron now that the community is relatively small and inactive? Because some of us still enjoy this game and there are new challenges ahead.

This is the first of several planned posts. I will not be writing about the "good old days" or how to promote the game or "what went wrong" in Armagetron. In my opinion, nothing went wrong and this game is a huge success. I know others think differently. Several weeks ago I talked briefly with Your_mom. He felt that Armagetron missed a golden opportunity when development didn't keep up with the growth of the game. I actually think development stopped long before most players arrived. I'm a 2nd generation Tronner and started playing seriously in early 2008. The peak size of Armagetron's community probably happened in 2011. Yet, major development had practically ceased by late 2007. Also, I'm not convinced more development would have done much considering the major changes in gaming technology and culture over the last decade (but that's a different article).

I want to spend some time imagining what the Armagetron community will look like over the next few years. It might not be hard to visualize. Lots of games exist with small, dedicated communities who continue to have fun indefinitely despite their size. The key to successfully maintaining a small community is communication. At the very least all these ancient game communities have forums and IRC channels just like us. Today there are countless ways to keep in touch. What kinds of tools will benefit the Armagetron community? Facebook and Twitter have never shown themselves as valuable here. Websites like Lightron.org that have embedded chat with a server browser seem to help. At one time a player named Alien wrote a tool that sat in the Windows taskbar and alerted you when your mates joined a server. I thought was a neat idea. Perhaps there are exists tools that can reach a wide range of players on their mobile devices? Maybe. We'll have to look for them (or write them ourselves). We might want to start with an audit of what tools people prefer (forums, IRC, email, RSS, etc...).

Arma's community seems smaller than it is because of game fragmentation. Servers have countless variations of settings and everyone has their favorite. Most times I check the server browser there are nearly two dozen people playing, but split between several servers. I imagine if there were fewer types of servers the player base would be more homogeneous. This is not to say freedom is to blame, but it may play a role in our perception of the community.

One important benefit of benefits to having a smaller community is more flexibility. Identifying problems and making changes comes easier. This lets players not only try out new ideas, but good old ideas that never took root. One of the biggest challenges any game community faces is how to structure competitions. Atomic events like Ladle work best here, but there have been many attempts to get a permanent league going. I wonder if a smaller community like ours could benefit from resurrecting a leader-board like Kings of the Grid? We might be able to create some sort of score system for individual players that can also be used for team events (and then feed the results back into the score system).

Speaking of teams, it is now time to talk about the elephant in the room: Ladle. This event has reached a critical moment that can either destroy it or propel it forward indefinitely. I've written several times about avoiding the pitfalls of CTF Brawl. For those unfamiliar with my argument, I will reiterate it once again.

Brawl died because of a few reasons, but I feel the most damaging reason was because the players let their egos get in the way of what was best for the game. Wanting to win is natural. That's why we play games, to win. But those wins are only satisfying when you work for them. In Brawl, all the hardcore CTF players pooled together into practically unbeatable teams which caused stale gameplay. We have now played basically the same Ladle for a few months in a row. I've previously speculated we are moving into a post-clan era of Armagetron and need to adopt a player-centric view of team games. Pickup was a hugely successful model and we can learn a lot from it. A point of contention might be against the forcible breakup of existing teams. I'm not sure how to approach this.

Is the community flexible enough to simply abandon Ladle for something else? I guess if the alternative was really good and enough people wanted it then the question would answer itself. What is better than Ladle? I've often fantasized about an Armagetron tournament that was more encompassing, perhaps something with rotating game modes. I think this was last suggested around the time of Affray/Trench. We could have a game where different rounds of a single event used different modes and/or switched modes over the course of a couple months. We could even do quarterly seasons where players and teams compete over several game types for top position on a leader-board. Or we can designate the first Sunday of every month "TRONday" and pick games spontaneously. The possibilities are endless and really depend on how much risk the community wants to take.

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blondie
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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by blondie »

You make a lot of good points. In my opinion the peak of the game was when we had sumobar and pickup fort running simultaneously on an afternoon or evening. A large amount of casual play activity was driven by prestige-laden competitive events. The ability to hop on at any time of day and find a game for as little as ten minutes is an edge Armagetron had and has over other competitive video games. Rebuilding a player base that can support that will take years. I strongly believe that people just lost interest in the Ladle once it got up to the 70s and 80s. The inability to grow beyond 20 teams was a real problem because it meant bad players and bad teams never had a sufficient amount of peers to form their own competitive system beneath the elite teams. It was, with very few exceptions, show up and maybe win a round before getting stomped. The competitive formats were always geared towards the elite players (this is inherent to single-elim tournaments) and this held us back. The stagnation of the scene meant that each ladles was progressively less meaningful. When prestige is the only reward, people started going to pretty extreme statistical lengths to derive meaning from their ladle wins.

The dual competitive structure of sumo (individual) and fortress (team) was really great at its peak. I wholly agree that the game has been in a post-clan era for at least a year. I do wonder how many players would come back if there was a random $1,000 tournament was scheduled in a few months. I think many former players would return if a meaningful competitive scene somehow appeared again but have no interest in the stagnant (if truer to the game itself) environment of the past year. The scene at its (rather lengthy) peak was pretty great. Those days are unlikely to ever return again. When we started playing five to ten years ago the e-sports scene was also pretty significantly underdeveloped compared to today. The game itself equals or surpasses cs:go or League in terms of pure gameplay, but almost no one plays games for pure gameplay. For most people, you need both gameplay and either social, competitive, or self-expressive aspects. That doesn't require a large community, but it requires an active and non-cynical one.

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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by Lucifer »

I think a basic server browser with player joins notifications for mobile devices would be both reasonable and useful. It might also be helpful if there were a chat function. The use case I'm thinking of is this: You're sitting on your couch watching TV and you're a little bored with the show. You pick up your phone and check Facebook and Twitter and stuff, and also Armagetron. You see players playing on a server, and you're mildly interested. You can now either go to your computer and join, or ask the players how the game is going. It's disappointing to join a server with a lot of players that all have to leave in 5 minutes, so you can ask before you walk away from your show.

It would also be nice if it had calendar integration, so when you look at your calendar, you can see the next Ladle, or whatever other tournaments were scheduled, and obviously a central location for people to promote tournaments.

I like the idea of having an Armagetron day where the exact games are picked that day, or more like a track and field day. Everybody who shows up has, say, three hours to complete all of the games picked, and then medals/ribbons get handed out. The actual events would still have to be chosen in advance, but should focus around individual players rather than teams. So, you could have wrtlprnft's obstacle course, one of Durf's racing maps, a little one-on-one racing/flag capturing, some random styball, etc. You could still have team events where the individual players get a score for their team winning, and an additional score for their performance, but the teams themselves are randomized.

Yeah, I'm liking the sound of an amateur Armagetron Olympics.... ;)
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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by kyle »

Here is my view of the collapse of the size. We had a lot of young talent many years ago, people in high school and college and for the most part the all came at once. There were a few people from before that wanted to help improve the game for themselves and others which lead to a growth of skills amongst the whole core. Once this new larger player-base had skills it offended many potential new players, so they tried the game and left it. This prevented the next generation of young tronners from being interested in the game. I think that may only be part of it, the other part is there is a big technology drift that has happened with more and more people doing everything on their phones and tablets rather than laptops and desktops. But my point being they next generation did not show up and the older tronners have landed jobs, grown a family and lost the ability to have time to play. That next set of innovators never really showed up.

So overall the community needs to as a whole be helpful to the younger and less skilled players, these are the ones that will have the time to help drive the innovation for several years.

Also for me, the pain of being a developer keeps me from playing the game, everytime I do get the chance to play I feel as if I have so much unfinished work left to do in this game.
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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by blondie »

That's kind of a lazy explanation. It's not really players' obligation to help inexperienced players. That type of effort and energy isn't sustainable. Helping every non-grinder who waltzes into casual fort makes the game unplayable. Expecting Ladle-finals caliber players to spend their playing time teaching someone to grind and not mess the defense up is bizarre.

I do think we did a bad job making entry level servers for new players, though. There should have been an easier version (physics, scaling) of sumobar to get introduce players to the concept of zones and to make real sumo and fort servers recognizable when they eventually ventured over. Basically Yellow Sub physics but in a sumo ring. It could've had three rotating maps every round: Level 1,2, & 3, with more difficult physics or smaller zones in higher levels, and with the hardest setting being normal fort physics. In addition to competing against opponents, players get to see how well they do on different difficulties, like in racing servers. Basically, we failed to compete with high rubber and LMS servers for new players and never developed a pipeline to bring new players from their first day online to competitive events. So, I guess I agree with you on the problem, but not on the solution.

It's probably not universally agreed upon, but the competitive fort and sumo (and ctf I guess) community was just better than the other communities in the game. The players were more game-literate, more involved, and they contributed more to each other's experience.

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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by kyle »

blondie wrote:That's kind of a lazy explanation.
I really did not put too much effort into that post.
blondie wrote:It's not really players' obligation to help inexperienced players. That type of effort and energy isn't sustainable. Helping every non-grinder who waltzes into casual fort makes the game unplayable. Expecting Ladle-finals caliber players to spend their playing time teaching someone to grind and not mess the defense up is bizarre.
I just feel the wealth of tactics that have been created, has made the game unplayable for the newer players. You cannot play without training, yet you cannot train without playing. (although 0.4 does help this to an extent, I'm still not so sure I like how it filtered out servers or marked them as experience required).
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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by aP|Nelg »

kyle wrote:I'm still not so sure I like how it filtered out servers or marked them as experience required).
You can include the uphillbothways file but it also marks all the tutorials as finished...

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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by kyle »

aP|Nelg wrote:
kyle wrote:I'm still not so sure I like how it filtered out servers or marked them as experience required).
You can include the uphillbothways file but it also marks all the tutorials as finished...
I'm not talking about what I can do, I'm talking about what first time tronners will see.
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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by Light »

kyle wrote:
aP|Nelg wrote:
kyle wrote:I'm still not so sure I like how it filtered out servers or marked them as experience required).
You can include the uphillbothways file but it also marks all the tutorials as finished...
I'm not talking about what I can do, I'm talking about what first time tronners will see.
I agree with this. If I was limited like that when I first started playing, there probably wouldn't have been enough to keep me interested. On the other hand, I can see what they're trying to do with helping new players avoid jumping in and getting slaughtered right away and just getting pissed and quitting.

A nice balance of the two would be kind'a interesting, like (I know this topic has been brought up over and over) official servers. Having official servers auto sorted to the top would push people into them more easily, while all of the games that have unwritten rules or special scripts in them would appear like modded servers in any FPS game.

On that note, it would be wonderful if we could pull in better support for large games. If our official servers could run with 32 or 64 players in it, that would be pretty damn cool to see. I'm not sure this is something a better server would fix though, as it seems like we would need the game updated to handle it properly. Not sure what that would require, but it would be a great enhancement IMO.

Also, official servers could be hosted by someone who already hosts a more natural server, or we could pull together some donations for it, which probably wouldn't be overly difficult. The only thing that may lack is the need for trusted & active in-game moderators for them servers.

I may be going off topic, but I'll top this off with the offer to manage the server if we can scrape together the money. I'd happy set it up and get it running with settings probably voted on by the community, with the attempt to give a natural Tron feeling for new users to kind'a figure things out. I could even set it up and throw it over to Z-Man if desired. Having these servers (probably two or three of them) pinned to the top of the list would easily catch most new players. There could even be a little separator to make it obvious where the line between official and user hosted servers are.

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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by Monkey »

Blondie wrote:Basically Yellow Sub physics but in a sumo ring
Yellow Sub physics are hideous (too much rubber and not enough cycle delay). Surely we want new players to learn fort/sumo physics, just on easier servers. IMO, for this to work, we need:

1) Lucifer's "official servers" idea to be implemented.
2) A difficulty rating system for every official server on the server browser list(s), something like Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced.
3) Some deathmatch/last man standing servers with fort/sumo physics but no zones, for beginners to get the basic skillset.
4) Some team ones of the same type, for intermediates to get used to grinding at the start and playing in a team.

This should be enough to get newer players to stay and improve enough to play advanced game modes like fortress and sumo.
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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by aP|Nelg »

I know this is a bit late of a posting, but I might be able to host a community blog.

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Re: [TT] Tron Times: The State of Game 2016

Post by sinewav »

aP|Nelg wrote:I know this is a bit late of a posting, but I might be able to host a community blog.
Thanks! But I don't think we need one. Gene put one up last year and it did not get any use. For now I think this forum is good enough. There are only a few people who write about this game.

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