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Subject: More Mission Analysis - Better playability for "random" missions rss

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Daniel Reece
United States
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I really like Space Alert and I really like the Random Mission generator which
Zorba has been put together for it. With that said, I think the random mission
generator can be improved by adding a bit more structure.

For me, a random mission generator should be unpredictable in the details,
but the results should still bear a strong resemblance to the stock missions
in the properties important to play. Please feel free to disagree with
this goal! Perhaps you prefer more chaos and true random?

There are several areas where the current generator is noticably different
from the stock missions (more detail on each of these later).

After playing 8 stock missions, 9 random missions and
5 random missions which I made "less random" by hand editing;
I find the "balanced" missions more fun to play (and certain things that seem
"unfun" to me are avoided). Thus I think implementing some additional balance
rules to any random generator will make it better.

Thanks to Vlaada for Space Alert, a truly unique game.

Thanks to Zorba for his excellent random mission generator work (which I
critic only because it promises so much, and I want to help make it better)

Thanks to Chrisitan V for his first balance analysis and the mission
analysis spreadsheet,

Now in my best hopes, Zorba would be able to take this analysis and add some
balancing options to the existing generator.
Failing that, perhaps I will take my own stab at a better balanced version.

I am listing my concerns in what I would consider priority order for
addition to the existing program (V1.0.2).

----- ----- -----
In stock missions:
Not all threat types appear early / late:
----- ----- -----

We ran into an "unstoppable" T+1 skirmisher while playing a random mission.
This was a definite "unfun" thing.

I expect there are similar play problems with other threats
if they show up too early or too late. I think our best strategy is to keep
the random generator "inside the envelope" of the stock playtesting.

The stock missions limit the timing of certain threat types,
in particular only common external threats show up at T+1 and T+8.
Serious Internal threats are limited to times T+3 to T+6.

Threat time ranges by type:
Common External Threat 1-8
Serious External Threat 2-7
Common Internal Threat 2-7
Serious Internal Threat 3-6

----- ----- -----
In stock missions:
Threat to track assignment is very uniform
----- ----- -----

In the stock missions, no track (including internal) gets less than 1 or more
than 3 threat.

Consecutive threats never appear on the same track.

----- ----- -----
In stock missions:
Number of threats (not value) is even between phase 1 and 2
----- ----- -----

Number of threats in first phase is never different from number in second
phase by more than 1.

----- ----- -----
In stock missions:
Data operations are carefully distributed
----- ----- -----

The mission is usually already won or lost by the time we are programming
phase 3. For balance a "fair" amount of incoming data and data transfer needs
to happen while the team has time to use it. We have noticed a lot more early
"cardlock" with the raw random missions. A little analysis shows why.
The stock missions are fairly non-random in the placement of
incoming data and data transfer.

Looking at the stock missions: (I = Incoming Data / T = Data Transfer)

P1 (I/T) P2 (I/T)
M1 1/1 1/2
M2 1/1 2/1
M3 1/1 1/2
M4 1/1 2/1
M5 1/1 0/2
M6 3/0 0/2
M7 1/1 1/2
M8 2/0 0/2

One could infer several different rule sets from this data.
My best cut at "fairness rules" would be:

1) Must have at least 2 incoming data over all phases
(already in Zorba generator)
2) Must have at least 3 data transfer over all phases
(already in Zorba generator)
3) Must have at least 1 incoming data in phase 1
4) Must have at least 1 data transfer in phase 2
5) Must have at least 1 data transfer in phase 3
6) Must have at least 2 data operations (either incoming or transfer)
in phase 1.
7) Must have at least 2 data operations in phase 2.

Another important bit of uniformity to the stock missions:
If a data transfer is going to happen in phase 1, it happens at least
30 seconds after the early threat series is down. This timing gives the
players a fair shot to figure out the cards they need before the transfer hits.

----- ----- -----
In stock missions:
Threats are usually revealed early (first half) of the phase, and when not down
early they are not the most nasty kind.
----- ----- -----

The current random generator distributes threat announcements evenly in
each phase; this is noticably different than the stock missions.

The first announcement of phase 1 and 2 is always within 10-15 seconds, and the
first threat announcement of the phase is either the first thing, or tucked
right behind the first announcement. (current Zorba generator does something
close to this for phase 1)

In stock missions, threat announcements are pushed to the front (mostly)
Most common time of first threat: 0:10
Latest time for first threat: 0:20 (incoming data first)
Latest time for first confirmed: 0:35 (unconfirmed first)
Latest time for second threat: 1:30
Usually 3 threats are down before the 2 minute mark.
Except Mission 5, all phase 1 threats are down by 2:15
In 6 of 8 missions, all phase 2 threats are down in
first 2 minutes of phase 2

The stock missions do have "ambush threats"...
Mission 5 of the stock missions holds announcing the T+4 threat
until the last minute of phase 1. Only in 2 missions is the T+8 threat
announced in the last minute of phase 2. In all cases the
"late announce" threat is a common external threat.

So the stock missions include an occasional "surprise announcement", but:

1) It is a "surprise", not every mission.
2) The "suprise" is never serious (or internal).
3) Most threats are announced early in the phase (first 60%).

Possible rules to follow for timing balance:

1) Announce first threat of each phase right away (10 seconds unless some
other event comes first, in which case go right after that event).
2) Announce other threats spread through first 60% of phase.
3) If T+4 or T+8 threat is common severity, give it a 40% chance to be an
"ambush threat" which gets announced after the phase 1 minute warning.
If it is not an "Ambush" get it announced in the first 60% of phase.

----- ----- -----
In stock missions:
Communication down time is stacked in phase 3
----- ----- -----

My cut at some fairness rules for communication down...

1) Total communication down 50 to 70 seconds (already in Zorba generator)
2) Phase 1 total communication down must be in 0 to 30 range
3) Phase 2 total communication down must be in 0 to 30 range
4) Phase 3 total communication down must be in 30 to 60 range
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Rami Finkelshtein
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Just another day on the staircase
Excellent analysis. While I haven't actually used Zorba's generator I have hard good things about it nice things about it. For stock missions your analysis appears to be spot on.

Keep up the good work
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Jay Quirk
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Fantastic analysis! I haven't been using Zorba's generator because it doesn't seem to have the same balance that the stock missions do. but i didn't have a comprehensive list of all the differences.

This is a superb and in-depth analysis of the missions. The best break down of the missions yet. I'd love if these could be incorporated into the generator- at least as a switch to turn off and on. If that happened, I'd likely never go back to the normal CD.

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