When the Hidden Game Mechanic is Clearly Trying to Be a Huge Jerkass

| Monday, April 18, 2011
Imagine if WoW had a stat that made you incapable of killing a boss until you had enough of this stat. Not in the usual sense of needing better gear because the healers go OOM, the tank gets two-shot, and the boss is enraging from low DPS. This stat isn't that obvious. It is sort of related to the primary stats. Or maybe the secondary stats. We're not sure. But I can tell you this: without this stat you cannot even zone in. You just don't get to have the boss fight.

Fortunately you can see how much of this stat you have. You need 50% to fight the boss. Some pieces of gear have this stat. But you don't know which pieces. It doesn't say. It might be the gear you're wearing or all gear you currently have. You're not sure. But you can at least see that you don't have the required 50% and it's pretty damn annoying.

This stat, thankfully, does not exist. And no, I am not expressing some sort of out-of-game concept like intelligence, time management, or social skills as a stat. This stat is entirely and purely fictional.

Fictional in the sense that it exists in Civilization: Colonization. It is called Rebel Sentiment. Get 50% and you can rebel and the king sends his giant army of doom. The army isn't as bad as it sounds, but the 50%, that can be a problem.

Recently I had a game in which I could not seem to break 45%. I even went down to 44%. This was with elder statesmen all over the place; they're good at convincing people to get unruly for possibly no good reason: aside from random tax increases on trade with Europe, the king doesn't really do much oppressing. Also newspapers and printing presses (technically the former replaces the latter) and even the bonus that rebel sentiment increases the rate of production of liberty bells, which generate rebel sentiment. It should be exponential, not asymptotic.

I found the culprit: babies. Yes, it turns out babies are all freedom-hating monarchists, so my population was growing as fast as I could convince it of the virtues of starting a war with a distant and powerful enemy for no apparent gain. So I banned babies. Surprisingly, this did not fix the problem.

I did the math and concluded that if every single city had significantly more than 50% sentiment, then the population overall should have more. Somehow even math was assisting in the conspiracy against freedom against non-apparent oppression. And finally it dawned on me: my grand army HATED FREEDOM. That's right, the army I had built up to defend freedom was in fact the single greatest force holding it back, a great irony which I'm sure has some relevance to using the surveillance state to protect us from terrorists who hate freedom.

It turns out rebel sentiment isn't a city stat. It's an individual citizen stat. As new citizens were born, I'd send them into the schools to train to fight, soon after they'd be trained, get their guns, and go camp out a stretch of coast which I'd decided to use as Normandy, except in this instance I'd be the Nazis. New citizens have no rebel sentiment, a clear problem of poor parenting (parents, teach your children to reject very specific authority figures!), and since they are in school for such a short time, this means they get very little indoctrination (I mean freedomination) before they are shipped off to the coast to defend freedom from the king who will never attack because I cannot start the revolution.

Rebel sentiment is tracked individually, but is not displayed individually. The effect can be theorycrafted by moving them in and out of labor in cities, by seeing how the overall percentage changes, but that's a bit ridiculous as a method. Speaking of ridiculous: this entire topic.

Eventually I fixed the problem by using the built-in editor to delete all of my trained soldiers, which pushed the average from 45% up to 55%, allowing me to declare revolution, at which point I gave myself new units, tanking the average, but it didn't matter anyway.

Cheating to get around the problem created by a hidden mechanic that isn't fully explained seems like the kind of problem that I should somehow be able to apply to WoW. A general game concept: Don't create messes for players by giving them stats to track which they cannot track.

What can we learn from this? Don't use child soldiers.


Tesh said...

hrm... makes me wonder what the design goal was there. I can't help but think that's sort of, well... inept design.

Klepsacovic said...

I think the design goal was to prevent an exploit/trick. If rebel sentiment was based in cities then manipulating population in the cities could be used to trigger abnormally early revolutions, pulling people out to reduce the necessary value. Or it could be completely independent of population, which would be at least as ridiculous, making low population cities as important as high population cities, which could turn into a huge problem given that low pop cities won't have as many colonists to spare for producing rebel sentiment.

What might have worked was a tagging system. Make it so the first citizens to leave are given either 50% or 100% (I'm not sure which makes more sense) sentiment and are marked as rebels. If a citizen is removed and the city lacks the sentiment, they won't have the tag. This would make it so that the population that doesn't need converting isn't in the cities (presumably in the army) while also making it easy to identify non-rebellious colonists even when outside cities. The downside is that this would lower production in cities, since the added production from sentiment would be lost, but maybe that could be converted to just being an average bonus across the colony based on population sentiment.

I'm not finding any ways to exploit this, but maybe I'm not looking hard enough.

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