Letters from Logress - Horizons Update
Written by malakhi   
Sunday, 11 August 2013 15:42

In this installation, Logress shares some more details about Alteil: Horizons - specifically around card collecting, the new player experience, and game balance. Plus, there's some bizarre verbal imagery combining Planeswalkers and butter...

It's been a while since I talked about about the Alteil Horizons project, so let me bring you back up to speed. Alteil Horizons is the name for the project to launch a new battle engine with new graphics, and replace as much of the Flash with HTML5 as possible. Anything we replace we have total control over, and can modify cheaply, so it's the fulcrum of the plan I announced last year, loosely titled "fix everything, more or less all at once, (for ever and ever)". Obviously, this seems ambitious, or maybe coming out of my mouth "insane" or "certifiable" would be more accurate. Well in the next few weeks I be revealing how exactly we're going to make this really possible in the real world of realness (I'm sure some of you already have your guesses -- and you're half right -- Yes, you), but this week I'm going to introduce a concept we're working on that will make significant changes possible in three key areas: new player experience, card collecting and game balance.  (Note I said 'significant changes' not 'fix', it's only part of the solution, although I think a key part.)

The issues we're looking at revolve around our 1000+ card pool, with varying degrees of availability (the letters 'E' and 'X' not always helping out in that department... they should be banned from Sesame Street). I'm sure what a new player wants to see is such a staggering, brain-exploding amount of cards and no clue how he or she can go about getting them, IF it's even possible! From a collecting point of view, the lottos and random treasure battles are about half as likely to get you a playset of a rare in your color as they are at getting you elected the Raja of the United States of Canada. From a balance point of view, it would nice to be able to rotate out certain subsets of strategies so people don't get sick of seeing the same old strategies again and again (Well, we can always introduce a ton of counters, watch the strategy vanish, and then when we want to bring it back introduce stronger cards with that strategy and later repeat with stronger counters -- because that NEVER causes problems...)  In any case, another game has instituted a solution for these issues... er, I think the game was called Tragic: the Slathering or something like that... clearly about summoners who underwent tough times and covered themselves in butter. (You're welcome for that image.) This solution became our inspiration for something I'm calling Horizon Basic.

Horizon Basic would be a subset of 300-400 cards pulled from sets 1-13 and EX 1-13 that would serve as a kind of core set and rotate every 6 months or so. (Fun fact -- Alteil was at its most balanced, and had the best distribution in treasure battles and the lottos at about that amount of cards. Before then, you were likely to play the lotto and get 14 copies of Lycanthrope Leonardo -- yes that happened, and I might still have the screengrab a very unhappy player sent me -- after then, well you know).  Now, we're not banning any cards, so adoption of Horizon Basic will depend on two things. 1) Playing a File made entirely from the Horizon Basic (and/or the current year's set releases) will yield you more EXP and FM.  2) If you search for a battle when you're using a Horizon Basic File, the system will try to pair you up with another Horizon Basic user! The available pre-builds and starters would only use Horizon Basic cards. (We would probably also have a sub-shop, maybe called 'Classic' but also possibly called 'Legacy' that would have the old stuff).  Treasure battles and lottos and rewards for events and all that would yield Horizon Basic cards.  There will be Horizon Basic packs and boxes.

All in all, every effort will be maintained to expose new users primarily to Horizon Basic. (We could ban non-Horizon basic from Crest, as well).  Since the only EX cards new users will have to deal with can drop from treasure battles, the lotto, and Horizon Basic boxes and packs, availability will not be an issue. No matter how many cards we add over the years, or how many times we rotate or change up the Horizon Basic set, there will always be the same size collecting cardpool. The collecting system will be re-calibrated (that's not actually part of Horizons Basic directly, but a related change) so new users will be able to collect. Although to be honest, just the fact there's one thing to collect (Horizons Basic cards) will be huge at getting new users to be confident about collecting and buying. (Note, if a newbie asks a vet user what to buy and they don't know... that's probably not a good sign) Older users will be able to piece together a Horizon Basic set from the old cards they already own. When Horizon Basic rotates, the veteran collector will be ready, having the cards in advance and the knowledge to use them.  For balance, the advantages are obvious. Rotate out strong cards that are key for strategies you want to de-emphasize so other strategies can shine for a while. Keep things fresh without resorting to nerfing or powercreeping.

The details aren't entirely worked out, but here are some I have been thinking of.  When we do official tournaments again, they will use Horizon Basic (and the current year's set releases). Community tournaments can still make their own rules, of course -- and would not get any bonus prizes for being Horizons Basic legal -- to preserve their anything goes feel. In general, you will always be able to use all your cards. If you want to ignore Horizons Basic even exists you can shop in the legacy shop and keep playing the Files you're playing now. However, you won't get certain bonuses (like EXP and FM -- note I'm planning to make FM actually worth something, that's another change -- see where the 'everything, more or less at once' comes in?) and you will mostly end up playing other users who are not doing Horizons Basic.  We'll have to adjust the system and experiment a bit, but my goal is to get everyone trying Horizons Basic because they want to, not because they have to. It should be fresher, and change up more often (and more completely) than the meta normally would. Of course, there are some crazy cards and combos that will never fit with a smaller cardpool (not to mention any Snafs... I mean names), so I hope even Horizons Basic adherents won't be afraid to whip out something that hasn't been in rotation just for fun. And the newbies can gather and watch a bunch of cards they never even knew existed.

There is a lot to this, especially making it fair to everyone and having it co-exist with anything-goes cardpools. So, I put together some answers to a few questions I've gotten already.

Q) This sounds great if everyone had huge card collections to build new decks from, but if people just have one or two playable decks, and this is going to mess them up.

A) Currently the game rewards fine tuning one or two playable decks and recycling everything else. This is caused by a combination of factors – lack of different game types, lack of official tournaments, expense of cards, high recycle-to-cost ratios during sales (I know it sounds weird to think of Recycle rates being high, but think about selling your unused equipment drops to a shop in an RPG -- you'll get like 20% of it's value, while on average the lotto recycles for 70% --this matters if you're trying to rework random drops so, like an RPG, they can actually yield usable stuff), and low number of players resulting in slowdown in deck innovation. So, this isn’t going to work unless all of these points – yes, including expense of cards – are all addressed relatively close together. Unfortunately, it looks like addressing just one at a time actually makes things worse. We have a plan (details will unfold over coming weeks as said above) for making attacking all this at once possible, and the Horizons Basic is part of it. We know, Horizons Basic makes collecting easier because you’re always collecting from a smaller card pool. It ALSO encourages keeping cards you’re not using because they may become Horizons Basic legal and key to deckbuilding during the next Basic Cycle. (Even if someone DOES recycle everything that’s not in the current Basic Cycle and keeps everything else, it’s still waaaay less recycling than the hard core grinder-recycler does right now) But again, it only really is going to work in the context of all the other changes (and in turn, helps make them possible).

Q) Won’t this limit deckbuilding? Why would I want decks built from an even smaller card pool?

A) The short answer is that if done right, it should actually increase the card pool the average player pulls from when deck building. It makes collecting easier (which means more three of a kinds), and is going to be part of a number of changes that incentive collecting over recycling everything that doesn't go in a deck with Diondora. Remember that the key to the Horizons Basic system is to create a limited card environment mostly for new users. They’ll know more is out there, but they’ll have time to get their feet wet with a manageable number of cards. When people have too many options they tend to get lost and go with the “safe one” – IE copy whatever seems to be winning a lot. When people have about the right number of options to wrap their brain around, they tend to innovate. The MTG guys spent a lot of time figuring out about what that was for their yearly pool of standard cards. If we bring up new users with the mindset of thinking about deckbuilding instead of – what the heck do I do? Copy the guy who grinded 87 matches today! – then the next generation Folrart will be a better place for everyone – EVEN IF people decide not to play Horizons Basic there.

The balancing act here is making this work without over restricting use of cards by those who have them. In a highly aggressive Folrart environment with a limited pool of opponents, only so many cards are going to be "truly viable" anyway.

Some of your cards would only be useful in alternate gametypes, which currently has just been community tournaments  but in the past has included things like official tournaments, making anti-Batora decks and Underdog.

In this way, the "Horizons Basic" won't really be limiting the viable Folrart cardpool any more than it naturally would limit itself. In fact, if we choose wisely when assembling the set (even if we mess up, it can be adjusted next rotation) it can reduce exclusive strategies and effectively increase viable cardpool.

Worse case scenario you can ignore Horizons Basic and what benefits it does offer, playing as normal.

Okay, I think I better stop writing before my laptop runs out of letters... thank everyone who took the time to read and there will be another one of these in two weeks or so with a biiiiiig announcement!