Strategic Primer year-end retrospective

As I mentioned in Saturday’s post, this week we’ll be taking a look back over the past year on this blog. I posted a retrospective of the year’s posts relating to the Shine Cycle on Monday; similarly, today we’ll look back over posts having to do with Strategic Primer, which appeared on Wednesdays throughout the year.

Nearly every month, I added a new installment of the annotated log of the first campaign, which I began posting last year. The first campaign of Strategic Primer was run over the course of a couple of months in early 2001, using paper “strategy sheets” to communicate between me and the players, marking one turn every day (except weekends); the log is unnecessarily verbose and gets quite tedious in places, but for anyone interested in the history of the game’s design, or for a player looking for inspiration, I think the log (with my explanations attached) is useful to study.

Early in the year, after looking back over the campaign so far, I made a list of “hopes” for the year. None of them came to pass: partly for reasons I’ll remind you of in more detail below, not only did we not get through three turns this year, I still haven’t finished running the first turn of the year, which probably contributed to a continued dearth of new players. And while the assistive programs are closer to being my primary tool for running a turn, they’re not quite there yet.

The big “blocker” that stalled the turn for so very long (compounding, and compounded by, my tendency toward procrastination in the face of tasks with no clear “first step”) was my decision to, between the previous turn and the current one, both quadruple the map’s resolution, add procedurally generated “sub-maps” for each tile, and move from an “encounter-table” based “encounter model” to one with a fixed list of things-to-be-encountered on each tile. Developing the infrastructure to make the conversion took a long time, as did running the process, as I reported last December. But once I’d done that, it became clear that I’d made the maps too big for any of my tools to handle, so I had to drop the idea of “sub-maps” entirely and make yet another resolution change to bring the map down to only twice the original resolution. Eventually, in July, I wrote a post about some lessons I hope I learned from all this, though running the turn didn’t get much more progress for several months more.

I tried to keep my readers up-to-date on the development of the map viewer (and other “assistive programs”, but there wasn’t really any development on that front) by posting a “development report and roadmap” update about monthly (they’re all filed under this category). But that, a few other ideas I had I’ll mention later, and the posts I linked to in my above description of the format-conversion debacle were pretty much the extent of what I posted about the software-development side. I wrote about (often asking questions, but rarely getting answers) game design issues that sometimes arose from the software-development side, such as “worker advancement” and “maintenance”.

Early in the year I got excited about the new programming language Ceylon, which is designed to address many of the frustrations I have with Java and has (or had planned) some features that I think would be tremendously valuable in implementing something like the map viewer. So I wrote a post explaining why and how I’d like to switch to Ceylon. But that is going to have to wait quite a while, until at least the next lull when no players are waiting for something from me.

A feature I’ve long wanted to add to the map viewer is support for “changesets”, a way of representing a set of changes to make to a map or a subset of a map. But while, like the Ceylon port, this will have to wait quite a bit longer before I can afford to give it any serious attention, there’s also the problem that I haven’t had any real ideas as to how to begin implementing it.

The other software-side post was a request for user comment on a possible change to the design of the map viewer: For a long time it’s supported a “main map” and a “secondary map,” and allowed for data to be copied between corresponding tiles and for them to be switched. But I think it’d be best to drop that entirely, replacing it with support for moving data between different windows (in the same process or not).

But most of my posts this year were more about the game, viewed more from the players’ perspective or prompted by player comments. For example, after unexpectedly large apparent interest in exploring the story and history of the world, I created th e”starting story” that explains who “you” the player are and why and how you are in the game-world. And I explained some of the anachronistic exceptions to the usual principle that I’m trying to model things as realistically as possible.

Because the fundamental questions of “what am I doing here?”, “What should I be doing?”, and the like are ones that players seem to have trouble with and that potential players don’t intuitively grasp, I wrote several posts having to do with related issues, including one on the role of the player in the game-system, one on various approaches players can take, a checklist to help players remember what they need to do to create a strategy, and a discussion of what the ideal “advance design” would look like. I also described a distinction between Strategic Primer as “a game of military strategy” and the tactics games that are more common and popular.

I wrote two posts looking ahead to players’ further development of scientific and technical knowledge, one on “applied metaphysics” in the game and the other on the divergence of available opportunities as players research within “specialties”.

In September, I had an idea: when (if) it’s ever essentially finished, Strategic Primer could be put to use in education.

In mid-October I posted another “Call for Players and Strategies”. At the time I thought I was only a week or two away from finishing running all the AIs’ strategies and the one human player’s strategy I had received at that point—but it’s now a month and a half later and I’ve only finished two of the six AIs, though my pace has picked up in the last couple of weeks. Earlier, I announced how the Starting Package would change for any players who join in the future.

Many of these posts could still use your feedback, so I encourage you to go read them if you missed them or don’t remember them.

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