A Torrent of Tasking Tasks
One day, a giant inflatable jaguar arrives at your house unexpectedly. The jaguar demands that you build a level 5 Watchtower or suffer a terrible consequence. After you complete the jaguar's demands it returns. "All right," the jaguar concedes, "I will let you live. Here, have a duck made of gold."
Welcome to the wonderful world of procedurally generated content. The above is lifted almost verbatim from a test task devised by our dev team. How do we take a system originally meant to serve as a soft tutorial and guiding hand that would lead the player through 8Realms content, and turn it into the beating heart of Empire growth? We've had big ideas and plans for the task system for several months, and much of our work has been under the hood providing the tools for a more powerful system. So now we have a system which is much more intelligent.
Before I jump into the magic of procedural tasks, a quick word about usability and balance. The task interface has received a layer of polish, and is much slicker. On completion of a task you are immediately notified, and you are given little reminders when you have completed part of a task. We have also added a time limit onto most tasks, so if you don't feel like doing a task it is cleared out of your task list, freeing up room for new tasks. These are just a few improvements to the usability of tasks, and as always we will continue to work to improve them.
Originally all the tasks were hand written and given a rough ordering. Their main purpose was to help guide players through the Ages, giving out small rewards and often asking you to do things you would have done regardless.
We have rebuilt the system to procedurally generate more intelligent content. Firstly, we specify a series of prerequisites to check that the task template is appropriate and achievable by your Empire. Then, using a series of weighted probability tables, we construct a likely scenario. This allows us to tie several events and hooks into the task. The really exciting thing for us is that we now have an amazingly flexible system we can expand and build upon.
So how do we build a task template?
The design team starts with a goal in mind. For instance, say we want a task that promotes trade when a player hasn't got any active trade routes. Now, we don't want too many steps in the task. So let's set the prerequisites to be that the Empire a) is in the Feudal Age, b) has no active trade routes, c) has the required research, d) has the required buildings, and e) has not cancelled a trade route in the last 48 hours.
We could have several forms of narrative here, so to style the task differently in case it's not your first time playing or you've got the same task again, we create some variations on the task text. So let's have three different reasons for the quest; a) a surplus of resource, b) Empire merchants seeking to expand business, and c) a military advisor wanting to form some alliances. They all look good, but the surplus of resource scenario will require a check that the player has a surplus of a given resource.
Then we look at the objectives of the task. We know we want you, the player, to establish a trade route. (For the surplus resource task, it makes sense if the object is to trade away the surplus.) Now, looking at the configuration of the template, it looks better if we split these two tasks into two templates: one for surplus of resource, and one for merchants expanding or a military alliance. Then we need some relevant rewards, so we draw up a list of possible rewards. We pick one or two rare rewards, or special loot, and we give these a lower probability.
Now we have a task which incentivises trade for a player not currently trading. We have two templates with a few key variations and some random loot. This gives us roughly 15 distinct variations, excluding the different rewards, of which there are 8 in this case. In total, this gives a total of 120 unique ways a player could navigate this content.
With a wide enough variety of templates and some decent hooks into a range of behaviours, we can always ensure that there is fresh content to greet you every day. We are also going to be limiting the number of tasks you can receive each day, so you can't crunch away loads of tasks in a single day. Another reason for limiting tasks is that they are going to play a much bigger part in Culture gain. Currently, tasks account for roughly 5% to 9% of Culture per Age, but we expect that to shift to between 50% and 80%.
The primary reason for this is it allows us to rebalance the game to allow different play styles. There won't be a single path to victory, such as capturing all luxury tiles in sight and researching all Culture research as soon as possible. What does the future hold? Group tasks, diplomatic tasks that involve influencing other players, map based events, cooperative tasks and competitive tasks. We are confident that this new approach will add more diversity to the play styles, help us rebalance the game to suite a range of play styles, and put more skill emphasis on top tier play.
What do you think?