Project 3 Reflection Essay

For Project 3, we made Tragedy of the Commons, a game roughly based on the phenomenon of the same name. The premise of the game is surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, and the last player standing wins. In order to survive, a player must have a population of size greater than zero at all times and may not have more than one consecutive turn with zero food. A limited pool of food is accessible by all players, but one player’s greedy actions can leave others starving. A player’s population is limited by the amount of food they have, and the amount of food they can get is limited by their population. The two resources balance each other out. Players must also plan head for catastrophes which happen every three turns. One particularly catastrophic event can wipe out a player’s population, taking them out of the game.

The most interesting thing I learned from making this game was balancing game mechanics. This is not something I had to do in Project 1, Project 2, or either of the two projects in CS 247G. For Tragedy of the Commons, we had to think about how to make the catastrophes affect everyone equally for the whole duration of the game. We had to make sure that the catastrophes would not become less devastating as the game progressed and players’ populations grew, and that there was never a point in the game where having a large enough population could override the need to properly manage food. We succeeded on these fronts somewhat, but during playtesting in class, we observed that prioritizing increasing population over gathering food was slightly more advantageous. However, we also noticed that when a player’s population grew too large, other players collectively targeted that player by taking all the available food resources and hopefully starving that player’s population to death. It was fun to feel like part of an alliance, even if only temporarily. This was an unintended balancing mechanic – instead of each player’s food and population keeping each other in check, players were the ones to keep each other’s food and population in check.

In the process of making this game, I also learned that getting rid of one systemic problem can create another. Originally, our game was collaborative, where all players worked together as a team and either all won or all lost. However, this system had a “quarterbacking problem,” where some players didn’t really have a choice in their actions, since there would usually only be one clear choice to make that would not let the team lose. This was not fun, since players felt like they were not really playing the game. This is when we pivoted to a battle royale, but this meant that players eliminated first had nothing to do, which could discourage them from replaying in the future. In future iterations, we would create a role for the players who have already lost. While they still can’t win, they would have something to do.

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