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DESIGN CONCEPTS

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It's clear from feedback on the subject of changes and new versions is that a lot of coaches are looking the game to be more roster-oriented.

Partly that might be because some of the immediate changes under test are things to do with rosters and the draft, so what we've written already is stuff that's leading people to think along these lines. It might be that people are mostly happy with the play calling aspects and the quality of the game-day simulation so they see no reason to change it. Or it's just that the existing roster system doesn't work as we'd like (it's okay, but PBM games aren't about being okay).

It might be it's the draft game that's really what's interesting, especially for the more socially-oriented coaches. That's a game you could make a lot of noise in. There might be people itching to get into a news group devoted to a game like that.

ROSTER-BUILDING GAMES

Having said that, there is a definite movement towards a more roster-oriented game that's clearly a legitimate desire. Plenty of players have seen how roster building games can work. We've got some good ones, and people know they like them.

My feeling is that there are many coaches who want more emphasis on roster-building because this is the long term aspect of the game. We've got coaches who want to go on playing a long time, and want there to be more happening that's different, but don't want to have to work out a whole lot of new things for the game-day part of the game.

If we put important new game-day stuff in the existing versions then you've no choice but to get stuck in or the guys that work it out first will win all the games. If the new stuff is in the way your roster changes then it'll come along in it's own time and you can deal with it when it happens.

Other coaches, of course, would like the game day elements to be all new so they get to go back to the start and go through the whole thing again.

Different people would like completely different changes, and the sort of changes they'd like aren't compatible with each other.

On top of that that basic idea that a game-day simulation can be a roster building game at the same time is faulty. They can't. We know, we've tried. The games where we tried to do both are usually are least successful games, commercially, because they're very demanding. You need a VERY thorough understanding of what's going on.

When it comes to roster-building and game-day strategy, you have to do one or the other - you can't do both. More on this later.

GAMPLEAN IS ABOUT GAME PLANS

The name does mean something. Gameplan is about writing game plans in American Football. Granted the basic version is just about play calling since you don't design your own gameplan, but that's just to make it easier to get into.

Before Gameplan appeared there were already many football games. All were roster building games (except for one, which was played interactively by telephone). Gameplans were always a grid of yards versus time and score, or a series of these with yards for the down and field position. That's expensive to operate, time consuming to fill it, and it doesn't reflect what real life coaches do anyway.

What we did that was new is the way gameplans are put together. Our system is both simpler and better. Having multiple selections of play calls in each situation allows for reactions (which are important) and allows coaches to call plays in combinations.

Rosters in Gameplan provide variation, like terrain on a map or flavour in your food. They make you change your play calling from game to game and from season to season. You have to adjust for different opponents, and you have to adapt as your circumstances change. Which is important in a simulation of what real coaches do. But the game is about play calling. It's a game-time simulation.

PLAY CALLING vs ROSTER STRENGTHS

What happens if we build a game that combines both play calling and close comparisons of player strengths, matching individual players one-on-one? We get a conflict of logic and perceptions. If your play call is good, and the player match is good, you get a good result. If they're bad and bad, you get a bad result. But what if your play call is good, and the players are a bad matchup? A bad result? A good result? And if your play call is poor, but the player matchup is good, what happens then?

Once you've decided all of these on offence, do the same on defence. Now turn it around and look at it from the point of view of the other coach. Are your expectations consistent with his? Assuming he's expecting the same results as you? From experience we can tell you they're not. In any number of combinations you'll find that both players are expecting the play to come out in their favour.

Either the play calling has to be the most important thing, or the player strengths have to be the most important, and if the play calls don't matter then it's a waste of time and money calling them.

A roster-building game that works will have very limited play calling, or none. If you play with standard gameplans, or gameplans that are determined by the abilities of your players and a few general strategy decisions, then a roster building game is going to work and it's also going to generate realistic game stats and a decent simulation at the same time.

"LAYERED" RESULTS

Having said that, there is a way we could try to combine both approaches, by making a visible distinction in the results between whether it was the choice of play calls or the abilities of the players that dominated. One option would be if stuffs, turnovers, sacks, penalties etc happened on the bad-bad combination, with long plays and breakouts on the good-good. On good-bad and bad-good you get standard yardage only.

That would mean adding an extra layer to the game, and it would mean rebuilding the play balance from scratch. You absolutely have to throw away the whole thing and start again. It could be done, or it could be tried. But the cost is probably half a man-year to get it working right, with a serious risk of finding that for the coaches it doesn't actually work as intended.

TWO POINT CONVERSIONS

An area where it's tempting to to something along these lines is two point conversions. At present you don't call plays for them, which seems a shame. Even though they don't happen very often. We could call ordinary plays on two point conversions, but that's dull. You already call lots of those, so eight or nine extra ones per season is hardly worth ther trouble.

Why not have a little sub-game dealing with two point conversions? With a limited selection of play calls, we could adjudicate by a simple scissors-paper-stone routine, EXCEPT that some of the calls would be workable only with specific player strengths and many of the results would depend on matchups. Is WR1 better than the LCB? If yes, then throwing to him gets the two points - unless the defence allowed for double coverage in which case the try fails.

Messing about with two point conversions isn't going to have a drastic effect on the game, since they don't have anything to do with the play balance or the normal sequence of events. If the proportion of tries that are good and bad comes out wrong, is anyone really going to worry?

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