Monotony and predetermination: game designer Phantom Doctrine examines its mistakes

Why it is not always worthwhile to honestly talk about how mechanics work.
At the Games Developers Conference 2019, Kasper Simcak, game designer, who worked at Techland and Creative Forge, spoke. He talked about the creation of Phantom Doctrine and shared his thoughts on why she failed to beat his previous game, Hard West, despite the nearly doubled staff and development time. We have chosen from the performance of the main

One of the main mistakes made in the development of step-by-step tactics in the setting of the Cold War, the author of the report considers the wrong presentation of the combat system, for which Phantom Doctrine was criticized by both journalistsand players. To explain what went wrong, Shimchak talked a little about the development of Hard West’s step-by-step tactics, the studio’s previous game, and the creation of “luck” mechanics.

Luck allows you to dodge bullets. When a character is shot, his fortune decreases. When luck ends, he gets shot.

Casper Shimchak lead game designer Phantom Doctrine

The system of luck in Hard West was original, perfectly fit into the theme of the game and was liked by those players in X-COM who were irritated by the excessive randomness. The reaction of the majority of players to the system of luck Shimchak describes as follows: “Oh, deterministic turn-based tactical system! So cool!”.

In Phantom Doctrine, a spy game, “luck” was replaced by “attention”. After all, if the heroes of the Wild West risk and rely on luck, agents like Jason Bourne cannot be taken by surprise due to their skills and instinct. The mechanics were dictated by the theme of the game.

Attention allows you to dodge bullets. When his attention ends, he gets a bullet. If he dodges, he gets only a minor injury.

Casper Shimchak lead game designer Phantom Doctrine

This system was accepted by players and critics extremely negatively. Simchak describes their reaction as follows: “Oh, deterministic turn-based tactical system! How terrible! ”

According to the game designer, the point here is that Hard West imitated randomly with the help of the fake “hit chance” icon. According to him, it was a real deception, and these percentages were intended only to calm the players accustomed to the classical system of probability of hitting.

From the current situation Shimchak made the following conclusion: It is not always necessary to present the mechanics to the player as they really are. Mechanics should be designed with the expectation of hardcore players, and at the same time wrapping them in a wrapper, which seems attractive casual.

If your mechanic works a bit like something familiar to a player, make it look the same.Casper Shimchaklead game designer Phantom Doctrine

In Phantom Doctrine, new events of different types constantly appear on the global map, and the types of missions available to it depend on the type of each specific event. The game has six types of missions, and the developers hoped that this number would be enough to diversify the gameplay. However, after the release, the players began to resent the monotony: they had to perform missions of the same type over and over again.

It turned out that it was impossible to correct this problem, since the frequency of missions of a certain type was inextricably linked with the system responsible for the occurrence of events on the global map. When Shimchak tried to “spin up” the chance of a particular mission falling out, it broke the system of global events, and vice versa.

From what happened game designer made the following conclusion: systems that are not directly connected to each other should be created separately. If everything in your game depends on one another, it will make it extremely difficult to make changes to one or another aspect.

Analyzing the players’ reviews, Shimchak drew attention to the fact that many of those who played at Phantom Doctrine for more than a hundred hours, despite the fact that the campaign was designed for a much shorter travel time, complained that the game had not enough content. At first it seemed to the developer to be absurd – why continue to play if the content ended, – but then he realized that this discontent was also the result of his mistakes.


The fact is that Phantom Doctrine offers the player an infinite number of generated missions, but the content in the form of secrets that a player can get on these missions is finite. However, the game does not indicate that the content has been exhausted – as a result, players spend dozens of hours hoping to see something new, and leave disappointed.

The decision of the developers not to inform the player about the number of available secrets was influenced by the topic of Phantom Doctrine: in their opinion, the atmosphere of the spy thriller would have collapsed if the player knew exactly how many secrets he could reveal. The players, meanwhile, behaved in the same way as in any other game – they were manically trying to “collect them all”.

The moral of this story is even if it is very important for you to reveal a certain topic, in no case should you sacrifice for the sake of this clarity of what is happening for the player. In the case of Phantom Doctrine, the player should have clearly stated that further grinding on identical missions will not bring him anything good.

Another problem arose with the investigation board, mechanics, which, in the opinion of the game designer and many players, the developers were extremely successful. It was really interesting to look for connections between disparate elements of information, but in the end about 99.3% of players assigned their agents to work with the board instead of doing this process manually. For some reason, at some point, the players preferred not to use the mechanics they initially liked.

The problem was that during the passage of the player could be faced with the need to use the board an infinite number of times – in such a situation, any, even the most interesting mechanics once certainly bore the player. To avoid this, Shimchak advises initially to determine the optimal number of player interactions with this mechanics in one pass — for example, three or 3000 — to calculate the amount of content needed for this and act on the basis of this plan.

Also, Shimchak gave a global advice: even if the idea of ​​the game is based on some specific subject, you still need to attend to the creation of an interesting gameplay. The themes and rules of the world are much easier to adjust to the existing gameplay than vice versa.

It should be borne in mind that players will expect realistic rules from a game with a “realistic” theme. If the topic is abstract, then the mechanics may be abstract.

When creating the world of the game, Shimchak recommends that you rely on fantastic concepts. For example, in Phantom Docrtine truthful conspiracy theories, and in Hard West any legends are true. This level of assumption allowed developers to bring into play almost any mechanics that came to their mind.


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