Alex and I are finally revealing the design of the upcoming meta-structure we’ll be unleashing on top of ranked Prismata play. We’re tentatively calling this mode “The Arena” (I know; it’s a completely unoriginal name used by a zillion other video games… deal with it.)
Alongside this blog post, we’ve also created a Reddit thread in which we’re answering any and all questions about how the new mode will work. We’d love to hear what you think, and appreciate any and all suggestions, ideas, or concerns.
Before we get to the specifications (and screenshots), I want to mention a few quick things:
- This specification is a work in progress. Not a single thing written here is set in stone. We may make further changes and make no promises that what we write here will even make it to the alpha.
- Our design approach is highly experimental. We plan on trying a few weird things out “just for fun”. We’ll decide whether to keep them based on the feedback we receive. If the whole system fails to captivate people, we’ll scrap it.
- The design is likely not perfect. Pieces of the design will likely require tweaking after going live. Even though we’ve written computer simulations and tested things like crazy, we don’t expect everything in the original design to survive contact with the real world.
We plan on making the updates described in this post sometime in the next few weeks, with further changes to go in regularly as we test new features and add more options.
With that out of the way, let’s check out The Arena!
Actually, we’re adding two new modes.
The current Ranked Play mode in Prismata will be removed. It will be replaced by two new modes: Casual Match and The Arena.
Casual Match will be very similar to the current automatching on Prismata, except for a few differences:
- Players’ratingswill not be shown and will not be affected by casual matches (though the system will still try to internally judge the strength of your play and find evenly-matched opponents for you to play against).
- Exception: low-tiered players will be able to rank up in casual games (e.g. up to Tier 3 or so).
- Bots of various strengths and personalities may sometimes appear as opponents on the casual ladder (players will have the option of turning them off).
- We may test out a few extra options, such as the ability to ask the server for a more evenly-matched opponent (at the cost of possibly waiting longer in queue for a game).
No rewards will be awarded for your performance in Casual Match. It’s just for fun. However, you may receive some occasional free gifts just for playing. The greatest rewards are available to those who conquer the Arena.
So, what’s The Arena?
First off, I want to make it clear that The Arena will be completely free. You’ll be able to pay for some perks that boost your reward earnings, but none of them help you win.
Secondly, I want to point out that The Arena is just a bonus structure that exists on top of normal ranked play. If you love the current ranked mode and don’t care for rewards, you can simply play individual arena games and try to improve your rating as you would in ranked play right now. Very little will change; you’ll just get some rewards every few games.
The core goal of The Arena is to simulate the excitement of tournament or league play without the waiting or time commitment involved in an actual tourney. Instead of entering a tournament, players start an arena run, which is a series of matches against other players. Here’s how it works:
- An arena run can be started or aborted at any time, but each run must be finished or aborted before the next can be started.
- There is no time limit on completing a run; players can complete arena runs over multiple sessions/days if desired.
- During each run, players join games by selecting their desired time controls and automatching against opponents (similar to how the current Ranked Play mode works in Prismata).
- Only the Base+8 mode will be available (Base+5 will be enabled in Casual Match only, and GM mode will be removed).
- After each game in a run, players earn reward cards for wins, and strikes for losses. The number of reward cards and strikes varies according to the following specification:
- Games that are 45s/turn or slower give 3 reward cards for a win and 3 strikes for a loss.
- Games that are 30s/turn or 20s/turn give 2 reward cards for a win and 2 strikes for a loss.
- Games that are 12s/turn or faster give 1 reward card for a win and 1 strike for a loss.
- An arena run is over once 7 or more strikes are accumulated (for example, you’re out after losing three 45s games).
- When your arena run is over, you receive rewards for each reward card you’ve accumulated. Bonuses are added based on your performance during the run.
Matchmaking and scoring
Before we talk about our matchmaking and scoring rules for The Arena, I want to speak about some of our design goals. A big issue with any system that rewards players for winning is that of sand-bagging. Sand-bagging is when players deliberately lose games (sometimes even using bots to do so) in an effort to lower their ratings in order to have a higher likelihood of winning games. Sand-bagging is a pretty big problem, because it encourages unfun behaviour, leads to uneven matches, and can make players feel cheated. In any system like ours, it’s very important that sand-bagging should never yield a positive payoff. There are a number of ways of dealing with sand-bagging, but most of them have other drawbacks:
(Option 1) Don’t match players by rating. This is what Hearthstone does with its Arena/drafting mode—players effectively start from scratch every time they begin a new run. This option can work in games where there is a lot of luck, but it can also result in new players continually being matched against higher-ranked opponents and getting repeatedly stomped. We want a system that’s as gentle as possible to newer players, so this wasn’t our favourite option.
(Option 2) Match players by their “maximum rating ever” so they can’t sand-bag. This creates another set of problems. When matched by their highest rating ever, players can sand-bag in a different way; they can simply try to keep their rating as low as possible indefinitely by never allowing themselves to win too much. More generally, this option discourages players from ranking up (because they’ll face tougher opponents.) We really don’t like that; players should never feel that they’ve been hurt because they improved!
(Option 3) Make it hard for players to intentionally lose. Some games (especially MOBAs and other team games) make it pretty hard to deliberately lose. Players who leave matches early or play in a manner that hurts their own team are reported and banned. But this is more difficult in 1v1 games like Prismata, and it doesn’t solve the underlying problem (which is that players might feel regretful about ranking up).
(Option 4) Change how rewards are scored so that sand-bagging is not incentivized. This is what we’ve chosen to do. Instead of rewarding players directly for their wins, we’ve developed a bonus system that increases the quality of rewards based on a player’s performance rating during their arena run. By tuning the parameters of the system, we simply make it mathematically unprofitable to sand-bag.
Here’s how our system works:
- Players are matched according to their rating during their first game of an arena run (similar to how matchmaking currently works).
- Future games in each run get slightly easier after losses, and more difficult after wins (for example, a tier 5 player on a winning streak could be paired against a tier 7 player on a losing streak).
- After the run is over, a player’s performance rating is calculated from on the strength of the opponents defeated during a run. If you defeat strong opponents, you’ll earn a strong performance rating.
- The player’s initial rating, performance rating, and other bonuses are combined to give a Magic Find score.
- Once this is calculate, the player flips over the reward cards won during the Arena Run, revealing the rewards. The rarity/quality of some of the rewards received is influenced by the Magic Find score.
Here’s an example of how the Magic Find score might be computed in practice:
- Your initial rating of 1600: 50 points
- Performance rating of 1850: 245 points
- Arena Tier Bonus of +100%: 295 points
- Supporter Bonus of +20%: 59 points
- 12☆ Skill Token Bonus: 60 points
- Total Magic Find: 709
And here’s a mock-up of reward collection. As usual, GRAPHICS ARE NOT FINAL; the cards are literally stolen from Prismata itself, and won’t look like this in the final product. (Our new user interface will be coming next month and there will be improvements everywhere.)
Before each arena match, players will be able to optionally turn on Skill Bonuses—an effect that randomly “ups the stakes” in some Arena games. Here’s how it works:
- Each player can bring Skill Cards to the game. These are used in a special start-of-game ceremony that determines if a Skill Bonus will be available.
- Before each Arena game begins, both players’ Skill Cards are mixed in with ten red Null Cards, and three cards are randomly selected from the pile.
- For each Skill Card drawn, an extra unit is added to the random set of units available to purchase in that game (so if three Skill Cards are drawn, the game will be a Base+11 game instead of a Base+8 game).
- The stakes of the game are raised: the winner earns a Skill Bonus consisting of one or more Skill Tokens. The number of Skill Tokens is equal to the number of Skill Cards drawn (1 to 3) multiplied by the number of reward cards usually earned in the game (1 for blitz, 2 for quick, and 3 for long games). So the winner could earn anywhere from 1 to 9 Skill Tokens if a Skill Bonus is in effect.
- Each Skill Token you win increases the Magic Find score of your Arena run.
Golden and Platinum Arena
When you start an arena run, you have the option of paying a few Prismatic Shards (our in-game currency) to upgrade your arena run to the Golden Arena or Platinum Arena tier. These upgrades have several perks, including:
- +100% Magic Find for “golden arena” rewards.
- +200% Magic Find for “platinum arena” rewards.
- The option of bringing extra Skill Cards to increase the chance of a Skill Bonus during your games (players in the regular, golden, and platinum tiers will respectively be able to bring 1, 3, or 10 skill cards to each game).
You’ll also earn Golden Tickets and Platinum Tickets as part of your Arena rewards. These tickets can be used for a one-time free upgrade of your Arena run to the golden or platinum tiers. Tickets will expire after a few weeks to discourage players from hoarding them.
We’ll also be selling an item called the Golden Pass—a reusable, never-expiring Golden Ticket that allows permanent free access to Golden Arena. Weekly Platinum Tickets are also included as rewards in some of the Prismata Founder Packs.
More information on this will be forthcoming, but we’ll give a quick overview here. The rewards that can be earned after completing an arena run include:
- Gold and Platinum Arena tickets
- Prismatic Shards (our in-game currency)
- Charms and Charm Fragments*
Charms and Charm Fragments will be the most common type of reward earned. Skins and emotes will actually be very rare, and most skins and emotes will be earned by collecting and using charms. There are five different classes of charms; from rarest to most common, they are:
- Grand Meteoric Charm
- Meteoric Charm
- Cosmic Charm
- Regular Charm
- Charm Fragment (several can be combined together to form a charm)
Charms are the “chest keys” or “card packs” of Prismata; they can be cracked to initiate a bonus game where the biggest rewards can be unlocked. The bonus game works like this:
- A set of 10 rewards (skins or emotes) is randomly chosen. You don’t always get to keep them all, but you might if you’re lucky!
- Each reward has its own “HP”, which can be thought of as a “price” or “rarity”. Normal rewards may have 20HP or 50HP, but super rare ones could have thousands of HP.
- Your goal is to damage these rewards with your Cosmic Apollo—a sniper that can target them. To unlock rewards, you reduce their HP to zero. Think “breaching in Prismata”.
- Cosmic Apollo’s attack is determined by the spin of a random slot machine. Rare charms, like the Grand Meteoric Charm, use a slot machine that contains huge values, so they tend to roll higher numbers.
- Partially damaged rewards remain partially damaged forever, and you can damage a reward over multiple charm-cracking sessions.
Here’s a look at a prototype. Graphics are 100% developer graphics (not final at all), but you can catch a glimpse of some new skins, including a hand-painted Wall:
You can also throw in a few Prismatic Shards to rerandomize the set of 10 rewards, or take another spin at the slot machine to increase Cosmic Apollo’s attack. You can pay as many times as you want for these features, but the costs increase after each use (though they reset every time you crack a charm).
We’re still tweaking the skin costs, slot machines, and a few other aspects of the system (for example, we’re looking at the feasibility of incorporating a hold slot that will allow you to guarantee that an unclaimed reward reappears when you next crack a charm). The charm-cracking ceremony will likely get added to the Prismata Alpha a little bit later than the rest of The Arena, which brings me to my next point:
How The Arena will roll out
Here’s an overview of our plans for releasing arena:
Phase 1: Internal testing (now). We’re testing arena right now on our test servers, to make sure the code is super stable and behaves as intended.
Phase 2: Arena goes live on Alpha (1-2 weeks from now). We’re hoping to do a test run on our Alpha server soon, and it will be open to everyone involved in the Prismata Alpha. We may only enable The Arena for a few periods each week while we’re testing things out.
Phase 3: Rewards are added (April). As soon as we’re happy with Arena’s functionality, we’ll turn the rewards on, and you’ll be able to start unlocking all of the skins and emotes in Prismata (at least 100 rewards will go live in April, with hundreds more in upcoming months). At the same time, we’ll launch the skin browser, which allows you to customize your Prismata army with skins that you’ve unlocked. People who backed us on Kickstarter or purchased founder packs will receive skin rewards. Graphical improvements might go in around here as well.
Phase 4: Test of paid features (April-May?). Before we turn on our cash store, we’ll give players some of our in-game currency—Prismatic Shards—to spend on arena tickets, reward upgrades, and so on. This test will allow us to make sure everything works as intended and that players are happy with how the bonus features work.
Phase 5: Paid features and Kickstarter/founder rewards enabled (April-May?). You’ll be able to buy Prismatic Shards in our real money store, and we’ll provide the Shards, Golden Passes, and Platinum Tickets to people who backed us on Kickstarter or purchased founder packs. The Arena will be fully live!
Embargoes are coming too.
Many players have been asking for ways to ladder more often with their favourite units, or avoid games with specific Prismata units that they don’t particularly fancy. We believe that much of Prismata’s fun comes from the novelty of experiencing a variety of different units and unit combinations, so we’re not too keen on modes that result in players playing with the same units every time. However, we do plan to add a new system (tentatively called embargoes, or simply soft bans) that will allow players to choose some Prismata units and have those units show up less frequently in their matched games. This feature would be available in both Casual Match as well as The Arena.
Here’s a rough outline of how it will work:
- All players will have the ability to embargo up to five Prismata units.
- Whentwoplayersare matched, the probability distribution on the possible randomized unit sets in the result game would be affected by the embargoes.
- Units that were mutually embargoed by both players would never appear.
- Units that were embargoed by a single player would show up less frequently (e.g. 30% as often as in a normal 1v1 match with no embargoes).
The embargo system will also allow us to continually monitor which units our players do not enjoy playing with, which could give us some cool stats to publish.
Q: Will player accounts and rewards get wiped during the alpha period?
A: We’re not planning any wipes of player accounts or rewards. However, if we make large changes to the arena and rewards systems, we could perform rollbacks of some unlockables to preserve the fairness of the system. Any real money spent on rewards will be credited to player accounts in the event of any rollbacks/wipes.
Q: Will The Arena be open to everyone?
A: The arena will initially be open to all players, but we’ll eventually restrict entry to players who have earned a “license” to participate (by completing tutorials or playing a few Casual Match games first). We’re actually working on a completely overhauled “new user experience” for Prismata and unlocking Arena mode will be a big part of it.
Q: Is there going to be any trading of skins/emotes/rewards?
A: For now, the answer is no. Trading can create an underground economy and opens up the door to all kinds of fraud, abuse, and botting. We may reconsider this in the future, but the vast majority of games with collectible items are opting for the no-trading route these days, so it’s our default choice for the time being.
Q: Will players be able to directly buy their favourite skins or emotes for real money (or Prismatic Shards)?
A: Depending on how things go, we may test a system that allows players to directly buy some skins/emotes. However, the core Prismata skin-collecting experience is a loop that involves playing the game, finishing runs, and unlocking rewards. We don’t want players to be able to instantly buy their way to a complete collection; that would ruin a lot of the fun! Of course, if you disagree, please let us know.
Q: What are all the ways that real money can be used in The Arena?
A: Real money can be used for one-time purchases like Founder Packs (which contain some Arena perks like weekly Platinum Arena Tickets and a permanent +20% Magic Find in The Arena), as well as Prismatic Shards—our in-game currency. Shards can be used to upgrade arena runs to the gold or platinum level, which provides a Magic Find multiplier and increases the number of skill tokens available. Shards can also be used during the charm-cracking event to rerandomize the available rewards or take additional spins on Cosmic Apollo’s slot machine. All of these purchases potentially increase the rarity and quantity of rewards earned, but they cannot help you win games in any way (unless your killer emote collection forces your opponent to surrender).
Q: Will Lunarch publish all the formulas/probabilities for reward drops?
A: We don’t intend to keep these top secret (if we did, our community would just gather stats and figure it out for themselves). However, we’ll be tweaking things under the hood for a while, so we’re going to hold off on publishing them for now.
Q: How are performance ratings calculated?
A: We’ll probably start with standard performance rating formulas (like those used by FIDE for chess tournaments). We’ll likely try out some alternate formulas as well to see if they feel a bit better.
Q: What happens when I collect all the skins in a single skin set (e.g. all of the “Pirates”)?
A: For the time being, nothing will happen. We will later be adding unlockable exclusive bonuses for collecting skin sets, but we don’t want to add them until the skin sets themselves are complete (and we’re still adding more Prismata units that haven’t had any skins done for them yet, so we’re still somewhat far away from having all skin sets ready.)
Q: What’s going to happen with the leaderboard?
A: It will stick around. You’ll still have a rating that you can improve by playing Arena games. We’re actually planning on expanding our leaderboards and rating systems, with multiple ratings for Blitz/Active/Slow time controls, all-time and weekly listings, and so on.
And one more thing…
We’re working on another type of top-secret reward item that can be unlocked. In addition to custom unit skins and emotes, there will be a third collectible cosmetic item in Prismata. We’ll post a more in-depth reveal of this item in an upcoming blog post, but here’s a hint: emote customization.
Please let us know on reddit if you have any comments!