Author Topic: ETA on Balanced Version?  (Read 905 times)

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Offline The13thRonin

ETA on Balanced Version?
« on: June 21, 2017, 12:01:24 PM »
Is a balanced version of this pak on the near horizon (months away) or are we talking years before the pak is considered as balanced as pak128 or pak64 standard.

Offline jamespetts

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Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2017, 01:10:24 PM »
Firstly, it is extremely hard to predict how long that things will take. In coding, writing a feature may take three hours, and fixing a single bug in that same feature may take four months. Further, as I am self-employed, the amount of free time that I have available fluctuates wildly and at short notice. Thus, the amount of time that any given feature takes to complete is entirely beyond my powers of prediction.

However, I do consider balance to be a high priority, as, without it, there is really only half a game. The balance critical features outstanding are:

(1) passenger and mail classes;
(2) vehicle maintenance features; and
(3) inflation.

No. 1 is currently in progress, and is more than half finished (although still not fully tested). Somebody else has expressed an interest in working on no. 2, but he first expressed an interest over a year ago and has not started work yet, so if work on that has not started by the time that I finish no. 1, I will have to start on that myself, and suggest to the person who has expressed an interest in no. 2 that he might want to look at working on another feature instead when he has the time. I have been assisted recently by Victor (Ves on the forums) undertaking some GUI coding work, which has reduced the amount of time that it takes me to write the code myself.

Of all of the above feature sets, no. 1 is probably the most technically challenging; I have recently specified a simpler version of no. 2 than originally envisaged, which should significantly reduce development time for that by splitting convoy re-combination and dynamic schedules and undertaking those much later, as a separate set of features. No. 3 should be relatively straightforward technically, but is likely to require a fair bit of not very challenging basic work.

Once the balance critical features have been completed, I can start work on the actual balancing, which will be a significant task in itself. However, unlike coding, pakset work tends to be more predictable in time consumption, as, unlike with coding, finding and fixing errors is almost always no harder than creating the content containing the error in the first place, and so this work continues at a more predictable pace.

The actual work of balancing is likely to be substantial, but assisted by the balance features (which should hopefully mean that I can largely use adjusted real life figures rather than having to calculate a synthetic balance for every game element), and also assisted by data that I have been slowly gathering on the topic since about 2011 (see this thread for details). I have not undertaken a full balancing exercise before, so I do not know how long that it will take, but each vehicle, way, way object, stop/station/station extension building, depot, signal, signalbox, road sign and any other object that has a capital and/or maintenance cost will need to have its price re-calibrated, and there are, I estimate, many hundreds, if not thousands, of these objects combined (as you may see yourself if you launch a new game with the timeline turned off).

The time that will be taken will also depend on how much assistance that I receive. I have already mentioned above that some of the coding work is now being accelerated by the assistance of a member of this forum; if anyone else were to assist, with coding, with data gathering on the relative costs of things or, in due course, with producing and/or editing pakset content in order to effect balance, as well as testing partially balanced versions, that has the potential significantly further to accelerate development of balance.

May I ask whether there is anything that you might be able to contribute to this process to help to hasten it? Coding would be the most useful work, but, if you do not know how to do that, 3d modelling (for producing the graphics for pakset items) is helpful, as is research for pricing data (I was planning to go to the National Archives in Kew at some point as there are still gaps in my data; are you able to get there for research work?), pakset data file editing (this will be helpful later), or rigorous testing will all be very helpful. Also, if you know anyone else who might be interested in any of these things, please do encourage them to join the forum and offer their services. The more that people contribute, the more that they are able to shape the development of the game.

Hopefully, with that information, you will have as good an idea as I have about how long that it is likely to take before a good balance is likely to be achieved. (Of course, the process of balancing is to some extent ongoing, as an initial attempt at balancing is bound to have things that can be improved upon by later work).

It is interesting that you are asking about balance in particular, as that confirms my view that balance is the right priority at present. I am very hopeful that, once a good initial balance can be achieved, I will be able to generate more interest in Simutrans-Extended among the wider public, which will in turn tend to make more people available who are interested in development, which will, in turn, help to improve the development of Simutrans-Extended into the future, leading to a happy sort of positive feedback effect.
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Offline The13thRonin

Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2017, 02:05:24 PM »
I would love to help, unfortunately though I have no valuable skills. I cannot code and have failed multiple times at learning to code (I think my brain is just not wired that way much to my dismay). I am also not a skilled artist or 3D modeller. The only thing I could help with would be the testing which I am happy to do (although even this is difficult as I do not work a standard job myself and often find myself working much longer than the 35-40 hour week of a full time worker).

I'm sorry that I can't offer more than that. You are doing some amazing work and I have not been this excited to play a game in a long time. It is an extremely worthwhile project.

I don't know how useful this is to you but I might be able to attract attention to the project through Lets Plays, tutorials and forum posts (on external forums). This might have the effect of drawing people who actually have useful skills onto the forum?

Offline jamespetts

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Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2017, 02:18:41 PM »
I quite understand about coding - it is a difficult thing to learn, and it is not everyone's cup of tea. The graphics are actually a lot easier than they appear - one very useful line of work in graphics involves taking freely available 3d models of various types of aircraft in Sketchup format from "3d Warehouse", importing them into Blender, adjusting them for scale, and then rendering them suitable for use in Pak128.Britain, which does not require any artistic skill at all.

Testing is certainly a valuable thing to do, and would definitely be welcome, both now and in the future (do have a go at playing on the Bridgewater-Brunel online server, for instance, and let me know about your experiences of its performance and stability).

Bringing attention to the project through let's play videos, tutorials and posts on external forums would definitely be very useful indeed - the more other people (a fraction of whom might be interested in coding and/or working on the pakset and/or will generate further publicity, getting more people involved, leading to positive feedback), the better. I suspect that this sort of publicity will have the most effect when balance has been achieved, but there is much to be said for starting straight away to find out what works and generate interest. Thank you very much for your offer of assistance - this would be most helpful.
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Offline Jando

Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2017, 05:28:31 PM »
Since you're talking tutorials, James:

I often thought it would be helpful if new players could download a few choices of tutorial maps. With that I mean medium sized maps (ballpark max. 200x200 kms) where a few profitable key lines already exist to give new players a little headstart and a reliable income. These lines should be fully functional, with routes, schedules, signals, etc all set so that people can easily see a working system when they start - but the maps would also have enough room so that new players can expand the network on their own.

Along with these maps would come documentation (PDF with explanations and screenshots) about what has been done so far, how it works and some hints and tips for further extensions. If you think this type of tutorial maps would be useful, I will have some spare time over the coming months (sadly jobless) and could volunteer to produce a few of these maps, thinking for example of an early years freight network, perhaps a say 1920s mixed passenger and freight network and a more modern (say 1960s) passenger network or so.

Offline jamespetts

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Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2017, 06:30:35 PM »
This is certainly a good idea - thank you very much for volunteering. We could also do with an updated demo.sve map that is automatically loaded when the player first starts the game, too.

Apart from the demo.sve, however, I do wonder about whether there might be a lot of duplication of work if this map were to be produced before balancing were started in earnest? I imagine that there would have to be substantial changes to any such map after at least the first main round of balancing.

Thank you again very much for volunteering, however. If you would like to work on any other aspect of the pakset (producing graphics is much easier - as in, orders of magnitude easier - than it looks), do let me know, and I will show you how to get started.
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Offline Vladki

Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2017, 07:00:01 PM »
I really enjoyed playing with the demo map of pak128.britan standard. Contrary to to your suggestion, that map has quite many suboptimal lines, and fixing them is also a sort of challenge, and way to learn how to play.




Offline jamespetts

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Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2017, 07:08:35 PM »
It needs updating for the signalling, if nothing else. It is also lacking any aircraft.
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Offline Vladki

Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2017, 07:16:42 PM »
It has airports, but at least in standard it was impossible to make profit with them, even if they were full both ways.

I'll gladly do the resignalling. Should I start with the demo from standard or extended?




Offline jamespetts

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Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2017, 07:27:58 PM »
The Standard version if the pakset is not being maintained at present, so perhaps start with Extended? Thank you very much for your help with this.
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Offline DrSuperGood

Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2017, 12:28:31 AM »
I think the biggest problem with balancing Extended paksets is the lack of pakset developer resources. Developers like jamespetts spend most of their effort on adding new features, often resulting in the paksets falling behind feature wise and ending up with messed up or even unplayable balance.

Balancing a video game is no easy task. For example, the game Heroes of the Storm by Blizzard Entertainment was balanced by a combination of large scale internal testing, beta testing and big data collection of gameplay. Every day the development team likely plays dozens of matches when changing or adding content. If one thinks about the man power involved it is quite staggering.

Now obviously a Simutrans pakset does not need that quality of balance, it is not a competitive MOBA, however even a rough balancing is not easy. A single balancing cycle could be performed by staging a small-medium sized server game running through the intended balance period of the pakset and gathering information such as usage and user feedback to create balance changes. Not only will several such balancing passes be required, but also the server must see a high degree of activity for it to be meaningful. Just because 1 person only builds trains does not necessarily mean ships, planes or cars are bad but more likely that he really likes trains. The test map would also need to be constructed such that it forces a diverse use of transport types, such as with islands, cities best serviced by airports, large open flat areas for easy train track laying, areas where road usage might be recommended etc.

I am pretty sure the pakset creators would like help doing such things. However be warned that between the difficult to obtain/update nightly builds (for the common user) and the small user base of extended it will likely be a lot harder than you think to get done. It will require a level of dedication, organization and perseverance to achieve.

Offline jamespetts

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Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2017, 01:03:20 AM »
The reason that the balancing work on the paksets has not yet commenced is that there are a number of balance critical features that must be implemented before a workable balance based on real life figures can be achieved. In summary, those features are:

(1) passenger and mail classes (currently in progress, discussed here);
(2) a related set of maintenance features (recently simplified in specification, discussed here); and
(3) inflation, a relatively simple feature.

Once those are done, an initial balancing setup will be able to be completed using real life researched figures, adjusted for inflation and for the altered relationship between capital and operating costs/revenues caused by the relationship between the two different time scales used in the game, and extrapolated/interpolated from missing information. Once that is completed, the balance testing can begin in earnest. The ability to use real-life data, rather than having to calculate a synthetic balance from scratch, should help to expedite the first phase of balancing. Further adjustement will of course be needed on the basis of data gathered from actual play, and I should encourage everyone to join in to assist with that process once it gets started.

It would make no sense to attempt to start pakset balancing before the implementation of those features, as those features will fundamentally alter how the balance works, and balance using real figures is unlikely to be workable without them.

There is thus a very specific plan with specific stages for getting Pak128.Britain-Ex to balance properly, and which is currently in the process of being executed. Any help that anyone would like to offer in this regard would be most welcome.
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Offline Jando

Re: ETA on Balanced Version?
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2017, 08:42:05 AM »
... I do wonder about whether there might be a lot of duplication of work if this map were to be produced before balancing were started in earnest? I imagine that there would have to be substantial changes to any such map after at least the first main round of balancing. ...

Oh yes, you're right of course. Aye, would be duplication of work and time involved.