30 December 2013

Clash of Clans - polish

SC spent a lot of time polishing CoC. They launched the game in beta only in Canada for exactly one month. I have never heard of such process for other iOS games. As a result, the game has been praised as well-presented and easy to play, with a smooth, clear interface and animations that are packed with character.

The depth of CoC's mechanics is a much-argued topic. When the game came out in mid 2012, a reviewer argued that the actual strategic elements of gameplay are far too lightweight and hands-off to satisfy fans of more traditional strategy games. But another praised CoC's unbelievably high replay value thanks to its varied troops, and distinctive performances of all defensive buildings, walls and traps that generates infinite possibilities for battles. The core of the argument comes from the fact that once a troop is deployed, the player is not in control of it anymore: the unit just behaves according to its AI behavior until it dies or the battle times out (after 3 minutes). In the first few weeks of play, CoC battles feel not precise and even frustrating. But then some players realize that battles are simply about unleashing a horde of troops to overwhelm the enemy. Some even go so far as saying that even a moron with no strategy at all will advance in the game with time. It is true: in the first month, the mechanics are so forgiving that some adults even let their infant playing CoC for fun.

But after a few months of play, I realized that no two units or buildings have the same function or effectiveness in battle. For example, among meat shield units, Barbarians are the cheapest and fastest to train, Giants also fast to train but more costly, and Golems the slowest and most expensive. But these units are actually very different in practice: Barbarians target any building, whereas Giants and Golems only defensive buildings. Giants have five times more DPS per housing space than Golems, and therefore can pierce through walls, whereas Golems need wall breakers to open the path. Even though the most powerful units are usually the most expensive and slowest to train, the behavior of the units in battle allow for dozens of attack strategies. So the game is essentially deceivingly simple, and its complexity grows with time. In my opinion it's great for newcomers and loyal players alike.

A lot of tiny details contribute to the great play experience. For example, the Dragon generates a lot of excitement when it becomes available at TH7. Players can donate troops to each other through their Clan Castle. Dragons can only fit in a Clan Castle level 3 or above. The Clan Castle reaches level 3 at TH6. So if I am TH6, even though I can not produce dragons, I get the thrill of using one through my TH7 friends.

The game also receives patches with new content, bug fixes, and balance tweaks roughly every 50 days. An observer suggested in September 2012 that SC implements super units, in which players emotionally invest to, because these units sell like pop corn in a movie theater. Heroes got introduced in January 2013. Unlike other units, which disappear after being used in battle, heroes stay after a battle and only need to be recharged after a battle. Heroes also provided a sink for dark elixir, a game currency introduced in the same patch.

In my experience, players were not very emotionally invested in their heroes. Getting a permanent hero for the first time generates the same craze as training a new disposable troop such as the dragon. The craze fades off quickly, and heroes are just a way to loot more gold. This lack of emotional attachment may be due to heroes being human-looking. If they were pets with accessories, players may be more emotionally invested.

While the base game was very polished when it hit the app store, each patch released so far has contained a couple bugs. Many of these bugs are graphical and directly observable when launching the game. Clearly, the QA for patches could be more thorough. Moreover, the aesthetic choices for buildings follow too many different styles: lava, electric, diamond, and so on. Players have complained about villages becoming ugly.

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