Mission Creation Principles

Ruling Egypt
Pharaoh Mission Creation Principles

Ken “Ironrodiken” Parker
Producer, ImpressionsGames

The Ides of March, 2000

Good mission design comes naturally to very few people. For most of us, it’s a long process of self-education. This document sets forth a few simple principles to help you scale the lower slopes of the learning curve. These broad guidelines should always underlie your design efforts, if your objective is to make professional-quality missions.

1. Start with a concept. Pharaoh’s missions can be divided into Economic, Combat, Political, Terrain and Freeform types. While you can and should blur these lines, always define what blend of core concepts you’re going to follow, and make sure that your mission design always advances your guiding principle.

Economic missions usually revolve around difficulty making debens, because (1) you have few native resources or industries (income is low), (2) you need substantial imports (expenses are high), (3) trading opportunities are limited, and/or (4) you have competing priorities (like economic pressure from Pharaoh or from other Egyptian cities). It’s possible to craft an economic mission whose pressures are driven by scripted events, but this is exceedingly hard to balance. You’re more likely to succeed by concentrating on resource availability and trade opportunities – the structure of your city and its place in the world. Economic missions are well suited for monument construction, as well as for high Prosperity and Culture requirements.

Combat missions are probably the easiest to make. Give players a couple of years of gametime to get an economy running, and start throwing invasions at them. Start with small forces and work up to large ones. Pure combat missions can grow boring fairly quickly (Pharaoh isn’t Starcraft, after all), so spice them up with some Distant Battles and naval attacks. To keep non-combat pressure on your players, pay attention to the price and availability of copper and wood.

Combat missions work best when their battles serve a purpose – preserving a trade route, for example, or conquering a foreign city to stop invasions of your own city, or to open a new source of raw materials. Use the Editor’s randomization capabilities to vary the invasion point, timing and troop strength and keep players on their toes, unless you have an overriding reason to schedule a particular invasion force at a particular point. Terrain can make for an interesting dimension in combat missions. Players who enjoy combat generally hate monument building, so if you include monuments at all in combat missions, keep them fairly small. Ratings and population requirements should be modest, too, since the real purpose of a combat mission is survival.

Political missions are the toughest to create and the most fun to play. Focus on imposing tradeoffs: Satisfying one faction will anger another, and every reward comes with a corresponding penalty. Your design should reward consistency or loyalty and punish opportunism. Political missions usually include economic incentives and military punishments.

You must clue the player up front about what’s going on. In Pharaoh, we used the mission briefings for this. Players who didn’t pay attention to that briefing had a lot of trouble with the civil war missions. You won’t have the luxury of an in-game mission briefing, but be sure to distribute a text file with your mission explaining the premise, or at least giving a hint which way the player should lean. Monument requirements in political missions are usually fairly minor. The Kingdom rating can be the best measure of success in a political mission.

Terrain missions simply use the landscape as the mission’s primary challenge. Perhaps resources are very far from the Nile, or maybe there is only one valid location for a monument. Of course, terrain design enters into any mission you create, at least to some degree, but a true terrain mission presents the player with an organizational puzzle. Warning: avoid single-solution puzzles. Few people like playing a mission (in any game) whose only point is to guess the designer’s path to victory. There are no guidelines about monument construction or ratings requirements for terrain missions, but these conditions should match whatever diabolical terrain you created.

Freeform (or sandbox) missions are mostly a blank canvass upon which players can paint their ideal city. These usually have no ending date or victory conditions, and are quite generous with resources and money. Sandbox missions appeal to “sim city” players whose main pleasure is building; they do not want distractions. They usually want an enormous map and the largest possible monuments. Freeform missions are superficially simple to create because they don’t use the events system in any meaningful way, but it’s actually rather difficult to create a subtle challenge without events. Most players will perceive even a sandbox mission as boring if it lacks any challenges at all.

Other types of missions, like race-the-clock, are possible with the Pharaoh Mission Editor, but these are mostly novelties. Permutations on the general categories explained above will yield the best results.