For this pro-file, I spoke with another skilled member of Granular Gaming and German, silverspawn.
Real Name: Rafael Harth
Vocation: Studying Software Engineering, terribly addicted to computers.
Prismata in General
Are you terribly addicted to Prismata as well then?
Yeah, I think you can say that.
How long have you been playing?
Since December 2014, so about half a year.
How did you find out about the game?
Okay, so, back then I was doing nothing but playing dominion. One day temron wrote me a pm saying ‘I found this game, it’s better than dominion, you should try it too’ and I was like ‘I don’t see myself switching but I’ll give it a try’. Then I did and got addicted, and stopped playing dominion entirely a few weeks later.
What do you think makes Prismata better than Dominion?
I’m not sure saying it’s ‘better’ is necessarily fair, because dominion is aimed much more at a casual audience. I think it has three big problems for competitive play.
The first one is that it’s primarily a board game, so cards that have been printed can’t be changed, and the online client doesn’t change anything about the mechanics except for black market and a few unintended bugs. So when Donald X released a not so great card in one of the early expansions it just stays there forever and can never be fixed.
The second one is the enormous RNG. The best player in the world has maybe 60% against someone at, say, #30, at most. That works for the ladder because the sample size is so large, so skill still rewards itself in the end, but in tournaments and for individual games it can be very frustrating. Losing games despite playing better or winning games despite playing worse happens all the time. Prismata still has RNG and in the Masters League I think luck probably decides the majority of games, but it’s nowhere near as extreme as in dominion. Also the RNG happens all at once, so you get over it really quickly. I almost never get frustrated with the game.
And the third problem is that the client is absolutely horrible. You can lose entire games just by doing one miss-click, and you have to make so many ‘trivial’ decisions in one turn that it can happen even if you’re really used to playing online. Prismata doesn’t have a comeback mechanic, which is amazing.. I absolutely hate comeback mechanics because they make people stay in every game until the end just for the slight chance that they might be lucky, which makes you have to waste tons of time in games which are already over.
Are you a pretty competitive player?
I think I’m extremely competitive, yeah.
Do you think Prismata can appeal to more casual players, or that it’s lack of RNG limits it to more of a serious audience?
I’ve heard from some people that they want to have RNG in games, and I know that Donald X made a point that he wants to have a certain amount of RNG in dominion, that it’s a good thing. But the real question is really what the majority of casual players thinks, which I don’t know. There are certainly people on both sides.
What other games do you play?
My departure from dominion has shown very clearly that I can only focus on one big game at a time. After I got into Prismata, when I tried to play dominion, my head kept trying to apply Prismata concepts to the game which made absolutely no sense, and I found myself insanely frustrated with the RNG to the point that playing was extremely unpleasant. So, almost nothing, really.
I’ve been doing a one-life run in Gothic 2, but that’s about it. Well, and sometimes I want to do stuff which requires no strategic thinking, then I play stuff like Tetris or smash brothers. I also play forum mafia on f.ds which I actually spend a lot of time on. It’s all about analyzing how people think and post and find out who is or isn’t lying.
How much do you play Prismata on average?
I’m not sure because it’s pretty inconsistent. The past 2 weeks I played a ton, like 5 hours a day I think, but a few weeks before that I only played like 1. But just playing is really not the only way to improve.
What else do you do to improve?
Okay, so, like sixsmith has mentioned I have a very distinct way of thinking about the game and units and value, which is really similar to how Aetherllama thinks too. I think I have sort of a model in my head about how the game is supposed to work, which is pretty complex, and which I have to adjust every time something that actually happens in the game conflicts with the model. But other times I just randomly think about the game when I’m maybe not even on the PC, and find something which is weird and then I have to think about it until I can figure out where I went wrong.
Generally, I think a ton about Prismata, and it was the same with dominion while I was still playing that. I think it can be even more important than practicing a lot, if you look at llama, he was top of the ladder for quite a while without playing that much.
The other thing is llama’s spreadsheet… he’s pretty terrible at excel and it’s really almost as ugly as it’s useful, so I’ve spend quite a bit of time recently trying to make it look prettier and more changeable and also bringing some new ideas into it and tweaking some things. Also just talking to my teammates about the game can help a lot, that’s one reason why we do our weekly tournament.
Is that spreadsheet shared among your whole team or just something between you and Aetherllama?
It’s our teams internal secret weapon 😛 Except it’s apparently not secret anymore. I’m not entirely sure how much the others use it, but I think Crash at least does quite a bit. I was the only one who also worked on it though (except llama of course).
Speaking of you and Crash, there’s been a bit of debate over the use of the Analyzer being used in a live match. How exactly do you use it and when?
So, I think I was one of the first one who started using it. I’ve done it only as a sort of experiment at first, not really thinking it would become an important thing. But then it actually worked out really nicely, so I started using it more and more. By now, the only reason why I ever wouldn’t use it in a game is either if the game is over really soon or if I simply don’t have the time. It’s almost always useful.
The thing most people I think don’t get when they say stuff like it takes away from logic or intuition is that. It doesn’t replace intuition. If you had infinite time, sure, but your time is always limited, and you can only analyze so many lines with your time bank. Intuition is equally important to judge which lines are or aren’t worth analyzing. What it really does is not competing with intuition, but giving you a way to test whether or not your intuition is correct while you’re playing. So, say, you see that you can go Tia here, but you don’t think it’s a good idea. Like, your intuition tells you that there’s maybe a 20% chance that it works out.
If you refuse to use analyze mode, you can then stare at the board some more or do some maths in your head or whatever, or more likely you just won’t go for it because it’d probably lose. With the tool though, you can go there and just test it. Very often, it won’t even tell you anything new, it will just confirm what you’re already thinking. In fact I’d say in over half the games I don’t change my decisions one bit by using analyze mode, I just confirm that what I’ve been thinking is correct. So… yeah, I use it basically whenever I’m not sure about something, and generally run out of time at some point.
It does add other skills to the game though, so people do have a point there. Like, the ability to brute force lines quickly is obviously a factor, and how fast the analysis window loads can also be quite important. Both of those are bad things I’d say, but the net value is still clearly positive.
So you are using it as a sort of feedback tool for your potential strategy ideas?
Basically, yes. That’s a much shorter way of putting it 😀
Does it affect your performance in very short timer games like Bullet?
I never played a bullet game in my life. The lowest time setting I ever played was 30 because It was required for some tournament. On ladder I only play 60 and 90. Master league has 45, which already vastly limits the amount of analyzing I can do, but I still use it there sometimes.
Does using the Analyzer tend to make your turns longer on average then?
Yeah, of course. Though it often all goes into a single turn or two.
So you’re just using it when you need to test a critical decision?
Do you usually participate in the weekly team tournaments?
Do you learn quite a bit from playing and the commentary with your team mates?
Yeah, I learn most by talking to Aetherllama, because he understands the game better than anyone else. And we don’t really do commentary, we deliberately focus more on discussing the board then on commenting what players are doing, because it’s meant to be practice.
Have you guys as a team developed some innovative strategies or just focus more on learning the fundamentals better?
I’m not sure if ‘innovative strategies’ exist in this game tbh, because there is no strategical freedom. The board always dictates exactly which strategy you have go for… so fundamentals is definitely more like it. I’d say it’s mostly just about finding mistakes.
Do you think the board dictating strategy like that and the whole idea of the “correct play” can make the game eventually stale without new units?
Without new units, yes. I think it’s only logical that Prismata is going to be solved one day… I don’t see how that can’t be the case. The more interesting and scary thought is whether or not it might also become stale at some point with new units. The unit pool increases with every new release, so every subsequent release has a lower chance of showing up in a random set. Donald X called that ‘diminishing returns’ (it works the exact same way for dominion). So, at some point, new units might not have enough of an impact to stop the game from becoming stale. I hope I’m wrong, or that it takes a long time!
Do you have any ideas for how that could be avoided?
Well, since the growing pool is the problem, the logical counter measure would be to remove units at the same pace that you add new units. That way everything changes consistently, which should make it impossible to solve. I certainly wouldn’t advise doing that any time soon though.
Would it make sense to just rotate units in and out of the pool?
It might. But I think these problems lie pretty far in the future, so it’s not something to consider right now.
Do you have any favorite units or combos?
Antima Comet, Doomed Drone, Dynamo. Recently I’ve also grown really fond of Iceblade Golem an Wild Drone. As far as combos, everything with Centrifuge I guess. So just Centrifuge in general really, no combos come to mind.
So are you more of a high econ player then?
I definitely tend to be too afraid of cutting early drones. e.g. I’d never have tried DD A as player 1 if Elyot hadn’t told me that it’s good in Electrovore mirrors, and it’s actually the only way p1 has a chance. I don’t think there should be ‘high’ or ‘low’ econ players at the highest skill level though, but there kind of are, which probably means we aren’t that good yet.
Do you think mistakes snowballing into a GG makes for more satisfying matches?
I don’t think the snowball principle and having no comeback mechanics are necessarily the same thing.
The snowball effect is probably negative, because it can cause players to draw false and (for them) counter intuitive conclusions when evaluating a replay. A tiny tactical decision in turn 3 is probably infinitely more important than a big strategical decision on turn 10, but players might instinctively value the latter more. I think that actually happens a lot.
But about the no-comeback thing making for more satisfying matches, for me absolutely yes. Comeback has a postitive sound for most people, but I think it’s extremely harmful for competitive play. I also always found it more frustrating to lose to a comeback then satisfying to win with one.
Have you been able to come back from mistakes by playing really well later in the game?
In Prismata, nah, if I make a mistake early, I just resign. Well unless I feel like my opponent already made equally big mistakes and I still have a fair shot at winning. It’s a question of investing in skill vs investing in rating (which a lot of players who stay till the end don’t want to admit, especially in dominion, but they’re just being irrational :P). Thankfully it’s not a big issue in Prismata. Even in master league, I would usually rather resign than continue playing, because I value my mindest higher than the 1% chance of a comeback. One more thing to add to that: the interest rate is about 1,33, so if you made a mistake on turn 3, then whatever damage you caused has already multiplied itself by 10 by the time you hit turn 11. it’s just not realistic to come back from that.
I get the impression that because of the deterministic nature of the game, high level play is sometimes just about making as few mistakes as possible?
Yeah, that’s usually it. Though there are also still quite a few non-trivial strategical decisions, which is good. Players tend to like games more when strategy is not clear, which includes me.
Do you think P1/P2 advantage is a big issue?
Absolutely. I consider Prismata pretty much the most well designed game I’ve ever seen though, so that’s all relative, but I think it’s by far the biggest issue the game has right now (from a competitive player’s perspective, which might not be that relevant for the dev’s).
Do you have any ideas on what could be done about that?
I do! In fact I have proposed ideas before. The initial one was to make doomed drone a base unit, which I’ve been saying since like 2 months after I started paying. By now, a few other people have said that too. Though you’d have to make it a non-blocker for that, which would then remove one unit from the game, so it is a problem. Leaving it as a blocker would mean you see tons and tons of doomed drones every game, which a lot of players would dislike.
Llama has suggested something else a while ago. It might not look like it at first glance, but dynamo actually does pretty much that (whether or not that’s related to the thread I have no idea). The big difference between dynamo and llamas unit is that. Llama’s unit is super weak, while dynamo is really strong, so while llama’s unit would usually only be used for that one purpose, dynamo is so good that it’s a really big factor in most games, which makes it difficult to include into the base set again, kind of like doomed drone, and the problem with llama’s unit is that casual players would just be like ‘wtf is that’ because it’s so weak and so specific. So.. dynamo is amazing, but I think I’d still advocate a non-blocking doomed drone as a base unit.
The other thing you can do is remove units that are heavily favored for either player, which is already being done, the problem with that is that often not specific units as it is the Player 2 conduit issue. It’s often either really good which makes P2 favored, or it’s bad which makes P1 favored quite a lot, because P2 has nothing else to do with that 4 gold. It’s also kind of unfortunate how things work out. If you go DD DD you have exactly 4 gold left on turn 2. If you go DD DDE DD you have exactly 4 gold left on turn 3. You don’t get around it.
Would the doomed drone idea solve that or is something else needed for that?
I like to believe doomed drone would solve most of it. Not completely of course, a few openings get worse with doomed drone, not better. but it helps a lot on average. Right now there are also some really stupid rushes you can do with doomed drone that can go as far as to be auto wins for some players, but they wouldn’t really be a thing anymore if it can’t block (and they’re pretty rare anyway).
Do you feel like there are some Masters matches you lost due to player advantage?
I think probably between 55% and 80% of the games are decided by player advantage in the Masters League, so yeah, of course, there are plenty. These numbers are debatable though, mostly because it’s not distinctly defined when someone lost due to player advantage and when he didn’t, because you always have both factors.
I do think I am a better player relative to the others now than I was last season where I did much better in the group stage, so there’s that. But that doesn’t just mean I had much more favorable sets then, it also depends on a ton of other factors, like how or when opponents make mistakes. Also note that if you have 60% chance to win a single game you have a much higher chance to win a bo3, and if you have even just a 55% chance for each individual game, you probably have a really high chance to place first in the group stage. High sample size helps.
Elyot seems to be a big champion of the idea that there are still mind games to be played. Do you think there’s room for that sort of thing at high level play?
I think it makes a lot of sense for Elyot to focus on these things whenever they happen. Mind games are considered fun. unfortunately, I also think the actual factor these things play is minimal. One arguably bad thing about the variety principle which Prismata adopted from dominion is that it decreases personality quite heavily. In Starcraft II, there very a few players who just played outside the meta-game, and it even has a self-sustaining nature for a while, because if someone always does X vs meta while others always play meta vs meta, then when he plays a ‘normal’ player, he has a lot more practice playing against what the normal player does then the normal player has playing against him. Goody is the best example for that. In Prismata and Dominion there’s very little of that, but I think it’s a reasonable price to pay for what it does.
Are there some ways Prismata could incorporate more personality or meta play without ruining the strengths of the design?
That’s a really interesting question… if it’s possible, I have no idea how, unless you count personality by way of skins.
What do you think of the new Arena rewards system?
I think I have very little interesting to say about that. I seem to care less about rewards than anyone else, so I’m in no way representative, and I don’t know or care that much about what most people think about it (which is what really matters), so I can’t judge how good it really is either. I find it sort of fun.
What do you think about the monetization model of the game in general?
Similar here, I think the others can judge that better.
A few safe things I can say is that DOTA2 shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that making players pay purely for aesthetics can work, and I’m pretty sure that including any sort of pay 2 win into Prismata would be horrible and will never be done, so the fundamental ideas seem to be correct. But whether or not the specifics are good, idk.
Do you think the team aspect of DOTA and LoL factor into aesthetics being viable in that sense?
If so, then not much. I think more important reason why it works so well for DOTA is just that it’s a different kind of game. You have a ton of unique heroes and items and you only control one hero and you walk around with it and it all looks pretty. That’s really the ideal environment to make players want to have asthetics. The same is probably true for LoL.
Does that apply to unit skins in Prismata then?
Unfortunately, no. I think Prismata is clearly less suited to sell aesthetics than DOTA or LoL, so it’ll be harder to make it work. It just to balance it out by being an incredibly well designed game. I’m not sure how successful it can be, but I don’t see it rivaling DOTA2.
Any ideas on other ways it could make money without compromising the design?
No, you’re asking the wrong person for that.
What do you think about the Masters in general?
It’s a very good tournament. The format doesn’t suck, which is awesome. I think celerity is doing a really good job all in all, there are very few things I would change if I could.
What things would you change if you could?
Let’s see, I would include bans for all games not just starting now, remove the single elimination bracket in the end (top 4). Instead I’d make the 2 winners with a free pass (that’s the two guys who finished #1 in their group and beat the other 2 who did) just drop into the upper bracket after I believe 3 rounds and play it out from there. I actually did suggest just that to Celerity, but he said it’d make scheduling near the end more difficult and cause the final few matches to drag on longer, which is true, but I still think it’s worth it. Probably use base 10 instead of base 11. Probably have whoever went first in game 1 of a set go second in game 2. that doesn’t solve player advantage of course, but I think it reduces it very slightly. That’s probably it. All nitpicks.
I just feel that base + 11 is a little bit too much. The amount of units you include and the strategical depth of the board aren’t proportional, it goes up with a few units and then down again with more. If you played like base 20, it’d probably be quite stale. So the question is just where is the sweet spot, which to me feels more like base 10 than 11. Oh… and I’d make it 60 seconds of course! 45 is way too dayum short.
Do you think some players like Crash have an advantage at lower timer amounts?
Well, yeah, for sure. Time changes the game quite a lot, so whoever plays more low time settings will certainly be better at them, relative to his overall skill. Although I think the difference between 60 and 90 is quite minor and 45 and 60 is still bearable. If it was 30 I’d have big problems.
Who do you think has played best in Masters so far?
Hard question, because I don’t remember every game and haven’t seen them all, but I’ll say Arkanishu. The last 6 or so games I watched from him were very impressive.
Seeing as you are both in Germany, have you met Arkanishu or any other Prismata players in person?
Have you been able to convert any friends over to Prismata from another game? Like Dominion for example.
I haven’t actually been actively trying to convert anyone from dominion to Prismata, which is mostly due to my not so pretty departure from the game and dropout of the running tournaments. But Hydrad has switched without me doing anything, which is cool. I think, uh.. rabbit (?) also played some. but I haven’t met him in ladder in a while, and Kirian plays casually.
Seeing as the idea for Prismata started out as a Dominion twist, do you think players of that game are a good target audience for Prismata?
Yes, absolutely. I think the games are very similar if you play them competitively, but Prismata is so much better (for that purpose) that a lot of players would switch if they tried it.
Should Lunarch hold a Dominion Prismata Cup then?
Well it depends on what exactly it would be, but something like that does sound good. They were giving out free keys on f.ds (dominion forum) btw, so they did try to advertise it.
Any final thoughts?
Hmm, shout out to my team. We might or might not have something cool coming up. Also thanks for the interview, it felt really elaborate.