Monday, September 28, 2009

[ 03 / 06 / 06 ] If you're so great, why is there yolk on your shoulder?

When reviewing any new league system, I find that there is one quick and simple test which will reveal all that I need to know about how well the designer grasps the concepts required to prepare a balanced and effective set of rules; does it include Starplayers?

Before we get into why Starplayers are so bad for the game itself, let me first point out how poorly they were designed and utilized in the game even had they been a good idea. While these issues might be ultimately irrelevant given that the systemic failure of Starplayers will in the end require their complete removal, it is still useful to look at the general failure of the design as an example of how poorly thought-out the specific design was in order to ultimately lend an extra bit of weight to the decision to exclude them entirely based on their general design flaws.

The existing Starplayer roster fails in two very dramatic ways - availability and variety. Anyone who has ever played Norse (no, not the diminutive brush lackey, the race), High Elfs, or Amazons in a Starplayer league can tell you that there just isn't much to choose from, and can also tell you that the Human, Chaos, and Orc coach suffers no such paucity. One of the great failures of the Starplayer system is, and has always been the simple fact that they weren't evenly, or even marginally distributed among the various rosters. It is beyond clear that no thought whatsoever was ever put into balancing the characters through the various rosters, not in numbers available nor in potency of individual ability - lest we forget that while the Human team not only has the pick of most of the characters in the game, they also can choose from several players with five, six, even seven skill bumps while the Dark and High Elf coaches find themselves with their single, rather uninspired and marginally-skilled choices. Such haphazard, thoughtless game design is simply unpardonable, and the continued indifference shown toward the problem is surely simply a sign of the general trend toward exclusion of Starplayers in leagues, though with the personalities involved, it could be a continued ignorance or indifference to the magnitude of the error just as easily.

And yet, even if the dreadful masters of this sorry little game of ours were to wake up to the disparity of their silly Starplayer mechanics and come down from the mountain with a list of character options granting both variety and a full sweep of skill level choices to every roster in the game, the game would ultimately still be no better for the effort, for even had the Starplayer system been well-executed, the core notion is so hopelessly-flawed that correction can only come through exclusion.

Starplayers are a failed concept because they undermine and sabotage the core concept of the continuing game - team development. In any league setting, Starplayers do so much damage not only tot he balance of squads due to the shortcomings of their specific design discussed above, but also to the simple basic impetus for having a league in the first place that their inclusion by any commissioner is an unpardonable offense.

At the most trivial level, Starplayers give teams the benefit of experience without the process of attaining it. If the predicate of a league experience is developing a squad of players, and one assumes it is as this is pretty much the only aspect of the league system, then beginning play with players who already possess advanced abilities is simply to invalidate the entire process. How can any coach be expected to still find full satisfaction in team development in a setting where the need for team development is thus trivialized?

Beyond the marginalization of experience, however, are more sinister impacts upon the health of a league, for not only do Starplayers unbalance teams and diminish the value of experience, but they also undermine the entire development process. Starplayers are, quite simply, experience black holes. These characters cannot continue to gain SPP's, and yet they are the players on a team most likely to score TD's and Casualties. All of the potential experience which they fail to earn is simply lost to a team. Had the Starplayer not been on the squad, it is entirely likely that the team would still have scored about as many TD's, and caused about as many casualties, and the entirety of those SPP's would have been earned and kept by the squad.

The long-term impact of this loss of SPP's to the Starplayers is a complete slowdown in team development, with particular deficits for skill players who need the development in order to fully-realize their place in the game, and who are already marginalized by the presence of the Starplayers in the first place. Thus, teams with Stars will develop more slowly, and in a less appropriate fashion than those without.

The astute observer would conclude then that this is a self-correcting problem - teams without Starplayers will develop more fully and more quickly than those with them, and in time the difference will become fairly indistinguishable, but that is not truly the case. First off, Starplayers give teams access to players of skill levels which simply are not found in normal play. players with five skill raises are agonizingly rare, players with six and seven the stuff of urban myth and yet there are a variety of Starplayers in these lofty heights, and several teams have access to more than one such player! The reality is that the Star-less teams simply cannot hope to ever catch up to the skill level possessed by many teams with them. While the teams at the shallow end of the Starplayer talent pool often do eventually surpass the need for them, those teams with a greater selection, particularly the Human team, simply have no need to ever develop their own players as they will never grow a team as talented as that which they can begin the game with.

All together, the case against Starplayers is overwhelming. In both theory and practice the concept has failed miserably. Therefore, it really is a fair gauge of league quality. Groups who fail to grasp a systemic failure of this magnitude cannot be expected to adjust for any of the more subtle shortcomings which can be found within the game, and the new coach should have every expectation that the league will be unsatisfying on a variety of levels.

And, Griff has a chicken on his head.