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The Great Hall lobby on Isotropic
a.k.a. Iso
Type Game
Founder(s) dougz
Admin(s) dougz

Isotropic is the common name for the online implementation of Dominion created by Doug Zongker (dougz) and located at Before it was shut down on March 15, 2013 to make way for Goko, Isotropic was the dominant arena for online play of Dominion. On November 20, 2012 Isotropic hosted its 10,000,000th game.[1] At this point the site featured approximately 8,000 registered users and was averaging almost 20,000 games of Dominion per day. It now serves as a private playtesting site for new expansions.


[edit] Permission and Potential To Be Official Version

Both Donald X. and RGG had full knowledge of Isotropic's existence.[2] There was a handshake agreement in place that Isotropic was allowed to be freely operated provided that dougz did not profit from it, it did not use the official card art, and that Isotropic would be shut down should an official (paid) version of the game appear.[3] There appeared to be a friendly relationship between dougz and Donald/RGG, as Donald used a private Isotropic server for playtesting [4] and dougz was informally approached about taking the job of creating the official online version.[5][6] dougz declined this offer, as it was only a side project for him.[7][8]

Isotropic would likely not have been satisfactory for RGG anyway, as Jay stressed wanting a graphic based version that would be fully functional on all platforms. Despite Jay's views, many fans wanted to see Isotropic become the official version. This sentiment has only seemed to increase with the failed release and criticism of Goko. Those unsatisfied with Goko regularly tried to come up with ways by which Isotropic might be kept online, including putting it behind a Goko paywall or charging directly to play on Isotropic.[9]

[edit] Interface

Isotropic presented a minimalist approach to the game, favoring simplicity and plain text to some of the bold colors and animations found on the Goko implementation. The user was allowed to choose between a text and simple image interface, with the images being the placeholder images Donald and the other playtesters used. (Images and sources discussed on the forums here and here) To get a good feel for the feel of playing on Isotropic, consider watching a video of the gameplay. This is a good example of the image format and this is a good example of the text format.

Isotropic featured three lobbies for meeting and competing against other players. The first (Great Hall) was a public lobby, where one could either propose games with another player or check some options (preferred skill levels, veto mode, point counters) and then be automatically matched with another player. A second lobby, the Secret Chamber, was smaller and was specifically designed as a place for friends to meet and arrange games. The third lobby was created specifically for the Dominion World Master's Online Qualifier. It was similar to the Secret Chamber lobby, but it featured the option of being able to predesign turn order for players. An image of the Great Hall lobby can be seen here.

In general, Isotropic attempted to incorporate the official ruling (Page 6 of the game rules) when determining turn order. If you have just won a game you will typically go last, and if you have just lost a game you will go first. Exceptions to this are dependent on the players entering and leaving the lobby. Input from dougz about the implementation can be found here, and recent forum discussion on the subject can be found here.

[edit] Levels and Leaderboard

[edit] Levels and Skill Rating

A key feature of Isotropic was its skill level estimates. Player skill was quantified using an adaptation of Microsoft's TrueSkill skill ranking, itself a variation of the Elo rating system. The system assigned players a level rating based off of their results against other players, factoring in the skill level of all players involved in each game. Among the attributes of the system:

  • Beyond the win/loss status, end of game score has no bearing on rankings. A one point nail biter is worth just as much as a 100 point blowout.
  • Multiplayer matches get broken down into individual head to head games for the rankings, so getting second place in a multiplayer game is still important. A 3 player game is broken into P1 vs P2, P2 vs P3, and P1 vs P3.[10]
  • A win against a highly ranked opponent increased your rating more than a win against a lower ranked opponent. Conversely, a loss to a highly ranked opponent damages your skill rating less than a loss to a very low ranked opponent.
  • A player's displayed (in Isotropic lobby and on leaderboard) skill level was the result of subtracting a player's variance from their skill estimate. This provides a lower bound for a player's skill estimate. There is some debate (especially among elite players) on whether this is the best way to manage skill levels, and the Isotropic FAQ addresses some of these questions. For some players, their level calculations would actually fall below 0 because their variance was larger than their mean skill rating. dougz addressed this by creating a lower end cutoff of Level 0.

[edit] Leaderboard

In conjunction with the skill ratings, a leaderboard was created which ranked all players based on their skill level. The leaderboard allowed players to compete against themselves by improving their skill ranking as well as competing with others to climb the leaderboard. The leaderboard site was updated each day, but there is an archive [11] of the daily updates going all the way back to March 2011. The leaderboard displayed six factors for each player listed:

  • Level (Skill - Variance)
  • Skill Rating
  • Variance
  • Overall Rank
  • Games Played total
  • Level change the last day

Unofficially[12], -Stef- has attained the highest legitimate ranking, hitting a level of 55.334 [13] in mid January 2013. Other leaderboard accomplishments can be found on the Who's Who page.

[edit] Level Creep

It is very difficult to compare relative skill levels on Isotropic over time. This is due to the apparent existence of a 'level creep' on the Isotropic leaderboard over time. TrueSkill tries to fit all of the available players skill levels into a normal bell curve. So, the majority of players will sit near some level X, with a tendency to see less and less of a skill level as you move further from that center point.

As time goes on, the number of players on Isotropic has increased, pushing the boundaries on the edges of the bell curve. This can be evidenced practically by both the increase in peak skill level over time as well as by the increase of players falling into the high skill level buckets of 35-40, 40-45, and 45+. Of course, this does not account for all skill level increases, as experience and strategy resources (such as this website) will also serve to increase player skill.

[edit] Gaming The Leaderboard

Unfortunately, a number of people have decided they want to game the system to leap up the leaderboard. User Paralyzed was one of the first to do this, exploiting the KC/Goons/Masquerade pin every game on unsuspecting players to maintain an absurd win rate. Others (such as Karumah[14], Ozymandias II[15], ottocar[16] and FEEDMEMORE[17]) seem to mix legitimate play with high win rates against dummy accounts. These kinds of shenanigans were usually visible to regular players because of the unlikely numbers of levels increased in a single day.

[edit] History

[edit] New Lobbies

In August 2011 dougz introduced 4 new lobbies to take the place of the old main lobby for meeting players.

The server now has four different lobbies, in the hopes that this makes it easier to find good opponents. You pick your initial lobby on the nickname selection screen, and can move between lobbies by using the dropdown on the upper right. Naturally, the four lobbies are named for Dominion cards:

Great Hall – this is the default lobby; it works just like the old single lobby did. It's intended for casual play.

Council Room – intended for people who consider themselves "serious" players and want to play with other "serious" players. There's no standard for "serious" — no minimum ranking or anything; you don't even have to be logged in — but hopefully everyone will sort themselves out and find opponents they are happy with.

Secret Chamber – intended as a rendezvous point for people who are trying to play games with specific people (their RL friends, etc.) and aren't interested in games with random strangers. Auto-match is disabled in this lobby.

Courtyard – intended as a place to get games going quickly for people who aren't too picky about their opponents or their cards. Auto-match is the only way to start a game in this lobby. Instead of the checkboxes next to each name, you can see the player's auto-match settings: the game size(s) they're interested in, a ◆ if they only want to play with registered players, a ▲ if they require use of the point tracker, or a ▽ if they prohibit it. If you time out of an auto-match request, or decline 3 proposed games, or sit there for too long without turning on auto-match, you'll get kicked out of this lobby and put in the Great Hall lobby instead. Play games!

The concept of multiple lobbies for different purposes was generally well received by the community. Unfortunately, some lobbies saw far more action than others. After a few weeks of existence, dougz quietly dropped the 'Council Room' and 'Courtyard' lobbies, leaving just the default (Great Hall) lobby and the lobby for meeting friends. (Secret Chamber)

[edit] Hinterlands Release

In October 2011, Donald X. preceded the official release of Hinterlands at Essen by previewing 2 cards from the expansion per day. To go along with Donald's announcement, dougz released each of these cards for play on Isotropic as they were announced. Eventually, the full list of cards in Hinterlands leaked, at which point dougz released all of the remaining cards for play. This release format seemed to be widely appreciated by the community, and it was hoped that a similar release on Isotropic would occur as Donald previewed the Dark Ages cards. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as Goko had requested that dougz not publish the cards in competition for their online implementation.

[edit] Leaderboard Rankings Change

Starting on November 23, 2011, dougz introduced a significant change to the Isotropic leaderboard. While the leaderboard had previously considered all past games when determining a player's rank, the new system would only look at games played in the last 30 days.

This means that if you get better, your old games won't be dragging down your rank forever. It also means that you can't maintain a high rank based solely on past performance, playing only an occasional game to keep your account active. I think this is a good thing — I'd rather a high rank mean an active, fresh player — but you may disagree.

The change was not well-received by the Dominion community at large, with the majority of players [18] favoring either a return to the old style or running both styles side by side. It seems dougz listened to the community, as he introduced another updated version on December 5, 2011 [19] which looked back further than 30 days.

The newer system offered two key changes. First, the new leaderboard increased a player's variance every day. This is a slight change from the older system, where variance would only increase on days the player played at least 1 game. This variance increase discouraged players from obtaining a high level and sitting on their achievement, as they would gradually fall down the leaderboard. Second, only randomly (or pseudo-randomly) chosen kingdoms counted towards a player's ranking. Any specifically proposed kindgom would make the game ineligible, a move targeted at players like Paralyzed who soared to the top of the leaderboard by exploiting the King's Court/Goons/Masquerade pin against unsuspecting players every game.

[edit] Tournament Lobby

In June 2012, dougz introduced the Tournament lobby for public use. It was created to assist theory in conducting the 4p Dominion Strategy Qualifier for the Dominion World Masters tournament. The Tournament lobby allowed a designated player to set turn order prior to the start of a game, a feature quite useful in multiplayer tournament play.

[edit] Dark Ages Release

With Donald X. offering card previews for Dark Ages just as he did with Hinterlands, it was initially expected that Isotropic would feature these cards as released just as it happened with the Hinterlands release. To the dismay of much of the online Dominion community, Donald pointed out that this was not the case.[20] Though the Dark Ages cards have been programmed for Isotropic,[21] it is unlikely that the cards will ever be open for public play. The main reasoning behind this decision is that having Dark Ages was meant to be a key draw for the public release of Goko Dominion.

Due to an error by dougz, Dark Ages cards were available for public play on Isotropic for several hours on February 28th, 2013.[22]

[edit] Shutdown

Isotropic Dominion was shut down just after 8PM EDT on March 15, 2013. dougz stated in a closure FAQ that all logs and the leaderboard would remain available. Isotropic now remains open only to playtesters of new expansions.

[edit] Art

     See: Isotropic art gallery

For his unofficial implementation, dougz used public domain imagery rather than the official card art. When isotropic became Donald X.'s playtesting venue, the art used became that chosen by Donald for his prototypes. Perhaps due in part to its association with isotropic, the art is rather nostalgic for more seasoned players, and several have used the art as their avatar on the forums.

[edit] Criticism

There were few complaints overall about Isotropic, especially because it was a free service with passive approval from the game designer.

[edit] Target Audience

Isotropic's overall design clearly favored those who already had experience playing the game of Dominion. As dougz put it, "The site is not exactly a friendly introduction to Dominion for the Angry Birds-type crowd; the UI is really Dominion for Dominion players."[23] The bare-bones construct, fast play, and lack of prominent rules made it difficult for some newer players. This is an area where Goko Dominion stands out in comparison to Isotropic, as it offers campaign modes and single player play which are more friendly to newer players.

[edit] Touchscreen Devices

Another common complaint about Isotropic came chiefly from mobile/tablet players. A few cards implemented a drag feature [24] to reorganize the order of certain cards, a feature which was unusable on certain touch screen devices. dougz was fully aware of the issue and he stated [25] that he was not going to make changes to accomodate a smaller portion of the user base because of doubts about the future of Isotropic. This topic was discussed regularly on the forums. [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]

[edit] Down Time

Because Isotropic was entirely maintained by dougz on a server in his home, Isotropic would occasionally go down leaving users unable to play games. The problems were typically minor (such as loss of power[31] or temporary bugs), but they had to be addressed in person. These outages often led users to speculate on whether or not they had played their last game on Isotropic, as many users knew Isotropic would be taken down once Goko released.

[edit] References

  1. "November 21, 2012", Isotropic Leaderboard Archive
  2. Donald X., "All previous turns occasionally visible in Isotropic games", Dominion Strategy Forum
  3. dougz, "dougz Reddit AMA", Reddit
  4. Donald X., "Isotropic", Dominion Strategy Forum
  5. dougz, "dougz Reddit AMA", Reddit
  6. Donald X., "All previous turns occasionally visible in Isotropic games", Dominion Strategy Forum
  7. dougz, "dougz Reddit AMA", Reddit
  8. Donald X., "All previous turns occasionally visible in Isotropic games", Dominion Strategy Forum
  9. "An offer to Donald X.", Dominion Strategy Forum
  10. "TrueSkill Questions", Dominion Strategy Forum
  11. "Isotropic Leaderboard Archives"
  12. "Attention-whoring thread.... I did it!!", Dominion Strategy Forum
  13. "Isotropic Leaderboard - January 20, 2013", Isotropic Leaderboard Archives
  14. "Karumah?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  15. "Ozymandias II?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  16. "Attention-whoring thread.... I did it!!", Dominion Strategy Forum
  17. "So who's this FEEDMEMORE guy?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  18. "What do you think of Isotropic's leaderboard change?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  19. "What do you think of Isotropic's leaderboard change?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  20. Donald X., "Iso being down = preparing for Dark Ages?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  21. dougz, "dougz Reddit AMA", Reddit
  22. dougz, "Dark Ages on Isotropic?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  23. dougz, "dougz Reddit AMA", Reddit
  24. "Isotropic FAQ", Isotropic Dominion
  25. dougz, "dougz Reddit AMA", Reddit
  26. "Ipad interface", Dominion Strategy Forum
  27. "Playing isotropic on iPhone/android ", Dominion Strategy Forum
  28. "Isotropic on iPad", Dominion Strategy Forum
  29. "Isotropic on iPad Problem ", Dominion Strategy Forum
  30. "Cartographer on Isotropic?", Dominion Strategy Forum
  31. dougz, "Isotropic is still down", Dominion Strategy Forum

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