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Turn Based Games - Initiative


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#1 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 02:37 PM

When developing a turn based game which method of initiative is best: Group initiative or individual initiative?

There are games in which every single character on the board gets its own unique turn and there are others in which each team gets a turn.

At the moment I'm working on a turn based rpg with multiple characters (6+) and I'm wondering what method of play would be best.

I'ved play games like Panzer General in which you get to move all your units before you end your turn. The great thing about that kind of tactical game is that you can effectively surround an enemy unit and then determine (by hovering over the unit) who should attack first. I also really liked how ranged units attack on their turn and possibly again on your turn as a reaction to you attacking.

And then you have games like D&D that promote individual initiative complete with interrupts and readied actions. In most cases these games roll initiative once at the start of combat and each unit acts on the same turn for the remainder of the encounter. Other variations have a new initiative rolled at the start of each round and that really mixes things up.

I'm wondering which method would achieve the highest level of tactical game play. I realize that with a large number of units it might not make sense to use individual initiative, but with around 8 units on the players side and possibly twice that number of the monster side it might work.

I think group initiative is more nerve racking of an experience for an RPG game. Having to watch as the AI moves all it's monsters in and decimates your party might make the game more deadly. On the other hand, I could allow for healing spells and the like to work as reactions. That way your characters have actions they perform during their initiative and reactive actions when it's not their turn.

Any thoughts?

Edited by 00Kevin, 13 September 2012 - 08:48 AM.


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#2 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4918

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 03:35 PM

Well, how many units does a player have, and is it multiplayer? I don't mind seeing 3 or 4 units belonging to one player or AI going in a row, but more than that does get a bit extreme; similarly I wouldn't want to give orders to more than 4 units at the same time, so if I was controlling more than that I'd like to take turns issuing orders to mine and having opponents take action.

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#3 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 9041

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 04:53 PM

You have to carefully weight the advantage you are giving to the player that is active at any given time.
In a game with a few heroes, that initiative is not as important, but in a miniatures game like warhammer, allowing a player to commandeer all of his armies during "his turn" and then pass to the next would create an epic difference. The first player would probably just move towards the enemy, and the second would get in range, fire everything, defeat 50% of the other armies' men and run away with a quick victory (no contest).

The more you break it down, the better it is for strategy, but the longer and more complex it can become. I'm a big fan of a D&D-like system where friends and foes get to act in an order determined by some factors (either a dice roll, an actual stats (speed), etc). Now, a 200 vs 200 game might make that system irrelevant as there will be way too many units to keep track of. A computer game might take advantage of its tracking capabilities, but it still may be a problem for the players as they plan their strategy and may miss a few units' turn order or status. Overall, it will slow the pace of the game tremendously.

#4 Xoyo   Members   -  Reputation: 131

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:25 PM

The point is, do you want every unit to be important? Let's say your group is a group of heroes, everyone with it's roles and all, so it is important as a way to individualize them to give them this autonomy. You want the duel to occur between the Players (like in a card game) or between the units?

The problem here is balance I think. I've been playing recently a card game called shadow era. In a card game there is no battlefield, no moving, so every creature on the table can immediatly (or on the subsequent turn) attack the adversary. That is a huge advantage.

How does the player deploy the units? When the battle begins are they all on the field? or the player must deploy them one by one? What is the size of the battlefield? If in the first turn all melee units can reach and attack the adversary the group initiative can be a big balance issue. But if they need to move one turn at least to be able to attack, I believe there is no big problem with it because the first player to move is also the first player to be fully attacked (if he moves all his units foward). In fact in this way you are giving one more strategic element to the players, because the first player can halt some of its units, or make them move less, in order to secure them one more turn.

#5 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 9041

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 07:36 PM

I guess you could use a double layer like this:

"Macro turn order" (by hero's initiative order)
Player 1 hero 3
Player 2 hero 1
Player 1 hero 2
Player 1 hero 1
Player 2 hero 3
Player 3 hero 2

"Micro turn order"
During each of the hero's turn, you get to use all of their units

This simplifies things very much while limiting the advantage given to who plays first. It does maintain a circumpstancial advantage for heroes with a better initiative, but isn't it the whole point?


Too complex perhaps?

#6 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 08:05 AM

I guess you could use a double layer like this:

"Macro turn order" (by hero's initiative order)
Player 1 hero 3
Player 2 hero 1
Player 1 hero 2
Player 1 hero 1
Player 2 hero 3
Player 3 hero 2

"Micro turn order"
During each of the hero's turn, you get to use all of their units

This simplifies things very much while limiting the advantage given to who plays first. It does maintain a circumpstancial advantage for heroes with a better initiative, but isn't it the whole point?


Too complex perhaps?


Thanks, that is another initiative concept I didn't consider.

#7 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 08:22 AM

The point is, do you want every unit to be important? Let's say your group is a group of heroes, everyone with it's roles and all, so it is important as a way to individualize them to give them this autonomy. You want the duel to occur between the Players (like in a card game) or between the units?

The problem here is balance I think. I've been playing recently a card game called shadow era. In a card game there is no battlefield, no moving, so every creature on the table can immediatly (or on the subsequent turn) attack the adversary. That is a huge advantage.

How does the player deploy the units? When the battle begins are they all on the field? or the player must deploy them one by one? What is the size of the battlefield? If in the first turn all melee units can reach and attack the adversary the group initiative can be a big balance issue. But if they need to move one turn at least to be able to attack, I believe there is no big problem with it because the first player to move is also the first player to be fully attacked (if he moves all his units foward). In fact in this way you are giving one more strategic element to the players, because the first player can halt some of its units, or make them move less, in order to secure them one more turn.


Yes I agree about the size of the battlefield being a factor. In Panzer General you can't fully engage all the enemy forces at the same time simply because the map is so large, but you can conquer a few cities and take out several units in per turn. This simulates the blitzkrieg concept fairly well. If I did use that system each character in the party would have to be able to withstand several attacks before going down.

For my game I really want to use both small and large maps. The system should work for any size of map imaginable, everything from defending the hobbit's home to the huge castle walls.

Tactics are very important to my game. I want the player to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how he moves his party around on the battle map.

As for unit deployment, I think the game will switch into and out of combat while the player explores the area with his characters. When combat starts the characters will already be deployed on the map. Combat begins the moment both forces spot each other or hostilities commence. For example, the player might have his rogue sneak up from behind the orc leader. If the orc spots the rogue or the rogue attacks and the combat sequence will begin.

Edited by 00Kevin, 13 September 2012 - 08:27 AM.


#8 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 08:41 AM

Well, how many units does a player have, and is it multiplayer? I don't mind seeing 3 or 4 units belonging to one player or AI going in a row, but more than that does get a bit extreme; similarly I wouldn't want to give orders to more than 4 units at the same time, so if I was controlling more than that I'd like to take turns issuing orders to mine and having opponents take action.


At the moment, it's a party based system with 6+ characters and dozens of monsters per encounter. The party vs an undead horde might be a typical encounter. There will also be stealth elements in the game and I expect that the first round of combat will be key to victory in some situations.

I don't have any plans for multiplayer in this version. I just want to complete the game and get it out there.

Edited by 00Kevin, 13 September 2012 - 08:47 AM.


#9 Zouflain   Members   -  Reputation: 532

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:03 AM

I'm wondering which method would achieve the highest level of tactical game play. I realize that with a large number of units it might not make sense to use individual initiative, but with around 8 units on the players side and possibly twice that number of the monster side it might work.

Individual turn based initiative with variable cycle times is the most strategic, hands down. Consider turn based strategy games like Phantom Brave, wherein turn order is determined by unit "speed" - faster units have shorter cycle times, so the turn order between a fast unit and a slow unit might look like F->S->F->F->S->repeat. Killing overly fast units will reduce the number of effects that they can have on you (in that game, fast units were usually theives and would steal your equipment and throw it out of the stage), killing slow units will likely reduce the damage (again in that game, mages tended to be very slow but capable of vaporizing large areas of the battlefield), and having to make the choice between the two is what makes it strategic. That game did not use variable cycle times, however.

Variable cycle times mean if you punch someone, you might have a 1 turn delay, whereas casting omega-spell-of-doom might incur a 5 turn delay. In this case, not only does your overall speed matter, what you chose to do when it is your turn also matters, and this is yet another layer of strategy. Does this hero heal now and do no damage for 6 ticks, or does he attack twice more and risk his ally getting KO-ed? If you keep things intiutive, the player is more than capable of figuring out what "feels optimal" and wont be bogged down with numbers. It also makes choice far more meaningful.

#10 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:39 AM

I'm wondering which method would achieve the highest level of tactical game play. I realize that with a large number of units it might not make sense to use individual initiative, but with around 8 units on the players side and possibly twice that number of the monster side it might work.

Individual turn based initiative with variable cycle times is the most strategic, hands down. Consider turn based strategy games like Phantom Brave, wherein turn order is determined by unit "speed" - faster units have shorter cycle times, so the turn order between a fast unit and a slow unit might look like F->S->F->F->S->repeat. Killing overly fast units will reduce the number of effects that they can have on you (in that game, fast units were usually theives and would steal your equipment and throw it out of the stage), killing slow units will likely reduce the damage (again in that game, mages tended to be very slow but capable of vaporizing large areas of the battlefield), and having to make the choice between the two is what makes it strategic. That game did not use variable cycle times, however.

Variable cycle times mean if you punch someone, you might have a 1 turn delay, whereas casting omega-spell-of-doom might incur a 5 turn delay. In this case, not only does your overall speed matter, what you chose to do when it is your turn also matters, and this is yet another layer of strategy. Does this hero heal now and do no damage for 6 ticks, or does he attack twice more and risk his ally getting KO-ed? If you keep things intiutive, the player is more than capable of figuring out what "feels optimal" and wont be bogged down with numbers. It also makes choice far more meaningful.


Yeah I agree, that actually reminds me how AD&D worked. It had weapon speeds for each type of weapon and spell. Mages started casting a spell on their turn and finished turn + X turns later. This afforded you the opportunity to disrupt the mages spell.

With individual initiative you can add a feature that allows a character to respond to movement or respond to another character being attacked. That way the cleric doesn't get screwed if his action happens to be first in the round and no one is injured yet.

On the other hand the advantage of group initiative is that you can move all your characters first and then pick what order you want them all to attack in. In this case, you can make great use of suppression fire from ranged weapons. Perhaps after a volley of arrows the enemy phalanx begins to crack and the melee characters will have a better chance of hitting. In this case, the player would use all his ranged characters first and then move his melee characters in for the kill.

#11 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4918

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 05:06 PM

With that many units and opponents, how about limiting the number of units a player can place per turn, something like this:
Player can place up to 3 or 4 units, and take one action with each. The first 3 or 4 monsters take their turns. Player can place up to 3 or 4 units and take one action with each, but the first batch are still tired. The next 3 or 4 monsters take their turns. Etc until all units and monsters have gone once. Then the first batch of units and monsters have recovered and get to go again.

Alternately, the player places all units at the beginning, then units and monsters alternate (possibly based on initiative) until all have gone once.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#12 Telcontar   Members   -  Reputation: 893

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Posted 14 September 2012 - 02:49 PM

Have you considered the idea of interrupts? That is to say, a unit or hero on can "interrupt" another player's turn with an attack (or some other action) under certain circumstances. This can be used to prevent the "surround him entirely on my turn" weakness of strict turn-based play, because you can both passively and actively limit or at least punish certain moves even when it is not your turn.

Example, using your Heroes vs. Undead scenario:

Your heroes need to cross an open area where they can possible be surrounded quickly. On your turn you move most of them, but you have a wizard hang back in a 'cover' mode. On the Undead turn, if they move within a certain distance of your heroes, this triggers the wizard to interrupt them with an attack. This may either halt their movement, or make a subsequent attack from them on your heroes (who I assume can defend themselves off-turn) too dangerous.

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#13 greentiger   Members   -  Reputation: 137

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 06:02 PM

This is always a quandry when designing tactical games. How about offer players a choice before the game starts?
You could do something like:
( ) Team by team initiative
( ) Parts of teams initiative (like 5 units at a time, alternating back and forth)
( ) Individual initiative set by encounter
( ) Individual initiative set by turn
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#14 be-the-hero.net   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 02:00 AM

I personnally prefer a "per-unit" initiative, it makes the game feel more interactive. My 2 cents.

#15 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2766

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 04:59 AM

I've always liked the shadowrun 3rd edition system. Where by a characters initiative score determines the order and number of actions they get per round.
Its done by rolling a number of d6 and then subtracting 10 as long as its a positive number the character gets another action. Actions are then declared from lowest to highest for all characters and resolved highest to lowest.

So if I had an initiative score of 21 and you had a score of 7
The turn would play out like follows:
21 - Me
11 - Me
7 - You
1 - Me

#16 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 08:07 AM

This is always a quandry when designing tactical games. How about offer players a choice before the game starts?
You could do something like:
( ) Team by team initiative
( ) Parts of teams initiative (like 5 units at a time, alternating back and forth)
( ) Individual initiative set by encounter
( ) Individual initiative set by turn


Thanks, this is actually something I'm considering. I really don't think it would be all that hard to program provided the mechanics of each unit support the various initiative options.

#17 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 09:57 AM

With the recent game XCOM being a hit (yes a turn based game!), what does everyone think about this topic? XCOM uses group initiative and after playing it for a while I really think this is the way to go.

What I've noticed is that it's very important to be able to move your characters in the order that you want, especially when you have "overwatch" or "guard" triggers that fire on movement. Taking a particular hostile out before moving in and healing your companion is critical to the tactical nature of the game. At this point, I'm not so sure that individual initiative would provide the same tactical feel.

Anyway, I'm having a lot more fun with XCOM and its turn based combat system than I ever did with Diablo 3. I just hoping that the gaming industry takes notice and we see a turn based revival of sorts.

Edited by 00Kevin, 22 October 2012 - 09:58 AM.


#18 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2766

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 06:04 AM

Having finished xcom on classic ironman mode I'd say the game would be impossible to play without team initiative. XCOM is very brutal and you are generally heavily out numbered. I found that I needed every action in a turn to either one hit kills enemies or concentrate fire on a single powerful enemy. Since your team members can die so easily if you don't carefully explore and take out each threats quickly you can find yourself overrun and your entire team wiped out. Nothing worse then walking into an area and then having 3 or 4 berserkers backed up by mutons bearing down on you.

#19 00Kevin   Members   -  Reputation: 222

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 10:12 AM

Having finished xcom on classic ironman mode I'd say the game would be impossible to play without team initiative. XCOM is very brutal and you are generally heavily out numbered. I found that I needed every action in a turn to either one hit kills enemies or concentrate fire on a single powerful enemy. Since your team members can die so easily if you don't carefully explore and take out each threats quickly you can find yourself overrun and your entire team wiped out. Nothing worse then walking into an area and then having 3 or 4 berserkers backed up by mutons bearing down on you.


Yeah, that's a very important point. The threat level of that game is very high, but at the same time I really like it that way. Of course, you could have all the bad guys attack one guy out in the open on the same turn even with group initiative. Then again, with XCOM the battle never starts with the team being ambushed or in the thick of a battle. You generally have to spend a turn moving just to find the enemy. Therefore, group initiative is never an issue unless the player makes a big mistake with unit positioning. In that sense, group initiative is scenario limiting.




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