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4X game: Communication ranges


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#1 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7643

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Posted 14 November 2012 - 09:45 PM

Hey,

This is a followup to my post about ship designs.
I'm currently designing a form of 4X game, and I wanted to capture a bit more about the reality of space travel.

One element that struck me as under-utilized was the capability (or inability) to communicate with the rest of the fleet/empire.
Most games assume that you can communicate with ships lightyears away in realtime.
I'm trying to come up with ideas on how to avoid that.

The best idea that I have right now is a bit dull: planets have a range at which they can communicate with ships, allowing the player to micromanage these ships as they see fit.
Any ship beyond that ranges becomes invisible and is controlled by an AI, following the mission it was designed for.
Optionally, it may send reports, from time to time, about its position and status, but these would be dated, thus the player would be faced with limited information.
Pros:
- It puts into play communication ranges as something you may want to improve
- It emphasizes mission-based actions to be precise
- It emphasizes a good AI, which in turn may reduce micro-management of the fleet: set orders, let them disappear, and trust they'll be back with good news.

Cons:
- It doesn't feel very '4x'
- AI quirks will really annoy players
- It may feel like a feature that's added for no real reason except to attempt something new. This may be a barrier for entry to the genre without actually being especially fun (I would need to prototype). Its also a feature that could be game-defining and turn off a lot of people.

I was wondering whether you thought it could be a decent idea, or if you had better suggestions on how to implement communications as an important factor of gameplay (on par with, say, sensor range).

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#2 Prinz Eugn   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3578

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Posted 14 November 2012 - 10:30 PM

My impression is that in a game based upon complete control that directly affecting the ability of the player to control their units is dangerous territory. I think having ships completely on their own would not be optimal.Sending ships beyond direct control might work for simple exploration vessels, where all you really need is the ability to set waypoints (Go to System A, then B, then C, then home), but I don't think you'd ever send anything else out without it being in comm range. Even if you could found a colony beyond your immediate communications range I think unless there's incredibly simplified colony management that it would always be advantageous to put them in range so you could manually manage them. Same with fleets. It's simply too advantageous unless the game is absurdly simple, to maintain complete control of your fleet.

One idea is to simply limit how many orders per period of time you can give a ship, dependent on distance. 3 light years, you can order at will, at 6, 4 interactions per minute, and at 10, 1 interaction per minute. You could also limit that to every X turns or X every turn.

Master of Orion 2 went a different direction and basically charged the player money for having more ships than colonies and star bases based on some formula I don't remember, so instead of cutting control, it made it a direct cost.

EDIT: Formatting

Edited by Prinz Eugn, 14 November 2012 - 10:54 PM.

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#3 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3557

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 04:20 AM

In my opinion it's not very fun.

Also, what about planets? If there is a communication range for ships shouldn't there be one for planets as well? This would mean the colonies farther from the capital should be AI controlled as well... It all sounds very messy and complicated.

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#4 Waterlimon   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2460

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 04:31 AM

I would have 2 things:
-Communication range (need powerful tech for signal not to weaken or get corrupted)
eg. small ships cant go wander too far or you lose control and cant get them back until they return themselves
-Delay communication (So an attack order to a far fleet will take time to get there) for this a command ship would be good, which represents you. Risking yourself makes you able to use better strategies in battle and quickly change them.

o3o


#5 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7643

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 07:52 AM

One idea is to simply limit how many orders per period of time you can give a ship, dependent on distance. 3 light years, you can order at will, at 6, 4 interactions per minute, and at 10, 1 interaction per minute. You could also limit that to every X turns or X every turn.


Not a bad idea, but then again, I feel it has the same drawbacks as my original idea: it feels like its just there 'cause I wanted to do something about communication, but its not all that organic and it isn't fun to manage. Also its not that straightforward either.

Alternatively, I thought about disallowing ship movement out of the comm range, which would emphasize the need to through satellites around planets you haven't colonized just to extend that range. Of course, when the comm link is severed (satellite destroyed for example), your fleet would be on its own, trying to get back, and defending itself.
I wonder if that would hose strategies where a player want to colonize distant planets and work from multiple bases...

Also, what about planets?

An interesting question. My original idea was that the planets were the "emitter" of the signal (that which the player always controls) and the ships were the receiver. For player to have control over a ship, he would only need the planetary comm range to touch with the ship's comm range (meaning they have a connection). This would've encouraged building new colonies. Of course, this was an abstract concept.
If the empire is built around one specific planet, then it would be pretty hard to extend the network to colonies and so on.

This would mean the colonies farther from the capital should be AI controlled as well... It all sounds very messy and complicated.

Then again, it would be more realistic (you can't control Earth and Mars on your own afterall) but I agree that it wouldn't necessarily be fun, and could easily snowball into something that's plain ridiculous to play.

-Delay communication (So an attack order to a far fleet will take time to get there) for this a command ship would be good, which represents you. Risking yourself makes you able to use better strategies in battle and quickly change them.

I'd like to toy with this idea: larger ships being "command ships" or having a "command tag" which means they are autonomous, so that the player would have the ability to throw fleet wherever they want so long as they built these expensive ships. Its realistic to believe a fighter wing wouldn't be autonomous, but a large battleship probably should. It would probably need an "officer" subsystem though, otherwise player would just spam these larger ships and ignore the smaller. If instead of ship size or class, it was all about whether or not your carried an officer on board, it would be simple resource management: hop in an officer on ship X and ship X is considered a capital ship.
Once again though, if the officer dies, the other ships would get stranded and seek home?

#6 Waterlimon   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2460

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 09:02 AM

You could also require satellites or a continuous "communication chain" to get accurate informqtion about seen enemy stuff (healths, position, velocity, type...)

If you dont, you would get the data later and it wouldnt be up to date and might not be as detailed.

o3o


#7 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7643

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 09:39 AM

I guess that would far more under the sensor/scanner role (which is a component which I've already established for the game concept).
The idea is that hailing them through a microphone won't give you these informations per se, but I see your point that reporting back to H.Q. findings would make sense. Essentially, sensors would be useless when out of comm range.
I thought of that initially, but it felt as though comm didn't have a use of its own, just another restriction.

#8 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3557

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 11:01 AM

If you really want to go that route, make ALL ships/planets AI controled regardless of range (it's a waste of dev resources to make a feature "controlling a planet/ship by the player" that is not used by the player (I think majority of planets/ships would be AI controlled at later stages of the game)). It would be more logical and consistent. You are an emperor, you sit on your imperial planet and issue decrees and appoint admirals and governors. Then these AI admirals lead fleets (according to the "mission" you gave them) and governors manage planets (taking bribes and being mostly incompetent which makes your primary task finding out which one cheats and should be executed). The player can not manage fleets and planets on his own, never (this way it let you not make this feature and let you implement these fleet planets stuff very minimalistiuc and cheap :D). You could then add range as an efficiency penalty (like corruption in Civilization 1-3).

My advice would be go all the way or not go at all. Going half way is almost always a bad idea.

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#9 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7643

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 12:53 PM

Ya, I used that in a previous project, and it felt a bit weird. It works for games like the Majesty series, but not so much for 4X space games imo.

#10 Tobl   Members   -  Reputation: 363

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 02:57 PM

Hello,

I've never played 4x before, so maybe I'm not the best judge, but I think the limited comm-speed could work very well. One or more point(s) of reference could be controlled directly by the player, whereas everything else would run on AI and take only orders from the player. The question would be, where the point(s) of reference should be located. I'd like to see you taking your officer-system a step further and have the player control just the one "in charge". It wouldn't be gameover if that person dies since the player would just gain control of the one that comes next in rank (maybe he can even make the character resign to change the person he's controlling. However, the information that a new guy is in charge would also be limited to the speed of light, making this distinctly different from controlling everyone at once). If you wanted to have another ship/planet as the point of reference, you'd have to move the character there.

The general idea here is that you change the player's role from "controlling the system" to "controlling the most powerful one in the system", which is a definitely weaker role and provides another kind of challenge to the player.

Also, if you decide the to implement the comm-speed in any somewhat important way, I would suggest having a (toggleable) representation of where the data is on the map (only the ones sent by him, he can't know there's data on the way in his direction). This will make planning easier for the player, and explains exactly why his commands are not instantaneous, thus greatly reducing the
"feels like its just there 'cause I wanted to do something about communication".

bw,
Tobl



PS: If the above was just the description of an existing game, please point me to it, I'd really like to try this out.

Edited by Tobl, 15 November 2012 - 03:00 PM.

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#11 wodinoneeye   Members   -  Reputation: 748

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 04:26 PM

If you are going the 'sometimes on AI' route, you may want to have 'policy' instructions for all your units so as to match the current phase or situation in the game (and then with specific overriding orders issued to individual units or groups of units for specific local situations).

That might help a bit with the AI having to make crude decisions.

-------------------------------

The limited comm speed mechanism adds additional complexity especially if situations rapidly develop and they often are 'over' before any orders can arrive. The info of the situation itself coming to the command center would be slowed down as well. In such a 4X game things would then have to happen at a slower place to give the player enough time to react or most things will simply be on automatic AI.

Another thing is that with a delay specific to the info just received and reacting to it, in the mean time it may have changed again possibly causing orders gettin there that no longer make sense or are detrimental in the new situation.

Edited by wodinoneeye, 15 November 2012 - 04:37 PM.

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#12 BRRGames   Members   -  Reputation: 235

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 06:03 PM

If you're looking for help, maybe take a look at how other 4x style games do this type of concept.

If it were me, I'd look at possibly how Hearts of Iron III does "command and control". Basically, the larger the group (or fleet in your case) the higher up the hierarchy command and control centre is needed. So in HoI3 for an Army Group you need a Field Marshal as the HQ, for a division you need a Colonial or Major, and for a Corp you need a Captain.

Basically, to keep it "familiar" to the players you need to see what existing protocols are established and either replicate that, or change it slightly for your game.

So for your game, I would keep the comms distance, but then to allow the player to bypass that require higher levels of commanding officer on the fleet to maintain command and control over the fleet. For instance you may have a Fleet Admiral allow you to retain comms with a fleet of say 5 capital ships and a range of escort ships. If the player only has a lesser commander available, then the fleet must be smaller to retain comms with.

Edited by BRRGames, 15 November 2012 - 06:04 PM.


#13 swiftcoder   Senior Moderators   -  Reputation: 9857

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 06:52 PM

The limited comm speed mechanism adds additional complexity especially if situations rapidly develop and they often are 'over' before any orders can arrive... in the mean time it may have changed again possibly causing orders gettin there that no longer make sense or are detrimental in the new situation.

So, I'm not sure if it adds to the "fun factor", but both of these would certainly add to the realism. Information is critical to strategic warfare, and information is almost never perfect.

i don't know if what you end up with is strictly-speaking a 4X game, but exploring the concept of strategy in the face of rapidly changing (and out-of-date) information is very interesting.

Tristam MacDonald - Software Engineer @Amazon - [swiftcoding]


#14 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7643

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 07:12 PM

I've never played 4x before, so maybe I'm not the best judge, but I think the limited comm-speed could work very well. One or more point(s) of reference could be controlled directly by the player, whereas everything else would run on AI and take only orders from the player. The question would be, where the point(s) of reference should be located. I'd like to see you taking your officer-system a step further and have the player control just the one "in charge". It wouldn't be gameover if that person dies since the player would just gain control of the one that comes next in rank (maybe he can even make the character resign to change the person he's controlling. However, the information that a new guy is in charge would also be limited to the speed of light, making this distinctly different from controlling everyone at once). If you wanted to have another ship/planet as the point of reference, you'd have to move the character there.


This would work in a game like super power 2, where its really a simulation game. That's definitely not the scope of this project, and AI is costly in terms of development. I'll have to agree with Acharis here and drop my original idea, but I won't deny this could be a concept worth toying with. To me however, it also feels too 'core': it makes drastic changes to how the game is played, thought and felt.
Originally, I was really looking for alternate implementation of the concept of communication :)

#15 Luckless   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1765

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 01:30 PM

Something that I have always kind of wanted to see was a game based around planning and a realistic command structure. You set goals, you design strategies, and you issue general orders with that regard. You become far more pulled back from the small details of the whole game, and then worry more about the larger picture.

Make managing the AI a large part of the game. Selecting traits of a commander become important. When given the option of choosing a fleet commander, do you want the older veteran with bonuses to fleet organization, defence, and such, but that is also very cautious on the attack and possibly more likely to fall back and lose ground in an effort to maintain his fleet strength? Or do you go with a younger, more daring commander who is a great tactician, having insanely high bonuses to his fleet's attack power, but is highly unlikely to pull his fleet back on his own, willing to risk high causalities for a victory in the field?


Building a 4X game around heavy reliance on AI control also brings in a very unique aspect that most games gloss over: Internal politics and conflict. All too often 4X games place you as an all powerful god with the full 110% support and backing of their civilization. What if internal politics and intrigue became one of the main factors of the game? Mismanagement of your AI commanders could see you losing a huge chunk of your empire after a highly charismatic and influential commander is allowed too much control over too distant a piece of your forces. (This also brings in another option for diplomacy: Fostering ties with rebel factions, supporting internal conflict, possibly destroying larger enemies by breaking them in pieces and letting them fight your war for you.)

So, in short, if you are going to roll with the idea that you do not retain 100% control over things at all times, then I feel you should embrace it and make it a major element of the game.
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#16 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7643

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 02:31 PM

Funny you should mention that.
About 10 years back, I had designed one such similar game, but in a fantasy setting. In the end, after hundreads of hours sinking in, I realized that this was simply not something I could undertake on my own. You could say this was the first of many reality checks that have led me to where I am now.
Now, would that make a great game? Absolutely! Can I pull it off alone? Definitely not...
The scope of my current project is for something I can design and program myself, and commission art for (on budget).
So in short, I fully agree, but I can't take on this kind of project alone.

#17 BRRGames   Members   -  Reputation: 235

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 03:41 PM

Something that I have always kind of wanted to see was a game based around planning and a realistic command structure. You set goals, you design strategies, and you issue general orders with that regard. You become far more pulled back from the small details of the whole game, and then worry more about the larger picture.

Make managing the AI a large part of the game. Selecting traits of a commander become important. When given the option of choosing a fleet commander, do you want the older veteran with bonuses to fleet organization, defence, and such, but that is also very cautious on the attack and possibly more likely to fall back and lose ground in an effort to maintain his fleet strength? Or do you go with a younger, more daring commander who is a great tactician, having insanely high bonuses to his fleet's attack power, but is highly unlikely to pull his fleet back on his own, willing to risk high causalities for a victory in the field?


Building a 4X game around heavy reliance on AI control also brings in a very unique aspect that most games gloss over: Internal politics and conflict. All too often 4X games place you as an all powerful god with the full 110% support and backing of their civilization. What if internal politics and intrigue became one of the main factors of the game? Mismanagement of your AI commanders could see you losing a huge chunk of your empire after a highly charismatic and influential commander is allowed too much control over too distant a piece of your forces. (This also brings in another option for diplomacy: Fostering ties with rebel factions, supporting internal conflict, possibly destroying larger enemies by breaking them in pieces and letting them fight your war for you.)

So, in short, if you are going to roll with the idea that you do not retain 100% control over things at all times, then I feel you should embrace it and make it a major element of the game.


I highly recommend taking a look at Hearts of Iron 3.

It's theme is world war 2, but here is what you can do as Supreme Commander:
- divide the war into a number of theatres
- allocate full command hierarchies to each front, including choosing between various leaders with different traits (eg: offensive, defensive, logistics, wolfpack, etc)
- each front will then request the number and structure of units they want, which you then produce and allocate

The beauty of this game's system is you can step in at ANY level of the hierarchy. For instance if playing Germany at the start of the war, you can divide Germany into three theatres (east/west/south), allocate leaders and units, then tell the west and south theatres to "defend their front" and then take a division level approach with the west theatre for the invasion of Poland. Or simply tell the west theatre to capture Poland and it will do it.

Note that the AI commanders are making the tactical decisions (unless you step in and do it yourself). Thus, you may order the front to capture Poland, but the AI manages it, even pulling back and retreating if necessary.

Edited by BRRGames, 17 November 2012 - 03:43 PM.


#18 Luckless   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1765

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 04:20 PM

Yes, Hearts of Iron 3 does do a decent job at this in general, but still had a few issues. I'm not a huge fan of how they handle detailed planning and such, and supporting forces roles felt a tad weak.

But honestly I think the biggest problem with that game stemmed from its weak logistical model more than anything. The planning ability felt soft at times, and disconnected from real military planning.

It is a good start, but in my view such a system needs to go over and above for what you can do when it comes to planning attacks and defence responses. For example, being able to define a break through during planning, which then becomes the primary focus of the attack and automatically receives additional air support. Planning to hold strategic elements in reserve until conditions are met, such as a heavy paratrooper deployment to create a larger salient. Being able to stay in control with your planning is important.

And an additional thing: If you allow high level planning and strategy, then ideally this should be done is such a way as to be flexible and be able to export it in a general format for reuse in later games.
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#19 BRRGames   Members   -  Reputation: 235

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Posted 17 November 2012 - 04:28 PM

Yes totally agree. But as a "first effort" into this area, I think HOI3 does in fact achieve a lot. There was a lot achieved, a lot learnt, and a lot to improve. But it was a pretty good start.

BTW, you mention logistics issues. I assume you know of the supply patch?

#20 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3557

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Posted 18 November 2012 - 06:37 AM

Something that I have always kind of wanted to see was a game based around planning and a realistic command structure. You set goals, you design strategies, and you issue general orders with that regard. You become far more pulled back from the small details of the whole game, and then worry more about the larger picture.

The interesting thing, I always thout the same way, yet when I played HoI3 i found it inferior to HoI2 for some reason... I felt I was "not needed" there and the AI could perfectly manage without me. I wonder if it was because the whole concept is flawed or if the HoI3 implementation of that concept was poor.

Mismanagement of your AI commanders could see you losing a huge chunk of your empire after a highly charismatic and influential commander is allowed too much control over too distant a piece of your forces. (This also brings in another option for diplomacy: Fostering ties with rebel factions, supporting internal conflict, possibly destroying larger enemies by breaking them in pieces and letting them fight your war for you.)

The old Electronic Arts' Imperium :) http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/details.php?id=3028 You had to get rid of too charismatic officials before the presidential elections :) Also, you always ended up appointing incompetent people as governors because you wanted loyalty (and the loyal ones were rarely competent).

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