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Development Journal of Merc Tactics

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Dynamic Difficulty

Typically, at the start of a game you are presented with the game difficulty menu, as above. Players should choose the level according to their experience. The problem with this is that the player really has no idea how easy the "Novice" level really is. I know some games where the easy level is actually quite challenging (it's easy for the game developers, but only because they understand how the AI works). For this reason, a lot of players always choose the easiest level, just to be on the safe side, but then they run the risk of a boring game, because it's not challenging enough. I decided to solve this problem by having no menu at all. Instead, the game automatically adjusts difficulty based on certain statistics. I found out afterwards, that in fact a lot of games do this already (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_game_difficulty_balancing). However, I treat the combat difficulty separate to resource management difficulty.
I rate the players proficiency in battle according to a few statistics. I consider a player to be inexperienced if their soldiers are not taking cover and if they aren't getting interrupts. Difficulty mainly affects how the AI behaves. For a player with a high difficulty level more enemy combatants will be smarter - they will take better cover, be more alert and try to flank more often. In Merc Tactics the difficulty level (score) is displayed when the inventory screen is open. This is a number between 0 and 10. I still haven't implemented the resource management difficulty yet. This parameter is based on how well the player spends his money. I.e. a player that wastes money repairing weak weapons gets a lower rating. The Dynamic Difficulty feature is implemented in the latest 0.6 Demo.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

MercTactics Demo 0.6 released!

Today we are releasing the 3rd game demo. You can download the Windows installer here: http://www.astronautz.com/MercTactics/MercTacticsSetup0.6.exe   MercTactics is a squad-based tactical strategy, similar to games such as Jagged Alliance, or XCOM. The main reason for releasing this demo is to get feedback from players. Specifically, I would like to know how you found the game play and if it was too hard, or too easy and any ideas to improve the game. The game comes with built-in help. As you play the first scene, pop-up windows will explain how everything works. Also there is a feedback form, which you can use to send feedback to our servers. To start the game just select "New Campaign" from the main menu. There's also a "Quick battle" feature, that you can select to just play one battle. This is a beta, although are a lot of minor bugs, it should run fine on any machine. You will notice some minor graphic and UI flaws and some features that are quite not finished yet, but don't worry about those. I hope you like the game and have fun playing. Ed    

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

MercTactics Poster graphic

I just finished the new poster artwork for MercTactics. I hope you like it. Watch this space, there are a lot of new improvements and I will be posting the new game trailer and beta demo soon!

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

Improving Interrupts

Most squad based games have an interrupt feature that works as follows: During your turn you can arrange it that some of your soldiers don't use up all their action points - leaving enough APs for a "reflex shot" and  facing them in the direction of the expected enemy assault. Then during the enemy's turn, if an enemy soldier moves within the range of you soldier it may, or may not trigger an "interrupt". If the interrupt triggers, then the enemy's turn is interrupted and it becomes your turn temporally, you can shoot at the enemy, or do any other action until your APs run out, then the enemy's turn continues. The problem with this is that the interrupt only triggers, based on a random throw of the die (that is for the case of the original X-Com game and Jagged Alliance 2). When you position your soldier for the interrupt, you are putting him in a vulnerable position and if the interrupt doesn't happen (because the random die throw), then your soldier is almost certainly going to get pummelled. For that reason when I was playing X-Com, I almost never tried to get interrupts, because I didn't like the idea of my soldier randomly getting shot to pieces based on a die throw that was completely unpredictable. So, for Merc Tactics I have being working on ways of "solving" this problem. This is how it works: There is no die throw, instead there is a "counter" which starts at number depending on the soldiers interrupt skill. During the enemies turn each time an enemy moves within the soldiers arc of fire the counter goes down by one. When the counter reaches "0" the interrupt is triggered. In the screen shot below, for example, you see an arc of fire drawn on the ground with the number "3". 3 is the number of times that the enemy can move within that arc before the interrupt is triggered. Now the interrupt is triggered: Once the soldier shoots or moves the counter goes back to the original setting, otherwise it holds it's value. So, if the counter didn't hit zero in the first turn, you could keep the soldier where he is and try to get the interrupt in the second turn. This scheme removes the random element and provides feedback to the player, so they always know the likelihood of an interrupt occurring.  

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

Video headaches

I had really an awful time trying to put together a decent trailer video for the demo that I just released. Apart from all the trouble I had trying to figure out how to use various video editing tools, the quality of the uploaded video on youtube seemed very bad compared to what it should be, so I did some screen captures and compared the result side by side. What I found is that youtube used SD (i.e. low quality) by default, which is very bad. You have to specifically select HD from the embedded youtube video to play HD quality, which few people actually do. But even youtube HD is pretty poor quality. You notice in the image above the colours look washed out. The soldier in the middle looks like he is in black and white. Vimeo has better quality as you can see, unfortunatly vimeo can't be played in full screen mode in these blogs. Still, I'll take it. After spending so much work getting the graphics just right, the last thing I want is youtube crappifying my game trailer.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

Merc Tactics Beta 0.5

Hello All, Today I have prepared a special version of Merc Tactics for game play testing. You can download the installation program here: http://astronautz.com/MercTactics/MercTacticsSetup0.5.exe Recapping, Merc tactics is a turn-based squad tactical combat game, similar to games such as Jagged Alliance, Silent Storm and X-Com. Below is a sample video of the game: https://vimeo.com/205212576 I am inviting people on GameDev to try out the game and give me your feedback. Specifically, I'd like to know if you found the game too hard to play, too easy, or too tedious, or if you have any ideas of things that are missing to improve the game play. You can have some fun playing the game and also participate in the development process! The game has two modes: Quick Battle and Campaign. For this test I am only testing Quick Battle. When you launch the game, you will see the main menu, as shown below: Choose the desired battle and select "Launch" to start the battle. You probably want to select one of the easier ones, until you get the hang of it. Also, selecting "Extra Enemy" will mean there is a three way battle with two enemy militia groups, all fighting each other. Selecting "Allies" will include a friendly militia fighting on your side. Online help is available here: http://astronautz.com/MercTactics/help.html. Requirments: This game requires OpenGL version 2.1 or higher, so it should work on most PCs. Notes:

This game is more focused on making use of available cover, and close-in fighting, rather than long range sniping. Each scene requires a different approach, depending on how it's laid out, and as all scenes are generated procedurally, that means there is a huge variety of battles.
Although this game is inspired by Jagged Alliance it, it does not try to copy it. Notably, I designed the game rules and mechanics with simplicity in mind, so as to be easy to play on tablets and smart phones. My design criterion was to only include features which made the game genuinely fun to play and eliminate features that just add complexity for complexity's sake. That being said, there still is a lot of features that are missing, because I simply did not have the resources to include them in "version 1.0". You can look at "version 1.0" as just the beginning. Version 2 and 3 will add the missing features and greatly expand on this game.
This is a beta version, and you may notice some rough edges. Particularly, the user interface and some of the graphics have yet to be finished. Do not worry about these things, because right now I am only testing the game play.
In this demo you can in fact play Campaign mode, if you want to. Although it's not finished yet and there is no help documentation for that. :o

Update: I had to change the video, because of youtube quality problems.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

Using perlin noise to generate scenery

All scene's in MercTactics are generated randomly.
Previously, I've just "sprinkled" stuff into a scene randomly, but this doesn't look very good. Stuff tends to be clumped together in the natural world.
So, I used a Perlin noise map to control the placement of plants and rocks.
In fact, for the rocks I use two perlin maps, one to control size and one to control colour, because rocks of the same colour tend to be clumped together as well.
I use a less detailed perlin map for tone, so the colour changes more gradually.
Finally, I use a third Perlin map to control the placement of grass, weed and trees.
This is how the complete scene turned out:
 

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

Auto-Generated Ground Texture

During the last few weeks I was working on the terrain for my game. All scenes in the game are generated randomly, so the ground texture needs to be randomly generated as well.
I do this by building up several layers. First, an opaque tilable texture is repeated to establish the base. Then on top of that transparent decals are laid down with random location, rotation, scale etc. Then, track marks, road tiles, pavement / cobblestone and grass decals. Below you can see the results.
I think it turned out pretty well.
Unfortunately, the scene generator needs more work - some objects are placed a bit oddly.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

Some new artwork

I had to put the game on hold for the last 6 months, because I've been too busy working, but now I'm back on the game full time.
Last week I started on the 2D artwork. These are some dialogs for the game's story line.


Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

New beta version

I released a new version of Merc Tactics.
It can be found here: http://astronautz.com/MercTactics/MercTacticsSetup.exe
Instructions on how to play here: http://astronautz.com/MercTactics/help.html
The game should now work on practically any GPU. I relaxed the OpenGL requirement to 2.1 and tested that it works even on an ancient GeForce 7600 GS.
Also, there are a lot of bux fixes, tweeks, improvements and some new features.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

Merc Tactics: Early beta demo

As promised in my last post, I am releasing an early beta version of Merc Tactics.
Merc tactics is a squad based game similiar to Jagged Alliance. It is set in a lawless country plagued by tribal warfare. You control a ragtag band of mercenaries, which strive to rid the country of the gangs and restore order.

You can download the game here: http://astronautz.com/MercTactics/MercTacticsSetup.exe (Windows version)
Instructions on how to play here: http://astronautz.com/MercTactics/help.html
A short video of the game play is here:

In my opinion this game *rocks*, however I'd like to see what other people think of it. I'm especially interested in feedback about the game play - Is it too hard? Is it boring? Anything you think is missing and ideas how to improve it are most welcome.
Bear in mind, though this is a very early beta - many features haven't been finished yet and there is a lot of placeholder artwork .
Although it is inspired by Jagged Alliance, it differs radically in many ways. The UI and game play is much more simplified, to make it playable on a tablet (which is the target device).
Also, battles are not limited to two parties. You can enter a battle that is already on-going and new parties can join in on a battle at any moment.
Everything in the game is randomised. The strategic map is randomly generated by an algorithm, as are all battlefield scenes. So, no two battles will be the same and no two games will be the same.

Update 26/9/2015:
I uploaded a new bug fixed version of the demo. Download from the same link above.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

 

Merc Tactics: video preview

I am starting this blog by posting a video preview of my new game, Merc Tactics. I hope you like it:
[media] [/media]
Merc Tactics is a squad-based game, inspired by the likes of Jagged Alliance and Silent Storm.
The game is set in a rural a district plagued by tribal war. You control a ragtag band of mercenaries, which strive to rid the country of the gangs and restore order.
I want to get feedback on the game play and to that end I am working on a PC demo.
So, watch this space - as soon as the demo is finished I will publish it here.

Ed Welch

Ed Welch

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