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Victory conditions and game balance

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Eldee''s post from the defeat hangup inspired this post: I think that victory conditions should be unknown or variable. If the game designers/levelers can deduce what the weak points are, then the players can too. Let me make that more clear...the enemy''s victory conditions should be unclear. Sometimes the weaknesses are obvious, sometimes they are not. Sometimes strength''s are illusory. I think that in many ways, play balance is overrated in game design. In some ways I feel that balance should happen through the playing of the game, not predetermined at the beginning of the game. Look at the American Revolution for example. If we played this as a "balanced" game, America surely would have lost. The truth is that wars are fought when an imbalance exists, and its up to one side to redress that balance as quickly as possible. I also want to point out the difference between PLAY balance, and game balance. Game balance to me is the odds of winning the mission or game itself. Play balance is the unit to unit combat, or small scale balance. In many ways, its an issue of scale...but play balance is more than just taking same type units and comparing them to each other. For example, Southern units during the American Civil War tended to be better than their northern counterparts. They tended to have higher morale, be more brave, and were better shots. However, they didn''t have as good weaponry, and were constantly tired and worn out compared to Northern troops (who may have been more green, but also more fresh). If you went one on one, I''d give the odds to the Southern regiment. But without out factoring balance of units, how do you set about victory conditions? Another glaring error in RTS games is that the player has too much knowledge of what units can do, how well they do it, and what a country can produce. In other words, the strengths and weaknesses of a country are too easily deduced. This leads to the player being able to deduce the strategy of the enemy player and counter his moves. I posit the following steps: 1. Player can create his country''s units. Therefore player can not know the units strength''s and weaknesses initially. 2. Player can create his country''s resources, including "people resources". While manufacturing capabilities may be guessed at, and natural resources known for the most part..."people power" can not be guessed at. 3. Players assign their own victory conditions. For example, taking certain resources, having a "kill ratio". This forces each player into not knowing what the real objective is. All games today basically have two objectives...kill units and take resources. Perhaps the objectives are simply to procure a strategic spot to launch a raid. 4. Battles will be non-linear. Players can chose when and where they fight (unless of course forced into a fight by the enemy player). Think Shogun instead of Starcraft for an idea. So in essence you have to do the following things: 1. Make information much harder to glean. Obfuscate a side''s abilities, and it makes attacks and objectives less clear. 2. Make objectives less clear and more varied. 3. Make play balance unsure. If one side is convinced he has the superior units then he will proceed with an attack without worries. If the player understands that it is possible for the weaker force to destroy his own, he will be a bit more hesitant to use them. This goes hand in hand with the first issue above. Not knowing for sure is a good thing. Chance is good.

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in addition to being able to create your own troops, i think
the resources you have availible should affect the outcome of
their quality. for example, if you allocate x ammount of money to
spend on training, but twice as much toward uniforms and artillary,
you'll have a fine looking soldier who doesnt know how to aim.
vice versa, you could have a finely honed instrument of destruction
but no shoes and an uncalibrated rifle. in this scenario, the
troops you create will be different than your opponents, and
based on your decisions, your outcome would be affected.

-eldee
;another space monkey;
[ Forced Evolution Studios ]


::evolve::

Do NOT let Dr. Mario touch your genitals. He is not a real doctor!

[edited by - eldee on December 1, 2002 5:24:34 PM]

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You have to be careful with the ''create your own units'' idea. The more creation options you give the player, the harder it is to create play balanced units. If there is any way to create a superunit, people will find it very quickly. I''m not sure I agree that play balance is not important. However, there definitely does need to be a way of breaking the balance through clever play. That is basically what what strategy games are all about.

As for the idea of letting your players figure out their own objectives, I totally agree. By telling the player exactly what his objectives are, you are immediately reducing the amount of strategic thinking he has to do.

I''m basing my own victory conditions on controlling terrain. I haven''t worked out the details yet, but there needs to be some algorithm to determine how much control you have over the map, taking into account the idea that certain units can exert more control than others, certain fortified positions give you more control than others etc. The important thing is that wiping out the enemies units is only a means to this end, not an end in itself.

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quote:

Original post by Dauntless

I think that in many ways, play balance is overrated in game design. In some ways I feel that balance should happen through the playing of the game, not predetermined at the beginning of the game. Look at the American Revolution for example. If we played this as a "balanced" game, America surely would have lost. The truth is that wars are fought when an imbalance exists, and its up to one side to redress that balance as quickly as possible.



I was always convinced that most history events are pretty well balanced. Wars are only fought when both sides at least think that they are balanced, that they stand a chance to win (hence balance).

Still, the question remains what can be done to make previously unbalanced gameplay interesting (e.g. fighting losing battles, etc.).

I always liked how Panzer General handled this by adding time as a victory condition. Fast wins are hard to achieve even with superior forces, late wins can be as useless as defeats.
The card-game bridge has another smart idea. After the cards (randomly) are dealt, the game is normally un-balanced. The players proceed on negotiating victory conditions. More difficult victories score higher, so players are encouraged to make the best of each game if they want to have the highest total score.

Some versions of Risk include secret victory conditions. Each player knows only his victory condition.




[edited by - Diodor on December 2, 2002 11:08:09 AM]

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Sandman-
I was thinking of having something of a "points" system in creating your units, but that has its own pitfalls associated with it. It could at least make sure that you didn''t create an uber unit. But when I was thinking of designing your own units, there was a realistic build system going on. In other words, for vehicles, you chose a hull which determines the capacity of the vehicle. Weapons will be modifiable as well, in that you can determine their damage (up to a maximum limit) as well as things like ammo capacity, range, and accuracy. However, the lighter you make your gun, the more accurate you make it, the more expensive its going to be. There has to be a minima and maxima so that players can''t build the ubervehicle.

And more to the point, if they try to create for example a 100pt. Behemoth, they may find out that a clever player can easily take it down with 4 25point ones. Indeed, that''s sort of how WWII armor battles were fought...the German armor was generally far superior to Allied armor (the T34''s and JUStalin tanks being exceptions) but there were always more allied tanks.

Here again, that can add to the strategic flavor of the game. Do you want to have lots of expensive units or lots of throw away ones? It might be a wiser choice to use the expensive strategy especially if you don''t have the people power to create all the pilots.

So I think that having a rules based system that calculates not just the "base cost" of a unit, but its upkeep and maintenance as well will ensure that players can''t truly build the ubervehicle. And even if the ubervehicle slips through the rules cracks....whats good for the goose is good for the gander. There''s nothing preventing other players from creating the ubervehicle too.

My fear about a cost based system is that it makes people rules-lawyers rather than strategists. They focus too much on squeezing every last ounce of efficiency out of what they perceive as the ultimate design. The only way I can see around this problem is by making sure the rules actually favor combined arms warfare and making sure that the sum of a forces parts is greater than the whole. The player who does not creating a holistic armed force should be beaten time and again by a player who knows how to integrate his forces. In this sense, there is a balancing, but not of the units.....but of the rules themselves.

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Diodor-
I think the key to what you said was that one side may have believed they were equal. When you think about it, it''s not smart to fight an opponent who you think is equal in power to you. Because then there''s a 50% chance you''ll lose. So you can throw a sucker punch but you have to be careful because then you might lose allies.

The Japanese samurai even had a term for this; ai nuke....mutual destruction. Chances were pretty good that your opponent was as good as you were or better. Therefore there was a very good chance that either you killed your opponent, he killed you, or you both killed/maimed each other. That means that only about 33% of the time you lived through a duel. It bred a notion of acceptance of death in them.

As for victory conditions, time is definitely one of them. I liked how in the Close Combat series, once you won a battle, you had to chose how long you wanted to wait. If you waited longer, you got more reinforcements, but if the other side chose an earlier time, the earlier time is when the battle was fought. It forced the player to think about acceptable losses. Even if they won a part of the battle, did they have the forces remaining to make it through the campaign?

I think a big part of the problem is the notion of harvesting and resource building in game. If your industry is strong enough, you can just continually pump out the peons to replenish your stock. In real life, wars aren''t fought like that. Whole new units aren''t sent into battle normally, instead they replace those who are wounded or to strengthen a unit to prepare for an assault. Sometimes entire brand new units are shipped out as a unified unit, but this is more the exception than the norm. But this is another topic, and one I touched on in the "pizza rodering post" I made awhile back.

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Dauntless-

Once again I agree with most (if not all) of what you are saying. I think that the whole C&C style of each side having a preset tech tree it can build should be kept for C&C style games, but other, far grander games (such as the one you are desgning) need to be a lot more open ended.

I love the way in Earth 2150, and all the games made on that engine, you can design your own units. As you add more to it it gets slower or more expensive meaning that if you make the perfect weapon you will only be able to buy a couple of them and this will limit the number of strategies open to you. I believe this is the idea you were talking about with desigining your own units.

And leading on from this, I think the balancing that needs to be done is more on how each weapon or attachment to the unit will affect its cost and speed etc. Unfortunately if this fine tuning isn''t done perfectly over time people (especially when playing online) will figure out the "perfect unit" and everyone will use it. It is a sad fact that 90% of people out there will figure out that spending all of your money on Tank x will beat any other combination of units built with the same amount of money (eg the heavy tanks in Red Alert, if I had a dollar for every player that tank rushed me with ONLY heavy tanks...).

In my RTS you can create your own units and then based on what strategies you like to use lean towards lots of weaker units of a few stronger ones etc. I believe this opens up a lot more options for the player and would make for a far more enjoyable game. It also adds into the other player not knowing exactly what you are going to do based on what "side" you choose.

Anyways, just wanted to say that I agree with what you are saying but that we (as developers) need to be VERY careful with how we implement such systems as unfortunately people seem to have more fun winning with the same unit over and over than using lots of different strategies.

Doolwind

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
whats good for the goose is good for the gander. There's nothing preventing other players from creating the ubervehicle too.



True, but the game won't be so interesting if everyone plays has exactly the same unit. However, I doubt many players would be prepared to sacrifice victory just for the sake of being different.

Balancing build-your-own units is a bit of a nightmare. Even if the individual components look balanced, there is always the possibility that certain combinations can be abused.

In MOO2, you can design your own starships, choosing components and weapons from a big list. You're limited by the size of the hull you choose. The overall cost of the ship depends on what you equip it with. None of the weapons or devices are particularly overpowered. Or at least, individually they aren't.

Unfortunately, late in the game there is a particular combination of weapons and devices which is ridiculously powerful. A single ship with this setup can wipe out pretty much any fleet - and they are sufficiently cheap to build that you can field them en masse. I've wiped out ridiculously large fleets in a single turn with these things, despite being outnumbered about 6 to 1. In multiplayer games, if your opponent builds the same design, then it is a total stalemate. A far as I am aware, there is no design that can adequately combat it.

Of course, MOO2 is saved by the fact that this design is only really possible fairly late in the game - you need to have pretty much completed your tech tree in order to build it, and ideally gained a few levels of miniaturization. It is very easy to get squashed long before it is possible to build it, so it doesn't completely break the game. If you could build it right from the start, the game would be worthless.

[edited by - Sandman on December 3, 2002 8:11:18 AM]

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Sandman-
I was thinking of your territory control system and it''s interesting. I''ve been trying to think of ways to come up with victory conditions and objectives and it''s really a pain in the butt. There is a slight problem with the territory control system in that it''s warfare-style dependent however. In guerrila warfare, controlling territory is meaningless and I''m not just talking about Vietnam style guerrila warfare, but our own American revolution as an example. The British believed that by controlling the cities, they therefore controlled the resources and the power. Unfortunately for them, cities were not really what sustained the American troops. While supplies were a problem, living off the land was just a way of life.

Nevertheless, for most conventional styles of war the territory control is a good scale of victory. But the trick is also in holding on to that territory. The Japanese learned the cost of trying to hold on to so much territory even if it provided them with more natural resources. I think that the game designer has to look at the rationale and context of the war in his game background and decide what fits. In my own game, one side will be at a pretty fair disdavantage to the other. One on one, they are about even with maybe a slight edge going to the underdog one on one...but they are outnumbered almost 4-1. So I''ve had to come up with lots of ways that battles will be fought and to make them all logically consistent.

As for the building system, there''s lots of games that focus their gameplay almost on the ability to create units. Battletech and Car Wars come firmly to mind. For roleplaying games the Hero system is also noteworthy. And one thing all of these games have in common is their extreme longevity. Battletech has been around since 1984, Car Wars since 1979 (maybe 80), and the Champion system has been around since 1981. In many ways I''d include Star Fleet Battles in the list since there are rules to build your own ships (think Orions) and that''s been around since 1978. I think the most fun from these games come from building your units and actually testing them out. The only problem with all the above mentioned games is that they are duelling type games...one on one style combat (or maybe an all for one kind of melee).

With good rule design I think it should be fairly easy to come up with a build system that is not imbalancing to the game. The only real problem is making sure that there isn''t a loophole that was unforseen by the designers that players exploit (for example a combination of items that drastically alters the woth of the unit). If this gets discovered than the game can always be patched (just as the aforementioned rules went through various errata and revised editions).

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Doolwind-
Do you play any miniature games? If so, check out Jon Tuffley who makes an excellent series of sci-fi miniature games (and since he''s English he seems to be more popular in the UK and former commonwealth countries, so maybe you can find his stuff there in the land down under ) But one of the things that he mentioned in his game Stargrunt II that I agreed with completely. He mentioned that he didn''t create a points based system to create armies for his games because it led to the wrong kind of mentality in games.

I think he''s right when he says it fosters a thinking of; "I''m better or smarter than you are for beating you with an "equal" army". Balance for balance sake I think is a mistake. What matters more is getting something out of the game. I think players are focused so much on winning because it''s the most visible element of the game. But I guess I see games as being able to offer more than just "victory".

In my game, I REALLY want to stress the concept of sacrifice, valor and duty. One of the missions I was thinking of creating was essentially a rearguard retreat. In the mission the player is in charge of holding off the advancing forces. But the only way he can really be successful is if he sacrifices his units to blunt the advance...perhaps by blowing bridges in front of him. So while the player may "lose" through material calculations, in the end he''ll really win. But the important part is the player must chose this path on his own, without being railed into the choice. In psychology you learn that to motivate people there are external rewards and internal rewards. The best reward is the one where we give ourselves our own rewards. The problem with games is that they provide mostly an external motivation, "I beat the game/mission".

I just got done watching Kiss of the Dragon, and made a mental note of the part near the end when Jet Li''s character could have just gone home...case solved. But he made a promise to the women to get her daughter back, and she had to remind him that he didn''t fulfill his promise. When he was reminded, he remembered his duty and obligation even if it meant dying. Sort of like in Saving Private Ryan where James Ryan had to live with the sacrifices of all those men to save him. That''s what I want to get across in my game...a victory of choice....not a victory of balance or calculations.

It''s those sort of things that I want to introduce as "victory conditions". Choices...moral choices....choices of life and death. I''ve been thinking of the commanders being NPC''s, and I want the player to get attached to them. To make it all the more saddening if the player realizes he will have to sacrifice one of his commanders for the greater good.

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Dauntless-

I agree that too much balance will make for a dull game. I liked the way in Battlefield 1942 on some maps one team actually controls the map and the other must attack them, taking as much land as possible. This may seem unfair in theory, but it is exactly how all wars are fought. In how many real wars have two teams both started in a certain region together with exactly the same thing (ie a base and a couple of units).

I do believe however that balancing out what weapons you could assign to each unit is necessary. I think being able to make your own style of units and therefore entire style of army/navy etc as a whole would make for a great game. The fact that a certain unit seems better than all the others would then be based on how well the player uses this unit and to sway this other players would have to develop strategies to take such units out. I believe this would be true strategy!

Unfortunately I haven''t played any miniture games before in any depth. My friends back home all play Warhammer but that was only afer I moved for university. I am intrigued by such games and wish I had started playing them when I was younger, but I found RTS games to be more appealing so I steered clear of them (and their high cost).
Also, a few weeks ago I saw Axis and Allied, that game looked awesome, and if I had someone who would play against me I would definately buy it. That is the grand sort of strategy game that I am trying to capture in my latest RTS. I think that having the computer automate a lot of things would make a game like that very fullfilling.

Doolwind

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Doolwind-
You''re right in that war isn''t fair. I guess I''m surprised at how many people want everything to be fair. Life isn''t fair, and somehow games are supposed to be an escape into that fairyland where the weak always vanquish the oppressor .

To me, victory is what we make of it. Trying to get players to see that is the trick. I think that a good storyline is necesary for that. I realize I didn''t make it clear earlier, but I think there''s victory conditions for multiplayer style play, and there''s victory conditions for single player play. I''d like both, so that players who just want to feel like they''ve won, can do that, and players who want to play a dramatic storyline will experience a different sort of victory.

As for balancing the actual weapons, it depends on how you use them. German weapons in WWII were so much vastly superior to Allied weapons it wasn''t funny. Ironically, the standard weapon of the Germans wasn''t all that great (a bolt action mauser) but their other weapons were much better than ours in virtually every respect. It took great skill and courage to overwhelm German lines (that and lots of air superiority). You can also look at America''s conflict in Vietnam. here, we had a vastly stronger army facing a peasant army. And yet despite our superior firepower, a huge chunk of it was negated by the jungle. The balance of the individual units in my game will mostly come through a maximum limit. And the more powerful a weapon the more costly it will be...not just to produce but for upkeep as well. To me, there is a construction cost and an operating cost as well. A lot of the issues mentioned in the resource post can be related to supply lines and logistics. A game that only considers construction costs forgets what 80% of a military is based around.....logistics.

Some have criticized me by saying I go too much for realism. Which is a fair assessment I guess. To me realism shouldn''t be modeled for realism''s sake, but to capture the essence of what strategic thinking involves.

Axis and Allies is a really fun game. My aunt and uncle bought it for me when I was 10 (yup, its been around that long..heck, it''s probably older than some posters in here, hehe). If you go to a University, there''s gotta be a wargame club. See if there is and check out some of the other wargames. Half of my inspiration comes from boardgames and wargames of the past (Diplomacy, Panzer Leader, Blitzkrieg, Fire and Steel, Johnny Reb, Harpoon, Seekrieg, Battlefield Commander to name a few). I think too many PC game designers have neglected that vast treasure trove of game design ideas for too long (and not just strategy designers, but RPG designers not looking to paper and pen games for roleplaying ideas). I was never too fond of GW products because it stressed that "my 1000pt army is better than your 1000pt army" mentality. That''s the only thing I don''t like about my rules-based construction system. I''m afraid people will follow the letter of the law rather than its spirit.

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I''ve played both Battletech and Car Wars, and liked them both. I enjoyed designing my own units and putting them to the test. But applying this to RTS type games has to be approached carefully, I think. Putting too much emphasis on design, or implementing it badly, could really slow down the game. If every unit type has to be designed from the ground up, that''s a lot of time away from the action. Building things from a list of components may speed things up a lot, but then you lose some of what makes designing units fun.
So, I suggest a hybrid system. The really detailed design (like deciding on damage and range, etc, versus cost and weight, etc) should go into the components, as opposed to whole units. Then designing whole units is just a matter of quickly assembling those components. I mean, once you have a nice light machine gun designed, it shouldn''t be difficult to bolt it on to a jeep, slap on some armour plate, and hey presto, there''s a new scout unit. If you look at real military vehicles that were designed in times of war, you''ll see the same components turn up in all sorts of places, because they had to develop things quickly.
I would also look at incorporating some sort of development/prototyping cost for new components. Make it expensive to develop a new weapon, for example, but reduce the actual purchase price of the weapon as more and more are ordered.
You could take this idea further to design a new resource/economy model for RTSs. I''m just thinking out loud now, but rather than purchasing individual units, as most games do it now, allocate that money to your factories to continue producing them. And rather than have a single factory turning out every type of tank, have a weapons factory turning out one or two types of gun, which are then used by a tank factory to build a certain design of tank. Individual factories only have a certain manufacturing capacity, so the player must decide how that capacity is used. One factory could be entirely devoted to a single product, or it could share it''s capacity among several products. Re-tooling a factory for a particular product costs money, but once that''s done, mass producing and stockpiling that product can be done at much lower cost. The re-tooling cost would be dependant on the complexity of the product, so really hi-tech items would have very high setup costs, thereby limiting the player''s abilty to produce them in great numbers. Spy units would have a lot more to do under this system, as they would be needed to find out what each of the opponent''s factories are producing.
Correct me if I''m wrong, but isn''t this much more like real life? It would be nice to see it in a game.

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
Doolwind-
You''re right in that war isn''t fair. I guess I''m surprised at how many people want everything to be fair. Life isn''t fair, and somehow games are supposed to be an escape into that fairyland where the weak always vanquish the oppressor .



This is true. But while people might accept this in a single player environment, how do you convince them to accept it in a multiplayer environment? There will always be some players who are so focussed on victory that they will flatly refuse any disadvantage, and take every advantage they see. If the game cannot be balanced, these people (the my 1000pt army is better than your 1000 pt army crew) will have a field day with it, and most likely ruin it for the more mature players.

I think there is a lot of value in making sure you know when two forces are balanced. You don''t always have to play with balanced forces, but at least you can if you want to.

I''m trying to define my victory conditions with imbalance in mind. A massively outnumbered force should still be able to ''win'' even if it gets wiped out - just by keeping a larger, more powerful army occupied for as long as possible, and doing as much damage as you can. Guerilla warfare should still be a viable tactic.

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In regards to tank rushes and balancing - One of the factors should be terrain. Terrain could/should be an important factor

In a straight war-game(Steel Panthers:World at War) I played a strong force of tanks facing some infantry/special forces in a town. I charged into town with my tanks and was Wiped out in 3 turns at various choke-points as the infantry units were hidden just until you moved next to a building.
The next time I played the scenario it was natural that I co-ordinated my units.
Terrain is underutilized in RTS and many other games.

ZoomBoy
Developing a iso-tile 2D RPG with skills, weapons, and adventure. See my old Hex-Tile RPG GAME, character editor, diary, 3D Art resources at Check out my web-site

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Plasmadog-
Some good ideas on how to implement the construction process. I was sorta thinking along your lines, of have pre-fabbed components...say chassis, suspension, engine types and models, weapons types, etc, and then you plug those in. Not too unlike the unit creation system of Alpha Centauri.

You''re right though in that this is a lot of homework to do before even playing the game...but to me, that was half the fun of Car Wars and Battletech That''s why I''ll include two pregenerated sets of "armies" if you will, so that players can get an idea of what to create.

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Sandman-
Yeah, I know that most folks won''t like the thought of being handicapped. That''s why I want to rigidly define the victory conditions based on different things. For example, even if in one mission one player is vastly outnumbered, perhaps he''ll have better defenses or time on his side. For example, every few turns he''ll receive reinforcements while the opposing player will not. I also want victory conditions to be differnt between multi-player campaigns and the single player campaigns.

There''s lots of tweaking you can do so that even if more of a player''s units were killed, and more buildings captured or destroyed, it''s still possible that he "won". But without rigidly defined victory conditions and objectives, then to most players, "he who has killed the most is the winner". Realistically that''s not very true but without the rules explicitly defining what victory is, then that''s what they will think.

The alternative is you have evenly matched sides...the forces are equal, the resources are equal, and the terrain is equal, ergo...the only difference is the skill of the opponents. So he who kills the most IS the winner. But to me, that''s VERY boring and unimaginative game play.

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quote:
Original post by Plasmadog
So, I suggest a hybrid system. The really detailed design (like deciding on damage and range, etc, versus cost and weight, etc) should go into the components, as opposed to whole units. Then designing whole units is just a matter of quickly assembling those components.


PlasmaDog, are you suggesting that the player is somehow allowed to set the base damage, range etc of components like a machine gun??

This would seem to make testing an absolute nightmare, it is ok having one side stronger than another, but if there is still a particular unit that is more powerful than any other, people will use it constantly. This would again throw off the balance of the game overall, not just of who is stronger than who, but that someone could figure out the "perfect" unit and would constatnly use it. Allowing such low level changes would allow for an almost infinite array of choices which the developer could not test all of (allowing for the perfect unit).

Personally I would go with the idea of having a set of items/weapons that the player could attach to their vehicles. Earth 2150 did it this way, and I think Alpha Centauri was the same, where you can research set weapons and then attach them to hard points on different vehicles. You can then have more control over what the user can design while still giving them a lot of choice.

Is this what you were meaning?? Or did you mean that the player could actually set the range/power etc??

Doolwind

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quote:
Original post by Doolwind
PlasmaDog, are you suggesting that the player is somehow allowed to set the base damage, range etc of components like a machine gun??


Yes, but with all the usual tradeoffs. Taking a machine gun as an example, damage and range are determined mostly by the mass of the slug, the muzzle velocity, and the rate of fire. Try to increase any of those and you make the gun heavier, bigger or more complex, the ammunition becomes bulkier, etc. So you may well end up with a "super weapon" that is too heavy to mount on most platforms or can''t carry enough ammo to be useful. If you were to somehow design the manufacturing model to allow "corner cutting", you might end up with a badly made gun that requires a higher level of maintainance than others. However the system is designed, the key is to make sure that every design decision that the player must make has some sort of tradeoff.
With a little analysis it would not be too difficult to establish design rules whereby the optimum design is the one that balances all the factors fairly evenly. In fact the easiest way to do this would probably be to base it on a simple physics model, so you''d get an extra dose of realism while you''re at it. It is those design rules that would have to be tested extensivly, because as you say, testing every possible design would not be feasible. This is true of any game that allows extensivly customizable units. Look at the likes of the Mechwarrior games; it seems very unlikely to me that the developers playtested every possible loadout of every possible mech design, but it works very nicely.

Anyway, this is probably getting a bit off-topic now.

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Thanks for the explanation Plasmadog. It sounds like a good idea, I am just wondering if it is going a little to detailed. I guess if a nice GUI was made with sliders and the like it wouldn''t be too difficult for the player to make there own weapons in advance, save them and then use them in the game, I like it.....

But back on topic, something that has just come up is what a "perfect unit" is. I think the definition of the perfect unit needs to be decided with regard to game balance...

To me the perfect unit is not one that has the largest firepower or is the fastest but that is as a whole, perfect. For example if the player has too much flexibility they could create a light scout vehicle with a moderate gun. It would be quite useless by itself, but without balancing all of the aspects of allowing them to design their unit perhaps the cost is lower than it should be. So with 1000 credits you could either build 50 little scouts, or 5 tanks, and due to the firepower they would be far more powerful than the tanks. As soon as people found this out they would all start using this new little scout vehicle. Why spend 1000 credits on 5 tanks when you can build 50 scouts and you know you will beat the enemy.

This is why I am saying that while flexiblity in how the player can build their army is good, it needs to be limited so the game can still be balanced correctly.

Plasmadog made a good point about not testing EVERY combination of unit but having rules to govern how changing one stat will affect others. But looking at any game in the past it seems even when the designers set the EXACT specs of weapons that players can use (from the specs of guns in counterstrike to how powerful a heavy tank in red alert was) people always seem to find the "Perfect unit/weapon". And this goes a long way to ruining the experience when either everyone uses a certain gun in Counterstrike or everyone tank rushes with heavy tanks.

Imagine now if the user can shape these stats for themselves, I can just forsee there being an absolutely perfect weapon that everyone would use. I do agree that it would be possible to get the balance right, but going from previous expereince at least, it seems as though the odds are against us.

Doolwind

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quote:
To me the perfect unit is not one that has the largest firepower or is the fastest but that is as a whole, perfect. For example if the player has too much flexibility they could create a light scout vehicle with a moderate gun. It would be quite useless by itself, but without balancing all of the aspects of allowing them to design their unit perhaps the cost is lower than it should be. So with 1000 credits you could either build 50 little scouts, or 5 tanks, and due to the firepower they would be far more powerful than the tanks. As soon as people found this out they would all start using this new little scout vehicle. Why spend 1000 credits on 5 tanks when you can build 50 scouts and you know you will beat the enemy.


One way to alleviate that is to model weapon damage a bit more realistically. I''m no expert, but I believe that in real life no amount of light machine gun fire will do any significant damage to a heavily armoured tank. But this is not usually taken into consideration in games, where even small amounts of damage eventually add up to enough to destroy the unit. A more realistic damage model would force the player to choose the right weapon for the job.

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plasmadog-
it''s not getting off topic, since part of the post was about play and game balance. There was a terrific paper and pen RPG supplement made years ago by BTRC that was called 3G (and stood for guns, Guns GUNS! ) What was cool about this supplement was that it was a design book to create hand weapons for player characters from ANY genre or time period. You wanted to custom create a six-shooter? That was good. If you wanted to create a near future binary propellant caseless munition rifle, that was cool too.

The guy REALLY did his homework though. You based the gun essentially around the bullet. By factoring this, you determined virtually all of its ballistics characteristics plus it''s ability to penetrate and its kinetic damage. It''s really just physics....penetration is force/area, and kinetic energy was the joules of energy imparted on the bullet times the mass of the bullet itself. So basically there were trade offs. If you made your bullet very light, it could go extremely fast, but didn''t carry alot of kinetic potential (damage) but if it was narrow enough (small caliber) then it had very good penetrating power. Also, lighter bullets have problems with accuracy as they actually tend to tumble in mid-air, but heavier "stubbier" bullets tend to have better accuracy. See the tradeoffs?

But some will of course say, "just impart lots of enery to the bullet, and make all bullets very narrow". Well, there''s trade offs there too. The greater the energy imparted, the more rugged the firing chamber and barrel had to be, hence, the heavier the weapon. Ditto for making barrels very small for needlelike weapons in that its harder to impart more energy (which is why modern tank guns fire APFSDS which means armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot....the round is encased in a shell which leaves the barrel of the gun, imagine a needle in a spool, and the spool falls away leaving just the needle to fly to the target).

All in all, physics is the great equalizer, and is the reason why in RL you don''t see the uber gun to end uber guns. You have to make a trade off somewhere. Is the gun accurate? Does it have good armor penetration or good damage potential?

What was so amazing about this supplement was that everything was mathematically calculated to be as accurate as possible, and came very close to being able to model real world weapons in terms of damage, weight, cost and ballistics. I used to design guns with his system back when I was 14 just using a calculator (you had to do a lot of natural logs and logarithmic functions for some of the calculations).

I really don''t think there''s too much to worry about someone finding loopholes in the system. There will be several things that the player will have to factor in the cost of the unit: weight, volume, cost, and upkeep. When you chose a size of a vehicle, it has a fixed size. If you want megaton-blaster on the vehicle, well, guess what, you don''t have room anymore for an engine. The construction rules themselves will be self-balancing in that it just won''t be possible to build the ultimate vehicle.

Now the one thing that does worry me is the potential to create groups of units that combined are vastly more powerful than if you had put them in one unit. In a way, this is realistic, and is the reason that we have combined arms forces, and escort squadrons assigned to task forces in the Navy. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. However, I''m worried, that there might be some sort of freaky combination that basically exploits a loophole that won''t be found. Of course, patches can always be made to counter this, but ideally you wouldn''t have to in the first place.

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Doolwind-
If a game is realistically designed, there really is no such thing as the ultimate unit or group of units. Everything has a context for its use and nothing is the all in one tool that people may think it is. The reasons other games have the ultimate weapon or ultimate group is simply because they are not realistic or create units simply to be cool.

In real life, some units are more powerful than others, but other factors make them more rare. Either they are more costly to produce, or perhaps it is harder to train people to pilot them. And sometimes a new technology is created that vastly undermines the power of the battlefield king. Look at tanks when the first generation wire guided missles were used during one of the Arab-israeli wars (I forgot which one, but I think it was the 7 day war). The world sat up and noticed when Egyptian forces managed to destroy several Israeli tanks with the Soviet supplsied weapons, and had the Egyptians had more of them, the war might have turned out differently.

Ditto for the Battleship during WWII. It became very obvious that in many ways, the battleship became obsolete with the introduction of the aircraft carrier. Gatling guns and especially the Maxim made line-style formations a thing of history.

The trouble is that games really only have one factor in making units...a cost to build. But do the designers really stop and think...is such a unit really possible? They think that the mere cost alone will make the unit a speciality unit in support of more common troops. Unfortunately, what happens is that players once they have reached that tech tree build two or three units exclusively...units that cover each others weaknesses.

How do you prevent this from happening? I think you can do it by assigning a maintenance cost as well as a build cost. Secondly, you design units in a way that makes them realistically based on real world factors such as weight and volume. Thirdly, all units inherently have a weakness that can be exploited. Infantry are slow and vulnerable, but can pack a nasty punch and though slow can cross any terrain imagineable. Tanks are relatively fast, relatively armored, but need to have infantry support and are really best used to quickly break through a position. Artillery is powerful, but can only be used in short bursts and has a delay between the call and arrival. See what I mean? Also, have you ever seen an RTS game that has ammunition or fuel requirements? Last time I checked, infantry got fatigued and vehicles ran out or ammo or fuel But RTS games don''t factor them in because "its too realistic". I say they just don''t want the added depth of gameplay needed.

What it boils down to is that just like in the gun design problem in the post I made to plasmadog, every unit has tradeoffs inherent in the design itself. Vehicles need infantry support. Infantry needs to have special teams to fight back against vehicles. Aircraft are extremely hard to hit...but dead if they are. ARtillery can only fire in short bursts, and with a delay in arrival.

And perhaps more importantly it''s how you use units that''s more important than the units themselves. Put infantry in cities or woods and they are pretty much invulnerable to vehicles. Dedicate a battery of artillery for counter battery fire instead of harrasment and interdiction or fire for effect duty. Send light armored vehicles in a thin skirmish line then pop-smoke and aerosols to blind laser rangefinders to bring up your heavy tanks. Factoring in things like discipline under fire,

One of these days, I''m going to post up my little combat story, and maybe you''ll get a feel for how I want my game to play.

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Original post by Dauntless
All in all, physics is the great equalizer, and is the reason why in RL you don''t see the uber gun to end uber guns. You have to make a trade off somewhere. Is the gun accurate? Does it have good armor penetration or good damage potential?

Exactly. Base the rules on physics and everything else falls into place (physics is already well and truly tested). Of course you would have to create similar systems to govern other components like missles, engines, armor, etc, but this is just a matter of research.
quote:
Now the one thing that does worry me is the potential to create groups of units that combined are vastly more powerful than if you had put them in one unit. In a way, this is realistic, and is the reason that we have combined arms forces, and escort squadrons assigned to task forces in the Navy. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. However, I''m worried, that there might be some sort of freaky combination that basically exploits a loophole that won''t be found. Of course, patches can always be made to counter this, but ideally you wouldn''t have to in the first place.

I wouldn''t worry about that. In a system honestly based on physics, I doubt any such loophole could exist. Our physicists certainly haven''t found any

I''ve been thinking a bit more about the suggestion I made earlier, regarding the build cost of items reducing as more and more are purchased. A variation on this would be to make often used designs get slightly better over time, to reflect improvements based on experience in the field. This would mean that, although the players have the ability to design their own units, there is also a benefit to sticking with tried and true designs. Not only does this present the player with more strategic planning decisions (invest in new designs or wait for existing designs to improve through use), but it also means that players who are not interested in the design side will not be overly disadvantaged by sticking to the stock standard units.

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plasmadog-
I agree totally about the stock unit thing. I hate games where you have a million different types of units just for the sake of variety. In reality, there is an advantage to have maybe 3-4 kinds of unit types per unit classification. It''s why the American military really only has one major type of main battle tank (the M1A3, supplemented by some reserve units still using M60A3''s) and one type of "battle taxi" the M3 (yeah, yeah, I know, there are M2''s and even still some M113''s out there, not to mention LAV25''s, LAV75''s, Cadilliac-Gage Stingray''s and a few other exotics out there, but they account for a relatively small portion ).

The reason there are only a few varieties of units is to make logistics easier, refine production, and work out any design kinks. If you keep designing new things over and over, you never really work out the bugs, and you also make it a nightmare for technicians, mechanics and the quartermaster.

I''m still not exactly sure how to do this in game terms. I was thinking of making maintenance costs higher the more differing kinds of units you create.

But I still like the idea of having "modules" that you plug into the unit design. The nice thing is that you can design your own modules. So for example, you can have hull, weapons, sensor systems, crew, engine, locomotion type, and defense modules. You start with the hull module which determines the volume and mass capacity of the vehicle. From here, the other modules subtract from the mass and volume capacity and add (or if a flaw, subtract) to the base cost of the unit. Each module will also have a maintenance cost.

In programming terms, I think it would be best to implement this with a composition structure ("has-a" relationship). The unit class has a hull module, a weapons module, a defense module, etc etc. I''ve been trying to figure that part out for a while now, but my newbieness to programming has been a stumbling block.

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