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Zanthos

[RTS] Game duration and repetition

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Zanthos    300
I'll put a little bit of background to this(which people can probably relate to)... Over the summer I went to several small LAN parties of 6 or so people, and our game of choice for Real Time Strategy was the old TA, it's an old favourite, and we played about 7 or so games back-to-back, and were getting pretty tired of doing the same repetitive thing over and over again, with each game lasting about 3 hours, and the first 45mins comprising of setting up resources and whatnot. And with the final game coming to a close we shut down our machines, got stoned, and started rambling about game duration. We realised that for an RTS, the game seldom lasts for more than 3 and a half hours TOPS, by that time if the map hasn't been stripped of resources, or people have billions of farms in AOE trading food for other resources, then the AI has given up, and the game has become stagnant. I decided to have a go at trying to figure out what makes the game 'dry-up', and how to combat these symptoms effectively to increase gametime in multiplayer RTS games. The first one which I think is pretty obvious is the limited number of resources available to a player, I dislike finite stockpiles of resources in a game, it make's it seem like a nasty kludge to stop the game becoming bogged down with large numbers of units and ultimately collapsing the game's economic structure down to 'building-queue central' and 'click-o-rama'. I'm not trying to further develop the solutions as to resolve this as yet, but expand the scenario of gameplay rot. In the situation that the player's are against AI in any team configuration, the AI always 'gives up', at least in the games that I've played. C&C:RedAlert was the worst for this, you almost had to help the AI along later on in the game in any way possible, ie, imposing stupid rules like 'no certain types of weaponry' or '2 ore refinerys only'. This situation almost probably comes about due to case 1, the resources. To ensure that games last longer people begin to impose soft rules during the game, ie, ones that are not enforced by the server, such as, no attacking until 10mins have passed, some may argue this as a strategy, but IMO rushing with an MCV full of engineers is not really strategic, cunning.. maybe. This works as a sort of balance for people slightly slower with the controls, and also to ensure the game lasts longer. What would it take for a game to last in excess of 8 or so hours? - A save option - Larger maps (discuss? Possibly over-expansion on a tile based RTS) - Slower building times (boring? Quick kludge?) - Infinite resources (requires 'throttling' and careful balancing in beta testing, ability to ensure that resource trading and production is stable, or at least cannot spiral out of control. Warehouses are a real-world solution which can be incorporated. Resource shipment to factory?) - Careful introduction/limitation/removal of 'super units' (The cliche here is that the first few tech levels incorporate many units of varying strengths and weaknesses, until tech level x is reached, where the players can purchase uber weaponry which takes ages to build, slow as hell, but can smack all units into oblivion. examples: Krogoth in TA, Trebuchet in AOE2. It can be argued that these units are used to provide ways to break a stalemate, in the case of impenetrable base/town/city defenses) - Not just battling (The name implys Strategy, but not necessarily restricted to battles. Incentives to develop advanced technology for weapons and in refining of more advanced resources, this is without a doubt insanely boring for some hardcore gamers, but some people love micromanagement and economy). These are just a few ideas I'm throwing into the ball pool, hopefully people will be able to add more, and criticize on the points that I've made.

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Numsgil    501
Quote:

What would it take for a game to last in excess of 8 or so hours? - A save option
- Larger maps (discuss? Possibly over-expansion on a tile based RTS)
- Slower building times (boring? Quick kludge?)
- Infinite resources (requires 'throttling' and careful balancing in beta testing, ability to ensure that resource trading and production is stable, or at least cannot spiral out of control. Warehouses are a real-world solution which can be incorporated. Resource shipment to factory?)
- Careful introduction/limitation/removal of 'super units' (The cliche here is that the first few tech levels incorporate many units of varying strengths and weaknesses, until tech level x is reached, where the players can purchase uber weaponry which takes ages to build, slow as hell, but can smack all units into oblivion. examples: Krogoth in TA, Trebuchet in AOE2. It can be argued that these units are used to provide ways to break a stalemate, in the case of impenetrable base/town/city defenses)
- Not just battling (The name implys Strategy, but not necessarily restricted to battles. Incentives to develop advanced technology for weapons and in refining of more advanced resources, this is without a doubt insanely boring for some hardcore gamers, but some people love micromanagement and economy).


I'll take a stab at the possibilities you present here, and then put in my own ideas.

Larger Maps - For me, the only way to play Civ3 is with the huge map setting and every possible AI player and the smallest land mass possible. It takes me probably 10 hours to insure my superiority over the rest of the world (and I play on teh 2nd hardest setting min.) Compare this with the maybe 2 hours on a smaller map, and we come to understand that having larger maps certainly increases gameplay time.

Obviously Civ3 is NOT a RTS, but the principle should hold for any empire management sim.

Slower Building Times - This is probably the worst way to lengthen the game, because you're not lengthening the game, but slowing the pace. It may take you 10 hours to do what it used to take 3 to do, but you're not doing anything more. In the end you have played the exact same amount of game.

Infinite Resources - I used to play BGH on starcraft battlenet back in the day. If anything, infinite resources sped up the game! It became clear very early on who could expand faster. And even if you're throttling it, like I say above, you'll have played the same amount of game in the end. Having finite resources makes the players behave more cautiously, which lengthens the game. Having infinite resources make players more reckless, which speeds up gameplay. I'm not saying that the final solution won't have infinite resources, but by themselves they only lengthen games between COMPLETELY-EVENLY matched enemies in skill.

Super Units - These won't necessarily change the length of a game. Whoever is better skilled will use them to their full effectiveness, but if they're skilled anyway, they could use anything to win. They're useful for breaking stalemates, which is important, but don't really help lengthen the game, and removing them just means that you can have stalemate games develop. which may take 10 hours to finish but aren't really very fun, since their isn't much action.

Other tha battling gameplay - Depends on the taste of your game. Adding this will definately lengthen the game without changing pacing too much, but it may take away from the RTS action element of the game.

Okay, no for my own possible fixes:

The problem as I see it is that after 3 hours, even a slight discrepancy in skill levels will have reached their extremes. So, to lengthen the game, you have to either:

Add an automatic handicap to the game, so that if a player is losing, their units become stronger. By the end of the game, their lone worker can take out 5 or 6 uber soldiers. I'm sure this element has been deployed in games before, and since I haven't seen much of it, I'm assumming it's an ultimately broken technique. However effective it is, it will help lengthen any game without changing the pacing.

Increase the HP of buildings. Alot. A whole lot. That's sure to lengthen any game. Give em infinite resources if you want, it'll take 3 hours to build an army that can actually take down enemy buildings anyway. And give the workers (the things gathering resources) alot of HP as long as they remain near your own buildings. (So you can't use em offensively.) Your combat units tho behave normally, so you'll have many more battles in neutral ground.

Those are the two ideas I have. I'm sure there are more. Just make sure you are increasing the amount of game played, and not just snapping a 3 hour game to a 10 hour clock.

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fractoid    703
I definitely like the idea of better/different uberweapons. One of my major gripes about most of the RTS games I've played is the lack of *scale* - for example, in Starcraft a battlecruiser costs 10x as much as a marine, has 10x the hitpoints, more armour... but only 5x the firepower, at less than half the rate of fire, and it doesn't *look* that huge on screen. I want a game where you can have (say) four different zoom levels, each one twice the magnification of the one before. Zoom in, and all your flying uberweapons disappear above you and have to fend for themselves, or zoom out but lose the ability to give your ground troops any but the most high-level orders ('everyone in this area attack in this direction' type things).

In terms of making the game last longer, I'd say you need:
* Larger maps
* More complex tech tree, and/or simply a more interdependant tech tree to increase the time required to climb it
* Shift balance of strength from units to structures. It frustrates me that, for instance, a barracks, your infinite source of little soldier guys, can't itself shoot back when attacked. Of course, you then have to come up with some creative solution to prevent offensive towering or its equivalent. How about having your harvester units deliver the required resources directly to the building being constructed, rather than back to your town hall and then having them magically transported?

As another random gripe, I think the player shouldn't be able to see what a unit sees unless it's in sight of other units which are, eventually, in sight of the town hall. One thing that always frustrates me in multiplayer games is that you can't spot a scout and 'kill it before it sets off the alarm'.

/ramble

(trivia: did you know that the best human counter for carriers is stimmed marines? carriers can't focus well on multiple small targets, and the marines destroy the interceptors before they return to the carriers.)

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jbadams    25713
Quote:

What would it take for a game to last in excess of 8 or so hours?


I've played a TS game that lasted 7-1/2 hours, cooperatively with another human player, against one AI player set to the lowest difficulty setting. The game was challenging for the entire duration except for perhaps the final 15 minutes or so, which degraded to cleanup, and wasn't overly repetative in actions taken, although there was certainly the constant building of new units, and expansion of the base. The key here, is that we'd rather heavily modified the game. Perhaps a look at what we'd changed could provide some clues as to what makes a game last longer:

Firstly, we'd ripped all units out of the game except for basic infantry, and then began adding in new types. However, we kept the units fairly low powered, specialised thier potential uses highly, and had only a few types per team - each team had different units, but to give a brief overview:
-Harvester: Slow, heavily armoured, collects resources. Unchanged from original game state. Quite expensive, and the only vehicle in the game large capable of running over infantry.
-General infantry: Cheap, quickly produced, effective against most things, but fairly easy to kill with any unit. Can be run over by harvesters.
-Rocket soldiers: Marginally more expensive, less effective against infantry, but good against vehicles/buildings. Slightly slower than GI. Can only be run over when forced to a prone position by heavy fire.
-Disc thrower: Basically the same as rocket soldiers, except slightly more powerful weapon, faster, can be run over, suffers from slight innacuracy.
-Bionic Soldier: Equipped with laser - kills any infantry in one hit, and is also good against vehicles/buildings. Moves slowly (slowest in game, notably worse than harvester), costs quite a lot, and takes longer to build than most things. Can't be run over.
-Suicide troop: average speed infantry, with no attack other than powerful suicide bomb. Reasonably expensive.
-Medic: Slow, weak, unarmed infantry unit. Reasonably expensive. Can heal other infantry.
-Light attack vehicle: Pretty expensive, fastest unit on the map. Can't crush infantry. Weapon effective against infantry, and buildings, less effective against thier equivalent. (one side has a slightly slower, stronger one, the other faster, weaker).
-Transport truck: second fastest unit. Can carry 5 infantry. Weaponless, and not overly strong. Can't crush infantry.

And that's it. Limits the options available somewhat, compared to the full game, and you'll never have a force quite as powerful as in the full game. It becomes quite important to have the right units in the right place at the right time.

We also ripped out many of the buildings, only leaving:
-Construction Yard: Core of the base, allows construction of other buildings. Provides +10 power (electricity for other structures). Can be redeployed into MCV for movement.
-Power plant: provides +10 power, can be upgraded with modules that provide an additonal +5 power each.
-Refinery: Comes with a free harvester, refined resources collected by harvester to provide cash. Drains 8 power.
-Barracks: Train all infantry. Drains 5 power.
-War Factory: Build vehicles (light attack, transport, harvester, MCV). Drains 10 power.
-Sandbags: Wall that stops infantry and light vehicles. Transport trucks, MCV's and harvesters however, can drive over, destroying the sandbags. Fairly cheap, and unpowered.
-Laser fence: Wall the stops any enemy until shut down. Drains 8 power per fence post.
-Gate: Automatically lets friendly units through. For use in walls you may want to pass through. Requires base to be powered, takes 5 power.
-Radar: Gives you the mini map with enemy positions indicated (for territory that's in site (fog of war is turned on)). Takes 12 power. This is practically REQUIRED if you want to succeed.
-Gun turret: Excellent against infantry, decent against all vehicles. Provibitive cost. Requires 15 power per turret.

Also quite limited compared to the available normally. Due to cost/power requirements, turrets are somewhat of a luxury, and must be placed carefully. (Unit and Building modifications carried out in rules.ini file for anyone interested).

We also modified the AI behavior. AI now acts in the following ways:
-Maintains a force of <10 GI, <5 Rocket, < 2 Light Attack in base.
-Sends a near constant stream of single GIs (~30s between each one) against random targets as long as production allows it.
-Sends mixed groups containing 15GI, 5 Rocket, 2 Light Attack, 1 Medic, ~5 mins between each attack.
-Sends groups of 4 Light attack against infantry away from target base, ~5 mins between each attack, when appropriate.
-Sends groups of 2 Rocket after target harvester, ~6 mins beween each attack.
-Sends groups of 40GI (10 of which in 2 transports), 20Rocket (10 of which in 2 transports), 5 Light Attack, 2 Medics, 3 laser (medics&laser in 1 transport), ~15-40 mins between attacks.
-Sends 1 laser after target harvester, ~5-10 mins between each attack.
-Sends 1 harvester to crush sandbags & infantry (priority sandbags), ~10-50 mins between attacks.
-Sends groups of 5 suicide troops, ~4-20 minutes between attacks.
-Sends groups of 4 disc-throwes, ~8 minutes between attacks.
-Sends single light attack against random target, ~4 minutes between attacks as long as production supports it.
-Sends 2 medics to find any damaged units, ~8 minutes. (ai.ini modification)
-Defends own harvesters with 1 rocket, 2 GI.

This guarantees that most attack waves will overlap at least one other attack wave in progress, often several at a time will overlap. Due to the altered unit-mechanics, it can take upto 2-3 minutes to repel/destroy an attack wave completely, so there are almost always enemies somewhere at an entrance to your base. Harvesters must be protected to maintain income. These attack groups require a varied response to handle with maximum effectivness, and creative use of units such as harvesters can turn the tide. Base and base defences tend to need constand repairs, and establishing a decent economy/production rate can often take upto an hour. Territory generally then needs to be gained slowly, in a logical fashion, and defended in order to gain clear access to paths of attack. Fog of war also means that surprises can and will occur when venturing outside secured territory.

Anyways, I hope that little overview of our mod might provide you with some insights into making games last longer.

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Grim    241
Quote:
Original post by Zanthos
We realised that for an RTS, the game seldom lasts for more than 3 and a half hours TOPS, by that time if the map hasn't been stripped of resources, or people have billions of farms in AOE trading food for other resources, then the AI has given up, and the game has become stagnant.


This is quite a generalization. I'm currently playing a game of Empire Earth with a friend against two AI opponents. The game has already taken more than ten hours, which is not uncommon for our EE sessions. Of course, EE has infinite resources, at least for all practical purposes, which does allow longer gameplay (even though the resources themselves aren't limited, there is a strict limit on the speed of gathering, which slows things down), and the AI cheats. But it's still a great game, in my opinion. Anyway, I'd say the actual time depends on the players' skills and preferences as well as the game mechanics.

Larger maps would be, in my opinion, a welcome addition to rts games, as it would make it possible to make the scale more appropriate. I have to agree with fractoid here, the sense of proportionality in rts games is awfully twisted. Now, I can accept the fact that building a temple using stone age methods takes less than a minute (no one wants to wait for that in real time, even though it could take a couple of minutes, at least), and other similar temporal oddities, but it is the spatial distortion that annoys me. Let's take the common "large islands" map type. They really are islands, and not continents, as ships as simple as triremes can fire their arrows almost in the middle of the islands. Having a slow, old, fragile priest walking across the map will take a few minutes at most, so the area is not too large to begin with. Still, the buildings occupy a surprisingly small land area. Comparing the size of the soldiers and the buildings, the legendary "wonder of the world" is actually the size of a largish house, and the actual houses are smaller than an outhouse. Heck, in some games some of the soldiers are larger than the buildings (WarCraft III, anyone?)!

It isn't even consistently used: in StarCraft you have buildings of the usual size (usual with regard to most rts games, that is), but then some levels take place indoors, the whole level being inside one building. Still all the soldiers are of the same size.

Firearms have a ridiculous range: a common rifleman can usually shoot at a maximum distance of measly ten meters or so. An artillery unit has a flabbergasting range of twenty meters.

It would be neat to actually have an rts with a sense of proportionality, where continents were really continents and you couldn't just walk from place to place. Clearly this would have major implications on gameplay, as the game world would have to be mind-staggeringly huge.

I do acknowledge that my argument is more on the gameplay-realism-axis, as the level of abstraction even in rts games is greater than the representation of the game makes you think. After all, the seemingly single soldier is still called a unit, which could easily refer to a whole group of soldiers, just represented as a single soldier for convenience.

I have started to find rts games less and less appealing all the time for another reason as well: in real life, in order to make a successfull attack, you would need at least four times more troops than the defending faction. In games, however, not only this is the other way around (at least it often seems that way), but in addition you have to control each and every defender yourself. Of course rushing early is a viable strategy when both factions have approximately the same number of troops.

Then again we do have games in which the tactical opportunities are much better, such as Sudden Strike, Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps, etc. In Sudden Strike you can build a defence line over which simple rushing will not help. Soldiers are not larger than buildings. Artillery has a firing range of half the map width. The evident "problem" with these games, however, is that in being more realistic, they won't allow you to actually collect resources, build units etc.

Quote:
Original post by Numsgil
Add an automatic handicap to the game, so that if a player is losing, their units become stronger. By the end of the game, their lone worker can take out 5 or 6 uber soldiers. I'm sure this element has been deployed in games before, and since I haven't seen much of it, I'm assumming it's an ultimately broken technique. However effective it is, it will help lengthen any game without changing the pacing.


In Sudden Strike I once hid in a forest area with the last few of my soldiers and could snipe the enemies while they tried to reach the forest over a clearing. No "adrenaline mode" was required, just good old tactics. Why this was possible was because you could see out of a forest much more easily than in the forest from outside (which makes sense). My opponent finally started making artillery strikes in the forest at random and eventually I lost. Of course, such tactic could be used at any point of the game, but it is easier to hide a small number of soldiers at the end of the game than the large armies in the beginning.

On the other hand, one reason to not add this "adrenaline mode" would be the fact that most players don't like to hunt for the last few enemy units anyway, as the victory is ensured anyway.

Quote:
Original post by Numsgil
Increase the HP of buildings. Alot. A whole lot. That's sure to lengthen any game.


Not only this, but make most buildings impervious to most light weapons. It pains me to see a huge castle built of stone to catch fire and eventually collapse after a couple of dozen of swordmen have blunted their swords on it for a few minutes (or shot with rifles at it enough times, using more bullets than what most countries could ever even afford). Having to bring in demolition experts (or what have you) would be appropriate and could lengthen the game.

On the other hand, why do we always need to destroy all the enemy buildings? Why can't we just walk in, declare the buildings our own and be done with it (as in Cossacks)? The buildings have done nothing wrong! End building genocide! Why, O why do we have to ...

Oh well. I could go on and on raving maniacally about all these issues on rts games, but maybe it's time to stop now, before it becomes truly a religious sermon. Thank you for listening and I apologize for the inconvenience...

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jbadams    25713
Larger maps certainly also contribute to a longer game length to a certain degree - but I'd argue that the layout of the map can be equally, if not more important than the actual size. The map should have plenty of choke-points, where a player can set up a defensive force, and halt advancing enemy units, at least for a short time. Bridges, or ravines, so that only a few units at a time can progress forward are excellent for this - they bottle up a large force, and allow a well deployed numerically inferior force to hold off the attackers. Even without a defensive force in place, they either slow down the progression of a larger attack group as it regroups after passing through, or if the group isnt ordered to regroup in such a fashion, causes them to be spread out, softening the impact when they finally arrive at thier target.

If bridges can be destroyed, or ravines blocked, or both, then routes of attack can be closed off permanently or semi-permanently, depending on whether or not they can be repaired/unblocked.

Things such as this both give additional options to an intelligent defensive player, as well as forcing an attacking player to put more thought into thier paths of attack.

Terrain should present different tactical and strategic opportunities. Different units move differently through different terrain, perhaps units can take cover from fire in certain territories, (units hiding in a forrest for example). Players will then have to place more consideration into what units are being used, how they're being used, and where they're being used. This will generally help to lengthen the game, as it gives players more opportunities to stop enemy attacks, or to press forward with good attacks of thier own. Without neccesarily giving an advantage specifically to the richest, most advanced, our numerically superior player - instead, advantage will go to the one that has planned best for the situation.

Uber-weapons tend to be bad for game duration in most (but of course not all) cases. Normally one player will attain and/or deploy/use these before any others, and as a result gain an advantage that can take a rather large effort to balance out again. Once advantage is tipped heavily in a particular player's favour, the victory of that player becomes fairly inevitable, as typically the advantage continues to grow, while the other player(s) have to work very hard simply to regain thier previous position.

Quote:
Slower building times


As has been mentioned, this just makes the game slower. The player wont actually be doing more, they'll just be doing it slower. This is boring.

Quote:
Increase the HP of buildings.


I tend to think this is really not much different than slower building times. The player isnt neccesarily doing more, they're simply taking a lot longer to do it. This is less of a quick-fix solution than slower building times however, so if something along these lines is to be used, this is preferable. Do not however, also proportionately increase the health of units, or you've just duplicated the effect of the game taking longer for no good reason.

Quote:
unlimited resources


I quite like how TS (and most of the other C&C games) handled this actually. Resources on most maps are unlimited, in that the fields from which you are harvesting them regrow over time. (Tiberium respawns from those plant things, and also expands over time). However, regrowth is slow, and so although the player will never run out of resources completely (except of course by a tactical manouvre from the other player cutting off access)., they may have to wait if they need a lot of cash for something. In addtion, players can set up more/less efficient harvesting operations in a number of ways:
-having the refinery closer to the field will increase rate of income.
-additional harvesers will increase rate of income, but more than 2-3 per refinery gets no real additonal advantage unless they're harvesting from a very distant field. You are also more likely to depleat nearby fields, and will have to wait for them to regenerate. (most fields regenerate at such a rate that 1 (sometimes 2) harvesters can obtain an effectively constant supply).
-additional refineries will increase rate of income. 2 refineries with 1 harvester each will often not have any effeciency advantage over 1 refinery with 2, so planning this and building appropriately comes into acount. (Note on depleating supply applies to this as well).
-Blue tiberium is worth more, but regenerates much slower or not at all. It's also explosive, giving it further potential uses if you think outside the box, but that's another issue (ever parked a full harvester of blue next to an enemy building and let it get shot? [wink]).

Basically, in my opinion, adding more tactical/strategic opportunity will likely lengthen the game, assuming of course that both players take advantage of such.

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jbadams    25713
Oh, and another method to combat repetativeness in a LAN environment - where available, play the different game modes that some games offer. ie. Play a free-for-all deathmatch, then some kind of "hold the fort", then a team based game, etc. The different mechanics often benefit from altered play-styles, and can provide additional enjoyment, to delay the so called "drying up." Oh, and also not putting the RTS games back to back if you're playing other genres as well. A few rounds in an FPS in between will make further RTS games seem fresher than if the FPS hadn't been played in the middle.

Additional ideas include playing several different RTS games instead of consecutive rounds in the same (ie. Starcraft, then TA, then RA, etc). Also, applying different mods to the games can help.

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Sandman    2210
Most RTS games these days are designed to be short, rather than long these days. For example, ISTR WC3 was designed around the principle that a game shouldn't take any longer than 45 minutes.

However, if you wanted to design an RTS to be played for longer, how about randomly generated 'missions'?

Each player could be assigned a mission, for example, 'capture this bit of terrain and hold for 5 minutes' or 'destroy this enemy building within ten minutes' etc. As soon as a player completes one mission - or the mission time limit runs out - a new one is generated. There may be some tangible in game benefit to completing missions (like new tech or more resources) as well as a greater score the more missions you complete.

The ever changing mission requirements will keep the players fighting each other, but at the same time keeping them doing different things. The time limits on the missions keeps it exciting.

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Zanthos    300
Quote:

The ever changing mission requirements will keep the players fighting each other, but at the same time keeping them doing different things. The time limits on the missions keeps it exciting.


I've just been chatting with one of my friends about this idea and he says it sounds a very interesting way to fuel the game. One of his suggestions was having rewards like technology/research advances for the first person to take and hold x position for y number of minutes.

Kazgoroth: My aim wasn't to target the dull-ness of repetition with regards to what game's we were playing, but with regards to the repetition of setting up and establishing your base/forward command post/settlement in the first x number of minutes in a strategy game. Well done with regards to your TS modification, it seems that you have managed to hit the nail pretty much spot on with the extended duration of the game. I like the specialization of units with no 'heavy' units or uber weapons, and can assume that you have no more than 3 tech levels? That seems like a sure way to ensure that no players become too advanced over others, whilst retaining the diversity of the game by introducing new tactics other than new units.

Quote:

Uber-weapons tend to be bad for game duration in most (but of course not all) cases. Normally one player will attain and/or deploy/use these before any others, and as a result gain an advantage that can take a rather large effort to balance out again. Once advantage is tipped heavily in a particular player's favour, the victory of that player becomes fairly inevitable, as typically the advantage continues to grow, while the other player(s) have to work very hard simply to regain thier previous position.


I definitely agree with uber-weapons being detrimental to the games fun(unless you're the player with a dozen missile silos), and this was recognised in RedAlert2 with the option to disable them.

Quote:

Add an automatic handicap to the game, so that if a player is losing, their units become stronger. By the end of the game, their lone worker can take out 5 or 6 uber soldiers. I'm sure this element has been deployed in games before, and since I haven't seen much of it, I'm assumming it's an ultimately broken technique. However effective it is, it will help lengthen any game without changing the pacing.


This idea, although it has balancing properties, is fairly flawed if we have any concept of army morale, heavy losses would make troops much less efficient, and would not make settlers suddenly drop their spadesand become elite marksmen. Units could become fanatics when their morale drops below a certain level say 95% below max, possibly at which time they are removed from player control and go on a suicide rampage.

Quote:

I quite like how TS (and most of the other C&C games) handled this actually. Resources on most maps are unlimited, in that the fields from which you are harvesting them regrow over time.


It seems pretty sensible to assume that for a game to last a long amount of time(whilst have space available on the map for something other than the resources), that they should be infinite, and acquired from something such as:

- Drop pods : sent in by aircraft according to when resources are needed, ie, when a tank is to be manufactured, all the resources required are dropped near the base, and carrier units can transport these resources to the factory).

- Mines : sprinkled around areas of geological interest would provide players with for all intents and purposes, an infinite supply of the said resource.

- Supply routes : similar to drop pods, but via road. These, unlike air supplies, would require defence along the route, and could carry much more than just resources, vehicles and troops should also come in via these supply lines, downside to this is that an opponent could simply cut off the route leaving the other player stranded without supplies, but this is a valid tactic, and shouldn't be forced out of the design.

- Harvesting : introduced in early RTS games, heavily armored vehicles would wander out to mining fields and collect various resources of high value, to be traded in for credits which would enable the user to construct units/buildings.

There are probably many other ways resources can be accumulated in the game, some finite, some infinite, but the aim of this isn't to discuss resource acquisition but to identify how to keep resources flowing in an extended game.

Quote:

On the other hand, why do we always need to destroy all the enemy buildings? Why can't we just walk in, declare the buildings our own and be done with it (as in Cossacks)? The buildings have done nothing wrong! End building genocide! Why, O why do we have to ...


One way this could be combatted is by having non military units and buildings not count towards whether a player has been defeated or not, TA had the commander which via checkbox enabled a player to be defeated on destruction of this unit, decoys were available to make this more difficult for the opposition. Although, this may be too easy a way to kill a player off in terms of an extended game. In Settlers4 territory is secured via guard towers and castles, non military units and basic settlers are not attacked, instead once a guard building is captured the land changes ownership).

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Let's take the common "large islands" map type. They really are islands, and not continents, as ships as simple as triremes can fire their arrows almost in the middle of the islands. Having a slow, old, fragile priest walking across the map will take a few minutes at most, so the area is not too large to begin with. Still, the buildings occupy a surprisingly small land area. Comparing the size of the soldiers and the buildings, the legendary "wonder of the world" is actually the size of a largish house, and the actual houses are smaller than an outhouse. Heck, in some games some of the soldiers are larger than the buildings (WarCraft III, anyone?)!


Units with unrealistic range really annoy me, the component of inaccuracy is usually omitted and instead a hard unit range is implemented (ie, a hit or nothing at all). The scaling of the units and buildings is probably to do with the fact that the people are going to be too small to manage effectively, so instead they are scaled much larger to make them easier to click on and identify their type.

I'd like to open up ideas on this:
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* More complex tech tree, and/or simply a more interdependant tech tree to increase the time required to climb it


An idea was presented by my housemate that involved minimal interaction with the tech tree, but ultimately can change the way a player progresses. This would involve selecting goals or paths for the research to head towards, take this example:
"The principles of mining have been unearthed by your villagers, do you wish them to pursue: a) Advancements to this mining technology, b) Mathematics and ballistics, b) Explosive weaponry"
The player can select what he wants to head towards, and determined by his team, handicap, etc, how long this will take. And does not have to bother with researching individual technologies. This could possibly be broken down into categories, ie, Weapons, Economics, Structural and Defence, each with their own seperate research trees.

Back on to what Sandman said with the missions, I'd like to try and expand on that a bit more, as it seems a very good way to increase the excitement and intensity of a game that could have been going on for well over a day:
- Race to complete missions with same object target: First player to capture x town/village/building and defend it for preset length of time
- Race to complete missions with no object target: AOE2 build-a-wonder, although this is more of an end-game target, and not so much a randomly generated mission
- Sabotage: Possibly involving sabotaging a co-operative player by stealing resources and/or units, this could make breaking and gaining alliances very interesting, for example Player A and Player B versus Player C and Player D... Player A gets a mission from the server:
"We must break free from our petty alliances, there exists technology much more advanced than our own from within the realm of (Enter Player C name here). Your mission is to retrieve the blueprints to (xyz) from this building (marked on the map)." The reward would also be listed. Now I've already thought up a way in which this could falter for example Player A tells Player B that he has to sabotage his plans, in which case the sabotage goes ahead and they share the result. Possibly make it so that the players cannot re-ally when an act of sabotage is carried out or make it so that the morale of units is lowered(possibly resulting in revolt) when they re-ally after a sabotage has taken place.
- Make Alliance: The aim of this mission would be to establish an alliance with an opposing player(assuming it is all versus all), and then proceed to destroy a structure of importance. If you wanted to be sneaky, you could send both players in quesion Make Alliance mission directives, with the clause that they must both destroy a command building.

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Pxtl    354
A) you're playing TA wrong. First combat should start at 2 minutes, and not stop until the commander is dead (play with Game Ends, its better). Also, stick to the 32 meg maps, and the smaller ones at that - most of TAs maps are pointlessly huge - I can get Bertha/Krogoth combat on Acid Plains, so why the hell would I ever need Yarrot Mountains? Oh, and play at +10 speed all game. Also, don't play with any of the expansion packs that include Bertha Walls or other anti-artillery defenses. If any TA game starts running too long, players should be ripping each other to shreds with artillery - this is an advantage of playing at high-speed.

B) the length of game really depends on its play style and its maps. TA maps can be very short and fun - small maps like Full Moon make for a great romp. The fundamental problem with multiplayer RTS games is that they are very long games where players, if eliminated early, get to sit out for the rest of the game. That kinda sucks.

C) Play Z. Z takes a different approach to RTS games - there's no buildup. You start with an army and take neutral buildings to build more troops. This means that the game is one non-stop mad rush for grabbing land. 10 minutes is a super-long game in Z, and your mind is racing the whole time.

D) There's always StarCraft's system of depletable resources, but I always found this to be a cop-out... half the game was about relocating to the next patch.

One game I found that had a perfect game-time? Battlezone. The resources were very quickly depletable and all the starting scrap on the map would be gone in the first 8 minutes, and the only way to add more scrap to the map was to blow shit up. Construction was fast as hell too. So basically there was no point in waiting or teching or anything like that - just grab your resources (and his, if you can - maybe take out a few harvesters just to piss him off), build your base, and kick some ass.

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Xai    1848
but Pxtl I think you are missing the point that the OP WANTS a long game ...

you are of the style of gamer who played starcrafy on the FASTEST setting right, and big game hunters and lots of early harrasment and action ... and he is of the type who prefered Normal or Fast, more control, and long term evolving strategy.

Both are of course fun / valid types of games - for different people or different days ...

but his goal is to bring back the way it felt fun for the first AoE game that lastest 2 hours ... the OLD SCHOOL RTS long game.

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Sandman    2210
Quote:
Original post by Zanthos
- Sabotage: Possibly involving sabotaging a co-operative player by stealing resources and/or units, this could make breaking and gaining alliances very interesting, for example Player A and Player B versus Player C and Player D... Player A gets a mission from the server:
"We must break free from our petty alliances, there exists technology much more advanced than our own from within the realm of (Enter Player C name here). Your mission is to retrieve the blueprints to (xyz) from this building (marked on the map)." The reward would also be listed. Now I've already thought up a way in which this could falter for example Player A tells Player B that he has to sabotage his plans, in which case the sabotage goes ahead and they share the result.


I like the idea of some missions being mutually exclusive with your allies, it makes the 'diplomacy' side of the game more interesting. Do you fail the mission, and keep your allies, or do you attempt to complete the mission, and risk losing him? If missions are allocated against players completely randomly, then the more allies you have, the greater the chances of one of them intending to backstab you...

In order to prevent players from just letting an opponent complete a mission against them, one solution would be to make the reward/punishment zero sum - whatever the successful player wins, the unsuccessful player loses. However I think the idea of punishing the unsuccessful players too hard might run contrary to the style of game you're aiming for, so perhaps another solution might be in order.

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Possibly make it so that the players cannot re-ally when an act of sabotage is carried out or make it so that the morale of units is lowered(possibly resulting in revolt) when they re-ally after a sabotage has taken place.


An intermediate solution would be to have a kind of 'grudge' rating for each player. Successfully completing a mission against a player increases his grudge toward you, and no alliance can be made until the grudge drops over time, or until you offer a suitably large gift.

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Pxtl    354
Quote:
Original post by Xai
but Pxtl I think you are missing the point that the OP WANTS a long game ...

you are of the style of gamer who played starcrafy on the FASTEST setting right, and big game hunters and lots of early harrasment and action ... and he is of the type who prefered Normal or Fast, more control, and long term evolving strategy.

Both are of course fun / valid types of games - for different people or different days ...

but his goal is to bring back the way it felt fun for the first AoE game that lastest 2 hours ... the OLD SCHOOL RTS long game.


Ah. I misunderstood that. Still, if you're getting bored with the 45 minutes of build-up in TA, much of my advice will still help. Harassing the enemy in the early game is very productive in any case, and playing at higher speed will help the dull parts go faster.

And playing TA at high speed isn't like playing StarCraft at high speed - most things in TA do fairly well if you're not giving them direct orders, providing you've got them ready for combat. So while in StarCraft on high speed you're panicking at keeping track of your spellcasters and keeping your build queues full, in TA you're just playing TA with faster units and shorter build times.

Oh, and try playing on a medium map with TA Deathmatch mode. Its good for a change of pace.

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Pxtl    354
My opinions on how to make a marathon game that's actually fun.

1) Eliminate the ability and goal of eliminating other players. Either make it entirely a 2-team game where the individual players stay in as part of their team until the team is annihilated, or find another approach. For example, you could make defenses very powerful and focus the game on some sort of external objective, such as control of a central map point or claiming of X territory (see Steal the Bacon for StarCraft, Cosmic Encounter, Risk 2150, or Emperor of the Fading Suns). After all, if you're going to play for 3 hours straight, I don't want to be stuch watching for the bottom 2.5 hours.

Respawning players would be an option, except that its very difficult to balance a new player into an old RTS game, and if possible would probably involve going with a much less epic scale.

2)Consider how intense you want your action to be. I've played many "epic" games who's solution to a long game was to make everything take an eon to do (Metal Fatigue is a worst-case scenario). Homeworld was a very slow game, which fit with the crawling ambience of the game - but many TA players I know found it slow and dull (other people I know loved it to death).

One problem that must be considered in superscalar RTS games is how many units can the player control? StarCraft becomes difficult to control at about 40 units. TA starts to crack at around 200. In a game with a superlarge map, having such little power on it can be frustrating (TA usually has the map pleasantly filled). In the end, maps that are large than the game can really handle just means a lot of "flyover country" just a lot of watching units cross the map (old C&C was terrible for this) - fit the map size to the gameplay.

In general, focusing on mortar artillery, scouting-unit deployments, and construction is a good idea - mounted assaults require sudden committments to wipe out your enemy, which means the game will end more abruptly. Look at Metal Marines for an interesting take on this idea - its an RTS where each player has their own map to build a city on, and players launch ICBMs and infantry dropships at each other.

My big problem with most "Epic" RTS games is that they aren't - they're an hour of independant construction and planning punctuated by 10 minutes of carnage. TA is the rare exception.

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Pxtl    354
Oh, and an odd aside since there are obvious TA fans here:

Have you seen Spring?

http://taspring.clan-sy.com/index.php

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Boku San    428
Sorry, didn't read down to here yet. I will after posting this idea in...

You should check out Rise of Nations (unsure about the expansion). The game's pace is just about perfect; there are small battles almost constantly, but the game really always comes to a close right about the time NapoleonBot trades me oil for money and I blow up the world.

Erh...what I mean to say is that the games moderate themselves with time because, once future technologies are unlocked (when the normal tech. paths are all complete, usually about the same time), defeating enemies begins to get HARDER. The rule of thumb is to attack the n00b who didn't build enough Wonders, because if you give them time to learn a missile shield (no superweapons can target you) or how to build stealth bombers, they're no longer the "n00b".

Also, I recommend less superweapons in RTS games...nuking your opponent over and over is all good and fun (and cool if you're playing C&C Generals), but if you can do it without eventually hurting yourself, it takes the thrill out of using them, and comes down to who saved the most money early-on. RoN moderated superweapons very well -- use them too much and you cause the end of the world, everybody loses.

In fact, if you haven't played Rise of Nations, you really don't know all the good things that RTS games can do. It's probably got the best resource gathering system I've ever seen, and national borders and attrition are very, very cool. Too bad you have to play the whole game imperialist (get the most land first).

MMM...cheese.

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Guest Anonymous Poster   
Guest Anonymous Poster
Let's look at Starcraft, whose games are usually around 25 minutes long.

It has limited resources, which actually speeds up the game. That forces players to expand and leave their main base, which means that just sitting in your base and building defenses will make you lose.

Since the whole game is very expand-driven, nearly every game revolves around a center-of-the-map push by both players, in an attempt to contain the other guy in their base. This, coupled with the fact that the defensive structures are pretty bad, forces players to be constantly attacking. Eventually, someone's push will break, or someone will find a way into the other guy's base and will do enough damage to force their opponent to surrender. If that doesn't happen, someone will run out of money first because they secured fewer expansions, and will then be forced to surrender.

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kaysik    382
Quote:
Original post by Grim
... scale more appropriate ... Comparing the size of the soldiers and the buildings, the legendary "wonder of the world" is actually the size of a largish house, and the actual houses are smaller than an outhouse. Heck, in some games some of the soldiers are larger than the buildings (WarCraft III, anyone?)!


This is kind of off topic but I always thought that the sprites on screen were meant to represent lots of units at once. If you consider that your average marine is meant to represent a sqad of 10 or even 100 guys the whole thing makes alot more sense. I think I even picked up this idea from some manual many years ago (might have been Dune 2 actually) - but the idea works for all modern RTS and has always much more sensible that 1 sprite is 1 guy.

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Grim    241
Quote:
Original post by kaysik
Quote:
Original post by Grim
... scale more appropriate ... Comparing the size of the soldiers and the buildings, the legendary "wonder of the world" is actually the size of a largish house, and the actual houses are smaller than an outhouse. Heck, in some games some of the soldiers are larger than the buildings (WarCraft III, anyone?)!


This is kind of off topic but I always thought that the sprites on screen were meant to represent lots of units at once. If you consider that your average marine is meant to represent a sqad of 10 or even 100 guys the whole thing makes alot more sense. I think I even picked up this idea from some manual many years ago (might have been Dune 2 actually) - but the idea works for all modern RTS and has always much more sensible that 1 sprite is 1 guy.


I don't think it's all that off topic, for if you consider the aspects in rts games more abstract than meets the eye, the game duration really depends on the level of abstraction. However, I did consider the level of abstraction too:

Quote:
Original post by Grim
I do acknowledge that my argument is more on the gameplay-realism-axis, as the level of abstraction even in rts games is greater than the representation of the game makes you think. After all, the seemingly single soldier is still called a unit, which could easily refer to a whole group of soldiers, just represented as a single soldier for convenience.


And as for Dune 2 goes, there really were units that represented groups of units, but it was graphically represented as three soldiers, not a single one.

However, I think the level of abstraction in the representation of the game should correlate with the level of abstraction in the game mechanics. If I see one man chopping wood, shooting or whatever, in real time, giving me verbal acknowledgements as a singular entity etc. I find it cumbersome to consider the unit something else than a singular entity. If the units were really more abstract, they should be represented as such. The more realistically the game is represented (realistic not referring to the scale of things, necessarily, but whether I see abstract graphical icons or units/buildings/whatever looking like real world entities), the more mundane feel it has to it (as opposed to a more abstract feel).

And it is not limited to the units; after all, since buildings can be constructed in a matter of (real world time) minutes using stone age methods, the time is somehow abstract as well. The building might take less wood than you can chop from one tree, so the resources are abstract as well. And so on and so on, ad nauseaum. So yes, you can either see this as abstraction or a product of a twist in the proportionality for the sake of gameplay.

Summa summarum: an abstract game should be represented in an abstract way, unless the reason for using realistic depiction is phenomenally good. Of course, this is just my opinion.

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onyxflame    203
Quote:

In order to prevent players from just letting an opponent complete a mission against them, one solution would be to make the reward/punishment zero sum - whatever the successful player wins, the unsuccessful player loses. However I think the idea of punishing the unsuccessful players too hard might run contrary to the style of game you're aiming for, so perhaps another solution might be in order.


Just give them opposite missions. A's mission is to destroy B's something or other, and B's mission is to protect his something or other. If A fails, he doesn't lose anything except a reward he didn't have anyway. If B fails, he loses his something or other, but that's it.

With assorted missions vs. other players, a game with more than 2 players could get really intense. For example:

A's mission: Intelligence indicates aliens (AI controlled) will be attacking, and you're not strong enough to defend yourself from them. Make an alliance with another player before the aliens get there, so you can survive the attack.
B's mission: Steal C's plans for (insert name of weapon/unit B can't currently produce due to lack of tech). This objective must be accomplished in X amount of time to keep C from finding out.
C's mission: A's (insert unit name) has committed war crimes. Capture them and bring them to your base for "questioning".
D's mission: B has a very productive mining operation on the edge of his territory. Take control of it, and keep B from taking it back for X amount of time.

Of course, not all missions would be against another player. This is just an example of what all players simultaneously having missions involving other players in some way would look like.

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