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Out-Of-Game Communication is trouble

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I'm trying to design a browser-based, turn-based game. There will be several players in a military environment, probably around WW2, and players cannot talk to each other instantly, they must use their radios, or whatever is at their disposal at the time to relay the signal to a central HQ. My problem is how to resolve "out of game" communications. To make this all a bit clearer imagine I'm the Commander on board of an U.S. Carrier, on a top secret mission to destroy or take command of facilities located on a small pacific island being used by Japanese forces for fuel extraction & refinery purposes. On the way to that Island, my scout fighters, scouting the way ahead, locate a small japanese patrol boat. Due to an error of the player controling that air unit, the Japanese boat spots us. I scramble the whole carrier to take out the patrol boat, and we're successful. Here is the dilema: What is stoping the player playing the japanese patrol boat of sending an email to his other comrades, about what just happened? In Real Life (tm) the Japanese would be dead, and therefore the element of surprise would have still be maintained, but now I have no idea if I'm sailing into a trap... Is this going to force me into an "Honour System"? Cause I think we all know how those work... Any suggestions?

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I don't see it as a problem because most online games are better with outside communication.

The problem I see is preventing players from having accounts on both sides to prevent people from potentially spying. I'm sure a cookie or ip check can prevent that at the base level?

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Could work something out that looks at players intel, deployments, and in game coms. Shouldn't be too hard to work out a system to dected the very fishy looking redepolyment of forces.

Teams A and B.

A is attacking B from the north, but has a surprise unit comming in from the east. B has nothing in the area near where A is comming in from the east, but B sends something out east. Now if B sent something out that wasn't truely needed according to statistics, then clearly they're lucky and guessed that there might be surprise attack.

Same thing. A attacking B from north. A has surprise unit in the east. B has a scout with no radio in east, spots fleet. A kill scouts, but B sends out a fleet before B's scouts could have come back. B is flagged.

B does that a few more times, B is banned for cheating/ungodly luck.

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I actually don't think there's anything you can do programming-wise. It's way too hard to study each game and figure out whether a player is cheating/lucky/good/etc.

The best way is probably a cheater-report system.

edit: deleted the wrong word...

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Well, till now the only thing that I could think of is that, once the game is finished, every player would be able to review the war scenario, play by play, a bit like in the end of Civilization, you get to see a replay of events.

I cannot avoid people exchanging emails, and the game will be much more interesting if you can play it with friends, which means that you already know their emails and how to contact them.

So I'm hoping that having the ability to review the game once finished will put player's minds at ease regarding any possible foul play...

None the less it's still not a 100% solution...

Thanks for the input guys, keep it comin' [wink]

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You shouldn't have punishments for "strange deployment". In war, if a unit stops sending information, it is presumed dead or captured. I would prepare my units for an attack from that direction. How is that any different from someone telling me that their unit has died, and me doing the same thing?

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Quote:
Original post by anteaterking
You shouldn't have punishments for "strange deployment". In war, if a unit stops sending information, it is presumed dead or captured. I would prepare my units for an attack from that direction. How is that any different from someone telling me that their unit has died, and me doing the same thing?


Yes, you got it half-right.

See, picking up my initial example again, let me add a few more rules to the war environment. First of all, all radios do not have infinite range. That means that the radio on the patrol boat might not have been able to contact shore, because it was too far out to sea. Let's assume that is true.

Second, the Japanese Commander in the area must have instructed the boat more or less in the following manner:
"You are the patrol the southern shores of the island, and report anything unusual. You are armed, but you're only to use force if you acertain that the enemy is defenitly weaker than you. Your job is to get back to base with information at all time."

Now, patrolling the shores, that is something that takes time. Let's assume it takes from 20 to 25 turns for fuel to run out and the patrol boat to return.

Now, once I destroyed that patrol boat, I initiated a set of circumstances that force me to act quickly, in the next 8 to 10 turns at least. I'm kinda screwed as you said, because my plans relied heavily on secrecy, but I still got a very considerable amount of firepower, and how it all pans out depends on how each Commander will play out the next 10 turns.

See, if I am playing the Japanese Commander of the Island, and I don't get word of a patrol boat, I'll send another one out there to investigate. Yes, it might have been destroyed by a passing submarine, that doesnt mean we're about to be invaded. But if I get an email from another player, detailing what happened, then, well, then all the game goes to s*it...

I think I'll have to enforce an honor system of sorts... I don't yet see a way out...

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Of course, you could also have the option of randomizing which players get on each team. If Player X doesn't know Player Y's email, they wouldn't be able to communicate. Maybe a mask of who is actually who until the end of the game. That way, you would also have to judge throughout the game how good your commander was, and not judge from past experience.

And if you did want to play with friends, and you knew one was a "cheater", then you could exclude them from your games.

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I think a replay/review + honor system + cheating reports would do the trick.

Player suspects he's been cheated on, reviews the battle, confirms (or at least keeps believing) and reports the presumed cheater.

Enough complaints and the user gets banned. Or something.

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Some options that I like:

1) If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Say @#$% it, and provide unlimited in game communcation. Embrace it! They can't cheat if it's part of the game. Also saves them the trouble of switching programs just to "cheat" (but it's no longer cheating [wink]). You say, "In Real Life (tm) the Japanese would be dead", but this isn't Real Life (tm).

2) Wolf in sheep's clothing. Make the communication so convenient, so simple, so second nature that they won't think to use outside means. I think you'd be surprised how well this works.

3) Stick to the code. Cheaters, even in the anonymous internet, are still the minority. You say, "Is this going to force me into an 'Honour System'? Cause I think we all know how those work...". And yeah, I do know how those work: surprisingly well.

4) The scarlet letter. Make people register and implement a rating system. Perhaps you can only rate people positively to keep sore losers from rating people down because they lost.

Some options I don't like:

1) Better to convict the innocent than let the guilty go free. I never liked cheat detectors. Some people are just that good (e.g. good at reading their opponent) or just that lucky.

2) Are you for me, or my enemy? Forcing randomized teams seems a bad idea. People will want to discuss strategies beforehand, but that doesn't really work if you can't pick your own teams. Makes a nice option, though.

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Perhaps you have random teams, with a couple of days where the people can discuss strategy with there teammates. Just make sure to include a censor of some sort of email addresses.

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I can't think of any good way around this problem. Most of the solutions to stopping this kind of communication would hamper the game in other ways.

If it's a team based game, I'm assuming that a group of friends would want to play on the same team. Randomising teams would probably annoy those players. You are also going to have some groups of people who would strongly prefer to play on one team over another (this is one of the problems of picking World War II as your domain).

Even if you could think of a way of stopping email, how will you stop a group of teammates playing on networked computers in the same room? You'll also have to think of some way to stop an honour system being exploited by your players (say if the entirity of one side decided to blacklist an outstanding player on the other).

I'm also a bit hazy on how the game would play. Given that players will know that the other side exists, why wouldn't the forces on the Japanese controlled island expect to be attacked by the U.S. forces at the very beginning of the game? If they weren't attacked, would it be an exciting game, managing a fuel processing facility? (This isn't really meant as a criticism; I'm just unsure of how your game is meant to play).

I think the only way out of this is to design your game in a fashion that outside communication isn't that much of a spoiler to the gameplay mechanics.

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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
I'm also a bit hazy on how the game would play. Given that players will know that the other side exists, why wouldn't the forces on the Japanese controlled island expect to be attacked by the U.S. forces at the very beginning of the game?


I think its more of a question of when and where the enemy will attack in force. I assume there are many locations containing targets of opportunities.

In a real war, someone would realized that the soldiers the OP brought up. But in his game there are far fewer players than a real war and some heavy restrictions placed on communication to add a unique sort of strategy. I like the idea of designing rules, albeit arbitrary ones, for the sole purpose of unconventional gameplay.

Unfortunately, the limits on communication are not the most feasible choice. It's far too hard to prevent players from circumventing the games communication system. Maybe a more superficial approach could work; some limits that are specific to your gameplay and do not neccesarily have routes in reality. An example could be that when troops in an enemy sectory are killed, bridges, mobile roadblocks, and airstrips are no longer manned, making enemy movements to that location much slower. Something along those lines would be a guranteed way of getting the something close to the effect you want, even though its not perfect.

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EDIT: I forgot what the OT was about and went on a tangent :P the following is about griefers reporting teammate activity to the opposing team:

there is another way

A) Punish outside communication.
Pro: keeps gameplay as "the real thing"
Cons: hard to enforce

B) Encourage outside communication/provide global comms
Pro: Nothing to enforce
Cons: Not realistic

C) Make outside comms a gameplay mechanic
Pro: Realistic gameplay, enforced by players.
Cons: *sqweakle*

How would you do this? Allow players (commander? trial in chatroom excluding the suspect?) to flag team members as spies. The spy gets fake info on the advance of his/her own team's forces, ideally hand-forged info. This has two possible outcomes:

a) He wasn't a spy: The teammember becomes less effective for a while, and may want to bail the game. flagging spies is a risk. This is realistic.

b) He was a spy: Enemy forces find themselves in an ambush or stranded. The spy is confirmed as such. He gets executed (either respawns in the opposing team or stays in jail for the remainder of the match, depending on the team balance and game rules regarding it).
Note: kicking/banning from the match is probably not a good idea, since playing a spy is now part of the game.

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I'm in the 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' camp.

There's simply nothing you can do to prevent people from using outside sources to relay information. I think the only viable solution is to make it part of the game.

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Would each boring patrol boat be controlled by a player?
And each air unit?
Seems kinda dull.

In that case, there is no method of preventing outside commincation.

Now, if the patrol boat is only under the *command* of a player, why should he know what happened to his boat?

Unless a unit under his command hears a distress call, he should not know what happened to it. Now, if a unit on his side but belonging to a different player hears the distress call, it could still inform the destroyed vessel's owner, but with a time delay.

-Greven

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I can't really think of any good ideas that would stop some one from transmitting vital info outside the game ;( Even more so if it was a browser-based game. If it was real time, perhaps, disable the key to switch from the game to the desktop. Yet this would prob. make some people angry. Unless it was first explained in game that such keys would be temp disabled. Then again a work around can be found for that.

Being a browser based game. I would think it would takes X amount of turns to get to X position. Therefore, if the patrol boat was destroyed, and the player uses e-mail to tell a friend what direction the attack came from and where it happen. A few scenarios could happen:

(1) If the 'patrol boat players friend' has enough of X points to get to the position in time to meet the attack group. Then it should be looked at like this. Radio contact was made and because of the close proximity of 'patrol boat players friend' he responded. (this would happen in R/L)

(2) If by the time 'patrol boat players friend' gets enough X points to make it to said position and the attack group is gone. Then this would be like a radio message was sent and then relayed but due to the distance of 'patrol boat players friend' , and 'patrol boat player' they don't make it in time to intercept target. (This would also happen in R/L)

(3) After the attack group attacked they just sit there and not move... Then that was a bad strategy. In R/L if you attack you better keep moving or get ready to defend the counter attack.

So to some it up. The strategic side of the game already solves your problem. It would be very nice to have a radio system set up that only works in the game ,so as to simulate lines of communication, but it can't work due to outside reasons (e-mail and such).

What could be done. Is every unit has a certain communication range. This range must intersect another unit and that unit must another all the way back to a HQ of some sort. If out side that range, or a unit or station is destroyed that made up that line back to HQ. Then they suffer stat loss of some type. I.E. Move speed due to lack of intel, Att. points, ect. This could also bring in a reason to have radio towers or comm centers of some type.

Finally. If the planes that left the carrier attacked the patrol boats and returned to the carrier chances are that carrier is still pretty darn far from the patrol boats position. Also let every unit have a detection and/or vision range. So the patrol plane might see the boat but not the other way around until it gets closer. perhaps detection says something is in the area and vision says exactly what is in the area. Fog of war.

Finally. Finally. Every player must know that if he attacks he is giving away his position to a point. Because in R/L if I send out a patrol and it doesn't come back I am going to send another patrol out to see what happen... lol if that one doesn't come back its war!!!

LoL I almost wanna make that game now ;)

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Since it's a browser-based turn game, what about this: You don't delay the moment when the defending players know about the attack, you delay the moment when they get to act on it!

I know it might sound strange at first, but it's a holistic design (my favourite kind) so the consequences of the rules I'm about to suggest will only be apparent in the end. So please bear with me :) It would ensure that limited communications were a constant working mechanic in the game :)

The flow of information would have to be actively tracked by the game. It wouldn't be very complicated at all; the only important info would be contact with the enemy in a given area, so this would be recorded by a ship when it happened (coordinates and possibly type of enemy).
When a scout successfuly gets within range of a base, the contact reports are considered "known" to this faction, and acted upon (relevant bases prepare for attack).
This is because it's assumed that bases (and possibly big ships) have communications equipment good enough to communicate with each other without limits (it also makes the design process simpler, instead of a full-blown information flow tracker). So something is only a secret as long as it's away from a base.

An important twist is that after [for example] 10 turns, a report is automatically known (a scout hasn't reported back in a while, so contact with the enemy is assumed). Plus, the order to prepare a base for attack only starts being carried out after 10 turns under normal circumstances.

Ok, what does this mean in gameplay terms?

Even if the scout player cheats and informs the base about the enemy presence, this info won't be of any use because preparing for an attack takes 10 turns. If the enemy is within this 10 turns radius, they will still attack a base that's totally unprepared!

What about if the scout managed to report back in time? Our game knows this because it tracks this information. The bases considered close to the enemy contact would prepare immediately (or at least taking much less than 10 turns).


This design would probably need some work, but still, in a turn-based game we don't have to worry about the kill-kill-kill syndrome and delayed orders would be acceptable; playing with this we could counter out-of-game information leaks (which would, IMO, be abundant in this sort of game). Covert operations and information control would be a cool new avenue of playing dynamics that has *never* been explored before in an online game :)

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Here's a possible workaround. If you have a unit go outside radio range, it reduces the distance it can see. That way If they are playing with OOG communication, They get hampered ingame if they go outside normal radio distance.

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Heh thanks Madster :)
Makes me wanna go and code this game myself :P

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Hello there,

I do not know how the communication in your game is designed to look like (e.g. as free text), bit a more formal way of communication may be the solution to your problem. A formal message may for instance look as follows:

Message(Sending Unit, Location, Content).

Content is a string out of a predefined set of possibilities, some examples of which could be:
1) “No hostile activities in this area.”
2) “Spotted x y” with x being a number and y E {battleship, submarine, tank, …}
3) “Destroyed enemy x” with x E {battleship, submarine, tank, …}
4) “Out of x” with x E {fuel, ammo, food, …}

If a scout wants to report his status, the game calculates the possible messages from which the unit may choose. For instance, if there is indeed nothing happening around the scout, message 1 is available. If there is an enemy battleship within its sensor range, message 2 becomes available and is filled with the variables “1” and “battleship”. And of course his location is also automatically filled-in by the game.

While this is quite straightforward, the clue is the following:
The game also has to restrict what actions a commander can take depending on the messages he receives. One such restriction is that no resources may be sent anywhere without justification by a message. An example:

It is not realistic to send an entire fleet of battle ships for the rescue of a scout that is not responding –the reason for this could be as simple as a radio that is out of order. Therefore, the game would not allow the commander to react on this message with sending an entire fleet to the scout’s position. The commander may, for instance, just send another scout unit. However, if the scout was able to report “Under attack by 5 battleships” before it was destroyed, the game would allow the commander to send resources for a battle. Consequently, the commander always has to send a scout unit to a location before he can send anything else there, even if the scout merely reports “No hostile activities in this area.” Maybe this is a limitation for some scenarios, but in general it should not be too far away from reality where there always is some sort of reckoning before the actual battle machinery is sent out to die.

The good thing about the method presented here is that the impact of outside communication is reduced dramatically. If the scout is destroyed before it can send its warning, there will be no evidence in the game that would allow the commander to react. The worst that can happen is that the owning player of the scout sends an email to the commander, with the request to send another scout which may then have the chance of reporting what is really going on, justifying the assignment of war resources to its location. While this alone may take a considerable amount of time, there is also a chance that the second scout gets destroyed as well and the true enemy force does not get uncovered.

I hope this was inspiring, at least it was for me :-)

Best regards

Callidus

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