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Realistic vintage battlefield

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Lets suppose you're playing a tactical combat game about WW1. Your division gets into battle in the city. Sapper squad got divided from the main unit, but you know where they are, and you want them to blow up some building, but they need to get their orders first, and radio wasnt yet all that common then. How would you handle this ? a) This is a just game, and for the sake of the gameplay i'll just ignore it, and make it so i can control the sapper squad directly. b) Assume that soldiers can "transmit" the correct orders to all allied units in certain radius from themselves, so you must get close enough to the sappers with any unit. c) Make a "messenger" unit, whose sole task is to deliver orders directly into the hands of recipient. d) another option altogether.

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Realistic pre-radio era battlefields require some very nice AI to make sure that units will act like they would in real life. Examples, a unit sitting out in an open field with no orders, they will likely dig themselves in without you telling them to, or move to a better location if not ordered to hold fast where they are. A unit is out in the open and comes under fire, it isn't going to wait for you to tell it to take cover, and it is going to take cover in the best place it can.


Another factor to remember is, at least for defenders (and some limited attacks), they had telephone networks, and could pass information fairly quickly. Other times you would have to rely on runners to pass orders or receive information. And a problem with runners sending orders is, runners die.

Runners are also wrong some times. And orders are misinterpreted. To really capture the feel of older battlefields, there needs to be at least some error. At first from a game design point of view the idea that your troops can do something completely wrong and against your orders is a bad thing, but it is balanced by a few things: Sometimes they'll do BETTER than you ordered. The other side will sometimes do BADLY with their mis-orders.

And besides, without misorders, we can recreate events like the Charge of the Light Brigade.

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Realistic pre-radio era battlefields require some very nice AI to make sure that units will act like they would in real life.

Yes, thats right, but i'm concerned with a more general gameplay desicion. Besides, these kind of AI was done way back, in Close Combat series. But in Close Combat you controlled your whole division at any point in time.

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Another factor to remember is, at least for defenders (and some limited attacks), they had telephone networks, and could pass information fairly quickly.

Okay, then how about 19th century combat, or generally any combat with no way for commander unit to contact distant squads.

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Other times you would have to rely on runners to pass orders or receive information. And a problem with runners sending orders is, runners die.

Thats the point. Runners die. Wouldnt that make a good obstacle to jump over ? Or would such detail be detrimental to the whole process ?

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To really capture the feel of older battlefields, there needs to be at least some error.

I'm not quite sure about that. I'm certain that most battle orders in the last 3-4 centuries (at least) were written down, not transferred verbally.

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To some extent this really depends on the role the player is taking. Is he the commanding general of the entire force? If so, then it's going to be very frustrating to have your grand plan get screwed up by what amounts to random chance (that your runners died or mis-communicated an order). I do think it would be interesting to have the player trying to run a battle without having a godlike perspective - make him lead from the trenches, and see how well he does there. But I don't think that mucking with the success rate of his orders is a great idea from a game design perspective.

On the other hand, if you were, say, a squad leader, and your sole interaction with the general was via runners, who might not arrive and sometimes gave nonsensical orders, that could also be interesting. You'd have to decide what to do with your own force given the orders you're receiving. The trick then would be ensuring that you don't kill the runner too often while allowing the player to retain some creativity.

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Is he the commanding general of the entire force?

Thats the one.

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If so, then it's going to be very frustrating to have your grand plan get screwed up by what amounts to random chance (that your runners died or mis-communicated an order).

Its not random, its an obstacle that the player must overcome, not a percentage check. At least thats how i see it.

Umm...lets say it like this : you are the commander. You also have officers on the field, and around every officer there is a field of command, inside that field you can manually move soldiers (which accounts for AI and self-preservation), but soldiers cannot leave that field, and officers cannot move from their spot without direct orders.

Lets say that you send a messenger unit. You move him around city blocks, while allied soldiers cover for him with support fire, so he can go unnoticed to his destination.

Wouldnt that make you choose your squad spots real well, so that they COULD cover a messenger if you have to send one ?
So maybe you lost two soldiers covering for the runner, but he delivered the message in time, and the officer (and his field of command with all the subservient soldiers) moved to the back of the enemy and obliterated him.

How does that sounds ?

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Given that you were talking about limitations on the ability of the player to control things, I was imagining that the player would basically stay in ops, giving messages to messengers and hoping they'd arrive safely at their destination. The only control the player would have over this would be trying to come up with troop dispositions that allowed for reasonably safe courier routes.

What you've just described sounds like a much more "godlike" perspective, which would have the advantage of allowing for the player to control the safety of his messengers, but also doesn't really mesh well with everything else. If you're allowed to control the messenger directly, why can't you do the same for the squads? Guiding messengers about would just devolve into a minigame of sorts - first you make a decision, then you have to play the minigame, then the results of your decision can be seen.

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Well, messengers dieing is just another part of the grand strategy, if your great plan falls to pieces because one guy gets hit by a stray bullet, then your plan wasn't all that well thought out now was it?

If you don't have your lines of commuication secured, then you're going to have a harder battle, but if you spend too much time making sure your supply lines and that are overly defended, then your front line will crumble.


And in Human Vs Human games, the lack of perfect knowledge and 100% perfect control I think could make for some interesting high level strategy and far more gambling and risk taking. (Do I trust this information, or that information, is this proof that something is wrong with his line and I should exploit it?)


And as for how runners actually carry the orders, it really depends on when it was, who was involved, and just what was going on. Battles in a period of limited literacy, written orders aren't all that useful are they? Written orders take time to write, where as spoken orders take no more time than it takes to speak them and they can be passed over short distances.

If you need to get off fast orders, you are going to yell them to a messenger and he goes off. Pick your messengers and officers well, and things are less likely to go wrong.

And any orders, written, spoken, or digitally encoded, can be misinterpreted, take the Charge of the Light Brigade as a great example. Those orders were apparently written (from Wikipedia)
"Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate."

This resulted in a group charging at heavily fortified positions and being decimated, rather than attacking the lightly defended withdrawing units they were suppose to.

Now, the really really badly mistaken orders should be a rather rare thing, and they should have equal chance of happening to all sides of the battle. (Baring factors like really bad officers)

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The difference between a game and a simulation is that realism is the sole criterion for a simulation. For a game, anything which doesn't make the game more fun should be jettisoned.
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At first from a game design point of view the idea that your troops can do something completely wrong and against your orders is a bad thing, but it is balanced by a few things: Sometimes they'll do BETTER than you ordered. The other side will sometimes do BADLY with their mis-orders.
I'll tell you what: the player will never, ever notice when the troops do "something better than you ordered", or when the other side mistakes their orders. But they will always, always notice when their own troops fuck up.

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I think the key to a realistic battlefield is replacing the (mostly crappy) AI with real players. Think how awesome a game would be if it mixed BF1942's vehicles and multiplayer with an MMO that let 1000+ people play on the same battlefield at the same time! Sure, it's not possible to program such a thing (yet), but it will happen one day! Plus, throw in America's Army's ranking system (to ensure you play with good (or not so good) players) and you've got a realistic simulation of war. Except for the respawning...

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I was imagining that the player would basically stay in ops, giving messages to messengers and hoping they'd arrive safely at their destination. The only control the player would have over this would be trying to come up with troop dispositions that allowed for reasonably safe courier routes.

Do you really think this would be interesting ? It comes down to moving items on a schematic map, like a real general, which is rather...unspectacular.

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Original post by Sneftel
I'll tell you what: the player will never, ever notice when the troops do "something better than you ordered"

That obviously depends upon how wrongly they interpret your orders. If you order a full frontal assault on a massive base at the top of the map, and they opt for a covert surgical strike on an isolated facility at the bottom of the map, any competent player would notice the difference.
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Original post by Karnot
I'm not quite sure about that. I'm certain that most battle orders in the last 3-4 centuries (at least) were written down, not transferred verbally.

Well, you're wrong. Long-term strategic orders that could afford to wait that long would be written down, but short-term orders over short-to-long distances (not past the horizon) would often have been sent by some variety of semaphore.

Of course, semaphores don't have much bandwidth, so the kinds of orders that could be sent would have been quite limited: only general things like "storm facility A", "assist group B", "retreat quietly to waypoint C" could be sent quickly. Coincidentally, that's exactly the level of precision most RTSes give the player.

Acknowledging that semaphores exist can bring in some gameplay features. Transmitting a semaphore message takes time. The further away a unit is, the longer it takes to transmit an order. A unit that is directly engaged in combat will also find it hard to concentrate on reading a semaphore, so it'd take longer to tell them to retreat, for example. Poor weather conditions would make orders take longer everywhere.

To help transmit orders more quickly, a player would build forward command posts, with semaphore transmitting equipment, to relay instructions from central command.
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Original post by Karnot
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I was imagining that the player would basically stay in ops, giving messages to messengers and hoping they'd arrive safely at their destination. The only control the player would have over this would be trying to come up with troop dispositions that allowed for reasonably safe courier routes.

Do you really think this would be interesting ? It comes down to moving items on a schematic map, like a real general, which is rather...unspectacular.

To you. Some players would relish a game like that. Although, I am not one of them. People sitting in a room handing out unchangable missions is not a realistic representation of most warfare throughout history. There has always been interaction between commanders and the men on the field, even if the latency has often been quite high.

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Original post by Karnot
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I was imagining that the player would basically stay in ops, giving messages to messengers and hoping they'd arrive safely at their destination. The only control the player would have over this would be trying to come up with troop dispositions that allowed for reasonably safe courier routes.

Do you really think this would be interesting ? It comes down to moving items on a schematic map, like a real general, which is rather...unspectacular.
I think it could be interesting, and it most certainly would be different. Most importantly, it would not be just "change for change's sake", which to some extent is what it sounds like you're contemplating here. Novelty is a good thing, but it should not make the game less fun.

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I think it could be interesting, and it most certainly would be different.

Would you like to elaborate on that a little bit ? I'm having a bit of a problem understanding how would this work. I imagine, that what you suggest would be like an ordinary wargame with a chance of an order get missing, or something like that.

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Warning: The following thoughts are not likely to be well ordered.

Picture this game. You have an army, this army is grouped into a Hierarchy for easy control. YOU actually 'exist' in the game, at your Battle HQ from which all orders are given. Your army is ordered into a Hierarchy, with 3 or four levels, each with 2 to 6 elements at a level for each element above it. You are the commander of the whole army, but Divisions each have a commander who can control everything below them (regiments). Each Regiment commander can control itself and those below it (company). Company Commanders then control their Platoons. And Platoons can make choices for themselves.
As a player, you get to pick your commanders, fire and promote new ones.

2 kinds of 'units' Command posts, and Platoons. Command Posts pass information, collect information, and either issue orders, or simply pass them on. Platoons are those with weapons, they do the actual fighting. Command Posts still have armed soldiers to defend themselves, but their job isn't to fight.

Ignoring terrain, and playing on a flat map with one ground type:
Each unit has a small circle around them in which they know EVERYTHING that is going on, and can pass instant orders/messages. A larger circle is where the unit can see what is going on with very good idea what is happening, and can pass orders fairly quickly. Outside of this circle, orders and information takes far longer, and you are unlikely to be able to see what is going on.

In battle, information is king, and information travels at a variable speed. Another important factor is organization. If you don't know what is going on, and your troops don't know where their commanders are, then you best pray that the other side has the same problem but is also drunk.


This setup offers more choices, and more places to take chances and risks.

You have 2 top level commanders. One is a commander that has a history of daring action and often disregards orders, but has an excellent battle record. The other is inexperienced, but is cautious and follows every order given to him to the letter. How do you deploy your forces? Do you risk your own command and move yourself close to the front line? Do you trust the first commander to work far from you? or do you keep him and his forces close to make sure he doesn't go off doing his own thing? How far to you trust the other to go from you? Do you risk him freezing and waiting for new orders after he has broken a line and pressed the enemy, rather than continuing to press on and fully rout the army?

The key to making a game like this fun is proper AI. It must hide enough from the user before battle (so the user don't know 100% for sure what something will do) but give them a decent idea of what they are likely to do (AI NumberOne has history of ignoring orders and doing his own thing, but makes 'intelligent' choices. He is likely to press attacks. AI NumberTwo has a history of inaction, but follows orders blindly. He is unlikely to take overly intelligent action without first asking HQ. AI NumberThree almost always withdraws and digs in, fighting from a defencive position, coming out only when he sees a very easy victory, or to make a highly damaging but generally safe raid).

I feel such a game would have a deeper game play than is presented by the average RTS, and it can all be done with just a handful of unit types. Picture the game with 3 types of infantry, 2 cavalry types, and 1 cannon type. The way most games would have that number of units, 1 cavalry would ALWAYS beat cannons, 1 infantry would ALWAYS beat one of the cavalry and so on. With all the extra factors the commanders would put in things, you have a few thousand 'unit types' because the extra factors 'extend' each type.

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