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Karnot

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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