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RTS Issue: Making Supply Graphically Intuitive

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In land warfare, logistical goals are oriented mostly toward SUSTAINING units rather than building new ones. The question is: how do we make this role as intuitive to the RTS player as it is to the starving soldier? I suggest using the DENSITY of formations to communicate the logistical health of a unit. In other words, healthy units will assume clean, tight formations while "starving" units will become increasingly sloppy until they are scattered and dispersed (forced to forage, perhaps). Thus, the loss of a large but unsupplied unit against a small but healthy one will be graphically obvious even to an uneducated user: you'll see a tight formation blitzing through scattered and disorganized individuals. Training, morale and unit quality can be reflected in the TYPE of formation the unit assumes. Thus, peasant armies will only be capable of forming "blobs" while elite armies can assume more complex shapes that are obviously more functional or flexible. Note that, as an elite unit starves, it can remain in their elaborate formation, but it becomes looser and less cohesive the longer it is remains unsupplied. The purpose of this idea is to help bring RTS games closer to true military tactics. Current models, in which logistics predominantly governs production, result in the somewhat un-historical behavior of large strike forces that go charging about the map until they are diminished. Although I design board games, I have no interest in designing computer games, so these ideas are free for the taking. Thanks for reading! [Edited by - sightreader on January 12, 2008 8:40:54 PM]

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In land warfare, logistical goals are oriented mostly toward SUSTAINING units rather than building new ones.

Unlike a real situation, games are ment to be fun. If you can make logistics fun, then go ahead, but if you can't make logistics fun, then I would leave them out.

In an RTS game you don't have a lot of free time, so every feature you add that is not directly tied to the main focus of the game (units fighting) is taking time away from what the player is playing the game for.

I am not saying that you should only have units fighting, but that each addition maus be considdered in its impact on the main focus.

It might be that you need to drop researching tech to give the player time for logistics, and that is fine, or you might be able to "slow down" the action to give the player more time to iinclude an extra task (logistics), but these are decisions you have to make accounding to the look and feel of the game you are trying to create (so there is no one answer to this).

Quote:
I suggest using the DENSITY of formations to communicate the logistical health of a unit. In other words, healthy units will assume clean, tight formations while "starving" units will be scattered and dispersed (foraging, perhaps).

As an interface mechanism that allows the player to see the status of their units, this is a good idea. If you didn't use this for a logistics status visual notification, it could also reflect another aspect of the status of the unit. Health or Morale would be a good use as well.

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The purpose of this idea is to help bring RTS games closer to true military tactics.

If you are making a military simulation, then realism is a good idea. But games are not reality, so just adding in a feature to make the game more realistic for the sake of realism is a poor idea (it might make the game more fun, but not likely). IF you can show that the game would be more fun by adding in a more realistic logistical system, then by all means add one in.

However, a rule of thumb is that any taks that does not need a decision by a player should be handeled by the game system automatically.

As an extreme example (to clearly show what I mean): In an FPS, although it would be more realistic for a character to trip over objects on the ground (being knocked prone at an inconvenient momnet could have an impact on the game), we don't simulate this, or requier the player to make choices as to where the feet of the character go (their decisions on where their feet are would be one way on determining if they trip or not).

ALthough this would be more realistic we don't force the player to do this as placeing the feet is not the main focus of the game and it would distract too much from the main focus.

Whne there is a contest between realism and fun, fun should always win.

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Edtharan is right, but most rts's revolve around continously spawning new units and have no upkeep or very very little upkeep involved. If units are more durible and you focus economicly mostly on upkeep and not the continous spawning of new units I think you'd end up with a less complicated more fun game in the end. (random thought: this kind of game needs some kind effective retreat ability though).

To your original question well I think loose formations with a bit of random displacement is a good idea. But your gonna need some visual ques a bit stronger then that. Perhaps unhealthy units look dirtier or have less armor or worse camoflage (what ever your setting may be).

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Howdy Howdy! Thanks so much for your consideration and reply!

Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
In an RTS game you don't have a lot of free time, so every feature you add that is not directly tied to the main focus of the game (units fighting) is taking time away from what the player is playing the game for.

I am not saying that you should only have units fighting, but that each addition maus be considdered in its impact on the main focus.

Precisely! I completely agree with you, and that's exactly the problem this brainstorming seeks to address.

Since most current systems reward logistics with production, then players find themselves managing details of production (what are you going to build, how much, and so forth). The problem is that production facilities are not only far away (i.e. safe from the fighting) but also quite complex, with a generally bewildering array of types to build different sorts of units with technology tracks. The result is that players are forced to scroll back and forth from base to front lines, sometimes awarding victory to the "Fastest Mouse in the West".

On the other hand, if the primary purpose of logistics is to supply, then (for the most part) you need only ensure that you have a line home - a simple check of a strategic map can verify that. If we can make the logistical readiness of tactical units visually apparent, then players would never need to mouse away from fighting units to order to manage both tactics and logistics.
Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
It might be that you need to drop researching tech to give the player time for logistics, and that is fine, or you might be able to "slow down" the action.

For most games with a historical emphasis, I believe that eliminating the need for a "tech" component would be a major win. As far as I can see, the main reason for tech advancment is to give some sort of tangible advantage to players with solid logistics. I seek to return the focus of logistics to what it's there for: keeping your fighting units fighting.

Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
If you are making a military simulation, then realism is a good idea. But games are not reality, so just adding in a feature to make the game more realistic for the sake of realism is a poor idea (it might make the game more fun, but not likely).

Once again, I completely agree with you: fun is far more important than realism. However, if you're having to mouse back and forth between base and battlefront, I think playability (and thus, fun) is suffering substantially.

I also think that historical immersion is a major selling point in many RTS games. The problem with having tech advancement (generally in terms of years) in a tactical setting (generally in terms of days and weeks) is that designers are forced to introduce "sci-fi" type facilities to explain why there's unit progression in situations that really had none. Company of Heroes is a good example (not to pick on anyone, but it's the only game I really know). Despite the noble and tragic immersiveness of its presentation, the game finds itself trying to explain what a WWII "manpower resource point" would look like or how a hastily constructed tent could possibly be manufacturing tanks. I don't mind having bright red icons glowing in the middle of a battlefied, but having hundreds of men squirting out of an assembly line within a few thousand yards of a battlefield reduces immersion substantially.
Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
However, a rule of thumb is that any taks that does not need a decision by a player should be handeled by the game system automatically.

Once again, I vigorously agree with you. In my case, we indeed have problems to solve. Beyond simply keeping a clear path back to base, how much of the actual delivery of supplies can be made automatic? How would the actual flow of supplies be represented in a graphically intuitive way?

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Thank you very much for your kind support!
I appreciate your patience as I fumble about trying to explain myself...
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Original post by Johnhl
If units are more durible and you focus economicly mostly on upkeep and not the continous spawning of new units I think you'd end up with a less complicated more fun game in the end.

Yes, it is this complexity I seek to address. With some horrific exceptions, "destroying" a unit was usually more a matter of disorganizing it rather than actually killing everyone. Upkeep pretty much is cohesion, and so if the player can understand it and manage it without having to mouse away, then I think we've achieved our objective.
Quote:
Original post by Johnhl
To your original question well I think loose formations with a bit of random displacement is a good idea. But your gonna need some visual ques a bit stronger then that. Perhaps unhealthy units look dirtier or have less armor or worse camoflage (what ever your setting may be).

Hmmm... I would think the effectiveness of an army that looks like a bunch of scattered dots as opposed to a disciplined wedge would be fairly apparent... no? I am envisioning a spectrum that starts with healthy, tight formations to increasingly sloppy and disorganized ones until the army disintegrates into a bunch of roving bandits. Perhaps I'm not understanding you correctly...?

The downside of my approach is trying to figure out how to keep things artistically appealing when your viewpoint is so far away that individuals look like little dots. However, Rome: Total War seemed to do a pretty good job of it, so I'm still optimistic...

[Edited by - sightreader on January 12, 2008 8:08:44 PM]

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I always liked the way the blitzkrieg series of (pc) wargames went about it. Units had small ammo-loads and had to be resupplyed by trucks from stations that were scattered around the map. The trucks were very vulnerable to enemy fire, so it added an interesting dynamic.

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Original post by nordwindranger
I always liked the way the blitzkrieg series of (pc) wargames went about it. Units had small ammo-loads and had to be resupplyed by trucks from stations that were scattered around the map. The trucks were very vulnerable to enemy fire, so it added an interesting dynamic.

I've never played those, but that sounds interesting. The only problem is the potential for having to micromanage the trucks themselves.

If ya don't want to manage the actual trucks, I guess we could go for an obnoxious solution and tape down a big, bright graphical pipeline from base to where you are, where either the thickness, color or some other visual character of the pipeline indicates how much stuff is flowing into your forces. You'd certainly know right away if you've been cut off or if you're too extended, but the downside is that you've got this big, annoying bright line sticking out of all your forces...

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I have been thinking about this since my first post and have come up with a few ideas:

What if we got rid of the base buindling altogether? Instead of having a base to build and research to do, what if the player could order in uints and have them parashoot/teleport in.

I got this whil playing Dawn of War with the space marines and necrons. Both of these races have the ability to "deep strike" certain units. All you have to do is load up a unit in a facility and then give the order to drop them in, in a place where you have sight.

If all your units could do this, and they were constructed in a remote location. Aactually, this location would not be accessable by the player (athough maybe between missions) but units could be ordered from it and when ready they could be dropped in.

Supplies could also be dropped in this way. You could order up more ammo, food, medicine, etc and then have your base paradrop/teleport it in. Such things would be visible to the enemy player (the drop ship/transport plane/transport beacon) and so would give away your location (so you have to quickly gather up the supplies and get out of there). You could also have devices/weapons (AA turrets/transport inhibitors/etc) that prevent supplies being dropped in a certain location.

In this kind of game, the player would have to be more mobile and would give quite a different style of gameplay than the current base building gamplay. As you are no longer base building, then you have time to think aobut the logistics of the troops.

How I envision this playing is a player would order up troops and supplies from a build menu that is accessable at all times. Ordering up troops and supplies would cost resources, as would bringing them into the field. You would only be able to bring in so many items (troops and suppiles) with each transport/paradrop and it would take time for this to be able to be used again (this is a method of balancing the game).

TO bring in a shipment, the player would click on the transport/paradrop icon and then select a location within their visual radius for the shipment to be dropped in to. It is then a matter of collecting up the supplies and ording troop movemenets.

There would still have to be some buildings, but rather than being instalations, they would most likely be field kits (transport inhibitors, auto turrets, etc) that the troops would set up them selves (all troops are bulders). Althoguh you can still have specialty Builder/Engineering units if you want, but as their tasks are going to be limited (and still need supplies) you probably won't have many of them.

You might also want a way to extract units form the field of battle. Like the resupply system, you would order in this from the build menu and click where you want it to land. Then you move troops/supplies/resources into the vehical and it then leaves for the main base.

This could be a way to move troops quickly around the battel field. If you need to rapidly have troops moved from one area of the map to another, you could order up an extraction, then once they reach the main base, they can be recalled (along with any extra troops and supplies you need) and landed at the new location.

If you limited the healing of troops in the field of battle to only half their hitpoints, then you could allow troops returned to the main base to be able to heal more (perhaps to full). If you made this quicker and cheaper than ordering up new troops, then it would give the players an interesting gameplay choice (should they weaken their presence in the field of battle but in the long run have a stronger presence, or should they push on with the chance that they could end up weaker in the long run).

I think a game where traditional base building is unnecesary and that redeines field deployment options could be an interesting game.

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Something I would like to see in a multiplayer game is the dual time and map system.

You build and train armies and move them around a Region/World Map. Distances would be far, armies move slowly, and things play more like a game of advanced Risk. Then have fairly short, (5-20 minute) battles between smallish armies, with highly limited reinforcements. (Being able to call in paratroopers from other armies you have close to the battle field)

Basically something like Rome Total War, but with a smaller world map, and maybe full real time on the world map as well (armies just move slowly).


If it is a modern era combat, then give all units (for world map level at least) Fuel and Food reserves, and for combat give them ammo reserves. Units that run out of ammo can't shoot (they can go hand to hand, but lets face it, thats not likely to be too effective unless you've worn the other guy down to no ammo too). Units that run out of fuel can't move their vehicles, and units that run out of food will desert on you.

In battle, a unit will automatically share any ammo/food/fuel it has (unless you order otherwise) with any other unit that it is very close to (extra strategy if you have different ammo types. Do you choose to field Heavy Machine Guns, with their .50 cal rounds, along side your rifle men with their 5.56mm rounds, or do you support them with light MGs, that fire the same rounds and thus can share ammo between MG and rifle?)
Be able to order a unit to over load on supplies, and have a "Max Share" setting. Let a unit of Jeeps be able to load up on boxes of Rifle Ammo from your battle's supply dump (or be called in from off field) and set to "Share Min", and as they drive near your infantry units they will hand out enough to spread a few extra clips of ammo to each soldier.

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Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
Instead of having a base to build and research to do, what if the player could order in uints and have them parashoot/teleport in.

In this case, our objectives do diverge a bit. My original comments were oriented towards historical games: that is, recreating the strategic conditions of past situations rather than towards a sci-fi or fantasy theme. As a result, I completely lack the expertise to comment on how well these ideas would work with the transport powers you describe.

However, I definitely hope that you can use the ideas of eliminating tech and base progression as well as using unit formation to communicate their condition in your ideas!
Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
If you limited the healing of troops in the field of battle to only half their hitpoints, then you could allow troops returned to the main base to be able to heal more (perhaps to full).

For historical games, the notion of "healing" units would be the primary purpose of supply. In reality, of course, you're not necessarily "healing" people so much as you're giving them what they need to fight, but result is similar: unsupplied units become ineffective and are easily destroyed.
Quote:
Original post by Edtharan
I think a game where traditional base building is unnecesary and that redeines field deployment options could be an interesting game.

In this, of course, we strongly agree. Base building and tech really shouldn't be the concerns of a battlefield commander, and I hope freeing people of this paradigm proves useful in future games!

Thanks a ton for your comments!

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