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RTS - Individual Editors

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Hello, I haven't written on the GameDev.net forum in quite a while, I got a bit caught up in making a game, but soon realized, yes harder then it looks. So I'm going to stick to ideas, hopefully some nice team will pick me up, but until that time, here's my article. I've been reading and watching a lot of hype about "Spore" from the creators of the Sims, Maxis. I have to say that I'm personally quite excited at the idea of being able to create nearly everything in a game, which of course, got the ball rolling for me. In an interview Will Wright said that everything is worked out by the computer, he said that no matter how many legs you put on it, or how few for that matter, the computer will work out how this creature moves and reacts, the computer works out all the shading also. Spore has many editors; it has a creature creator, a building creator, vehicle creator, etc. So I was thinking, why not make this editor business part of a serious real time strategy. The idea would be to have a simple RTS lay out of collecting a resource, building a base, building an army, completing a goal, But and it is a big but, why not have an editor for buildings and units, using lots of parts and colour schemes to create an army how you want it. You would start off with so many points you could spend on your first base and unit. Obviously this would be your first base, adding different things, for example a "giant pump" would allow the building to extract resource from a resource truck, or a "silo" part would allow the storage of more resource, etc. You would have a set number of parts you could put on per building/unit. Units could be three types unit, armor or air. you could simply add on different types of weapons, make them look how you want with plates of armor, stretching and rotating things like you would on spore's creature creator. As you work your way through the campaign you can complete objectives to get more points to spend on more base/unit designs. Other objectives could unlock new parts, etc. The editor would be separate from the In-Game meaning that before going on a mission you would have to build your base/army plans. This could lead to players specializing in certain areas i.e. defense, production, etc. It would also make for interesting multiplayer play. The down sides I could see would be balancing of units and bases, the Spore engine is very advance, also the multiplayer could take a long time to send as models and textures must be sent, though spore handles this quite well. Given the right theme/plot that could limit it down to organic aliens or robots or something of the like, so not to make the game to big. Of course I have just brushed over this idea, somebody has probably thought of it, or maybe even posted it. Ha. But that’s my idea of the day, I have it all pretty much mapped out, hypothetical questions anybody? Cheers.

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Have you ever played Warzone 2100? It allows you to create your own units from various parts you get to research and find in the game. It's nowhere near what you describe, but you still might like it.

The problem in WZ2100 is that there's a quite limited number of actually intresting combinations anyway. The other problem in that game is that buildings and units have way more defense than offense, meaning games commonly end in a deadlock, because noone can hurt the other. :p

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I like the idea. I think being able to create sets of units and buildings, like CCG decks, would definitely improve the multiplayer game. I do have a few questions, though:

  • Are there basic, universal units, like a main building and a builder/resource gatherer? If not, how do you know what is the user's initial inventory?

  • How would resource costs be calculated? Is it just a matter of adding chassis+mods costs?

  • Would multiplayer have "leveling" to gradualy unlock new designs?


[Edited by - ruby-lang on July 12, 2008 11:39:07 AM]

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Impossible Creatures did this on the unit side - you were able to customize and create your own units by combining 2 animal species together into monstrosities of war and mayhem. You can choose whether your unit should have a Chameleon's back for camouflage (stealth) or have that back be of a Porcupine's for a Quill Burst attack. You could select whether your unit is to have a head of a Giraffe for increased sight radius, or the head of a Shark for a nasty bite attack. Etc.

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I like having a deck of custom units. Maybe have a SP like Total War (except with a 4x battle engine) where you can design your units in the turn based section. Also, maybe you would start off a skirmish with a base, then you would have to level up the base to be able to build your special units. The way to deal with balancing is having the upgrades have a good and a bad side. Heavier armour = slower movement and so on.

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Problem is that Spore is by design a sandlot game. Its a collection of toys to play with. There isn't a set goal of beating other players, you play it however you want.

But by decreeing a overrideing goal like in a RTS. You are going to have to design the combinations in such a way to promote gameplay balance. Which essentialy means that the larger the number of potential units, the more alike they need to be inorder to have balance.

You don't want certain units to be so powerful over everything else that they become the defacto choice among players. You don't want one gamplay stratigy to overrule them all. So there needs to be a built in form of balanceing the game. Unfortunetly when you increase the choices a player makes, inorder to maintain balance, you basicly remove the value of the choice. It can make for a prety game haveing so many different units, but if they all act nearly the same it becomes a less interesting game to play.

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The obvious solution is providing counters and rock-paper-scissors designs. If you create long-range missile launchers, I can respond with super-fast units that close in and dispatch them at point-blank. If you beat me with an army of poison-spiting bats, next time I'll have poison-resistant giant flytraps waiting for you. Of course, you don't have to use the same set again, so I have to be prepared to counter different builds at the same time that I deploy mine.

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Glad you liked it but also could see the design faults.

A very Rock-Paper-Scissors method would have to be instilled in the game.

"Are there basic, universal units, like a main building and a builder/resource gatherer? If not, how do you know what is the user's initial inventory?"

The initial thought was to give them "Types" they have to fulfill, like a check list, saying "resource building" "resource unit" etc. The user is given the basic parts for a basic functional army.

"How would resource costs be calculated? Is it just a matter of adding chassis+mods costs?"

Resources would be used in game, gather to create buildings and units. But points which would be given at the end of the mission/skirmish would be used to buy parts the player has unlocked; each part has a set cost. Each part also takes up a number of slots or space on the unit/building, which means smaller units for example couldn’t carry to much stuff, meaning that super troopers couldn’t be created.

"Would multiplayer have "leveling" to gradually unlock new designs?"

That is actually an amazing idea, this stops newer units getting designs they don't understand or deserve. This means people will play the multiplayer and the game's life span would be increased.

Thank you for all those who gave examples, I’ll look into it.

Any other comments?

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Configurable units in an RTS is one of those things that sounds great on paper, but personally, I've never seen an implementation of it that I liked, for a couple of reasons.

Balance is certainly one problem; it's going to be incredibly hard to balance a game with such a huge range of possible unit configurations. You'll need to be able to twiddle more than just damage/defense/speed to make for interesting unit interactions, and the balancing difficulty will increase exponentially with the number of different options. I don't think there is a really good way to solve this; just take a very careful approach to component design, and playtest for about ten years.

Probably the biggest and most obvious problem for the player is the unit editor itself. It's fine to ask the player to muck about in a complex editor in offline sandbox games like Spore, or turn based games like Alpha Centauri or MOO, because time is unimportant. In an RTS, the player's attention is already in heavy demand, and expecting him to waste more time on an editor is only adding to the micromanagement burden, which makes games like Warzone 2010 virtually unplayable IMHO. The alternatives are to run the editor offline, entirely outside the main game, as per ruby-lang's suggestion, or to build the editor into the gameplay itself, e.g by breaking factories up into pipeline components that each build a different piece of unit; chaining these together in different ways gives you different units at the output.

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Personally, I think everybody in this thread has the wrong idea about the idea of a unit builder.

The awesome thing about spore isn't that you can put extra parts on your creature to give it new capabilities, but that you can easily and quickly create a model of a creature that will be automatically animated to do things.

What you have is a really, really fancy modeling program that makes modeling (within constraints) simple enough that an average person can make something interesting and yet unique.

The use of this should be obvious - allow players to customize the appearance of their units in an "army editor" of some kind that is used completely separate from playing the game.

Creating the units themselves (that is, the parts that are mechanically important, such as damage, abilities, etc) is a completely separate challenge and should not be completely entangled with an appearance editor. I think having a free-form editor for mechanics (meaning selecting individual abilities and being able to tweak the numbers for each instance of the ability) would be really nice and would make an awesome combination with the appearance editor, but it is important to keep the two ideas conceptually separated.

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The thing about Spore though is that a creature's appearance does affect its abilities, which is then seen by its animation. For example, if you put a mouth on a tail (like in the early footage we saw of the game), the game will consider that to be used as a possible weapon when you try to attack someone. Multiple legs might allow you to run faster and steadily, while a few legs might have you run at slower speeds or make you easily trip over ground obstacles. 1 hopping leg would then mean your traversing speed is quite low, and that your traversing capabilities can be easily disabled. A body with a huge size would result in less agility or more force needed to get it moving, but it is much more durable. A body with less size then, is very agile, for you are able to make 180-degree turns much faster, but you might be more affected by damage. Etc.

Now for instance, if you put a mouth on your tail, and blow that up to a huge size, you could only logically conclude that a bigger mouth would do more damage than a smaller mouth, but be less agile. So form(appearance) and function are definitely related together especially if a game is made to have them relate together like in Spore.

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Now for instance, if you put a mouth on your tail, and blow that up to a huge size, you could only logically conclude that a bigger mouth would do more damage than a smaller mouth, but be less agile. So form(appearance) and function are definitely related together especially if a game is made to have them relate together like in Spore.

Actually, from what I have seen in the Spore Creature Creator, it is more like what Extrarius was talking about. Making a component larger will not effect the rate of movement, or the power of that component.

Different components have different values for effects (like different mouths have a different strength for their attack). You can either add different mouth with a higher attack rating, or add more of the weaker mouths to increase the attack rating of your creature. Enlarging the mouth does not seem to make its attack power increase.

However, what they have done in Spore is to have components have multiple properties. So a spine, might increase the defensiveness of your creature, but it might also increase the creature's attractiveness to others of its kind as well. Or, a mouth might give an attack rating, but it might also allow your creature to sing better (some components also might have unique properties not available on other components of that type). This makes selecting a component more interesting.

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Okay, Thanks for the feedback.

This is all very interesting, so why don't we expand on it a little, try to get a diamond out of this rough.

I would like to carry the idea on of the aforementioned appearance editor.

Of course, making it totally separate and offline is a key thing, as an RTS environment wouldn't be suited to that much fiddling whilst a war is going on.

I would think that having the pre-defined arch-types as types in the appearance editor, this would mean simply that the player could open up the army editor, say I’m going to create a foot soldier, and the editor would come up with all the parts needed for the foot soldier or a tank to work, and the player could choose from a pretty little list of parts, but all they are really doing is selecting what the unit looks like. Say a foot soldier (basic unit) needs a weapon, an ammo pouch, a radio, etc. and the rest of the slots could be used for armor, medical pack, or other special items. This would also work for the buildings; you need to have a main base, a resource centre, a war factory, etc. Each would have it's own check list for what it needs to work, for example, a resource centre needs "A garage door (allows the building of a resource collector), A resource collection point, a storage device, and anything else would just be extra's like a flag, a fence, a window, etc.

Comment + Debate.


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I would like to carry the idea on of the aforementioned appearance editor.

Dawn of War has taken a first step in this too. They allow you to "paint" you units.

I think such an idea as an appearance editor could be a really good thing to add to a game. It doesn't really add to the gameplay, but it does enhance the fun (for some, and for those it doesn't predefined sets would be included).

I think that allowing the modifications to have minor effects on the gameplay might be useful. A unit might have a certain number of slots that you can install "Equipment" that adds to the units functionality, but then have other slots that are just for appearance.

A radio might allow the unit to act as a spotter for artillery, increasing the artillery's accuracy when shooting into an area that the artillery can't directly see (but that unit can). Or, you might give them binoculars/scanners which increase the unit's visual range.

One aspect is that you could craft you side's tech tree some what with the addons. Maybe a building can have features that allow it to make certain types of unit. This would allow players to craft their own sides.

Of course, this meta game would require balancing and would consume a lot of development time.

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Original post by Edtharan
It doesn't really add to the gameplay, [...]


It would detract from the gameplay for me, as I think visual clarity and the ability to identify units at a glance are really, really important in a RTS.

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Instead of just having one or the other, why not include both? The later expansion packs of Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War (specifically Dark Crusade) you get to paint and decorate your units as previously, while also installing weapons and gear on your heroes.

So what I am saying is that you can go with what Spore did, where you can paint/decorate your units (aesthetics) as well as put body parts on them that gives them attributes (function).

You don't need to debate this, just include both so that both types of players can have their fun.

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Original post by Tangireon
[...]You don't need to debate this, just include both so that both types of players can have their fun.
If you include both, it makes more sense to do so separately, IMO. In other words, adding a gun to a unit only adds animations and a 'muzzle attach point', which you can then assign various types of attacks and abilities to. Two units could use have the same weapon with completely different attacks, or one unit could have a single weapon and three different attack modes, or the gun could just be part of the appearance and the unit could only have melee attacks (perhaps using the rifle as a club, etc). One guy's gun could be a rifle / grenade launcher combo, while another gun with the same appearance is a net-launcher, and a third launches gas grenades, and a fourth shoots APFSDS, etc.

In fact, I'd suggest using something similar to the point-buy systems in the GURPS or Hero role-playing games to allow significant customization of abilities.

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Now then,

I was wondering how practical, well, I was wondering how doable this would be, in terms of technology, time, work.

I know it was only an idea and I will keep it that way until a million dollar studio comes knocking at my inbox but I just like to know how practical my ideas are.

How hard would it be? Let’s say just for the appearance editor with a few bits that add bonuses like the radio.

Visuals and dynamics I would imagine being the hardest.

Cheers.

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It depends. Something as sophisticated as Spore's creation tool, which is essentially a specialized modeling tool, might demand months of work from a dedicated team; but if you settled for "3D paperdolls", with components added to a fixed chassis, you could probably pull it off in an indie's budget.

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Original post by Extrarius
Quote:
Original post by Tangireon
[...]You don't need to debate this, just include both so that both types of players can have their fun.
If you include both, it makes more sense to do so separately, IMO.


I don't really agree; I'm with Eternal in thinking that separating function from form in this kind of way would be detrimental to gameplay. Players would exploit it like crazy, making powerful units look small and inoffensive (choosing the platform with the smallest collision box no doubt) and weak cannon fodder units big and imposing, making them bigger and more appealing targets. Or perhaps they would make some or all of their units look completely identical, so the enemy has no idea what kind of unit he's dealing with.

In effect, you'd create a whole metagame about designing units with the sole purpose of confusing your opponents; and while to some extent that might be acceptable, and even desirable, without any constraints it will become unenjoyable for the players. At least if form and function are related, you have a tradeoff; you can still play the unit design metagame, but you can only make different units similar up to a point, and you limit the extremes to which it can be taken.

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Original post by Sandman
Quote:
Original post by Extrarius
Quote:
Original post by Tangireon
[...]You don't need to debate this, just include both so that both types of players can have their fun.
If you include both, it makes more sense to do so separately, IMO.


I don't really agree; I'm with Eternal in thinking that separating function from form in this kind of way would be detrimental to gameplay. Players would exploit it like crazy, making powerful units look small and inoffensive (choosing the platform with the smallest collision box no doubt) and weak cannon fodder units big and imposing, making them bigger and more appealing targets.[...]
In an RTS, it'd be a serious interface flaw if some units were difficult to click, and it would be trivial to prevent that problem by ensuring the minimum collision radius (RTS games rarely have boxes - they seem to all use cylinders) is large enough that it isn't a problem. It could also be part of the point-buy system since smaller units can move through more spaces. To fix the problem of units being 'too small' with respect to being visible, it'd be trivial to scale the unit's model based on it's bounding box or some other similar property to ensure a minimum visual size as well.

If you insist that appearance must reflect utility, you could also make abilities have requirements, such as a 'gas grenade' attack requiring that the unit have 'Rifle #7', 'Launcher #3', or 'Gas Grenade Belt'. Perhaps each attachment even limits the parameters of the ability, such as the grenade belt having weaker grenades (lower radius cap, lower range cap) and the launcher allowing the most powerful, but I still suggest that the numbers be tweakable so two units with the grenade belt can have significantly different gas grenade attacks. If the units are to cost the same, one might have a larger radius and the other has more damaging gas, or if they're not, perhaps one simply has grenades that last longer.
Quote:
[...]Or perhaps they would make some or all of their units look completely identical, so the enemy has no idea what kind of unit he's dealing with.[...]
This wouldn't be too difficult to check with some basic algorithms comparing the shapes used (since the modeling method is rather simple). If you want to get fancy, you could even use a really basic image recognition algorithm to determine how similar units look, and then charge extra points for 'disguised units' or even simply disallow them. Charging extra points would be more fun, and it could even be based on how different the units are, so that two units similar in both form and function will not cost many extra points, but two completely different units that look the same will be very expensive. The extra cost might be worth it if used well, but costly enough that making your whole army look identical would make units excessively expensive.
Quote:
[...]At least if form and function are related, you have a tradeoff; you can still play the unit design metagame, but you can only make different units similar up to a point, and you limit the extremes to which it can be taken.
I'm not against form and function being related, but I'm against form defining function and the lack of variety that is likely to induce. It's boring if every unit with gas grenades must have 'Gas Grenade Launcher' and all of them act exactly the same with the same range, firing rate, radius, duration, potency, etc. It's not so bad in fast-paced first-person shooters based around 'Mechs', but RTS games are something different entirely.

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