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Legendre

Is it possible to make a true "massive" battle game?

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I am hoping to get ideas for a very small indie project, so "massive" here does not mean the same thing as the "massive" in "MMO". What I am thinking of is perhaps 100-200 players fighting on a single battlefield. The setting could be medieval war, space ship combat, modern army etc. The graphics could be 3D, 2D or even text-based.
 
The dream scenario is to have 100-200 players (or possibly 1000+) fighting a war, some of them might rise up to be leaders, planning strategies and scoring minor victories
 
However, when trying to actually implement such a game, we run into many problems. For example:
 
1) As the number of players rises, the actions of individuals or even groups of individuals diminishes and no longer matters.
 
2) 1000+ players in an area leads to overcrowding and latency. E.g. if I recall correctly, eve online require massive battles to be scheduled in advance.
 
3) No one wants to be on the losing side. If one side starts to lose the war, people might all jump ship to the other side. Also, keep the number of players on both side balanced is challenging.
 
4) The side with the most players online tend to win the most. Some times, it boils down to one side having 100 players online while the other side has 50 and could not hold the fort.
 
I have played games that tries to implement a "massive battlefield" scenario, and they all resorted to very artificial mechanics.
 
E.g. one game made it so that while a faction can lose specific areas to another, the headquarters can never be taken. So, factions will go back and forth, each taking turn to win all the areas, except for the HQs, depending on who has the most players online.
 
E.g. another game pretended that there was a huge battle going on in the background, but players take part in skirmishes (FPS team death matches). No impact is actually made on the "battle" alluded to.
 
Is it truly possible to design a big battle game? Or is this a hopeless goal? Edited by Legendre
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"massive" here does not mean the same thing as the "massive" in "MMO". What I am thinking of is perhaps 100-200 players fighting on a single battlefield.


I'd call that massive. I guess you're saying massive instanced versus massive persistent.

Is it truly possible to design a big battle game?

 
Of course. 
Anything is possible, except time travel to the past and the Star Trek holodeck.
Your "big battle game" would be easier to design than to implement, as you already experienced.
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If you're OK with text-based battles, I played a browser game some years back which did it pretty effectively. I don't recall the name, but it was a gang war setup, where battles were fought between gangs of a hundred or so a side every night. You had no control over your actions during the battle, but there were UIs at various levels (clan, chapter, and individual) where you'd program strategies involving equipment, fighting style, etc., and the whole thing took ten minutes or so to crunch on a cheap web server. Maybe not ideal, but you got a nice detailed account of the battle, and you never missed a fight.

 

You could provide a little more player involvement using turn-based simultaneous actions without stretching server hardware requirements, especially if you don't mind making players wait a minute between turns. Place a restriction on turn length, of course.

 

1) May be down to clan leadership upholding their responsibility to their members, and making them feel valued. After all, if all the nobodies left, you'd have no-one to fight. Progression is important too though - the opportunity to look forward to having a greater impact. I think most players understand that when they're new they won't be as effective as when they've had some time to advance and specialize. Also, don't under-estimate the "I was there" factor. Most players will enjoy the spectacle even if they die in the first volley, provided you let them stay till the end as spectators.

 

2) 1000+ yes, but if you're happy with 100, that's a lot more manageable. And if you can get 100 players in your "very small indie project" world at one time, I think you're doing pretty well.

 

3) I don't think deserters are your problem. It's up to individual clans to produce loyal members and winning strategies. That's politics.

 

4) Limiting participation in some way may be the answer. If you have 50 men, join a 50-man battle scenario. That's pretty hectic already. 1000-man battles don't occur on a daily basis in EVE, and I can tell you that scheduling is a huge part of successful (not just victorious, but stable) engagements in EVE, and was even more so in the days before you could order up some extra beef for your cluster. Availability of players (on both sides) and system resources are both important considerations. It may seem like undesirable meta-gaming, but at that level of participation there's no point trying to fight it anyway, so have clan leaders schedule battles ahead for both their sake and yours.

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What you're asking for (1000+) is an MMO. Yes it's possible.

 

50 is way more reasonable, and is possible with some good network occlusion.

 

Seriously though, don't even worry about the game mechanics. Your biggest issue would be the fact that 30% of your community would quit the game once their faction starts to lose. That's the problem with modern day persistant world PVP games.

 

If I was way younger with tons of time to burn, and could afford to be online all day, then sure, it would sound neat. However, as most people with jobs know, I can only afford to be online playing games for an hour or 2 per day, where my impact would be minimal.

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@Legendre, is Bombermine a good example? Tiles, repeating landscape, free-for-all; based on Bomberman. Issues with latency tend to arise from crowds growing too big, this may complicate a team atmosphere.

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Regarding the issue of player attrition, I think it makes sense to have mechanics that encourage loyalty and discourage disloyalty, but only to an extent. Keep in mind, some of the most disastrous losses and most spectacular victories in human history have been due to political rather than tactical maneuvering. Also, desertion in battle and uncoordinated retreats are primary factors in reducing the total number of casualties. Very rarely has a real battle resulted in 100% casualties, because people will naturally leave when they realize they have no hope for victory. This also introduces very important strategic options. Managing your own troops morale and the enemy's morale can be as important as managing their rations or ammunition. Rather than introduce an artificial mechanic for this, you could let human player's real emotions dictate the morale of their army.

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Most MMOs circumvent this issue by spreading players across different locations, allowing to distribute the server load as a result.

 

However, clever and optimized engineering could allow for a lot of players to be present at the same place simultaneously. For example, the mere fact of using "deltas" instead of communicating the position of every character every tick is ideal. It reduces the amount of data spread across by sendin gonly what has changed since last tick (who moved, their new coords, etc.)

 

 

With the technical aspect out of the way, there are mechanics that can help make large scale battles feel more appealing.

The inclusion of static defenses granting a side on their defensive end with an advantage will help pacing. If one side grows stronger (500 vs 300), all the losing side has to do is move closer to their base and utilize these static defenses. Assuming these defenses make them 50% more efficient, they are effectively fighting a 500 vs 450, which is much more balanced.

 

Of course, no one would willingly go on the defensive end and try to win from there, so there still needs to be incentive to win the fight, enough so that each side risks an attack.

 

The interesting part here is that, though players may be outnumbering their opponent (500 vs 300 for example), they might not cause an all-out attack. They might choose to prepare their attack and coordinate it efficiently, knowing that if the resistance is good, they might lose that edge and find themselves on the defensive end soon.

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Is it truly possible to design a big battle game?

 
Of course. 
Anything is possible, except time travel to the past and the Star Trek holodeck.
Your "big battle game" would be easier to design than to implement, as you already experienced.

 

 

I should clarify that I am aiming for a simple browser text-based like http://www.urbandead.com/.

 

The programming is pretty much done. Server-side: node.js, socket.io and etc. Client-side: HTML5 canvas, using socket.io to communicate with the authoritative server.

 

I was thinking if I could design a game around this simple setup. I didn't mention these at first because I wanted general inputs and ideas from different genres and types of games.

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I should clarify that I am aiming for a simple browser text-based like http://www.urbandead.com/.
The programming is pretty much done. Server-side: node.js, socket.io and etc. Client-side: HTML5 canvas, using socket.io to communicate with the authoritative server.
Sockets? You are trying to kill a fly with a cannon. Something like UrbanDead is done with trivial HTTP. Unless you plan some realtime stuff (which can be probably also done via AJAX). Anyway, I can't recall meeting any fellow pbbg dev who would be using sockets (directly), maybe except for some chat script. Generally, just download a script of one of these games, it should make it more clear how these are done (I feel that you are trying to approach it as if you were making a full blown 3D MMORPG while the sufficient approach is to make it like a sophisticated HTML website).

 


In Strongholds the player, sooner or later, will be needed to join a house, and later a faction. From then on, he and his faction will fight to conquer and control as much of the country as possible, in a contest with other houses and factions. From that point, the real game starts. The game was DESIGNED to be played by the factions, by communities. Also, by using the vote system for control of the parish, even new players will feel like they can contribute and will commit to the game.
Sounds interesting, can you write something more about this setup (the relation of houses to factions and those parishes)?

Also, can you drop a link (there are several Strongholds, I'm not sure to which one you refer to)?

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I should clarify that I am aiming for a simple browser text-based like http://www.urbandead.com/.
The programming is pretty much done. Server-side: node.js, socket.io and etc. Client-side: HTML5 canvas, using socket.io to communicate with the authoritative server.

Sockets? You are trying to kill a fly with a cannon. Something like UrbanDead is done with trivial HTTP. Unless you plan some realtime stuff (which can be probably also done via AJAX). Anyway, I can't recall meeting any fellow pbbg dev who would be using sockets (directly), maybe except for some chat script. Generally, just download a script of one of these games, it should make it more clear how these are done (I feel that you are trying to approach it as if you were making a full blown 3D MMORPG while the sufficient approach is to make it like a sophisticated HTML website).

 
Well...yes, Urband Dead is trivial HTML/PHP/MYSQL. But that results in severe limitations with the game design. E.g. you need to refresh the page to see if someone attacked you. Not having real time combat really irks me. IMHO AJAX is kinda a round-about way to make real time work. Why not just use socket.io? I am running node.js as my backend anyway, so its a natural fit. I tried AJAX before and found it incredibly complicated to work with compared to socket.io. This probably just boils down to individuall preference.
 
My initial approach was to make something like Pardus and Zombie Pandemic in real time. But my day job takes up too much time for me to finish programming all the details of an RPG or hire artists. And I really want to put a game out there to get some experience running a node.js/socket.io PBBG. So I thought to cut my development short and design a game around what I have really done: dump all the players on a large grid based map and have them fight each other in a two sided war. Edited by Legendre
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Actually, I am really curious why you feel that I am trying to approach it as if I were making a full blown 3D MMORPG.

Because node.js + socket.io + mongoDB + HTML5 Canvas is a natural replacement/upgrade for Apache + HTML + PHP + MySQL that Urban Dead and traditional PBBG uses. But they have not ever been used for a full blown 3D MMORPG (and I don't think they are suitable). The only "HTML5" MMO I know of is Browserquest, and it is 2D.
No, it sounds OK now. I thought you were making UrbanDead and trying to learn sockets on the way (which would make no sense). But if you make it like Pardus and already know sockets it's another story.

 

A few technical notes:

* The setup you use is very rare, definitely not a natural upgrade for PHP+MySQL (I know several BG devs and never heard of anyone using such combo :D), but again I move around text/static 2D "PBBG scene").

* Another thing, about the mongoDB and other NoSQL databases. Yes, it's true most websites can benefit from NoSQL since these are basicly reads. But BBG is a special case. Concurrency and writes are your major problem. For this you *really* want a full blown relational database (MySQL). NoSQL is a downgrade for a browser game.

It's a very common misconception, mostly because NoSQL is simply better for 99% of cases and it should and will replace MySQL over time. The whole problem is that browser games are the 1% where it's inferior :)

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No, it sounds OK now. I thought you were making UrbanDead and trying to learn sockets on the way (which would make no sense). But if you make it like Pardus and already know sockets it's another story.
 
A few technical notes:
* The setup you use is very rare, definitely not a natural upgrade for PHP+MySQL (I know several BG devs and never heard of anyone using such combo biggrin.png), but again I move around text/static 2D "PBBG scene").
* Another thing, about the mongoDB and other NoSQL databases. Yes, it's true most websites can benefit from NoSQL since these are basicly reads. But BBG is a special case. Concurrency and writes are your major problem. For this you *really* want a full blown relational database (MySQL). NoSQL is a downgrade for a browser game.
It's a very common misconception, mostly because NoSQL is simply better for 99% of cases and it should and will replace MySQL over time. The whole problem is that browser games are the 1% where it's inferior smile.png


Ah, I see. On top of my day job and this hobby, I also do a little bit of freelance web design (now you know why I can't finish the full graphical RPG lol). Node.js etc is "natural" in the sense that people seem to expect it to outshine the old setup. Yeah, its still very new technology and not many use it.

I chose MongoDB because there seems to be more support for it with node.js, than there is for MySQL. I got the DB externally hosted at MongoLabs. To be honest, I am not sure about the NoSQL vs SQL thing. So thanks for bringing it up. There really seems to be some concern, e.g. http://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/5316/nosql-is-it-a-valid-option-for-web-based-game. Will look into it.

Thanks for the input and discussion. The web developer in me wants to talk more about this but we should get back to the design aspects.
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So, thanks to everyone's input, I have a rough draft of the game. It is really bare bones right now: basically Urban Dead, without the zombies, only players running around. Instead of one city, I split it into several mini-cities (free instant travel between them) to reduce spread people out and might put caps on the max no. of players in each mini-city in the future.

Its real time, but combat is less hectic than Urban Dead: attacks are not instantaneous. There is a short (1-2 seconds) lag before it goes through, to allow players time to think and react. Right now there is nothing else except the basic "attack" function.

Now, the question is: What are the key features that make a "massive" battle game fun? What would compel people to play this genre?

Edited by Legendre
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In Strongholds the player, sooner or later, will be needed to join a house, and later a faction. From then on, he and his faction will fight to conquer and control as much of the country as possible, in a contest with other houses and factions. From that point, the real game starts. The game was DESIGNED to be played by the factions, by communities. Also, by using the vote system for control of the parish, even new players will feel like they can contribute and will commit to the game.
Sounds interesting, can you write something more about this setup (the relation of houses to factions and those parishes)?

Also, can you drop a link (there are several Strongholds, I'm not sure to which one you refer to)?

 

 

Certainly. First the link:

If I'm not mistaked this is the main site: http://www.strongholdkingdoms.com/

However, to be certain it is worth noteing that the game is available through steam:http://store.steampowered.com/video/248160?snr=1_5_9__400 (the game is free, this is a link to a starter pack aka: premium buy)

 

 Now for the Houses and Parishes system:

http://help.strongholdkingdoms.com/index.php/Parishes_%26_Capitals (official wiki)

 

Basically the world( on the first world made playable the whole of UK) is split into Countries( England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales)

 Each Country is split into Provinces
 Each Province is split into Countys

 Each County is split into Parishes

 Each Parish has about 6-8 player controlled cities.

 

Now for the House System:

http://help.strongholdkingdoms.com/index.php/Factions_%26_Houses

Each Faction(basic guild/alliance) can and should belong to a House. Mostly anyone with a high enough rank can make a faction.

A House is made up from an alliance of Factions. There is a set number of Houses in the game, who fight to win a round.

 

BONUS: Due to the low population at the start of the game, the players developed a higher faction rank, which was not expected or designed into the game by the devs: Basically an Alliance of Houses, and firstly an "exploit", or better yet said, a PLAYER-MADE-MUTATION of the basic SYSTEM of the game, it's a spoken agreement between houses to "team up" and go for the win togeter, picking turns for each member to win.( Each round a different House in the alliance gets the win), DOUBLE BONUS: As you can imagine, this turned the game into a fun, toned down "Game of Thrones"-like battle, full of betrayals and deceit and stuff.

 

Now, for the politticall system: Each Faction earns a number of points, generally from having control over parishes and provinces, coutnries, etc... the bigger the piece of land, the more points they get. A House's points is gatehred by the total of each of it's faction's points.

 

Now: Each Player gets to vote for the Steward of his Parish->

Each Steward of a parish can vote for the Sherrif of a County->

Each Sherrif of a County can vote for the Governor of a Province->

Each Governor of a Province can vote for... yes, you guessed it, the King.

 

 And that's pretty much"the gists of it" however, the game is filled with little design gems that merit exploring and analizing. If you really want to make such a game(masssive player base-dependent), I'd suggest exploring it, playing it for a couple of days. It's fun, trust me. However, if there was a design flaw, it'd be that it's really complex. It takes a while to fammiliarise yourself with the whole system, which can take a lot of wiki-reading.

Edited by traghera
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Thats interesting. In Stronghold Kingdoms, is it possible (and has it ever occurred) that one side "wins" and conquered everything? Or is the game made in such a way that the war is perpetual and cannot be won?

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Thats interesting. In Stronghold Kingdoms, is it possible (and has it ever occurred) that one side "wins" and conquered everything? Or is the game made in such a way that the war is perpetual and cannot be won?

  Theoretically, yes, it can be done, as any player can conquer any other player's city and vote.

 

  Practically... mmmhhmm, really not likely. Perhaps the devs thought of that(players going way to overpowered), so they introduced the concept of Rank. Now the rank is pretty much what you can guess, You start from a Serf ( If I remember correctly), then work your way up to nobility. Each rank upgrade comes with its benefits. Each rank has a maximum allowed cities the player can control. Also, a player, to be eligeble to vote at all, reqires a certain rank. The higher the vote value, the higher the rank required.

However, after the player reaches max rank, he can still "upgrade" his rank in order to be able to build/control more cities, albeit a very expensive ordeal. And with the existance of city armies, and parish armies( players and parishes have different armies, and different walls, and each can be conquered/sacked individually, however a player cannot gain control of a parish by force of arms.

 

 However the main reason this doesn't happen is built in the core design: The game is dependent on a huge player base( as I stated before). And, due to its huge player base, and its accent on Houses, the game is balancing itself out. There is simply a bit too much to conquer, too many to fight on all fronts if you want to win. Also, the game provides some other points systems you need to guard and keep in check:

 

 For example, Parishes own a flag. Each Parish starts of with a flag that can be "stolen" by force of arms( but not the control of a parish, which can only be taken by eligeble vote.) And flags, besides their role in strategic buildings building in the parish(ordered by the steward)((Each parish has its own buildings which provide both army space for it and production bonuses for its cities.)), provide a great deal of points. In that sense, a House with more territory might lose the round for having been outscored by another one, which, for their lack of land, made up in flags, and other points.

  A player can actually be "wiped out" loosing all his cities and armies. He retains his rank, but can't really play in the round anymore. When that happens, the players points do not drop suddenly, and the fation does not suffer a point decrease, for as long as that player is still aprt of it. So player must be careful to not lose at least one city.

 There's also the always-existent resource race. There are many types of resources in the game, which cannot be exploited everywere, and there is a built in system for trading and using ( for example in training troops) of those resources. Players need to be attentive on that aspect as well.

 

  It must be said though that each round is of a fixed lenght. The winning House is the one with the highest score at the end.

 

 

 And the list goes on and on... Therefore I do not know of any House to reach such a complete victory, yet I may be mistaken, as I haven't played the game in a while.( It is quite lenghty)

Edited by traghera
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Are there kingdoms of some sort? What's the point of the king? I'm not sure how the parishes/countries/provinces/kingdoms fall into the faction & houses setup.

Who controls provinces (the king/kingdom, house, faction?)

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The game you're talking about has already been made, and it's called Planetside 2. It's literally the exact thing you described. 500 player battles are common, and military tactics are often used in organized platoons. 

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The game you're talking about has already been made, and it's called Planetside 2. It's literally the exact thing you described. 500 player battles are common, and military tactics are often used in organized platoons.


Can one side ever achieve complete victory ("win") or are there regions that cannot be conquered, resulting in a perpetual war?

P.S.
I didn't downvote you lol. Edited by Legendre
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Apart from the obvious technical issues, e.g. server load and networking, I have a few thoughts:

 

  • Balance
    • Make the battle have many tipping points, e.g. there is a way the losing team can suddenly turn the battle around. 
    • Add external events that affect everybody, e.g. natural disaster or creature attacks. Launch one to pause the battle and cause chaos.
  • Importance
    • Tipping points again (true importance)
    • Spectacular set-pieces (sense of importance, maybe no global effect)
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