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Michael Aganier

Unit scaling in strategy games, how to keep uniform gameplay?

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In a game like total war or scourge of war, you can choose the scale of units which changes the number of troops you see on the battlefield.

Such games are usually designed with a default scale in mind. For example, if the default scale of soldiers in a unit is 1:10 compared to reality, the maps will be designed so that it plays well with 1:10 units scale.

But then, if the user chooses 1:2 unit scaling, the size of the map feels wrong and it can make the game unplayable (not framerate wise, gameplay wise). In total war, city battles are pretty annoying at bigger scales because units get buggy and don't move as smoothly through the city.

Is there a game that already uses a good solution for that? What would be your approach to this problem?

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Usually games do not give this option to the player.

Some try to implement this with config files that can be changed by player but this is more to play around.

In those config files you often can set the size and speed of the units.

 

If you plan to make a game with scalable units, try to implement this as a mechanic if you seriously want players to use it.

If you intend to have the player use this option but not implement it into the gameplay, you can always go for the config approach.

Balancing speed with unit size is hard even when you have full control as a developer.

Giving away this control means you have to plan for players to use a setting that gives them more power or less which only leads to balancing hell.

 

I always liked the mod approach where you can add new units with different sizes but give them individual stats.

Imagine you have a historical accurate simulator with medieval units in a more or less normal scale.

Now imagine players adding God units or Titans with very different sizes and stats.

It would break the game narrative but it would also be a lot of fun.

 

Rescaling the units for visual reasons is not a good idea IMHO.

You have to imagine how the player would see those units.

Sure he would have fun if he saw a 30m tall spartan warrior fight against a 50m high lizardman in a big ancient city.

But it would be much more immersive if the units are the same scale as the city.

It all depends on what you want to achieve with this option.

 

I don't know how Total War handles this exactly but if you want to show less but bigger units, the impact on the performance would be less, so this could be a graphical setting.

But then again you have to make sure that the size of the units don't go overboard and you have more of a godzilla game than a medieval simulator.

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If your maps are procedurally or programmatically generated, you could scale them at the same scale of your units.

If big units still don't work well in cities, it might be a pathfinding problem. It could work better if your units can traverse cities by telling smaller groups to move independently so that it's not one big blob. The idea is to fragment your units in their movements.

You could achieve a similar result by fixing the unit scale, but having a setting on the number of units. If the player raises the maximum number of units, then their scale is still matching the maps'.

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Posted (edited)

You can set a upper and lower limit to "unit scale" map by map to keep normal armies in a tactically acceptable range between a little sparse and a little crowded. Since more units need more orders, the amount of micromanagement (between too simple and too frantic) is likely to be a more restrictive limitation than occupied space.

However, "unit scale" is a distortion that departs from the ideal map scaling. If you want levels with unusually large or small forces, the first choice should be adjusting the map (keeping approximately the same walkable area per unit or the same distance to the enemy in all levels, scaling road width to who's supposed to use the road...) and the difficulty (to require more orders when there are fewer units)

Edited by LorenzoGatti

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Posted (edited)

This sound a bit messy. Are you sure being able to change this (anytime? when starting a new game only?) adds something to the player? It will sure add complexity for you as a developer. So bottom line is it might decrease the quality of your game, instead of increasing the fun.

In total war I always just keep them the size they were intended anyway. Seems to work best with the game.

Edited by suliman

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2 hours ago, suliman said:

This sound a bit messy. Are you sure being able to change this (anytime? when starting a new game only?) adds something to the player? It will sure add complexity for you as a developer. So bottom line is it might decrease the quality of your game, instead of increasing the fun.

In total war I always just keep them the size they were intended anyway. Seems to work best with the game.

It would only be changeable in between battles. I agree that it may affect the quality of the game. I'll try your advice and see how this goes.

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