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Dauntless

A new style of RTS?

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I was originally going to title the post; "A first person RTS?" but that would have been a little too misleading, although its somewhat accurate. I got to thinking about how my idea for an RTS was essentially radically different from both turn based and real time games when I started listing "features" in Kylotan's post. In basically all strategy games, you the commander essentially have a God-like third person power over your country and your fighting forces. Yes, some games have morale, and yes, most games have some kind of fog of war, but really, you the player had very much God-like powers over your troops and your nation. What if instead, you the player had much less influence? What if you only saw the battlefield according to how much information you received from your units? What if your economy was largely self-automated, with only partial input from your choices? What if you played through an "Avatar", a representation of the physical presence of you the player? Think of this avatar as the communication link of you the player, to all of your troops. Therefore you do not directly control your troops, but rather through your avatar. This avatar in turn gives the orders to your troops, and your factories. Depending on technology and distance (and in some cases enemy intervention), your avatar may be unable to communicate with and control your units. By doing this, focus goes less from your actual units, to your ability to ORDER your units. I think my main problem with strategy games is that really, they are not about the human factor. Instead they focus on what combinations of units best defeats another type of unit. Once this is figured out, you manipulate your resources to build these set of units. It honestly doesn't really model what a strategic commander has to worry about. In the real world, a much less powerful army can defeat a stronger one, if it has superior leaders, better intelligence, better flexibility and better communication. I've also said the quote many times before, but I'll say it again, it's easier to break a man's will than his body. A powerful army, if its demoralized or has poor leaders can be beaten by a determined force that is well led. But it's nigh impossible to do this with current RTS (and even many turn based ones). And I think its because of the stress of play on the UNITS, rather than the intabgibles. What do I mean by that? Game designers focus on the obvious...the units, the technologies, the resources. But they forget about the intangible concepts of morale, communication, intelligence, and command structure. Why worry about morale? Let the units fight to the death. Communication? What are you talking about, you click on a unit, and you have access to it!! Intelligence? What are you smoking....if your unit sees it, you see it! Command structure is a joke, just drag a square around your rag tag army, hit CTRL+1, and you've got your organized unit right there. And who needs officers? Give them a way point, and if a n enemy comes in sight, ATTACK!! Sounds kind of silly doesn't it...but that's exactly what 90% of RTS's do. The gameplay focuses not on the player's ability to effective be a LEADER and focus on ORDERS, but instead games make you focus on your units and your resources. I think that if you have a game where instead, information to you as a player is limited, and the access to your units is also limited, then it introduces an entirely new way of thinking and playing. So while you won't be a general in the first person point of view, you will only have access to things that you would depending on the technology, your "avatars" location, and your units location. Well, here's the post from Kylotan's thread....read it and see if you get a feel for the kind of strategy game I envision: 1) Scaleable Unit organization- This would be something along the lines of Kohan, in that you don't just make units piecemeal, but you design individual units around a core of units. Basically you use units as building blocks, not as end fighting units in and of themselves. 2) Command and Control a. Chain of Command- each base unit of organization has a leader or captain. Orders are issued from the player, to the commander of that organizational unit (let's call it OU from now on, although that gives me the willies from it's M$ networking heritage...but I digress ). Instead of having one little unit that the player controls (or clicks and drags a box on to control), the player really controls and gives orders to the commander of the unit, who in turn controls the OU. This chain of command goes from the highest level Army and Corp commanders, all the way down to the Lieutenants in charge of platoons. b. Command Interface- This is a pseudo scriptable interface that the player can give rudimentary "game logic" for the commander's AI to use. Depending on the rank of the officer to which he is interfacing with, certain routines or events may or may not be possible (for example, the ability to call in for artillery of air strikes without the player's intervention). I guess you can think of the officers as a class that inherits from the base class Commander. Then you can specialize the interfaces that particular officer objects have, which in turn control the behavior (i.e. methods) that can give "orders" to the OU. The player's pseudo-scripting will essentially allow the player to access these interfaces and potentially even methods of the officers, although they can not alter the base class. I suppose it could be possible to make major officers almost like the avatars in Black and White, but with more initial intelligence. c. Communication and Intelligence- Instead of the player having a magical connection to every OU that makes the orders go through 100% of the time, orders must make it to their commanders effectively. I propose having an "avatar" that represents YOU the player. It can be a mobile command bunker, a general on a horse or whatever. But this represents your ability to actually send orders to your subordinate officers. Depending on technology, the visibility of the battlefield will be known to you only through what your AVATAR has access to. So, even if say for example, you have a Reconnaissance unit out patrolling, that scout unit only "sees" for it's commanding officer. Once your Avatar "communicates" with this commanding officer, then you "see" what the reconnaissance unit sees. Think of it like each OU is a node on a circuit board (or network). These nodes are unconnected until you purposefully make a link. So you the player through your avatar may not know exactly what's going on, but the OU's commander, and his superior commander will know. And this reflects back on point a) and b). How smart are your AI commanders, and will they tell you this information in time? Will they react appropriately? This makes intelligence gathering and communication links incredibly important. Who cares if you sent off your great Army if you can't effectively communicate with them? 3) Seperate Resource Building and Warfare- Resource management should be handled on a different time scale than combat, or should be handled by "wizards" that take into consideration the players overriding goals. RTS's try to simulate that a commander has to worry about logistics and fueling his army, but in the real world, a nation has it's generals, and it has its politicians. Trying to have the two together invites trouble 4) Supply lines and Logistics- Speaking of which, units should not be able to last indefinately on their own unless they are highly specialized units. Units begin to lose their efficiency and or mobility depending on how far they are from resupply. This can be implemented as a variable within the unit object type that determines how long it can go without resupply, and how much maintenance and upkeep it needs. Can also factor into morale 5) Morale- Wow, one segue right into the other Commanders give orders to their units, but that doesn't mean they will obey. Morale will be determined by damage to the OU, if the leader is good (or even alive), a threat factor (are they facing imminent destruction or is it a cake walk?), and hosts of other factors. Rallying units that have broken or are shaken will be a critical factor in getting units functional. 6) Skilled Human production- It's takes more than just raw materials to produce armies, you have to train the personnel and the leaders for them as well. This includes officers, elite units, crews for vehicles, scientists and other support personnel. Along with raw material resource modeling, there should also be a "people" factor. This will be based on education levels, as well certain other factors. (edit.) I think Morale along with communication is one of the most underlooked aspects of strategy gaming. As I have tried to stress, strategy games focus on UNITS, and not on functionality. In other words, strategy assume that A) you automatically have the ability to control a unit 100% of the time b) you automatically know everything that a unit knows and c) you have access (the ability to communicate to) to a unit 100% of the time. These are fundamental flaws I think that would, if they were not implemented require a totally different way of thinking. In Morale's case, a player has to worry not just about how physically powerful his unit is, but will he be able to control it once he's se it out. What good is it to make powerful units if you can't access them or control them? And that's precisely what LEADERSHIP (and strategy) are about. The other drastic difference in my ideas is the concept of Commanders as nodes of effectors of unit behavior. Huh? Well, units don't do anything in and of themselves, they do what their commanders tell them to do. If the commander dies in combat, then they promote the next in charge. But it's the commanders which put the orders in effect, hence making the unit ACT. In a normal and optimal chain of command, the player's avatar orders the OU's commander what to do. However, there are times where chain of command is cut off (each OU will have a range that it must be in contact with, otherwise it is out of chain of command). If it is cut off, it relies on the native AI of that commander. Some countries are better at this than others (America for example). SO in a nutshell, to get a OU to do something, you have to go through several communication nodes. The first node is your avatar, the next node is the next highest Commander, and so on down the chain. The links to these nodes of communication can be broken for many reasons, and therefore having intelligent enough commanders to act on their own is vital. Hopefully you see a trend in my ideas. It stresses less on the materialistic and individualistic nature of the combat, but rather the human side to it. Can you get your order to your commander? Once the commander gets the order, will the unit obey? Can he rally his troops? Do you have the skilled crews to man the vehicles? How do you organize units to cover their weaknesses rather than send them out piecemeal or as a mob? If my communication links get cut, will my officers be able to fight effectively? In essence, I'm taking away the "God" view of strategy games, and trying to make the player do what a real battlefield commander would have to do. Even if your avatar dies, it's not the end of the game, you'll assume a new avatar, however, your army as a whole may suffer a huge morale shock, not to mention there will be a time delay where all officers will have to react on their own (i.e. no input from the player). Edited by - Dauntless on February 4, 2002 12:59:12 AM

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Wow, this is pretty hardcore. By removing the "God" level of interaction, you eliminate the addictive immediate feedback loop that is a pillar of "beer and pretzels" gaming. (Which is fine in my book, and creates a cool "grognard" wargame.)

A couple of issues to think about:

With a nod to Sid Meier, obviously it''s vital that the game not have all the fun. Nothing would be worse than making a few movement or positional decisions, watching the equivalent of a cool non-interactive battle animation, and waiting for your turn again. So the command set would have to be rich enough so that the player felt like he was making substantial decisions (not just "move here" "resupply this" "attack that"). (Does this imply bigger battles are automatically more interesting, btw?)

Another point: With an RTS, because the feedback loop is tighter, you can afford more repetitive decisions. You constantly click something, move it, etc. So it seems that not only do you need more commands, but each command has to be more interesting in and of itself.

I like the potential of the idea. Since the meat of the game is the commands and interactions with leaders, rather than "click-fest" gameplay, it also seems to me that you''d be able to prototype this idea more easily than a traditional RTS.






--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Excellent post Dauntless, as always.

1: Definitely. At the very least I think there should be some sort of minimum grouping arrangement for units, like in GC where a ''unit'' of soldiers would consist of 5 separate soldiers. It would be nice to incorporate this into more flexible larger groupings, particularly when different unit types are used. More on this later.

2a: Again, yes. I don''t even think such a scheme would be too difficult to implement either.

2b: Divided about this. My opinion is that such a thing would be too hardcore for a lot of players, and would be a distraction from the game. If there was a way of doing this in game without getting too technical, then yes. I reckon AI lieutenants would be useful here.

2c: Divided opinion again. On the one hand, I love the idea, on the other, I feel the loss of control would put a lot of people off. I think this is something that needs to be demoed before I will know whether I like it or not

3: Yes. Or maybe even no resource management at all. I think that tactics/strategy should be the deciding factor, not peon pumping skill.

4: Again, yes. Although so far I haven''t come up with a nice way of dealing with this yet for my own design. I''m still working on it.

5: Yes, but the game should be designed with morale as a factor right from the start. Too many games seem to have bolted it on as a feature, and it is simply annoying.

6: Good point. Although I would be inclined to do away with resource management altogether.

As for your ''First person RTS'' idea, are you talking about an actual first person viewpoint? If so I would recommend against it - with so many other things to think about the last thing you really want to do is faff about with controlling your avatar.

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Avatar = general

That''s the way I see it.

The general, mounted on his perfectly black horse (or in his powerful armored vehicle, or in a silent but deadly helicopter, etc) positioned at the top of the hill, overviewing the ongoing battle.

He signals to the person next to him, telling him ''attack left flank''. That person takes out a couple of flags and uses them to signal to the different commanders. The commanders in turn relate the order to their troops. The troops obey the order. The attack left command is executed. And the general saw everything that was being done, and behold, he saw that it was good.

"Shogun" functions somewhat like this, although you''re not forced to take your avatar into battle (if you do, there''s a chance he might get killed, and unless you have a proper heir, your dynasty will end), but I usually did do so. This really gave me the feeling that this avatar was controlling the battle. I saw only what he saw. Enemies that lay hidden, were only spotted once you cross the terrain, once you got to the top of that hill, once they came storming out of the forest. Morale was a big factor, as your troops would run when attacked from more than one side. And of course the opponent''s troops would do the same, so you had to try to avoid your own troops being cornered, while at the same time attempting to do just that to your enemy.

I think there can be a middle way though, if you prefer to still have the player somewhat take the position of a God: make that god have weaknesses.

Why can''t the god oversee the entire world at a glance? Well, perhaps he can only see those places where a lot of his followers gather. I can envision the player looking at a bunch of clouds, shrouding the world. When his army travels the world, a small opening in the clouds reveals its current location. At this time the player can see what''s going on, if any enemy troops are present. Perhaps a god can use some of his power to momentarily clear the fog...

Perhaps the god can''t control the individual troops, because it would take too much of his power. Instead he controls some elite troops (the commanders) and let''s them relay the info to the grunts.

Perhaps an avatar can be used to channel some of the gods power, creating more options for the player. But when this avatar gets killed, the god loses some power for a while, causing his army to suffer a huge morale penalty.

I think you can fit just about every idea in just about every design. But yes, I think that RTS games should move towards a system where the player does not have to control each and every unit, but instead can issue orders to a select few. That way, the player can focus on the bigger picture. And in that scenario, the bigger picture can be expanded. Bigger armies, bigger battles, higher stakes. That way, you can keep the same excitement/speed mix that current RTS games have, but with a completely different gameplay, that I think is more suited for a ''strategy'' game.

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Just a quick note: See BattleZone (The latest two, not the ancient one) to see a good version of a virtual, lower version incarnation of the player as an avatar. For in that you are vulnerable.

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Cool, but im sick of normal rts's. You have alot of good ideas but its still too similar to most. I think i would be great to have some more "adventure" rtses(what the plural of rts?). to me the best rts is one where the first time you see it you yell "WTF is that?".


Edited by - reverse_gecko on February 5, 2002 11:03:46 AM

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Yeah, I totally agree with you guys that you have too much power in momentan RTS games. I think you should act somewhat like a president of whereever. You can control the army more or less on your own, but then you''ll not have enough to take detailed action in economics(resource production f.e.) You could either do a bit of everything and let the rest be done by some kind of ministers who come up with proposals and governmental programs which you can then just accept or decline.
This way, you couldn''t possibaly be in control of everything, as you wouldn''t have enough time. The only problem would be to make good ministers and generals, so that you don''t lose because of their stupidity.

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Silvermyst-

You got it right, I essentially see the avatar as some kind of general that is represented by yet another piece on the playing field. So to answer Sandman's question, it won't be 1st person, it will still be in a 3rd person mode, but the "fog of war" will be dependent on your communication lines between your avatar and your units. In other words, if the communication links between your OU's and the Avatar are cut, you have lost not only your ability to directly command the OU, but any information it possesses. Therefore, anything it sees will be greyed out, however, that unit itself is not blind and will be fighting on it's own.

As for your God ideas, you can do that too, although I was thinking of a more pure "human" sided equation. And admittedly, depending on the technology, a battlefield avatar virtually could have God-like powers (perhaps sitting in a spaceship to view the battlefield).

To Sandman and Wavinator (and anyone else )-

I can see alot of divided opinion on the loss of control issue. I guess it's the age old, gameplay vs. fun factor issue. It's human nature to want to be able to control things. It's what gives us self-confidence. When we lose control over something, we feel powerless. But by the same token, I think that it's the obstacles that make things interesting. We tend to see obstacles as our opponent, not ourselves. But that is exactly half the battle, if not more so. Sun Tzu once said something along the lines....enemy and not yourself and victory will never be assured, know yourself and your enemy and you will not be defeated (umm, a rough quote, I can't remember exactly how it goes). So I think that the concept may need to be playtested to see if it's fun, but I think the concept is so different that at the very least it will be original and refreshing.

I think it could be fun and frustrating at the same time (just like real life) in that you will really start to worry about your troops. In games, you just see them as fodder. You create them, order them around like a God, and they obey your commands unflinchingly. Imagine instead that you create this massive Army that you send off to battle after investing half of your economy in, and then you lose communication with them so you have no friggin clue what's happening. And then the other guy with a handful of troops under his expert leadership manages to demolish your country. Hey it's happened in real life, it could happen in a game. I think this game would train you to think differently. Instead of assuming automatic control, you have to learn to...hmmm, nurture it I guess. Not only do you worry about communication but morale as well.

The better you treat your units and the more battles they survive, the more skilled and disciplined they become. Ditto with your Commanders. Creating a small, well trained, highly flexible army could be more effective than some obscenely powerful units that are poorly led. The English suffered this alot from the 1700-1800's especially, as the nobility could actually purchase their ranks. They didn't have to go to Sandhurst or go up through the ranks. For example, the Scot's Grey's, an elite Heavy Cavalry unit got decimated by the 1st Royal Polish Lancers at Waterloo...not because the Polish Lancers were that much better (though they were good), but because they had better leaders. In fact, it's only by sheer providence that Duke Wellington had an amazingly keen military mind....he didn't go to military college, and yet he went toe-to-toe with one of history's greatest generals and won.

But how can you represent this in strategy games now? It's virtually impossible. I think that there needs to be a game that teaches just as much about leadership, as it does about sound strategical thinking. In some ways, leadership is the foundation that strategy must rest on. Some will think this distracts from fun, but what is fun? In real life when people play sports not everything goes as planned, but it can still be fun even if you lose. I think the fun comes from developing your skill....although admittedly, I think I'm somewhat of a rarity in the world.

But I do think it would need some playtesting to figure out how things would play out. Unfortunately my coding skills are at neophyte levels. I understand enough to know what programmers need, but I'd hardly call myself a programmer.



Edited by - Dauntless on February 5, 2002 1:36:39 PM

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quote:
Original post by Reverse_Gecko
Cool, but im sick of normal rts''s. You have alot of good ideas but its still too similar to most. I think i would be great to have some more "adventure" rtses(what the plural of rts?). to me the best rts is one where the first time you see it you yell "WTF is that?".

Edited by - reverse_gecko on February 5, 2002 11:03:46 AM


Heh, that''s exactly how I feel. If anyone''s interested about "adventure" rts, check out disciple I/II. If you want a "WTF is that?" rts, give me a couple days and I''ll show you something really twisted.

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I think a big side effects of not having to control each individual unit is that you can add the factor of intelligence to the units:

Using my own favorite fantasy setting as a simple example, if you compare a goblin and a knight, the knight will most likely have a better understanding of combat. The knight will be better able to act on his own, making right decisions, filling in holes in lines, counter attacking when possible. The goblin however will just dash out in a wild rush, not really paying much attention to anything but its goal to get its sword into a victim''s body.

I think this ''intelligence'' (or wisdom or whatever you want to call it) can be one of the biggest elements of an RTS game like this. When you let the units act on their own a lot, the engine should be aimed at actually giving each unit a large set of options to pick from to decide their actions. Depending on the intelligence, the unit will pick the optimum action.

Another element that will change from current RTS games is the single powerful unit vs multiple weak units problem. Currently, one strong units usually is easier to control than multiple weak units, because of the interface. Having to command tens of little goblins could frustrate even the world champion. But controlling one powerful knight in full armor would be an easy task even for a beginner. In an RTS where the player issues orders to grunt units through a select few commanders, the large group of goblins all of a sudden becomes a lot more effective. The player simply orders one of the commanders to issue an all out attack order, and voila, hundreds of tiny goblins run towards a target.

I think a good option would be to not block a player from taking control of individual units, but to instead give the player a choice:

a) play as the avatar, issuing orders to commanders
b) play as a commander, taking orders from an AI avatar, issuing orders to your troops
c) play as a grunt unit, taking orders from an AI avatar and AI commander, but also doing as you please

It''s in the player''s best interest to take on the part of avatar as much as possible, because this way he can have the best control over the outcome of the battle. But if the player just wants to have fun, he can choose to play a commander, changing the gameplay to a smaller scale. And if the player just wants to rush right into the middle of combat, he can take control of one tiny goblin, fighting until its death, then switching to another nearby goblin etc.

I think a setup like this might be a good way to introduce the new RTS to veteran players, used to taking active control of units. They will gradually learn that instead of frantically using the mouse to control just about everything they can, they can be more efficient and have just as much fun, taking control of a higher position, eventually taking control of the avatar himself.

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