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Role Driven Unit Design (RTS)

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RolandOfGilead's thread got me thinking - does unit dominance really matter that much? Now I am not suggesting that it is OK to have one unit that can kill everything else in one hit. The units must be at least vaguely balanced. What I am suggesting, is that if every unit has a clearly defined role, which other units cannot easily fill, then that unit is immediately useful, even though it may seem weaker than other units. So lets get to the interesting part - when designing your units, what roles do they have to fill? Here are a few ideas of my own, but remember this is based on my own design, a hi tech RTS setting. Some of these roles are applicable to any setting, others maybe not. First of all, there are two broad catagories: Ill call them Support and Assault . However, there are grey areas in between, I'll call the mid point Tactical units. Support units consist of your artillery, your long range weapons. They are typically lightly armoured, because they do not expect to get that close to battle. They will generally have one huge-ass gun which can do shedloads of damage at a great distance, but for various reasons, they cannot attack nearby targets effectively. Assault units consist of your close combat troops. They are equipped with short range or melee weapons. Armour is often heavy, to protect from attacks from all angles. Weaponry needs to be powerful, since they must wipe out their opponents quickly or risk being overwhelmed. Speed is also of considerable value, although use of combined arms be enough. Tactical units fall somewhere between the two. Flexibility is more important than power for these units. These units often act as response units, filling gaps when something unexpected happens. You then have your subtypes: Infantry, Light, Heavy, Aerial etc. These have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages: Infantry : Slow, Weak armour, moderate weaponry. They are stealthy however, and in some ways more mobile - you can get a soldier into places you could never get a tank. Light : Fast, moderate armour, moderate weaponry. Not terribly stealthy - they rely more on their speed to get them into and out of trouble. Heavy : Slow, heavy armour, powerful weaponry. Not even remotely stealthy, you can see/hear/smell these bastards a mile off. Aerial : Very Fast, light armour, good weaponry. Not terribly stealthy. Main disadvantage is its maintenance - Air units will typically fly a mission, attack a few targets and return to its base for refuelling, rather than sticking out a large fight. So you can create a fairly well niched unit by combining a type and a subtype. e.g: Heavy Assault: Big, very heavily armoured tank with lots of close range firepower. This thing will just wade into the middle of a fight and dish out some serious punishment. Light Tactical: Some fast moving unit, like a hover tank or something. This unit is a useful response unit, that can be used to fill for stronger units when something unexpected happens - also useful for scouting. Infantry Support: Soldiers with mortars, or rocket launchers or similar artillery. If you can get these guys into hiding on an difficult cliff top they can surprise your opponent with a devastating barrage of fire, with little chance of retaliation. Now this breakdown is far from complete, and probably a bit muddled - it is a bit of a brainstorm really. I'd appreciate any ideas that you guys can contribute. Edited by - Sandman on February 6, 2002 8:22:39 AM

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Scouts: these units move in front of your army, locating the enemy, noting their defenses, then relaying that info back to base camp. They are armored as lightly as possible, because speed and stealth are their priorities. They do have weapons to deal with a lone enemy, but generally try to stay undetected.

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I originally thought that scouts could come under one of the headings above, but on reflection I think you are right - they don''t really fit in.

Maybe we should add another category... an Intelligence unit. This unit covers spies, scouts, surveillance devices etc.

Perhaps also a Stealth sub category could be added.... Stealth units have better stealth than normal for their type, but at a cost - reduced speed, or weaponry. After all, a huge engine or a massive, loud cannon does not lend itself well to stealth, but a Stealth tank is still feasible - it might look like a big rock, making it harder to detect, but it has a weaker weaponry than usual for its class and slower movement.

I''m thinking that generating unit stats around this system might make balance easier to reach, but I haven''t got time to go into details yet....

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I did something similar when I made Strifeshadow. Role based design is pretty important I think to control the interrelationships. My classes are a little different than yours naturally.

http://www.ethermoon.com/developmentnotes/developmentnotes1.phtml

Zileas

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The most important thing is balance, you shouldnt be able to have a set of fighters/units that will dominate every time.

The best game I have seen that employs this specialised unit types is a game called Sacrifice (awesome game, not popular) - in it there was small fast units, which could easily wipe out structures and big slow creatures, but flying creatures would easiliy wipe the ''frostwolves'' out.

There were hundreds of specialised units types in the game, but no group of them gave a definate advantage - I just cant work out how they did it!

www.sacrifice.net

Either they play-tested it to death (not possible too many unit types and possible tactics) or they somehow mathematically worked it out (which couldnt really acount for tactics that online players made up).

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Hmm, I've noticed that alot of people still have "balance" ingrained in their minds to death

I like the idea of just classifying certain units into various roles, afterall, that's how it's done in real life. Some countries unit types are simply better than other unit types (for example, the M1A1 Abrams vs. a T90). And also, like I mentioned in my other post, I think too much emphasis is placed on the units themslves, and not enough on how to control them.

Look at how the English Navy defeated the Spanish Armada in the 1600's. The English ships weren't as big, couldn't take as much damage and had far fewer guns. But they had two decided advantages. They were faster, and they had better Admirals and sailors. How do you accomplish that in a RTS? You don't. Now, some people will say, "see the units were balanced!!". But these people see the balancing from a UNIT DESIGN perspective, and not from a leadership perspective. The English were much better at coordinating their fleets to best effect, and the quality of their crews were much better. If you look at it from a pure design basis, you will never be able to fully emulate many types of battles.

When all you do is look at micro-balancing (unit design balancing) you overlook so many other possibilities. How many times have vastly underpowered armies defeated larger ones? You simply can't make everything "balanced" by trying to think too much about unit balancing, which unfortunately is such an ingrained notion in game designers heads that they can't see alternatives.

Units should not be built with balance in mind...they should be built according to real world parameters. In other words, what does a unit do, what does it work with, how much will it cost, and how much upkeep does it require? In the real world, other than nuclear devices, there is no such thing as an overly powerful unit. Every unit has it's role and its purpose, and therefore fits into the group as a holistic summation. Once upon a time, military thinkers thought that tanks were the be all and end all of warfare. They were wrong. Once upon a time, military thinkers thought that bombers would be the end of land forces. They were wrong. Any game that has a unit that a player wants to create at the exclusion of all others has a serious flaw. They need to go back and examine how such a unit could be so powerful...and in as far as I'm concerned, that's the only balancing that really is required to be done on a game.

There is an excellent series of games out by a very talented board gamer (Jon Tuffley). In StarGrunt II he explains why he didn't create a points system to create armies with. Firstly, he believes that any notion of balancing through a quantifier like "pts. cost" is doomed to failure, because it can not possibly take into consideration the synergistic effects of the sum of a armies parts. Secondly, to do so eliminates a more creative approach to designing armies and missions. Armies should be created because of a role that they intend to fit. For example, in the 1980's, America had what was coined the RDF, Rapid Deployment Force. It was composed almost entirely of very mobile (mostly Airborne) troops and air-mobile mechanized units that could rapidly be inserted into a hotspot anywhere in the world. From this military doctrine, America designed not only the constitution of a greater part of its armed forces, but even the design philosophy and direction of its technology. Conversely, Soviet Military doctrine was massive brutal front on force. No need for blitzkreig tactics, just relentlessly punch a hole through your foes mainline and give them no time for rest or respite. So the Russians mass concentrated their artillery, designed mediocre tanks (but in massive hordes
..and admittedly with excellent guns) and gave very little thought to fexibility in chain of command (which the Mujahadeen exploited this weakness to the fullest).

When you figure out what your Army's "style" is, then you plan out your unit designs, and how your Army will be composed. The idea of designing units first, and then building up an Army around it actually very backwards. Imagine for a second desinging a program. Do you start coding your functions and classes first...and then design your game logic and structure? Not very smart, but that's what I think game designers do when they design units in the traditional fashion. I know that I keep stressing realism, and people seem to be more of a "fun and gun" style of gamer, but I think so much extra gameplay could be added by making things more realistic. Afterall...haven't we been inundated enough with what's out there already? Isn't it time to make something that's different and unique? How do you know that more realistic is less fun until you try?

So, FINALLY, getting back to your point I think that role design is an excellent way to design and balance units rather than worry about whether TankA is worth s of InfantryB. When you factor in a country's style of fighting, then they naturally have a proclivity towards certain design types. I sometimes wonder if the player should have the ability to design units himself, thereby making a part of the gameplay the creation of organized groupings of units that suit his play style. IF the unit creation is done carefully, I think you can avoid the "create killer unit" syndrome.

Edited by - Dauntless on February 6, 2002 11:57:39 PM

Edited by - Dauntless on February 6, 2002 11:59:10 PM

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Dauntless, yeah, I agree, you devise an army and then you
build it.

In the posts I''ve made about my game the only portion that
has been mentioned is unit balance but it does indeed allow
army devising before army building.

I''m glad you said because here is my fear, what if the
player does not wish to take the time to design? I''ve
wondered about this for my game ever since I thought of it
because my unit balancing is only the way armies are
constructed. I wanted from the very beginning for the
player to be the grand master of how. The unit system
is only there to give him the tools. There are some games
where a player doesn''t even interact with the game and
only programs it. These seem to be popular enough so at
least a few people ought to like my game. There''s still
the opportunity to be as involved a commander(or soldier)
as the player wants so basically, here''s hoping as many
people like it as possible.

My solution to ''lazy player'' is to have pre-built stuff
as an option. Not to hard since one needs to play-test
anyway.

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quote:
Original post by Dauntless
Hmm, I''ve noticed that alot of people still have "balance" ingrained in their minds to death



While I agree with many of your sentiments on balance, I think you''re overlooking something VERY important:

Let''s say you and I sit down to multiplay a new strategy game that has come out. All the units are fictional, aren''t balanced, and don''t necessarily have a real world correlation.

In three out of three games, I beat you. But did I beat you because I''m a better commander, or did I beat you because the units I used are imbalanced?

Most players expect a strategy game to be be an even contest between minds more so than material. If you eschew balance, as some wargames do, then I think you need to let the player know about unit characteristics in advance. Otherwise, they may become frustrated as once they start discovering crap units.



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

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Most players expect a strategy game to be be an even contest between minds more so than material. If you eschew balance, as some wargames do, then I think you need to let the player know about unit characteristics in advance. Otherwise, they may become frustrated as once they start discovering crap units.



I agree, but I don''t think this is really the issue. The forces that the players have access to should be balanced, but the units themselves need not be. So long as all units have some weakness, then no unit can really dominate.

e.g Lets imagine players get to pick their forces freely, up to a certain number of units. In otherwords, you could have X tanks, or X soldiers.

On the face of it, the tanks are vastly superior to the infantry units. They are faster, more heavily armoured, have better weaponry etc. So if player 1 picks a force consisting entirely of tanks, he always wins, right?

Wrong. A cunning player with a more balanced force should be able to take advantage of the tanks weaknesses - lack of stealth, and limited mobility in certain terrain. A group of stealthy soldiers could hide in a section of terrain which the tank cannot enter, and take potshots until the whole lot are destroyed. The tanks, unable to locate the hidden troops, and unable to enter the terrain to hunt them down, automatically lose.

So, back to the original concept, what is the minimum set of roles an army needs to be complete?

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Minimum set of roles?

Reconnaissance (scouts)

Speed attack (fast, light armored vehicles)

Strength attack (slow, heavy armored vehicles)

Support (ranged attack)

Medic! (heal troops, repair vehicles)





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