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Tablet (space) RTS's and limits of Unencumbered UI and gameplay design.

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#1 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 15 July 2013 - 09:52 PM

I am ATM about 2 years into the development of my personal dream/pet game project, and now that I have met the major design goals I had at the outset I have run into a wall as to how far I should push the games complexity.


First off  - Design Touchstones: 

1 -   I wanted  a game were you truly created  the ships in your fleet...That means being able to roughly recreate essentially any ship in sci-fi history should you choose.   


2 -  In turn I wanted the freedom to truly tear ships apart, not go to pre arranged chunks (ala Gratuitous Space Battles).


3 - For simplicity sake(and my lack of skill were 3d is concerned) this a 2d overhead type game.


Lofty goals to be sure,  especially since my programming experience had stopped about 15 years prior playing with Borland 3.0 for DOS.   To make matters worse, I decided the game would be targeted at tablets with their comparatively puny resources.    


So to reiterate, I have an incomplete game were you can design, build and destroy ships....It's pretty fun as the pure sandbox experiment it is now...    But Where to Go From Here?   


I found myself scratching my head.  This is not a complete game yet by a wide margin.  My personal circle of space RTS games extends from Master of Orion series to  Homeworld  and Sins of a Solar Empire.   Its got to be 4x or go home!


Large scale map experiments have been only mildly successful to date given both play speed and processing requirements.  Exactly how long is someone going to sit and play on their tablet?.. Certainly not the length of a large scale SINS or Orion game.   I have experimented with gravity wells ala SINS and trying to implement a jump/hyperspace system,  but being able to issue the command quickly on a touch pad proved cumbersome...ideas?


I find seemingly simple decisions like resource gathering and management  setups have to be looked at in a new light in terms of how much direct interaction is safe to ask the players for...To say nothing about acquiring new tech and build tree options...Thoughts?   


Planet capture and orbital structures -  Do I make these absolutely minimal as to only show ownership of a planet , or do I allow for complex infrastructure the player has to maintain?   How much cpu time am I willing to put aside for this? Hmmmm



UI -   How many buttons and tabs can I really make use of before the screen becomes over cluttered?  Many strategy games have died on poor UI...


One solution seems to be to make large scale usage of fleet behavior, thus removing the need to control too many individual ships.

Another method though that popped into my head of late is to allow multiple devices per game session.  I'm not talking about  multiplayer here, I mean using both a phone and two tablets and perhaps a PC all in a single session with control and monitoring interfaces distributed across and communicating over local network.  (Picture Supreme Commander's multi monitor mode taken into separate devices). The extra displays would have a selection of dedicated interface mode options such as strategic view,  full  interface,  Ships/fleet status readouts,  research UI , economic  readout and so forth. I am confident I can make this happen, but is it even a good idea?   


Trying to squeeze a 4x RTS onto tablets has proven to be very delicate balancing act between UI and expected play time share.  The existing games on the mobile markets all had to make generous concessions to the medium.  Most of the time(for me personally) this made them not worth large amounts of play time and indeed, their designs seemed to encourage this.  This is not how I want my game to be, but If I ever want to succeed in any commercial form I may have to set aside my own preferences.


I thank you if you are still reading this, two years in and I have spent the last few weeks staring blankly at my IDE  hoping for some inspiration... Any thoughts on the subject matter or over my ranting welcome.  I decided to post this here on this community because reading over the threads I see many good minds and genuine peer design sprit.  I look forward to discussing the genre and design merits of any such game.  


If anyone cares, here is some test footage running on PC - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEpr--Rti1A

Edited by LordVTP, 15 July 2013 - 10:02 PM.

#2 LorenzoGatti   Members   


Posted 16 July 2013 - 04:42 AM

I see the use of your ships to fight a battle as the logical first step between shipbuilding for it own sake and a strategy game. Experiment with various fleet sizes, commands and control schemes until you find a fun system; you can stop at a realtime or turn-based strategy game, just battles of custom ships without 4X elements and probably without significant RTS-style construction and resource management. The Warhammer board game is a good example of what the result could be like: you freely design your army at the level of accessories and variations of specific individuals, then you fight balanced battles against arbitrary enemy armies with the same point value without any plot beyond "they are our enemies, let's fight!". A computer game can have multiplayer truly arbitrary battles and a single-player campaign of predetermined battles (cf. Gratuitous Space Battles or Advance Wars); adapting the battle and construction system to a 4X context with coherent armies, strategic conquest, resources etc. can be done later (in a sequel?) and it might need ugly compromises.

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#3 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 16 July 2013 - 05:31 PM

I have considered staggered releases built toward different play types for such reasons of complexity, suitability(fast game, short game types)....and last but not least monetization (more sku's).  I can't help but feel in my heart though if my primary or initial release does not have the lion share of 4x features it would likely fail to gain the attention of the intended target audience.  


There are a few design types though that would limit the scope of these issues without divorcing the desired features.  Take for example the Homeworld games,   each 'map'  is fresh and your play is based around a single central point/object of limited mobility.   Infrastructure  does not generally carry over into the stage or map... But you could have scenario's where you have to colonize/build up a world in a temporary fashion in order to gain technology and natural resources.    


A good example would be the recent Battlestar Galactica TV series,  where a central capital ship has to protect it's fleet as it moves from area to area without any intention of retreading the past locations.  Yet in order to maintain their population they must go planeside/asteroid mining in order to survive.  

Edited by LordVTP, 16 July 2013 - 05:32 PM.

#4 LorenzoGatti   Members   


Posted 17 July 2013 - 10:25 AM


I have considered staggered releases built toward different play types for such reasons of complexity, suitability(fast game, short game types)....and last but not least monetization (more sku's).  I can't help but feel in my heart though if my primary or initial release does not have the lion share of 4x features it would likely fail to gain the attention of the intended target audience. &n

You appear convinced that you have to build a 4X game, but there are also players who enjoy more casual and more pure (but not necessarily easy) self-contained battles.
Warhammer might be a niche, but countless tower defense and puzzle games demonstrate the validity and popularity of the "sequence of varied and increasingly difficult separate challenges" as a general game structure, and advanced army design and customization can be a differentiating feature and a strong advantage for a battle strategy game.

Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru

#5 Telcontar   Members   


Posted 17 July 2013 - 12:06 PM

You and I happen to share a devotion to the idea of true ship design and engineering. I'd love to see how you've gone about solving some of the problems!


To get to the point of your post, though, I think perhaps you are trying to build the wrong game. Or at least, trying to build the wrong game first. I'm sure a 4X game with that kind of design freedom would be awesome - but if you've really gotten a design system so capable and detailed you should build the game to showcase it.


That means a game where you painstakingly build and fly a single ship, or a very small number of ships, at a time. Basically, an RPG where your "party" are ships.


To start off, the player might have a certain amount of design money and components to play around with and then they are released out into the game to run some missions or whatever, eventually given the option to upgrade their ship, or simply add more ships to their fleet. Obviously the gameplay itself can take any number of forms - the important element being a smaller number of ships so that the uniqueness of each one can be lovingly showcased and all the time spent designing them can really pay off.

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#6 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 17 July 2013 - 06:49 PM

I'm not totally married to one play style...   

In fact  I've put some thought to a limited scope play mode as you describe.   The mode would allow you a financial and tonnage limit budget to do with as you please... Free to make a super heavy dreadnought or a fleet of light corvettes or any combination you see fit.  The obvious advantage of this approach is it places a performance cost cap, you can only have so many units in play at a single time.  Another is the player is able to skip any economic simulation or upkeep...      This is akin to the approach for the opposition in AI war(which methodology I borrow from heavily for my own agent setup).   

#7 Orymus3   Members   


Posted 17 July 2013 - 08:06 PM

Hmm, from what I see, you've got a great chance to make a layered game there.


Your battles are looking great, and I'd capitalize on this. Instead of going the mainstream 4X way, perhaps you should focus more on the battles?

4X might only come as a metagame of sorts...


Think, World of Tanks (finite battles) but an added system where how well you behave in a battle (with regards to the resources spent to build ships for example) nets you additional resources / techs to further create new ship components and build larger fleets. There could be some kind of campaign where you must become stronger to attack enemy planets, or you could do it much in the trend of Star Wars Battlefront 2's conquest system where each game 'turn' the enemy moves and you move your fleet(s) and then play each battles individually.

Warhammer 40k Dawn of War I also used something similar in one of its expansion.



There are many topics in your original post. I suggest breaking it down into different threads if possible. I would feel any UI comment I could offer would be out of place in this specific thread that appears to assess the scope of your suggested gameplay.

Edited by Orymus3, 17 July 2013 - 08:07 PM.

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#8 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 17 July 2013 - 10:21 PM

Well, I'm not sure how appropriate it is for me to start multiple threads on my first week here.  Yes things have quickly gotten a bit off topic, but the UI and the scope of the game are inexorably linked.    If I want access to each layer at any point in play  they have to be.   If you only ever have ten or less ships in play...fleet control is redundant. If you have 50 or so entries in each weapon/hull section category...how you present the (useful)information is paramount.  


One UI solution I've been pondering is to have a series of tabs on the 4 sides the display that when activated pull out to reveal the control set for a particular use(Or for that matter, from the corners).   Individual ship settings(Escort mode, move to contact, standoff attack, missile defense envelope size, ect),  fleet mode, economic mode, builder mode...and anything else I can think off as being useful.    

Edited by LordVTP, 18 July 2013 - 12:28 AM.

#9 Stormynature   GDNet+   


Posted 18 July 2013 - 09:10 AM

You might consider developing a UI from a command perspective -- A larger fleet would be managed by a higher rank and decisions would be made at more strategic level I.e. fleet deployment etc whereas if you select a smaller section of this fleet commanded by a lower rank you might open up more tactical options concerned with the actual battles.

#10 Meatsack   Members   


Posted 18 July 2013 - 02:21 PM

Building off of Stormy's post:


You will have a character for each level of command, right?  You can put a portrait of the current character in an upper corner and line the top with the actions that character is responsible for overseeing.  Those actions include overseeing other groups of characters in the empire.  One action at the end of the bar is "Report to Superior" which takes the UI back up one level. (Like the folder with the up arrow in a Windows Explorer window.)  Each level of play has its own main UI screen where the micromanaging happens, but the hierarchy is what determines which actions are available on that specific UI.


For example:

The highest level character in the government is The Emperor.

Under the Emperor, there could be the Fleet Commander, Minister of Labor, and Master Political Liaison.

Under each of those would be multiple Generals, Governors, and Diplomats, respectively.

I'll stop there to keep things simple, but eventually you would get to individual buildings where the ships are built, taxes are levied, and foreign relations are negotiated.


I think that you need to start with mapping out your hierarchy tree and defining the roles of each office.  That would make a good design document to help you progress.

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#11 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 18 July 2013 - 06:07 PM

Before we get too far into the simulated personality in charge type setup here let me say I had no such intention.  I find the setting commanders and governors type gameplay be rather annoying...the user is either in command or not. Furthermore the flow of battle is far too fast to enable meaningful 'personality' behavior modifiers.  Setting fleet behaviors does essentially the same thing while not tacking a face to it or forcing you into a particular  option set. 


Having to set and use avatars and sub commanders in that fashion makes sense in Total War historical type simulation or pure a pure simulation, but is cumbersome unless your going to limit yourself to a semi turn based play style.    


In fact most of the limitations in scope mentioned so far in the discussion seem  designed specifically to eliminate or substantially diminish such play style.  


-However ...although I do not approve of this play for the user I do believe in behavior modifiers for the opposing agents.   By adjusting the fudge-factors in the weighted random states of the sub-commanders would create stronger groups of behavior.   This would allow stronger campaign setups as the user finds himself going against multiple personality command styles.   

Edited by LordVTP, 18 July 2013 - 06:08 PM.

#12 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 18 July 2013 - 06:45 PM

Actually, I feel I should explain the root of the behavior system as it is now-


As I said before, I use the concepts used in AI War as seen here






When I set out to do this though I found I had a unique problem....Classic comparison does not work (or work simply) when all the ships are dynamic in nature....so i needed the ships to be able to self classify-


Each ship when spawned goes down a list and inventory before deciding on 4 major behavior modifiers-    


Class  -  "Corvette" "Frigate" "Destroyer"; "Cruiser" "Battlecruiser" "Dreadnought" "Battleship"-

Weight Class - "Light"  "Battle" "Medium" "Large" "Armored" "Heavy"-


Type -  "Gun-Boat" "Anti-Ship Missile" "Missile Defence" "Command & Control" "Carrier Wing"

Speed class - "Medium Speed" "Quick" "Fast" "Fast Attack"-




Optimal-Range is then determined based on the min/max values of the decided primary role weapons systems(each weapons, defense system has a value attributed to it) .

During combat each ship will of course fire on targets of opportunity,  but each ship will try to find the most appropriate available target to engage.   During the threat level check  each ship within action range  is compared based on all values  to include ship health  and type,   IE a  command and control ship will not prefer to go toe to toe with  heavy battleship.    


This is where I want my fleet layer to come into play....  I plan to auto sort each fleet and group the ships into formation based  on all these factors, with the primary capital ships at the heart,  ships designated as escort to the edges  ( or other choose able profiles). 


By being able to select standoff profile,  the ships in the fleet will maintain formation  and attack from maximum range.   Escorts could be set to break formation and engage when the enemy breaks into a certain radius( or not).  Defensive ships would set their inbound  engagement  radius several time over to shield the most value ships.  


Edited by LordVTP, 18 July 2013 - 06:47 PM.

#13 Stormynature   GDNet+   


Posted 19 July 2013 - 10:19 AM

A command structure as a UI does not have to incorporate persona elements, although from a player perspective the introduction of a UI system that takes characteristics from a command structure could afford them a degree of familiarity whilst incorporating newer gameplay behaviours. However given the high degree of automation you have built into your fleet behaviours I can also see that a lot of the basic strategy and tactical elements that a player might consider utilising (under such a structure) have been in essence removed from them as an option.


Some thoughts.


You did not mention whether ships will change targets if a higher value target falls within range or if they will continue to target their first objective. This could also extend into issues of where a ship is crippled does it still get targeted or do ships move on to new targets.


At about 1.37 into your youtube I watch a missile (active targeter design) rotate through an axis after the ship it was initially fired at blew up before it hit. What I found interesting is that its trajectory as it retargeted a new enemy ship ran it very close to hitting the ship that launched the missile in the first place. This put me in mind of similar problems experienced by submarine commanders who released active-search torpedos then being targeted by self-same torpedos. Do you have friendly fire built into the game? Also are the deployment of mines, chaff, jammers and other such elements planned for?


If all the tactical elements are AI automated does this mean your gameplay for this game (when it comes to combat aspects) is more about building your fleets and then watching the results of their engagements in what is virtually a spectator mode?

#14 LordVTP   Members   


Posted 19 July 2013 - 03:53 PM

This may seem to be the case,  but as the scale of play approaches my desired heights(small SINS scale, dozen planets+,200+ ships)  it's simply the level of abstraction necessary to enable workable play.  One of the things I always disliked about the C&C series was the units were not capable of acting on their own in any reasonable fashion...you could drive an army into an enemy base and they would just sit there after clearing the offensive units...ugh.    Compare this to Total Annihilation -  where you can ignore entire non critical battlefields after issuing your overarching commands.    Setting simple behavior tags such as  "Fire at will/Hold Fire/Return Fire"  and   "Hold Position/Maneuver/Roam"  create surprisingly complex results.


That said, and to the question of the user being a mere spectator,   Any user commands (to include setting target, where to move) override the behaviors system until that command is completed.  If the user tell a ship to target a particular enemy,  they will do so until they or their target is destroyed...same for movement.   For super heavy weapons this is critical.... you shouldn't waste nukes/blackholes/asteroids /mirv weapons  on small fry(the cycle-time/cooldown is too long) .   


As for the AI changing targets mid way,  a weakened/crippled ship's  attack value is higher then a fresh one...they make a tasty target!   Ships that would not normally risk engaging them may take the opportunity it get some shots in.  


There is no friendly fire at this time because it's simpler to handle the collisions...If I have to start checking the fire lines of each weapon all the time that's allot of checks-  On pc not an issue....on a single core android tablet...


That's said the decision AI does not run 1 to 1 with the stepping,  in fact its semi random within a given range  but typically it takes several seconds between a single ship  target preference check.    When there is not a preference or the preference has been destroyed or lost contact with they revert to targets of opportunity.   


Those tracking missiles actually are targeting on individual parts of a ship, so if the part is separated from their parent the missile will continue to track it.  If the part completely vanished before the missile impacts they go dumb until they time out, there is no redesignation.  I like things to be able to miss!


Mines exist currently but do not actually have a AI deployment method....still working on that one.  I hadn't considered chaff/decoy's  which is an oversight on my part, I'll add those ASAP.  There is a EMP missile that has the ability to interrupt a ships offensive/defensive targeting ability BTW (and another that cripples engines)... Also on the weirder end of the defensive spectrum there is a "return to sender"   beam that reprograms enemy missiles and fighter drones sending them back where they came from...thinking of doing a special shield with similar reflection properties that acts on a pulsing  behavior(I mean, if it was always effective they'd be invincible.)


EDIT - Chaff launcher in!  Clouds break track lock of enemy missiles and some direction change, making then likely to miss. Good call on that one!

Edited by LordVTP, 20 July 2013 - 12:55 AM.

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