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Combat Depth Improvements - deusohan - 09-21-2014 08:39 AM

Hey guys, I wanted to start a thread to talk about a richer in-combat experience for Starbase Orion. Thanks to falanor over at the initial combat formations thread for sparking some of these ideas. With apologies, I'll repeat some of what I said over there over here.

I've always felt that SO is an incredibly rich and deep strategic experience. Let me know if I'm crazy or I don't get something important, but I've also felt that one of the only weak areas of said experience is the actual combat itself. For a long time it felt like 85–99% of the strategic import was decided before any combat of any kind ever actually begins.

Consider that you decide which classes of ship to use, determined their load outs (huge importance), and where to engage in combat all before any ships are even facing across from one another. So many and such important pre-combat decisions have the unexpected, and I believe undesirable effect of relatively devaluing in-combat decisions. For context, I believe that Vander Legion has created the most complete combat tutorial so far, but even in that tutorial (by nature of the game as it stands) he ends up spending about 1/3rd of it talking about ship configurations, which are actually a 100% pre-combat decision.

Over the years, the combat depth of SO has greatly improved with the ability to escort a target, assign primary targets, and give orders according to ship class Big Grin. All fantastic additions and we need to further develop this combat depth.

When considering the kind of dimensions deeper, more impactful combat decisions could add to SO, I suggest we think of the following two real-life examples (utterly different in scale):

  1. The Battle of Canae — One of the most famous and widely studied military battles of all time, through superior tactics Hannibal was able to stay competitive against and actually overcome a vastly numerically superior Roman army.
  2. The American Civil War — The American South was an economic and industrial lightweight compared to the American North. They did eventually get overwhelmed, thanks in large part to a strategy of attrition adopted by the north. But how is it they managed hold on for a time at all? Vastly superior generalship at the tactical level, such as that provided by Robert E. Lee.


I'm not at all saying it should be *easy* for a tiny force in SO to overcome a much larger force. Rather, I'm saying that the game already rewards you for the smart choices you make at nearly every level, but not as much so at the combat level, and that means here lies a lot of opportunity. For instance, it could be a place to provide an additional balancing effect: Numerically, if you're outnumbered then you're outnumbered, and if the other guy is *also* a better tactician, well you were hosed anyway. But if numerically you're outnumbered *and yet* you're the better tactician, well, a glimmer of hope is there. And a chance to go down fighting hard, meaningfully, despite your lesser means.

So let's toss around ideas for making combat itself a more tactically rich, meaningful, and satisfying experience.

A couple of important thoughts before we begin:
  • Let's try and keep the discussion limited to ideas that might be relatively applicable and actionable in the development of Starbase Orion. While I've heard SO II is in development, and could be a wide-open and very fertile field for ideas, it also sounds like that game is a long, long way off. For those interested there is an excellent and very active forum post for Starbase Orion II ideas.
  • Try to think following the 80/20 rule — Despite all appearances, the developer rocco is a real human being with a life somewhere and not an unfatiguable programming machine sent from the future to shame the rest of us. And 80% of the results will come from 20% of the efforts. So what are the easiest changes that could be made that would make the biggest differences? Give those ideas more thought and more spotlight.
  • This line of thinking precludes *major/foundational* changes to the SO combat system, such as hex+turn-based combat (such as I understand were present in MoO2 or are present in the excellent Naval Tactics also by rocco)

Alright generals, let's have at it!


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - deusohan - 09-21-2014 09:40 AM

Rather than give specific ideas, I want to give some loose ideas around concepts to get the ball rolling on the potential here. As such, here's one idea for an area of major potential improvement:

Meaningfully different battlefields

As far as I know, right now, every possible combat battlefield is virtually identical (with the exception of whether or not there is a star base present for either or both sides). The location might matter after the battle, as the site might be a sweet planet to occupy, or a system located with strategic importance.

But the location of any given battle rarely has a direct impact on the combat itself. Indeed, from the battle view only, said battle could be taking place in any given corner of the galaxy. Possible ways to make the site of the battle more relevant to the battle itself:
  • Make nebulas a slightly more common feature of the game and give them additional combat effects. For instance, most/all weapons are less accurate in nebulas. Then in addition to certain weapons and ships being situationally better, combat as a whole could be expected to be more drawn out in these systems.
  • Some systems already feature asteroid belts while others do not. There could also be accuracy implications in these systems, as asteroids clutter up the battlefield, or asteroids littered around the battlefield could literally block/absorb weapons fire, making limited munitions weapons especially ill-advised. And/or the asteroids even do a bit of damage to ships that are unable to avoid them, making smaller and more maneuverable ships better combatants in these systems. The density and size of the asteroids could also vary from system to system. Perhaps asteroids also interact different with armor vs. shields, making one or the other more situationally useful. This would also make the hold position command more useful for large ships on these battlefields.
  • Some systems already feature more planets than others, of varying sizes. Not sure what logical effect # of planets or size of planets might have on a battlefield, but worth pondering.
  • Previous combats. Similar to asteroids, but less mobile, the carcasses of old ships often litter the combat field. The more combats have occurred at a site, the more remnant carcasses remain floating about. These ships slowly clear out during turns without battle. Perhaps larger planets with higher gravity don't clear out as quickly because the ships are stuck in orbit? Or go away more quickly since they're falling to the surface faster.
  • Solar winds. This environment feature does not currently exist. Perhaps it would push all ships towards one side of the battlefield, effectively shrinking the combat field and making one side of it a total kill storm.
  • Meteor showers. Another environmental feature that does not currently exist. Certain battlefields would be given to intermittent meteor showers, which temporarily interfere with nukes and deal damage to ships without shields. Combat in these systems would tend to go faster.
  • Radiation, a planetary feature that already exists. Perhaps it interferes with certain kinds of ship systems, such as ECM or PDS.
  • Intermittent auroral events. Perhaps they intensify energy weapons?
  • Intermittent geomagnetic storms. — ???

These factors could really make you consider the location of your battle in more detail (obviously some locations being more situationally desirable than others), and lead you to issue other orders once the combat began. I wonder what other people could think of to make the battle site itself more directly important to combat.

Though perhaps of no actual combat importance, thematically, it would be nice if the planet at stake were somehow in view from the battle screen. Even if it was just background art off to the side, it would give a sense of place and contextual importance to the engagement. (I assume this would be minor since the art for each planet already exists, hopefully HD, and could maybe be scaled up.)

Another idea, how about the brightness of the battlefield is partially determined by the brightness of the system star? Yellow, red, dwarf, etc.


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - rocco - 09-21-2014 11:28 AM

I do like the notion of adding more battlefields. Nebulae are probably an already implemented example of this; some systems have a nebula and some do not, nebula disable shields making it a unique battlefield with unique characteristics.

Assuming more unique battlefields were implemented ( say an asteroid field in which larger ships suffer impaired movement and inability to shoot through asteroids ), they should also be tied to specific star systems. This would increase the importance of scouting, as in the previous example you would want to know that the big battle you planned on fighting was in a asteroid heavy system, and bring a fleet smaller ships.

I do not agree with a concept where battlefield effects are determined randomly ( excepting, of course, a system whose predetermined role is to provide random battlefield, aka the Briar Patch in of the STNG movies forget which one ); SO is a skill-based strategy game at heart, and it wouldn't make sense to waste 40 turns of preparation and planning on the edge of a random dice roll.

As such, it is interesting to note that this does not seem to further your goal of making combat more tactical. Different battlefields would necessitate different fleet configurations to take the advantage of them, which is a strategic level decision and not a tactical one.


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - deusohan - 09-21-2014 12:02 PM

(09-21-2014 11:28 AM)rocco Wrote:  I do not agree with a concept where battlefield effects are determined randomly ( excepting, of course, a system whose predetermined role is to provide random battlefield, aka the Briar Patch in of the STNG movies forget which one ); SO is a skill-based strategy game at heart, and it wouldn't make sense to waste 40 turns of preparation and planning on the edge of a random dice roll.

Woah, woah! Random? I hope I didn't accidentally imply that. Yeah, I meant 100% tied to system. (Hadn't considered an unpredictable Briar Patch system. Which would be awesome for variety!)

(09-21-2014 11:28 AM)rocco Wrote:  As such, it is interesting to note that this does not seem to further your goal of making combat more tactical. Different battlefields would necessitate different fleet configurations to take the advantage of them, which is a strategic level decision and not a tactical one.

You may be right. Certainly the more macro strategic level would also be affected.

My thinking was, if I have an invasion fleet, on a campaign to invade multiple enemy planets, I'll have to operate with those same units in multiple conditions. So I'll need more flexibility. An IPC fleet won't suit all conditions well. So more incentive to load my ships or fleet with at least a couple different weapon systems.

Then, at point of battle, maybe I'd give more aggressive orders to the more effective ships/load outs in those battlefield conditions. Or give the ships different orders depending on conditions. Gauss not effective in nebulas? Better go long range and rely on my lasers. Asteroids really blunt nukes? Need to charge close with my gauss.


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - deusohan - 09-23-2014 11:35 AM

Here's another one, I imagine it would be very minor to implement:

The ability to define the side of the battlefield from which your reinforcements enter combat (perhaps with some kind of reasonable restriction or restrictions)

As of right now, I am not sure how this aspect of the game is decided. Randomly? Depending on the angle from which your fleet arrived on the galaxy map? Speaking casually from memory, it seems more like a random corner. Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to be very much within the player's control.

Allowing generals to choose *which side* reinforcements enter from could allow us some indirect influence on how and how immediately those reinforcements impact the battle.

For instance, I could dump my reinforcements on a side of the battlefield nearer to where a leader's ship is currently being weakened, or where there happen to be the largest number of significantly weakened ships.

On the other hand, let's say I want to draw out the battle, because this is just the first out of many waves of reinforcements to come, and I don't want these guys thrown right into the most intense part of the action yet (the general order I gave these ships might also be "Evasion").

There could be restrictions to where exactly you could enter reinforcements. These restrictions could be dynamic, changing with the battlefield/situation, or static and always the same. Here are just a couple ideas:
  • A limited number of radial "buttons" around the circumference of the battle field. Could be at 90 degree intervals — like 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock — or every 45 degrees, or any number/interval that seems or tests out appropriate. The one that you select is the direction from which your reinforcements enter.
  • You can only set reinforcements to enter battle from somewhere on the side of the battlefield which was yours at the start (such as between 12 and 6 o'clock "left" for a two player battle, or between 10 and 2 o'clock in a three player skirmish)
  • A very dynamic option; you can only enter reinforcements near the currently least active areas of the battlefield. So a couple points here or there, but always away from the primary action.

The decision about where to enter reinforcements could be further enriched when combined with falanor's excellent proposal for starting formations.


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - Diebo - 09-24-2014 12:23 AM

(09-23-2014 11:35 AM)deusohan Wrote:  The decision about where to enter reinforcements could be further enriched when combined with falanor's excellent proposal for starting formations.

We've had some good discussion on fleet position here:

http://chimerasw.com/starbaseorion/forums/showthread.php?tid=1771


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - deusohan - 09-24-2014 02:07 PM

(09-24-2014 12:23 AM)Diebo Wrote:  
(09-23-2014 11:35 AM)deusohan Wrote:  The decision about where to enter reinforcements could be further enriched when combined with falanor's excellent proposal for starting formations.

We've had some good discussion on fleet position here:

http://chimerasw.com/starbaseorion/forums/showthread.php?tid=1771

Thanks, Diebo. I read through that excellent thread and tried to contribute input of value.

Correct me if I'm wrong but that thread was more about how your ships are organized (formation-ally) upon entering combat. (Which is awesome and I support it) Earlier I was trying to articulate an opportunity for added depth regarding which part of the battlefield reinforcements enter on (independent of something like formation and not applying to your original combat fleet).


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - Diebo - 09-24-2014 11:57 PM

(09-24-2014 02:07 PM)deusohan Wrote:  
(09-24-2014 12:23 AM)Diebo Wrote:  
(09-23-2014 11:35 AM)deusohan Wrote:  The decision about where to enter reinforcements could be further enriched when combined with falanor's excellent proposal for starting formations.

We've had some good discussion on fleet position here:

http://chimerasw.com/starbaseorion/forums/showthread.php?tid=1771

Thanks, Diebo. I read through that excellent thread and tried to contribute input of value.

Correct me if I'm wrong but that thread was more about how your ships are organized (formation-ally) upon entering combat. (Which is awesome and I support it) Earlier I was trying to articulate an opportunity for added depth regarding which part of the battlefield reinforcements enter on (independent of something like formation and not applying to your original combat fleet).

I was referring to Falanor's thread, which I hadn't seen or remembered when I wrote my thread:

http://chimerasw.com/starbaseorion/forums/showthread.php?tid=961

It would be nice to indicate where you would start battle too, but I am Ok with the current system. I kind of like the randomness of where your reinforcements end up - you have to cope with where you start to the best of your ability. Battle formation, on the other hand, seems like it should be something within your control.

If Roc were to change incoming fleet location, it would need to be intuitive and not introduce more problems than it solves. One way it could potentially work would be to give you the option when sending a fleet to choose up, down, right, left or N/S/E/W to indicate what quadrant you want the ship to enter. That is, you click on your fleet, you then click on the destination, and the destination gives you a choice of where you want to enter.

The logical problem this would introduce is that people would start sending fleets of 1 and 2 ships (i.e., break up there big fleets into 4 units) and surrounding systems. Realistic, yes, but it introduces a problem with how the fleet around the star system is based. Normally there is a star base, with biggest ships closest and smallest ships farthest in a line. This would be exploitable. Place IPC/Gauss on the North/South ends if attacking a new system, place nukes/plasma East/West to keep them farther apart. An unfair advantage for the attacker. So maybe the ships around the starbase are spread out surrounding all four sides of the starbase? But now only 1/4 of the ships face an opponent (or maybe none do) when battle starts, if evenly distributed (again, advantage to attacker). Do you increase the diameter of the map to account for the increased size/radius (you want battle to start at the longest range of weapons, and you'd need to extend to create this logical buffer). But now there are problems in multiple starbase battles... And where do new ships get placed in a system? If you stop and think about it, there would be a lot of repercussions. Not that they wouldn't be solvable, but it would require a lot of changes in programming, testing, and balancing.

If you want straight up tactical combat - I suggest you try Roc's masterpiece, Naval Tactics. That is all about turn-based tactical goodness.

Keep up the suggestions - glad to see someone mining all the old threads.


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - rocco - 09-25-2014 01:02 AM

I kinda like the notion expressed earlier that reinforcement fleets enter the combat from the direction they travelled on the galactic map. That gives the user intuitive control if they want it (not sure who would fly around just to attack from a different side, but who knows).


RE: Combat Depth Improvements - Diebo - 09-25-2014 01:09 AM

(09-25-2014 01:02 AM)rocco Wrote:  I kinda like the notion expressed earlier that reinforcement fleets enter the combat from the direction they traveled on the galactic map. That gives the user intuitive control if they want it (not sure who would fly around just to attack from a different side, but who knows).

It makes sense to me. +1