Space combat: next steps

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Aquitaine
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Space combat: next steps

#1 Post by Aquitaine » Mon Aug 07, 2006 1:05 am

This is an UNOFFICIAL design thread. No guarantees that anything here will be read by anyone who isn't under the influence. But I figured it's not too fair to all you guys who care about FreeOrion to leave you totally in the dark.

Here's what we know about our space combat engine so far. It's not much, but it took us forever to get this far, and I think it's important.

Combat will be 'simulated real time' ala KOTOR -- that is, it will operate in turns under the hood (of approximately 3-5 seconds) so response to orders will be minimally delayed. Both sides give orders whenever (though they are obviously processed 'on the turn', there is no 'end turn' button).

I think the next important issue is to determine how we manage fleets -- whether we use 'units' of many similar ships (ala Total War) or identical ships (ala Empire at War). Should there be a maximum number of units on the field at one time? A maximum number of ships? Does having a finite number allow for a more effective UI? What are some examples of tactical engines with good UI? Talk about your favorite strategy game, whether it's Total War or EaW or something else entirely. Pinpoint what makes the fighting part of it so great.
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MikkoM
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#2 Post by MikkoM » Mon Aug 07, 2006 9:39 pm

Well my favourite strategy game is Rome Total War. And the main reasons that in my opinion make the fighting part of it so great are that it offers massive battles with excellent graphics so that you can really feel that you are leading an army of a big historical empire and fighting in a real battlefield.

Now what comes to the UI of Rome Total War battles I think it is pretty simple and easy to use, but I don`t consider it to be the perfect UI as you can`t break and reform your units during the battle. And because of this you sometimes find yourself in situations where some of your units are getting major pressure from the enemy army and there for they are loosing badly where as some of your units nearby are winning their battle against the enemy units, but as you can`t just take some men from those winning units to strengthen your units in trouble and you can`t move those whole winning units, because then the enemy could attack your moving units from behind or from the sides this may lead to situations where those units in trouble break and run and usually pretty soon your whole army is running away from the battle.

So I would hope that you could break and reform groups of ships during the battle in Freeorion so that the player could react better to the changing situations during the battle and possibly create pressure points to the battle line, if there is a battle line.

To the question should the ships in a group be similar to each other or could there be different kinds of ship designs in one group, if this even was the question, I would say that it would be great if groups could consist of ships with different kinds of designs. For example in Rome Total War your units consist of similar men, which sometimes leads to problems, because your unit of 160 archers are alone woundrebal to the enemy cavalry and often I have found my archers from being slaughtered by the enemy cavalry while I take care of the battle of my phalanxes.

So I think that it would be great if you could form mixed groups in Freeorion. This way you could for example have some beam ships in a carrier group so that if an enemy group surprises them the carriers wouldn`t be defenceless against the enemy beam ships and so you would have a little bit of time to send reinforcements to aid the carrier group. But of course this would also mean that you might not get to use the fire power of those beam ships in every battle if the carriers could launch their fighters from a greater distance than the beam ships would be able to use their weapons.

And what comes to the maximum amount of ships I think that this is a question that should be mainly answered by tzlaine and the other programmers, because what comes to the UI I think that if ships are grouped, it is quite easy to handle them and of course you can always increase the size of the groups. And of course if there is a maximum amount of ships in the battlefield the rest of the fleet could always wait in reserve and enter the battlefield when the previous ships have been destroyed like in Rome Total War.

I have probably posted many of these ideas in other threads as well, but here they are now atleast in one place.

By the way what did this mean: " No guarantees that anything here will be read by anyone who isn't under the influence." Influence of what? Drugs, alcohol? :wink:

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marhawkman
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#3 Post by marhawkman » Mon Aug 07, 2006 10:39 pm

I'm thinking "influence of preset ideas".

Could we at least start out with having techs for increasing the attack/defense of our ships?
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#4 Post by Daveybaby » Tue Aug 08, 2006 10:25 am

Re: individual ships / groups of ships... I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that i think moo3 got it right.

/ducks and waits for rotten tomatoes to stop flying past.

Okay, okay, i know Moo3 combat stank to high heaven, but i'm more inclined to believe that this was due to the myriad of bugs, poor pacing and complete lack of tactical elements involved. But, i think that the idea of task forces, with core mission ships surrounded by escorts, pickets and scouts, if handled correctly, is a pretty good idea.

One thing i didnt like in moo3 was the way task forces were persistant between battles, so that you had to keep disbanding and re-forming them all of the time. So, i'm proposing a pre-combat setup, where you group all of the available ships into temporary task forces which exist only for that one battle. You have a maximum number of task forces, determined by UI and gameplay factors (probably 10 would be a good number), but, importantly, no upper limit on the number of ships in any one task force.

Another thing i didnt like in moo3 was the use of fighters - treating them kind of like a different type of missile was a bit crap. I would take all of the fighters available at the start of the battle and assign them to task forces too. That way you can assign fighters to, say, a troop transport task force and have them perform a defensive role, protecting the troop transports from enemy fighters. Or a task force made up purely of fighters would perform an offensive role being ordered to attack enemy capital ships etc.

So, you might start combat with the following ships
5 carriers (not much offensive weaponry of their own)
100 interceptors (fighters)
50 strike fighters (i.e. fighter bombers)
4 battleships (long range attack - missiles & long range beams)
10 cruisers (fast attack all rounder)
10 destroyers (anti capital ship escort)
10 PD Escorts (anti fighter/missile escort)
6 recon (scout ships)

And you might choose to build the following task forces

(1) Carrier task force
5 carriers, 25 interceptors, 5 destroyers, 5 P.D. Escorts
(Sit out of the way and try to avoid trouble, but with escorts in case they cant avoid it)

(2) & (3) Fast attack task forces
5 cruisers each
(no escorts, they can look after themselves)

(4) Stand-off attack task force
4 battleships, 25 interceptors, 5 destroyers, 5 P.D. Escorts
(note that the interceptors will not go out and attack whatever the task force is attacking, they will stay and defend the battleships)

(5) Strike task force
50 strike fighters, 25 interceptors
(attack enemy capital ships, interceptors defend strike fighters)

(6) Interdiction task force
25 interceptors
(go where needed)

(7) (8 ) & (9) Recon task forces
2 recon each

During combat you could have some simple commands to reassign ships between task forces (or to new task forces as long as you dont exceed the maximum limit) e.g. you might decide to split off the interceptors escorting the carriers at some point and form another interdiction task force. Similarly you might reassign them to give some extra defence to the battleship group. Or you might merge your 3 recon task forces into one so that you can use the spare slots to split another task force up. But to be honest, i wouldnt expect that stuff to be needed very often, so its optional. In fact, it might be beneficial to gameplay to prohibit it anyway, and make people really suffer if they havent provided enough protection to their carriers, for example.
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#5 Post by utilae » Tue Aug 08, 2006 7:46 pm

While I think the best type of combat for a space 4x game is simultanious real time (phase time), I haven't really played any games that use the method of combat. So I'll talk about an old favourite.


Moo2 has the best space combat I have ever seen. Sure, there were problems, eg first to attack likely wins and large number of ships take too long to order, let alone waiting for the enemy to carry out orders. Even auto turn wasn't fast enough nor could you stop it so easily.

However, Moo2 brought an excitement and immersion that is needed in these games. Moo3 going real time lost that. In Moo2 you had massive control of all ship systems, cool music and a useful feature called auto turn, that made the AI give the orders (useful since it is unlikely that the AI will make mistakes as all there is to do is move forward and shoot, it's really the tech level that decides things anyway).

There are certainly things that could have improved the system.
*every gives orders, then orders played out (phased time)
*faster auto turn
*able to stop auto turn on click
*more weapon types, eg area effect
*group commands, ie select 10 ships and order to attack those 10 ships

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#6 Post by Sheldar » Wed Aug 09, 2006 3:38 pm

I don't have extensive history with MOO2 or MOO3 combat systems. (I always liked MOO1 best.) Which pieces of the MOO1 combat systems are liked/disliked?

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#7 Post by marhawkman » Wed Aug 09, 2006 9:31 pm

I like the idea of giving ships orders then pressing the "end Turn" button to see the results of your orders.
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Some thoughts

#8 Post by Airshipjones » Wed Aug 30, 2006 8:17 pm

New here, but a long time MOO1&II player.

I agree that there are some good ideas to pick out of MOOIII for combat. Even ground combat. Here are some ideas I would recommend, based on what others have said, and what I think would make for a good game.

First, having fleets that are designed around a task force or battle group is definitely the way to go. These groups should be hetrogenous, usually with a one or more large ships (a battleship or carrier) and then screening cruisers and destroyers and usually a fighter escort for CAP and interception. Usually such a group will have a submarine shadow the fleet, which doesn't really apply, but having a ship with good stealth and sensors does. Also, I haven't seen anything about tankers, freighters, or other civilian transports. Military ships play a vital role in protecting civilian shipping, and it dramatically changes the types of ships used and the tactics employed.

For tactical level combat, I would recommend that fleets be preselected to with orders such as escort duty, or envelope target, or pincer attack, or wedge attack, etc. I suggest that combat be near real time, with the option to scale the time flow (like in Harpoon) so that revised orders can be given. I would suggest, depending on the technologies available, that revised orders during combat be limited, or time delayed.I have a more thought on this, but it isn't really organized yet.

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Re: Some thoughts

#9 Post by Geoff the Medio » Wed Aug 30, 2006 9:02 pm

Airshipjones wrote:Also, I haven't seen anything about tankers, freighters, or other civilian transports. Military ships play a vital role in protecting civilian shipping, and it dramatically changes the types of ships used and the tactics employed.
Check out the fuel and general fleet (re)supply threads:
http://freeorion.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=754
http://freeorion.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1308

Whether fleet supply is "civilian shipping" is arguable, but the strategic impact is relevant.

There's also the blockades / merchant marine thread:
http://freeorion.org/forum/viewtopic.ph ... t=blockade

That might be more relevant thematically.

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#10 Post by Sintax » Fri Sep 01, 2006 5:20 am

I was playing MoO2 just the other day and thinking about how player combat could be sped up from manually moving and firing each ship.

Anyway, there's an approach I thought that could be used for players and for AI opponents. I was thinking that you could have an AI or 'tactical approach' setting for different types of ships. There would be a screen where you set certain conditions for the ship to work under, and save the template to use for other ships. Most of the time, the ships would use the same general AI, but you could use this to add more specific things without spending time in battle doing every little thing.

I think this would work best with the squad or task force approach where there are groups of ships that work together. Although it could work with every ship operating on its own. Anyway, you could set a list of simple AI commands for the ships to do, sorted by priority. Things like:

Attack [larger/smaller/closest/farthest/most damaged/most dangerous/attacking...] ship.
Attack oribatal defenses.
Attack ground defenses.
Defend [larger/smaller/most damaged/...] ships.
Defend from missiles.

Now there could be much more of these, or more specific commands, if you'd like, or it could be kept to fairly simple things. Anyway, in a task force that moves together, there could be a setting like this for a larger, brute force ship:

1- Attack orbital defenses.
2- Attack most dangerous ship.

Simply, it would aim for orbital defenses first, if they are destroyed or not in range, it would aim for the most dangerous ship (this being somewhat subjective, it could be removed in favor of simply larger ships, but it could be simple for the AI to decide how dangerous a ship is by its size and weapons). When it runs out of these commands, it will just target ships/defenses in its range.

This task force could also have smaller point defense ships which run under this list:

1- Defend from missiles.
2- Defend most damaged ship.
3- Defend larger ships.

Under this list, the ship would first use its weapons to destroy any missiles in its range. If there are none, it would fire upon the attackers of the most damaged ship in the task force (or any ship if task forces arent used), attacking any missiles or a ships within its range that are attacking that damaged ship. Finally, it would tend to defend the larger ships if none of the ships are damaged, or they are equally damaged. After the list runs out, it attacks anything in its range.

I think this approach is a good idea, because it is extremely flexible and extensible, and can be used with this simulated realtime approach, task forces or not, and probably anything else that may come up. As in an RTS, where your units defend themselves with some simple AI up until you give them a command, these could also be overriden by the player in combat. Also, this would make for a good basis for AI players, because, depending on how detailed you make this system, they could operate under this AI with no player intervention for the duration of the combat, having a veritable AI player. All in all, I think it would be a speed up from turn based combat, while still having your units uperate under conditions you set and the player being able to control them to do more specific things, leaving a lot of room for smaller scale and larger scale strategy while keeping the tedium of turn-based combat out.

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#11 Post by Geoff the Medio » Fri Sep 01, 2006 7:40 am

So rather than moving ships and giving them targets, you want to have the player tell an AI how to move his or her ships and what types of targets they should be given? Or is this meant just to suppliment standard RTS-like orders of move here and attack that?

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#12 Post by marhawkman » Sat Sep 02, 2006 12:35 am

Geoff the Medio wrote:So rather than moving ships and giving them targets, you want to have the player tell an AI how to move his or her ships and what types of targets they should be given? Or is this meant just to suppliment standard RTS-like orders of move here and attack that?
This is surprisingly similar to Stars!. In that game there was no direct control of combat, but indirect control was acheived via orders given before combat. I suspect that sintax intended to use this to supplement manual control though.
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#13 Post by Moriarty » Thu Sep 07, 2006 7:52 pm

marhawkman wrote:
Geoff the Medio wrote:So rather than moving ships and giving them targets, you want to have the player tell an AI how to move his or her ships and what types of targets they should be given? Or is this meant just to suppliment standard RTS-like orders of move here and attack that?
This is surprisingly similar to Stars!. In that game there was no direct control of combat, but indirect control was acheived via orders given before combat. I suspect that sintax intended to use this to supplement manual control though.
And it worked well too. Very rarely did I feel an urge to try and change the behaviour of my fleet in a battle.

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Think of it as templates of defaults

#14 Post by Airshipjones » Thu Sep 07, 2006 10:22 pm

The actions should be able to be overidden at any time, but if the play choses not to (s/he think the set-up will work), then they can let fly. In games like Baldur's Gate and that ilk, you can set very limited versions of this where the template sets the formation, and the default weapons. The idea proposed here, which I think is a pretty good one, allows us to think a bit more strategically by predetermining the users default behaviors of the ships.

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Motherships? Something completely different

#15 Post by SmellyTerror » Fri Sep 08, 2006 3:19 pm

The problem with ship "units" - as in MOO3 - is that what you have is essentially one big ship. It's got yay many guns and can take yay much damage, but it's basically a ship you build on the fly out of other, little ships. Similarly if you have clouds of ShipA, backed by clouds of ShipB, and supported by clouds of ShipC, you've basically got 3 ships, you just get to build them in teeny tiny pieces.

...which is nice and all, but I was wondering:

What if you had just a few big, awesome ships? Ships you knew the names of, which you designed from the ground up, which you take the time to repair, refit and upgrade as tech becomes available? What if you had emotional investment in your ship?

The idea is that there might be some limiting factor - what the factor is is distracting, but I'll put something at teh end. Say, for example, you'd only have one ship per star system under your control, or even less.

That could let you really customise each ship without feeling you're wasting your time. Instead of throwing clouds of the things at each other, you could really go with a tactical, careful battle. Each ship would be a significant investment, and the good ones could be memorable as individuals. As your industrial capacity and tech improved you'd make those favourite ships more awesome, instead of just building more ships.

Your first "scout ship" isn't something to throw away - it'd be, perhaps, the seed for your first stealth-raider, and eventually grow through upgrades into a behind-the-lines spy and assassin. Another ship might end up as the most simple of carriers, existing purely to get fighters from system to system. Another could be a dreadnaught behemoth, with the latest of everything. Hell, you might need to dedicate some just to commercial use, but even they would be well defined, armed, and probably massive.

---
Extra:

Naturally, given emotional investment, these individual ships would need to be pretty survivable, so if this was an option people liked then I'd suggest an escape clause: relatively healthy ships who are in serious trouble could make an emegency jump to their home system (whichever one that is - see below). The jump would necessarily inflict massive damage to the ship, but that'd return it to friendly territory for repairs. A victorious enemy would need to follow up, catch the ship while damaged or in its home system, or take your territory to really stop your ships.

After a major defeat your territory would be strewn with damaged ships, leaving you to prioritise repairs.

This gives people a good chance to "come back" from a military defeat, which is something I like. It also equilises (to some extent) resource disparity - even a couple of ships, well designed and played, could make headway against a larger enemy as long as the smaller side could keep the larger one off balance.

Regarding the limiting factor: maybe a starship's engine creates a wormhole-link to some stars' cores, so you can only have 1 ship per X number of stars under your control (maybe 1-to-1). Whatever. Then it's up to you to make those few ships as cool as possible. That would also give those empty or otherwise barren systems value - you'd collect them into your empire to use for extra ships. Again, that might equalise to some extent a resource disparity: they got lots of resources by colonising and development, but your hobo nation grabbed a lot of junk stars, so you can produce more ships.

Creating or destroying an empire's stellar link would be simple, but take some time and area control and money, and that'd be a good way to track control over unpopulated areas. If you lose a star that's powering a ship, you have to shut down a ship. That's bad.

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