Story based combat engine

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drek
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Story based combat engine

#1 Post by drek » Mon May 10, 2004 3:52 am

There's a fairly obscure game called "King of Dragon Pass" with an interesting method of resolving combat. At the the start of combat, a player chooses the mission and a few other variables, then the combat resolves narratively.

A story is told. If you have Leader units involved in a Dragon Pass combat, they are given some choose-your-own-adventure decisions during the battle. The decisions made determine the risk vs. reward--for example in a desprate combat a leader might put his life at great risk in order to win the day.

I think this style of combat could work very well in a 4x game. It's quick, but still features a high degree of player choice.

After you press the End Turn button, the game would iterate through each fleet in a hostile situation. On this screen you'd choose a mission:

* Engage an enemy fleet head to head
* Attempt to flank an enemy fleet
* Fighting retreat
* Defend a planet
* Break through and raid a planet
* Break through and bomb a planet
* Break through and conquer a planet

As soon as all players involved in the combat choose a mission, the combat resolves.

For example an attacker might send one fleet to engage the enemy while another heads in to raid a planet for resources.

Once all involved players have chosen each fleet's mission, the combat would quickly play itself out (the first version maybe just using text, later on graphically). If there are any leaders present, there'd be a random chance of that leader being given a chance to affect the combat via a choose-your-own-adventure style decision.

Easier to code and faster to play than a full tactical simulation, while accomplishing many of the same goals....

I'm very concerned that an ambitious full 3d tactical simulation might derail progress on the game....Hence this idea. At this point, I think it would be better to have a full working game sooner, with the option of adding in full tactical combat as a mod or post v1.0 feature.

Anyone hate the idea?

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#2 Post by drek » Mon May 10, 2004 4:06 am

By the way,

http://www.mobygames.com/game/shots/gameId,1119/

Dragon Pass screenshots. A couple of them are of the combat system. It's a really neat game, if you get super lucky and chance upon a copy, don't hesitate to snatch it up.

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Impaler
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#3 Post by Impaler » Mon May 10, 2004 5:56 pm

Sounds interesting, I definatly dont hate it. But I think the Narritive options would be rather limited vs a game like Dragon Pass, its set in a high Fantasy world ware you can have quite a bit of interesting stuff happen and choices are easy to come up with.

In Space combat theirs basicaly just a goal of wiping the other side out or possibly raiding them (the raiding option has traditionaly been neglected in the 4X genra, I hope to see it stronger here). I cant realy see a lot of very exciting options steming from each fleet engagment and their wouldent be much reason to remember or care about it, people just want to see the results.

I do like the idea of random events involving fleet admirals though, basicaly they could "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat" or "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" or anything in between.
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utilae
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#4 Post by utilae » Mon May 10, 2004 8:12 pm

I don't like it. :)

For me space combat must be action, fun.

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#5 Post by Lyx » Mon May 10, 2004 8:24 pm

I've played king of the dragon pass. Its a great game.

Anyways, there is one big difference between a 4x game and king of the dragon-pass: 4x games are strategy games. King of the dragon-pass instead more resembles the feel of a "pen & paper roleplaying game" - and its great in doing that.

What i'm trying to explain is: in dragon pass, not just the combat is that way... the whole game is in this style. Now, in free-orion instead you have a "world-map" (galaxy-map) with fleet-positions - king of the dragon pass doesn't have that - because its not a strategy game. In freeorion you colonize planets, research technologies, etc. - you dont have that in dragon pass - because thats not what the game is about.

A 4x game - be it space or fantasy - is centered around strategy.
King of the Dragon Pass, instead is more like and adventure game with some resource-management tasks thrown in.

And thats why caring about technology-research, making ship-designs, moving fleets on a galaxy map - and then combat taking place as a text-adventure - feels strange and inappropriate.

- Lyx
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#6 Post by Lyx » Mon May 10, 2004 9:12 pm

Hmm, i've got to revise my opinion :-)

I first thought you meant that combat would ONLY consist of these text-choices. But after reading your post again i understand that only the ORDERS of the players would be exchanged with your proposal. The rest of the battle still would just normally be shown.

From that point of view - your idea is great. It not just makes all the systemwide-combat vs. planet-by-planet combat void, it also adds some very interesting possibilities.

On first sight, it may seem that this approach "takes away" of what the player can do. But pretty much the opposite can be the case.

Imagine this:
When forces of two opposing players are in the same system, then during the combat phase you get the options which drek mentioned.

You choose what your forces shall do, and then you sit back and watch the combat taking place(in realtime).

Possibly, you could also give some additional orders during combat, like "retreat" or "attack spacestation", etc.

The difference is just that you only "give orders". You dont control every single ships or fleet - but instead tell them in realtime what they shall do.

Now, the coolest thing about all this, is that you can implement possibilities without caring about GUI or player-specific issues.

Stuff like "hide in asteroid belt" or "try to assassinate leader on the planet" and so on, can be implemented very easy, because everything it needs is:
- adding a simple textbased-choice in the menus of what orders the player wants to give
- graphical feedback: this can be a small animation, realtime combat in 3d or 2d, viewing an animated image + sound, etc.
- a means to calculate the outcome
- and then some changes to game-internal spreadsheets based on the outcome.

So, to those who don't like this idea - think again about it - every weird idea you dream of could be implemented with a low amount of resources.

- Lyx
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#7 Post by Lyx » Mon May 10, 2004 9:49 pm

Drek, maybe it would make the whole thing even more interesting to not make the player initially choose the final goal of the mission.... but instead just "what to do next". Something like this:
<here some information about the fleets and planets in the system is shown - not just in text but also graphically>

Your fleets arrive at system foo-bar. What shall they do?:

Active Fleet: <fleet name here> (including drop-down menu)
Reorganize Fleets (button which pops up another window)

* Engage an enemy fleet head to head
* Attempt to flank an enemy fleet
* Defend a planet
X Break through to planet xyz
* Hide in asteroid-belt
Now combat is shown, possibly in realtime. After that, the turn ends.

In the combat phase of the next turn the player gets asked:
<information about own and enemy forces here>

Your fleets managed to break through to planet xyz, taking major casualities. What shall they do?

* Attack planetary defenses
* Bomb the planet
X Land troops on planet
Again, the player sees the mission going on graphically - maybe the player should be able to give the "retreat" command during battle? not sure. Or he just decides how "careful" his forces shall be before he gives orders - the more careful, the sooner his forces would retreat.

Anyways, in the combat-phase of the next turn, the player gets asked:
<information about own and enemy forces here>

Your troops landed on planet xyz, taking minor casualities. What shall they do now?:

* Conquer planet
* Raid the planet
X Sabotage planetary defenses and buildings
* Assasinate leader xyz on the planet
etc. etc.

As you can see, the (tactical) possibilities of "subquests" are endless, yet still combat happens fast, because the player doesn't get presented with all those choices at once(since most parts of those missions take one turn to complete).

This is just brilliant - easy to implement with less resources - lots of tactical possibilities - its easy for the player to keep track of even when battles span over many turns - and combat is fast so other players dont have to wait too long.

- Lyx
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#8 Post by Lyx » Mon May 10, 2004 10:15 pm

Impaler wrote:In Space combat theirs basicaly just a goal of wiping the other side out or possibly raiding them (the raiding option has traditionaly been neglected in the 4X genra, I hope to see it stronger here). I cant realy see a lot of very exciting options steming from each fleet engagment and their wouldent be much reason to remember or care about it, people just want to see the results.
Hmm, i think there actually are alot of choices what the player could do. Its just that in the past we didn't even think about them because it would be to difficult to implement.

For example, here's one idea of what you may see:
<here some information about the fleets and planets in the system is shown - not just in text but also graphically>

Your fleets arrive at system foo-bar. What shall they do?:

Active Fleet: <fleet name here> (including drop-down menu)
Reorganize Fleets (button which pops up another window)

* Engage an enemy fleet head to head
* Attempt to flank an enemy fleet
* Break through to a planet
* Stay here
X Hide in asteroid-belt
and then ....
<here some information about the fleets and planets in the system is shown - not just in text but also graphically>

The despicable enemy layed minefields inside of the asteroid-belt! Your fleets suffered severe losses! What shall they do now?:

Active Fleet: <fleet name here> (including drop-down menu)
Reorganize Fleets (button which pops up another window)

* Engage an enemy fleet head to head
* Attempt to flank an enemy fleet
* Break through to a planet
* Leave the asteroid-belt
* Attack enemy fleets which pass by
or in a system where the defender doesn't have any spaceship-fleets:
<here some information about the fleets and planets in the system is shown - not just in text but also graphically>

Your fleet is hiding in the asteroid-belt of system foo-bar. What shall they do?:

Active Fleet: <fleet name here> (including drop-down menu)
Reorganize Fleets (button which pops up another window)

* Approach a planet
* Leave the asteroid-belt
* Pirate trade- and transport-fleets which pass the system
"You don't need to travel to far-away lands, just to find worlds which are inside of yourself."

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#9 Post by Lyx » Tue May 11, 2004 1:38 am

Mmh, a sleepless night, so i continue flooding the thread a bit with ideas ;-)
Sorry, i'm just avid about drek's idea.
utilae wrote:I don't like it. :)

For me space combat must be action, fun.
Mmh, i guess when you read about "story-based" and "text-driven" battles, then you immediatelly you have those "fast battle-simulators" in your mind, where you just press a button, and then the battle is calculated with you seeing nothing about it (except of maybe a victory or defeat animation).

Yep, thats boring, i agree. However, there are alot of things which can make battles "which you just watch" interesting and feed you with lots of "action" :-)

The battles themselves could be shown graphically in realtime just normal. Except that you just "watch them". However, since you don't have to control your fleets during the battle(since you gave the orders before the battle started) we can focus alone on tension and eye-candy. We can do stuff for example camera-rides over the battlefield which would be irritating when we would do that while you control your forces.

Another idea which comes to my mind to make watched battles more atmospheric: we some point, we could records lots of small radio-transmissions of pilots. Then, while we see the battle unfold, you would here the radio-communications of your ship-crews... not just random speech-samples, but depending on the happenings on the battlefield.

The nice thing about dreks approach is that its scalable.

For example at the beginning, the "feedback" of space-combat could be text-based alone. Then slowly one after another we can add more eye-candy: realtime-combat, camera-pans - and someday even cockpit-views - imagine you see the battlefield from above and an enemy ship launches a salve of missiles, then the camera switches to the cockpit view of one of your ships, and right before the missiles hit, you hear the pilot scream followed by a short moment of white-noise (transmission lost) then the camera moves shows the flying scraps of metal flying in space, etc. etc. A mockup cockpit-view technically even wouldn't be that difficult to create - just position the camera inside of the ship, hide the ship, and put a 2d-bitmap overlay of a cockpit-mockup on the screen.

All those things would be irritating if the player would control his fleets during combat. But since he gave his orders before and then is just a spectator, we can add such eye-candy stuff slowly over time.

So, "watched battles" not necessarily are short of action ;-)

- Lyx
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#10 Post by Obiwan » Tue May 11, 2004 2:48 am

I like it. especially the scalable aspect, easing the load on programmers.

3d tactical combat is the ultimate for land and space combat. - for sure. But even great games like Medieval Total War had an automatic resolution function.
Id consider Dreks suggestion to be a third middle option - and a fascinating one.

Options for conflict could be vary varied and relate specifically to that system and what has happened to it recently.
eg.
Gas gients - hide behind
Major combat within X turns could mean increased sensor disruption.
Even rescue missions to recover planet-side combat teams from last combat turn.
All sorts of very interesting possibilities and outcomes could be played out with detailed post event explenations .

Similar to deplomicy, maybe use same code i guess.

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#11 Post by Ragnar » Tue May 11, 2004 3:20 am

Drek,

I'm starting to think this could work. Personnally, I'm really into the tactical combat aspect, and want to see it done well. I was thinking along the lines of a MOO3 style combat with more tactical options than just click on the task force I want to kill. Your system would be good if there are many good tactical options that are based on the actual composition of the combatants and they dynamically change based on the results of the last set of orders. The player is really the Admiral and not every starship Captain.
One problem I see is feedback. I see myself in the ship design screen going: humm...did the mass driver or the hard beam help me win that last battle, were my designs optimized? I hate not knowing the game mechanics. In MOO3, I could see the stats when building the ships and knew what did the most damage theoretically, but had a hard time figuring out what weapons actually worked well and what didn't from the during combat feedback. This is one area that MOO2 did well.

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#12 Post by drek » Tue May 11, 2004 4:40 am

Hrm,

I hadn't considered hiding behind gas giants and hiding in asteriod belts...along with other space opera type actions. It does make the system seem more story-based....could be very cool. Just like a text adventure (ahem, interactive fiction) we'd have to plot out all the various choices and their effects, adding in the wrinkle that there'd be at least one other player making choices.

I think the goal would be to approximate the feel of being Shardon during one of the big B5 battles....or the fleet admiral in the new Battlestar Galatica. 'Cept with more space opera silliness.
The nice thing about dreks approach is that its scalable.

For example at the beginning, the "feedback" of space-combat could be text-based alone.
Scalable in reverse as well. A player in late-game might want to switch off animations and just get the facts, for example.
One problem I see is feedback. I see myself in the ship design screen going: humm...did the mass driver or the hard beam help me win that last battle, were my designs optimized?
Yeppers. I have the same problem with the system. Possible solutions:

1: Ditch ship design.
2: Narritive weapons/ship parts. Each ship part adds certain options to the story. Long range missles might give you an artillary strike type option, for example. Could also be stuff like tractor beams/grapples, minesweepers, gravity well generators, cloaks, massive mass drives. Each weapon on each ship gives you "success dice" for the action, soaked by enemy "defense dice". For example cloak would be soaked by sensors.
3: Narrative feedback. "Captain So-and-so of the starship XD20 reports that his Kill-o-zap lasers are having no effect on the SuperArmor hulls of the enemy." "The enemy Longfly missles are breaching hull with ease....our shields are of no use!"

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#13 Post by PowerCrazy » Tue May 11, 2004 5:12 am

This could be a good idea to hold us over until the full tactical engine is built. It could easilly be worked. However, for a few hardcore 4Xers the "story" aspect might ruin the game.

To remedy this problem it might be better to tell less of a story and just give tactical options at the beginning of combat. As well as an estimation of how the battle is going.
Aquitaine is my Hero.... ;)

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#14 Post by Obiwan » Tue May 11, 2004 6:53 am

If the game calculates the events in this combat modal seperatly then the outcomes should be able to be given to the player. A success or failure, or a percentage or something for individual things that happened. The basis of a good feedback system.

This could take a fair bit of computing time, not a one click and its done affair.

So how about the player is allowed to do other things while these calculations happen in the background.
A flashing icon in the corner of the screen informs the player that a conflict is in progress at such&such system. But you must wait for the final tally, but not wait and do nothing.

The idea is a more detailed summary at the end if the player chooses to anylise it.

I dont know the complexities of code, so Im guessing

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#15 Post by Lyx » Tue May 11, 2004 2:23 pm

To remedy this problem it might be better to tell less of a story and just give tactical options at the beginning of combat. As well as an estimation of how the battle is going.
I strongly disagree. I fear that by lessening the story effect, we essentially take away the biggest advantage of drek's approach - we would lessen the main point which makes this kind of combat fun - immersion and seeing the outcome(eye-candy).

If we take those both things away then we basically come closer to those "fast-battle-simulators", where you just press some buttons and then see a victory/defeat animation. That woud be dry and boring.
Anyways, we can do both at once - if you take a look at my quotes in this thread then you'll notice a part of the screen where information about own and enemy fleets would get displayed. This part of the screen could just generally hold the interesting statistical information, for reference, while in the screenspace above the story is told as usual:
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
here the graphical feedback and story choices are shown


75% vertical screenspace


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
whatever stats and information could be interesting, goes here
25% vertical screen-space
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
I opted to move the information "panel" from top to bottom of the screen because i feel that this may look more intuitive.

One problem I see is feedback. I see myself in the ship design screen going: humm...did the mass driver or the hard beam help me win that last battle, were my designs optimized?
As i see it there are at least two options how to solve it:
1. drek's ideas - simplifying ship-design and weapons
2. Improve the AI and make the player help the AI to do what the player wants it to do.

The 2. idea basically covers ship design and fleet design:

Ship-design:
Each mounted weapon can be given a "prefered target"(none, missiles, smaller ships, bigger ships, planets). This can just be a dropdown-menu. When the player designs a ship, then he usually already has something in mind for which targets certain weapons are meant. With this simple drop-down, menu the player can tell the AI exactly that - for example that this PD-Laser should prefer missiles. Or that these attack-shuttles should prefer to board bigger ships, not smaller ones.

Fleet-formations:
My approach would be to split fleet-design into two parts: fleets and groups.

Groups are just that - a small group of ships which belong to each other - like a troop-transporter together with ships which defend it.
A group is designed the following way: The player just drags ships into the following 3 areas - protect(the core), core, support(the core). Each area can hold as many ships as the player wants - but "core" has to consist of at least one ship.

A fleet is composed of multiple "groups" belonging to each other. To create a fleet, the player just drags the groups he created before into 3 areas: protect, core, support. Each of those 3 can hold as many groups as the player wants - but core needs to be assigned at least one group.

Get the idea? An additional advantage to having groups inside of fleets, is that a fleet can be disbanded and rearanged very easy, because the player doesn't have to assign every single ships again, he just rearanges "groups" of ships to form a fleet.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Question to AI-programmers: would the above approach (ship-design and fleet-design) help to make the AI understand what the player wants it to do?

Additional idea: i guess we for sure will have a statistics screen in the game. Couldn't this statistic screen additionally have a page, were some field-experience-stats about weapons and maybe how well ship-designs did would be shown? Maybe even a top-ten of your most legendary ships ;)

- Lyx
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