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Tactics
#1
There'll be a lot of this kind of a post. I am going to try to share a little bit of how the programming is going and hope that being forced to write coherent sentences will help me work through some of the sticky parts.

I've started working on combat and since this ain't Eve Online, combat is basically going to be high-text, low graphics. Combat will occur in discrete chunks of .10 days, each of which will be divided into 10 ticks, which ends up being a little less than a half hour. We'll be tracking speeds, distances (in light milliseconds which are just about 30 miles), maneuvers, and location within the planetary system (very important since a ship that can reach the oort cloud can jump out of the sector, thus escaping combat). Combat is asynchronous, so only one player is online as it happens. The other is sent an email as the attack start and a second one continuing the combat report as soon as it ends.

Offensive weapons break down into 5 major systems: beams; torps (preprogrammed so they don't adjust to their targets maneuvers) missiles (target seekers), spinal mounts and alien weapons which are wild cards and tend to be, once they are figured out, the sword of a thousand cuts, or the frost giants' invincible helmet - type weapons. Weapons are targeted at different parts of the ship and a particular set of weapons (all heat rays, for instance) can be targeted independently of other sets, even of the same type (Lasers, for instance.) Weapons are mounted on the ships, or can be mounted on combat craft - very useful for a carrier-type strike, especially if attacking a starbase (think Pearl Harbor.)

Defenses are ablative armor, forcefields that work like more ablative armor but slowly restore themselves as combat continues, ECM, and projectiles that attack incoming projectiles like chaff or ABMs. The program is set up to handle unlimited types of each weapon, but ships are limited to installing no more weapons than they have hard points, something that is determined by the type of hull and cannot be augmented.

The first combat-oriented screen I am working on is the one used to set the tactics to be used. Players can create multiple combat sequences and store them. Defensively, there will be the ability to use different programs depending on the type of attack and the threat level of the attacker. Offensive, the player chooses his sequence just before beginning the attack ("Computer, initiate combat sequence, "Riker-Alpha.")

I could have handled the whole tactics things with a series of lists. Choose a weapon from list A, a round to start firing in from list B, and a target section of the other ship, base, or combat boat, but I'm trying to make the process a wee bit less mechanical. What I have come up with is a orbiting group of images that stand for the basic weapons types. Click on one and it circles around to the front and center and a list of the weapons of that type fades in down and to the right on the screen.

In the center is an outline of a generic starship (or starbase, or small craft can be swapped in.) On it, in roughly the right position, is the name of an area that can be targeted (Bridge, Hull, Cargo, etc.)

To program a weapon type, the player selects the weapon for the list and then clicks on the target he wants to aim at. (The cursor turns to cross hairs as it approaches the ship outline.)

Right now I am happy with the outline and the orbit, but consider the list of targets boring (but I haven't got a lot of space available so anything fancy will require some GUI legerdemain), and I haven't quite figured out how to select the round to begin firing on.

Attached is a screen shot - there's no back end code for the screen at all, though there's a fair amount of jQuery used to make the orbit and to do some cross fading.

If anyone has thoughts, or questions or just wants to say, "Jon, it sucks, throw it out and start over," please feel free. Feedback will help a lot, especially since mistakes corrected now are so much less of a hassle than later on. I will listen carefully, and undefensively, I promise.


.jpg   Tactics.jpg (Size: 151.89 KB / Downloads: 11)


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#2
Interesting! This is very specific for a PBM game (at least in my experience). Usually epic scale games skip over the player controlled tactical battles for purely computer moderated battles.

Some questions:
  • Will players re-target each tick/chunk?
  • How will the answer to the above affect players who can't logon more than once or twice a day?
  • Theres more to space battles than targeting. Will you add support for planning paths ships will take to support things like frontal assaults, flanks, etc?
  • This level of detail seems to preclude very large space battles, as giving orders to hundreds of ships would be tedious and very anti-fun. Do you expect space battles to be small?


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#3
(03-30-2011, 03:29 AM)Ramblurr Wrote: Interesting! This is very specific for a PBM game (at least in my experience). Usually epic scale games skip over the player controlled tactical battles for purely computer moderated battles.

I come out of an RPG background (Traveler) and I suspect it shows. God-games can be lots of fun but I wanted to make the player-experience personal. It seems to have worked with one generation now its time to find out if'n it'll work with another.

(03-30-2011, 03:29 AM)Ramblurr Wrote: Some questions:

[*] Will players re-target each tick/chunk?

Nope. It'd be a waste anyway. No-one is going to score a knockout punch on one round. There is an automatic switch to target the hull, however, if the target doesn't exist (either because it was never installed or has been destroyed) It just hit me that there should also be an option to cease firing in that situation.

ticks determine when something happens within a round. weapons with a high ROF may fire on the 4th, 7th, and 10th ticks, while a less automatic weapon may only fire on tick 6. In-system movement always happens on tick one and tick two is used for re-targeting (ships can be a full light second apart and still shooting so after every movement phase they have to find their target all over again) and boat-launching.

(03-30-2011, 03:29 AM)Ramblurr Wrote: [*] How will the answer to the above affect players who can't logon more than once or twice a day?

This question puzzled me until I realized that I had led you astray. "days" is a metric within the game. Each 24 hours on earth gives the player a right to issue one more "day's" worth of orders. If I'd called them "labor units" I wouldn't have misled you, but I know from experience that players, once it's spelled out, handle the difference between a Rim-day and an earth-day easily enough

Time unused from the daily allotment goes into a "time bank" that holds up to 6 days and it may be withdrawn and used for everything except combat which is limited to 1 day's worth per 24 earthly hours.

A full day's combat will be over in a matter of seconds in real time.

(03-30-2011, 03:29 AM)Ramblurr Wrote: [*] Theres more to space battles than targeting. Will you add support for planning paths ships will take to support things like frontal assaults, flanks, etc?

Oh yeah, this is one of 3 planned tactics screens - there's one to control movement, boat launch order, fleet-coordination, etc. And one for boarding parties. Ships have the option of carrying Marines who can be carried to a nearby opponent by Armored Boarding Shuttles (Think APC, but everyone told me not to use that name)

(03-30-2011, 03:29 AM)Ramblurr Wrote: [*] This level of detail seems to preclude very large space battles, as giving orders to hundreds of ships would be tedious and very anti-fun. Do you expect space battles to be small?

Since every ship in a player's fleet will add to the cost of his subscription, I don't imagine there will be too many players with fleets running into the 100's. Anybody with the money to pay for that big a fleet will be too busy earning it to run that many. Wink

However, there will be two options for fleet combat. One is a time coordinated attack where each player determines his ship's behavior as usual but the attacks start on a signal for the fleet's leader, and each round is found for all ships and bases before the next one. The other is a master-slave arrangement which essentially gives control of all ships to the fleet leader and they attack as a single unit. The maximum number than can be controlled this way will depend on the rating of the ship's Ops and Cbt programs. Both of these options are in there to give players a chance to attack starbases which can be built up to resemble a Darth Vader type death star (but without an Achilles heel that everybody knows about.)

One other thing I probably should mention: In-system movement configurations makes it probable that a smaller, less well-armed ship will be able to outrun and out-maneuver a larger more powerful ship.
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#4
I think I've come up with a much more satisfactory representation of the weapons, now. Same functionality, although Ram, you can see how I have darkened the back grounds for legibility.

.jpg   Combat Tactics V2.jpg (Size: 112.32 KB / Downloads: 10)
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#5
Wow, yes. The shaded backgrounds make it immensely easier to read and understand.

Though, from an information design perspective I'm unsure how the top line of weapons corresponds to everything else on the page.
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#6
Those are categories of weapons. Programming-wise, they all inherit from a class called "Weapon," but their additional properties define them as being fairly different from the other sub-classes. It allows me to provide slightly different choices for different weapons.
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#7
Oh, so clicking them changes the options below? They seem to segregated from everything else.

One of the principles of perceptual organization is that related elements should be grouped together. By creating those red and gray bordered boxes it seems like each section is independent. Maybe there should be just one all-encompassing box with a shaded background?
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#8
[quote='Ramblurr' pid='713' dateline='1301865366']
Oh, so clicking them changes the options below? They seem to segregated from everything else.
[quote]

Okay, I think we are talking about different things. I was discussing the orbit at the top of the screen. You are discussing the targeting graphic in the middle of the screen (clicking on one of the names, assigns a target to a particular weapon)

The sequence for a player to assign targets (the purpose of the screen) is that he uses the orbit to select a type of weapon, for instance beam-weapons. There are dozens of beam weapons available, each with different strengths (also dozens of torps, missiles, active defenses, jamming devices, alien weapons, and attack craft.) A player is limited in how many he can install. The ones he has that are operable (has ammo, computer programs, and NPCs, for) show up in the bottom.

The player selects a weapon by clicking on the graphic. Then he moves the cursor to the targeting graphics (black with red outline) and selects an area of the ship to target with that weapon. For instance "Engineering." (All weapons of the exact same class are given the same target.)

[quote='Ramblurr' pid='713' dateline='1301865366']
One of the principles of perceptual organization is that related elements should be grouped together. By creating those red and gray bordered boxes it seems like each section is independent. Maybe there should be just one all-encompassing box with a shaded background?
[/quote]

You are not wrong. However in this case, what may need to happen is that the orbit (first selection) is on the top; weapons (second selection) is in the middle and target (third selection is on the bottom.)



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#9
Ah, yes. That ordering makes sense. You definitely know better than I, as all I've to go on is that screenshot.
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#10
You're making me examine my assumptions - that is invaluable.
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