Tactical Terrain

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Konstantine, Jan 24, 2018.

  1. Konstantine

    Konstantine Moderator Admiral

    Posts:
    1,043
    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2016
    Terrain is a contentious issue with space based 4x games. On the one hand you have a lot of players demanding some sort of terrain and on the other you have too many Devs obliging them in the worst way possible, star lanes.

    Now let’s be clear, I do not consider star lanes to be terrain, but rather a simplistic and lazy approach used by some Devs that have a hard time configuring a passable AI… and they have no place in ISG.

    Strategically, ISG has handled terrain competently, you have free movement, influenced by Nebulae that can slow you down or stop you entirely, (impassable terrain) until the proper late game tech is researched. Add to this the occasional wormhole, (which sometimes passes through impassable terrain), and you can get into some situations where the “terrain” acts as an important factor in-game.

    On the tactical level however… we are really no better than a game that was released before some of you were even born. This has quite the effect on actual tactics in manual battle, as in tactics are almost non-existent. Oh you can concentrate firepower or choose to disperse it, but apart from this and some other minor considerations there is nothing. This could be so much more.

    I’ve heard posters rightfully knock the combat in MoO2 as akin to civil war battles, where two lines faced off, actually, in the civil war, tactics were a lot more sophisticated than MoO2 or ISG. I’ve also heard some outlandish suggestions in how to deal with it, suggestions that may have sounded well on the surface but would have required the development of almost an entire new game (within the game), or crippled the AI’s ability to even put up a mediocre fight.

    But what if we were to take the strategic approach used by ISG and modify it for tactical combat? Right now, similar to MoO2, you get into battle and what do you see? a depiction of the planet (or other body), and the enemy units. ISG did offer a slight improvement from its inspiration in that the opposing units seem to be thrown into a random and “loose” formation, meaning you may have to maneuver a bit, after that it’s all the same.

    Now take a look below and forgive the quality, I’m no artist and this is just a rough idea done on paint. Here we would have some minor terrain present that could actually allow some tactics such as flanking, hiding behind objects etc. The battle map could perhaps be expanded slightly, ship to planet ratio adjusted, and then we could tactically depict enough of the solar system where gas giants, (if present) could also come into consideration. Taking it a step further, if an asteroid mine is present, it could be physically depicted and targeted, creating additional choices and considerations.

    Anyway gents, this is just a start and I will see what I can do about getting a better visual in place, at the same time, I want to stress that I am suggesting something along these lines for possible future expansions, not so much so for the existing game. TT.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2018
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Helpful Helpful x 1
  2. Mark

    Mark Ensign

    Posts:
    72
    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2016
    Couldn't agree with you more about the starlanes, I know that many people are able to suspend their disbelief and swallow them, but sadly I've never been one of them. To me starlanes just turn any game into RISK-in-space, a very, VERY simplistic land-strategy experience, aka the very last thing I want when I purchase a space 4x. If I want a land strategy experience, I have a hundred other such titles sitting on my shelf collecting dust.

    The only thing I would add is that I too have heard the old story about starlanes making it easy for devs to create passable or even great AI. However I have yet to see a single starlane-based game with even mediocre AI, making me think its really nothing more than an urban myth. Certainly the most recent starlane game MOO-Cts has AI which is universally condemned as utterly, painfully horrible, even by the very few remaining fans it has. I mean if starlanes made AI coding so easy, you'd think there'd be at least ONE starlane-based game with good AI released in the past 30+ years. Nope, not even one. In fact the only space 4x I have ever seen praised (in reviews) for its exceptional AI is Gal Civ II, a free movement game. Go figure.

    I definitely like the idea of nebulae, black holes and other space phenomenon acting as terrain on the strategic level, it worked well for MOO 2 and I think it can work equally well for any space 4x if done properly. As far as the tactical level goes, the idea of space terrain really comes down to a compromise between reality and fun. The harsh reality is that space terrain simply isn't a thing, space is enormous, extremely cold (meaning that just about anything can be detected against the background at absolutely ludicrous ranges) and for the most part extremely empty. But that isn't much fun is it?

    The tactical terrain proposals you illustrated above sound like a good compromise to me, but another possibility is to use the speed, ship position and weapon arcs to generate a sort of pseudo terrain? How? By making ships move relatively fast and turn relatively slowly so that fixed weapon and shield arcs take tactical thinking to bring into position at the right time. MOO 2 ships never moved fast enough for this effect to be very useful although it often became quite interesting if / when fleets clashed, but they hardly ever clashed, they just sat in rows and sniped at long range. But look back to the old RT game "Star Fleet Command" to see this idea quite well implemented. You usually have NO terrain at all in SFC, but the game is still tactically very deep because the ships move relatively fast, turn relatively slowly and have fixed weapon / shield arcs that you must think ahead to position correctly. Just an idea.... :)
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Helpful Helpful x 1
  3. Konstantine

    Konstantine Moderator Admiral

    Posts:
    1,043
    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2016
    Very astute observation my friend, I too played some star lane based games and the only way the Ai had even the remotest chance of putting up a fight is if I had a fifth of Jack for breakfast before I started playing. Oddly enough, MoO2, IG2, both free movement games, gave me a challenge, with the latter being able to kick my butt quite consistently.

    I started playing that game when it was still pen and paper and have the pc version to this very day. I especially like the older versions with shields having 6 sides rather than four, (more tactical considerations), to be honest I still play it whenever I want to kill a quick half hour or so. I like your idea here Mark, and when time permits, I want to try and explore that model further in my spare time, it is an interesting approach that may not require the re-invention of the wheel.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. Mark

    Mark Ensign

    Posts:
    72
    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2016
    I have to admit, I hadn't even considered the old grease pen and paper board game, but it brings up an interesting observation. The Star Fleet Battles board game was one of the most deep, intricate and purely tactical games I have ever played, all with no space terrain at all. So the tactical depth generated by fast moving, slow turning , fixed weapon / shield arc ships is clearly NOT down to the RT nature of the "star fleet command" computer game and would most certainly survive any translation back to TB format such as that used by ISG. Very interesting.......
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2018
    • Agree Agree x 1
  5. Konstantine

    Konstantine Moderator Admiral

    Posts:
    1,043
    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2016
    To be honest Mark, the pen and paper version offered a lot more options. I bought every expansion that came out at that time and they slowly introduced Fighters and Gun-boats. Fighters acted in the manner of their WW2 counterparts and you needed at least a dozen to take on Cruiser, they also had a single shield covering all sides. Gunboats were like PT boats with a front arc shield and rear arc. Six of them could rip apart a Cruiser quite easily but you could expect to lose a few Gunboats in the process… ah good times.

    But back to the specific topic. I thought further about how effective high speed, slow turn rate would be in making tactical battles more tactical and I think we would need to work out a few things. In Star Fleet Command, we usually had one on one engagements on a very large tactical map so the system worked quite well, excellent in fact. Translating the actual mechanic back to Turn Based would not be an issue but I believe the size of the map would be. We would require a much larger main tactical map to accommodate the possibility that a few dozen ships are squaring off and most likely a seperate smaller map (similar to MoO2) so we could keep track of our forces in relation to our opponents.

    If this were to be done correctly then, it would be a great base to build on. Other considerations such as asteroids, moons, rings, etc. could play a role only if they are actually present in the system in question. This would insure that immersion is not broken and most likely add to it.

    Even if not ISG, I would like to see a game do more here, there is a lot of potential to create something more than what MoO2 offered and add to the fun and feel that you have just entered a hostile system and are about to do battle there.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. Possibility

    Possibility Ensign

    Posts:
    46
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2016
    I agree that combat needs more terrain and tactics. I have dreamed of large tactical combat maps with the whole solar system and asteroid fields and nebulae (I know that last part is not realistic, but i'd rather have 'fun' vs super realism in this regards), and like Konstantine said, planets and moons would block line of sight. Ground invasions should also be initiated within the tactical combat.

    Tactical Combat.png
     
    • Helpful Helpful x 1
  7. CrazyElf

    CrazyElf Lieutenant

    Posts:
    143
    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2016
    This could be also be an ability (ex: AI and players can cast abilities in chokepoints). An example from Starcraft might be the High Templar's Psionic Storm (not sure if anyone has played Starcraft here).

    The issue here is that the AI has to be able to do this intelligently though.
     
  8. Konstantine

    Konstantine Moderator Admiral

    Posts:
    1,043
    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2016
    That my friend, holds true for many things and should be a sort of mission statement.
    I never tried Starcraft but you have me curious, you also made me think of a few things.
    The original Star Trek episode, "The Tholian web" came to mind. where two ships were placing the Enterprise inside an impassable web, that could be a good example of an "ability" if it were modified to the ISG battlefield.
    Even MoO2 can be tapped for an example/extrapolation
    Do you recall the "Artemis System Net"
    It was abstract in MoO2 but could be depicted on the battlefield as an array of mines and energized debris that could act in a similar manner to terrain.
    There are many ways to look at it and use terrain as both a natural occurrence or indeed an ability to be gained by tech.

    However, it has to be balanced. What I mean here is that we already have some players that can find manual combat tedious when more than a handful of ships are involved, others, (such as myself), don't mind it even with more than a dozen. Any terrain involved then would have to actually add some flavor and tactics without becoming a grind to a large enough percentage of players. Tricky that, it would require a subtle approach I think, perhaps even one where terrain is not always present.
     

Share This Page