Small ships in the late game

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mharmless
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Small ships in the late game

Postby mharmless » Fri Feb 06, 2015 4:53 pm

sven wrote:Reminds me of something Arioch says repeatedly: ideally, the tactical model should be sophisticated enough that simply designing the biggest ship you can, with the best aviable guns, and building them everywhere is not automatically the best possible strategy. Destroyers, ideally, should have a useful tactical role, one that gives players a reason to build them, even during endgames.


Starting a new thread on this notion, because I don't want to clutter up the bug thread.

When I think of small vs large ship balance, the first thing to jump into my mind is not a strategy game, it's EvE online. That game accomplishes ship balance with multiple thrusts, some of which might be worth adapting for use here.

First, guns are sized for the vessel they're attached to (mostly). A railgun on a frigate, a cruiser, or a battleship are all different sizes with slightly different characteristics, rather than just having more of the exact same gun. The larger versions do more damage, and shoot farther, but they have a mechanic called Signature Resolution, which is compared to the other ship's Signature. A high signature means the target is easier to hit. The signature resolution dictates how precise a target you can hit. So, frigate might be signature 60, a cruiser 150, and a battleship 400. Their guns have say signature resolutions of 40, 120, and 300, respectively. The battleship fires at the frigate. The frigate's signature is 60, the gun's resolution is 300, so there will be 60/300 = 20% chance of even hitting the frigate. Going the other way, the frigate's 40 resolution guns will absolutely connect with the massive 400 signature battleship. Numbers would need tweaking, but this mechanic can be used to represent the nimbleness of small targets in a way that doesn't just get outright canceled down the line by targeting computers, and it makes you use big ships with big guns against big targets, and makes a swarm of smaller targets a viable threat to the big guy. He won't be able to swat them fast enough on his own.

Second thing they do, ship role bonuses. Role bonuses are designed to give some ridiculous bonus to one specific type of system of weapon, to make that ship unquestionably the best at it. If destroyers received a role bonus of say 200% effectiveness vs fighters or missiles, they would be brought along to fights simply to swat enemy missiles. And they might be worth targeting over a larger ship if you're main punch happened to be missiles. The drawback is that these can feel very forced sometimes.

This is already long, but final thought here. One of the reasons large ships get spammed later is because they take so much more punishment. Even if I could make 5 destroyers with the same force as 1 battleship, it would usually be avoided because in a close match I would win with 1 battleship, or 1 destroyer. I don't have to replace the battleship, and my close win doesn't hurt much as if I had brought equal cost in destroyers instead.
EDIT: Perhaps making repairing ships more painful, closer to the pain incurred by having to rebuild a ship? Bring them home, to a dock, and queue a refit or repair order?

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Arioch
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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby Arioch » Fri Feb 06, 2015 6:32 pm

It's an important goal of mine that small vessels should have more uses. And not just in the late game; right now there's no reason ever to build one, since you start with scouts that are more or less light cruisers and that are only 15-20% more expensive than destroyers. (I guess right now they have a use as suicide bombers, but that's not a desirable niche.) So as we do passes through the tactical, tech and cost systems, this is a cause that I will champion. It's especially important for the Yoral, who are supposed to have an advantage in specializing in smaller ships.

For starters, destroyers need to be available earlier and they need to be significantly cheaper than cruisers. This is just a balance issue with the tech tree and cost systems. In addition to the costs favoring larger vessels, too much of the cost of a vessel is dependent on the hull, and not enough of it is affected by which components are in it. I also agree that repair should take longer in general, and that it should take longer to repair a large ship than a small one (though this won't help much if small ships can't survive a battle).

Second, small ships need to be more capable. First that means more survivable; I agree that the to-hit calculation should take ship size into considerations; small vessels should be harder to hit, especially with heavy weapons. This goes doubly so for fighters, and the more fighters become an important part of the game, the more small picket vessels with point defense weapons can be useful.

The current runaway reactor explosions that can take out a whole group of small vessels also need to be fixed.

And in addition to that, a small vessel's speed needs to be more of an asset; right now, the very high movement cost of turning makes maneuver very difficult, turning most battles into nose-to-nose slugfests, and marginalizing the benefits of speed. I have a few ideas on how to improve this, but I think a start is just to make turning easier, especially for smaller vessels; turn cost should scale based on ship size.

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sven
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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby sven » Fri Feb 06, 2015 6:57 pm

Arioch wrote:I agree that the to-hit calculation should take ship size into considerations; small vessels should be harder to hit, especially with heavy weapons. This goes doubly so for fighters, and the more fighters become an important part of the game, the more small picket vessels with point defense weapons can be useful.


I'm certainly on-board with the larger goal, but, nerfing % hit chances, particularly in situations where we have a very small number of attacks-per-ship makes for a very "sharp" tactical game, where outcomes will often swing dramatically based on a few critical to-hit rolls. Watching your battleships flail away uselessly at a small group of destroyers is going to be frustrating, and I think, we can give small ships their niche without going to these sorts of extremes.

In particular, I'd like to look a bit more closely at the details of just how battlecruiser vs. marine combat works in Starcraft 2. That's a situation where, one-on-one, the late game unit is going to destroy the early game unit, in a way that feels satisfying for the player who built the battlecruiser, and reasonably fair for the player with the marine.

If I remember correctly, Starcraft relies mostly not on the hard adjustments of hit %, but on softer adjustments that come from their armor model. So, while a BC can reliably destroy a marine, there's an important way in which the BC lasers are getting much less value per-shot vs. the marine than they would against a high armor target, like a siege tank or another BC.

The damage models currently in SiS don't have an exact mapping to SC2 -- but, I think Starcraft is good precedent to look closely at as we try to figure out just how the tactical balance ought to feel, and what sorts of games we may be able to play with the damage rules to get consequences that feel both balanced and intuitive.

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Arioch
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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby Arioch » Fri Feb 06, 2015 7:12 pm

sven wrote:I'm certainly on-board with the larger goal, but, nerfing % hit chances, particularly in situations where we have a very small number of attacks-per-ship makes for a very "sharp" tactical game, where outcomes will often swing dramatically based on a few critical to-hit rolls. Watching your battleships flail away uselessly at a small group of destroyers is going to be frustrating, and I think, we can give small ships their niche without going to these sorts of extremes.

I'm not suggesting extremes; there's some middle ground there. And having a battleship's heavy weapons occasionally miss a nimble destroyer seems to me to be a very realistic outcome. It's also a compelling reason to sometimes put smaller weapons on large ships (or to have escorts with smaller weapons) instead of having nothing but he larger ships mounting the heaviest weapons. We don't currently have the equivalent of torpedo boats (though maybe we should), so a destroyer is very little threat to a battleship; the outcome of a battle is unlikely to turn on whether or not a battleship was able to one-shot a destroyer.

sven wrote:In particular, I'd like to look a bit more closely at the details of just how battlecruiser vs. marine combat works in Starcraft 2. That's a situation where, one-on-one, the late game unit is going to destroy the early game unit, in a way that feels satisfying for the player who built the battlecruiser, and reasonably fair for the player with the marine.

If I remember correctly, Starcraft relies mostly not on the hard adjustments of hit %, but on softer adjustments that come from their armor model. So, while a BC can reliably destroy a marine, there's an important way in which the BC lasers are getting much less value per-shot vs. the marine than they would against a high armor target, like a siege tank or another BC.

The damage models currently in SiS don't have an exact mapping to SC2 -- but, I think Starcraft is good precedent to look closely at as we try to figure out just how the tactical balance ought to feel, and what sorts of games we may be able to play with the damage rules to get consequences that feel both balanced and intuitive.

Marines are useful in Starcraft because you can have 10-20 of them that can move and fire as a group; they're individually weak, but a battlecruiser can only kill one at a time (with its normal weaponry). They also have a powerup in which they sacrifice some health for increased burst damage that makes them more effective against large targets. Marines are more analogous to fighters in SIS rather than destroyers. Unless we dramatically change the tactical model to support grouped squadrons of ships, I don't think this paradigm is useful for solving the destroyer issue in SIS; even if we made destroyers cheap enough so that you could afford to have 10-20 of them in a battle, it would be a tactical management hassle.

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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby mharmless » Fri Feb 06, 2015 7:13 pm

A poor hit chance vs smaller targets will only feel unfair if that is your only option. If the larger ships still have weapons systems available that are marked as being effective against smaller targets, then it won't be a punishment. It becomes a choice of "Hrm, do I want a ship that can hurl one ton of iron at a large fraction of light and _really_ wreck that other big guy's day? Or should I go with the laser array with far less damage potential but the accuracy to conduct hair removal?". The later loss of that ship to a swarm of destroyers, while they mostly ignore large chunks of iron, will feel more like a failure of choice, and not a punishment.

Perhaps that sort of accuracy mechanic should be bundled into the number of squares moved in the prior round of combat (or potential movement NOT used), as a reflection of the target's nimbleness, and not strictly the hull? This would introduce some agility/punch decisions into the design, making enhanced engine modules more attractive.

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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby Arioch » Fri Feb 06, 2015 7:19 pm

mharmless wrote:Perhaps that sort of accuracy mechanic should be bundled into the number of squares moved in the prior round of combat (or potential movement NOT used), as a reflection of the target's nimbleness, and not strictly the hull? This would introduce some agility/punch decisions into the design, making enhanced engine modules more attractive.

Ideally, both a target's speed and size should be a factor in chance to hit. Realistically, it's acceleration potential that makes you hard to hit (and not actual speed), so you should be just as hard to hit regardless of how far you moved that turn. And in the opposite situation, I don't think you want to discourage a player from moving his full allowance by making him easier to hit.

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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby sven » Fri Feb 06, 2015 7:30 pm

Arioch wrote:I'm not suggesting extremes; there's some middle ground there.


Yes -- certainly. And by the same token, I'm not suggesting an exact copy of the marine/BC mechanic.

I do suspect that mharmless's suggestion of limiting each weapon hardpoint to one at attack on one tactical target per-turn might be a good adjustment, one that, combined with some of the other ideas that are floating around here, might get us a lot closer to kind of balance we're looking for.*

Allowing for some kind of "glancing blow" might also be useful. Right now -- all attacks either hit or miss. But having a few other states that can come out of the die roll, like "critical hit" or "glancing hit" would give us more options when balancing just how the advantages of being small and maneuverable manifest in game terms.

* We'd need to keep the present behavior in the case of missiles / fighters of course. There, if you have some dedicated light defensive mounts, their ability to bring down multiple small targets is fairly critical :)

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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby echo2361 » Sat Feb 07, 2015 6:03 am

I definitely think this is an important discussion to be having. I am a big fan of combined arms tactics and it always saddens me when the best strategy in any game is to build a lot of the biggest unit to constantly throw at the enemy.

As of now I never bother building destroyers when I unlock them. I see no real advantage or point to them, which is something I hope to see corrected. I'm not a fan of having preassigned roles by giving massive bonuses to specific systems and components for different hull sizes, but to some degree having different hull sizes have certain advantages/disadvantages may be called for. The idea of heavy weapons having a more difficult time hitting smaller hulls is also something to consider. Sounds like moderation will be the key to any approaches taken on this issue.

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Re: Small ships in the late game

Postby wminsing » Sat Feb 07, 2015 4:21 pm

So, coming at this from a historical perspective (degree in military history).

First, 100% agree we want to keep smaller units viable as late as possible in the game to promote tactical diversity if nothing else. One thing that MOOII failed in was that I tended to build only Battleships (and later mass-produced Titans) which got dry fairly quick.

From a historical standpoint, one of the reasons why real navies tend to have lots of small ships, some medium ships and then fewer larger ships (though exact proportions vary) is because there are lots of missions where you need a ship, nearly any ship, and it's not always cost-effective or useful to send the biggest ship. Convoy escort, commerce raiding, showing the flag, search and rescue, general snooping around, etc; these were nearly always missions for non-capital units (with a few exceptions). So a game with sufficient 'depth' in the strategic side might promote the use of smaller units; for example, if there was a commerce raiding mechanic, it might make sense to built a lot of destroyers to make sure you have enough ships available to escort all of your transports. If the ability to 'catch' enemy convoys was influenced by 'speed' and smaller ships were faster then you'd have the potential from lots of small ships vs. small ship fights right into the late game.

However, this really only helps on the strategic side; to make small ships more tactically against large ships viable might require some more fiddling. This is tough, since in 'real life' small ships didn't *really* have too large a role in fleet battles up until the invention of the torpedo. The torpedo was an 'asymmetric' weapon since it 1) was very short ranged relative to gunfire, 2) attacked a different form of defense than ships typically carried and 3) had the potential to inflict major damage on even a very large target. All these factors suddenly made small, fast, ships capable of slinging a few torpedoes a very viable tactical weapon, which lead to these ships entering service, and then ships designed to hunt them down, and then the two types merging later. Anyway, this is a long way of saying that the most straightforward way of keeping small ships viable is to give them weapons that it makes sense to mount on small ships and less sense to mount on big ships.

More thoughts coming, but that's my initial take on the matter.

-Will


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