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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
Combat Revamp
By Robert Basler on 2015-06-25 01:20:21
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

Once I got the server up, the next thing I wanted to tackle was revamping the design for combat. The original combat system was sort of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock. It worked, but it was a little too complicated for people to be able to figure out intuitively.

The new system is based on the design of Red Alert 2. Each of the 6 types of units (construction buildings, ATV's, tanks, utility buildings, air and superweapons) has one of three armour types (light/medium/heavy.) Players will be able to figure out quickly which weapons work effectively against which unit types.

Each unit has a fixed amount of health, buildings are repaired by the good-old wrench button, mobile units can go to a repair facility, some units support self-repair out of combat, and some really fancy ones support self-repair in-combat.

Shields are back, but a bit simpler this iteration. Each shield has an effectiveness score and a total amount of damage it can mitigate. Some shields can regenerate out of combat, some expensive ones in-combat. The interesting thing about shields is that since shields don't mitigate all damage, if you have a shield on a unit that has almost no health, you could still lose the unit with only a little damage. Because shields multiply the health of a unit, they are going to be quite pricey. But if you have the means, you can stack multiple (theoretically up to 15) shields on a single unit.

Sometimes it is funny how things evolve over time. Every unit in the game is built from components which are big collections of stats. Originally the plan was to take stats from those components and put them into the information that is replicated to clients. Eventually the list of components itself made it into the information replicated to clients so all those stats were now duplicated. As part of the combat revamp I was able to finally take the time to remove all that redundant information. It should significantly speed up the server. Loading time after login is a lot quicker too.

I have quite a bit more work to do yet before I'll be rolling these changes out to testers. I'm looking to add about 40 units under the new system plus some new weapons effects.

Before I could revamp combat I needed to work out the design for player progression in the game, that took three days last week and I'll talk about that next time.

By Lex on 2015-06-29 01:43:36
Homepage: email:lexm at live dot co dot uk
Interesting stuff. I loved Red Alert back in the day (to be honest often more for the base building). I did feel that there was always another layer of gameplay that occasionally peaked through inevitable the tank rushes/big blob of units. There was a slight movement towards strategy by asking the player to add variety to your blob to enhance it's performance (and counter specific enemy defence composition). Also things like garrisoning which while never as impactful as it could have been made the battlefield feel more part of the action.

In terms of your game I'm surprised you are going for 40 odd units - I'd be tempted to have less but make them all significantly different. Maybe not rock, paper, scissors level of different, but each with a clear use case. Total Annihilation had lots of units and it really became hard to differentiate.
By Robert Basler on 2015-06-29 09:28:10
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com
40 sounds like a lot, but its actually 20 for two factions (I'm still working out a strategy for the other two factions units) so if you consider there are 6 manufacturing buildings, silos, walls, power plants, and base defenses, it isn't actually that many combat units.

One challenge of Miranda's design is that units are component based, but I don't have the art resources to customize every unit based on its components as much as I would like. So you will be able to tell if a unit has a shield and how many weapons it has by looking at it, and what sort of power plant it is sporting, but not necessarily how fancy a shield it has or what type of weapons.

Total Annihilation was the only game I ever had for my Mac, and I never really liked it that much.
By Lex on 2015-07-06 05:51:45
Homepage: email:
That makes more sense, and I wasn't holding up Total Annihilation as a great game (although I know some love it).

As for distinctiveness I guess it depends. If usual engagements are relatively small looking at small details is fine. If it's a big blob of units you might want some more information at a glance. There are short-hands like Red Alert's rank chevrons or Halo's coloured shields (indicating strength).

I guess it'll depend on how important it is to know your enemies unit composition in combat and if the guy with a 4k monitor has a big advantage over somebody with a 1080 screen.
By Robert Basler on 2015-07-06 09:29:14
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com
I wish I had the art resources to do distinctive outlines for every class of units. :( Colouring the shields is an idea I hadn't considered, that might work. I had planned to add unit rank icons to the current health gauge.
By Lex on 2015-07-09 06:46:18
Homepage: email:
This might be a little radical for this stage of the project, but have you considered having iconography for units instead of actual models?

It might detract somewhat from the atmosphere. However if you don't have the time/skills to create a lot of realistic art assets perhaps it would be better to lean into abstract. You could imagine a Google maps style landscape (topography and landmarks featured, & maybe even a 'satellite photo' view for the ground) and simple icons for units.

It works well for things like DefCon and you can more easily get that consistency of graphics which is usually more important than having some elements really high quality and some less so. There are even examples of mixing realism with iconography like with Plague Inc.

I've seen a few indie games flounder trying to realise modern levels of graphics and while it's painful to do so from a vision of what your game would be like perspective (i.e. space age red alert) it might be the best way to have a consistent and attractive appearance. Certainly their are good narrative reasons your commander would be using a situational display rather than an aerial view.

I can understand why it might be a non-starter for your vision but I could see it being a solution to not having a full time art team at your disposal.
By Robert Basler on 2015-07-09 10:29:29
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com
Thanks for the suggestions, but even iconography would only get me so far given that units are made of 6 different components and each of those components can vary in power and effects. One day I will have an art team!
By Lex on 2015-07-23 05:55:09
Homepage: email:
When I say iconography I think I'd include art styles like FTL and other reusable component based artwork. i.e. I really mean non realistic representative artwork. I think people forgive less advanced art design (and some cases love it with the pixel art boom) but consistency is the key. I see a lot of minecraft clones miss the point with super detailed character models in blocky worlds.

Either way I hope it continues to go well, I enjoy following the progress.

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