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  Tactical Thoughts 11:05 AM -- Fri December 19, 2008  

Still no code whatsoever (or graphics or sound) in Tactics. I can feel it bubbling up, though... someday quite soon, I am going to hammer out a prototype in a couple of hours and have something! Of some sort.

There's a fundamental key part of the game I haven't quite nailed down. It's the overall format of the battle. For example, in Land Of Legends, that's "start from your base and go capture other towns (takes multiple turns standing on them to get them), from which you can build more guys of that town's race, until you capture your enemy's base by the same method." Long and convoluted, but there you go. I haven't played Advance Wars in a while, and I need to do that today. My copy has a dead battery, so I get to start from Tutorial 1 when I try it. I really need to get a more recent incarnation of that game... it's research! But I think Advance Wars isn't far removed: "start from your base and go capture factories (by having infantry stand on them for a few turns) from which you build guys of your own type, until you capture your enemy's base by the same method."

One thing for sure in my game is that you won't be able to build enemy units by capturing their base. There may well be neutral units or special units you can obtain on different maps, but on the whole, you'll be commanding your own guys. That's important to me. Each army has a unique 'hook' that makes it synergize in a certain way, and I don't want you flailing around with an odd assortment (of guys you don't have skills enhancing) just because the base that makes them is closer to your enemy.

I kind of would like different armies to have different methods of expanding, but I think that would require very specifically tuned maps to work. For example, if Eyeball Trees had to infect Woods spaces to build new units, they'd be incredible in a heavily wooded map, and have just one unit in a desert map. If someone who normally played the Desert Dudes (not actual name, no name yet) made a map, they might not even realize trees were needed for the Eyeball Trees, or maybe they would realize and would leave them out out of spite! So I think everybody has to be based around the same resource. And I think we can safely assume that resource is money. I'm not interested in the RTS style of having several resources and having to collect them all in various proportions. I think.

One thing I think is important is having multiple points of interest to take all around the map. Otherwise it's just a question of the shortest path between your base and the enemy's. Are those points of interest more potential bases, gold mines, or 'Power Crystals' or what? I think bases might be the way to go. I hate making everything just like other games, but it definitely amps up the complexity of the underlying strategy if capturing something means a new location to launch your assault from.

I am pretty sure I don't want capturing to work as it does in those games, however. Standing on the base for several turns. That bothers me somehow. Attacking the base for X amount of damage might be an idea. Then that would make the final capture entail destroying the enemy base, which is kind of nice to me. But the nice thing about a capturing mechanism is that it's something different from the rest of the gameplay. Here's an interesting off-hand thought I just had: what if a unit could visit your home base (only? Or any base you own?) and pick up a Flag. Then he could carry that flag to a neutral or enemy base and drop it to claim the base. While carrying the flag, he would move half speed and be unable to use any abilities (that includes attacking). Perhaps dropping the flag on the spot if killed. That would be interesting, because you could see who was a flag carrier and focus on stopping them. I like that concept. It could be tougher to take their home base from them, either requiring multiple flag drops, or blasting away some gates before you can drop a flag.

So many other whirling thoughts... I want information to be important. Fog of war. Units with big sight range that are horribly weak would be very important to see incoming foes. Some guys can hide, invisible until they attack or are bumped into. Some guys with automatic attacks if someone walks next to them (combined with stealth=ambush!). So you can be attacked on your own turn, in that way. Kind of non-traditional things, that couldn't be done in a non-computer game for technical reasons.

People have discussed the leveling-up idea. Here's my thinking on it right now: skill trees, sort of like WoW's talent trees. Not nearly enough points to buy everything, of course. Hard decisions to make all the way along, so in the end, you have built a certain type of character. And more importantly, depending on where you invested points, you've unlocked certain new units and powers, so that you have a different army in the end than someone else who plays the same character you do. Hard to balance, for sure! But fun. Of course you gain levels playing single player or multiplayer, so you can build up your abilities (both your actual skill and your character's skills) against the computer before you face deadly humans. I saw somebody express concern that if you leveled up your archers, that's all you'd use. But this is a strategy game. If you only used archers, no matter how good they are, your enemy would come in with Gargoyles that take half damage from arrows and wipe them out in melee. It always takes a mix of units, and your skill choices will determine what mix is available to you, and how you weight your mix. If a single unit is dominating with certain skills, then that's time to do some adjusting. I fully intend for this to be a live and changing affair, which I will constantly tweak until it's ruthlessly fair.

Cooperative multiplayer sounds fun to me. Like a raid in WoW, you and a few friends take on the Black Beast Of Grakkazorg, and have to all work together to slay it (unlike a raid, each of you has an entire army at your disposal). Also of course competitive multiplayer, hopefully with up to 4 players in a battle. And single player, against the computer. Only, I'm not good at writing AI, and I don't even like fighting against smart AI anyway. So the computer wouldn't use the same armies as you. It would have mindless hordes that rush at your bases, and you have to hack them back. I think those kinds of challenges are quite fun. Not every TBS needs to be the classic head-to-head chess match.

One thing I have considered but most likely won't do is have giant units. Huge things that take up 2x2 tiles instead of the normal single tile. I think that would really add to the drama of a battle (and be ideal for 'raid bosses' like above). Each army could have one such thing at their disposal, and home bases could be 2x2 themselves. The problem is the technical issues. How do you deal with something that occupies 4 spaces at once? It's tricky and annoying and a lot of special cases. If it turns out to not muck up the code too much, I might go for it, but it's probably more added complexity than I want if I want to be done in a reasonable timeframe.

I mentioned a 'hook' for each army. Let me give you a fun example I was throwing together the other day. This is loosely based on reviews I read years back of Dynasty Tactics games. The Onion Ring has Bruisers and Thugs (among other things). Thugs are thieves, of course. Their abilities include a pickpocketing type attack, the ability to hide (turning invisible until someone moves adjacent to them or they move or act), and Sneak Attack, which is a passive ability that instantly attacks any enemy who moves adjacent to them. They can only Sneak Attack once per turn, so if someone happens to take a path that moves next to them twice, they won't hit them twice. That obviously is meant to combine with Hide, but that's not its only purpose. Bruisers are the huge guys with clubs. They have a Smash attack, which does a little damage and inflicts Weakened Armor on the enemy for 1 turn. Weakened Armor reduces or removes the enemy's armor (depending on balance), making them take more damage from all hits, and it also makes all attacks that hit them knock them back one space. It all sounds fun and exciting, but not truly so until you know that Weakened Armor is applied before the Smash does its damage. So a Smash will always knock back one space. If a Thug is waiting next to that space, he will hit the victim... and knock them back again. If he was to the side, instead of facing the Bruiser, the enemy is knocked into a third space, where another Thug could be lying in wait. It'd be theoretically possible to chain someone right across the map (unless they die first)! Now that's just fun. It's tricky to get the situation set up just right for more than a couple of hits total, but certainly not impossible. I think I need to give Onions another unit that works with this combo stuff somehow, but not quite sure what. Would be nice to have someone else who can start combos, so Bruisers won't be annihilated on sight.

So that's how one army can have a unique hook that makes them fun to play. Nobody else has that combo trick. Eyeball Trees have an interesting thing where they can only make Seedlings that are very weak, but can plant themselves into mighty immobile Trees of various types. A very unique play style in their own right. They will probably have one or two really high-end slow-moving trees too. Some other army might have a high stealth component in some way. Maybe one will have a lot to do with healing - sure you can hurt them, but you better finish them off, because they'll all heal each other on their turn (and/or regenerate)! Another could be about wearing you down with poison over time. Maybe one has several units that get stronger as they take damage. Or vice versa, very scary guys that lose their scariness the more they are beaten on. Just scattered thoughts. Only the Onion Ring and Eyeball Trees are well-defined at this point. Well, Bonkula's army of the undead has several solid units designed, but they don't really have a specific gameplay theme to them. Which I think is okay. It's just fine to have 'standard' armies which are just fun because of the unique abilities of their units individually (Vampires can turn into Bats, making them much weaker, but very fast moving, flying, and able to see great distances. So you can swoop in a bunch over the mountains, then change back for an assault!).

That's a big old brain-dump for you. I'm not working hard at this time, and not feeling guilty about it. It's the holidays, peoples. But I think I am going to make the Shroom idea from the Costume Party thread today. I drew it yesterday.
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