Heroic: war machines

The new Heroes games produced by Ubisoft. Please specify which game you are referring to in your post.

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Heroic: war machines

Postby Groovy » Jan 7 2012, 8:11

This topic was spawned from here.

An idea has recently occurred to me as to how the operation of war machines can be more closely integrated with the rest of the game environment. The idea is to define war machines in terms of general actions that they perform (launching projectiles, digging moats, building palisades, etc), and leave the specifics of how they behave to the environment in which they are employed.

For example, a Launcher (I’ll look for a sexy name later :)) can be a generic projectile launcher war machine when it is built. If deployed in a rocky setting (mountainous, hilly or rough terrain), it can behave like a catapult and launch boulders. It can serve as a ballista in woody terrain, or for launching firestones on lava terrain. Perhaps it could also be used to launch small units across the battlefield, or even diseased corpses when employed by the undead.

A more exotic war machine can be Siphon – one that siphons fluids from the environment and then spews them back out. It can be used to siphon water from lake tiles to make them walkable, then squirt it back out to deal water damage or extinguish fires. In sandy environments, it can siphon sand to create quicksand pits and then shoot it out for a sandstorm effect. On lava terrain, it can siphon lava from open lava tiles to make them walkable and then act like a flame thrower.

A Crane war machine can be used to build walls – from wood or stone, depending on the terrain – as well as to lift units across the walls.

A Digger war machine can be used to dig moats, which are then filled with water, lava, pointy spears or diseased corpses, depending on the terrain and the faction building them. It can also be used to break through ice tiles to turn them into water (dealing drowning damage to the units on top of them), and solidified lava tiles to reveal boiling hot lava (similarly damaging the units above).

The operation of some of these war machines can be augmented with an Ammo Cart war machine.

I’m optimistic that this would make war machines more interesting to use and again justify their inclusion in the game.

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Postby Kristo » Jan 9 2012, 20:56

I like this in principle. Anything that makes the environment matter for more than movement costs is a good thing. I do have a couple of questions though.

1. What happens when you siege a town located on the wrong terrain type? Suppose I'm attacking a castle with concrete walls. If my launcher can only fire pointy tree trunks (because that's what's available), I'm not going to really get anywhere. Do I need to get rocks from somewhere else first?

2. How do these machines work when the hero has the corresponding skill at lowest level or doesn't have it at all? Can you always control them? I wouldn't want my digger randomly digging holes on the battlefield or my crane randomly flinging my troops over a castle wall. Further, I think there has to be a logical way for the machines to get better as you use them and thus go up in skill. Launchers, siphons, and healers (you didn't mention a First Aid Tent) can simply cause/repair more damage. Cranes and diggers are less obvious. I'm interested in what you think about that.

3. At what point do these things become a new unit unto themselves? As interesting as they might be, we could easily go overboard with special-case rules. Is it really worth the effort when you'll only have one of each type per army?
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Postby Groovy » Jan 10 2012, 21:42

Kristo wrote:1. What happens when you siege a town located on the wrong terrain type? Suppose I'm attacking a castle with concrete walls. If my launcher can only fire pointy tree trunks (because that's what's available), I'm not going to really get anywhere. Do I need to get rocks from somewhere else first?

Yes. This is the role that I see Ammo Carts playing. It can be as simple as being able to use any type of ammunition by virtue of an Ammo Cart being present, or as complicated as having to buy ammunition from designated structures beforehand, or retrieve it from adventure map terrain. I think it comes down to which option ties in best with the rest of the game design.

The Ammo Cart can be a separate war machine, or an upgrade to existing war machines. I kind of like the latter, but I haven’t thought it through.

Kristo wrote:2. How do these machines work when the hero has the corresponding skill at lowest level or doesn't have it at all? Can you always control them? I wouldn't want my digger randomly digging holes on the battlefield or my crane randomly flinging my troops over a castle wall. Further, I think there has to be a logical way for the machines to get better as you use them and thus go up in skill. Launchers, siphons, and healers (you didn't mention a First Aid Tent) can simply cause/repair more damage. Cranes and diggers are less obvious. I'm interested in what you think about that.

War machines are always under the player’s control, regardless of the hero’s skills. I’ve always found it odd that the player can control creatures but not machines. :confused:

I’m thinking of two ways to make war machines more effective:
  • Hero skill improvements – make war machines better at what they already do. For example:
    • Launcher: fires more shots, each shot inflicting more damage
    • Siphon: siphons/spews more times, spewing inflicting more damage
    • Crane: constructs longer walls, can lift bigger units over them
    • Digger: constructs longer, deeper moats
  • War machine upgrades – enable them to do new things. For example:
    • Launcher: starts off being able to launch stones. As it is upgraded, it becomes able to launch firestones and giant arrows, and perhaps even small units and diseased corpses
    • Siphon: starts off being able to siphon water. As it is upgraded, it becomes able to siphon other fluids (sand, lava, snow), as well as spew them out
    • Crane: starts off being able to construct a wooden palisade on favourable terrain (grassland/dirt). As it is upgraded, it becomes able to use other materials (stone, perhaps iron) on more difficult terrain
    • Digger: starts off being able to dig holes on favourable terrain. As it is upgraded, it becomes able to crack certain types of terrain (ice, lava) to damage the units on top of it
There are a few more war machines that I’m thinking of, but I didn’t mention them as I haven’t worked out the details yet. Briefly, they are:
  • Healer: heal/repair units. Basically the First Aid Tent that is made more interesting by the modelling of unit constitution (flesh, wood, light, etc), which affects healing
  • Floater: a mobility-geared machine that enables troops to cross lakes and moats on the battlefield, and water and lava tiles on the adventure map. It can also be used for ice and snow sledding!
  • Rammer: battering ram / wrecking ball type of machine; not convinced of its usefulness at this stage
If you can think of any others, I’d love to hear about them.

Kristo wrote:3. At what point do these things become a new unit unto themselves? As interesting as they might be, we could easily go overboard with special-case rules. Is it really worth the effort when you'll only have one of each type per army?

That’s a good question that really got me thinking. For the inclusion of war machines to make sense, I think that they need to have a clearly defined role to play in the game design that is conceptually distinct from that of units. By extension, they need to be able to do some things that units cannot do, and not be able to do some things that units can do.

In the Heroic design:
  • The availability of war machines is primarily constrained by the knowledge of their design (initially faction-specific, but foreign designs can be learned); the availability of units is ultimately constrained by their growth
  • War machines extend the capabilities of the army as a whole (knock down castle walls and the whole army can exploit the breach, lay down a bridge and the whole army can walk across it, etc); unit behaviour is essentially individualistic
  • War machines can be upgraded to perform new functions (upgrade the Healer war machine to heal units with different constitutions, upgrade the Floater war machine to span lava tiles or multiple water tiles, etc); units don’t have such upgrades
  • Hero skills have minor influence on the effectiveness of war machines (the primary means of improving them are upgrades); units benefit a lot from being led by an accomplished hero
  • War machines don’t have to be destroyed to defeat an army, and they are captured if left intact; units, being loyal to their cause, have to be killed/destroyed to defeat the enemy
Now that I look at the above list, I should have probably told you that my idea of war machines differs slightly from existing Heroes designs. Sorry!

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Postby Kristo » Jan 11 2012, 3:26

I think you have more than enough detail here, actually. My primary concern now is how they play into your overall strategy (i.e., making intelligent choices that matter). In H3, there was no choice. If you had the cash to spare, you bought whatever war machines you could because they were cheap and it was better to have them than not (even if you didn't have the skills). But your design provides additional depth because they offer to augment your army in ways that simply adding more creatures can't. I think it's important to be able to invest in war machinery at the expense of other things, and have that be a viable option. That means they need to scale along with army growth, both in strength and durability.

I think it would be tremendously fun to play a mad scientist hero with his crazy contraptions and small-ish army. At first glance he looks like a wimp, but then his fancy war machines enable him to stomp all over you in ways you've never seen before.
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Postby Groovy » Jan 11 2012, 17:37

Kristo wrote:I think it's important to be able to invest in war machinery at the expense of other things, and have that be a viable option. That means they need to scale along with army growth, both in strength and durability.

And versatility, I think. It’s a good point, though. I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

Kristo wrote:I think it would be tremendously fun to play a mad scientist hero with his crazy contraptions and small-ish army. At first glance he looks like a wimp, but then his fancy war machines enable him to stomp all over you in ways you've never seen before.

:)
Coming to think of it, it might be an idea to allow for a different number of war machine slots depending on the hero’s race and skills. Goblins and Dwarves strike me as ideal candidates for this kind of hero.

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Postby adam77 » Jan 11 2012, 19:45

Kristo wrote:In H3, there was no choice. If you had the cash to spare, you bought whatever war machines you could because they were cheap and it was better to have them than not (even if you didn't have the skills).

Sorry to be offtopic but in H3 i never buy a ballista if i don't have the skill because it shoots even at blinded units.

Otherwise I like the ideas ;)

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Postby MattII » Jan 12 2012, 9:58

Okay, for starters, sticking the catapult and ballista together is lunacy, they have completely different functions (the catapult breaks walls, and on the battlefield would have a fairly random area attack, while the ballista is a direct shooter).

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Postby Groovy » Jan 12 2012, 11:17

That was one of the intentions behind the design – to make war machines more versatile. Assuming the availability of ammunition, this enables the player to adjust his war machine tactics to the conditions on the battlefield.

If you are concerned about this potentially leaving the player without an effective siege weapon, I agree that it would be a problem in the existing Heroes games. In the Heroic design, however, different factions utilise different kinds of siege defences. The Nature town, for example, has walls made from living trees that can regrow during combat. In this instance, a fire-spewing Siphon is a much more effective siege weapon than a Catapult. The Undead town doesn’t utilise walls at all, but lures the attackes inside to weaken them with disease while engaging them in melee combat. A Healer is probably the most useful war machine in this case.

The idea is to encourage the player to equip his armies with several war machines that are substantially different from each other, and that can take on different roles in different situations. I’m hoping that this will increase the replayability value of the game.

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Postby MattII » Jan 12 2012, 19:38

Groovy wrote:In the Heroic design, however, different factions utilise different kinds of siege defences. The Nature town, for example, has walls made from living trees that can regrow during combat. In this instance, a fire-spewing Siphon is a much more effective siege weapon than a Catapult. The Undead town doesn’t utilise walls at all, but lures the attackes inside to weaken them with disease while engaging them in melee combat. A Healer is probably the most useful war machine in this case.
Ye gods, do you have any idea how incredibly difficult that would be to balance? Every town needs walls or the game just won't work right. What I do want to see is each town getting a semi-unique way to destroy or bypass the walls, so Haven gets a catapult, Treants can tear down the walls with their bear branches (ala Ents in LotR), Cyclopses can park themselves next to walls to allow other stronghold units to climb them and swarm over it, Necromancers can form a pile of their skeletons to the same end, etc.

The only problem I have with that is finding a unique solution for each town that is available more-or-less from the start.

The idea is to encourage the player to equip his armies with several war machines that are substantially different from each other, and that can take on different roles in different situations. I’m hoping that this will increase the replayability value of the game.
And you hope to achieve this by merging the ballista and the catapult?
Last edited by MattII on Jan 12 2012, 22:16, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Kristo » Jan 12 2012, 20:49

Have you read the rest of the Heroic design threads? This is one of the less complicated ones. The entire set is incredibly detailed and holistic. I had to read three other threads before I could comment intelligently on this one. Anyway, there are no numbers yet attached to anything, so game balance really isn't an issue. Yes, that'll be a hard problem, but no more so than implementing the game rules themselves.
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Postby MattII » Jan 12 2012, 22:16

But even Starcraft, which is properly balanced only on particular maps, keeps the fixed defences quite regular in function, for a game where each faction has to perform more-or-less equally across a variety of terrains (exempting perhaps the faction specifically made for that terrain), then there has to be a good deal of commonality in some areas of the game, and one of those areas where it's most needed is town defence.

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Postby Kelben » Jan 13 2012, 0:14

Matt, where the heck did you notice any terrain related differences in Starcraft apart from an aesthetic point of view? The only thing that could be consider as a "terrain" effect could be the zergs' movement speed on creep.

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Postby MattII » Jan 13 2012, 2:01

Cliffs, if you don't have the right amount of cliffs, one side or the other is going to get an upper hand (provided it's not a mirror match). This is especially prevalent with the Zerg in a non-mirror match since they don't have a cliff-jumper/climber unit, while both Terran and Protoss have 2 each.

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Postby Kelben » Jan 13 2012, 3:54

Fair enough :)

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Postby Groovy » Jan 13 2012, 5:24

Kristo wrote:I had to read three other threads before I could comment intelligently on this one.

Sorry, I didn’t realise that it was that bad.

MattII wrote:What I do want to see is each town getting a semi-unique way to destroy or bypass the walls, so Haven gets a catapult, Treants can tear down the walls with their bear branches (ala Ents in LotR), Cyclopses can park themselves next to walls to allow other stronghold units to climb them and swarm over it, Necromancers can form a pile of their skeletons to the same end, etc.

Sounds like a good backup plan should my design prove too ambitious. :)

I appreciate where you are coming from. The approach that I’m taking is to aim for the most elaborate and sophisticated design that I can come up with, and then tone it down where needed to make it feasible. When it comes to balance, there are actually a few other areas of the game where I’m much more concerned about it.

MattII wrote:
Groovy wrote:The idea is to encourage the player to equip his armies with several war machines that are substantially different from each other, and that can take on different roles in different situations. I’m hoping that this will increase the replayability value of the game.
And you hope to achieve this by merging the ballista and the catapult?

Among other things, yes. Do you have reservations about it apart from potential balance issues?

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Postby MattII » Jan 13 2012, 11:19

Groovy wrote:Among other things, yes. Do you have reservations about it apart from potential balance issues?
Yes, because while both of them would be able to target creatures as well, they'd do so in completely different ways, the ballista would hit one stack and one stack alone, while the catapult would hit a 2*2 space in a 4*4 area. You could also fit the catapult out with special loads (Inferno - against any target that isn't a wall it delivers a fireball, Sylvan - into any space that isn't occupied by a unit or wall it launches a wasp hive, etc.)

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Postby Kristo » Jan 13 2012, 13:38

Groovy wrote:
Kristo wrote:I had to read three other threads before I could comment intelligently on this one.

Sorry, I didn’t realise that it was that bad.

No apologies necessary. Where I come from, that's a compliment! :-D
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Postby Groovy » Jan 13 2012, 19:12

MattII wrote:Yes, because while both of them would be able to target creatures as well, they'd do so in completely different ways, the ballista would hit one stack and one stack alone, while the catapult would hit a 2*2 space in a 4*4 area.

Looks like your reason not to combine them is my reason to combine them! :-D

MattII wrote:You could also fit the catapult out with special loads (Inferno - against any target that isn't a wall it delivers a fireball, Sylvan - into any space that isn't occupied by a unit or wall it launches a wasp hive, etc.)

I was thinking along similar lines (though less elaborate), it’s just that my design was based on unit abilities rather than factions. I’ll post it once it’s finalised.


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