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Re: Thoughts on game balance

On 08.02.2004 03:05, Dave Fancella wrote:
> On attack, both artillery and air units seem to be weaker than they should.  

I'll first set a few points that I think are important when discussing
unit balance.

I think that each unit should be able to destroy each other unit.
The obvious exception to this are Interceptors, Artillery and the like
which simply cannot target an entire class of units. But it should never
happen that a weak unit (e.g. Infantry) doesn't stand a chance of even
damaging a stronger one (e.g. Heavy Tanks). CF had such a combat
system in the first releases which was the main reason it got replaced
later on. This also means you have to be especially careful when
defining the weakest and the strongest unit. (Ideally this would be
taken care of by the combat resolution algorithm. I'm still not really
satisfied with how the current one works but overall it's ok.)

Then there's experience. If you have a very strong level 1 unit
(being able to wipe out other units 1-on-1 in one or two turns),
you get real monsters in later levels. This was the case, for
example, in Battle Isle where a single artillery, surrounded by
a ring of cannon fodder, could easily win or lose a map. (Admittedly,
this could be fun if the artillery happened to be on your end...)
In CF I did not want such units.

Finally, we have the AI. Making the game rules more complicated
usually makes the AI at least twice as complicated. This is somewhat
unfortunate, but also provides a very good reason for keeping combat
rules simple.

That said, I tend to agree on the aircraft being too weak,
possibly with the exception of the interceptors, but I'm not so
sure about the long-range weapons. Sure, they are very weak on
the lower levels, but IMO become quite a bit stronger later on
where they _can_ wipe out weaker units in two turns.

> On defense, both artillery and air units seem to be stronger than they should.  

Well, the reasoning for the artillery units was that since they
are so slow and can't even defend themselves when attacked, they
at least need some protection so they are not obliterated by the
first gust of wind that happens to come along.

> And the gunners themselves should probably 
> have hand weapons, but if they used them in defense it seems like they should 
> lose the turn's attack because they're too busy fighting defense.  Maybe we 
> don't want that kind of detail, though.

The artillery units already have the disadvantage that they can either
shoot or move, but not both. I think that's bad enough.

> In any case, I figure that any 
> unit capable of firing at air units are going to have something portable and 
> powerful enough to take them out with one or two hits.  We're dealing with 
> highly advanced, right?

Not necessarily true. E.g. I don't think Infantry should have an effective
weapon against aircraft but they also shouldn't be completely defenseless.
Likewise, quite a lot of units only have minimal effectivity against
aircraft. This may be personal preference, though.

When talking about the number of turns it takes to detroy an enemy unit
it makes a vast difference if you fight a 1-on-1 or use a second unit
for support. Depending on the units the latter can easily double or
triple the number of hits.

> Further, it 
> shouldn't even be possible for ground units to surround an air unit and 
> prevent it from escaping.  As it stands, if your gunship gets surrounded, 
> he's probably toast.  Air superiority is big in modern warfare, but is mostly 
> nullified in Crimson because of this particular trait of air units.

This is one of the reasons aircraft are maybe a bit harder to shoot down
than they should. That air units can also be trapped is probably an engine
deficiency if you look at it from the 'realistic' point of view. However,
due to the superiour action radius of aircraft this is often the only
way to get them at all (if you don't have aircraft yourself). Besides,
it also keeps the engine simple ;-) So I think this is fine as it is.

> What do y'all think about a second movement phase after the firing phase is 
> resolved?  I ask because that's how Ogre/GEV did it, you got a second 
> movement phase for GEVs (Ground Effect Vehicle, aka hovercraft).  That made 
> your GEVs very useful, if light, strategic pieces.

In Battle Isle 2 (or was it 3, or both?) this was used as well, mainly
for recon squads. I also thought about adding this ability but it
doesn't work very well with combat resolution at the end of the turn
as is used in CF.

> I realize that in Crimson 
> the hovercraft can also carry troops, but there isn't a piece capable of 'hit 
> and run' tactics.  In a battle against superior numbers, which most of them 
> are, hit and run tactics are essential to being able to win.  With them 
> missing, well, maybe I'm just a poor tactician after all.  ;)

We made sure that all currently distributed maps can be beaten with
the current set of units and tactics available in CF (TM). ;-)

> Two more things I'd like to see, though.  :)  Ramming, such as when a powered 
> unit like a gunship or a tank are so weak they can't mount a serious attack, 
> but they can use their vehicle as a weapon to make a big explosion.

There was a proposal to add something like this as a special unit
ability which would allow for units like cruise missiles or so.
Personally, I don't like this much, though I'd have to think about
it some more to explain why...

> And also 
> being able to split infantry and distributing the remaining power of the 
> infantry amongst the new divisions.

I don't like this either. The entire splitting issue is mostly a
matter of perception, IMO. Initially the idea was for one piece to
really be one unit. However, we didn't want 'instagib' units which
would be destroyed with a single hit, so we needed something
equivalent to hit points. We could have simply used a scale of
1 to 100 to indicate unit health, but decided on the piece = squadron
approach which seemed to fit better. The idea behind it still the
same, though, and allowing a unit to split would undermine the
goal we had in mind (and allow players to swamp the map with
countless and highly annoying amoebas). The only valid
application I see here is the option to merge two damaged units
into one (though I must admit this isn't entirely logical on
second thought and maybe not such a good idea, either).

> Oo, one more.  The suicide stand.  
> :)  Basically, you tell a piece "Kill everything until you get killed".  So 
> they get some sort of enhanced power because of the resulting surge of 
> adrenaline a real unit would experience, but in exchange for that they are 
> dead soon.  Like maybe give them 3 turns of high power, and then make them 
> really really weak afterwards.

Seems I'm being pretty negative today. You were talking something like
'highly advanced' above, but this sounds more like the middle ages,
gripping your banner and going berzerk, swinging wildly and clubbering
friend and foe alike. It doesn't really fit the overall theme.

> Just some thoughts, anyway.  Maybe it's obvious that I've been looking for a 
> good game similar to Ogre/GEV, and Crimson is the closest to it that I've 
> found.  Those games were really cool, if painful to play because they were 
> regular board games.

There's painful and there's painful. As I said I don't know Ogre, but
I've one such game hidden in my closet. I played it exactly once and I
can't really be bothered to try again. Setting it up took something like
1 and a half hours, and playing was virtually impossible without
rereading the manual for every second move or so. If you get it right
from the beginning a game can probably last for days, but really...
(in case anyone wants to know, it's 'Against the Reich').

Aside from that, even though I seem to shoot many ideas down I
really appreciate every single proposal that might make CF
a better game so I hope this wasn't discouraging. Even rejections
sometimes help or turn into something different. One thing that's
pretty important for me is the KISS principle, and to deviate
from that path I need very good reasons. The term 'feature-bloat'
hasn't been coined for nothing. Then again, sometimes something
just has to sink in for a while (I'll just mention
internationalisation here).

To sum up, I'm ok with trying to rebalance aircraft and artillery
units. We'd need some testers and this should be done before the
release of 0.4.0, though, which means pretty soon. Also, if you
have ideas on how to improve the combat resolution algorithm I'm
all ears.

> Besides all of that, I haven't played this game with my sound turned on.  Is 
> there any background music?  If I provide some good throbbing metal tracks, 
> would you guys be interested in them?  I can provide complete stereo tracks, 
> and I can even compose them in such a way that they'd be interchangeable (by 
> putting them all at the same tempo, and/or having each track end solidly at 
> the end of a measure).  You can find some poorly-mastered samples of my music 
> at http://www.davefancella.com/index.php?page=Music .  Metal seems to go well 
> with board games, but then again I think metal goes well with everything.  :)  
> I might be able to coerce my digital effects processor to turn guitar sounds 
> into various machine sounds, like chopper blades and so forth, or even 
> explosions.  Interested in that stuff, or are we all set already?

I thought you'd never ask ;-)
The only sounds currently available are interface sounds (like pressing
a button). The basic infrastructure for background music, movement and
shooting effects has been in place (albeit untested), and I'm really
only waiting for something suitable to show up as my sound engineering
skills really suck. I even have a few sound effects which probably just
need a bit of remastering to be useful but I just can't manage. Doh.
I'm still undecided concerning the style of music we should use. I've
been thinking about something slow with lots of drums, march-like,
though I'm probably heavily influenced by a mod from some old Amiga
demo I liked very much and which IMO would fit very well, but I can't
find it anymore and I also have no idea who composed it so it
couldn't go in anyway. As we don't want to scare the first players
away at the title screen it should be, well, a little more
'mainstreamish' than what you have on your website (no offence, I
actually listen to metal myself, but I don't really think it would
fit in this context). In short, yes, we need something, but we don't
know exactly what, yet! It's a matter of proposing something and
convincing the overwhelming majority that it sounds great, I guess.