Author Topic: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking  (Read 1465 times)

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« on: November 30, 2018, 09:39:42 AM »
This is...something that has bugged me for a long time. The game works though, this isn't something that requires urgent action! Just a list of issues that I've noticed over time, and I'd hope for them to be lessened or amended in future, when...time allows. I know the schedule is a bit beat up now though.

I hope this doesn't seem complainy/negative or anything - just bringing it up more properly instead of a few pages back Mantis report, or old Discord chat.

1:

Things like the Beam Cannon and Spire Frigate are near useless when stacks are in play. Because they vastly reduce the amount of actually damageable units the enemies have, stacking makes these things not worth using at all. Finding the Schematic Server for Beam Cannons is pretty much an automatic swap hack to get anything reasonable out of it.

2:

Status effects like weapon reload time, or engine slow are much weaker against stacks. I had a case of where I had an entire AI force caught in Inhibiting Tesla attacks, so they had ridiculous reload times, only to lose the top units shortly after, purging the effect and negating it entirely. This is the same with paralysis from Widow Mines (meaning having turrets there to take advantage of it is pointless, because they'll remove the paralysis), and engine stuns from Spider units.

On the other hand, it's possible for one Spider turret to engine stun ridiculous amounts of AI ships in a stack, so they range from either brokenly overpowered to useless. Warbird Starships are far stronger than they seem, because they constantly apply paralysis over and over, meaning they can paralyse, 1600 ships, technically, and don't care too much about stacking.

3:

Stacks can fire immediately after losing a unit, seemingly. I had some Stingrays stacked up, and I put their reload time to 17s instead of 4s. I waited until one fired, then had it killed. The stack immediately fires again, despite having 15s of reload left to go. It was confirmed to be doing damage to the target.

This effectively means slower firing units are vastly more powerful when stacked. Example below.

Let's say you have two groups of 50 Pulsar Tanks. One group of 50 is unstacked, the other is in 5 stacks of 10. Let's also say the players force is vastly more powerful - it has no problem killing these tanks.

The unstacked group fire, doing 50 shots worth of damage. The stacked group fires, doing 5 shots worth of damage, multiplied by 5 because of their stack being high enough to do so, resulting in 25 shots worth of damage.

The players fleet would be able to kill the unstacked group before it can fire again, thus it only did 50 shots of damage. The stacked group however, would lose the top units, then immediately fire again, thus doing another 25 shots worth of damage, going down to 5 stacks of 9. It can then repeat this, doing another 25 shots worth, down to 5 stacks of 8, and so on, so being stacked makes them able to do FAR more damage than they should.

4:

Stacked forces take forever to be decloaked. I had a large group of Space Planes on one of my planets. I had Scout Starships trying to decloak them, but each time a unit of a stack dies, it gets recloaked. There seems to be a small delay before the new stack is targetable (essentially, it's invulnerable to everything), so my Starships have to wait it out, then decloak it again, then wait it out, etc. They didn't seem to be fighting back, so I just ended up leaving several thousand Space Planes cloaked on one of my planets because of how long it was taking to kill them.

5:

This one came from "Weapon Master" on Steam Discussion - stacks are unsatisfying to fight. You don't see the enemy ship count drop in the planet view, so it doesn't feel like you've really done anything.

6:

There can be cases I think where you might have the damage per second output to kill 50 Space Planes a second, but there are only 25 stacks of them! So I can actually only kill 25 at a time. Effectively my damage output is being capped, while the AI is damaging me far more from point 3: above. Even things like the Botnet Golem can be hurt by this, as it fires quite a number of shots per salvo. If the stacking gets to the point where there are less stacks than shots in the salvo, it now starts to do less damage output.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2018, 10:57:36 AM by RocketAssistedPuffin »
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Offline zeusalmighty

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2018, 12:41:10 PM »
You bring up great points and I have felt that performance boost has come at the expense of streamlined combat, but the nature of stacks hasn't really change since it has been introduced and I'm hopeful some tweaking can address the disparity. A couple of things come to mind:

Currently, stacked units do up to 5 times the amount of damage... what if they also received 5 times the amount of damage? By that, I mean that killing the top unit clears 5 units; not that it literally multiplies the damage received by 5 only to the top of the stack. Killing these 5 at a time would make the pace of battles much faster.

Status effects like weapon reload time, or engine slow are much weaker against stacks.

The solution, as it seems to me, is to have the entire stack inherit the active (de)buff. So killing the top unit while it is still paralyzed carries over to what pops next on the stack.

This should definitely apply to cloaking units so that if the top is out of points, the entire stack is out

On the other hand, it's possible for one Spider turret to engine stun ridiculous amounts of AI ships in a stack, so they range from either brokenly overpowered to useless.
This is potentially a problem that my previous suggestion won't suffice for, but perhaps this is actually a good thing anyway? Makes spiders actually worth teching. But perhaps more tweaking needs to be done for units that get overpowered when dealing with stacks. Overpowered is still better than useless imo

Some units should be prohibited from stacking imo. Frankly, it really seems only appropriate for fleetships. I'd prefer if things like guardians were always unstacked but I'm prepared to accept that reality.

I'll probably ammmend this post or add more comments as I think about this more, this is just some quick thoughts
« Last Edit: November 30, 2018, 07:03:39 PM by zeusalmighty »

Offline Lord Of Nothing

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2018, 07:00:28 PM »
These have been bothering me as well, and while they're all valid, the one I would single out is the cloaking, simply because it's the one I find most annoying, and the one that is most easily noticed by an ordinary player. Stuff like the instant refire and the status effects, you could (maybe) argue (though I wouldn't) is a fair tradeoff for the AI loosing a large amount of it's firepower as well (the 5x cap), but the cloaking is incredibly annoying when the AI dumps a few thousand cloakers on you.

While we're at it, a related issue: How quickly are things supposed to un-stack, and at what thresholds? I think I've seen them do it, but they do so so rarely and quite slowly that as I write this I'm questioning whether or not my memory is faulty and they even do. If the un-stacker was a bit more aggressive, that would, in my view, at least help with a number of the issues here.

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2018, 07:29:26 PM »
First, Lord Of Nothing, here's the link to the release note bit specifically for stacking, just in case there's anything there for you:

https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:The_Era_of_Discovery#Unit_Stacks

Currently, stacked units do up to 5 times the amount of damage... what if they also received 5 times the amount of damage? By that, I mean that killing the top unit clears 5 units; not that it literally multiplies the damage received by 5 only to the top of the stack. Killing these 5 at a time would make the pace of battles much faster.

This'd...help. I wonder if the better idea is for the top unit to simply remain, and damage being taken just kills ones UNDER it. It'd deal with cloaking and instant refire, but nothing with status effects.

But perhaps more tweaking needs to be done for units that get overpowered when dealing with stacks. Overpowered is still better than useless imo

I have to admit, the prospect of balancing units both for player use...and to interact with stacking reasonably is somewhat daunting. I have no clue as of this moment how that'd be possible.

Stuff like the instant refire and the status effects, you could (maybe) argue (though I wouldn't) is a fair tradeoff for the AI loosing a large amount of it's firepower as well (the 5x cap), but the cloaking is incredibly annoying when the AI dumps a few thousand cloakers on you.

Yeah, I wouldn't argue that myself. Being near immune or entirely crippled by status effects is to me, a terrible thing to have. It removes those things from the players toolbox, and so you're better off with just raw damage most of the time. The instant refire also does mean each AI unit does a minimum amount of damage back at you, which...with the Pulsar Tank example, being a very high damage/low firerate unit, is devastating. How could you balance such a unit if that can happen with it?

If the un-stacker was a bit more aggressive, that would, in my view, at least help with a number of the issues here.

Not sure how much it'd help in my own view. It would help with things like the damage output cap, but unless the stacks are really low, the instant refire and status effects will still be horrendous.

I'm really not sure how it'd be fixed at all. I worry that if you try to add things in like this bit:

"* If a tractor is grappling a stack, then each stacked entity counts as 1/4 of a tractor target for purposes of the grappling capacity of the tractor beam.
 ** This makes tractor beams substantially stronger against stacked enemies."

Then you end up with a confusing and varied set of rules on how stacks interact with the game, which are separate from non-stacked units. And where would you mention all of this? I don't think that tractor bit is explained anywhere in game.
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Offline Pat

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2018, 11:45:03 AM »
The link is very welcome, I had no idea of the rules for unit stacking. Especially for the 5x damage cap and the tractor beams.

Quote from: Lord Of Nothing on Yesterday at 07:00:28 PM

    If the un-stacker was a bit more aggressive, that would, in my view, at least help with a number of the issues here.


Not sure how much it'd help in my own view. It would help with things like the damage output cap, but unless the stacks are really low, the instant refire and status effects will still be horrendous.

I think altering the rules of stacking / unstacking / firing could help to make things a bit more consistent and intuitive while satisfying the purpose of stacking (performance + visual decluttering + stacks seemingly behaving like N individual units) :

- when a stack is hit by a status effect too weak to apply to all units, it is split in 2. For example, a tractor beam with a remaining capacity of 3 hitting a stack of 10 units would grab a stack of 3, and would leave a stack of 7 untouched.
- 2 stacks cannot be merged if they are under different status effects.
- 2 stacks hit by the same status effect can be merged.
- When a stack of N units fires, it fires a shot of strenght N (no cap) on a single target.
- When 2 stacks merge, they synchronize their weapon reload time. Example : stack A with 3 units has 2.5 seconds of remaining cooldown, stack B with 20 units has 0.5 second of remaning cooldown --> merged stack gets a cooldown of (3 * 2.5 +  20 * 0.5) / (20 + 3) = 0.76 seconds
- When a stack receives beam damage or AOE damage, the damage is applied to each unit in the stack (potentially killing one or more units not on top of the stack). This means keeping track of individual health and shields in a stack... not sure if the effect on save files sizes will be negligible or not...
- When a stack receives an overpowered shot, it kills the top unit but damage does not roll over

I don't know if engine damage is considered as a status effect. If it is, spider turrets might result in massive unstacking :o Same with decloakers

What is this "instant refire" issue ? I only played (winned  8)) a single game since the early access, I'm probably still unaware of many subtleties

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2018, 12:53:38 PM »
Stacks can fire immediately after losing a unit, seemingly. I had some Stingrays stacked up, and I put their reload time to 17s instead of 4s. I waited until one fired, then had it killed. The stack immediately fires again, despite having 15s of reload left to go. It was confirmed to be doing damage to the target.

This effectively means slower firing units are vastly more powerful when stacked. Example below.

Let's say you have two groups of 50 Pulsar Tanks. One group of 50 is unstacked, the other is in 5 stacks of 10. Let's also say the players force is vastly more powerful - it has no problem killing these tanks.

The unstacked group fire, doing 50 shots worth of damage. The stacked group fires, doing 5 shots worth of damage, multiplied by 5 because of their stack being high enough to do so, resulting in 25 shots worth of damage.

The players fleet would be able to kill the unstacked group before it can fire again, thus it only did 50 shots of damage. The stacked group however, would lose the top units, then immediately fire again, thus doing another 25 shots worth of damage, going down to 5 stacks of 9. It can then repeat this, doing another 25 shots worth, down to 5 stacks of 8, and so on, so being stacked makes them able to do FAR more damage than they should.

This is the instant refire thing, above.

As for altering the rules...that sadly sounds like exactly what I was concerned about - getting really bizarre differences between normal and stacked units. Stacking is something that doesn't feel like it should be a thing in terms of gameplay, really. It's just unintuitive and bizarre.

Engine damage is a status effect, yes.
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Offline zeusalmighty

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2018, 12:11:14 PM »
One obvious way to reduce stacking is to make the AI get higher marked units instead of massive quantity of lower marked units. That will probably have it's own problems associated with it

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2018, 01:05:22 PM »
Ayup, Mark levels aren't linear increases. Can't take two Mark 1 Raiders and combine them into a Mark 2.
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Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2018, 01:44:34 PM »
So AIWC had a similar problem, and it combined ships into those big Carrier units. What differentiated those from unit stacking? They had many of the same issues, but I never had a problem with Carriers or their like.

Offline Lord Of Nothing

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2018, 02:12:25 PM »
So AIWC had a similar problem, and it combined ships into those big Carrier units. What differentiated those from unit stacking? They had many of the same issues, but I never had a problem with Carriers or their like.
As far as I can see, the stacks are better in that they have the correct resistances, they have appropriate special abilities, they have the right speeds, ranges, etc, they don't have a load of immunities that the original ships didn't... not sure about damage.
But the main difference to carriers that makes them worse is that stacks die and re spawn with one ship less as though they were a new ship, loosing ships "from the top", so to speak, while carriers persisted, with their contents being quietly removed as the damage was poured on. As far as I can see, in every other way stacks are more realistic, but the current way they are mechanically handled is  introducing a lot of odd behaviour.
But I'm hesitant to say changing it round would fix things totally, since as others have mentioned, that would probably then exacerbate balance issues in the other direction.

Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2018, 03:01:20 PM »
What if shooting a stacked unit killed them from the bottom, not the top?

So if you do lethal damage for one squad to a squad with 10 stacks, it kills a squad in the stack that you can't see (so the visible ship keeps its reload time/status effects). And if we added the ability to do a bit of overklill (say you can kill up to 5 ships in the stack at once with a sufficiently powerful weapon), how close would that get to making people happy?

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2018, 03:02:57 PM »
So AIWC had a similar problem, and it combined ships into those big Carrier units. What differentiated those from unit stacking? They had many of the same issues, but I never had a problem with Carriers or their like.

I think because Classic would always have a LOT of ships outside of Carriers. So while yes, Carriers have some similar issues (albeit none as bizarre as the cloaking or instant refiring), there are still plenty of targets for status effects and the like. I have a picture attached as an indication - 1,000 AI ships, and not a carrier in sight. If you had that many in 2, they'd stack way up and start having those issues in the original post all over the place.

They would also keep emptying ships out as the ones outside died, to keep replenishing them. Stacks...don't really do that. They stay stacked up for essentially the entire fight. I have a picture of that too, taken from the "Ride The Lightning" AAR. Well, an example of there still being hundreds of targets outside of carriers.

Hell, sometimes Carriers were just there for movement convenience. Soon as you came into the planet with enough of a force, it'd vomit everything out and self destruct.

Carriers were also a fairly theme fitting solution in a way, much more so than units vanishing into stacks. They also explained just about everything on them about how they worked.

Or maybe I am just horribly wrong - but I've not had an issue with Carriers, while I hate stacking.

EDIT, as a reply came in while typing that.

What if shooting a stacked unit killed them from the bottom, not the top?

So if you do lethal damage for one squad to a squad with 10 stacks, it kills a squad in the stack that you can't see (so the visible ship keeps its reload time/status effects). And if we added the ability to do a bit of overklill (say you can kill up to 5 ships in the stack at once with a sufficiently powerful weapon), how close would that get to making people happy?

First thought is...that'd help a fair bit. It'd maybe help if it wasn't so aggressive about stacking (as in, like carriers there would always be a fair chunk of units unstacked, and stacks empty to replenish this). The two of those might combine to more or less fix it for me personally...
« Last Edit: December 03, 2018, 03:07:09 PM by RocketAssistedPuffin »
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Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2018, 03:11:15 PM »
Also, it seems like the game wants to start stacking pretty early. It wants to cap each planet at no more than 50 units of a type before it starts stacking. I could expose that number as a Setting/Tunable for people with powerful machines.

Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2018, 03:31:15 PM »
So stacking proposal. First, expose some stacking tunables as settings for people with powerful/weaker computers. So Puffin would be able to say "Don't try to stack things until there are a lot more units around", for example

Second, allow multi-kills of stacked units up to an XML defined limit for really powerful shots.

Third, stacked units now die from the bottom, not the top; the top (aka visible) unit will stay alive (its health will reset, but it will keep status effects/shot cooldown) and squads will die from.

How well do people think that will alleviate the current dislike for stacks?

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: Gameplay Problems with Unit Stacking
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2018, 03:46:58 PM »
Humm, seems pretty good so far, I think.

If it...also could leave some units unstacked, even only 50-100, that'd be much better as well. Have stacks drop out units to replenish it like Carriers do, and I guess I'd be pretty happy myself.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2018, 03:54:16 PM by RocketAssistedPuffin »
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