Author Topic: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily  (Read 5622 times)

Offline x4000

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Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« on: September 16, 2009, 10:45:21 AM »


Okay, so this is basically a fictitious mockup, but I'm going to use it to illustrate a few points regarding the new Supply system.

Map Notation:
White circles are planets I would take.
Red Science Labs are planets with Advanced Research Stations
White Science Labs are planets open to me for knolwedge under the new supply rules.

Map Stats:
Planets On Map: 80
Planets Taken:  16 (17 total, if you count the starting home planet)
Planets With Knowledge Available Given Supply Changes:  42
Number Of Planets Attacked Without Supply Support: 9, Plus the Two AI Home Planets
Number Of Enemy Planets Hopped:  24
Advanced Research Stations Captured: 5/5


Now, to address some of the specific concerns from other threads:

Knowledge Raiding Is "Basically Dead"
This is alarmist and patently false.  As you can see, in the current map I could be knowledge raiding on 26 planets in addition to the 16 I actually take.  It is true that knowledge raiding is now more difficult if you are wanting to take a very few planets.  But given the relatively low number of planets taken in this mockup (not tiny, but well below my normal expected range of 20-30 planets for a map of this size), there are a huge number of options available.  This basically represents 94,000 total knowledge available to the player(s) in this scenario, which is huge. 

And if you wanted to up that by 10,000 or more, all you have to do is take perhaps one more planet that borders four other planets.  Easy peasy, but now knowledge comes at more of an opportunity cost, which is important.  Most activities in the game are meant to come with an opportunity cost, otherwise they are not strategically interesting.

This Kills Deep Raiding
Not at all.  As you can see, I still had to do a lot of deep raiding in order to keep the AI Progress to a reasonable level.  Deep raiding is just as important as ever.  What is dead is the ability to just be a roaming marauder with a self-sustaining fleet.  That was way too powerful.  As you can see, in order to maintain deep raiding I periodically would take a weak planet so that I could have docks and other reinforcements on those planets.  That way I don't have to send reinforcements all the way from my main cluster of planets, etc.

What is more interesting about this new way of handling things is that it provides another attack point for the AI against the human players, and basically gives players something to lose.  Having nothing to lose (except your easily-replaceable ships) is another flaw that is uninteresting, and was a situation that some enterprising players were able to manufacture for themselves.  This artificially lowers the difficulty of the game, and also makes for game-breaking exploitative strategies.

Energy-Poor Players Are Now In Trouble
Again, no.  Previously, some players who were too energy poor would build a beachhead on neighboring enemy planets just so they could build a reactor there.  This is still completely viable!  The supply restrictions don't affect neighboring planets in any way, so there is effectively zero difference here.

This Kills Beachheads
Again, again, no.  It does kill beachheads that are a long way off in enemy territory, but your ability to make a beachhead on an adjacent enemy planet is completely unaffected.  For the long-range beachheads, take a look at the map above.  The strategy now is to take a weaker planet next to the stronger planet you really want to attack.  Then either use the captured planet as a forward outpost, or use it to supply an actual beachhead on the target enemy planet.  People who are looking for mobile supply:  this is how you do it.  Take a nearby low planet, and that's your mobile supply.  Colony Ships are unaffected by supply, so you can do all the planet hopping and fancy minimalist strategies you want.


Why Make Changes Like This, Anyway?
The main reason for making these changes is to increase the opportunity cost for a number of actions, and to provide a more rich set of strategic options in general.  You can still do deep raiding, you can still be a minimalist, and other strategies also remain very valid.  However, these come with some cost. 

In general, the only reason I ever nerf a given strategy in this game is if it gives too great a benefit at too low of a cost.  There have been some really challenging issues of late with players taking too few planets and doing all sorts of clever things, which really causes the AI to be less effective and lowers the difficulty in an artificial way.  My response to this has been partly to teach the AI some new behaviorlets, and partly to reduce the benefits and increase the costs for these more esoteric strategies.

When I look at this game, the main thing I am looking at is the "decision space."  When a single strategy or group of strategies are too effective, the decision space effectively shrinks because expert players would be fools to use any other strategy.  This becomes a failing of the game which I have to address through balance updates and new/updated game mechanics in some cases.  Individual ship balance is only the beginning, because how players use all the myriad types of ships in concert, plus how they plan their overall strategy, can have an even more complicated effect on game balance.

My goal is not to make all strategies exactly equal (because then the decision space is shrunk by nature of the fact that any strategy is as good as the next, so it doesn't really matter what you do).  Having no interesting deviations in strategy is just as much of a game-killer as having one best strategy is.

Instead, my goal is to make strategies that are generally all within a standard deviation of one another, so that players with different playstyles can play as they wish, but also which are context-specific to a degree, so that the truly expert players will adjust their strategy very heavily depending on the specific circumstances of a given scenario.  This not only adds to the richness of the strategy of the game, it adds to the replay value.

Of course, when players play below their true difficulty level, they have more latitude to just use their favorite strategy and have done with it.  But when things are really neck-and-neck, players should have to make appropriate evaluations of the map and act accordingly, rather than being able to artificially lower the difficulty through exploitative tactics.

Will this annoy some players who rely on these tactics to play at a higher difficulty level?  Of course it will, and that is an unfortunate side effect.  Any balance shift in any RTS game seems to annoy someone, while (hopefully) the majority rejoice.  You might assume that because AI War is not a competitive pvp affair that these sorts of balance issues are not important.  To a certain extent this is true, it is certainly much less important that the unit balance be perfect because of a number of facets of the AI War design.  However, the overall strategic balance is critical for the longevity of the game. 

When I play any RTS game, I am going so solo or co-op against the AI in skirmish mode.  That's the only way I play.  I basically can get 6-12 months of biweekly play out of most of the better RTS games, and that's the point at which I get bored with the game because I have figured out some sort of killer best strategy that the AI can't counter and that I can't top.  At that point there's no other way that I really want to play the game, and I've lost interest playing the game using that best strategy, so there's pretty much nothing left for me to do with the game and I move on.

That's all well and good if you are trying to sell a huge series of RTS games, but with AI War I intend to grow and build it as a series of expansions, not sequels.  That means that the core game had better be extraordinarily rock solid, with absolutely no best-paths that people discover after however many months of play.  There are always tricky things that players figure out, of course, and so that makes an ongoing balance load for me.  This is not unexpected -- Starcraft is still getting balance patches some 11 years after its release, from what I hear, and it is regarded as supremely well balanced.

As with the Starcraft balance updates, my goal is not to quash player innovation -- I applaud it.  However, my goal is to keep all strategies within essentially a single standard deviation of the norm, and also to add as much context-sensitivity to the grand strategies as possible.  The kiss of death for an RTS game, in my opinion, is when all the games start feeling basically the same to expert players.  That's when it's time to move on and find a new game to play.  My goal is to keep that from ever happening with AI War, because that's the only way I'll maintain my own interest in the game, let alone the interest of anyone else. 

That sort of outlook will annoy a few players as I go, unfortunately -- and I need to be very careful to listen to player feedback and not do something that pisses people off for no reason, or which is hated by a majority of the playerbase.  In general I'm pretty averse to doing things that players don't like, which I think is a crucial attitude for game designers to have (just "doing your own thing" or having a "take it or leave it" attitude is stupid and is suicide).  However, it's impossible to please everyone when making any given change, and so player feedback has to be weighed against the longterm health of the game.  Rebalancing a game that has already been released is always a tricky proposition, but you only have to look at examples such as Starcraft or World of Warcraft to see how incredible the results can be in the long term if care is taken.
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Offline Haagenti

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2009, 11:18:40 AM »
When I play any RTS game, I am going so solo or co-op against the AI in skirmish mode.  That's the only way I play.  I basically can get 6-12 months of biweekly play out of most of the better RTS games, and that's the point at which I get bored with the game because I have figured out some sort of killer best strategy that the AI can't counter and that I can't top.  At that point there's no other way that I really want to play the game, and I've lost interest playing the game using that best strategy, so there's pretty much nothing left for me to do with the game and I move on.

...............

The kiss of death for an RTS game, in my opinion, is when all the games start feeling basically the same to expert players.  That's when it's time to move on and find a new game to play.  My goal is to keep that from ever happening with AI War, because that's the only way I'll maintain my own interest in the game, let alone the interest of anyone else. 

This is all so true. I have come up with a lot of abusive strategies (I should be much higher in the credits list) and once I find one, my interest in the game starts to wane. I hate to finish, since I already won and the game takes so long. I hate to start again, since I know I'll win. Normally, this game would have been deleted from my hard disk long ago.

But this game on slightly higher meta-level has one absolutely and completely superb feature. Whenever I find a strategy that is abusive, I go to http://arcengames.com/forums and type it in. Within two days, the game morphs and my strategy no longer works. It is like the game is actually self-learning: once you defeat it, it changes. And all for $19.99...well...I took the discount offer (blush).

And this one feature makes it the only game I play over the past two months or so. This one feature makes the game unique and makes it outshine all other RTSs currently on the market. So please keep doing this. Please keep nerfing me.
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Offline liq3

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2009, 11:26:30 AM »
:D *explodes from excitement*

Awesome attitude towards developing AI War. I wish more devs had it. :]

I must point out something you may or may not know about Starcraft. There's a very competitive community for it (as I'm sure you know), it's just it's a lot smaller then the custom map (UMS) community, at least for English players. I will admit that the English competitive community is very strong, especially since it's so old. Ladders like PGT and iCCup keep it alive.

Anyway, that's enough SC history. :D

And this one feature makes it the only game I play over the past two months or so. This one feature makes the game unique and makes it outshine all other RTSs currently on the market. So please keep doing this. Please keep nerfing me.
I have to respectively disagree. Starcraft:Broodwar (yes, expansion is important) is currently (and has been for the past 6-8 years) the best competitive RTS around. There is no single abusive strategy in SC:BW.

Offline x4000

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2009, 11:28:24 AM »
For the credits thing, right now it is just in the order of when people wrote in.  But I think I'll need to make a new category for major contributors, or something like that, to reflect the differences for players who do make such ongoing and huge contributions like you.  This is a good point, thanks for bringing it up -- my goal with the credits is to be as neutral as possible, and also not to have to be updating them all the time as more suggestions come in.  Maybe I'll just make some special categories for specific players who make a load of longterm suggestions (Grand Nerfer for you, Interface Master for Admiral, etc).

I definitely don't plan to stop nerfing strategies and so forth, to keep the game balance inline, but my hope is that there won't be much more need for huge game-changing shifts for a while.  Remember when it was things like Parasite balance and the Space Snake, and stuff like that?  That's what I hope to mainly see, versus things that require big mechanics shifts.  Of course, as expansions are rolled out I expect to see more of the mechanics-style issues, but basically I am hoping that the core game will be settling down with the addition of this supply change, on top of all the other economic/energy changes that were already put in place.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2009, 11:43:23 AM »
:D *explodes from excitement*

Awesome attitude towards developing AI War. I wish more devs had it. :]

I must point out something you may or may not know about Starcraft. There's a very competitive community for it (as I'm sure you know), it's just it's a lot smaller then the custom map (UMS) community, at least for English players. I will admit that the English competitive community is very strong, especially since it's so old. Ladders like PGT and iCCup keep it alive.

Anyway, that's enough SC history. :D

And this one feature makes it the only game I play over the past two months or so. This one feature makes the game unique and makes it outshine all other RTSs currently on the market. So please keep doing this. Please keep nerfing me.
I have to respectively disagree. Starcraft:Broodwar (yes, expansion is important) is currently (and has been for the past 6-8 years) the best competitive RTS around. There is no single abusive strategy in SC:BW.

Sure, I know that SC has a lot going for it still, and in general doesn't have huge balance shifts being made.  It's much more susceptible to minor unit balance issues, however, which I think is where the majority of its tweaks come from.

It's really an apples-to-oranges thing, because the balance requirements for a small-scale pvp RTS are completely different from a longform 4xish RTS game that is solo/cooperative only.  My emphasis will never be on pitch-perfect unit balance, for instance, but I have a whole other set of AI/strategic concerns that SC will never have given its focus on pvp.

Haagenti only plays solo, I believe, so his requirements for what makes the best sort of RTS experience are of course going to be pretty different from someone who plays pvp.  Speaking for myself, Starcraft and a lot of other popular pvp RTS games have very little interest for me, because often the AI doesn't hold up over the long term.  In other words, they are a rich and fantastic pvp experience, but the longterm interest of solo/co-op might be lower.  Not having actually played Starcraft I can't comment on that game specifically, but I've certainly run into that with most other RTS titles I have played (hence the existence of AI War).
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Offline liq3

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2009, 11:55:22 AM »
Well Starcraft AI is absolutely terrible. No argument from me there. You can get some upgraded AI, but afiak they cheat (more resources).

I must point out that I said "SC:BW is the best competitive RTS". I was strictly talking about it's pvp. :]

AI War is the best solo/co-op RTS I know of. I do consider them filling completely different sub genres, and will never say one is better then the other.

Offline x4000

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2009, 12:00:44 PM »
Yeah, I know you were talking apples and oranges -- I just wanted to make sure you knew we weren't trying to be down on Starcraft pvp or something.  I think that Starcraft pvp is so awesome precisely because of how much care and work has been put into it over such a long period of time (on top of an initial release that I'm sure was great).  And I'm basically aiming to do something similar, just in a different subgenre.
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Offline Echo35

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2009, 12:19:28 PM »
This is why I play this game. Its not just a great game (And a steal at $20!) but there is so much care and focus given to it from the developer and community, it never gets old. This is also the reason I play TF2 more than any other FPS. Even two years after its release, it is still getting content and balance patches (Which is a pretty incredible life span for an FPS). Too many developers release "fire and forget" games that they just push out, hope they sell well, and start working on next years release. I very rarely just buy the yearly block busters anymore.

Offline x4000

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2009, 12:29:11 PM »
Just bear in mind that the pace of how I'm going to be doing things is going to really change (as it kind of has started to already).  There will alway be balance adjustments and free DLC, but that's going to be just something that is maybe 10-20 lines of release notes for a two-week period.  The expansions and other games we are going to be working on will also be open-betas (or open-later-alphas in many cases), so there will always be something going on where players can be involved and see some rapid progress, but I can't just keep making major updates to the base AI War game forever and expect to stay in business.  Plus, I have to do something about my crazy workweek hours, that was starting to drive me into the ground, which isn't good for anyone.

So the future looks bright, still, and I plan to remain one of the more active developers around -- but I worry that I've set a precedent that I'm not going to be able to match on an ongoing basis during this honeymoon period.  I'd been working insane hours and devoting all my attention to the base AI War game, which simply can't continue.  AI War will keep growing, but mostly through expansions (balance tweaks and smallish free DLC aside), and there are going to be some periods where there are other games that are the sole focus instead of AI War expansions, so the only thing going on is the balance patches / DLC tweaks for AI War.  Those periods will likely not ever last more than 6-8 months, after which another AI War expansion will be in the works.

I think we'll still outpace most other developers, but the key takeaway is that I don't have a magical ability to maintain the current pace of AI War development and do anything else. :)
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Offline liq3

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2009, 12:56:42 PM »
This is why I play this game. Its not just a great game (And a steal at $20!) but there is so much care and focus given to it from the developer and community, it never gets old. This is also the reason I play TF2 more than any other FPS. Even two years after its release, it is still getting content and balance patches (Which is a pretty incredible life span for an FPS). Too many developers release "fire and forget" games that they just push out, hope they sell well, and start working on next years release. I very rarely just buy the yearly block busters anymore.
Like Universe at War. D: UaW had an awesome concept, but completely and utterly failed due to lack of post-release support (and it using GFWL didn't help much either).


Offline RCIX

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2009, 01:36:14 PM »
Don't worry, i'll set some money aside for the expansions, this has got to be one of the best RTS's we've played and the amount of activity on development is outstanding!
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Offline dumpsterKEEPER

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2009, 04:08:57 PM »
I think we'll still outpace most other developers, but the key takeaway is that I don't have a magical ability to maintain the current pace of AI War development and do anything else. :)

I think most of the regular players don't expect you to maintain this pace for the entire lifespan of the game. I know I've been very impressed with the level of support you've provided for the game so far, and particularly your consistent, personal involvement in the forums. That level of support was one of the major reasons I purchased the game (the other major reason was your blog posts about the AI) despite not knowing much about the game in general (no, I didn't bother playing the demo).

Offline x4000

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2009, 04:23:50 PM »
Well, that's good to know. ;)
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Offline RCIX

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2009, 05:55:11 PM »
Yup, i downloaded the trial and subsequently bought the game cause of the AI blog posts :)
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Offline eRe4s3r

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Re: Conservative Battle Plan -- Dealing With Supply, Easily
« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2009, 08:10:22 PM »
My main problem with this (and the shield change) is that the game becomes way way way way way way too slow. Yes, slow - as in, it takes too long to get anywhere.

Which you might brush away as "subjective" but the other thing is, that this makes the game even more than before (which is bad) Dependant on start-location. A good balanced game should NEVER have a no-win situation just because of start-location and AI Type.

I think in this strategy nerf frency one should never forget that games are supposed to be fun. While fun is entirely subjective, at some point there will be no good effective strategies left, which makes the game even slower to play, and i claim that unless there come a lot more random elements and scripted events this means the game becomes boring, because at some point the player knows he is winning, but to get there he has to play another 5-10 hours.

So yeah, please make the game not unwinnable - Because once it is, it is also no longer fun. (rather its frustrating = Battle Toads)

(Atm it is still winnable though)
« Last Edit: September 16, 2009, 08:22:12 PM by eRe4s3r »
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