Author Topic: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?  (Read 1258 times)

Offline skrutsch

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Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« on: September 15, 2016, 04:23:52 PM »
Hi!   Now that I'm in my own quiet space, I can speak all the heresies I like.  :)

This is a slightly unwanted child of this discussion:
https://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/topic,19124.0.html

Here are the guiding principles that I strongly prefer a few of us think should be more strongly considered in this design, in the order I encountered them in the original thread:

From Misery:
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AI War works for me partly because everything is represented visually by very simple icons, and the effects of those icons never change.  I look at, say, a Raid Starship, and I think, okay, that's the fast thing, good for raids, fires shots that go through shields.  Every time I see one, it does those same things... no difference, except with increases at different mark levels, which also are represented very simply.

More from Misery:
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Something like this will just add to the "overwhelming" aspect, yet I don't see much genuine benefit over the way the current game does it.  It also just makes ships seem more generic, to be honest.  It's a mechanic that's overused by the genre, also.

From Pumpkin:
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I was against the small upgrades and I was the one to ask for separation between the "small" upgrades (health x2, speed x2, range x2, armor++, etc) and the "twisting" upgrades (cloaking, tractor, etc). I think the "small" should be flag "unconstitutional and against core design philosophy" (even if player-reserved) and the "twisting" upgrades should be folded back into specific (alternative) ship designs.

Quote
Quote from: Steelpoint on Yesterday at 11:58:54 AM
My only concern with a upgrade system is more of how its portrayed to the play via the UI, as well as keeping track of upgrades for ships on the field.

Response by x4000:
That's fair.  We're going to be putting in a lot of GUI work in general for usability and clarity, and I have what I think is a pretty good concept for this one.

From Misery:
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... the way things are in the first game is that each ship is only genuinely new ONCE.  When you've seen what a particular ship does, well, you've seen everything that it does and it will ALWAYS do those things, and JUST those things.  You don't have to worry about the fact that the next time you use it you might have it with an immunity it doesn't always have, or with extra armor, and then further worry about it NOT having those things the time after that.   That's part of what causes the issue, and I'm guessing that's part of why this was such a big no-no in the first game.

From Pumpkin:
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I can imagine a short "tree" for that: a basic unit can be transformed into another (which has identical stats but gains a twisting perk) which can then be transformed into yet another. That would form a short tree. Here is an example: the standard fighter can be transformed into a bulletproof fighter with a decent armor for a more "tanky brawler" twist or into a raider with the repulsion perk (and some speed boost). Let imagine I prefer the raider for some strategical reasons; I would be unable to get the bulletproof fighter for this game. But then I can upgrade my new raider further: I can give it cloaking and turn it into a raptor (the base stats of a fighter plus speed, repulsion and cloaking).

From Managarmr:
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Simple stat upgrades are pretty boring, tbh. I'd rather be without such things at all. MkI for everyone!

Even more Misery:
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With the Mark system, you always always knew that II was better than I, and III was better than II, and so on, each meaning pretty much JUST increases in HP and attack power and general basics... very easy, and totally uniform across all ships. "The next level is better and there are 5 levels" is the one and only thing you need to know about the Mark system. When you unlock your next level of bombers, they're just outright better than the last, period. But there's no way this new system could do any of that, considering the absurd variety of possible upgrades.  It couldn't be uniform, and there'd be too many things to remember because each is not necessarily better than another within the same set of upgrades for a ship, and trying to represent it visually would be a bloody mess.

Having all sorts of different upgrade effects without an easy-to-instantly-spot visual effect in a game as complicated as this one is not a good idea; that's why the first game didn't do this whatsoever.

From kasnavada:
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That's where I think that Chris wants to, by design, to keep the upgrades, and therefore the icons, to about 2 or 3 max.

I think that's all :)

EDITS: Many because I don't understand how new topics are supposed to work :)
« Last Edit: September 15, 2016, 07:24:58 PM by skrutsch »

Offline skrutsch

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2016, 04:33:57 PM »
I have so many ideas I'm leaking brains on my keyboard :)   I'm gonna try to get these out in some sort of reasonable order in several posts.  Hope they help the discussion.

Why do people like certain AIW Classic ship types over others?  The favorite ship types have interesting rare abilities, provide more options to attack the AI, and/or are just so darn !FUN! .  I have no new ideas for the first and last, but plenty on the central idea...

Proposal:  All available*** upgrades for a given ship type are meaningful, roughly defined as "Given one?/several? problem situations X, if I purchase upgrade Y for ship type Z, I now have more ways available to tackle problem X."

***Available is defined for each ship type in section 8.a Player-And-AI Ship Designs.

Outrageously Clear Example:
I was trying to lay out how a "tutorial" would flow. Here's part of it.

- Some neat ships do some neat things. Oh look, here's a Vampire Claw, it's fast and does vampirey things.
- Some other ships have the ability to ignore force fields, neat!
- Jeepers, look at all those ships and that force field guarding the target I wanna kill!  It's going to take a long time and a lot of casualties to knock down that shield.
- What I wouldn't give for a bunch of Vampire Claws that could go right through forcefields... Wait, I Can Do That?!
- <purchase Forcefield Evasion for Vampire Claws>
- <fly upgraded Vampire Claws through force field, destroy target and retreat>

Outrageously Clear Counter-Example:  Same scenario, replace Forcefield Evasion with Hardening.  Sure, my Vampire Claws are going to last longer and take out more enemy than they could before, but I don't have any more meaningful approaches available than I did before I bought the upgrade.

So I have argued Forcefield Evasion is a meaningful upgrade for Vampire Claws, but Hardening is not a meaningful upgrade IN THIS PARTICULAR SITUATION.

Short Rationale:  Upgrades that just "raise stats" and don't enable new approaches are boring and clutter up our problem space and our UI, whatever they might be.  See many earlier posts in the thread https://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/topic,19124.0.html and the first post in this new topic.

(Yes, I'm going somewhere with this!)

Offline skrutsch

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2016, 09:20:05 PM »
Of the 14 "upgrades" currently listed in the design doc, six of them use a numeric value:

Armor n
Prefix: “Armored [Name of Ship]”
Grants a certain amount of armor on the ship.

Armor Damage x
Prefix: “Armor-Damaging [Name of Ship]”
Grants this amount of armor damage to each shot that this ship fires.

Piercing n
Prefix: “Piercing [n] [Name of Ship]”
Grants the a certain amount of armor piercing on the ship

Range Increase x%
Prefix: “Sniping [Name of Ship]”
Attack range (and auto-kite range) of this ship is now however much larger.

Speed Increase x%
Prefix: “Swift [Name of Ship]”
Movement speed and acceleration of this ship is now however much larger.

Tractor Beam x
Prefix: “Grabby [Name of Ship]”
Adds the ability to tractor a single other squad of ships from x range.

I want to modify all six!

Proposal:  No "upgrade" should have a number associated with it.

Rationale:  What better place to start than http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=AI_War:Lack_Of_Ship_Upgrades ?  The section "Play Area Clarity" is a fantastic explanation of the good UI design that was used in AIW Classic.  Misery summarizes this well: 
Quote
Having all sorts of different upgrade effects without an easy-to-instantly-spot visual effect in a game as complicated as this one is not a good idea; that's why the first game didn't do this whatsoever. 
  Displaying even one numeric value is going to be difficult on such small ship icons, much less two or three or more.

And I'd claim that there's too much specificity here.  What's the difference between, say, Range Increase 20% and Range Increase 25%?  (The correct answer is of course five percent. :0 )  To interpret that as a useful difference means you know the range of the original ship and add 1/5 or 1/4 to it.... we'd all just use the Z key and let the interface tell us.

Finally, Managarmr is right when noting that simple stat increases are boring.  (Some of the six do grant new abilities, so that mitigates this somewhat.)

The only number I want to see on my ship icons is V  :)

(So what to do with these now-numberless six?)

Offline Cinth

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2016, 10:04:17 PM »
The following is an opinion.

(So what to do with these now-numberless six?)
Core?

Proposal:  No "upgrade" should have a number associated with it.
I think the only place that number is even relevant is on the tech screen (and probably an extended tooltip). 

Short Rationale:  Upgrades that just "raise stats" and don't enable new approaches are boring and clutter up our problem space and our UI, whatever they might be.
All available*** upgrades for a given ship type are meaningful

I think I mentioned this in the other thread, think of two grades of tech upgrades.  One is a set that's available to all of a race's ships.  The other is a set specific to each ship.  Each one enables you to do something you couldn't do before, even if it's just getting off 3 more shots.  It's up to the player to decide if it's valuable or meaningful.



Quote from: keith.lamothe
Opened your save. My computer wept. Switched to the ST planet and ship icons filled my screen, so I zoomed out. Game told me that it _was_ totally zoomed out. You could seriously walk from one end of the inner grav well to the other without getting your feet cold.

Offline skrutsch

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2016, 12:24:05 AM »
Now I'm going to try to tie this all together. 

Here are things I'm NOT discussing, I'm fine with the conventional wisdom on these:

- The general acceptance of "upgrades" for the player, but not for the AI
- You buy a given upgrade for a particular (fleet) ship type.  The upgrade is applied to all Marks of that ship type.
- You can't buy the same upgrade twice for the same ship type.
- Certain ship types are only eligible for certain upgrades, and we'll be able to see the possibilities in the UI somewhere sometime (the design doc has a good crack at these relationships in section 8a)
- You can play as Humans and get "human" fleet ships, Spire and get "spire" fleet ships, etc. and they are different enough that you'll notice (again see 8a)
- Adding or removing anything but the 14 upgrades in the current design document, but I am going to propose changes to some of those 14!  Once a structure is fleshed out, presented and agreed, then consider what good upgrades look like and add and remove them intelligently.

In my view of things, "upgrades" need to be...

... instantly recognizable and understandable by looking at any-size ship icon
... as meaningful as possible, making available a wider variety of approaches to a given AI situation
... non-numeric, for UI and conceptual clarity

First things first, I doubt more than three "upgrades" can be easily seen on a ship icon, so that's my suggested max "upgrades" limit for a given ship type.  (I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised by a great UI!)  I see this as motivation to design very-meaningful upgrades and cull out any weaker ones.  I also agree with Misery that "you'll remember you bought upgrade X on fighters so we don't need to indicate that on each fighter" is a major flaw, especially if a UI can show that intuitively.  (I am REALLY excited to see the new UI, but some of that is dread.)

And for more conceptual clarity, I'm assuming once you buy an upgrade you are stuck with it - they may not be removed, replaced or re-upgraded in any way.

Second, the idea of transformation (i.e. a fighter given an armor grade is now a bulletproof fighter) isn't going to work in this context.  Chris is right to note that the combinatorics will give far more transformation results than the 80-so ships that was too high in AIW Classic.  Also, it's a lot less artwork to modify 15 ship types in 14 different ways than have hundreds of different shippy-looking icons, and a lot easier for the player to interpret.

Third, I agree with Pumpkin that so-called "twisting" upgrades are much better than "small" upgrades.

"Upgrades" like cloaking or forcefield ignoring will usually give a player new strategic and/or tactical options.  In other words, twisting upgrades are more "meaningful" and are therefore well-designed upgrades.  Notice that these are "yes-or-no" upgrades -- you couldn't enter force fields before, now you can.

I want to change the "small" upgrades (like Hardening and armor increase) to make them both more meaningful and less numeric.  My plan is to make them "yes-or-no" updates!

Proposal: An upgrade that changes a numerical value always changes that value to the best (usually maximum) value of any fleet ship that the player might get as a bonus ship.

Example:  You're a Human whose bonus ship happens to be Laser Gatling.  In AIWC, its Mk1 max health is 788.  Under this proposal, if you were to upgrade Laser Gatlings using Hardening, each Mk1 Laser Gatling would now have max health of 25,600, because the highest max health Mk1 Human ship is the Shield Bearer (I assume Zenith, Spire, etc. ships are no longer available with the faction changes) with that much Mk1 max health.  I would claim that such an increase would be "meaningful"!  (Ok, this was perhaps the most ridiculous case.  But you might be willing to invest, say 6,000 Science in such an upgrade, yes?)

This proposal makes upgrades as "meaningful" as possible and removes all the fiddly numbers via the "best possible" concept.  This is probably clearest with speed.  You don't need to try and calculate what a 50% increase in speed would mean to your Electric Shuttles (Mk1 max speed 44) or your EtherJets (120); the Speed Increase "upgrade" makes any ship move exactly as fast as a Raptor (Mk1 max speed 316).  Undoubtedly the Electric Shuttle would cost far more Science to upgrade than the EtherJet; that's how to balance these things.

Mostly for my own interest, the longest-range Human ship is infinite (but snipers are going away I believe), largest Engine Bore is Spider Bot at 60 (whatever that means :) ),  Tractor Beam maybe EtherJet, and whatever Regeneration, Shield, "Tank Armor", Armor Damage and Armor Piercing might be... I may well have missed a few, and AIW II may well have different values anyway.  (I got many numbers from this spreadsheet: https://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=11678.0;attach=9202 )

The best part is that this proposal has both a minimal UI impact and a minimal conceptual impact.  Hey all you folks crazy enough to be following this, do you have a sense of how fast a Raptor goes?  (I don't, but I haven't played all that much.)  I'm guessing an experienced player already has a sense of "Raptor speed", and if you don't you are going to develop a sense because Speed Increase is usable in EVERY game (I assume), rather than only when you unlock Raptor somehow.  So when you see any ship with the little magic Speed Increase symbol (I vote for a mini-Release Raptor), your brain goes "oh yeah, that's just a ____ that also moves real darn fast".   I'm predicting a non-newbie player would develop similar good sense about things like Human maximum range or maximum regeneration as they play.  (And I think extreme "upgrade" improvements would be easier to notice for everybody regardless of skill level.)

Last but not least, I'd call these "augments" or "bolt-ons" or "superchargers" etc. to portray things that are both additive and powerful. "Upgrade" sounds to me something tedious like trading in your +1 longsword for a +2 longsword.

Sorry, no time to summarize! 

I'm checking out of this topic for a few days, partially to catch up on real life and partially to give myself some emotional detachment, so I don't get all freaked-out when someone points out something I'm not considering or got horribly wrong. I purposely have not looked at any replies to this thread (but mine) and won't till probably Monday.  Thanks for your time!

Offline Mánagarmr

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2016, 03:08:47 AM »
You and I agree fully on "numberless upgrades".
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Offline kasnavada

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2016, 03:18:16 AM »
How do you strap armor on a ship with numberless upgrades ?

Offline Mánagarmr

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2016, 03:26:55 AM »
How do you strap armor on a ship with numberless upgrades ?

Easy. Ships don't have armor. You give them armor. Armor is not a simple number, but a change in characteristics. To take a dirty example:

Ship has 200 HP. It takes that damage, it's destroyed.

Now you add "Armor" to the ship. The ship now takes no damage from damage below a certain number

or

the ship reduces all incoming damage by a percentage (however, this is more or less equivelant to +HP).
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Offline Pumpkin

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Re: Upgrade, augment, bolt-on, what's in a name?
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2016, 04:37:36 AM »
How do you strap armor on a ship with numberless upgrades ?

Here is my proposal:
An upgrade with a numerical value always has the same numerical value. Always.

(There is already a new armor mechanism: "armor X => take X% less damage". I don't like it but I won't discuss it now and deal with it.)
The "Armored" upgrade would have a fixed amount, displayed only in the tooltip. Let's say 50 armor (take half damage from all sources). The fighter has 0 armor; I unlock "Armored" upgrade for the fighter. My fighters now take half damage. I unlocked "Armored" for the bombers: my bombers now take half damage.

I personally dislike that kind of thing, but, eh. I just have to not use it. On the clarity topic, however, all "Armored" upgrades would grand the same, fixed amount of damage reduction and won't have to telegraph that other than "this unit has upgrade N". (Graphical transformation in my "hedge" idea, prefix accumulation in the current Design Document's vision, etc.)

More specifically, I'd like to see simple and impactful upgrades. While I hate "speed +X%", I'm okay with "speed x2". Same thing for range increase. I based some of my "hedge" ideas on that:
* Fighter -> Raider uses repulsion and speed x2.
* Fighter -> Raptor uses cloaking and speed x2.
* Fighter -> Bulletproof Fighter could use Armored (50% armor).
* Bomber -> Zombard could use range x2.

My specific numerical proposals:
* Armor: 50%.
* Armor piercing: 50%.
* Armor damage: 1. (The perk is currently rather weird, considering the RoF, but eh, that's a WiP.)
* Range: x2.
* Speed: x2.
Problem with x2 is that not all ships (on which it's available) will gain the same amount. We can imagine fixed "range +100" and "speed +100", but I would be okay with both x2 and +100.

The Tractor perk is a bit off because it's a quantity, not a numerical stat. I can imagine two kind of tractor perks for two kind of cap-scale: "Tractor 1" (or just "Tractor" for EJet style units; "Tractor 10" (or "Multi-Tractor") for STPlatform style units.
Anyway, for this one in particular, I'm okay with "Tractor X: the unit gain X tractor beams."
Please excuse my english: I'm not a native speaker. Don't hesitate to correct me.