Monday, November 7, 2011

Fallout from the Reddit Discussion

A few days ago I posted an overview of a discussion I had on reddit.  The question was simple:  what's wrong with RTS games and what can we do to fix it?
There were many long and well thought-out comments, which boil down to two things.
  1. Many people like the design principles of Project Orbit
  2. People are finding it difficult to get an exact idea of what our gamplay will be like.
This second point is entirely our fault.  It's hard to build on shifting ground, and we've spent a lot of time criticizing games and considering alternatives rather than explaining exactly what we plan to do.

Let's fix that, Q & A style.

Q:  What is the main design goal of project orbit?

A:  The main goal is to make a real-time strategy game that prioritizes informed, intelligent, cooperative and creative tactical thinking.

Q:  That sounds like much ado about nothing.  What does that mean?

A:  Those words are carefully selected.  Let's review them one by one.

Informed means that we want players to view battlefield intelligence as a requisite resource.  In many RTS games, the ability to see what your enemy is doing before making contact is a perk -- something you don't need, but is still useful.  Players spend most of their time in ignorance and seclusion.  We want our players to almost always be in some sort of precarious contact, constantly scoping each other out, circling in the ring, looking for weakness...

Intelligent means that the consequence of actions should vary with context.  The correct thing to do in case A is not necessarily the correct thing to do in case B.  Players should have analyze a situation and the environment in which it takes place.

Cooperative means that there should be a clear advantage to working with an ally.  This implies more than simply allowing cooperation or even encouraging it informally.  Team that cooperates should have an enormous advantage over the one that does not, and this advantage should be part of the game's fundamental design.  It also means that we will have to give the player tools and an interface to make cooperation fluid and natural.  This interface design will be a major focus of Project Orbit.

Creative means that several solutions should exist for a given problem.  This prevents an opponent from being predictable.  Unpredictable opponents imply intelligence gathering...

Q:  How will these design goals be implemented?

A:  Aha!  Now you want a feature list.  So be it, but bear in mind that these may still change in their details.
Informed Gameplay:
  • Large maps with relatively small unit caps to force exploration and patrolling
  • Terrain-sensitive radar with blind spots and other limitations
  • Specialized and limited static defenses to promote specialized and planned attacks
  • Need for resupply on many important units to encourage players to seek out and destroy enemy forward outposts.
Intelligent Gameplay:
  • Complex unit interactions to promote varied, but planned squad composition
  • Squad level tactics
  • Specialization bonuses in the form of a tech tree that is unlocked from XP earned in game.  This will encourage use of specialized tactics and unit.
  • Modern interface to facilitate micromanagement and maximize understanding of unit interactions.  In other words, a low click-per-second rate.
Cooperative Gameplay:
  • Shared tactical map interface with planning overlay to draft plans
  • VOIP communication tools
  • Specialization bonuses encourage players to select complementary roles
  • Economic and XP bonuses for cooperative play
  • Complex semi-scriptable interactions between friendly patrols, i.e. killboxes, artillery spotting and combat air patrols.
Creative Gameplay:
  • Micromanagement interface will abstract away excessive clicking.  This will free cognitive resources for planning and reaction
  • Contextual sensitivity of units will be clear and predictable to allow for valid reasoning
  • Communication and planning interface will allow for sharing of wisdom and experience
  • Rock-Paper-Scissors organization of unit types will allow for fine-tuned tactics.

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