Originally, Elemental was going to have continuous turn combat. That effectively meant real-time. Ultimately, after playing around with it, we decided to implement turn based (simultaneous turns based on combat speed) with tiles.
The evolution of tactical combat in Elemental owes a lot to the beta program. 9 Months of public beta testing of the game engine with corresponding debates has led to some important changes that would not have happened otherwise.
A lot of the discussion resulted in us thinking about the game in ways we didn’t think of before. Specifically, how do we address game design issues that have plagued our genre for decades now? If you’re a strategy gamer, you know them well.
For us, the challenge of tactical combat has been about giving the player as much control as possible over how long tactical combat should last. This ultimately led to the realization that the funnest way for us turned out to be to have the strategic elements of combat very clear and well defined.
Elements of Tactical Combat
In no particular order these are the things that matter:
- Combat Speed. Your combat speed determines how many “moves” / attacks you get during a particular turn. In the begging of Lord of the Rings, what makes Sauron such a bad ass is that he can attack so many units at once. He has, in game turns, an incredible combat speed.
- Morale. Unit morale matters but for fun purposes, we try to keep it straight forward. Units have High Morale (25% combat bonus), Normal Morale (no bonus), Low Morale (25% combat penalty), and Panic (you don’t control them). It provides a whole new avenue for us to play in.
- Terrain. This is where the tile based part mattered for us (and for the AI). Some terrain, obstacles, and tiles simply provide better offensive and defensive bonuses, Controlling them matters.
- WINNER. TAKE. ALL. This is the part where we want to hear your opinions. We do ask that you keep an open mind on what we ultimately go with. My opinion is that the attacking player has the onus to finish the battle in N turns. After N turns, the attacker morale starts to go lower and lower at which point the defender can come out and make mince meat out of them. The question is, what should determine what N is? Or should we allow retreating? Should we allow draws? I’m against retreats or withdraws because it’s one of those things that allows the game to drag on. It’s a strong personal preference of mine that two men enter, one man leaves. (Your heroes will tend to escape though).
- Combined Arms. Archers have range. Mounted Warriors have great combat speed. Foot soldiers tend to have better weapons and defenses. It means putting together your army matters a lot. It also is important to us that players understand precisely why they won or lost a battle.
- Thresholds. Players can set the tactical battle threshold in the menu. That is, they can say it requires 10 units on each side before it’ll actually go into tactical battle. At any point, players can have a tactical battle auto-resolve.
Remaining Questions and issues:
- Controlling the length of a tactical battle. We believe that users should have a lot of control over how in depth they want their battles to be. Should a tactical battle finish in less than a minute or should they last 2 hours? How do we make it so that players can control this?
- Randomization vs. Richness. I won’t lie to you, we have a trade off in front of us and it’s a big one. We can randomly generate the battlefields in tactical combat OR we can have it pick from a series of pre-made tactical battle maps. The randomly generated ones won’t be as interesting but they’ll more accurately reflect the local terrain. I’m preferring the pre-made ones because we can add some spectacular strategic when we’re crafting them and have hundreds to pull from.