1. Ideals of Aggro Tactics Part 1: Varied Combat; No Gimmicks

      written by Ray Benefield
      Hahaha! Week two of back to blogging. I've been squeezing in as much time as I can to work on Aggro Tactics to prepare it for gathering a team together and make it a reality for the public. Between work and Pathfinder DMing there hasn't been much time, but this isn't my first tango with Aggro Tactics so from here it is just documenting and refining. Today I discuss the first of my ideal goals with Aggro Tactics... varied combat on flat ground without the gimmicks...



      Combat in games



      Combat is one of the most FRUSTRATING things that I see games do terribly. Most board games, RPGs, tactical games, etc. have some of the most boring combat I've ever experienced. Which sucks because combat is typically my favorite part. My problem with most combat systems is their susceptibility to the concept of First Order Optimal Strategy, or as Extra Credits calls them... FOO Strategies. You find a really powerful technique/strategy/etc that takes little effort and mow down the rest of the game. We won't discuss the obvious problem with balance. But the problem it does bring up is stale gameplay. DnD/Pathfinder combat has proven to be very boring as many times it turns into "I walk up to it and hit it... I swing again... and again... and again. *gets drink* Oh I'm just swinging at it again". Never fun and I hate it.


      Extra Credits episode where they introduce F.O.O Strategies



      Unnecessary Complexity



      So many games try to overcome this downfall by adding a ridiculous amount of complexity to their combat system... more than is actually necessary for their combat. Yu-gi-oh is definitely guilty of this. Oh this monster is ridiculously powerful? Let's build in a specific counter just for this card. How about Armored Core and its ridiculous amount of statistics? It is fun to jigsaw, but it is unnecessary. Or what about difficult terrain, height advantage, backstab, resistance, damage types, energy, building terrain, direction facing, cover, concealment, status effects, flanking, core stats, supplemental stats, temporary stats, etc? Sure a few of those working together is fine, but a lot of games have 90% of that list. A good example of this was a Kickstarter I saw earlier this year. A guy working on a tactical strategy game called Telepath Tactics. I admire his enthusiasm, but in the first quarter of the video he covers sooo many mechanics involved in combat it gets your head spinning. Is all of that really necessary and how often will that all come into play?


      Original Kickstarter video for Telepath Tactics



      K.I.S.S.



      You can have a beautifully crafted combat system without all the fluff. Halo and Call of Duty are great examples. The amount of factors involved in combat is manageable and not overly complex with a lot of fluff. Every detail matters. If you take out a good chunk of stats in Armored Core the game would still play roughly the same. My approach to Aggro Tactics is to keep it simple. "But Ray won't that take away from the depth of Aggro Tactics?" Not at all good sir. Complexity and Depth are two completely separate topics in the world of design. Complexity is bad, depth is good. Depth is the ratio of strategical options available vs the amount of mechanics in play. There are several key factors that are part of Aggro Tactics and almost everything revolves around these few aspects to create a cohesive system.


      Extra Credits episode covering Complexity and Depth



      The elements of Aggro




      Aggro/Threat



      The first of the elements is the concept of Aggro, which uses Threat as its numerical representation. Almost all actions affect a characters threat. Having threat is both good and bad. A lot means that character is the target of most attacks. Something you might want for your Warrior, while a lot for you fragile sorcerer may not be the best plan... unless your Warrior is about to take it and then maybe your Rogue should jump ahead in Threat. Threat is Aggro's way of making life more dangerous indirectly. Just because you have a ton of Threat on your Wizard doesn't mean you are dead in the water. Threat indirectly affects HP... more Threat makes your HP more vulnerable, but almost no Threat means you could possibly keep living off of 1 HP the whole game. Threat also reacts with:


      Range/Space



      Range and Threat have an interesting relationship. The more range you have the more possible targets at a safer distance. But the more range you have the more susceptible to enemy Threat you are. If you don't understand how it works, it is simple. When your Archer goes to take a shot, the Character with the highest threat is who gets hit. Sure you can hit Wizard from 5+ spaces away, but with as much range as you cover there is a good chance a Warrior can just step into your range and make you hit him instead. Less range allows you to be more selective, while more range gives you more options. If you can move properly and keep your targets at the edge of your range you could be good to go and always hit your mark, but if people catch on then they will start to save their weaker pieces and read your moves. Movement and Range matter more than in most games. Positioning can be a huge deal.


      HP/AP



      HP is pretty obvious. Someone that loses HP ends up dieing eventually of course it is in the game. The other key element is AP or Action Points. This is how we get you to use different characters. You have a max set of useable AP for your whole team and a max set for each character. As you run low on one character you must start to use other characters. Each character has 5 AP and regens 3 a turn. So if you use 5 AP in one turn, the next turn you can only use up to 3 until you recover. If you use more than 1 point then you won't get back to a full 5 AP But if you use 3 or less with all of your characters you still have access to a full 5 with everyone when you need it. Most actions take AP and affect Threat in some way. A lot of balance is calculated by how much Threat you can gain or lose per AP. AP management is crucial.


      All Together Now



      EVERYTHING in Aggro Tactics revolves around one or more of those 4 key details. Movement affects space/range/AP/Threat. Damage affects AP & Threat, and Range dictates potential damage and works with Threat. When later details are added they are added around these core mechanics. For example when I add in terrain, height, etc. they will play off of the Threat system. Your elevation will dictate your "base" threat. Characters that want threat will head for high ground, and those avoiding will stay below. But sometimes line of sight will come into play and you must gain threat to gain better sight lines.


      Flat Ground goal



      My goal for Aggro Tactics is to make a combat system that can be varied and fun on a flat surface and bland playing board. No terrain, line of sight blockers, height advantage, water, etc. will be needed to make Aggro Tactics feel deep. I want players to feel like moving and mixing up their tactics works just as well on flat ground as it does around pillars and on hills. Gimmicks like that should enhance combat, not just be the crutch like in most games. Sure you can build a bridge over water, but is it really that important and essential to gameplay? And if it is, are you putting too much focus just to make it useful which dilutes the core gameplay? In Aggro Tactics a feature like terrain will be the wings that let's Aggro Tactics take flight, not the crutch or bag of rocks that they are in most games.

      17 comments:

      Noklu said...

      Glad to see you back in the business, so to speak, Ray!

      I absolutely agree with your point about games relying on complexity rather than depth. Recently I played The Witcher—which was a decent game, interesting style and plot, but the core gameplay was boring. Repetitive clicks timed to hit combos. Add in a few potions that, if properly combined, essentially overpower your character and then just sit back and clickmash.

      I mean, all games boil down to hitting patterns of buttons. But the trick is deluding players into believing they are actually firing a battle rifle or manoeuvring a battleship—that is to say, a role of the designer convincing people that they are not just pressing buttons and making what results actually entertaining. Some games take the thinking route (take, for example, Dragon Age on higher difficulties—very tactical but relatively minimally involved with the minutiae of targeting and hitting). Other games take the visceral approach: Halo and most FPS's, which require specific targeting and firing.

      So, I'm guessing that Aggro is focused more on the former? That's what I recall from the earlier versions. I like the newer dynamics; they add depth without complexity!


      Looking forward to what comes next!

      XspartanZdonk said...

      You can balance things AZN FTW! I'm Married now in the Texas National Guard, a Licensed Massage Therapist and a Field Specialist for Schlumberger in the oil and gas industry. I think if I ever have a child though things would change drastically. But I still love putting what I can into AC.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Sorry I haven't replied to this sooner Noklu. I've been intending to, just been busy. If by focused on the former you mean the thinking route then yes. The goal is to present a almost infinite list of options for each person, but a list that can be easily prioritized and anticipated. Like most tactical games, part of the fun is anticipating what your opponent's priorities are and what their decision list looks like as a result and then counteracting their decision list with counter antics. One of these blog posts I'll cover the 3D combat style that Aggro Tactics is using on a single flat surface. It might not be tonight's post, but in the future once I take the time to create the assets to display combat from a top down perspective like chess diagrams.


      The combat has definitely evolved a lot from the card system, and it features a lot of the same experience that the card game presented, like that feeling of trying to shift your pieces around to have the one that you want to be targeted be the one that is actually targeted... trying to move your weakest so they are safe, while still contributing to the success of the party. I'm looking forward to showing off the combat rules.


      I'm going to go make a ticket for making diagram assets so I can get that completed and make the blog posts for explaining combat. Having Aggro Tactics be under project management software is helping a lot with the development. It makes everything more goal oriented. I've currently got 10+ tickets created, 2 closed, and many more that need to be created as time goes on with due dates, milestones, etc. Perhaps you'll be taken onto the team eventually Noklu. ;)

      GodlyPerfection said...

      I actually like the balance I have now. I don't need video games in my life anymore, which is great. It has given me more time to be successful in other aspects of my life.

      Black Howling said...

      Glad to see you still fighting the good fight. It's the hard times that
      define who we are and what we're worth as people - don't lose sight of
      that. Also, I'm still somewhat alive, so let me know if you need help
      with anything down the road.

      EXEM said...

      Getting caught up. Good to see; good luck

      EXEM said...

      I read the Telepath Tactics vid completely different, seems like a throwback to console-style tactics games (which certainly had hazard/elevated terrain as well as status injuries) with some newer/more PC oriented elements like destructible environment and user editing thrown in for good measure. I mean, he runs off less status effects than are in even a basic entry level turn based RPG. If your perspective's that games like FFT were needlessly complex too then that makes sense. Or that it's a bad pitch for the game to an audience unfamiliar with this genre, which is a pretty fair critique.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Yeah my problem with most tactics games is the unnecessary fluff and the mind numbing maze of statistics. Several different resistances, damage types, etc. that can be more elegantly designed. The main mechanics have carried over for lack of people not wanting to start from scratch so they take what has worked and modified it.


      As for MMORPGs in general, I completely agree. When you get sucked into a particular strategy things can bet boring. I don't like RPGs for the reason that you are required to sink your time into it just to get to a certain point. Another goal of mine is to remove that "build up" concept, you should have access to every option in the game from the start and the skill to me should be from learning what to do with those options.


      The fun concept to me was always learning to maximize damage while confined to the restraints of what the rest of the party was doing. The restraints are always ever changing and for me, learning to be efficient in a general sense rather than a specific instance is always fun.

      EXEM said...

      True, and there are those DPS/Heal/Tank checks in major fights where the rest of the party has to support that role to the max or the whole party wipes. The build-up game on the other hand (beyond hard to quantify experiences like character investment and immersion) is geared more towards a one-track analytical person who's going to seek out the most efficient way to JUST earn XP, JUST craft and find best-in-slot gear and/or upgrade it, or JUST earn currency or guild points. In game terms that's a major part of why there's a world, currency and economy outside of the fights/instances not to mention the gathering/crafting classes.

      and TBH though initially I said you'd need three walkthroughs tops I guess it's really more like 7, I didn't include the optional fights/dungeons separate from the storyline like binding coil 1-5, which was cleared a little over a week ago for the first time in the 2 months the game's been out. I've only hit 30 with two classes as I'm doing a sort of "play the game as it was intended to be played" unguided walkthrough, so there's a lot going on endgame after the storyline that I don't have access to those options to critique the whole experience.


      I guess the people who race to max level would probably agree with that sentiment, having all options available to start. I don't know what I prefer as I'm playing and reading through ALL the things to give them all a chance to grow on me and see what they're about. I definitely hope that because there's this build-up, the endgame is worth that investment though, or that the game starts getting difficult in terms of throwing more combat options at me as a DPS. That not waiting until the reviewers hit endgame and/or until 2.1 and PvP was up to find out whether the buildup was worthwhile before buying wasn't a mistake.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      I completely understand that experiential style of play. I've only really ever felt that a with a few games. Zelda: A Link to the Past, Dark Souls, and a couple others really. Most of the time I'm in it for the "being the best" experience. Just my style. I like never ending improvement, but everyone already knows that. ;)

      EXEM said...

      I'm hoping Bungie's Destiny can achieve shoehorning that experiential, discover our world "play" (which is not exactly "gameplay") into their FPS despite it being heavily community-based or -reliant co-op. While they aren't requiring party play they are requiring connectivity for all modes in order to "slope the floor" toward MP and PSN/XBL subs, and seem to be pulling inspiration from MMO's for campaign missions in the sense of how instanced dungeons and raids are necessary parts of the story.
      You do get a lot of pressure from your party or crew in MMOS to blow through questing and skip bothering to read or seek out the stories. Especially in-engine/FMV cutscenes in dungeons, which are some of the few instances in those games you have unique art if not animations and recorded VO besides. It's almost become an inside joke on runs to skip CS, then spam emotes and hate on any randoms you pick up in matchmaking.

      MrGreenWithAGun said...

      Wow... I feel like you are leaving us...

      I can't say I have any addiction to playing Halo, but I do find forging a very passionate hobby. I would turn to Far Cry 3 level editor, but the game play sucks.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Not really leaving. I still plan on playing games, I just don't wasn't to sink the time into being a forger. I have the skills to be a game developer and designer, why wouldn't I put them to use? Most designers lack the ability to code and develop their own stuff. I have a powerful set of skills that I should put to good use. Forge took me farther than I ever dreamed after being a cartographer and actually being invited to play halo 4 prior to launch and at 343. That was such am amazing experience. But if I do want a job there or anywhere else in the game industry, I'm going to have too bring some quality skills to the table. So I need to take the tome to become Legend first. ;)

      Noklu said...

      I'll be interested to see it as it comes!


      Have you heard or seen "Scrolls" by Mojang? It seems to bear a familial resemblance to your game—it doesn't have an aggo mechanic, but other mechanics and ideas remind me of your game.


      I don't know what I'd be useful for "on the team". You know my talents lie in writing and maybe marketing, and I know you understand publicity and that you focus on gameplay over story!

      GodlyPerfection said...

      I did some research on scrolls and I don't see the resemblance other than simplicity and hexes. What do you think sounds alike out of curiosity?

      As for what you would do... Community manager. Your blog, forum, marketing dude. And tester, and story when it happens. Which is always near the end of my list.

      Noklu said...

      The similarity I've noticed is rather superficial. So I've only glanced at it and based on my (admittedly old) knowledge of Aggro, I felt a similarity. I suppose that the feeling of similarity is just that—a feeling.

      Sotha said...

      It's good to hear these things. I've been getting really into board games, myself. I've met some good game designers at my school, and have been working with them to push my (board game) craft forward, and hopefully something good will come from it.


      Unfortunately, I'm at a point where my school work is overshadowing everything, and I haven't had much any creative flow in months.