Archive for August, 2008

Combat Mechanics

Monday, August 25th, 2008

I made some more steady progress this last week on Solium Infernum. My wife has been out of town attending a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark so my “duties” list expanded significantly. I grudgingly rose to the occasion and kept the house from burning down while she was away. It’s not very clean though. But I’m going to try and explain that life is full of trade offs.

This week’s work was piggy backing on last weeks work which had to do with presenting the results of single combats that resolved Vendettas. At the beginning of each turn your default view is your “Ministerium” tab which is set to show you the turn log. The turn log is a list of messages that chronicles the results of the last processed turn. Most are just text informational. Some have buttons that let you make choices to respond to some type of situation. For example if you requested that your minions bring tribute to you then there will be a button that lets you select so many items of tribute from some set of offerings. The tribute is usually resource cards.

One of the buttons can be a “view results” icon… shaped like an eye. This lets you get more detail on an event like a single combat. This week I worked on presenting the results of legion combats… either legion vs. legion or legion vs. the garrison of a Place of Power. So what is the combat system like? Here is a brief overview:

When a legion enters the hex of a valid enemy target, either another enemy Legion or Place of Power, then a combat ensues. It’s important to note that in order to even move into an enemy hex you either have to have a Vendetta or Blood Feud diplomatic status with the owner of the hex (which are called Infernal Cantons in the game). Each Legion or Place of Power has 5 key stats for combat: Level, Ranged strength, Melee strength, Infernal Power strength and finally Hit Points. These stats are all public knowledge and can easily be ascertained by rolling your mouse over the icon on the map.

Here is the flow of combat:

First the Battle Field Advantage (BFA) is determined. Each side rolls a die six (d6) and adds the level of its combatant. The winner gets advantage and a small random bonus is applied to one of the combatant’s non-zero combat stats. For example, your legion which has Ranged: 0, Melee: 6, Infernal: 0 wins the BFA and gets + 2 to it’s melee stat which is now 8.

Next all attached combat cards are resolved. These are cards that you can create and attach to your Legions and Places of Power before the battle as one of your turn actions. How effective these are is determined by your “Wrath” power. These cards can increase your stats, decrease your opponent’s stats, or even change the flow of the battle (as you will see below). These cards are not public knowledge unless you have some special ritual or game condition active that lets you see them so generally you will not know what is attached to your opponent’s legion but you can see how many cards are attached (they can be dummy cards as well with no effect).

So let’s say you have a card that gives you +3 to melee. Now your melee is +11.

Support is now determined. If you have friendly Legions (but not Places of Power) in an adjacent hex then they can lend support to the battle. The Ranged, Melee and Infernal stats of all adjacent units that can lend support is added up (without any combat cards that are attached being counted) and then divided by two. These bonuses are then added to the combatant’s stats. So let’s say your stats are now Ranged 2, Melee 13, Infernal 2 because of the contributions of a supporting legion.

Next the number of rounds of battle is determined. This depends on the special abilities of the combatants to some extant but the base calculation is a random number between 2 and 4 (1 + random(3)).

A round of battle is conducted by comparing the combatant’s battle stats in the following order Ranged, Melee and finally Infernal. Some legion special abilities can switch these around. If two special abilities conflict then each legion rolls a d6 and adds its level. The highest roll has its special ability take precedence. The combatant with the higher stat applies the difference between the two stats as damage against his opponent’s Hit Points. So let’s say your opponent has the following legion stats Ranged: 4, Melee: 6, Infernal: 6. The first round of combat is conducted:

Battle Table

So you have brought your enemy to 0 Hit Points and destroyed his legion. It was a close fought battle. One thing that wasn’t in play but might be is the special abilities the combatants can have. If your enemy had had a special ability that resisted “Melee Damage” then the outcome might have been different. Some special abilities can modify combat attributes (positively or negatively) as the combat proceeds. Others can regenerate hit points, amplify damage, or even reflect damage. Special abilities can really interact in fun ways to radically alter the outcomes.

After the battle your combat cards are discarded. You will need to use your turn action slots to create and attach more if you so desire. If you win the combat you gain prestige. How much is determined by a bunch of different factors among which are your “Wrath” power level, the level of your opponent’s combatant, Avatar perks chosen and special abilities of the combatant. Your victorious legion (but not Place of Power) might also have the opportunity to “Level Up” in which case it gets to choose from a menu offering enhanced stat bonuses or new special abilities.

That’s a down and dirty overview of the combat procedure. My design goal was to incorporate both known and hidden information into a system that let you try and get a feel for how combats might resolve but had enough uncertainty to make them interesting and dramatic. There is also an extra strategy element involved in equipping your legions with power up items and combat cards so that the combats resolve in your favor… you can augment strengths or ameliorate weaknesses.

Here is a sneak peek at one of the many legions that you can hire in the game:

The Fallen

The Fallen
The men of the Fallen walked between the pillars outside the marble temple. They were tall, they were 5,000 in number, and they bore the faces of human men. To an outsider, this band would look like a patchwork of righteous warriors that spun the length of a millennia, for in their hands were the byproducts of metal refined to its different functions: gladii, claymores, a few harquebuses, and pikes. But within Hell, the normalcy of their faces created a falseness with which no observer could feel at ease. It was as if they had something to hide.

–From “Accounts from the Invasion” by Anonymous

Advancing the Diplomatic Front

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

An additional week was just about the right guess. I’ve wrapped up the last major component of the single combat module. You can now respond to the message from the Infernal Conclave that you have been challenged (or initiated the challenge) to resolve a Vendetta via single combat. You have 2 turns to pick your champion or hire one in the Infernal Bazaar and get him ready. Once both players submit their champions then the duel is processed on that next turn….and we see who is still standing and who is banished to the Abyss. I’m sticking to the common mythology that demons are immortal. The penalty for being vanquished in Hell is eons of pain in an incorporeal form in the Abyss… solitary confinement of a sorts. At any rate, the losing Praetor is removed from the game and the winner gets the chance to “level up” his champion and the benefits of winning the Vendetta… a nice Prestige Point bonus.

I’m going to hold off on discussing the specific mechanics of single combat. In general, you choose a chain of up to six combat moves that depend on how your Praetor is kitted out in three attributes, any gear and special abilities. 6 rounds of combat are resolved, wounds are assigned and if nobody is eliminated then the sequence starts again until there is a winner. Because some “Combat Moves” have random elements the outcome isn’t guaranteed and programmatic but the goal is that good strategy in selecting the right moves and combos is rewarded.

I’ve also advanced a few klicks on the UI front. The art for the Avatar Powers display has been finalized and will be in place next week. The Avatar display is a sub tab on the Main Dialogue Display that deals with the stats and powers of your chosen Archfiend Avatar. As you play the game you’ll constantly be confronted with choices on how to spend your tribute to “power up” in the 5 power disciplines of Wrath, Deceit, Prophecy, Destruction and Diabolism. Powering up to the next level in a discipline almost always opens up some new ability, ritual or benefit. To accomplish the power up you select it as one of your open phase slots for the turn and then pay the cost in tribute cards that you have collected. That’s the basic idea. I’ll discuss the concepts of phase slots and tribute cards down the road so don’t worry about those. Here is a glimpse of the Avatar Powers matrix that lets you see your ranking in each of the disciplines. You roll over reach icon to get a description of what benefits you accrue for each power level. If you have achieved a power level in a discipline then a thin metal frame is placed over the icon.

Avatar Powers Matrix

An Idea too good to pass up

Friday, August 8th, 2008

As soon as the thought popped into my head I knew that I was in trouble. So far it’s been at least a weeks worth of trouble and I’m probably looking at another week as well when all is coded and done. And this happened despite having a very strong desire to keep a simple elegance to Solium Infernum. I worked hard to keep things elegant, symmetrical and just downright focused as far as the design elements were concerned. I didn’t have one of Soren Johnson’s design rules of thumb on the white board, but I really did vet every “addition” with a keen eye for interesting simplicity. And then the idea came along.

The idea grew out of something I noticed after doing some crude simulations for AI interactions in the diplomacy model that is currently built into Solium Infernum. As I have described in here and here, the game is designed to channel player interactions in that you must follow the Protocols of the Infernal Conclave when you want something from your rivals. You can’t just go and take something. No, there is an infernal Kabuki dance that must be observed. The focus of course is on acquiring Prestige for yourself while diminishing Prestige for your rivals. Like complimentary particles, demands and insults work to either shift the prestige directly or place you in a position where a claim of Vendetta lets you hammer your opponent in the process and thereby gain Prestige. What I noticed during the first AI simulations that I started running was that something was occurring which my limited conceptualization during the board game prototype stage had not identified. Namely, some odd times an AI player couldn’t always figure out the best terms for a Vendetta… conquer hexes, destroy enemy legions, or capture an enemy Place of Power. The reason was because although the warp around maps encourage lots of border contact sometimes your worst enemies ended up not lying exactly on your borders. Doh!

A successful Vendetta against such an opponent wasn’t impossible since there does exist a line of “Destruction Rituals” which can be used to harm and even destroy enemy legions at any location on the map (sort of like “Ring Powers” if you are familiar with the RTS genre) but that’s not an easy path and you have to have some real strength in that ritual discipline (which isn’t a trivial investment). So what I needed was a way to resolve a Vendetta… a dispute of honor short of having legions march all over the game board. A nanosecond later it hit me. “Excalibur!” Trial by Single Combat. Each Archfiend selects a Champion. Two Champions enter the arena and only one leaves. The Vendetta is resolved in favor of the winner.

The obvious choices for such an instrument of infernal justice were the Praetors. They already functioned as a type of power up for Legions and Places of Power either acting as generals or garrison commanders. I had toyed early in the design with giving them their own game board pieces to conduct “special ops” but nixed that because I really wanted to keep the board clean. Such actions were moved to the “Deception Rituals” discipline and abstracted a bit as well. But the idea of using the Praetors as Champions to resolve Vendettas was too good to pass up so the last week has been spent adding the feature.

Of course, determining the outcome of a trial by single combat necessitated some additional design work and modifications of the Praetors, who now proudly boast dueling stats, special abilities and hit points (only used for the trials and not legion vs. legion combat.) I’ve also taken the Praetor concept one step further and built in some ways to customize your Champion by using tribute cards that your minions will bring you.

So the cool idea had some serious costs but I think it has been worth it. Vendettas just got a whole lot more interesting and a new dimension to their resolution has been added. If you are taking the deception path or gluttonous accumulation (wealth & power broker) path then rather than investing in expensive legions you might consider grooming a gladiator super combatant or two… of course you can’t always control the terms of a Vendetta so it’s not a sure fire strategy by any means. You also have choices to make about how to fight the Champion in the arena. I’ve created a small game in and of itself for how the two Champions battle it out so that there is a strategy element involved. But I’ll save that for a later entry. Here’s a brief glimpse of what a single combat for the honor of an infernal house in Hell might look like. Enjoy!

There Can Be Only One

Cyberstratege goes Online

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Cyberstratege has launched an online version of their excellent strategy gaming magazine. You have to be able to “Parlez” because the site is in French but you can see some of the great coverage they have given Armageddon Empires.

PC Gamer’s Top 100

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Inconceivable!

Placing at No. 97 is Armageddon Empires.

The Attack on the Canyon Temple

Monday, August 4th, 2008

If you have just a free bit of time and you are looking for a great short story (with more chapters possibly coming) then check out this post in the Cryptic Comet forums by Grottnikk.

I’ve talked before about how an emergent narrative is one of the reasons that I like playing games like AE, Civ, SMAC, Dominions etc. This short vignette could more or less have occured in the game… perhaps some gameplay event like it inspired Grottnikk. At any rate a big thanks to Grottnikk for sharing the story in the forums.

Krulak

Dog Days of Summer

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Well the trains apparently don’t run on time in Hell. Between some family travel plans and some needed bug fixing for Tip of the Spear, I haven’t been able to advance the ball much for Solium Infernum. But as of today I am back in the saddle and if you are a parent you know just how good the approach of September looks and what that means. The sound of silence. :)

Tip of the Spear is being brought up to 1.08b. I released a stealth 1.08a last week to fix a couple of problems that had crept into the code and could cause the AI to not use certain AT Cards or worse use the Deep Strike breakthrough card on double attack cards (which caused problems in combat). But what I spent the most time working on for 1.08b was implementing a special damage reporting system for ground combat. So now you get feedback on just how much extra damage that energy weapon or neuro toxin did. This also helps out when some of the new “Infantry Rules” are going into effect. The Combined Arms Damage Bonus is now displayed so you don’t have to scratch your head and wonder where the extra points of damage came from.

The updates will go on the website soon but here are the download links direct from my Amazon S3 server.

PC Version 1.08b

Mac Version 1.08b