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Old September 11th, 2010, 03:52 PM

ExplorerBob ExplorerBob is offline
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Default Theory of Combat (WIP; not at *all* pretty to read)

After examining WW and SAIS weapon balance, I have determined that although SAIS has superior balance, in some ways, it is still fundamentally lacking. I have begun working to try to resolve this, by strategic alterations suggested by the product of extreme analysis. This topic contains some of my thoughts regarding this. It is not organized well and is written in a very ugly style, but you may still get some information out of it. It is intended to be a (more or less) pure representation of my thoughts and notes regarding this topic. Consider it to be a long, rambling, "information dump". I may later revise this into a legible document.

Firstly, there are four stages to each battle.

The approach (10-20 seconds): The two ships close into combat range. At the farthest range, neither side can do each other any harm.
Long-range (10 seconds): The very longest-ranged weapons, like Tchorak missiles, can fire at this range (defined as being 601 range and above)
Medium-range (10 seconds): Domain of most missiles and higher-range beam weapons. (350-600)
Short-range (Rest of combat, barring below circumstance): Domain of every short-ranged weapon -- plasma torch, chaingun, plasma blaster, etc.
Ramming range: Your ships collide, almost inevitably resulting in the destruction of one or the other. Lasts very little time when it happens.

The approach time is about as long as the rest of the battle combined -- which makes fighters desirable, just because they open up the fight early and demand more attention than normal capital ship confrontations. I'm curious as to whether missiles would have the same effect.

I have calculated damage per six seconds for most normal weapons, and used it to determine the possible damage that could be done during these times. Here's my sheet of expected damages (it will repeat some of the information listed above).

10-20 seconds: The approach; no shots fired.
Very long-range (Tchorak lava missile): 10 seconds
Expected damage: 1,800 damage
Sum damage (against electron shields): 800 (1,200 nullified)
Half shields left
Mid-range: 10 seconds
Expected damage: 3,500 damage (+1,800) (2,300 damage - 3 hull damage)
Half shields after, plus -3 hull
Close-range: Rest of fight
Expected damage: 10,000 damage (2x, or +2,700/1,800)
Ram: Destroys or disables one of the two ships
Expected damage: 99,999

In short, long-ranged weapons don't seem to be of much help, unless your enemy uses structural gluon shields or other, weaker shields.

Even if they do, this is not a guarantee of damage, since your own weapons may be weaker too, or shorter-ranged. An impaler missile rack can do only a little damage to a structural gluon shield -- 800 damage, then after collision (presumed to be at 6 seconds), you have four seconds of recharge, which brings the shields back up to max!

Against other ships with missiles, this is even more worthless, since there's the possibility the two missiles might collide mid-flight, resulting in no damage.

In effect, impaler missiles are useless against shielded targets, and as-is, should only be employed against fighters, where the direct damage they do can kill targets a moment before they could get close enough to use their guns.

This balance may work fine for impaler missiles, but later missiles, and weapons like the torpedo, are just as effective, proportionately -- that is to say, not at all, against their intended targets, though the damage they do is extreme overkill against fighters.

Most beams are of inferior quality. They require targeting computers to optimize their performance, have scarcely better range than projectile weapons, and do *less* damage.

Case in point:
(These weapon statistics are from Odd Adventures, and may be slightly different than WW stats.)
(I) Chaingun: Rd: 10 / Dmg: 100 / Rng: 250 / Spd: 150
DP600: 6,000
(I) Laser Beam: Rd: 70 / Dmg: 4 / Rng: 300 / Life: 50
DP600: 1,600
(II) Molycone Gun: Rd: 30 / Dmg: 300 / Rng: 300 / Spd: 160
DP600: 6,000
(II) Proton Phasor: Rd: 180 / Dmg: 9 / Rng: 350 / Life: 100
DP600: 2,700
(III) Plasma Blaster: Rd: 50 / Dmg: 500 / Rng: 350 / Spd: 170
DP600: 6,000
(III) Positron Disruptor: Rd: 250 / Dmg: 15 / Rng: 400 / Life: 100
DP600: 3,000
(IV) Tachyon Ray Gun: Rd: 200 / Dmg: 20 / Rng: 500 / Life: 100
DP600: 6,000

The only one of these weapons where you can say, without a doubt, that the beam is better is the Tachyon Ray Gun -- and then, that's only true if you have a mnemonic sequencer (or really a matrix bubble/saurdion optimizer, since the sequencer still leaves a lot of room for error). If you don't, the resulting inaccuracy more than makes up for its instant-hit ability, and it only does about half-damage, at best.

The tachyon ray gun can be classified as a tier IV weapon -- the best projectile gun is a tier III. The graviton disintegrator, a tier V weapon, finally transcends this, at DP600: 10,000, but this is still open to failure with no targeting computer.

In short, beam weapons are unwieldy, clumsy, come with scarcely a better range, and in most cases have a significantly worse damage output than projectile weapons. Their only advantage is their instant-hit ability, but this is negated by beam inaccuracy with no combat computer -- to an even more severe extreme than with low chaingun shot speed. (Note that this does not apply to standard WW -- all the moderate factors in play in SAIS are thrown out the window, and high-speed chainguns decimate everything in their path; the only weapon that's better is the even more overpowered neptunium railgun, and the "elite" weapons -- Nova Cannon, PVC, Multi-Missile Launcher, and Graviton Disintegrator, although the last of these is arguably worse since it relies on a combat computer.)

The game of SAIS is advertised as taking "twenty minutes or less". The average is more commonly considered to be fifteen minutes. I did a calculation of how much time this is, spread out over fifteen or sixteen stars.

This gives us about a minute per star. Stars don't consume that much time in their own right; I estimate it to be about this much:

Ten seconds for each transit (going to another star)
Ten seconds to examine the item and planet
Ten seconds for cargo modification (changing things in your cargo hold)
Five seconds for hardware changes (altering your ship configuration; this is an average of the overall time since half the time there are no changes to be made)

This means that there are thirty-five seconds per star, on average, for eight minutes and 45 seconds. Clearly the remaining time must be filled by space battles.

Thus, we have about six minutes and fifteen seconds of space combat. There are about four or five fleets in the stars, meaning about that many space battles. Thus the time of space battles must be divided 6.25 by 4 or 5, for 1 minute and fifteen seconds per battle.

Since it's possible that there are other factors, or that you may take, say, a minute more time doing hardware/cargo changes on average than listed above, then the combat need only last about a minute per battle, which fits neatly into the stages of combat mentioned above, so this gives us a limit on the changes we can make (we can't make all the weapons dramatically weaker, for instance, or risk a long battle).

I am unsure as to what modifications should be done to ensure balance across all the weapons. It is difficult and highly circumstantial; ideally every weapon should find use, which suggests that some weapons should be tailored to work on some ships. Also ideally there should be a case where every weapon or weapon class is effective, or some niche or role in the game should be adequately filled by that weapon (a gun that is impractical in combat, but valuable because of its advanced technology, may work here).

Probably the best way to start is to try to spread the damage out among the weapon ranges. The current scheme can be estimated at thus, based on the "expected damage" listed above:

Close-range: 2/3rd
Mid-range: 22%
Long-range: 11%

An alternate damage allotment would be:

Long-range: 20%
Mid-range: 30%
Close-range: 50%

This provides more power to "mid/long-range" weapons, while still giving close-range guns their due. You could tinker with the allotment further and make mid-range weapons a 35% category while giving close-range weapons 45% damage potential. Truly long-range weapons shouldn't be very powerful since there are so few of them.

Alternatively, we could tinker with the range of some weapons. It is doubtful this would solve the existing damage problem, though, and even if it did work for beams, it would make missiles even worse. Thus I am disposed to believe that altering the damage of weapons is the best way to go here, but it will take time to work out the solution that's best for the game and the mod.

If you can decipher anything from what I've written here, feel free to leave a note. If you can't, then leave it be. I understand that this won't be useful for everyone; it might be of interest to some, though, and it's a dump of much of the information I've considered so far.

Thanks for your time, and for reading my very poorly-written ramblings,

- Bob

Last edited by ExplorerBob; September 11th, 2010 at 04:00 PM..
  #2  
Old September 12th, 2010, 11:28 PM

Lost In Space Lost In Space is offline
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Default Re: Theory of Combat (WIP; not at *all* pretty to read)

Bob,

I am a fairly new member to the forum, but lingered for some time before. I have played WW for about two years now, and still very much enjoy the game, even though I do see how the weapon roster lacks versatility. Your analysis is spot-on, and I strongly encourage you to pursue the idea to bring extra spice to the battles.

I do not yet completely understand the limits to the battle engine, but nevertheless here are some ideas I've just made up:
  • missile that exploses into projectiles (shards) before contact
  • missile that attracts or repels others projectiles & mines
  • randomized level of reliability
  • a wide & long range beam that takes an insane amount of time to recharge
  • remote controlled missile (or small fighters)
  • status imparing beam or missile (speed, regen)
  • missile-destroying beam (otherwise useless)
  • cloak detecting beam (scanner)
  • distance evaluation beam
  • stun gun
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  #3  
Old September 13th, 2010, 11:51 AM

ExplorerBob ExplorerBob is offline
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Default Re: Theory of Combat (WIP; not at *all* pretty to read)

Lost in Space,
Thanks for your time and your reply!

The problem is that the Weird Worlds combat engine is somewhat limited -- or at least, it's not as advanced as the engines in some comparable games (like Star Control, which WW is partially inspired by).

This is really because WW was built around a TBS engine, instead of a space-shooter engine -- the developers said that they intended to make a space strategy game, at one point, and converted it into the game we know as SAIS. Weird Worlds follows in the same mold.

Thus the combat is slower, more contemplative, and curiously less open to tactical considerations as a result of this -- which technically does fit the mold of some of the earlier strategy games, like both of the Master of Orions. I know that while I love MoO2 tactical combat, it isn't really as tactical as it looks. If Weird Worlds was based on a more action-based combat system, like Star Control or practically any other space game you want to name, it could be more intriguing.

The one case where this really varies is with fighters, which are fast, maneuverable, and require some extra skill to control. One of my favorite techniques is to take personal command over a fighter, give the capital ships (including my flagship) basic orders, and then take the fighter over to the enemy and start wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, the AI is inept at handling fighters, which means that even one human-controlled fighter can be worth far more than what it ought to be. The Zorg fighter in particular is magic, since it can teleport to a convenient enemy weak spot, and then out of danger when they react to it.

I've made some basic changes to the weapons in Odd Adventures -- the chaingun, for instance, now does only 40 damage a shot, making it do 1,600 damage in 600 ticks. This means that it is no longer a great weapon -- instead, you want to get rid of it as soon as it's convenient to replace it (like every other thing you start with). There are some other changes I need to make as a result of this change, though, like changing the neptunium railgun, which is now (although still weak) overpowered in comparison to the starter tech.

As far as your specific ideas, some of them have already been implemented by more skilled and practiced designers, like sqqwonkian, in his Drives 'R Us mod, which is probably still the greatest mod currently going.

Some of them may also not be possible, at least not in Weird Worlds, for unfortunate reasons. I'll try to cover all your suggestions here, to the best of my knowledge.

Quote:
• missile that explodes into projectiles (shards) before contact
As far as I know, this should be entirely doable, just like the Multi-Missile Launcher. It would create an effect somewhat reminiscent of the Chenjesu Broodhome's main gun.

I'm not sure whether any weapon in Drives 'R Us currently launches unguided projectiles.

Quote:
• missile that attracts or repels others projectiles & mines
Sadly, I'm not sure that this is possible in the current Weird Worlds engine, but an anti-missile missile should be entirely possible.

Quote:
• randomized level of reliability
By reliability, it depends on whether you're referring to things like damage/refire rates, or weapon accuracy.

Weapon accuracy can be affected by computers, as you know, if the weapon is a beam. Unfortunately, I'm not sure as to any other more-or-less random effects that affect weapons. WW is a very deterministic game, after a point, which can be to its disadvantage.

Quote:
• a wide & long range beam that takes an insane amount of time to recharge
I'm not sure that the beam is wide (in fact, I'm sure it probably isn't; I don't know whether you can have beams above a certain width, to be honest), but the Higgs Ray in Drives 'R Us does terrific damage, and requires an insane or possibly indefinite recharge time, although it doesn't have an especially long range.

Quote:
• remote controlled missile (or small fighters)
The small fighter thing is what you're gonna want here -- and it is, thankfully, entirely doable in the engine!

Quote:
• status imparing beam or missile (speed, regen)
Like poison, in some other games? Unfortunately, this is not possible in the strict sense; you could *appear* to do it in some cases by making a weapon that fires shots that do damage at the same rate as the shield regenerates, but that would mean extra damage after the shield falls, and it would be obvious when enemies with a slower-regenerating shield take extra damage.

Quote:
• missile-destroying beam (otherwise useless)
Entirely possible, and remarkably effective. (In fact, maybe a little *too* effective -- the instant hit thing is really extremely useful in this role.)

Quote:
• cloak detecting beam (scanner)
Well, I don't think this can be made per se (in that it instantly begins to perform its role, like other weapons), but you can combine other things you have to make it work.

If you fire in any direction, with a constant beam (like the strange quark projector), you can cover all the possible areas that the cloaked ship is in, hit it, and then wipe it out. I've become quite good at doing this, myself.

Quote:
• distance evaluation beam
Entirely possible; Drives 'R Us has two of them; a range-finder (mounted on your ship) and an externally-mounted one that is of somewhat less use.

Quote:
• stun gun
Sadly, I don't think this is quite possible. As far as I know, every weapon in the game will kill its target upon firing -- although for enemies without repair systems, it really amounts to the same thing as disabling them, anyway.

The best sources that I can think of for learning about how the weapons work, aside from the weapon files themselves, are the file that comes with the game (called something like _item_files.txt), and the Weapon Parameters post. As you can see, this system does give you a bit of leeway, but it isn't quite infinite or unlimited yet, unfortunately.

Still, I'm confident we haven't exhausted what this game has to offer just yet...which is a good thing, since it seems doubtful there'll be another one, at least for another year or three.

If you have any questions, about the game, Odd Adventures, or Odd Adventures development, feel free to ask. Suggestions are certainly welcome.

- Bob
  #4  
Old September 13th, 2010, 12:00 PM

sgqwonkian sgqwonkian is offline
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Default Re: Theory of Combat (WIP; not at *all* pretty to read)

Explorer Bob,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and numbers.

I did a similar analysis on WW:RTIS a while back, and it was a major factor in swapping up the starting weapons and the weapon values so much in Drives'R'Us. I came to the conclusion that the cheapest weapons in the game (the chain gun and the starting rail gun) were very close to being the best. Once I'd looked at the numbers, it was inescapable to me that the majority of the stuff you'd find in the in-game universe was useless junk. That was a big let down, so I scaled up the value on those items and altered the starting package.

When choosing between the weapon you started with that's worth one coin, and a new weapon you just found/won that's worth three coins, the obvious common sense choice should be correct. If it's not, then something's wrong with game balance. Don't get me wrong, I love WW (and I loved SAIS before it), but there's something fishy in the weapon values.

As you said, there may be some design space for the "rare" or "experimental" weapon who's value is inflated because it's more of a treasure than a functional weapon, but sadly the game makes that the dominant paradigm instead of a unique little niche. And the culprit in that is just the one-coin sticker price on the rail gun and the chain gun.

Anyhow, I took the tack of making weaker starting weapons and fixing the prices. I've tried constructing formulas for weapon values, but it's not easy since there's many subjective factors (like putting a price-tage on the value of being point-defense capable).


Your post very solidly makes the case that the route I chose is not the only option available to a modder.

Increasing the potency of the longer-ranged weapons would make for a bloodier, faster battles, and would boost the excitement of the middle third of the battle in the process. It would also downplay ramming, which I've read spoils the fun (and/or ruins suspension of disbelief) for some folks. So upping the damage of those mid- and long-range weapons would be a welcome mod.

Another option would be to boost the mid-range weapons out to long-, increasing range instead of firepower. (Or mostly increasing range, plus a small boost to damage or rate of fire). It would make it harder to retreat, but the extra caution that would require when picking your fights could enhance the game as well. Frankly, since you can start each battle in the formation of your choice, I've never really seen the need for a long slow approach, anyway. The tension the approach provides is welcome when the game is new and you don't know the stats well, but gets a wee bit tedious after repeated plays. Making the fight start sooner would shake things up nicely, I think.

At that, I shall reign in my rambling (for now). I hope it's at least been useful in the "food for thought" sense. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on the subject.
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