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Old December 3rd, 2010, 06:46 PM

JCrowe JCrowe is offline
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Default Suggested Fixes - Major to Minor

I've put some time in on a game or two. Fun stuff. And if the developers have a moment to entertain the rantings of yet another certified loon from beyond the ethereal dark, I've got a list changes here that might (or might not) put some added shine to the product. Take it with a grain of salt - I haven't played a lot, and maybe some of these suggestions could lead to disaster. Dunno. But here it is, folks:


BIG STUFF THAT REALLY MATTERS -


1.) CITIES DON'T WORK

Problem:
Cities appear to be a losing proposition. They cost a bundle and deliver little in return. Let's run the numbers: Imagine the ideal scenario, where you've got a primo piece of real estate generating $12M a year. Nice scratch, but you won't be winning many wars with it (especially when that bomber bill comes through for upkeep). So you drop $100M to build a city. With a 25% bump to revenue, you're now making $15M off the territory.

So .... you spend $100M and get $3M back in return for every turn that passes. Which means it will take you a whopping 33 turns to recover your investment. And remember - that' under IDEAL circumstances, campers. Drop a city in a 10-spot, and you're looking at a 50-turn horizon to economic equivalence. Try selling THAT to Goldman Sachs!

In my game, I built six cities in 11/12-value territories. For the $600M I burned, I could have bought a couple armies (bombers, fighters, choppers, tanks, the works) with enough left over for a "Star Wars" defense grid. Instead, all I got was this T-shirt ... and an extra $18M in my coffers each turn.

So, why would anyone build cities? What's the incentive?

Suggested Fix:
The impact of a city ought to go up, or the cost to build one needs to go down, in order to make them more meaningful within the context of the game. Personally, I'd favor keeping the build cost at $100M, which helps to keep them "special". But I'd suggest increasing the economic impact to 100%. Basically, a city doubles the revenue of a territory.

You could stop right there. But you could also limit territories to one city apiece, or establish a rate of diminshing returns - city #2 only boosts you by 50%, etc.

I'd also advocate tying factories (fabrication units)to cities. To whit - no city, no factory. As it is, I can land invasion forces on the beach of a distant territory, conquer it, order a factory for just $20M, and if I can hold it for just two more turns, I can assemble a Grand Army right on the beach and end any possibility of defeat. But if I need to drop a city BEFORE I can drop my Factory of Iron Doom on the beach ... well, that changes the equation.


2.) MOVE, ROCKET ARTILLERY, MOVE!!

Problem:
They're mechanized, but they move like it's the 19th Century. "Sorry, Sir! Can't move until the horses are fed and the saddles brushed!"

They just can't keep up with everyone else, unless you buck in for air trannies (they're next on the list). Which often leaves them lagging way behind as they wait for load and transport ... and their daily rations of hay.

Suggested Fix:
Tanks, APCs, and other land-based vehicle units should all be able to cover two territories a turn on the strategic map. Infantry goes one, because they're on foot. Truckie-stuff goes faster, and it ought to be reflected.


3.) AIR TRANSPORTATION GOES ECONOMY CLASS

Problem:
Applies to navy transports, too. The unit who loads, loses movement for the turn. In play, it seems a steep price to pay, especially when you consider how little 'ground' the transport will cover afterwards. Pick up laggard pair of Rocket Artillery, wait, then fly them four territories, unload. The RAs can cover half that ground on their own in the same period of time.

Sure, if you're flying 'international', the loss of one turn is a small price to pay. But in the experience I've had with the strategic maps so far, most flights / cruises are fairly domestic. Less "LAX to Tokyo" and more "Atlanta to Chicago". And the one-turn penalty really cuts the utility of shorter hops. Especially since air transports have to land on friendly turf at the end of each turn ... kinda limits the fly plan.

So, in the end, you seem to end up with transports "taking five" and waiting for that very special moment when it's time to 'reach out and touch someone' on an international call.

Suggested Fix:
Transports (of all stripes) load and unload without penalty. The unit loaded, however, ought to expend movement 'points' if it had to move out of its current territory to effect the load. That is, move a tank onto a sea transport in an adjacent 'sea square', and it loses one unit of movement. That way, if you have a one-sea-square "strait" dividing a pair of land territories, you can't move a unit from one side of the pond to the other in a single turn without paying some kind of a penalty.


4.) UH, AIR SUPPORT? A LITTLE HELP HERE?

Problem:
You can call in an air strike from land units to support a naval action off your coast when it's your turn to attack. However, if the 'other guy' attacks first, his ground-based air forces can sortie to attack your fleet - unimpeded - while your own jets sit back and watch your ships sink and die. It seems a wee bit one-sided to require a defender to have carriers in the fleet when there are massed air squadrons lying right next the sea territory.

I ran into a situation just like this - I was invading a big continent. I had a couple territories under my belt when the "Chinese" showed up in a territory by the sea. TEN bombers. TEN. Just about dropped a deuce when they showed, you know?

Unfortunately, the placement of territories meant I could attack with fighters, but they couldn't get back. No Sale. But ... I had two cruisers puttering off the coast, blasting Neutrals. The sea territory the cruisers were in directly abutted the turf I held with tanks and fighter jets.

From their location, the Chinese bombers could have hit my territories (if they were nuts) or they could put the smackdown on the cruisers. And my mass of fighters could do absolutely nothing about it. In fact, with an effective attack range of 3, the bombers could have tagged my ships no matter where they went - at least for two or three turns. Without carriers, I needed to kill the bombers at their base or move the cruisers ... to the other side of the planet - in spite of the fact that I had plenty of interceptors screaming around the place.

Suggested Fix:
A defender ought to be able to "call in" nearby air units for support when attacked. Penalty? Maybe those air units called-in lose their movement during the defender's next turn. And maybe participating air units are limited to one intervention per turn.


5.) GETTING "TECHNICAL" WITH AAA

Problem:
Anti-aircraft units are unavailable at the base tech level. Makes it something of a mismatch in the power balance. Until someone "levels up", air units rule everything. But ... when someone DOES light the fuse and gets the AAA units, look out. Now they have a cheap way to stop your air forces flat, and their flyboys still rule the battlefield. Might as well hand over the keys and turn off the lights, dudes. You're pooch'd.

Suggested Fix:
Move the triple-A class down a notch on the tech tree. C'mon - I've got intercontinental bombers and nuclear submarines, but no one's figured out AAA yet? That's like having a civilization with the techno capacity to land a man on the moon, yet the concept of "fire" wholly eludes them.


6.) WE'RE JUST ADVANCING IN ANOTHER DIRECTION

Problem:
When tactical combat starts, all units are 'locked' in a fight to the death. Depressing, and tactically limiting.

Suggested Fix:
There ought to be a "sanctuary" zone at either end of the field for units to use as a means of retreat. Step in, step out. Attackers who flee go back to the territory from which they launched their attack. Defenders retreat to the nearest adjacent friendly turf. If there isn't one, they're stuck.


7.) KAMAKAZIS ARE SO WW2

Problem:
The game seems to allow you to sortie jets for strikes on enemy territories ... from which no return is conceivable. "Go Forth and Croak It, Young Man" is not working slogan for most air force recruits. And it can be a sudden - and ugly - surprise for a military commander who orders the attack ... and is negligent in matching ground-covered to fuel-available.

No, didn't happen to me, but I can totally see it.

Suggested Fix:
The game ought to pre-emptively cancel any proposed movement of aerial forces if there is no possible hope for a safe return in the suggested flight plan.


8.) SORRY SIR, WE DON'T FLY THERE

Problem:
Air transports can't drop invading forces into territories not already under friendly control. Question is, why not? We pull that jazz all the time in the real world. Does it imbalance the game in some way?

Suggested Fix:
Let transports add their charges to the fray.


9.) SINKING SUBS

Problem:
Everyone and his mother's brother seems able to take pot-shots at subs. And lots of them can smack subs to pieces. However, the subs can't do much in return. Nice initiative, but "intiative" in the context of a sub vs. unescorted cruiser fight means chosing the place of your subs' demise.

From what I've seen (and this is just me - limited naval exposure here), I'd take a single cruiser over three subs any day. Buck-for-buck, the cruiser rocks over all other seaborne competition - especially subs. Where's the argument for spending your $40M on subs instead of a cruiser?

I had a battle in which a single sub of mine took on a single enemy transport. I won, but the sub lost a bunch of hit points in what was a fairly long fight. Against two transports, I calculate failure for the sub. That's just ... wrong. Like, buying up a bunch of transports would be about as good as having subs, only better, because the transports can move units and make themselves useful.

Suggested Fix:
Dunno. Limited play. I could be missing a crucial piece of the digital puzzle and not know it. Even if I'm not, I don't have a good idea of how you could rebalance the picture without making subs too powerful. Maybe they should have longer range (they're more apt to use missiles to knock out ships these days than they are to use torpedoes). Maybe units that can attack subs have a severely limited range. So a cruiser might have a range of four squares against all other units, except subs, where it only has a range of two.


AESTHETICS - ME SO PRETTY

1.) SCROLLING ALONG

Maybe this is just my machine, but when I use the mouse wheel to adjust zoom on the strategic map, it scrolls me to the edge of the map, THEN adjusts (haltingly) the zoom level. I haven't seen anyone else bring this up, so maybe the weirdness is just on me. If not, give a shout.

And on the subject of scrolling & zoom, I think it would be nice to have a feature like a zoom bar. Just click on the level of zoom and there you are - just like Google does on its maps, or like M.A.X. did on its game map a decade earlier. It gives you an option - zoom by wheel, or click the bar. The bar is nice for also showing you the boundaries of your zooming ability, whether you zoom by click or wheel.


2.) BODIES IN MOTION

I would recommend "smoothing" out the animation depicting unit movement across the strategic map. It's a little "hurky-jerky". Instead of showing bombers or tanks or etc. moving from one territory to another, one-at-a-time, why not have the game plot a "great circle" path that sweeps through the necessary territories, and let the unit move in one, uninterrupted motion.
It would be more graceful, more elegant, and more true-to-form than some of the coarse start-stop-go motion currently used. (Feels like being in rush-hour traffic).

And naval units should not, uh ... "fly" over continents when sailing to their destination. Dunno if that's happened to anyone else, but the ships I've had seem to run a very, very direct path to destination. Any land in the way and my boats sail right on over it, Mary-Poppins style.


3.) SOUND-A-MATION

In general, sound sounds muted in the game in comparison with the music, but there's no adjustment bar for sound / music effects. And while the game's graphics are sweet, the effects seem ... modest. For example, when a bomber lets loose hell (& change) on some dude's head, the graphical representation is really nice, but the sound is like very distant thunder. Why not kick this puppy up a notch? Freakin' Rock & Roll, Man!! Live it Loud & Proud! Give it some juice - make it SOUND like cordite thunder rolling across the open plain - right upside your head!

THAT would be most ... satisfying. Even if you happen to be on the receiving end.

And tying in to the notes on smoothing the movement of units across the strategic map, why not "carry-forward" the sound effects for that movement?

For example, the sound effect for bomber movement is very cool - sounds just like a large passenger jet taking off and flying overhead. Except that the effect cuts short of 'completion'. It ends with a jarring abruptness. I say, let the sound effect play out to its completion, and if you smooth the motion on the "board", then you have plenty of time to run the effect without interferring with gameplay. Again, as the game currently runs, it sounds like stop-and-go traffic because the unit in motion has to stop and restart in every single territory it hits. Bombers can go six in one shot; that's like driving manual through DC at rush hour.


I'll shut up now, and thank you for the time. I imagine that I'll have more as I rack up more games under my belt (not sure yet, but the AI seems a wee bit ... more "A" than "I", know what I mean?), and I'll add those thoughts to the thread if they don't sic the pitchforks and torches on me for this one.
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  #2  
Old December 4th, 2010, 01:49 AM

JCrowe JCrowe is offline
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Default Re: Suggested Fixes - Major to Minor

TO ADD ....

1.) CARGO "CARRIER" OR FIGHTING SHIP??

Problem:
Loading jets on or off a carrier burns movement for somebody, either the ship itself or for the jets. OK. But, operating under these rules, how does one use a carrier offensively?

I had a carrier with a full load-out of jets, sitting in waters just off an unfriendly coast. There was a battle in the interior, and (in theory), jets from my carrier should have been able to sortie, join the attack, then fly home for a couple victory laps around the tower.

No such luck, dog.

Minute I got them off the 'boat, they lost all movement points. On unfriendly (but unoccupied) territory. Not so good. Maybe I'm not hitting the right buttons, but if I am, then carriers have zero strategic value. Unless I drop ground forces, seize a beach, and hold that baby for at least one whole turn ... any jets I've got on-board a carrier are useless.

Suggested Fix (If I'm Right About This):
Jets ought to be able to treat a carrier like a floating airport. Players ought to be able to launch squadrons from the deck to hit targets one or two territories distant and return without penalty. Or pull a "Doolittle" - launch, fly, bomb, divert to nearby land-based sanctuary while huffing aviation fumes. So carriers ought to act like any regular land-based territory with respect to fighter-jets only. Otherwise, they just seem to be glorified sea transports.


2.) AI NEEDS MORE IQ

Problem:
The AI can pull a surprise or two out of its hat, but overall ... it seems to have the functional wherewithall of Lindsay Lohan by 2am PST. It makes BAD choices. Frequently. Often, it seems at a total loss for what to do on a strategic level.

Many examples, but my favorite so far is when one Captain Incompetence used multiple units of rocket artillery, tanks, and infantry to take on a neutral nation ... that had one bomber for defense. The computer "won", but lost nearly his entire attack force doing so. In essence, the AI risked $80M of equipment and ground-pounders to take down a $30M unit, and ultimately lost over $60M in the attempt. It blew $80M buckaroos to achieve what a single $20M fighter could have done WITHOUT subsequent loss of life.

Who needs "me" when el-computero has itself? Speaking of which ...


3.) NEUTRAL ... BUT NUTS!

Problem:
I see neutral countries with resource levels of $2M to $10M sporting armies with multiple bombers, fighters, tanks, rocket artillery, and infantry forces on a scale not seen outside of North Korea these days. Seriously. Might that be a tad overdone? Players would need to control the equivalent of a small continent (or TWO ...) just in order to generate enough revenue to cover maintenance on some of the 'neutral' armies I've faced. Seems a wee bit off-balance, and it causes the computer's AI no end of trouble. Neutrals might be speed bumps to a human player (most of the time), but they're the pyramids of Giza to the AI.
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Old December 7th, 2010, 01:32 PM

JCrowe JCrowe is offline
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Default Re: Suggested Fixes - Major to Minor

MORE NEWS FROM THE FRONT …

… and it’s pretty ugly if your native language is based on one’s & zeros.

1.) ISLAND FATALITY SYNDROME

Problem:
AI incapable of developing itself when it begins the game on an island.

I’ve noted this before, so I’ll keep this brief – when a computer opponent starts the game on an island or small continent (under 13 territories), it gets ‘stuck’. The AI never invests in transportation or makes any attempt to move beyond its initial land mass. At most, the AI will build up basic land units until it reaches the limits of its resource capacity. Or it will build up a smaller army, leaving a budgetary surplus open. It then sits on the surplus, accruing a mighty hoard of cash … that it will never, ever use.


2.) “RANDOM” MAPS? NOT QUITE …

Problem:
Map Generator loves to drop computer opponents on islands, and human players get continents.

I’ve played a bunch of games now, and the map generator is demonstrating some predictable patterns, none of which are good for play. For one, it loves to drop computer opponents on island territories, even when vast continental arcs stretch the ‘globe’. In game after game, the majority of computer players in my setups have gone “Gilligan” for their three hour tour. In more than one game, ALL computer opponents were “Cast Away”. Which wouldn’t be so terrible, if not for Island Fatality Syndrome. With the AI unwilling to act or take initiative, human players basically win by default on day one.

On the flip side, I’ve never had to deal with being a passenger on the S.S. Minnow myself. Invariably, no matter what the setup, I, Human, always get planted on a nice, sweet, juicy continent. Not always the BIGGEST, but certainly one of the best. Again, not that I mind, but considering all the other issues, it just makes an unfair situation that much more lopsided. It would be interesting to have to play from ‘the other shoe’.

In fact, playing against the AI and the awkward predilections of the Map Generator makes the whole situation seem very reminiscent of an old “Twilight Zone” episode. You know the one – bank robber gets shot during a heist and ends up in the afterlife. He thinks it’s heaven, because the booze is free, the girls are easy, and every roll of the dice or hand of poker goes his way. He can’t lose! And then he realizes … he can’t lose. Sure, he can deliberately throw the game or lose his money, but it’s all his choice. It’s all within his power. And just as easily as it was lost, so it is claimed once again with half an absent thought.

That’s when the robber understands that he didn’t go to heaven ….


3.) “AIR” TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Problem:
In only one game of a dozen did any AI team build air units, which are critical to game play / success.

Mystery of the disappearing air units. In the very first game I played, every AI in the field was pushing aerial artillery. One team even went so far as to invest nearly all of its cash in bombers (force of 10!), with just a smattering of tanks behind for tagging cleared-out turf. (Not a bad idea, if you actually apply yourself and attack someone – see issue #4 below.)

However, once past this game, the AI never again invested itself in air power. And I’m not just talking about bombers and jets – the apparent ‘injunction’ covered choppers and surveillance craft, too. (Not that there’s much use in WS for AWACS – you’ll “be there” next turn anyway, and it’s not like they have anything that can stop you …)

Only once, games later, did I see another AI air unit – a single ASW chopper that the computer built in a territory adjacent to a pair of boomers I had parked off his coast. I had been vaporizing the AI’s military with total impunity (conventional arms only) at my extreme leisure when this little beauty popped up on radar.

Ouch!

I could be in trouble!

… or not, as the AI flew the ASW chopper away from my subs, and straight into a nearby territory I was about to invade. Apparently, the chopper – the ASW chopper – was built with the intention of supporting his tanks and rocket artillery units in their grand attempt to deter my seven fighters and five bombers from charging into the capital. Mission: Failed. Dude – they build institutions for intellects of this level.


4.) DOVES VS. HAWKS

Problem:
The AI is a total “dove”; reluctant to attack (anything) and disinclined to push for new territory.

The AI lacks proper aggression. It almost never attacks, even in those few rare occasions when it might have the opportunity to do so; at most, it might move to reconquer turf you just seized from it and then vacated. More fundamentally, it fails to pursue territorial acquisition with any demonstrable rigor. I’ve had plenty of games where an AI team – totally unhindered by neutrals, other AI forces, or “me” – utterly failed to cinch up even a modest-sized continent. By the time I’ve gotten 24 territories under my control, AI X or AI team Y might still be plodding along with six … or seven. By the time I’m up to 43, they’re barely into double digits and still have oodles of open space to seize in their own backyard – and I’m not talking about island-jumping, either. Contiguous land-mass, dude. Two tank divisions could have covered the place in four turns … where are you?

Story is the same whether I add or redact neutral nations. AI doesn’t push hard enough, even when it has the units available to do the job. Did someone forget to cable? They do understand that there’s a war on, don’t they? Why the lackadaisical attitude?


5.) IF THE AI DID HAVE A BRAIN …

Just Speculating:
If the AI does get an upgrade, something might need to be done about –

i.) Map Wrap Around – not being able to “wrap around” the globe is limiting, and it also acts to unfairly protect players from attack. They’re free to ignore the “back door” and concentrate their forces “out front”.

ii.) Economy Needs an Upgrade – As I’ve suggested, cities ought to double a region’s cash. Otherwise, in the face of an “open” world map and competent opponents, players will have great trouble adequately defending their turf. The cash just simply isn’t there to provide adequate defenses. And I’m not talking about fortifying every territory you control, just building a few “rapid response forces” sufficient to counter any real threat is a strain under the current economic system. If not fixed, you might end up with a situation where the snake is constantly devouring its own tail – I seize your unprotected turf, then you seize mine, etc. etc. Perpetual war.

iii.) Tactical Combat Needs a fix – It’s a take all / lose all construct. There’s virtually no chance here for “Mr. In-Between”. And while human players currently have the upper hand, I can easily see how a good AI could completely reverse that scenario. Determining / planning “initiative” in WS is an art form. I mean, at least for me …. I can generally predict which unit is about to move next, especially in simple fights. But bigger battles with many unit classes or fortifications turn expectation into abject mystery.

Sure, stealth fighters usually ‘go first’, but how do you predict (in a complex battle) if the stealthie has enough “points” (?) to move into someone’s shooting range and then blast ‘em before they can return fire? I’ve had plenty of instances where I held high-initiative units back to prevent the opposing forces from getting the “jump” on them, only to find that my guys dominated the next round of initiative “dodge-ball” and could have wiped-out the other team if I had moved forward … of course, on those times that I have moved forward, expecting to hold the advantage, the tables have turned and the other side gets to go before I do.

But a good AI will be able to crunch all the calculations, predict the variables, and precisely time its moves to maximize its damage in ways that very, very few humans ever will. (Paging Mr. Kasparov …”) Then, human players will do all the dying and the AI will be able to march straight through to the doors of Rome with nary a pause in its digital step.

An “Axis & Allies” approach to combat resolution might be a better course.
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