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Making Combat Mean Something

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Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Brian » Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:02 pm

One thing that I think was really, really not represented on SoI 2 and that absolutely has to be for combat to have meaning and gravity is the idea that manpower is not unlimited. How big is the militia/army of Laketown? Does it stand at 500 men? If so, if you lose 10 NPCs that is 2% of your military strength. Those are significant losses, and taking that kind of loss needs to be reflected in the command decisions. If you lost 2% of your troops in a garrison action with little apparent damage to the enemy (because unless they're really sloppy, PCs don't die very much against NPCs in engagements they are victorious in) was that worth stationing those men there? Would you do it again?

This is why soldier NPCs in my mind, cannot be used as "something to do". When NPCs are used, be it for patrols, or garrison actions, there has to be a believable reason for it, not just to present a target for the opposite side. What commander would send soldiers out on a patrol route or an action that had very little tangible gain? Every NPC held position, every garrison should have a purpose and a goal that if met, should do something to advance their side's interests.

There should also be a running count kept of the various sides military assets, what they have at their disposal, reinforcement rates, and what they've lost. What is the reinforcement rate for the Laketown militia? Do they gain 2 trained soliders a month until they are back to their standing readiness of 500 men? If they're consistently losing 5 men a month, and only regaining two, their overall assets should go down and the administrators should represent that in what they are able to deploy.

Whether or not PCs are a part of this is something I'm not sure of. The simulationist in me would like it if they were. So for instance, the militia is 500 men, there's a battle, 3 PCs and 5 NPCs die. The standing strength of the militia is now 492 men. Let's say that all 3 of those players reapp as new military characters. What I would like to see is that, at that point, they basically step into the role of one of these heretofore virtual soldiers. So, the standing strength of the militia is still 492 men, but now 3 of them are represented by 2 PCs, which are infinitely more useful, but haven't actually changed the overall numbers.

Combat, especially war scenarios, on SoI 2 always felt very stale to me for precisely this reason. If you went on a raid and you killed 15 orc NPCs it never felt like you had changed anything, because you never saw an overall diminishing in the capability or readiness of either side, no matter how much you had done. I would love the staff to take serious consideration of these suggestions, and for player input into them and discussion, on how we can make combat have a real impact in the MUD, where it feels like you are actually accomplishing something and it can be represented. I feel like Laketown, with the smaller overall numbers, will give us an opportunity to feel this, whereas the vast legions of Gondor and Mordor might not have been able to. We should seize the opportunity!
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Throttle » Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:39 pm

It always has to be a bit contrived. NPC numbers mean little because you can't really let one side lose the game and disappear, and it's tricky to make even minor changes to a sphere as a result of combat outcomes. The amount of development and administration efforts versus the amount of realism and supposedly improved game quality tends not to favor the latter.

Usually the best you'll get is regular RPTs where there are pre-planned consequences for whichever side loses, allowing the admins to plan for two potential scenarios and just apply the one that turns out to happen. Dynamic, ongoing effects are just beyond the scope of RPIs, historically speaking. Maybe this staff wants to take a crack at it, but I wouldn't expect it.

Say you start out with 500 warriors on each side. Over the course of a year, the various arbitrary imbalances of playerbase, code and playtimes could have swayed this into a 370 vs 100. Realistically the losing side would get the hell out of there and that's the end of that story. This would be terrible for the game and would force it into the dreaded annual sphere restructuring that plagued SOI for years.

Songweaver et al. tried the whole "there are x soldiers in the sphere" thing back in Angost, and as far as I remember, it just fell flat because there was no reasonable way to deal with it. What do you do when x soldiers have died? What do you do when one side goes through a rough patch and doesn't fight the enemy NPCs for a few weeks while the other keeps on killing? In the end it just doesn't result in anything that would really benefit the game.

It's the kind of thing that sounds really neat in forum threads and seven year plans but just doesn't work out in practice. It never has, in the history of the RPI genre, and I think it's a pipe dream. That kind of macromanagement is just not applicable to this game format, to the amount of players and staff that the game has, or to the way that a game like this is developed (i.e. slowly, manually, by irregular volunteers). I don't think it can be done properly.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby BoogtehWoog » Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:47 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Throttle here. It is just doomed to fail. We don't have the numbers to simulate these kinds of scenarios at the pace they would be happening. Both sides would probably be completely spent within a few months with how often players clamor for battle.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Letters » Thu Feb 13, 2014 6:34 pm

I touched on this in other threads, but...

The orcs are surely not in a position to engage in wanton massacre (of human NPCs, in this instance) just because they can, are they? The more they kill, the more attention they're drawing to themselves, and the higher the chances of the elves of the Woodland Realm stirring themselves into action and evicting the orcs from their doorstep grow.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Octavius » Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:51 pm

I understand the simulationist roots of our game, and the desire for realism. I also understand that this is a game, and we need to ensure some form of playability.

The nature of MUD coding is that combat conflict is a major driving force. If we're going to design a game that works, there must be something to fight on a regular basis.

We do stop far short from other games which respawn Bosses in 10 minutes. All major conflicts against key NPCs are run as RPTs by actual living administrators. That, to me, is pretty darn cool in its own right.

The vagaries and limitations of: 1) a small playerbase, 2) many timezones, 3) a volunteer staff means that you can't have a moderated RPT or a PvP encounter at all times. We WILL have those things, and the RPAs will drive them in full and satisfying ways.

My goal is to look out for you at other times. What options are there for when one side wants action and the other side can't provide the PvP? What do you do when you get the players to muster an RPT but no staff to assist in making it all you'd wish? When you need some small-unit tactics to have some fun in off-hours? This is still a game, and players should find fun things to do when they log in.

One of the biggest fundamental changes to NPC AI is that they're no longer suicidal. On old SOI there was a lot of death because every creature, every enemy, threw themselves into battle with a zealot's rage and fought to their last breath. Enemies will now break ranks and flee. As I work to rebuild some things, they'll get other capabilities, too. Grouping up and marching patrol routes, for example, which I am currently testing as I revise that portion. It will continue to develop throughout Alpha, so keep providing feedback as we go. The "Combat Zone" in the guest lounge will be opened to allow you to work on tactics and help me test new AI routines as we prepare.

There will be a different feel here than in a sphere like the Battalions of the Ithilien. There is no military here on either side. You have a smallish tribe of Orcs. You have huntsmen and woodsmen working to defend a small town. I hope to see more guerrilla tactics in Mirkwood than lines of battle and mass slaughter of men and horses.

We will work to make consequences, big and small, for the violence that is done. But as Throttle says, there is a playability concern that will be considered, too.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Brian » Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:15 pm

If they don't throw themselves forward in a suicidal fervor, that will help. I would also recommend making NPCs very close to being on par with PCs skill wise. I think it's a much better idea to have fewer more PC like NPCs in terms of skill than dozens of weak, underpowered runts. I like it more for the aesthetic, but also for the lowered amount of combat spam. Anything that can help lower combat spam for me is a plus because it makes it so much easier for people to see what's going on (which leads to less hectic decisions) and allows greater time for description of what your character is doing/thinking.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Zargen » Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:19 am

Im with Brian on the topic of making NPCs more on par skill-wise with PCs. Make them a viable threat, organized militia/military marching around would I imagine be something orcs would want to largely avoid. Skulk and observe. One thing I've always had a bad taste in my mouth about RPIs in general is that going in, I know we're almost certain going to win this one. Maybe a couple deaths but we got this. I'd like to put in the realistic belief that hey, maybe charging in with rusty cleavers against this patrol might actually get us all killed. Instead of more loot for the pile. Armageddon i'd like to use as an example. Rolling out with a patrol of guys doesn't necessarily mean most of you will come back if you get ballsy.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby cfelch » Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:28 am

In Angrenost, NPCs seemed to be on par with, if not better than PCs. And that was in a highly military setting (however brief).
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Nimrod » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:35 am

Zargen wrote:One thing I've always had a bad taste in my mouth about RPIs in general is that going in, I know we're almost certain going to win this one. Maybe a couple deaths but we got this. I'd like to put in the realistic belief that hey, maybe charging in with rusty cleavers against this patrol might actually get us all killed.

I'm happy to inform you that I am more than willing to fulfill your dreams in this matter, Zargen. :mrgreen:
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Dero » Fri Feb 14, 2014 7:14 am

Nimrod wrote:
Zargen wrote:One thing I've always had a bad taste in my mouth about RPIs in general is that going in, I know we're almost certain going to win this one. Maybe a couple deaths but we got this. I'd like to put in the realistic belief that hey, maybe charging in with rusty cleavers against this patrol might actually get us all killed.

I'm happy to inform you that I am more than willing to fulfill your dreams in this matter, Zargen. :mrgreen:


I couldn't agree more here. If people charge off stupidly, dead or severe injury should be involved. (I do believe injury should happen more also... loss of limb or something along those lines.)
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Matt » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:28 pm

I think the defended locations for either side is a pretty decent idea. But the NPC patrols seem kind of iffy to me. Like Brian pointed out on vNPC numbers it just wouldn't be practical for either side to be losing patrols of men every other RL week or more. Especially the orcs who are supposed to number around 100. You have a patrol of a half a dozen orcs and they get killed and you just lost 6% of your entire tribe. Human patrols make more sense but then the humans have an advantage over the orc sphere. Orcs are supposed to be under the radar for the most part, not patrolling around as if they own the place.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Octavius » Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:15 pm

NPCs programmed to patrol appropriately are key to answering the "small number of PCs on, but still need action" problem. PCs previously had commandable NPCs which could bolster out the numbers, but which cause problems as already noted. Allowing PCs to command NPCs opens a lot of doors. The alternative here is having the NPCs act under their own orders and allowing the PCs to join them instead. If a patrol is going out, one or two PCs could join onto it and get out into the wild.

The other assumption in this thread is that the NPCs are free and autoreplentish. That's not part of the plan. Even though I'm being cautious about who can command an NPC, we do want them to get their overall orders from PC leadership. NPCs will have to be trained and equipped in order to be replaced (or bolstered) and thus be a commodity with cost. Whether the patrols actually go out, whether NPC watchposts get manned, whether NPC farms are worked by farmhands... these will be the decisions of PC leaders. There will be benefits of funding this and costs if you don't - keeping those balanced is likely our hardest challenge. It is my goal to try out these tactical options as part of our testing in Alpha and get them to a working system.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Emilio » Tue Feb 18, 2014 5:32 am

I wonder if the fighting echoes can be changed. Instead of echoing into the room, could it echo to only the characters fighting each other and these characters could be tagged as fighting each other to everyone else in the room?
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Kellen » Tue Feb 18, 2014 8:10 am

I might be wrong, but isn't there a configuration in the game already to limit combat spam to local fighting only? I feel like I remember doing this in my Vanguard days, because we were literally fighting off fifteen-twenty Uruk Hai at a time in Osgiliath and the spam was immeasurable. I believe the configuration only showed your targets battle echoes and any who were also involved with that specific target.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Letters » Tue Feb 18, 2014 8:43 am

Yeah, set combat does that.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Emilio » Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:20 am

Oh, sorry. I was spending too much time hunting rabbits to notice that.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Brian » Tue Feb 18, 2014 1:25 pm

Set combat does that but includes combat messages for all of your current group members and generally if you go out you're in a group with everyone else so it ends up filtering very little.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Throttle » Tue Feb 18, 2014 4:12 pm

Set highlight helps as well, making it easy to see the attacks by and against you even if the general combat spam still drowns out any hopes of meaningful emotes.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby toofast » Tue Feb 18, 2014 9:36 pm

A command that hides 'misses' or 'parries' in combat would be great. Just being able to see injuries being inflicted could be the difference between saving your buddy or becoming orc feed.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby radioactivejesus » Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:36 pm

add one more vote to the 'set misses' idea. This would be very handy for mob-combat and I know has been suggested several times in the past on RPI's. Set melee cuts down on spam, but it also blinds you to everything that happens
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Octavius » Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:08 pm

I put the "set misses" idea on the To Do list for Nimrod to look at in the future.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Nimrod » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:49 pm

This is an interesting idea. I'm sure Traithe/Sighentist had the idea floated by them when they created the 'set combat' flag. It would be interesting to hear why they chose not to enable such a system then.

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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Throttle » Thu Feb 20, 2014 1:05 am

I think mostly it's because you might not notice that you're fighting if you don't see the misses, which would be one of the most extreme cases of IC/OOC miscommunication imaginable -- your character is being attacked and you just don't know it until someone actually deals damage. Even with an echo to alert everybody that soandso has started attacking whatshisface, it's easy to miss a single message like this whereas combat spam is unmistakable.

That's not to say that a setting to ignore misses is a bad idea, but it would need some other accompanying features like mandatory prompt alerts or repeated warning echoes to minimize the odds of people being unaware that their characters are fighting, which would somewhat negate the purpose of an anti-spam feature, and this might be why nobody ever cared to implement it.
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Zargen » Thu Feb 20, 2014 1:50 am

Suggestion: You know how at the far right of your HUD it says <aiming> and <aimed>? What if it also had <in-combat>
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Re: Making Combat Mean Something

Postby Nimrod » Thu Feb 20, 2014 2:20 am

Zargen wrote:Suggestion: You know how at the far right of your HUD it says <aiming> and <aimed>? What if it also had <in-combat>

This is actually a fairly slick idea. There's already a flag set on your character when you're in combat.

There's already a 'set autodia' command that does basically this.
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