I already summed up my thoughts with Keith and Flavien on the Discord, and they seem to emphatically agree. But I just thought I’d post them for posterity and long-term discussion. I wanted to give three primary high-level critiques of where Battlescape, in my opinion, needs to go to start building a vibrant community.
Hopefully it’s like Python, where it starts small but the merits of the game slowly snowball into a strong community over the years. They are:
Deeper strategy hybridization
Game state readability
I have a theory concerning the most successful multiplayer games with the best community retention: They feature strong progression within matches. Meta-progression is entirely unnecessary and some of these games have none. From Counter-Strike to League to BRs. Simply put, the end of a match should not look or feel like the beginning. New options should open up, players should invest in specialization, and choices made should dictate the strategies that open up to teams as the game progresses. The Sid Meier school of game design: A series of interesting decisions, almost all of them trade-offs. By the end, it should feel like a match is wrapping up, when big last-ditch battles of highly kitted and specialized groups are frantically attacking specific objectives to try to knock the enemy team down.
For Battlescape: This could be something as simple as a loadout system for ships. For additional hard-earned credits or an additional strategic resource, maybe your destroyer becomes a disabling electronic warfare boat, bad at damage but great at warp jamming and weapon disabling. These things would need to be made relatively exclusive to force a tradeoff. Someone has to bring an electronic warfare ship for electronic warfare to happen. Or maybe a cruiser with a guass cannon. Trade away turrets, missiles, and lots of credits for a giant gauss gun and some point defense lasers. Stations, cruisers, and carriers with their shields down get completely skewered by a sublight tungsten projectile, but it can only fire once every 30 seconds or every minute, and absolutely needs small-craft support.
Choices made during the match can open different options. What type of base do you build, and what does it open up? The commander and the team have to decide on a direction. This of course invests players as well: You’re a lot more invested in a memorable match when you helped contribute to the outcome rather than just engaging in a bunch of meaningless dogfighting that ticked your adrenaline box for the day.
This all ties well into my next point:
Deeper Strategy Hybridization
If there’s a genre where matches progress and change over their duration, it’s RTS games and RTS hybrids. Infinity seems to most want to be like Allegiance or Natural Selection, so it should lean into it. Those games gives players many shoes to fill for gameplay variety, from rear-echelon resource and building roles, to combat support roles, to actual fighting with multiple different playstyles depending on the chosen unit or loadout. There needs to be more to do than just dogfighting, and the pace needs to have valleys in addition to peaks; the kinds of multiplayer games I’ve enjoyed most over the years are ones with support roles where, if I don’t feel like diving into the chaos, I can contribute just as well taking a non-combat role in the rear (or an infiltration role deep behind enemy lines).
For Battlescape: Running around manually controlling warp speed with a joystick throttle is so perfectly comfy with such cool sights to see that it lends itself well to its own slice of gameplay.
I previously discussed an additional strategic resource in addition to credits (no crazy 4X bevy of resources, just one more, like gas in Starcraft). Maybe the special resource is only collectible by players, and resource squads have to scout the map and find them? Maybe that could be what allows the purchase of specialist loadouts such as electronic warfare or gauss cannon. Barring a new resource, credit collection could involve players more. Maybe make them collectible by player-piloted haulers, with a big bonus. Incentivize escort and sabotage missions, or at least find a way to make their impact more obvious to the game’s state.
Natural Selection adds power and infestation to the equation for its respective teams, and requires players to build infrastructure in order to progress. Perhaps stations need to be built by the commander and players in engineering ships? Maybe engineers have to haul station parts from the home planet over several trips. Maybe capital ships and ship loadout options need to be researched at specialized stations, a la old-school RTS? The commander and team should have to make tradeoffs depending on how they want to approach the enemy team’s strategy, investing resources and making a determination about their best spend.
A very good reference for strategy hybridization might be Project Reality/Squad, where logistics trucks need to be set up with supplies by support team members in order to build FOBs. Though, it doesn’t handle vehicles well. They just have a long spawn timer, and if you screw up, you’re SOL.
All this considered, I would, however, be careful to design with anti-snowball mechanics in mind. A losing team should have options for coming back from behind. Titan mode in Battlefield 2142 was famous for its insane comebacks, simply by virtue of locking down the missile silos while executing an overwhelming assault on the opponent’s Titan.
Regardless of how additional gameplay depth and variety are added to Battlescape, something needs to be done about readability. Thankfully, it seems the team is acutely aware of this, and is working on it at the moment. My biggest issue with Angels Fall First was how opaque the game can be when entering a match: Who is winning? What should I do to best contribute? If it becomes hard enough to parse, people stop caring and throw themselves into dogfighting until they get bored and quit. In RTS games, the game’s state can be roughly parsed by a simple glance at the minimap. Doing that in Natural Selection, one typically enters a match and immediately asks the team what’s needed and where, and starts getting invested.
So those are my thoughts. I’m sure they’ve been conveyed with more clarity and eloquence by others, but this game is ready to scratch an itch I’ve had since those ambitious multiplayer games of my adolescence, and I want to see it succeed.