Strategy Hybridization and In-Match Progression

#1

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:

  1. Within-match progression

  2. Deeper strategy hybridization

  3. Game state readability

Within-Match Progression

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.

Game-State Readability

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.

5 Likes
#2

I like this theory and totally agree. As you say, this can emerge from choices made by players or, more commonly, from an enforced progression within a battle by achieving objectives (think SW: Battlefront 2).

Important for balance.

I’m starting to smell an expanded rock/paper/scissors approach to equipment here. If you can specialise your ship as a battle progresses, that then makes you more effective at completing certain tasks.

So, for example, if as an interceptor I enjoy strafing station turrets rather than dogfighting, I earn ‘points’ towards that skill. Next time I respawn in an interceptor, it can be tuned towards that goal - maybe slower firing but heavier hitting guns.

Equally, stations could be tuned to respond to this progression. Perhaps certain modules are weaker/stronger vs. certain specialisms. E.g. turrets weak against interceptors but strong against larger ships. This would require some artificial manipulation of damage though.

This is hugely important. Electronic Warfare and Resupply/Repair are in their infancy in the game and definitely have a lot of scope to be developed. But other tasks - such as scouting for salvage locations and retrieving it for either team or personal benefits - could also lend variety.

The two most important questions to any successful team game. The second one is vital, and cannot just be “go kill the enemy faster than they kill us”. That works for simple, round-based FPS games, but not for longer, more strategic games like this. We need more depth.


Complications of this kind of progression


How long do players keep their upgrades?
Can players lose specialisation as well as gain it?
How does this contribute to the overall progress of the round?

Battlescape is intended to have long rounds with smaller battles won and lost within that. So progression for each battle is important to keep people engaged, but it has to be balanced within the context of the whole match.

4 Likes
#3

Or, handle it like strategy hybrids already do. Battlescape already charges credit sums for each ship class; add specialization options for refit which also cost credits, or a special resource, or some combination thereof. For example, in Natural Selection, Marines must purchase equipment at a team-built station or otherwise find a dead teammate to pick up from. Aliens must evolve to different forms, and then evolve bonus perks on top of that each time. Every spawn, a player must start from scratch with their accumulated resources, just like in Battlescape.

I was also referring more to game state readability. To figure out what you need to pick, you should be easily able to read what’s going on, where people are, what needs to be done, and it should be easy to talk to teammates to get that info if there are any gaps.

  1. Probably as long as they can keep a ship in working order. Lose it, lose the invested credits/resources. In most games with these systems, the longer you can both keep a configuration alive and accomplish objectives with it, the greater the value you’ve extracted.
  2. Specialization should probably be a per-spawn set of choices. How many resources are you willing to spend this spawn? What should you actually be buying to help your team? Should you be saving?
  3. Value extracted from a purchase vs time spent saving resources for later use probably answers this. The danger is snowballing. Highly effective players who save until the end of a match for a fully-kitted fleet that trounces the enemy team could be hard to counter without good chances for the enemy to shift their footing.

And I think that the progression of battles is pretty clear-cut and satisfying. Within one battle, it’s pretty easy to check the radar and local map and see how many ships are left. If you’re winning, you know it when you’re simply mopping up. When you’re losing, you know because your team is frantically trying to warp out to save their investments for another fight.

In terms of the whole match, you need to get a visceral feel for it by playing those games. What keeps you around in a League game to finish a match you’ve invested in? What keeps you in an Allegiance match? What keeps you in a Natural Selection match? If we go back far enough, what kept you totally invested in a Battlefield 2 match or a Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory match?

Even better: What kept people around in insanely long Alterac Valley battles in old World of Warcraft (and coming back over the course of a days-long battle!), or Dark Age of Camelot, or other large-scale games?

1 Like