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[Proposal]: Clearly (Re)define The Core Gameplay


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Reading various topics and comments after quite a long absence I got the impression that the gameplay, or at least people discussing it, still has/have little clue on
where it's heading, while not strangely, as preferences vary, people often have radically different visions on where it should head. Please correct and update me where I'm
wrong, since I'm sure I can't/didn't catch up with everything. 

What I'll (more or less) repeat is that you can't have everything fit in the same gameplay type and that no idea is universally great without context. At some point, preferably sooner rather than
later, it would be nice to make bold choices on which should be the core features and then build the rest of the game around them. 
 
I'll go on with a few such possible choices. They are not meant to be taken at face value and kickstart the glorious "I want this in/I want this out" thing. I've also
been very guilty of it in the past and will probably be again in the future, but this thread is started with the intent to have myself informed on the current state of
gameplay development and see if I can contribute with my general point or in more specific ways.  
 
A major choice that would be better if addressed before continuing to debate on which features to throw in or out, is if we want a classic/oldschool RTS or
something different, like increased focus on tactics and/or political/cultural simulation (in gameplay terms, not just visuals). In the first case we could have an
awesome AOE clone, or something slightly more "modern" without phases and with structures as tech requirements or (insert whatever suitable). But loading it with much  more than what "successful" RTS do, say, total war-ish battles, on top of the classic formula and the number of current
additions, is a bad idea that won't work , due to an overwhelming mix of economic and tactical micro. In the second case, we could enhance combat, largely or fully
automate the economy, add special function techs/policies, customizable cities... e.t.c. and have our fully real time total war or 4x/grand strategy game. I'd love to
have all styles in one, and each separately, and various intermediates, and something really great and innovative that I can't personally imagine. But it can't happen all in
one. Let's give the core game a cohesive focus and leave the rest to mods. Which in turn would multiply and give enjoyment for various tastes, being made for a
successful free game, nomatter it's "genre" (if we ever reach that state with the real world in a healthy shape, but that's another story:p). 
 
Another thing to consider might be dumbing down the scale. Reducing unit speeds, line of sight, population cap - maybe even reducing map sizes, streamlining the
forrests for better pathing. Better have less scale than (often major) lag "until fixed" which goes on for years and has repulsed who knows how many people. A
classic RTS can work fine with 200 or even 100 pop. The game could be designed around that. If desire on having a grander scale is dominant or arises strong in the
future while the code has improved, or if battalion combat ends up a core feature, so be it. Balance is really far from being acceptable anyway (in part due to the
lack of a clear gameplay vision) and readjusting stats for the years to come should be taken for granted. For now or for good I can see this scaling down as a blessing
to the game. 
 
Finally I'd like to add a couple of things on visual cohesion (while expressing joy for the new art assets I just saw, especially the new ranges, stables etc).
Structure numbers and unit numbers (along with variants) are getting increasingly high, with differences often hard to spot at a distance or by people not really
familiar with every game imagery, both things bad for gameplay. It would be nice to have actors of the same class easily recognizable as what they are by shape, size etc. I
won't go as far as suggesting redesigns, which would be a crazy amount of work, but starting with whatever is new from  now on would be something. But I will go as far as
suggesting reduced actor/prop variants of a unit for example, when the shape or color uniformity breaks too much.

I'll stop here to avoid missing the point, adding that if i sound harsh at bits I don't mean to degrade anyone, on the contrary the work done so far is great, it's only missing some extra focus.
 

Edited by Prodigal Son
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13 minutes ago, Prodigal Son said:

@wowgetoffyourcellphone Bait for what? Are you implying I'm trying to start a flame war or something else I can't get, while at the same time liking the post and pm-ing me your mod's link as an answer to the gameplay question? I am failing to get your point or was my point that confusing?

He made a recent commit on his repo with your name on it :) So I guess he wants you to look at DE :)

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I've played previous versions of DE and like many ideas there. I probably would like many of the new ones as well, if/when I check it again (which I can't from my current computer). 

However my whole point isn't to dictate what's best as a whole or as isolated elements. I'm not even sure what I'd prefer and I do like a good number of styles and strategy games. What I propose in short is that the team or whoever is currently in charge of the gameplay developement should finally decide on a solid basis and work around what fits it.

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4 hours ago, Prodigal Son said:

@wowgetoffyourcellphone Bait for what? Are you implying I'm trying to start a flame war or something else I can't get, while at the same time liking the post and pm-ing me your mod's link as an answer to the gameplay question? I am failing to get your point or was my point that confusing?

The gif is obviously posted in jest since I have previously admired your work and other posts. Perhaps you don't understand the sheer amount of blood spilt over this single issue over the many years. The only answer is modding so you can demonstrate your ideas, else you just start the 50th thread where good ideas go to die. :)

Edited by wowgetoffyourcellphone
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3 hours ago, stanislas69 said:

That's the thing, we do not currently have such a person. The last person who worked and still works towards balancing is @temple.

All the same, basic overarching design decisions can be made by the team; specifics would have to probably be left to one person, but a general vision is worth exploring.  

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29 minutes ago, Thorfinn the Shallow Minded said:

All the same, basic overarching design decisions can be made by the team; specifics would have to probably be left to one person, but a general vision is worth exploring.  

I think the general vision for the longest time had been:

Age of Empires 2

+ citizen soldiers

+ territories 

Boom done.

 

But many see some gameplay problems with that as well as a huge missed opportunity to build something more interesting. Hence all the broken mods and bloodbath gameplay threads.

In the end I think just voting on each feature individually as had been done in the past misses some of what Prodigal and Thorfinn are talking about, which is coherence. 

Imho best way would be to have a small number of self contained gameplay proposals that are widely regarded to be coherent and fresh. When you have these 3 or 4 self contained proposals then you can choose one and tweak from there.

Experience has taught us that debating individual features ad nauseam is folly. Each feature has to fit within a whole for a complete and coherent experience.

So choose an overarching theme or idea, like:

"0 A.D. aims to give the player the satisfying experience building and maintaining an ancient empire, through resource harvesting, city building, and conquest through iconic ancient combat."

Gather up a handful of gameplay proposals which more or less fulfill your thematic statement, and choose the one which you think most carries out the potential of the premise.

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I'll expand a little on my way of thinking around this. Also if what stan said holds true and the team is lacking in this field, I'm open to discussion on how I could help.

While working on my (now stagnated) mod and other projects and reading more history/playing more strategy games, (from Classic RTS to Field of Glory II, Hegemony, Civ, Stelaris, CK2...) for enjoyment and/or scanning them for ideas, I've come across some issues. What to aim for, what to keep and what to discard? The more ideas I come across, the more I want to steal, edit, fit with other or draw inspiration from. To me it's a natural process of opening your mind on whatever subject, becoming curious and interested, ovewealmed and confused at the same time. If you are to deliver a complete (or anything close to that) creation, you need to focus on something. Avoid a good portion of the possible ways in order to go somewhere. While the eternal search is far more fascinating and honest, and I mostly tend to go that way in real life at the cost of many things, it's not a very functional habbit for game design. Especially when you don't have one contributor but many, causing the confusion to skyrocket. 

I've mostly used two extreme opposites as suggestions on where to lead 0 A.D. gameplay. RTS formula vs a mix of enhanced tactics and grand strategy*. I'm in noway claiming to understand the entire range of possibilities, nor that any kind of intermediate gameplay would be undesirable. But reading opinions, from years ago to today, by both team and community members, it often comes across as many people influence the games curse towards a mix of AOK economy (almost cloned to be the current one in game) and Total War style combat. Try fighting a total war battle while managing an age of kings base (while having the two linked for reinforcements, but that's not possible). Even if you can with great personal success and pleasure, would you suggest that the average player should have to cope with it? If we want more tactical combat, we need to simplify the economy accordingly (not neccessarily a bad idea, given it could solve issues with hunting, tree placement etc). Or let's stick with Classic gameplay and skip devoting a lot of work on implementing extra combat mechanics (or being scared of having to, among other colossal tasks). Or find a happy medium, but decide on something:).

On the scale and game pace thing, do we really need to have quantity over performance and gameplay quality? WC 3 is one of the most successful games of the genre. It uses 100 pop (in practice more like 30-40 since units cost pop accordingly to their power). The same game even after years of professional polish will lag badly on custom scenarios with hundreds of units. But the core game, supporting what it can, runs fine. I'm not saying lets go for 30 or 100 max units per player. It might be too immersion breaking. But we could have less than 300, at least until performance is greatly improved. Also, high unit speed and huge vision break immersion and make scouting too easy, while incohesive actors for simular units/structures make bits of the game confusing/unappealing (I'm all for realism where it fits, but for example we don't need 5 different cloth colors for the same unit type messing with teamcolor).

*Tactics as increased battlefield focus. Grand Strategy as focus on the great scene of things, say empire building, culture, politics, etc.

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1 hour ago, wowgetoffyourcellphone said:

The gif is obviously posted in jest since I have previously admired your work and other posts. Perhaps you don't understand the sheer amount of blood spilt over this single issue over the many years. The only answer is modding so you can demonstrate your ideas, else you just start the 50th thread where good ideas go to die. :)

Well after about 3 years of almost complete inactivity here, I was expecting to find more focus towards the most important part, a clear gameplay goal. Still I'm not losing all hope for the game and I'm not in the mood to restart working on the mod.

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We should explore more variety of strategy not only RTS. add more mechanic and have coherence between them.

The developers of AoE mixing Warrant , Dune and Civilization. so what games we inspired us?(AoE).

The other day I saw some Stronghold Crusader 2 gameplay. have similar machanic to RTS but economic was more City building.

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2 hours ago, Prodigal Son said:

On the scale and game pace thing, do we really need to have quantity over performance and gameplay quality? WC 3 is one of the most successful games of the genre. It uses 100 pop (in practice more like 30-40 since units cost pop accordingly to their power).

Indeed, my approach, believe it or not, despite allowing for massive battles would only actually have the player controlling maybe 20-30 actual combat entities. Entities being the operative word here, since each of these "entities" represents a battalion of 20-24 soldiers. Add in about 25-30 citizens and maybe 30 or 40 slaves and other support units, and you're only maintaining 100 actual entities in the game. Meanwhile, you actually get the feel for real ancient combat through the use of large armies in battalions, formations, charges, and all the rest.

 

2 hours ago, Prodigal Son said:

Also, high unit speed and huge vision break immersion and make scouting too easy,

Absolutely! I've reduced unit speed and more importantly reduced vision range considerably in DE. This would carry into any gameplay proposal as well.

 

Quote

while incohesive actors for simular units/structures make bits of the game confusing/unappealing (I'm all for realism where it fits, but for example we don't need 5 different cloth colors for the same unit type messing with teamcolor).

I agree this is a huge huge problem for the game's current mosh pit combat, and probably one of the many reasons that AOE games have such similar looking units. With my proposed battalion system this particular problem is all but eliminated.

 

You mention Warcraft 3, which is basically a hybrid RTS-RPG. A battalion system is essentially this. Each battalion is like a unit from WC3. You pick the class of battalion, which has different bonuses and penalties and abilities. You can upgrade each battalion to be different, much like its own character.

Imagine a "battalion" of 5 elephants. This is akin to a character that you can improve with better armor, better weapons, towers, pikes/archers, even a squad of support soldiers [a real thing that happened; war elephants almost always had escort troops], officers ["zooiarkhoi"], noisemakers [bells around their necks, scares enemy cavalry]. You can do similar things with a battalion of Celtic warriors [naked-> clothed-> armored; karnyx; noble officer; etc.]. A battalion of Companion Cavalry. A battalion of Roman Hastati. A battalion of Greek Hoplites. A battalion of Persian Chariots. etc. Weapon-switching becomes easier with battalions. Stances [reduced to 3] and formation [reduced in number as well] control becomes easier. All those cool things about ancient combat becomes easier.

Economics. You can still have multiple resources, but perhaps streamline how you assign gatherers to harvest those resources. Imagine this: Build a Storehouse next to some trees. Click one button once, and that storehouse trains 10 slaves who immediately start gathering the nearby trees once complete. Slaves* are your primary gatherers, while your Citizens are your builders and traders**. 

 

Spoiler

* Some civs would have a nobility/peasantry dichotomy, while most others would have a citizen/slave system.

**Task a Citizen to a market and another market to turn them automatically into a Trader. They'll walk up to the first market and a horse/camel/donkey appears with them and they start their trade route. Task them to do anything else and they stop being a trader.

 

Edited by wowgetoffyourcellphone
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@wowgetoffyourcellphone Well my point for bringing up WC3 was what you left out of the quote (that it handles it's coding weaknesses in a smart way). A battalion system can be handled in many different ways, but unless it's very simplistic, imo , it's incompatible with current economy. Anyway I could say much for and against the rest of your proposals, but let's not turn this into another "which gameplay details are best" thread, while it's overdone and we don't even have the foundation laid down.

@stanislas69 I think we a agree on a lot but also disagree on a lot. Plus judging from me (but I'll risk to say it affects both of us nowadays), we'd have the problem of who will handle the tedious parts.

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1 minute ago, Prodigal Son said:

Anyway I could say much for and against the rest of your proposals, but let's not turn this into another "which gameplay details are best" thread, while it's overdone and we don't even have the foundation laid down.

Indeed. Now needs defined what constitutes a "foundation." Give a bullet point list.

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5 minutes ago, wowgetoffyourcellphone said:

Indeed. Now needs defined what constitutes a "foundation." Give a bullet point list.

That's very subjective, but we could try. For it to make sense I'd to take into account at least:

  • What is ready to be used as of art/code
  • What is not working as intended from the above
  • What is easy to fix/add, or at least is probably doable in the relatively short term
  • How we want the game to play in a broad, then somewhat specific way 
  • What details fit in the above vision while doable within given time/personel (or art/code) constraints
  • How much/which work could be thrown out by any radical change and are we ok with such actions
  • To what degree we will try to be objective, bypassing our confused egos, those of others and whatever "popular consensus", in trying to make it the best we can within the above limits

That's all I can think for now.

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@wowgetoffyourcellphone - bro, you got baited into the discussion again! :P

@Prodigal Son - I think focusing on your mod's ideas would, for me, be the best course of action. Don't expect those ideas to transfer to the base game, since a lot of threads proposing changes to the core game have been presented, deliberated, and dismissed. 

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We're at this point of the discussion again? Woohoo!

Asides from the lack of staff to spearhead this thing, I think the biggest hurdle for the Gameplay Feature is this: the current playerbase. The current playerbase like the general gameplay as is. And they'll fight tooth and nail when that balance gets broken.

Now for my continued hibernation because I have yet to get over the Holiday Hangover.

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Has anyone of you ever played Cossacks? It's a Ukrainian game developed around the same time as Age of Kings. Compared to 0 A.D. it runs at lightning speed :) Anyway, the engine can comfortably handle thousands of units without any noticeable lag, which can be commanded individually, in groups, or in formations. Formations can easily massacre thousands of enemies frontally approaching, but if attacked from the rear, a complete formation can be slaughtered by a small number of opponents. Furthermore, the game has superb artillery, very powerful warships, and towers which can be upgraded individually.

My point is we should not limit 0 A.D. to be merely an Age of Kings clone. Age of Mythology, American Conquest, and Rise of Nations are simultaneously very different and rather similar to each other, as well as being great games in their own right. Non-RTS games such as Stronghold or Heroes of Might and Magic IV are also worth looking at. A total gameplay overhaul is probably undesirable, but we should remain open minded about including new features which work great in other games.

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@sphyrth, I think you brought up a very valuable point there... The current playerbase should be taken in to account and maintained of course, but there are much larger playerbases for other historical strategy games which often use different, yet interesting mechanics. As @Nescio points out, we shouldn't shy away from looking at other, yet similar genres like historical city builders and civilisation management games. 

I think most historical strategy gamers have been waiting for an epic marriage of historical city builder/civilisation management, with Real Time combat mechanics. Something in between a simulator and classic RTS. 0AD probably has the most potential in this regard. To keep it manageable to play for the more simple players, both the city builder aspect, as well as the combat mechanics need to be simpler versions of the respective industry standards. This means something like an arcade version of Anno in regard to city building, and an arcade version of Total War in regard to combat. As it stands now though, the classic RTS format is too "simple" for most historical gamers to enjoy. 

It's also nice to have many factions, and it's even good to have some of them be very similar to each-other (like the Hellenic civs) as some sort of "Culture Group". But having fundamentally different factions (culture groups) with fundamentally different styles of playing is also a must in my opinion. Look at Hyrule Conquest... This is a balancing nightmare, I know, but balancing "Barbarian" factions along the same line as imperial powers like Rome or Persia is killing the historicity and potential for original/creative/accurate/challenging game-play (derived from these histories).

Also, if wow's battalions can drastically reduce the number "combat entities" a player would have to control, and simultaneously increase the scope/scale of battles because each "combat entity" consists of 20 or more individual soldiers, that would be a big plus to battalion systems, and possibly lay the foundation for Total War style battles.

Just my 2 cents ;) 

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