Ventura Mechanics: Attacking

In this series of articles, I’ll be spotlighting individual mechanics in Ventura; explaining why and how I’ve made them. I’m hoping this will not only give you guys insight into the design process, but also help me clarify and distill my own mechanics!

Part I: The Best Offense is a Good Defense

From my experience, most TBT games have completely open attacking. As long as your target is within attack range, you can attack them. It does not matter if there are 5 units between your current unit and his/her target, you can magically hit them.

I don’t like this, and a lot of it comes down to my love of Tanking and what the implications of open attacking are for defensive plays. When I’m thinking of the sort of experience I want to provide in Ventura, I am always pushing the interaction between units and the importance of positioning.

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft

Tanking was first introduced to me in World of Warcraft. As my first MMORPG it was incredibly refreshing to play a character whose sole role was to protect allies by putting themself in danger. World of Warcraft uses the classic Aggro system of tanking; using a semi-transparent resource that the Tank can build up against enemies. These enemies then attack whoever has the most Aggro on their list. Allies using Heals will generate a lot of Aggro, so the Tank needs to have the ability to build up plenty of counter-aggro to make sure they stay on top of the Aggro List for each enemy.

Naturally this only works in PvE situations. Human opponents do not have an Aggro List that can be manipulated by another player. Skilled human opponents know the natural threat level of each enemy and choose who to put on their personal aggro list. No amount of bluster will make a human attack a super defensive target… it’s madness to do so!

Axe from Dota 2 - Calling enemies to fight
Axe from Dota 2 – Calling enemies to fight

Dota-likes (or MOBAs) also attempted to create tanks that work in PvP situations. As a tank cannot force humans to attack him, they must incentivize humans to attack them. This is done in a few ways…

  • Crowd Control: Being stunned and silenced is usually a major pain in the ass. PvP Tanks tend to have abilities that mess up enemy formations and combos. This makes them a high priority target in many situations, as they shut down your team’s strategy.

  • Sustained Damage: This is the classic “Deal with me now or you’re going to regret it!” technique. Tanks are horrible to attack because every 100 damage you do to a tank is reduced heavily compared to a squishy mage. You need a reason to attack the tank before the mage, so what if the tank eventually does more damage than a mage? Sustained Damage or ramping up damage is a really nice way to create interesting decisions for dealing with a Tank. Do you ignore them and deal with more high priority threats? Or do you take them down before they become a problem?

  • Taunts: Lazy design, but literally forcing enemies to attack a Tank does technically work. In most cases this is just a thematic skin of Crowd Control. Hearthstone utilizes Taunt in a much more interesting way, but with multiple throwaway units it’s hard for me to draw much inspiration from it.

These techniques have varying degrees of success. League of Legends is a game that heavily promotes tanking and bruiser-type characters. Dota, on the other hand, has some fat dudes but typically the game is not balanced around having many of them.

Part II: Attacking in Ventura

In Ventura, I will be using Crowd Control and Sustained Damage for that PvP ‘threat’ to incentivize attacking a tank. These are smart and strategically interesting ways to create a dynamic battlefield.

As Ventura is on a grid though, I can use another way to tank. Standing in front of an ally.

example_01

In this example, Axe (the big red dude) wants to attack Lina (the ginger) but there’s another of Lina’s allies standing in front of her. In Ventura, Axe therefore cannot attack Lina from this position.

The way the game currently works is that any unit will block line of sight to the target, meaning that allies will block your current hero from attacking. I will probably remove ally blocking, but for now let’s see some more examples.

example_02

Zeus can attack Axe in this example, using diagonal positioning to get clear line of sight. Diagonals are always a real pain in Turn Based Tactical games, but I feel that having diagonals allow line of sight gives them an interesting tactical usage and doesn’t feel too weird.

I was worried that this would be too hard to understand, but as the grid is made of squares and the line is drawn from the center… there shouldn’t be many cases where weird angles allow attacks that shouldn’t be possible. A direct Bishop-like angle should provide a means of attack.

example_03

This angle, clearly shouldn’t allow attacking. Remember, at the moment allies block each other. This is likely to change.

What I absolutely love about unit blocking is that positioning becomes extremely important. Each tile not only acts as a position from where to launch attacks, but it also acts as a defensive position from which a unit can block attacks and defend allies. This makes positioning abilities a very useful tool for tanking and therefore gives me another technique for creating high priority tank targets.

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Ventura Mechanics: The ATB

In this series of articles, I’ll be spotlighting individual mechanics in Ventura; explaining why and how I’ve made them. I’m hoping this will not only give you guys insight into the design process, but also help me clarify and distill my own mechanics!

Part I: Turn-Based Tactics Systems

The Active Time Bar is a natural starting point for me because it’s one of the primary reasons I started Haft (the precursor to Ventura). I want to like TBT games, but I never do.

These are the following reasons I dislike them…

  • Turns take too long

  • One mistake is extremely punishing

  • There’s too large of a possibility space

These 3 poignant detractors are all symptoms of the traditional Turn Based Tactics turn-system; Team A, then Team B.

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Team Turns

With Team Turns, you move all your units in one turn. XCOM, Heroes of Might & Magic, and Hearthstone (to some extent) are all examples of this system.

You can focus fire enemies before they can react, but you can also get focus fired before you can react. When making moves and choosing targets, you need to judge exactly what the enemy can do within their turn with all their units before you can be ascertain whether a unit is safe or not.

What this results in is possibility paralysis. I have to play so carefully that every decision I make takes 10x as long. Combine that with having to move 4-5 units at once? Turns are going to take forever! No human opponent is going to sit around waiting for me to make my moves.

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XCOM - Enemy Unknown
XCOM – Enemy Unknown
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Hero Academy uses this format, but it’s designed around ‘play-by-mail’ so there isn’t so much of a problem with it. Ventura is a ‘real-time’ PvP game, where you and your opponent are both in the room (be it virtual or real) at the same time.

The benefit of this system is that it’s obviously really easy to understand, and that you can create combos very easily. As you cannot be interrupted while you make multiple moves, you can combine the powers of units and abilities together to do really cool stuff. These combos are the strategy of the game.

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Alternating Turns

Another approach to Turn-Based Tactics games is the Chess approach. Each player moves one unit, then it’s the next player’s turn.

I dislike this approach more than Team Turns, because it’s almost impossible to perform those strategic combos. I find that these games severely lack in strategic depth and excitement because it’s so hard for you to really do anything interesting. Your units rarely interact. Isn’t the point of having multiple units the interaction between them?

The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga

It also really sucks when there is a disparity in the number of units on each team; The Banner Saga being the major culprit here. If I’m fighting 3v1… my opponent can move his single guy 3 times while my 2-man advantage is basically nullified. Not only does it not make sense logically, it feels very arbitrary.

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Active Time Bars or Initiative

Initiative is my favourite approach to turns. Each unit has an initiative value that determines who has the next turn. When they take their turn, actions add initiative and push them down the turn queue.

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Final Fantasy X: Skip to 1.51 for the actual battle
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It is the best of both worlds as it allows fast turns by moving singular units at once, but it also allows combos as you can have periods where you can move uninterrupted by the enemy.

Initiative becomes a non-transparent statistic that you can manipulate to get what you want. Let’s say you have two Heroes who synergize extremely well together; Claude and Mathilda.

  • Claude has an ability that does two attacks in one turn.

  • Mathilda has an ability that increases attack damage of an ally.

  • You obviously want Mathilda to use her ability on Claude; increasing the power of his double attack.

In a Team Turn system, this is easy peasy. You’ll do this every single time. It’s a great combo! In an Alternating Turn system, you can rarely do this combo. Too much can interrupt the interaction between Claude and Mathilda. What if Claude moves before Mathilda? What if Mathilda buffs Claude and then the enemy moves the only viable Claude target out of his range? If Claude is in range, then obviously you’ll silence Mathilda every time.

Initiative systems allow you to create circumstances where you can perform combos, much more reliably than Alternating Turns. It becomes a strategic option in and of itself. Above is a pretty bad example, but watch the bar with all the faces on the right and you’ll see what I mean about initiative.

Part II: Ventura’s ATB

Initiative felt like the best solution overall. For a game that wants to “Recreate a Dota Battle in a Turn Based Format”, it’s all about combos and synergy between units but it also means interrupting combos and outwitting someone is crucial.

Welcome back to Haft
In Ventura the white number is the Hero’s Initiative value

 

Team turns are too easy for combos, and would rely on excessive mana management or cooldowns to prevent combos being unleashed every single turn. Alternating turns are too hard, removing much of the strategy that I want to capture in Ventura.

Ventura’s turn system is pretty much the most basic form of initiative;

  • Heroes have an initiative score from 0-1000, no Hero has the same score.

  • When players have picked their Heroes, each of the 10 units is sorted in order from the lowest to the highest initiative score

  • The game picks the Hero with the lowest initiative score to have their turn

  • Once the current turn’s hero has taken their move, 1000 initiative is added to their score and -100 initiative is removed from the score of the 9 other Heroes.

Many abilities can affect a Hero’s initiative value, pushing them down the queue or pulling them up. However, there is no initiative value for casting moves or performing actions. If someone doesn’t want to move, that’s their perogative but they won’t gain initiative boosts for it.

Manipulating the Initative bar is a type of strategy in itself, and giving everyone the ability to do it (through inaction) would take away a lot of the flavour of the heroes.

For example, I have Hero designs based around initiative manipulation while other heroes are designed around being naturally slow or vulnerable to initiative changes. Furthermore, remember that paralysis by possibilities? If the initiative bar wasn’t remotely predictable, it wouldn’t solve one of the 3 major issues I have.

The Final Fantasy X example above has initiative values for actions… meaning that every single action has some degree of time to perform; represented on the initiative bar. I don’t want to do this, although it is easy for me to implement if I feel my current system is lacking.

Quick Update

I’ve been working hard on Ventura this week and last, implementing plenty of features. I thought I should give y’all a little GSD update to let you know what I’m working on. Full regular Ventura updates will be posted every Monday on DevPact.com, so check it out.

gsd_second_virtu

Lots of green, as you can see. Ventura‘s systems are very integrated and very simple, so it’s been a joy to work on so far. As mentioned in my latest Monday Update, I’ve been thinking a lot more about ‘Good Code’ and the way I’m programming features. It is a little messy as I add more and more on top of existing systems, but it’s good to keep my eye out for any godawful sinful code practices. I’ve been a slave to copy-pasting code, which would make any seasoned programmer cry!

Most work on Ventura is now based on the Ability System. Not just the coding of it, but also the content. I’m hoping to finish a robust and powerful backend so that the content just creates itself, although I’m sure a lot of the more adventurous abilities will require some custom solutions.

Once the backend is done, I have to create 10 Heroes worth of content before the game is playable. Then it’s technically ready for public eyes, at least in a capacity where I can witness the combat in action and then learn where to take the game before October arrives.