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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.