Unit design is a toothless timesink

By on August 26, 2010 5:16:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Demiansky

Join Date 03/2008
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What the title says.  Tactical battles are so simplistic that designing a specialized unit is, well, not really even possible.  If I'm aiming for autocalculation, I design for getting the most efficient "unit weight" for my buck.  If I'm designing to be effective in tactical battles, I just pile on as much whoop-ass I can.  Get a new tech?  Add additional increment of whoop-ass to all newly trained units.  What.  A.  Timesink.  Isn't this what we were all dreading from the start might happen?  And now that Stardock has changed their tune on the significance of tactical battles, we can continue to expect unit design to be meaningless. 

This theme runs throughout Elemental and is the biggest persistent flaw.  There are plenty of decisions to make, but very often there are a few obvious "best" decisions" each game or, at the least, the best decision is very obvious.  What does this leave us with?  Lots of busy work.

Personally, I think unit design beyond minor cosmetics should be left to modders and the game should return to Master of Magic's tried and true method.  First, make tactical combat meaningful.  If you have to, go ahead and just plagiarize Master of Magic's tactical combat to a tee.  In other words, give units conspicuous special abilities that have specialized relevance on the battlefield.  Then, add plenty of core units in the game that certain races and civilizations have access to and that become unlocked when you gain a special resource or a certain tech (or can be hired as mercenaries as special moments).  Then, use the modding tools to create a vast resevoir of unique units that can be shuffled into each new game to fit certain "niches."  Some games you might see Lizard Man Spear Throwers show up at your city.  Other games you might see Gnoll Grapplers trudging through the country side.      

As of now, however, explicit unit design in Elemental is a drag and a source of imbalance: another feature that produces a burst of intrigue within a casual onlooker, but damages the game.

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August 26, 2010 5:31:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Agree 100% this is one of my main problems at the moment.

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August 26, 2010 5:35:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

same here

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August 26, 2010 5:36:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Some times I use it to make a unit with a lot more hitting power than the designer makes automatically.

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August 26, 2010 5:44:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The problem with this feature, and the major endemic design problem with both the development of this game and Demigod, can be summarized thusly:

A bunch of neat features were put together without enough thought given to an over-arching design plan that would integrate these features into enjoyable overall gameplay.

As a sandbox game, this has manifested itself in Elemental as a bunch of meaningless timesinks. Unit design is neat-o, but if there isn't any need for strategic decision making that has wider gamplay implications, then who cares? Rather, there is a strategic decision to be made, namely to maximize damage output... but that's a rather robotic "decision" to make...

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August 26, 2010 5:49:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Polistes,
Some times I use it to make a unit with a lot more hitting power than the designer makes automatically.

Right, there are a few minor things you can do with the designer, but they are all "gimmes."  That's not how unit design is supposed to work.  Let me illustrate how it should work, with MOO2 as an example.

In Master of Orion 2, I would spend a long time in front of the ship design interface.  After all, how you outfitted your vessels had a huge impact on the outcome of a war.  Did I want to load my ships with one shot missile batteries for one big punch and risk losing out in battles that required long term sustainability?  Or should I give my ships smaller salvos but extra ammo, giving me that sustainability element but risk having them plucked out of the sky by point defense?  Should I use neutron guns to kill their onboard marines or a fusion cannon which gives me better accuracy?  Should I make them heavy mounts to add extra damage to capital ships or leave them standard to give me the option of firing on enemy missiles?  Should I give my ships heavy armor at extra cost or just build extra ships?  There were countless decisions like this to make and each one had bearing on your overall grand strategy throughout the game.  If your race thrived at ground combat, you could build a fleet that specilized at boarding and capturing ships.  If you had a race that could repair their ships quickly in combat, you could design a fleet of ships that piled on extra armor.  You might build a fleet that had nimble frigates, capable of zipping ahead and locking down enemy ships with tracter beams so that your larger vessels with oaffy, innaccurate heavy mount weapons could pour pools of plasma death onto the enemy with impunity.  The possibilities were endless.  Weapons had functions, not piled on, tedious percentages.  Every weapon you ever researched stayed useful throughout the entire game.  The "best strategy" changed with every new landscape of every new game.

What does Elemental offer in unit design that enhances the game?  Shiny new swords that you have to squint to see on the battle map that does X percent more damage than the slightly less shiny sword you had equipped your soldiers with before.

   

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August 26, 2010 5:50:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting scyldSCHEFING,
The problem with this feature, and the major endemic design problem with both the development of this game and Demigod, can be summarized thusly:

A bunch of neat features were put together without enough thought given to an over-arching design plan that would integrate these features into enjoyable overall gameplay.

As a sandbox game, this has manifested itself in Elemental as a bunch of meaningless timesinks. Unit design is neat-o, but if there isn't any need for strategic decision making that has wider gamplay implications, then who cares? Rather, there is a strategic decision to be made, namely to maximize damage output... but that's a rather robotic "decision" to make...

Exactly.  This is precisely what I'm getting at!

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August 26, 2010 6:02:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

There is a lot to this post.

In addition, the worst thing with Elemental's unit design system is that all units look and feel more or less the same. All are human with more or less same weapons and abilities. It is just too realistic and down-to-Earth, kitchen-sink boring. Not enough flavor, fantasy, special abilities, different functions in the game. Already when the idea of designing only-human units this way was trumpeted out by FB on the forum way back I cringed and complained. As of today's version, it seems SD didn't find any solution to the drawbacks pointed out to them back then. If ever they were taken seriously. But why not copy the other great strategy games like MoM and AoW where these worked well? 

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August 26, 2010 6:08:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I disagree. There are perfectly viable pre fab units available for people who dont want to mess with designing their own army. Modders will provide more. Do there need to be *more* options for differentiation?  Yes.  But at any given time, a human mind is going to make better decisions about the types of units they make in a given situation, even if it's a decision about whether they want a unit to cost two crystals, or one.

The ability to research exactly the tech you want, and fashion exactly the unit you want to fit with your concept of your empire, is exactly what the game is about, and has a value all it's own. If you decide you want to have an order of fast, mobile opportunistic backfield strikers with bladed weapon, who can kill handfuls of low armor targets a round, named the Crimson Blades, while you have a slow, heavy blunt weapon one hit per turn units to deal with High defense targets, the game lets you do that. As more options are added in, the flavors of units you can make will increase.

It's a sandbox game built around player choice and customization, in order for player to design their *own* story experience. If you don't understand the appeal of that, this is simply not the right game for you. There are other games that focus on pure tactical combat much better than EWOM, with very little empire strategy or customization to worry about.

 

Custom empires and designing my own units is *the* reason I play the game.

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August 26, 2010 6:08:12 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Maybe make weapon types like slashing and piercing be more obvious wouldn't hurt either.

 

As far as I can tell there are 3 damage types in the game, blunt, slashing and piercing.  These damage types need to be more distinct with obvious strengths and weakness.   From what it seems right now the big difference are

Blunt - does the most damage, slowest

Slashing- does medium damage, quickest

Piercing - does least amount of damage but better suited against armor

 

I'm not saying they should do what they did in Galciv2 (have a certain armor that affects a certain weapon).  However there just needs to be more obvious benefits/weaknesses to using certain weapons and armor rather then just cost and materials.

 

Maybe even adding in duel wielding along with 2 handed combat as an option (offhand weapon would do less damage of course and be limited to daggers and such making those weapons still useful).

 

Adding on with added unit combat abilities would go a long way in making real heavy choices when it comes to unit design.

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August 26, 2010 6:09:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting the Gorgon,
There is a lot to this post.

In addition, the worst thing with Elemental's unit design system is that all units look and feel more or less the same. All are human with more or less same weapons and abilities. It is just too realistic and down-to-Earth, kitchen-sink boring. Not enough flavor, fantasy, special abilities, different functions in the game. Already when the idea of designing only-human units this way was trumpeted out by FB on the forum way back I cringed and complained. As of today's version, it seems SD didn't find any solution to the drawbacks pointed out to them back then. If ever they were taken seriously. But why not copy the other great strategy games like MoM and AoW where these worked well? 

I couldn't agree more.  But instead of copying the other great fantasy games they copied...  every other game made by Stardock.  So what do we get?  Instead of unique weapons with tactical significance we get... +X percentages.  Instead of unique buildings that demands of the player careful thinking, we get... +X percentages.  Okay, it was good enough for Galactic Civs and Sins, but it doesn't work one bit in Elemental.

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August 26, 2010 6:14:39 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

well, yeah i can see you point.  i love the game, but there really isn't much in the way of choices beyond attack/def/cost balance.  i think they need to assign certain abilities to their weapons and armor. such as resistances to armor, damage types to weapons. i made a thread about getting polearm units to have first strike. add in a bunch more kits(like medic, and ranger kits).  stuff that makes the battles more about tactics than maximizing your defense bonus by picking the right tile to stand on and making sure you always get that first hit in.  i mean i like that stuff too, love the terrain bonuses.

since this isn't the beta i am not sure however if they will make such changes to the game.  here's hoping!

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August 26, 2010 6:15:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Right now I agree with you Demiansky, but I would wait until mulitplayer to see how it goes.

But, yea, right now I just make a unit with the best weapon and armor and run house.

 

Maybe if each armor had a version better for blocking arrows, or cutting weapons, or the maces. I don't know if it does.

Right now, even if maces are slow, I just stock up with armor and survive the first attack.

 

 

 

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August 26, 2010 6:50:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

At the moment, there are only really two major decisions to make: "Melee or ranged?" and "How far are you willing to go to get up to 2.1 combat speed?".  Apart from that, every unit functions exactly the same as every other unit regardless of what equipment you give them.  It's going to wear thin in a hurry, and I don't think it's going to change as long as the game sticks to the "every unit is based on a peasant" design.

I'd way rather have a set of fixed unit types like Master of Magic than this "design anything you want except it doesn't actually matter" system.  I think it's possible to work out a compromise if the matter is given enough attention, though.  You could give swords, maces, and spears active and passive abilities that affect a lot more than just basic stats.  You could have multiple starting archtypes...like in addition to peasants, you could start with, say, a Berserker or Templar representing an individual who actually had some combat experience before being recruited.  They would still need to be equipped, but they'd have different base stats and stat multipliers, unique active and passive abilities, and of course a higher training time/cost.  And different factions could have access to different class types (differentiation between different factions of the same allegiance is something else that's currently lacking).  Way more monster types available to both the Kingdoms and Empires would help too, as long as they have their own distinct abilities.  Right now, spiders are functionally identical to human swordsmen and shrills are just mace-users, which is no fun.

The way damage, defense, and grouped soldiers are handled could all use an overhaul, too, but that's largely a separate issue.

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August 26, 2010 7:09:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

http://forums.elementalgame.com/393123

 

Addresses this issue indirectly by adding another stat, fatigue.  Thus you can balance weapons by making them tire your units more quickly, or giving maluses to hitting or dodging.

 

So take your biggest damage weapon, but realize that your unit can only swing it 5 times before their ability to hit anything begins to degrade, as well as their ability to resist taking hits.

 

While your unit with a smaller weapon can keep on whacking away twice as much.

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August 26, 2010 7:10:24 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Spyndel,

It's a sandbox game built around player choice and customization, in order for player to design their *own* story experience. If you don't understand the appeal of that, this is simply not the right game for you. There are other games that focus on pure tactical combat much better than EWOM, with very little empire strategy or customization to worry about.

If your idea of unit customization is the ability to change your units' hairstyle and clothing appearance, then yes, the customization of units in this game is satisfying.

However, if your ideas around customization extend more into actually affecting gameplay substantially, you'd see how this game's unit design options leave a lot to be desired.

 

As DragonRider682 put it,

Quoting DragonRider862,
At the moment, there are only really two major decisions to make: "Melee or ranged?" and "How far are you willing to go to get up to 2.1 combat speed?".  Apart from that, every unit functions exactly the same as every other unit regardless of what equipment you give them.  It's going to wear thin in a hurry, and I don't think it's going to change as long as the game sticks to the "every unit is based on a peasant" design.

I'd way rather have a set of fixed unit types like Master of Magic than this "design anything you want except it doesn't actually matter" system. 

 

 

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August 26, 2010 7:11:11 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

There's really only a sampling of the things they eventually want to get into the mix in the game right now.  When damage vs armor types are made more transparent, that will help. In addition some units have special abilities, and they wanted to do more of these. I can easily see research-able magic items or kits that grant special tactical abilities to units, like the assassination ability, or that smiting ability some heroes have. If magic resistances are made transparent, I can see gems that give resistances of certain types, but that would probably accompany a significant overhaul of the magic system.

 

 

I just played a game where I came across a sweet beach front property on the other side of the map, that I would be able to build a city close enough to build a harbor, and still be able to claim the valuable horse and crystal resources nearby. I wanted it. But it was close to another civ, and I had no idea when they might claim it. It was far away though, and through some wilderness that had some free roaming spiders and bandits.

I decided to build a specially trained pioneer just for the situation, that was maxed out on speed items. But I had no escorts available, and they would have just slowed him down anyways. So I gave him just enough armor and a good enough weapon, to survive any incidental encounters he couldn't out maneuver, without adding any training time.

Elsewhere in the map, I had a lone champion in a city influence and out of move points, without adequate armor, that was in imminent danger from a swarm of spiders that would probably attack next turn, but I didn't want to delay construction of my super pioneer. So I altered the design to cost just a little bit less, by using a magic crystal item instead of a costly kit to give speed, enough to have enough left over that turn to buy my endangered hero a torso piece that provided enough protection to shrug off most of the blows that otherwise would have overwhelmed him en masse.

 

A highly specific situation to be sure, but that's what the designer buys you... maximum flexibility and control at any given time. Not to mention the satisfaction of defining your own story, not letting someone else do it for you.  And it will get better when more options are introduced to the game.

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August 26, 2010 7:31:01 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

All units must have a special ability. Special abilities should also be trainable in the unit designer. That would make both unit design and tactical battles more fun. As it stands right now, there really isnt much to do other than just pump up the attack value or maybe combat speed. The only units I control that have special abilities are summoned units and a demon unit that I managed to build towards the end. Both the special abilities were pretty bland to boot. 

Actually the only 2 types of abilities I've seen so far are deal x dmg to everyone, lose next attack, and a spider webbing someone. Thats it.

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August 26, 2010 7:32:23 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Personally the design feature is one of the biggest reasons I like elemental. Even if it isn't important it's still there which is more than I can say for any other fantasy 4x game. Yes, it leaves a lot to be desired, the whole game does, but I think like the direction its going in. I wouldn't like the game nearly as much if I lost the option to pick and choose what roles my troops play and how they play those roles. I've never liked being restricted to what the game gave me for units because if I were designing an empire I would design my troops to fit.

Sure, you can go for the route of simply having the most effective units, but I wanted more than that, and that's why I like Elemental. Even if its a flawed system at least it has a system that can and will be improved upon. Taking it out would be a horrible mistake.

Like others have said though there are things I would like to see in it. I would like to see more pole-arms and more equipment variations. All things that I'm sure we'll get in time either though official patches or dedicated modding teams.

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August 26, 2010 7:35:44 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Same as Gal Civ 2, designing is more of a customization feature than changing actual gameplay.

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August 26, 2010 7:43:57 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I agree that I wish this game had more special abilities.  

(e.g.  paying a cost to give a unit 'big shield' special ability, for example.  Likely from a shield equiped to the unit.  Or giving 'first strike' likely by equipping a lance or spear of some special sort)

However I disagree with leaving customization up to moders.  Frankly, its the people who don't mod that will likely take the most enjoyment out of customizing their units.  (since moders will want more complex customization)

Time sinks are good in my book.   If I buy a game and waste 10 hours creating a character... that's 10 hours for that game.   I mean, already you've got a better time/money ratio than a movie.  (if you did not enjoy those 10 hours, you likely should not do it)

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August 26, 2010 7:44:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting scyldSCHEFING,
The problem with this feature, and the major endemic design problem with both the development of this game and Demigod, can be summarized thusly:

A bunch of neat features were put together without enough thought given to an over-arching design plan that would integrate these features into enjoyable overall gameplay.

As a sandbox game, this has manifested itself in Elemental as a bunch of meaningless timesinks. Unit design is neat-o, but if there isn't any need for strategic decision making that has wider gamplay implications, then who cares? Rather, there is a strategic decision to be made, namely to maximize damage output... but that's a rather robotic "decision" to make...

 

I have been expressing similar concerns throughout the entire beta but no one really cared to listen. I speculated that Elemental game design was too spread out into too many different areas and not focusing on one single mechanic. My personal opinion would be to have eliminated tactical battles altogether and polish and make the rest of the game fun. Instead everything is watered down.

I also suggested making all the gameplay elements interact with one another. As you say what is the point of unit design if it is only fluff? What is the point of questing? These various gameplay mechanics don't interact and play well with each other. There were tons of feedback about how to make all these elements fit together and have meaning but not much was used.

For example I suggested getting rid of inns altogether or improve them. There was so much discussion on inns, magic, questing, but to me not much really changed from our feedback. I wish they kept the game actually more simple and made what work polished and fun.

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August 26, 2010 7:55:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well you guys need to keep resource costs in mind also. I needed some cheap, but still strong soldiers to guard my outer cities from monster attacks, but I had so many outposts that needed defending that I couldn't possibly give them all metal armor. Instead I outfitted them with leather armor and gave them two handed maces. They were still strong enough to deal with anything the game would throw at me at that time, but cheap as hell so I could spam them throughout my kingdom.

Of course there's room for improvement in the unit editor, but it's nowhere near as bad as you guys make it out to be.

 

Also I think there'll more need for specific unit types once the AI starts getting good at the game.

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August 26, 2010 7:55:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The customization has its heart in the right place but as others mentioned, it really need to provide tactical variation to be interesting. Simply adding more and more powerful weapons and armor is just too boring. Fortunately, we have a world with magic, so a lot of stuff can be added along that principle.

The MOO2 ideas as some of the best, we need to have weapons or special abilities that work with some kind of theme. For example weapons that prevent counter-attacks, weapons that stop movement, weapons that reduce armor etc. One needs to be able to form an army that works together as a unit with some strategy.

For example, lets say that I equip a unit of mine with a weapon that does immense amounts of damage, but reduces defense also quite a lot. Obviously I don't want that unit to get hit, even with counter attacks. So perhaps I include another unit in my army that carries nets. This is an ability that when used on a unit, prevents them from moving or counter attacking for 1 turn. Or perhaps I use another unit which I've equipped with a lot of armor and given items which increase their combat speed. Then I attack a lot of times with it to spend their counter-attacks before bringing in my heavy hitter.

The current system, like any system that allows making your own combat units, like the MOO series, can only make sense if it allows you to built units with very diverse abilities. At the moment it is left lacking. Fortunately it seems that Stardock also wants to go that direction. Lets see how soon though.

I think part of this was the way that Space 4x games limit what you can load on a ship, this really makes you think if you want offense/defense or special abilities. Unfortunately EWOM doesn't have such limit. Any soldier can get any armor and any number of magic items. I think the unlimited magic items on a soldier is by mistake and it's meant to be limited. Once it is, and we also start to get some special abilities on armor and weapons then customization will start making more sense.

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August 26, 2010 8:05:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I really like the Unit Design concept, its a really cool feature but as of now there really isn't much depth to it. I also think that it reeks with potential, and there many many things that could be done improve the current system into something that can end up offering more interesting choices than just worrying about being ranged or melee.

One thing that could be done to spice up unit design could be to add special abilities to soldiers related to the weapon they wield. For example, if your unit had a Spear, you could have an ability that allowed you to attack and avoid getting countered. When soldiers level up, they could get acess to a new ability related to the spear, so on so forth for other weapon types.

So that idea is nice and all, but theres still so much that could be done. Another thing that could add some more interesting choices could be the Packs. These packs could be used to mix and match with weapons to form cool effects. For example take the first spear example, if you equipped said unit with a spear there could be a "Specialist Pack" and with it you would unlock a Special Ability related to the weapon the unit is wielding. In the case if a Spear user, it could be "Form SpearWall" activated ability that increased effectiveness against cavalry units.

These are just some examples of what could be done with unit design, and although its just one I'm sure people can come up with many more effects that would make designing units not a chore, but a set of interesting choices.

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August 26, 2010 8:09:32 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting greggbert,
Same as Gal Civ 2, designing is more of a customization feature than changing actual gameplay.

 

I beg to differ there in Galciv2 you had to worry about 3 types of weapons and 3 types of defences. You also had to balance out versatility (range, sensors, armor, group effect).  It's much more fleshed out but it was worked on for 3 years (if you include the expansions).

 

 

Right now the current system in Elemental is basically quality vs quantity.  The real choice I make is based on "should I use hordes of cheap low XP units which are faster to make" or should I go with "Hiigh quality fully decked out troops".

 

I mean technically you could just give a peasant the most powerful weapon you have and no armor (maybe a helmet), then build them en mass as a first attack unit (make sure they hit first).  No need to give XP bonus cause that makes them take longer to train, this allows you to pump out a huge amount of cheap conscript armies.

 

The other side of the spectrum involves really well trained and armored soldiers designed to take a beating as well as dish it out.

 

I guessthe 3rd type of soldier someone can make is a tower soldier.  One with lots of defence but poor offence abilities, designed to draw fire but I don't think that would be effective.

 

This combined with the soldier types like melee, range, magic basically means I do have options but I want more distinct differences between even weapons of the same type.  More kits and armor options (like chainmaiil giving better speed but plate offering more protection with slower movement).   Even abilites to make our own magical weapons like I make a sword with leech abilities that steals restores 1hp for hit or multiple enchantment for items.  Things like that could really spice up the unit designer.

 

Also just a pet peave - How come my banner isn't on my sheilds?  I loved in Galciv2 I could give all my ships flags or faction emblems, I want to give my horsemen a Banner that boost morale with my crest, or when they are armies we have a flag holder in the front.  Little touches like that go a long way.

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