1.06 Constructive Criticism from beyond the grave

By on August 27, 2010 5:38:18 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Join Date 02/2006

With a bizarre feeling of deja vu, I went back and reread my post on the GC2 forums (oddly enough, from August 24th 2006) in which I listed some constructive criticism which Stardock seemed interested enough in (Kryo replied nearly immediately)




Oddly enough, almost all of the shortcomings I felt were inherent in GC2 and I felt lingering in what I could see of Elemental (after all, we Beta testers did not get a taste of the "real game" until release), I can see now. I still have similar concrete suggestions now, for Elemental, and hope that these might be looked upon with an open mind.


First: The Map, Terrain, and Movement. In GC2, one main shortcoming was the uniform map, due mostly to its space theme setting -- there were no terrain variations which yielded strategic choices (e.g. chokepoints e.g. pathing decisions). I feel that Elemental is not much better. In most other games of this genre, attention to the map and its features is key, for many reasons; in Elemental, one need mostly look at the "glowing bits", and treat the rest as a relatively uniform, if cosmetically varied, surface. Why? Two factors. Factor one: Terrain features (grassland, forest, swamp, hills, etc.) do not appear to play a significant factor in modifying a unit's movement, nor do they play a significant factor in any other aspect of the game except for defensive bonuses (whose exact workings are unclear). Factor two: Most units in Elemental move at a uniform speed, and most apparently do not have flags for being affected by terrain. This is different in most other land-based strategy games, and for good reason: they give the player options in making interesting strategic choices. Because Elemental lacks these in this context, it becomes, in my opinion, that much more lackluster.


In games like Civilization or Dominions, it matters a lot which terrain tiles (e.g. jungle or swamp, grasslands or hills, etc.) are in your zone of control; in Elemental, it doesn't seem to matter at all. In fact, the only real use for zone of control that I can see is that it lets you own shards. Thus Elemental's map is very much like GC2's: a wide open, uniform field, whose sole characteristics were "resources" (shards). As I tried to describe in my post from August 2006, this detracts from the game's strategic elements and makes it less fun.




(1) Make terrain (and not merely terrain enhancements, such as fertile land) matter to economy, city building, questing, neutral spawning, and the chance of yielding special events, e.g. hills will have a greater chance of harboring metals but will rarely yield food. This might require reworking the resources system (e.g. making resource requirements and units of measurement larger and more dispersed). By that I mean it might make it easier to count if "food" increments were increased by 10, so that for example a hut required 10 food, and so on; I would suggest making farms provide 20 food (or 2 food in the current system) and letting grassland tiles provide 0.25 food (or less in the old system), forest tiles provide 0.25 materials, hills provide 0.25 metal, and swamps provide a slight chance of something interesting to spawn. One could also imagine that with the correct technological advancements (e.g. in civilization or adventuring), one could glean additional boni, e.g. with hills, there might be a chance of finding "caves" if Adventure Level X is unlocked, etc., while plain grassland should yield an additional slight food bonus...

(2) Give movement bonuses (for certain units) on certain terrain types and penalties on others. This should apply predominately to the strategic map, but also to the tactical map. On the tactical map, terrain should also affect LOS for ranged attacks and fog of war. Age of Wonders did ok with this many years ago. 




Second: Unit Creation: Much like the Firaxis "Civilization" series, the factions in Elemental hardly differ from one another. While this is a weakness in the Firaxis franchise (since that game has premade "units" to buy: there is no excuse to not having more uniqueness), it doesn't seem so bad in Elemental, because here the player doesn’t have any units to buy, since the player creates her units during play. True variety found in other types of strategy games (e.g. Warcraft III, Dominions, Sword of the Stars, Age of Wonders) come about by having real weaknesses and advantages in their recruitable units.
But unfortunately, there isn’t really much variety in Elemental. We can change defense, attack, and speed of our units, but most of my units tend to feel the same. In part, this might be due to a weakness in the combat system (see below). I want to have more fun designing units and having them play against my opponents; I want to have more fun choosing which units would be better in specific contexts -- and not which ones are simply better. If I do not need to think which unit I need to make (because it is clear: Unit A is simply better than Unit B, not different), then that is one strategic choice less.



(1) All units, but especially trainable units, should have the statistics that sovereigns have, and these statistics should be tied into spells, the morale system, and combat, so that modifying them has wide-reaching effects. Introduce armor as a damage mitigator and make defence a to-hit negator. Introduce damage values which are distinct from the attack rating, which could be a to-hit value. Introduce abilities tied simultaneously to terrain, to zone of control, and to a unit's statistics (e.g. "camouflage", unlockable with Tech X, which adds 4 base turns to training time, giving a unit +Y defence when in a forest tile in its own zone of control (and +Y/2 outside of it), a Charisma*2 % chance to dodge ranged attacks, and a +Z to its first attack per combat).

(2) Units should be able to train more and more varied special abilities which increase their training time, and at least some of these special abilities should be faction specific.



Third: Technology. The technology advancement scheme in Elemental is much better than that of GC2 -- well done. Yet it still feels unsurprising and uniform. I know that researching warfare gets me more ouchies, and that this will never be a prerequisite for something else. In the mid-game, I often feel that I am in a rut -- a feeling I rarely got in technology exploration in other games of this genre (e.g. Civilization or Dominions). In Elemental, the technological advancement scheme does not feel like an interestingly intertwined tree, but more like a set of five discrete shops. It feels too straightforward, lacking in enchantment.


Suggestion: Introduce more interesting and varied abilities enabled with cross-path technological breakthroughs (see please: http://forums.elementalgame.com/369399); my suggestion of camouflage (above) could be gotten from mixing adventure and warfare.  


Fourth: Factions: The factions feel very similar to one another. Even Civilization IV's very similar factions felt more different.



(1) Introduce faction-unique special abilities that may be researched to become unlocked. There should be faction-specific unit-enhancing abilities (e.g. Shield Wall: any unit with a shield may activate this ability and gain +Y to defence, an Intelligence*3% chance to dodge any ranged attack, but have their action points reduced by 40%) or unlockable faction-specific terrain-enhancing abilities (e.g. the ability to gain .1 food for every grassland tile in zone of control).

(2) Introduce faction-specific city-enhancing abilities (e.g. "Baffle", a researchable ability which gives your enemies false information as to the combat rating of garrisoned units (instead of a rating of, e.g. 100, it might give a range between 40 and 160 at Baffle level 2)), and faction-specific city buildings.

(3) Introduce faction-specific spells. These need not be combat-related. I could even imagine something like faction-specific spells that allowed the caster to gain +.01 materials per forest tile in his zone of control for the next X turns.




Fifth: Combat. I think this has been touched on by a number of people. I still feel that it was a great mistake not to let the Beta team test this element of Elemental. As it is, combat does not feel fun, mostly because it is -- despite it's almost bizarrely exaggerated random element -- predictable.

Moreover, the tactical battlefield feels disenchanted; I remember screenshots from the winter of 2010 where we saw what appeared to be huge armies scattered across the battlefield, scampering in chaos from the clutches of  a dragon. My battlefields seem barren, with my few units in their huge tiles duking it out one-on-one. I think a lot can be learned from older games, such as the HOMM, AoW (17 years ago!), Fallout, or Jagged Alliance series, or niche games such as Dominions.



(1) Attack values as to-hit, damage values separate; defence values as to-hit mitigation, armor values as damage mitigation. Use 1d6 open-ended for rolls instead of 0 to X, where X is the attack / defence rating.

(2) Logistics needs to be revamped so that unit stacks do not become the monsters they are now, since these devalue sovereigns, champions and other non-stackable units. 

(3) Re-size tiles in tactical combat to allow for footprints -- friendly human-sized units should be able to move into the same tile as others, up to, say, 6 or 8. Larger units (trolls, golems) can only have, say, 3 or 4. Giants only 2 or 3. The footprint of dragons should take up 1 tile. This would also give more flair to tactical battles (remember the early screenshots from early- or pre-beta?).

(4) more special abilities, more faction-specific abilities, as above.

(5) more interaction with unit statistics (e.g. charisma for morale boni, etc.) for more varied buffing / debuffing.



Sixth: Magic: The magic books feel very similar to one another. They are all easy to get, but I still have not yet seen a real difference between them. Some of the spells are far too powerful (Teleportation), and others seem to be too bland (Protect Friend).


If you introduce more of the suggestions listed here, there will be more variables which magic can play upon. Imagine what you could do with buffs that increase armor at a penalty to defense, or those which increase the charisma of all friendly units on the field, or increase the chance of stealth.



Seventh: What Others Have: Many of us love stealth, espionage, disease, fear, and other staples of games of this or any other genre. There is no shame in benefiting from the good ideas of others.


I'm pretty sure that there is great consensus that the UI needs work, and I am confident that this will take place in due time.

Thanks for listening






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August 27, 2010 5:54:21 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Good stuff.


We have seen many, many posts with similar ideas. This isn't a knock on you, just a confirmation that many of us are with ya!

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August 27, 2010 4:06:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Goontrooper,
Good stuff.


We have seen many, many posts with similar ideas. This isn't a knock on you, just a confirmation that many of us are with ya!

Oh hey thanks. I hadn't seen much on maps or terrain, or unit creation, which was my original idea in posting, and had bugged me particularly because these were the same suboptimal features of GC2 which kept me from playing that game. I find it odd that history seems to repeat itself. Or Stardock. Maybe Stardock games are just not my cup of tea...

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August 29, 2010 2:16:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

After many hours of testing, updated for 1.06

I still think the remarks on terrain / boardplay and unit footprinting in tactical battles remain unchanged and most needed of attention (also the points I see addressed least frequently in other posts of similar nature). Thank you.

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August 29, 2010 5:54:50 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

A wise man one said: "Good Artists copy, Great Artists steal"

Is is not meant that you should just clone any good thing - it means that you should take the bits that work well and then add to them or turn them into something new.

Take the Master of Magic combat system. I hate to say it but the MoM's tactical combat system is superior when compared to Elementals. With a bell-distribution of damage (and defense) you could have a guess on how effective Unit A was against unit B. With Elemental's even distribution every attack is a big gamble and not tactics. Just take the good points from that combat system, and improve on it. Keep the morale system, it seems fun. But how about Boni for flanking units? How about the ability to deploy reserves? How about multi-turn battles?

There are many more examples how gradual improvement might work better than trying to reinvent the wheel. Don't be afraid to use them.

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August 29, 2010 5:59:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

  Make terrain (and not merely terrain enhancements, such as fertile land) matter to economy, city building, questing, neutral spawning, and the chance of yielding special events

They do. Neutral spawns occur in forests, and they also cost twice as much for a unit to move through, as well as blocking building.

I'm not sure I agree really; every map I get has that many impassable mountains that it gets claustrophobic. A little more openness would be welcome.


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August 30, 2010 4:57:21 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Hmn, perhaps it is my failure to grasp the feedback the UI may be offering, but I have not seen yet movement modifiers for terrain differences.

I agree with you about impassible mountains -- I do not wish for these. Rather, I wish for my zone of control to MEAN something. Currently, it is moot whether my faction has 64000 or 64 tiles of forest, mountains, grasslands, swamps, or what have you under its control, since owning tiles yields nothing. Aside from the occasional shard or other additional tile enhancement, owning land has no gameplay effect -- it feels like empty space. While I found this lacking in GC2, it was somehow excusable, it being a space game; here, I find it very frustrating. I want it to make a difference. I'm not saying it needs to be CivIV or Dominions 3 or any other similar game, but I want it to be more fun in that regard.

Concrete suggestions would include making basic tiles have some sort of yield (small portion of food, materials, prestige, etc.) to unit interaction (swampland camouflage, etc.) to magical interaction (Summon Treant in forests, Avalanche in mountains, Harvest Wood, etc. etc.) or even context-specific multi-interactions (for example a spell which gives a buff to heroes so that for X turns, each unit they command in battle gets a +1 to attack for each point of charisma over 8 that champion has, but only in forests or in hills or whatever).

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August 30, 2010 5:24:16 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree with pretty much all of this. I'd like terrain to actually mean something and give city placement some real strategy, and I miss the MoM/AoW battle system where almost every unit had unique abilities.

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August 30, 2010 9:57:05 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I second pretty much all of this, altough for me the priority lies defintely in fleshing out the magic system (and with it the combat).

I mean this isnt called war of magic for nothing, right?

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August 31, 2010 5:52:49 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Several good points.

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August 31, 2010 6:29:08 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Very nice post -  if I may I'd like to add my two cents. Had been thinking about posting myself, but far shorter - this game lacks severly in variety. If I read your list, most (not all, but most) of your points can be boiled down to a huge lack of variety, or strategic options. Thanks for being so elaborate about it - drives the point home very nicely!  Similar to you, the situation reminds me a lot of GalCiv2. There it got somewhat better with the expansions. But really, this game has some advantages in comparison to GalCiv2 - as you said, meaningful terrain is important. That is easier to realize with actual terrain. Also, a "War of Magic" game can easily boast a lot of varied and and meaningful spells and troops, which are simply not there. Really, people mainly focus on the bugs. Most seem to think that as soon as the bugs are gone this game is going to be great. No, sorry. It needs a lot of work on the content side as well.


Thanks for the great post !

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