Sunday, June 28, 2015

Code Red - Dev Diary 13: Continuous Improvement Process

Alright, I haven´t updated this in quite a while, so it is high time to continue.

Going into playtesting means the development of major features is slowing down, so I didn´t have that many ground breaking design decisions to outline here. However, many small changes were made to fix the deficiencies we discovered during playtesting.

One of the early changes we introduced was giving the Underbarrel Grenade Launcher a new special role and feature to differentiate it from any other weapon. UGLs were reformed to do a lot more damage against large, clumped mobs while it is less effective against small units.
It is also exempt from the spotting rule, i.e. plopping a grenade down range somewhere into the next treeling will do damage, no matter if you fully spotted the enemy or not. We think that the changes give a much better feel to the weapon and set it apart from standard rifles or machine guns. As you can only use it once per turn, you are forced to make a choice when to use it or wether to withhold your fire until the time is right to tear apart that large mob in front of you later in the turn or use your UGL right now against a smaller team that is shooting at you at just that moment.

One of the major issues we discovered was the way wounds were handled. Our early playtesting versions required a lot of die rolling to determine wether (or which) special weapon in a unit was hit. We found that to be extremely unelegant and cumbersome.
We discussed several approaches to determining random casualties in a team, but all had significant shortcomings in one or more dimensions, so we discarded each any any approach.

On top of that, people frequently forgot the rather detailed effects we gave the units that had suffered losses and had wounded figures. And by frequently I mean we rarely accounted for it at all.
Our conclusion was that the effects were just too detailed and not interesting enough to focus the attention with all the difficult decisions to make. So we simplified the effects, especially for light wounds. To counterbalance this, we tweaked the wound distribution by ruling that two light wounds would add up to a serious wound, while two serious wounds would mean a dead soldier.

For wound distribution, we finally decided to try a different thing by throwing random determination of casualties over board and tested how the game would behave if the players were free to determine their casualties on their own (most of the time).
Unsurprisingly it lead to the outcome that important figures always fall last, but it added an interested dimension of choice:  What are your priorities in the given situation / which figure IS your most important?  In some cases, it´s pretty clear (if Leaders are attached to a unit for example), but in most of the cases, the choice is not as obvious as you might think, especially if casualties start mounting.
Once your standard rifleman are lightly wounded (or worse) you´ll have to decide if you want to keep your UGL or LMG operational or if you want to risk the life of the already lightly wounded riflemen (who are much more likely now to be critically hit and die in due course)

This rule also means that Snipers and Designated Marksmen are now much more important, because these are the only tools to influence casualty distribution - if these inflict casualties the attacker gets to choose which model becomes casualty.

Not everything regarding this rule is final yet, we´re still testing and experimenting, but it definitely has improved the flow of the game so far while not terribly upsetting the balance. So far, it´s simple, it´s mostly fun and we just need to iron out a few problematic aspects to get this going.

Next, we did a lot of tweaking on the morale mechanics as the game had the tendency to bog down in our early test versions. Once your units were pinned down and thoroughly suppressed it was very hard to break the deadlock and get one side to assault. This also led to bad situations where the inferior side would get shot to pieces because they wouldn´t retreat despite heavy losses as they weren´t allowed to move with a pin marker.
As a result, we added the ability to force enemies into retreat by inflicting enough morale effects. You can literally push your enemy out of a position, even a well entrenched one -  if you apply sufficient firepower. If units exceed a morale threshold they´ll simply fall back (with the added risk of taking additional casualties, as moving under fire is dangerous) instead of staying in a position where they are doomed to be annihilated.
This added a lot of dynamic to the bogged down battles and just felt right. From my Arma-Experience, how the game flows right now is just what I experience in our coop gaming sessions.

Furthermore, we´re preparing the next version for internal playtesting which will introduce vehicle combat. I´ve been keeping a draft of these ready for quite some time and did several test games under my supervision to enhance the vehicle rules, so they are again taking shape.

Vehicles have received some interesting movement limitations, so they now feel like behemoths rather than blitzing over the battlefield.
Heavy weapons, especially the autocannons on APCs and IFVs have been enhanced to deliver more serious blows to infantry, as they felt too weak.
Vehicle morale has received an interesting twist as well as crews are more likely to ignore weapons that cannot harm their vehicle while seriously considering retreat or abandoning the vehicle when something dangerous knocks on their door (if they survive it, that is).

We´re also discussing how to implement the objective pricing for our scenario generator, which is a very difficult task. However, we´re finally making some progress here as well, however small it may seem.

There´s probably a lot more of very small changes that have happened since I last wrote about the game, as we´re continuously working to improve the game. It will still take some time, but almost all of our testers so far are very surprised about how good the game feels already, considering it is still in alpha testing.

That´s all for today!
Have a nice sunday!

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