Uh, I mean, hey, we’re making a management sim!
We talked a long time ago about designing combat for Clockwork Empires, and there were a few things involved in our design that we’ve carefully been unpacking. The most important thing for us for the combat was the statement: “Combat should be slow, mostly positional, and have its outcome determined by supply and setup instead of tactical micromanagement.”
Which… we’ve done almost none of so far, BUT we’ve been setting the pieces in place for proper implementation. “Supplying and setting up” the feature, if you will.
Setting aside that – at the time – the characters’ heuristics weren’t even implemented yet, we also had to build a system where the military could actually consume things as a requirement in the first place. The prototype of that which we implemented within the last few months was the concept of ammunition, which was our symbolic link to the “determined by supply” portion of our design with combat. I say symbolic because it fulfilled the technical requirement there, but didn’t actually fulfill the spirit of the idea, because as a player you’re currently fighting fishpeople and bandits who don’t have the restrictions of ammunition largely impacting their performance. Instead we set up the players with a circumstance where they would be an even-fight-at-best against the bandits even if they had ammo, and without it they were very likely doomed to just lose resources forever.
There’s a balance issue here, there’s a “counting bullets” issue, and there’s the issue of getting back on track with our intentions.
The balance issue is that players who are doing everything right should win, and players who aren’t should have a harder time. Doing things right in this context means building infrastructure to maintain ammunition, which lets you delve into the (albeit relatively short) supply chain needed to get the bullets out. That motivation is awesome, but the payout seems bleak: do it right and you might have a chance. Do it wrong and you’re screwed. Balance issues almost always come up after a new feature though, and this has only been in for a few weeks, so this just needs some numerical adjustments.
The “counting bullets” issue is that our current setup also conflicts with our design statement, in that combat should have “its outcome determined by supply and setup instead of tactical micromanagement”. Counting bullets is micromanagement, and we don’t have historically accurate guns because this isn’t Earth. Bullets per mag and mags per gun and how they reload and jamming chances are all potentially really interesting mechanics (see Receiver), but we’re focusing on managing people, not guns, so for us this is overly fiddly.
(The higher-level effect of volume of fire put out by a unit based on the type of guns they’re equipped with does fall into our scope of concern, but again, the player should never be counting the bullets in each revolver.)
So basically need a way for players using a supply chain effectively to have combat units that will (generally) win, and to use a much coarser measure of combat supplies than “literally the number of bullets in a unit’s inventory”.
So let’s create the most basic, abstract idea that we can, and go from there. Let’s make a box that we can construct with a workshop that will just make combat units better (typically) than their opponents, and they’ll use them up as they fight. Let’s call them Supplies, and let’s make them out of symbolic things that a military squad might need: bullets, cloth, and food, to tie together a bunch of the supply chains in the game.
Using a unit of supply should make a squad better for a period of time, at which point they’ll need more supplies.
Now we can actually serve one of our other goals really simply too. Going back to the “Combat should be slow, mostly positional” part of our statement, we’ll be automatically serving the positional aim by having to keep supplies in strategic locations, but we can slow things down too. Generalizing quite a bit, we have two reliable and quantifiable knobs we can turn on combat. We can tweak offensive power or we can tweak defensive power. (Changing things like tactics and behavior are great, but we really want something quantifiable in this case.) If we increase offensive power, we speed up combat, and if we increase defensive power, we slow it down. So let’s say that supplies increase the defensive capacities of the characters, because right now combat is too quick for our liking.
Now we’ve got a system! We’re tackling all of the points of our mission statement and we can start building out complexity as we feel its warranted.
This system also gives us a great opportunity to implement our, uh, trickle down economics? [INSERT IMAGE OF NCO INHERITANCE FROM COMBAT POST OR MARGARET THATCHER]* Because we want to keep emphasis on the leaders of the squads, so they’ll have the supply and the lower class military can just ask them what’s going on.
(* This layout note is too good not to leave in.)
(We’ll have to implement some negative effects to shuffling around lower class military characters to keep players from micro-ing all their units around the squads, but it’s easy to just make them upset by reassignment.)
Some of this is implemented in our internal build but is not yet finished. As soon as it is, we’ll get it in your hands to test out.