Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Artillery Issue

Today I want to do something a bit different and talk about game play and ideas. Next week we'll be back to normal with a history article.

There has been, and always will be an argument about artillery in games like World of Tanks. On one hand you have the ability to utterly one shot people and ruin their game. Part of that issue is the feeling that there was nothing you could do. That issue has been about for many years, many old FPS’s where you had one camping sniper felt the same. Equally it's a kind of jump scare, which makes you feel bad. On top of all that you have the habit of humans to highlight when it happened. As an example I bet most of you can remember the last time your tank just exploded from an arty hit. How many of you remember the shots that missed from artillery? Did you even notice them?
On the other side of the coin you have the poor arty player who is sprinkling his rounds gleefully about the countryside and watching his shells which he sends off and promptly lands in the wrong post code. This is hardly fun for him either.
Perfectly aimed shot
So I've been playing computer games for a lot of years and working with table top war games companies for just as long. So I've had a bit of experience in systems, especially on the wargame system of mechanics that aren't working right within the system. I had a bit of a brain storm and came up with the following idea.
Hip shot!
The idea draws upon artillery from War Thunder, and some ideas taken from the Steel Panthers series. In those games artillery isn't complained about anywhere to the same degree it is in WOT or Armoured Warfare (yes, I spell it correctly…). But is a useful tool. It also draws upon ideas from World of Warships carrier gameplay, introducing a strategy game for those who want it.
Throughout this proposal I'll be using examples to illustrate the point.
As with any plan it never survives first contact with programmers or the enemy. Game engines might just say "nope" can't be done like that. So don't think of this as an exact detailed plan for fixing, more of a general "hey wouldn't it be cool if" idea. Equally any graphics are not intended to be 100% final but are entirely nebulous to show how the idea might look.

I realise this is a significant shift in direction for the arty class. For that reason alone it might be unfavourable, but I feel that at the least this suggestion should be made to get the idea out there, simply because almost none of the game developers seem to have thought of it in this way.

The idea is basically to make artillery an off map asset. Much like throughout the Second World War, artillery was rarely on the front line, unless something went very very very badly wrong. Instead the player drives an observer vehicle, which are always about.

Observer vehicles simply provide a spotter at the forward edge of battle to guide artillery in successfully, leaving combat arm commanders free to fight the battle. They carry the communication, spotting equipment and maps needed for this task as well as the trained specialists in relative safety. To make room for those items the vehicle itself if it is based off a tank often has its guns removed. However to most people they're often invisible. Take the following photograph. It's a famous picture from the battle of Villers Bocage. How many of you have seen it before? How many knew, before now, that this is an observer tank? You can see the wooden dummy gun barrel on the floor in front of it.
You'd drive one of these observer vehicles instead of the artillery gun.

From this vehicle the off map artillery can be directed. However due to certain limitations you will need to drive the vehicle about the battlefield, to the best position to use the artillery. This means there's no camping at the back. Equally you will have to manage the guns within the supporting battery to ensure they don't all get knocked out.
Instead of "gun" modules you'd have upgrades to the number and type of artillery tubes in your supporting battery.

The use of observer vehicles has one major advantage, in many cases they're based off an existing tank within game meaning you're essentially re-using assets. It would save modelling the SPG models, just needing to tweak a few models already in game.
It also allows you to use other off map assets such as air support, which would function similarly to artillery, but have a more exciting visual effect as the attack plane swoops over the battlefield (hey we have to do something with all those WOWP models!). Other options could be multiple rocket artillery salvos. Imagine seeing the streaks of flame and smoke from a salvo launching on the maps sky box and know that someone on your team is about to get some good news?
Chew on this O-I!
To illustrate the ideas I have I've made a crude graphic of what I would think the artillery interface would look like. The elements of it will be explained below.
Yeah, I never passed art class...
The basic core idea is: Artillery acts like that of War Thunder. If you're connected to the War Thunder community, you'll note one massive difference: No one in War Thunder rages about artillery.
 A brief description of their system is: You press a button and a map comes up on screen with a cursor. When you click on the map, an artillery barrage will land on that area in the game world. First a couple of ranging shots will land, giving people a warning artillery is on the way. If that’s too subtle giant red words saying "Artillery Fire!" also flash. This gives the player time to react, if they sit and take it then they only have themselves to blame for any damage. After firing the main part of the barrage the artillery support will enter a cooldown before it can be used again.

To prevent bombardment of spawn areas and to prevent camping the range at which the the artillery can be called in is limited. This is represented by the area of the green circle. This forces the observer vehicle to have to move and keep up with the battle line.

The above is the basic core idea. The parts below are for making life a bit more interesting and introducing a smaller strategy game for the artillery players so they have something to keep them playing the game instead of knocking off to make a sandwich while all their guns are on cooldown.
The basic idea is based around counter battery fire missions. Do you allocate all your guns to on map fire, and risk having them knocked out thus leaving the enemy artillery a free reign? Or do you try to counter and block enemy artillery to defend your own forces? Some of each and succeed at neither? Is the enemy waiting to counter battery you?

On the graphic above you'll notice a panel marked "battery orders" on the top right. Below the title is a drop down menu, one for each gun. Here you can order your guns and their crew to do one thing. Some suggestions would be:

Direct Support

The gun crew concentrates on loading and firing at targets on map. This gives the gun its maximum rate of fire, but will of course leave it vulnerable to counter battery fire.

Shoot and Scoot
After firing a bombardment the gun crew moves their gun a short distance to prevent being knocked out by counter battery fire. This means a longer cooldown time between shots on map, but gives a higher resistance to counter battery fire.

Counter battery fire
The gun crew will not respond to fire missions aimed at the map, instead they'll wait until enemy artillery fires then try to knock them out. As this succeeds then the enemy guns start taking damage (as shown in the bottom left panel, for example Gun #2 has taken two hits).
Should have left it on shoot and scoot orders!
When the player clicks on the map to call in the fire mission all the guns with "Direct Support" or "Shoot and Scoot" orders, that are off cooldown will fire a barrage at the target area. This is an area of effect around the centre point the artillery player clicked on the map.
Like in War Thunder a warning flashes up on anyone caught in the area of effect about incoming artillery, along with a couple of ranging shots. Then a short while later the main barrage will arrive.
The number of guns available for this will determine how deadly the barrage is. After this there is a cooldown period before the guns are available to be used again, these would be affected by the orders.
If a player is clever he can stagger his guns reloading times, so he can get a higher rate of fire up, but each barrage will cause less damage.

In short you get an aspect that actually potentially lowers the amount of modelling work and makes the community happier. On the downside of course it does mean re-working the coding behind artillery, and so is likely more coding work up front.

There are plenty of ideas to go with this, different ammo types and an absolute plethora of weapon types. Each nation had its own school of thought when it comes to artillery, and you can build those int othe system its that flexible. This idea could easily be applied to modern games as well.

So is it an idea, or should I stick to doing history and leave the games design to the professionals?