Wednesday, April 23, 2014

TLF Auto-Resolve Coming Tomorrow

I promised a second release today, but I was a little overly optimistic. ;)  One of the top features that people have been requesting is an auto-resolve feature for battles, and that's something I've been working on today.  I'd thought I'd have it ready in time for a release tonight, but alas not; it will definitely be ready tomorrow, though (and better-tested for the extra time, too).

Why is auto-resolve important? 
* As fun as the tactical battles are, sometimes you simply overmatch your enemy and you just want to get on with things. 
* If you're in the middle of a bunch of stuff on the solar map, sometimes you want the results of combat without having the interruption of combat. 
* If you've been playing a marathon session, maybe combat is starting to feel repetitive simply by virtue of "too much of a good thing."
* Maybe you just don't like the turn-based tactical combat.  Either the genre in general, or our specific implementation of it.  But if you love the solar map stuff, should you either be forced to play something you dislike, or just pushed away from playing the game at all?

I actually fall into that last category when it comes to the Total War games, which blend a kind of board-gamey grand strategy model with an RTS tactical battle simulator.  I love the grand strategy in that series, but for whatever reason the RTS tactical stuff just never clicked with me.  It's not the fault of the series -- most fans of that series love the combat there, just as most fans of TLF seem to really like the combat here.  I can appreciate that it's really well thought out, really well executed, etc... and yet it just isn't for me.

But the fact of the matter is, I love the strategic portion of Total War all the same.  It's possible to be a fan of the larger context and not a fan of the smaller bits, and it's really a shame to have to have all-or-nothing.  I actually talked about that almost exactly a month ago, but then changed my mind.  From a designer's perspectives, I fell into the trap of thinking two things:

1. If there's a problem with the combat, we should focus on improving that rather than just "papering over it" with an auto-resolve.
2. Combat is an integral part of the game, and we don't want to split the playerbase or get people with a halfhearted experience because they just don't give combat a chance and find out that they like it.

In regards to point 1, this doesn't really "paper over" anything, despite my recent thinking.  Will we continue to make combat better and better?  Yes, absolutely -- with the help of those players who already like or love it.  Adding auto-resolve doesn't obviate us from focusing on combat any more than it caused Total War to just abandon combat in their games.  And Total War is far from the only series of strategy games with an auto-resolve option, it's just my favorite one and so the one I'm most comfortable using as an example (if anyone who works on those games reads this, please rest assured I love your work).

In regards to point 2, for the ones who just don't care for the sort of tactical combat on offer here, they can give feedback if they feel like it, or just happily play the solar map stuff.  Just like I do with the grand strategy component in Total War.  For me as a designer, that's not a "cop out," as I'd been kind of thinking of it, it's just a way of giving more people what they want, more of the time.  Some people would argue that by avoiding the RTS combat in Total War, I'm getting a "watered down" version of that series.  And from a literal sense... sure.  The scope of those games is reduced for me as a player.  But so what?  I have a blast with the parts that I do play, and it's easily worth the price of admission for me just for the grand strategy part.

The point is to let players approach a game on their own terms, and a certain subset of our players have made it clear that this is what they want.  So!  That was to be the big surprise feature for today, but instead it's going to be kind of a combo feature for today and tomorrow, and I'm telling you about it early.  It's a biggun, so I think you'll forgive me for making that a two-day feature. ;)

How, precisely, are we implementing it?  Well, I'll get into a lot of the details tomorrow, but the coolest bits are:

1. Once you are in a combat battle, there is a little "Auto Resolve" button in the bottom left corner.  You can click that at any time during the battle (unless you have perma-death turned on, in which case you can't use it at all) and it will auto-resolve the rest of the battle for you.  To repeat: you can do that at any time during combat.

2. Auto-resolution uses a formula based on the number of abilities you have unlocked, your tech upgrades, and so forth, to get your space power (as seen on the racial power grid, although the formula there will be updated some to account for things better for you -- the races are already represented fine, but your number is not quite right yet).

3. Auto-resolution also uses a value based on your combat difficulty level, so the different difficulty levels there have meaning even if you are auto-resolving everything.  The combat an the strategic difficulties both kind of feed into one another, so this makes a fair amount of intuitive sense -- when the combat difficulty is higher, you need to worry about personal ship tech upgrades more, for instance, regardless of whether you are auto-resolving or not.

4. Depending on the objectives of the scenario, the outcome of the auto-resolve will come out a couple of different ways.  However, you will never be killed as a result of auto-resolve (again, note that this is only usable at all when permadeath is turned off).

4.a. If you are trying to just "kill all the enemies or flagships or whatever," then it will do auto-resolve combat until you are basically redlined, and then will withdraw you.  If you win before that, then great, you won.  If withdrawing was a loss condition, then you'll lose that battle.  If withdrawing was not a loss condition (by far the most common case), then it's an "indeterminate" result, but of course your results feed back into the main solar map just like always.

4.b. If you are supposed to be doing something specific, like capturing a science outpost to get a tech or whatever, then you will always succeed in this.  However, based on your relative power and some other factors of the actual ships and turrets and whatnot that get seeded, you may either "succeed well" or "succeed poorly."  The poorer you succeed, the more solar map months it costs you to do the auto-resolve.  This is significant in terms of in-game resource costs, since solar map months are a major resource.  But again, by making sure that you have a ship that is outfitted well, you reduce the risk of incurring such costs in any substantial way.

5. You'll still get Credits for ship kills, and pick up pilots and so forth, as part of auto-resolve.  So that avenue of things is not shut off to you, which is really nice.

6. Any optional or side objectives -- civilian or military buildings to destroy, etc -- will be completely ignored during auto-resolve.  At first glance you might think this a major handicap, but actually not.  If you want to destroy some of those things, usually it doesn't take many turns to do so.  You can easily play a few turns manually, destroy the thing in question, and then auto-resolve the rest of the battle and have done with it.  Easy peasy.  This is a big part of the reason for the "you can auto-resolve at any point in a battle."

7. The other part of the "you can auto-resolve at any time" bit is if a battle is dragging on and you are clearly going to win, and you don't feel like going through the motions of mopping up properly.  Generally the design of the battles avoids putting you in that position in general, and in any cases where this happens too frequently we're going to be updating the battle definitions to begin with.  But there's always edge cases, and this lets you deal with them gracefully even if you love the combat.

So.  This thing needs a TLDR, because boy was that long.  If you read the whole thing, thanks for taking the time!  The TLDR is that some of you guys asked for an auto-resolve feature, I was opposed to it for a while on really fallacious grounds after initially being all for it, and now I've come to my senses and the feature is coming tomorrow.  I'm glad that you guys that wanted it pushed the issue, because it's definitely a great thing for the game to have.

You'll be able to check it out sometime tomorrow!

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