Friday, July 11, 2008

Tactics War Academy

I had an idea for a video game or miniatures battle game while watching Hokuto No Ken (Fist of the North Star). When Kenshiro is approaching Southern Cross, Shin sends his armies out to find and kill him. Each of Shin's armies are devoted to the style of combat preferred by its commander. One uses only helicopters, one uses motor bikes, one launches his fighters from cannons as human cannonballs, etc.

My idea for the game was to scale it back from armies to a smaller grouping (units, companies, platoons, whatever). When you begin the game, you get to buy your army using a fixed set of points. You can focus your army as you like (for example, buying lots of ranged units for an excellent archer corps) and any build should conceivably have a chance at winning the game, though not every build should make it easy nor should every build be able to win every fight.

Which brings us to another aspect of the idea. I am playing Rondo of Swords on my new Nintendo DS. Rondo of Swords works similarly to a Tactics game in that you field units on a grid-based battle map and work against your opponents (you can also have your units run errands, go on quests, complete missions, etc instead of taking part in the next battle). The game also has a unique combat mechanic in that you do not move next to your opponent and then attack him but move through him to attack him. Since you can move through enemies and allies alike, there is no blocking aspect as with Tactics (i.e. you cannot set up a few guys across a choke-point to block enemy attacks while bombarding them with archers and mages tucked safely away). This requires a change in tactics while playing the game (and the early level against Pirates in the city streets was my first battle where I really felt I used movement and the terrain to my advantage).

Well, that was a long bit. What I meant to get to was that in Rondo of Swords, you cannot lose any battles because losing one battle means Game Over. I think Tactics was Game Over when you lost a story battle as well (and likely the random encounters too.) In Tactics War Academy, losing a battle is not Game Over. You can lose a battle and still win the war. Failing to achieve objectives and failing to win battles will have penalties but they will not be the end of the game. Tenacity is to be encouraged.

I view each battle in the game as a fork in the story progression. Sometimes the forks both lead to the same "city gate" (i.e. there is no great difference in story, resources, or location between winning and losing the previous battle), sometimes they lead to different gates in the same city (you have a substantial difference in the current battle based on winning or losing the previous one), and sometimes they lead to entirely different cities (winning the last fight presses the attack onto City A while losing the last fight forces you to retreat to City B).

The first forks are not really forks at all. The second forks are the meat and potatoes of the win-loss system. And the third forks expand the game and storyline by leading you down actually different paths based on outcome.

Another way to expand the game as with the third fork is to offer a choice between objectives. My eyes were first opened to this in the Brood War expansion for StarCraft. In one of the Terran missions, you had the choice of destroying your opponent's nuclear facilities or starship facilities. You then faced the other type of weapon in the next mission (i.e. destroy the nuclear facilities and your opponent would have Battleships instead of nuclear missiles and vice versa). This would also come up in-game. The more often, the greater replay value the game would have, especially if all choices did not swing back onto the "all win" path but had its own endgame.

Losing every single battle would not lead to a final win. Losing every battle leads to Game Over.

More later with this parting thought:

Some, perhaps early, enemy generals fall into the Shin's Army trap of overspecialization. It would showcase that unit's strengths and weaknesses. This may even be the War Academy portion of the game (the in-game Tutorial that comprises the first few levels as the main character overcomes his classmates to earn the top spot upon graduation).

No comments: