Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Adeptus Titanicus: Weapons (Part 1)

So, back to Adeptus Titanicus. Given that we now have a game, in the sense of having a framework of cards, models, dice, a table, and some organized sense of taking turns, we can turn to what we all turn to first when we first pretend to game design: stats! Stats, stats, stats. In this case we have the Titans on one hand, and their Weapons on the other. So what sort of statistics do we want to govern the outcomes of interactions between Titans and other objects in the game?

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we want the costs and values of using weapons against enemy Titans, their capacities. Secondly, we want information like range, area of effect, and so on, the conditions. What's the difference? The latter are the conditions under which the weapon can be used, and the former are the capacities that might allow the weapon to be utilized, or successfully employed. This is concurrent with the development of the Strategy Cards, so activities like target acquisition will interact with the conditions, and activities like fire mission execution will interact with the capacity.

It's an important point of distinction I think I'll belabour before going into the particulars. The notion is that there are going to be times when the players will want to fail, in order to have a chance at succeeding later in the game, and part of that failure will be setting up that chance. This is essentially about the difference between tactics and strategy. According to "Professional Game Designer Mack Martin" the difference is that strategy is about formulating a strategy and executing it, while tactics are about negotiating your way to victory.

This is not a bad way to think about the difference between tactics and strategy, particularly if, like Professional Game Designer Mack Martin, you're trying to explain how randomness in games does not make them less competitive: Increasing the randomness happening during the execution of a game does indeed put the emphasis on a player having prepared themselves to connect their starting position with their preferable ending position. Likewise, increasing the randomness happening prior to the execution of a game puts the emphasis on a player negotiating the execution of the game as its goes along.

But it's a crude and over-complicated way to think of the relation of strategy and tactics. Consider the Hawk-Dove game, as my favourite go-to example of applying game theoretic ideas to games. In the Hawk-Dove game players have two choices: (1) Hawk, and (2) Dove. The index of each player's choice determines the outcome, and making that choice is the totality of the game. For the purposes of distinguishing between tactics and strategy, the Hawk-Dove game is useful as an example of a game where they are indistinguishable. As a player we have access to two strategies, 1 & 2, and in choosing those two strategies we negotiate the outcome from the starting conditions. Of course, Hawk is the dominating strategy.

We can prise apart tactics and strategy by modifying the Hawk-Dove game by playing multiple iterations as smaller chunks of a larger game. This Multiply Iterated Hawk-Dove game redefines the choices in each iteration as tactics used to execute a particular strategy for achieving the goal of a rational (i.e. consistent) player. The strategies themselves expand as players must choose between a larger field of what are called 'mixed strategies', or the particular combinations of Hawk and Dove tactics used in each iteration to negotiate with one's opponent.

Where does randomness fit into this? Well, while the best choices are defined mathematically, the people playing with the game often mis-understand how the game works, or simply act other than rationally, and hence inconsistently, when attempting to formulate and execute a strategy. People that misunderstand game theory typically point to the element of randomness on the part of live players as providing the foundations for a psychological theory of games, or justification for relying on the inadequacy of their opponent. They point out that people rarely play the best game indicated by the math, as though it were somehow relevant to how one plays the best game indicated by the math.

For the purposes of game design, I believe the math is useful in determining the limits of the game so that it's outcome is not a forgone, or easily predictable, conclusion. While we need to account for idiots in describing the rules for play, we need not bother to account for idiots while designing the rules themselves as the game itself defines the quality of the players, rather than the other way around. Certainly players are a random element, but they are a random element after the fashion of any other random element; when one rolls a D6, the results are evenly distributed (given an ideal dice...) and rolling between 1-6, inclusive, is predictable. Rolling a 7 is truly random, and beyond the scope of a game.

Essentially, and perhaps over-simpifying: a strategy is a path between some starting conditions, and some preferred ending conditions, and a tactic is a step on that path. Where the connection is obscured, players will need to negotiate on a step-by-step basis, and where that connection is well-defined, players need to negotiate on the basis of their preferences for ending conditions.

Getting back to guns, guns, guns, this means that while a player may wish her Titan to decapitate an enemy Titan with her Volcano Cannon, which would happen if she manages to successfully execute a fire mission on the opposing Titan with her fully charged Volcano Cannon at the right time, when the opposing Titan's shields are down, and it's in her crosshairs, she may find herself shooting off that Titan's Turbo-Laser in order to prevent a mutual kill, and therefore a tie, in a Titan Duel. Firing a Volcano Cannon at some particular point on an enemy Titan is therefore a tactic, where the strategy is more than just walking up, stripping its shields, and hoping to roll some number on a dice.

That's why the Strategy Cards are called the 'strategy cards' because the players order a set of activities to achieve a specific goal - the set of cards being a strategy, which can be followed, re-thought half-way through (at the cost of more immediate action), or even played out. I say 'played out' to mean that a player might forgo re-shuffling their deck if they think they can pull off a win before their ability to strategize runs out. Representationally, I like to think of a player running out of strategy cards as the Princeps stroking out, or otherwise being overcome by the bestial machine spirit of her Titan.

So hopefully that explains the particular choices for gun-stats. The notion is that the players will have a cross-hair marker for each weapon, describing where the shot(s) will land should they loosed. There's going to be a range number, essentially a basis for determining where that cross-hair marker can be placed, and at what cost - longer ranges require more attention and preparation. A strategy card will allow them to replace the marker somewhere else on the board. The weapon will also have a cost to prime the weapon, basically a reload/rearm/charge action. Weapons with multiple shots can fire at fractions of full-power, meaning that weapons also have a limit on how much they can be reloaded. Finally, the weapon will have a cost to fire the weapon. Failure to meet these costs constitutes a failure, whereby a player can essentially trade failure at the present moment for the chance of success in the future (rolling the dice used to 'buy' the failure and banking the result). This cost goes up as the targeting requirements of execution go up - aiming at a specific point on the enemy Titan, for example.

This means that shooting one or more weapons will require at least a three step process for success, including acquiring the target, arming the weapon, and firing the weapon. Of course, the weapon can be armed in preparation for acquiring a target, and firing the armed weapon can be done without acquiring the target should the desired target be between cross-hair marker and the Titan firing the armed weapon. The effect of such opportunistic fire would then increase the cost of the action registering a success. So a player can fail to acquire a target, move into position, and then use the dice resulting from that failure to acquire a target to successfully shoot an enemy using opportunity fire. Similarly, failure results to harm a target does not result in nothing, but the chance to harm whatever else is between the cross-hair marker and the Titan.

Weapon Name
Range: (distance/cost per re-targeting), Firepower: (power/cost per shot), Ammunition/Charge: (limit/cost per shot), Special: (effect/cost)

Turbo-Laser Destructor
Range: 12"/2, Firepower: x/2, Charge: 2/2, Special: Vitrification/0

So a Turbo-Laser Destructor can re-target out to 12" per 2+ dice spent on it. So it can re-target out to 24" per 4+ dice spent on it, and out to 36" per 6 dice spent on it. Fully charged it can fire two shots, or one shot if partially charged. And it takes a 2+ dice spent on it to recharge after each shot. Yes, the notion of power depends on the value of armour and shield coherence in the targets, essentially being indexed with power to see the cost of success. That cost might go up on opportunity fire, or engaging specific parts of a target under the cross-hair marker. Over-paying increases the damage done to a target, or yields special results. In this case, the Turbo-Lasers will vitrify terrain that isn't destroyed, with vitrified terrain being difficult (read: more costly) to move across.

The special results would be stuff like setting stuff on fire with Inferno Guns, glassing terrain with lasers and plasma, interfering with a Titan's stability using a quake cannon or power ram, and so on. Part of the specifications for the game include interactivity with terrain, which is why stuff like failure to engage targets of opportunity is positionally important, and the cross-hair marker is used for targetting, so that players can use their Titan weapons to affect the battlefield.

Other Titan Weapons:

Inferno Gun
Vulcan Mega-Bolter
Plasma Blastgun
Plasma Destructor
Laser Blaster
Gatling Blaster
Melta Cannon
Volcano Cannon
Quake Cannon
Rocket Launcher

Chain Fist
Power Fist
Wrecking Ball
Laser Burner
Power Ram

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