Thursday, 7 February 2013

Adeptus Titanicus: Math is hard

Actually no, math is not hard. It's the one damned thing that's easy enough to actually prove. Arithmetic, on the other hand, can be hard if you're not used to it. Particularly if we go beyond the operations of addition and subtraction, and venture into the crazy, crazy world of multipliers and divisors. Some people can't do sales taxes in their heads, calculate ETAs by their current speed and distance, or comfortably arrange more than seven elements for a sum. It's not that people are stupid, it's just the way we are. In technical writing we work on the assumption that our audience is composed of angry, mentally-impaired idiots. Because assuming otherwise both tempts fate, and ignores the empirical data about who uses documentation. The point of technical documentation is to idiot-proof a set of instructions by making them user-friendly. Unfortunately the point is frequently lost because the best documentation is transparent. Good technical writing is something people only tend to notice by its absence.

So it is with game design, in that people tend to notice the things that get in the way of them enjoying a game rather than the clever operations that they enjoy considering. It's why so many people sit around complaining about Warhammer 40,000 minuitae, and so few sit around amazed that it works. So having experienced the irritation of reading what looks like a clever rules and then suffering through its application, I myself have fallen prey to the desire to do something clever when something good enough would have done.

I'm talking about the interaction between weapons and targets in the Adeptus Titanicus game that I am working on. As it stands, the weapon has a Power and a Rate of Fire. The rate of fire determines how many discrete 'shots' the weapon gets for each Arm Weapon action, at that power rating. So a player might play two Arm Weapon cards to get four shots from a weapon with a Fire Weapon card. Each shot may have a power of 4. Each shot causes Light Damage if this power of 4 is equal or greater than the target's armour of 3. Each shot would cause Heavy Damage if this power of 4 is equal or greater than twice the target's armour of 2. Each shot would cause Destroyed Damage if this power of 4 is equal or greater than twice the target's armour of 1.

That's ignoring whether the bonus from the Acquire Target action either adds to the weapon's power or multiplies it, and whether a Come About or Silent Running action either subtracts from, or divides, a weapon's power. Why am I ignoring this issue? Because the evidence is sufficient to conclude that the procedure is clunky enough without belabouring the obvious, no matter how much I enjoy it. Ahem.    

That's a pretty taxing piece of mental arithmetic if you have to repeat it constantly, like a grade-school arithmetic worksheet. Over the course of the game I'm going to tire out the players by forcing them to work like calculators. Of course, in games like this the players may want to work like calculators, weighing their strategies and whatnot, but they won't want to spend those calories unless there is a commiserate payoff.

On the other hand, it's amazing the kind of mental arithmetic that a player will indulge in if given somatic components to fiddle with in order to externalize the operations they are supposed to be performing. It's not everyone, and some people prefer to use their brains for things that others would prefer to use abaci, and still others electronic calculators and/or spreadsheets. Experienced brains will simply be able to perform complex tasks by feel, but it's not enough to rely on experience if you're inventing something new, and something with a hook to catch the imagination, as well as a procedure to obtain a suitable range of outcomes.

So here's what I'm thinking:

When players play the Acquire Target action, and meet the minimum cost, they place a target lock marker (a reticule) and one or two dice. Preferably the dice are different shades, like one white and one black (so many colour-blind gamers out there...). Where the Acquire Target action had a bonus, the player places a white die as well as a black die, with the bonus facing up. The black dice is equal to the weapon's power.

The bonus on the white die is divided up amongst the weapon's rate of fire, or shots. Where it cannot be divided evenly, it's sorted in order amongst the weapon's shots. So a bonus of 2 would give a weapon with three shots at power 1 an outcome of [2, 2, 1]. That outcome would be measured against a separate armour rating for light, heavy, and destroyed damage. This also frees up the armour on Titans to be more complex, so that a Titan might have shields with an armour (light/heavy/destroyed) of 2/4/6 or 2/4/7 rather than 2/4/8 by the prior formula.

Essentially weapons would be calibrated to have certain cumulative or shock effects on Titans. A Volcano Cannon, one hopes, should be able to decapitate a Titan (target the Crew System: Princeps) with some careful aim. That careful aim being the bonus from the target lock.

The question therefore, is what happens if the aim is off? I think it's something to reduce the bonus by one pip per Come About action, as in evasive action, and one pip per Silent Running action (maybe rename the action ECM or somesuch), but that doesn't address the potential to miss. And what about those shots made without a target lock? It would be nice to figure out a lucky shot system that didn't depend on dice.

On one hand I think it would be something interesting to let the target lock bonus go into negative numbers, making the shot deviate off the Titan and potentially wipe out terrain. Maybe something that moves the reticule markers some distance right or left, relative, to the target. In which case a third colour of dice might be necessary. Alternately, the targetting reticule could be moved that number of inches at the discretion of the defending player.

I think that having the targeting reticules be persistant, in the sense that if the Titan still has its weapon laid in that direction, it can still fire with effect on whatever comes under that reticule. So the target lock can therefore be laid anywhere, and not just on Titans.

Of course, the target lock will be on a Titan's systems, which is the point of a Titan in delivering precision fire for greatest tactical and strategic leverage. Otherwise a saturation magma-bombing may be more appropriate. So can a shot go off, or be otherwise sub-optimal? Plus, what if a Titan turns away from its attacker? The obvious choice is some abstract geometry turning Titan's into something like a cylinder decorated with boxes like the old Titan targeting diagram where dice labeled UP and DOWN, and RIGHT and LEFT where used to see if a shot deviated from a choice once it hit.

I'll probably edit this as I think of something. Or write another entry.    

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