Age of Wonders: Planetfall - Dev Diary #5: Tactical Combat

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Tombles

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Hello everybody! Today’s Dev Diary is about the basics of tactical combat. Just like in Age of Wonders 3, combat is a very important part of playing Planetfall and one of the biggest challenges we had was keeping the feel of AoW3 combat whilst developing a system that is more focused on ranged combat than melee combat.

Dome.png

A group of marines approach a Psi-Shrine guarded by Spacer pirates

Accuracy and Hit Chances
One of the first things we decided was that we needed to bring hit chances back into the game, having ranged weapons always hit makes combat feel stale and predictable, while the chance of an attack failing adds a level of excitement and tension. It also allowed us to add more gameplay to the combat environments, long range attacks would have their accuracy reduced, as would attacks on units behind cover. The terrain now has different height levels, and shooting at a unit that’s lower than oneself grants a bonus to accuracy. Units can also deploy smoke screens to protect their units in areas without cover.

Shootup.png

Aya Sashimi, a Vanguard hero, takes a pot shot at a distant Dvar walker.

One issue is that many people really, really dislike missing attacks. To help fix this every attack has a chance to Graze a target instead of missing it. Grazing shots do half damage, and any special effects attached to the attack are either weakened or disabled entirely. The chance of a graze happening is up to 25% of the chance to miss, so:

Code:
Chance To Hit   |   Chance To Graze   |   Chance To Do Nothing
     90%        |         10%         |           0%
     75%        |         25%         |           0%
     50%        |         25%         |           25%

This gives the player more of a sense of control, since if a shot is good enough it’s guaranteed to do something, only the most reckless and ill-advised attacks have a high chance of achieving nothing at all.

Overwatch and Staggering

Overwatch was another feature that we decided early on to add. Units in overwatch guard an arc of hexes in front of them, and the first enemy unit to act or move in one of those hexes will get shot at. Melee units get a special type of multidirectional overwatch which they enter even if they attacked during their turn, giving them a free attack against any unit who tries to move past them or shoot them at point blank range.

In order to counter overwatch, we added the Impact system. High Impact attacks, such as explosives and melee attacks, can Stagger the units they hit, knocking them out of overwatch and allowing your own units to act safely. Staggering will also knock units out of guard mode, and reduce their action points, limiting their options in their next turn. Stagger a unit enough times, and it will not be able to act at all!

Explosion.png

A group of troopers are ambushed by a Spacer rocket attack

Quick Q&A

When this Dev Diary was announced, I got an awful lot of questions and requests for explanations, far more than I could fit in today. So, I’ve picked a few of the most interesting questions to answer:

Will some races (such as space dwarves) be able to drop turrets and deploy them during battle?

The Vanguard specialize in drones and autonomous robots, their engineer unit can deploy a turret while their T4 specializes in launching various types of drones in combat to provide defensive and offensive support.


Will there be the possibility to burn battlefields down, effectively creating fire barriers?

The Promethean specialize in weapons that leave areas of the battlefield on fire, providing area denial abilities. They can also mod their units to be immune to this fire, or even gain buffs from it, allowing them to reshape the battlefield to their advantage.

PheonixWalker.png

The Promethean Phoenix Walker can set large swathes of the battlefield alight, and regenerates health while standing in flames

Are there any insta-death abilities, like disintegrate in AoW3?

There are indeed! For example, the Plasma Disintegrator Module is an end game mod for laser weaponry, allowing attacks to strip armor and giving a chance to insta-kill tier 1 and 2 units.


What formula will be used to calculate damage?

AoW3’s damage formulas use flat damage reduction, which does not cope well with the wide range of damage values we need for this game, so we’re using a formula that reduces damage proportionally.

I = Incoming damage
D = Actual damage taken
R = Damage resistance (sum of shields, armor and elemental resistance)

D = I x 0.9^R


The formula also has diminishing returns; the first few points of resistance reduce damage by roughly 10% each, but as more is stacked, this decreases rapidly. The difference between 10 and 11 resistance is only 4%.


And that’s it for this week. In next week’s dev diary we’ll be taking a closer look at tactical combat mechanics and units!
 
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Tombles

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Not quite sure how I feel about the damage formula, looks quite unintuitive compared to the old one. I guess weaknesses are applied like resistance but with a negative value?

Yeah, it's an odd one. The main goal I had was that it needed to be proportional, but not allow player to easily stack so much defense that they would be immune to damage. The game itself will tell you how much damage an attack will do, so that will help a lot.

And yes, damage vulnerability simply subtracts from armor/shields.

Or to put it another way, if you add another point of resistance, the damage received is 10% less than the damage you'd take if you didn't have that point of resistance.

That's exactly it, yes.
 

sikbok

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Not quite sure how I feel about the damage formula, looks quite unintuitive compared to the old one.
Actually, the one in AoW3 was a lot trickier than you'd think when you dive into the math.

My guess is we'll keep actual damage estimations in the popups like in Age of Wonders 3, so as a player you wouldn't have to do the math yourself.
Yes, no math needed. We just give to formula's so people that are really into this can have some fun.

Which does make it far more incremental than the AoW3 system, where going from 60% to 80% means cutting the damage from that source in half...
Yes, that's correct. One of the many improvements to AoW3's systems. Imho a lot of the weird edge cases present in AoW3 have been ironed out in this iteration of the combat system.

Will now stop answering questions a second time and let Tombles do his thing : )>
 

Tombles

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The thing I took away from the damage formula is that shields and armor are mostly indistinguishable, except that attacks may (presumably) choose to ignore one or the other. That is probably fine, but from other games I've learned that shields tend to deplete as they take damage, something I didn't see reflected here.

This is correct, armor and shields reduce damage in an identical way. The main differences between them are what types of attack bypass them (shields do not protect you against melee attacks, for example) and what special attacks destroy them (many biochemical attacks can melt off armor). I'll probably go into more detail here in another dev diary though!
 

Tombles

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Weaknesses also have diminishing returns, the formula I posted doesn't work for negative values of R.

You need:

D = I + (I x (1 - 0.9^-R))
 

Tombles

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It's a Dvar colony! The artists have been working really hard to give each race their own architecture and stuff.
 

Tombles

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1) The Incinerator Phoenix Walker is a T3 - and has 50 HPs only, whilst having attacks of 20 and 26. A point blank salvo will obviously have massive trash value.

Balance is still in its early phases here! That said, it's extremely rare for an attack to do full damage, the walker has 8 armor so a 26 damage attack will only do 11 damage to it. Also, the unit is heavily modded so it's damage is much higher than a vanilla units.


2) The unit has 0/8 XP. This seems to indicate that a somewhat different XP gaining mechanic is used...

There is!
 

Tombles

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In this case I would like to point out something:
This is all true! However Planetfall uses a totally different XP system than AoW3 (units get awarded XP at the end of battle for units killed, rather than for taking actions during battle) so far less granularity



Yeah, that is an unfortunate side effect of the system. Players can roughly assume each point is 10-5%, but other than that they'll just have to rely on "Bigger number better"!
 

Tombles

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Sorry, JJ, I accidentally cut off the second half of my response to you :/

What I meant to type was:

This is all true! However Planetfall uses a totally different XP system than AoW3 (units get awarded XP at the end of battle for units killed, rather than for taking actions during battle) so far less granularity is needed. However, the XP values are still very rough and need to be rebalanced, I will pass your comments on to the person in charge of that.
 

Tombles

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So will armor and shields stack against attacks they're both valid against? Will 4 ar and 4 sh generate 8 def against a generic ranged attack for example?

Yes!

If it is a divide sign then it becomes 20 - 12.6, which gives 7.4, which (bearing in mind all we know is heavily coloured by the AoW3 system) seems more reasonable.

As Bob5 says, it's an exponent. So, 0.9 to the power of the resistance value. I tried to write it properly, but I couldn't get the forum software to display superscript!
 

sikbok

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Oh thank you so much. I wish every game would just give out it's formulars instead of just putting us out there with some random numbers that don't mean jack s...

You're welcome : D>

I don't see the point of keeping those secret. Inquiring minds demand to know and all.
Might as well save people the trouble of reverse engineering them.
 

Tombles

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The defense, resistance and elemental protection/weakness systems of AoW3 seem perfect to me. So I have mild doubts that different can really be better in that area.

There are several problems with AoW3's system:

1) Defense/Resistance are flat damage reduction, which works well when most damage values are in a tight range, but not when you have a wide range. A unit with 16 defense is good if everyone does 8-12 damage, but not against units that do 20+ damage. Against such high damage you need 20+ defense, but then normal attacks of 11 damage do nothing.

2) There's ambiguity in the order in which the flat bonus and the percentage bonus are applied. If you do it in one order, then you favor units with high defense, in the other order you favor units with high damage attacks. We changed it back and forth several times during the first beta, and were never really happy in all situations.

3) It's relatively easy to stack defenses to become highly resistance/immune to some/all types of damage. In AoW3 this is only really an issue for heroes, and requires rare loot to drop, in Planetfall the modding system means that it could be an issue for a lot of units. We're hoping this system will be easier for us to balance.

Anyways, the equation is not set in stone, we recently changed the modding system so we'll need to see how the system works with it!
 

Tombles

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on the left, on the unit card, there is a +++ sign, with the words "friendly territory." Does this imply regeneration in friendly territory (and, tangentially, in connected friendly sectors), and therefore reduced or no regeneration in enemy territory (or unconnected sectors?)

If so, that's attrition and supply modelled, which would be a HUGE mechanical change.
DARE I to dream?

I'm not sure I'd say that we've modelled Supply and Attrition, but units do heal faster in your own domain!

Hrrrmn. So that seems that the maximum damage increase approaches the original damage (resulting in double damage) as R approaches negative infinity.

Yes!
 

Tombles

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Critical hits are a possibility yes! I'll probably mention them in the next dev diary.

We removed randomness from the damage output to simplify the interfaces. We'd have an interface that said:

3 x 75% 8-12*
(i.e. 3 shots, with a 75% chance to do between 8 and 12 damage)

And having 4 numbers in a row made it hard to quickly process how much damage you'd actually do. Removing 1 of the numbers makes it easier to parse, it also means we can have interfaces that tell players things like "If all 3 hots hit, the target will die", which is hard to do properly with randomized damage.
 

Tombles

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The current interface has a hit point bar over the target unit. When you target a unit, the amount of damage you do will flash on that hit point bar, so if the whole bar is flashing you know that your attack can possibly kill the target.
 

Tombles

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Honestly, I considered this as something of a 'hidden feature'.

You are perfectly correct, unfortunately it was completely screwing with the basic balance of combat and we were struggling to fix it. For example, sniper rifles became a counter for tanks, since they have high spiking damage, which was just weird. Also, high spiking damage is still very effective against things with low armor, so we ended up having to add armor bypass to weapons, so they would be better suited against armored units but less effective against low armored ones (like you suggested) and various other conditional effects (more damage vs armored units, double damage vs vehicles, half damage vs infantry, etc...)

It was very complex and started to become very opaque as well, and in the end we realized all the complexity was coming from us trying to force a system to do something it wasn't well suited to, which is when we flipped to a proportional system.

I do really like the AoW3 system though, especially how it interacts with multiple damage channels. I hope we'll use it in any future fantasy games we do.
 

Tombles

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UI-wise, will we still need to select the unit in detail to view all of its abilities if the unit has more abilities than fit on the hotbar? If you recall Tactical Combat in AoW 3, your selected unit had a "hotbar" of abilities in the top center of the UI, but if you wanted to use any other ability that didn't fit onto the hotbar, you had to manually select the unit to open the Unit card with all of the abilities and info listed, to select the ability you wanted. I much preferred AoW2's system where it was a straight up list when you selected the unit. Maybe a small list with a scrollbar could be incorporated instead of a hotbar of abilities.

I'm not sure yet! We just checked, and the current interface just breaks if you have too many abilities. We'll fix it though!


I hope to god you're including more than just "units killed" to the exp. I would hope for support ability use EXP, healing, etc.

Right now, there's only unit killed XP. The XP is equally divided between all participants of the fight though, so you don't need to do tricks to try and get your support people to get kills.
 

Tombles

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The core problem with AoW3's XP system was that, in PBEM games, it forced everyone to engage in weird and unnatural behavior in combat to try and maximize their XP gain. If a player didn't want to do that, they would be at a large disadvantage due to having weaker units to fight with, compared to a player who did. Now you can say that manipulating the XP system is part of the game, which is fine, but it's not something everyone wants to engage with; a lot of people want to have fast and fun battles without getting annoyed because they accidentally killed someone with an archer instead of a hero, or because they forgot to use one of the hero's support abilities during a battle.

When we were trying to fix this for AoW3 we came to the conclusion that the above problem isn't really fixable, it's inherent to a system that rewards a player XP for doing specific things in combat. If the game were single player, it wouldn't matter and we would have kept it, because farming XP like that is fun, but PBEM kind of forced our hand here. These kinds of compromises need to be made sometimes I'm afraid!

As for saying that people will maximize XP gain by bringing less units to combat, I'm fine with that, since they're doing something that makes the game genuinely harder and getting rewarded for it. There will probably be problems, like players favoring certain unit/mod combinations that make that easier, but no system is perfect here.
 
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Tombles

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I have to run now, so I can't answer in depth, but to be clear:

The system sums the XP value of all the enemy units you killed, and then it divides that sum by the number of units you and your allies entered combat with. The result is given to each of your surviving units.

So, if you enter a battle with fewer units, each surviving unit will get more XP at the end. You are correct though that the specific value of the units you entered with is not considered, though I'm not certain that would be a problem?
 

Tombles

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We've actually gotten hate mail about the missing in the older AoW games, so we're aware how people feel about it! ;)