Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Very Interesting Email: Part 1

Ryjak sent me a long email with a lot of heartfelt suggestions/criticisms about the game. The discussion of which I thought would be of interest to most of our readers. So here it is...


I have been an avid reader of your WarStrike blog ever since I first discovered it (probably through 3++ or YTTH). You convinced me you have the right approach with these paragraphs.
"As a result of these conflicts, the player base will be artificially split between those who are willing to accept sub-par game performance in order to use the models or unit combinations they prefer, and those who will run the best combinations regardless of whether they like the models or not. This split is not in the best interest of the players and can be blamed solely on shoddy rules and the conflicts of interest that lead to them.

By breaking the link between selling models and selling rules, M42 seeks to heal these divisions and create a balanced, well-written game that both casual and hard-core players can enjoy together. Where every model and unit is useful, and games are mostly won on the field more than at the list-building phase."
In fact, your whole justification for creating WarStrike is very solid, especially when you combine this mindset with the implications of 3D printing (which I tried to convey in an article I wrote for The Jungle, publishing this weekend)

Bottom line, I'm a solid supporter, and don't want you to screw it up. That's what the rest of this e-mail is about.

Bring it! I love feedback like this. :)
1) Stop using Warhammer 40K as your foundation

While your target audience will be the 40K Gamers disenchanted with 6th Edition, you really want to dis-associate yourself from Games Workshop's IP and games. While you might be able to do so in court right now, every time your game system makes even a passing reference to 40K products, it slightly invalidates the project. From M42 to LaansGuard to ALL of the "fluff" postings, the whole blog is too attached to 40K... especially when you're trying to break the connection between rules and model manufacturers. WarStrike is all about using whatever miniatures you want, after all, to represent the game models.
WarStrike, by its very nature, is a reaction to the current state of 40K, and also a 'solution' for folks who like the general universe and 'feeling' of 40K, but dislike the game system that it's used to sell. That's our role. That's why folks are interested in us. We shouldn't run from it, we should embrace it.

There are plenty of wholly original, distinct, sci-fi wargames out there. But nobody plays them in any great numbers. The reason is appeal. GW's hodge-podge of fantasy and sci-fi tropes is simply more appealing to a wider range of potential players than WarMachine, Flames of War, Infinity, Warpath, or others can ever hope to be. It's so appealing that 40K players will overlook almost everything else in order to play in that universe.

So that dictates our path. We're a 40K alternative. We're grimdark for grownups. We're also a game that won't be making many, if any, of its own models. So we have to work with what gamers already have, or can easily buy. Folks like/have human super-warriors in armor. They like/have Orcs, Elves, Undead, and Space-Bugs. So we will have those in our game too. We wouldn't be appealing if we didn't. Nobody would care about the project if we didn't.

But, like Babylon 5, we spin them. We evolve them. We grow them up into something more contemporary, and less childish. We make them our own. A Firefly to GW's Star Trek. A Battlestar Galactica to GW's Star Wars. Similar in feel, but more contemporary. More 'real'. More in tune with the things that people think about today, rather than what was going on in the 1980's when 40K was conceived by geeks like us.

The super-warriors become walking tanks, literally. What everyone has always wanted them to be, but were told that they couldn't have. They're a high-attrition military unit, not cloistered orders of space monks. They have fancy names, but crap jobs, and a genetically enhanced sell-by date. They wear out and die crying.

The human empire isn't dying, but in the ascendency. Just don't ask what they've had to do to get there. It's not pretty.

The elves aren't survivors of a cataclysm, they're going through it. They're causing it. Victims of their own vices. Blissfully unaware of what's required to feed those lusts until it's too late. Not in a childish 'The sex demon's gonna get you!" sense, but one of resource depletion and madness.

The Undead robots are both the elves' slaves, producing the things they want, and their masters. Subtly shaping the cultures of every faction in the game for the long-term benefit of their spoiled charges.

The Orcs become religious fanatics. Submitting to, and controlled by, a mysterious entity that nobody understands. To think about it is to welcome it into your mind and submit to its will.

The bugs really are a hive mind, both in the fluff, and on the table. They don't just look different, they play differently too. They don't move the same way as everything else. They don't test Ld the same, etc.

It's a simple truth that everything is better with a good story. A good story turns a house, a car, or a set of game rules into more than just a dry assembly of parts. And GW's stories are not the be all and end all of grimdark fantasy sci-fi. Not by a long shot. There's almost 30 years of new stuff that we can draw OUR tropes from. New classics like 'Hyperion' and Ian M. Banks' 'Culture' novels come to mind. Old stuff that GW never touched, like 'Ringworld'. TV shows like 'Stargate', 'Firefly', 'Farscape', 'Lexx', 'Full Metal Alchemist', and 'Ghost In the Shell'. Movies like... well, too many to count. This is another golden age of Sci-Fi we're living in.

Believe me when I say that I spend just as much time thinking about our universe/fluff as I do our rules. It's just that the rules are the more important aspect of the game right now. But there's entire histories and interrelations between the factions that are just waiting to get out.
"At some point, you will have to develop guidelines for the physical dimensions of the game models, particularly base size. The base itself should be used for everything in the game, and ideally you should be able to play the game with just the bases. If the miniature height matters for some reason, there will need to be some kind of "standard height" that is miniature independent. You don't want the system to encourage people to use short or tall miniatures for some kind of game advantage."
I agree totally. The more we refine the game, the more that we rely on the models' base, and little else, to determine LoS and other things. As I update the rules with the latest thinking and test results, you'll see this happening more and more.

But I'm not going to start kicking out base size regulations before we get the rules to a stable state.
2) Weapon Ranges

In "Visualizing the New Visibility System" you posted a chart, Proper 28mm Scale Weapon Ranges. Where did you find this, because it’s very suspect. First, what calculation are you using to convert real distance to 28mm distance? After that, why do you add an additional arbitrary reduction of 75.5%?

The numbers you see above came from various Wikipedia entries, shooting enthusiast articles, etc. Some are maximum ranges, some are 'realistic effective ranges', etc. It's not intended to be a scholarly reference. Just a general guide to what the 'ballpark' for each weapon type should be compared to the others. Each weapon will be 'tweaked' to some standard range bracket anyhow.

Also, the range reduction is not a straight 75.5%. You're misunderstanding the math.

The .755 is an exponent. If you plug it into a table, it reduces the near ranges (pistols) by close to 50%, while the longer ranges are reduced on a curve that gets steeper the further out it gets.

Basically it's a consistent way of 'scaling' weapon ranges into something closer to the 'Action Movie Reality' that a game like WarStrike needs to have. We then use that as a guide when considering how far a weapon should be able to shoot.

How did I pick .755 as the exponent? That's what it took to put the table width/length into the ballpark for standard infantry engagement ranges (top of chart).
"And what is “WoT Minimum Perception Range” anyway?
Heh, I guess you missed that discussion.

WoT = World of Tanks, which is an FPS tank warfare MMO familiar to a lot of 40K players. One in which an opponent's visibility is a huge part of play. WoT is not a scholarly reference either, of course. Not by a long shot. But it's a well-done game that gives one a good feel for how tanks should 'play' on a battlefield. It's also a game with a couple of development blogs, like ours.
Further, when you get to actual weapon systems, where are these ranges coming from? A 9mm auto-pistol has a 150 foot (50 yard) range; an M1 Carbine has a 600 foot (200 yard) range; an “assault rifle” has a 1320 foot (440 yard) range? A quick read on Wikipedia says ” Most authorities list the effective combat range of the M1 carbine at around 200 yards (180 m), compared to 250-300 yards (230–270 m) for the AK-47 and StG44”, so maybe that one is good, but the rest? Unless you source the chart’s information, I wouldn’t present it as a source document for game design.

Further, there’s no point in using this kind of information as the foundation for a game system anyway. The reason few people play traditional historic miniature simulations verses modern miniature wargames is because they’re way too complicated as they attempt to emulate reality. While reality should serve as a foundation to assist the emersion of the game, a game system is at best an abstraction of reality, and should focus instead on being a solid game. 
You do realize that the dogfights in Star Wars were originally modeled on gun-camera footage from WWII dogfights, right?  Reality informs fantasy and makes it believable.

When you want to improve on an existing system, you don't just copy it and add stuff. Instead, you tear it down to it's most basic assumptions and re-examine them. Are 40K weapon ranges realistic? Of course not. It's something that's always bugged me and others. So we looked at what realistic ranges would be and tweaked them mathematically until we had something that made sense and was consistent.

This is one way that we differentiate ourselves from 40K, as you suggest above. We find the things that have always bugged folks about the game, and we offer something different that scratches that itch. Something which Warpath has completely failed to do. While Flames, WarMachine, and Dust do.

GW's designers decided long ago that weapon ranges had to be ultra-short. Otherwise you couldn't balance shooting. That's an assumption that we're seeking to challenge. Just as nobody thought that you could browse a web page comfortably on a phone-sized device until Apple decided to figure it out. Proving the earlier assumptions wrong.
Basically, any weapon in your game system should have a flat maximum range based on game balance. If you start with some reality data, that’s ok, but don’t be constrained by it. You could consider changing weapon stats beyond this range, or bonuses at short range, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
Visualization of why 40K Needs To-Hit Modifiers Instead Of FNP Saves.

Actually, it is necessary. One of the biggest ways that 40K falls down is in its to-hit system. A soldier and a tank are hit the same. Which is why tanks in 40K form parking lots and hug cover. That ridiculousness comes from their lack of any to-hit modifiers. As does the endless extra saving throws that are meant to make up for the broken nature of the to-hit roll.

So we've fixed that. But I still think that we can do better.
3) Visibility, Awareness, and Ballistic Skill (which should be renamed) vs. Evasion
Why rename it? It's not a copyrightable term. Neither is it unique to GW. But it does provide a bit of familiarity for players who are used to 40K. Even though our to-hit system is quite different. Some passing familiarity, in the face of all the differences we have to 40K, can only be a good thing. It's comforting, without being illegal or immoral.
Besides, the physical capabilities of any weapon ultimately don’t matter as soon as you put it into someone’s hand. Even out of practice, I’m confident I could hit a standing, stationary person at 300 yards with an M4/M16 90% of the time, while many in the US Army have learned they shouldn’t even bother shooting at this target. Some people are very good, and can consistently hit that stationary person at 400 or even 500 yards. This is what the stat “Ballistic Skill” is emulating.

Evasion, on the other hand, is an abstract measurement of how hard someone is to hit. The US Army teaches several combat techniques to essentially increase a Soldier’s “Evasion Stats”; the most basic is “I’m up, they see me, I’m down”. It’s a straight-up evasion drill. A soldier on a soccer field can make themselves hard to hit with just this drill, while still shooting back. Toss this soldier into forest or city, where they can use the terrain as well, and they’ll be much harder to hit. That’s where the terrain Evasion Bonus comes from.

I wrote all that to explain why I think your comparison system is fantastic for shooting. It emulates reality very well while being abstract. Unfortunately, you’re also trying to mix in a soldier’s effective firing range with tabletop range bands and target visibility, and it’s becoming a complicated mess. The Awareness stat (which I still don’t understand) also ties into this, making it more complicated. In gaming and life, KISS.
You'll be glad to hear the results of my testing yesterday. Know what? My new system failed. It was interesting to my opponent, got him thinking, and generated all sorts of useful suggestions. But it wasn't fun for us to actually play. Which is the entire point of WarStrike. To be more fun to play than 40K. If it's not fun, it's not a viable solution for us.

I'm going to take another crack at it though, in a simpler form. Which will include influences from what you've just told me. Next time, comment on the posts!

I think that your viewpoint, as someone who's actually used military hardware/tactics, is extremely valuable to have. I'm an idea machine, and Eriochrome is great at analysis, but neither one of us has any actual experience in the field to base our ideas on. So get in there and ground us in reality!

Oh, and the Awareness Stat is (currently) how far a unit can see into concealing terrain, and also its standard short range.
My proposal is this. Have flat Range Bands which effectively modify Ballistic Skill, and flat Terrain Modifiers to modify Evasion… instead of the current matrix. But maybe that’s exactly what you’re doing, but presenting it in a matrix makes it hard to figure out.
Parts of it are harder than others. Determining a dynamic 'short range' was easy. It was the other bands that bogged everything down in silly ways.
Awareness is then part of a conditional modifier (is a Unit “Aware” of their target?) which provides a bonus to hit. Further, Awareness could work the other way. If a Unit is Unaware of who’s shooting them, they receive a modifier to their Evasion. This would allow you to have Suppression and Flanking rules (these conditions modify Awareness) that have no bearing on unit facing.

For example, if a Unit is Suppressed, they have a negative modifier to Awareness when they get shot by additional units. Flanking happens when the target unit is Unaware of what unit is shooting them, and the shooting unit has Awareness of the target unit. Perhaps make cover and line of sight part of the Awareness modifier, and it shouldn’t be too hard to have an elegant system of conditions and modifiers.

With this kind of system, Going-to-Ground could give a small bonus to Evasion, while reducing the unit to Unaware, and make it easy to Flank them… which gives a huge penalty to Evasion; or maybe cancels the GtG Evasion Bonus while granting a BS bonus. Statistically, it should work out about the same.
I like many of those ideas. Let me think on it, combine it with the suggestions I got from the testers yesterday, and get back to you on it. :)

(To Be Continued...)

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