Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

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Slith
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Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#1 Post by Slith » Wed Aug 20, 2008 12:59 am

First of off, what is written on the wiki:

-Free Orion is a turn-based 4X strategy game (primarily) with a RTS-TBS hybrid battle system (secondarily). The pseudo-real-time battles should complement the TBS strategy, and strategically interrelate with it as much as possible. Combat should be important, but other paths to victory should be just as viable. Other strategies than combat should prevail over combat in some cases, or work best in combination with combat.

-The player controls (at least) dozens of ships simultaneously. FO is not an arcade action space shooter where the player has control over a single, high customizable, fighter craft. The level of detail of the ships design system should reflect this distinction.

-The level or detail of player control of ships should minimize the need (or ability) to micromanage individual ships. Not requiring players to be concerned with single-ship facings or subsystem activation will eliminate a major potential source of the "clickfest" micromangement problem. Most interesting tactics can arise from the relative positions of groups of different kinds of ships, and do not depend on details such as the facing of an individual ship.

-Battles should not take excessively long to complete. A rough guesstimate is at most 5 or 10 minutes of combat (total) in one turn. Many turns may also have less combat than this, or none, likely depending on the degree of combat focus in a particular game.

My problems with this are as follows:
-Focus on controlling lots of ships
-Little to no micromanagement
-Very short battles

What you're going to end up with, is a game where there is almost no point to combat. The entire focus will be on researching the tech tree, diplomacy, and production of more spaceships.

Focus on Lots of Ships:
By having a lot of ships, you need less micromanagement so that you can give orders without being bogged down with controlling every aspect of each particular ship out of the dozens or hundreds you have in battle. A way around the number limitations, is to develop a squad or division based system, where you give orders to a group of spaceships, so while you only control a dozen groups, they may well consist of 50+ ships in total. This is similar to games like the Total War series, or Hearts of Iron.

The reason lots of ships are bad: Greater numbers calls for less detail. A player who controls only one ship will highly customize and micromanage that ship. From giving it a name, to outfitting it with weapons suitable to their play style. A single ship becomes more of an avatar of the player than 'just-another-ship' in the army. So follows: the connection a player has to a ship decreases with each additional ship they have to control. When you have dozens of easily reproducible ships, the player has no attachment to them. By being easily replaced, they become expendable. By being expendable there is no reason to think tactically with them.

Little to no micromanagement:
Little to no micromanagement gives new players a very easy time with the game. The learning curve to combat is not so steep, because combat is not so complicated. This is great if you have hundreds of thousands of players, and need to focus on making the game as accessible to all of them as much as possible. This is not the case however, when you have a niche game in a niche genre. The player population is smaller, and more dedicated to the game. They are willing to put up with a greater learning curve, or even a learning wall. Examples of games that are difficult for new players to get into include Dwarf Fortress and Eve-Online. Both of these games have rabid fan followings, regardless of the steep learning curves.

Why the lack of micromanagement is bad:
It further reduces tactics in the combat scenarios. For instance, if you were to control only 6 or so ships in combat [About the same number as a party in RPG games.] you could manage things like the pitch, yaw, and roll of a spacecraft. Allowing different sections of the ship to take hits as it whizzes by enemy ships on various Newtonian trajectories. This is an example of detailed micromanagement. By the same token, your design goal seems to be to reduce this kind of thing as much as possible. Combat seems to have been simplified almost as much as it possibly can, with your stated goals, I cannot see the combat gameplay being more than 'fling X type of ship at Y type of enemy ship.' This approach is similar to a game called "Sins of a Solar Empire". SoaSE is a decent game, but it lacks almost any micromanagement, and combat often consists of spamming as many ships as possible to win.

Very short battles:
This is great for the player who only has enough time in the day for an hour of playing. However, 5 minutes of combat greatly reduces the amount of complexity you can have in said combat. This reduction in complexity comes at a cost - combat won't be fun. It'll be boring, and it'll be annoying. Taking this to the extreme, you will have a calculator crunching the strength factors of the opposing sides and churning out a winner in a mere 10 or 15 seconds. Now you don't even have to bother with ordering your ships to move towards the enemy.

Why shortness is bad:
You don't have time to do anything. Good RTS combat cannot be done in 5 minute time-frames. 5 minutes is the average encounter time in an FPS like Halo. From coming across a group of enemies, to engaging them, to winning and moving to the next group - that is 5 minutes in an FPS. 5 minutes in a Total War game, is enough time to position your starting troops. In a Starcraft game, it's enough time to begin light skirmishes with your opponent. In a Homeworld game, it's enough time to get a mining operation going and produce a couple fighters. In other words, it's not enough time for combat. At all. Let alone tactical combat. The Total War games have fairly tactically advanced combat - and the combat portion of the game takes almost a minimum of 20 minutes. The game is still fun, and thousands of people play it. A game like X-Com has tactical scenarios that take even longer, in upwards of a half hour, and it is considered by many to be one of the best computer games ever made.

These are my opinions and suggestions. As it stands [and speaking solely for myself] - with your current design philosophies and outline, I will never be playing Free Orion. Master of Orion, a 14 year old game, has more gameplay and depth than what your roadmap is showing. I am presenting my arguments here because I want your game to be good, to be something I would play. If you follow my suggestions, it is something I will play. I'm not going to hide my selfishness - I want you to make a game that I would enjoy.

I am one person; it's up to you to decide if I represent a sizable population to target with your game, and it is up to you to decide if you want to put in the much greater effort required to design a game following my suggestions. My ideas are not easy ideas, and they might not represent what the casual gamer wants, but the game will most certainly have more depth in its combat than what you have currently proposed.

Good luck with your game development. I hope you succeed, regardless of my criticisms.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#2 Post by utilae » Wed Aug 20, 2008 9:35 am

Slith wrote: My problems with this are as follows:
-Focus on controlling lots of ships
-Little to no micromanagement
-Very short battles

What you're going to end up with, is a game where there is almost no point to combat. The entire focus will be on researching the tech tree, diplomacy, and production of more spaceships.
Your prediction is inaccurate, as there is certainly no indication as to what ratio of combat there will be to everything else. I think the general idea is different game elements are equally viable, which is not a bad thing as these kinds of games don't always have to be just about combat, where the only way to win is to kill everybody.
Slith wrote: Focus on Lots of Ships:
By having a lot of ships, you need less micromanagement so that you can give orders without being bogged down with controlling every aspect of each particular ship out of the dozens or hundreds you have in battle. A way around the number limitations, is to develop a squad or division based system, where you give orders to a group of spaceships, so while you only control a dozen groups, they may well consist of 50+ ships in total. This is similar to games like the Total War series, or Hearts of Iron.

The reason lots of ships are bad: Greater numbers calls for less detail. A player who controls only one ship will highly customize and micromanage that ship. From giving it a name, to outfitting it with weapons suitable to their play style. A single ship becomes more of an avatar of the player than 'just-another-ship' in the army. So follows: the connection a player has to a ship decreases with each additional ship they have to control. When you have dozens of easily reproducible ships, the player has no attachment to them. By being easily replaced, they become expendable. By being expendable there is no reason to think tactically with them.
There is no perfect solution to this. It's a case of more detail, and feel the pain when you have to control 50 of those ships or include tools to control large groups of ships, often meaning less detail but easier to control more ships. There is no indication as to what numbers of ships will be in FreeOrion, but it is likely going to be similar to Master Of Orion 2 but with more modern tools for controlling your ships.

Slith wrote: Little to no micromanagement:
Little to no micromanagement gives new players a very easy time with the game. The learning curve to combat is not so steep, because combat is not so complicated. This is great if you have hundreds of thousands of players, and need to focus on making the game as accessible to all of them as much as possible. This is not the case however, when you have a niche game in a niche genre. The player population is smaller, and more dedicated to the game. They are willing to put up with a greater learning curve, or even a learning wall. Examples of games that are difficult for new players to get into include Dwarf Fortress and Eve-Online. Both of these games have rabid fan followings, regardless of the steep learning curves.
So far lack of micromanagement sounds good. There should not be great learning curves, unless you are learning strategy in a game. Leaning how to play a game should not take too long. That is why these types of games are niche in the first place, because the have too much micromanagement and are too difficult to learn before the average person looses their patience.
Slith wrote: Why the lack of micromanagement is bad:
It further reduces tactics in the combat scenarios. For instance, if you were to control only 6 or so ships in combat [About the same number as a party in RPG games.] you could manage things like the pitch, yaw, and roll of a spacecraft. Allowing different sections of the ship to take hits as it whizzes by enemy ships on various Newtonian trajectories. This is an example of detailed micromanagement. By the same token, your design goal seems to be to reduce this kind of thing as much as possible. Combat seems to have been simplified almost as much as it possibly can, with your stated goals, I cannot see the combat gameplay being more than 'fling X type of ship at Y type of enemy ship.' This approach is similar to a game called "Sins of a Solar Empire". SoaSE is a decent game, but it lacks almost any micromanagement, and combat often consists of spamming as many ships as possible to win.
Note that no 4X space game has the player controlling a max of 6 ships, and in rpg detail. Since of a Solar Empire is an Real Time Strategy game, so it is not really comparable. Also, a lack of micromanagement on the empire level does not directly affect the micromanagement in space combat.
Slith wrote: Very short battles:
This is great for the player who only has enough time in the day for an hour of playing. However, 5 minutes of combat greatly reduces the amount of complexity you can have in said combat. This reduction in complexity comes at a cost - combat won't be fun. It'll be boring, and it'll be annoying. Taking this to the extreme, you will have a calculator crunching the strength factors of the opposing sides and churning out a winner in a mere 10 or 15 seconds. Now you don't even have to bother with ordering your ships to move towards the enemy.
5-10 minutes of combat PER TURN is alot. Why should combat be long? So you can spend hours trying to look for the enemy or wait for your ships to kill theirs? Quality over Quantity. Cut out the fat. 5-10 minutes of good combat, eg not too much time spent looking for them, not too much time spent waiting for things to happen, all time on tactics, on action. If you want more combat, then start a fight every turn. Also, don't be evangelical and talk about extremes, because combat is not going to be reduced to a galciv style animation or a win/loose result sheet.
Slith wrote: Why shortness is bad:
You don't have time to do anything. Good RTS combat cannot be done in 5 minute time-frames. 5 minutes is the average encounter time in an FPS like Halo. From coming across a group of enemies, to engaging them, to winning and moving to the next group - that is 5 minutes in an FPS. 5 minutes in a Total War game, is enough time to position your starting troops. In a Starcraft game, it's enough time to begin light skirmishes with your opponent. In a Homeworld game, it's enough time to get a mining operation going and produce a couple fighters. In other words, it's not enough time for combat. At all. Let alone tactical combat. The Total War games have fairly tactically advanced combat - and the combat portion of the game takes almost a minimum of 20 minutes. The game is still fun, and thousands of people play it. A game like X-Com has tactical scenarios that take even longer, in upwards of a half hour, and it is considered by many to be one of the best computer games ever made.
Combat is not going to be RTS, but an RTS-TBS hybrid eg like Knights Of The Old Republic. Basically phased time or semi real time. All players give orders. Combat plays out for X time. Time is paused for giving orders when players request it. Because FreeOrion combat is not RTS there will be no based building like in Starcraft or mining of resources like in Homeworld. None of the games you mention are anything like FreeOrion. Similar games to FreeOrion are Master Of Orion 2, Space Empires V, Galactic Civilizations 2, Sword Of The Stars.
Slith wrote: These are my opinions and suggestions. As it stands [and speaking solely for myself] - with your current design philosophies and outline, I will never be playing Free Orion. Master of Orion, a 14 year old game, has more gameplay and depth than what your roadmap is showing. I am presenting my arguments here because I want your game to be good, to be something I would play. If you follow my suggestions, it is something I will play. I'm not going to hide my selfishness - I want you to make a game that I would enjoy.
You will have to go and play master of orion then because FreeOrion is not going to be made according to your tastes.
Slith wrote: I am one person; it's up to you to decide if I represent a sizable population to target with your game, and it is up to you to decide if you want to put in the much greater effort required to design a game following my suggestions. My ideas are not easy ideas, and they might not represent what the casual gamer wants, but the game will most certainly have more depth in its combat than what you have currently proposed.
You have given no suggestions to improve combat and you have not conveyed that you even understand what our combat system will be like since you think it is an RTS game. As far as I am concerned, all of your comments completely missed the target.
Slith wrote: Good luck with your game development. I hope you succeed, regardless of my criticisms.
Sorry, but your criticisms were not even a drop in the bucket. Come back when you actually know what you are talking about because you cannot just quote a small subset of text and think you know how FreeOrion works or how space combat works. You have not even played the game in its current state, since you have given no opinions on your experiences with FreeOrion.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#3 Post by General_Zaber » Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:46 am

While I too have to disagree with Slith for many of utilae's reasons I do think perhaps that combt could be a little more detailed. THe only thing I would suggest however would be to implement ship facings into overall combat strategy. Personally though this would only be an issue for slower, larger ships. A Frigate moves so much faster than a Battleship that it wouldn't really need to keep track of its facing, but said battleship would have to pln out its movement severl turns ahead.

The easiest way to add facings though would be for the "Front" to count as whichever way a Cruiser (or larger) ship is currently moving. A stationary capital ship would have no facing, per se because it would be able to instantly pivot whichever way it wants to move. The facing would only apply to the ship's turning, in that a Cruiser moving casually in one direction would take roughly half the 5-second turn to turn around.

Facings don't have to have an effect on weapons if that's too hard to code in (Although they do help make Battlefleet Gothic a fantastic battle simulator) But just a little physics in Capital Ships wouldn't hurt.

Anyway, just my ideas. The current plans look good to me anyway, I'm just a big fan of Broadsides. :D
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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#4 Post by Geoff the Medio » Wed Aug 20, 2008 6:40 pm

Slith wrote:The reason lots of ships are bad: Greater numbers calls for less detail. A player who controls only one ship will highly customize and micromanage that ship. From giving it a name, to outfitting it with weapons suitable to their play style. A single ship becomes more of an avatar of the player than 'just-another-ship' in the army. So follows: the connection a player has to a ship decreases with each additional ship they have to control. When you have dozens of easily reproducible ships, the player has no attachment to them.
This is all true, and has been discussed at length in design and brainstorm discussions on these forums. However it's also all not ver relevant because we're making a galaxy-spanning strategy game, not a tactical RPG. Players might care about single ships near the start of the game (in FreeOrion), but in the mid to late game, it's expected and accepted that there will be too many ships in a large empire to know are care about each one. This is the nature of the genre. You control an empire, not a single crew or a small squad of unique characters. If you want a single crew or squad, play X-Com or Final Fantasy Tactics.

However, it should be noted that the lack of individual ship detail and micromanagement of properties in FreeOrion or similar games is somwehat offset by being able to design ships. The player can spend time creating ship designs, in an enjoyably more detailed way that would be practical for individual ships, because those designs are replicated many times as actual ships. The player doesn't get attached the the indivivdual ships, but the designs can be fun to see in action and tweak in response to performance. The fact that a design is replicated many times becomes a part of what determines how well it works (or doesn't), not an impediment to it being important to think about carefully.
By being easily replaced, they become expendable. By being expendable there is no reason to think tactically with them.
This doesn't make sense. Having lots of ships doesn't mean replacing them is easy, nor that you don't need to think and act tactially with them. If your opponents use their (groups of) ships carefully and tactically, and you ignore tactics and expend your ships to no gain, you should lose. If there are no tactics required in combat, then we haven't designed (the details) or implemented it properly, but it's not possible to conclude this to be the case from your premises.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#5 Post by Krikkitone » Wed Aug 20, 2008 6:54 pm

Slith wrote: My problems with this are as follows:
-Focus on controlling lots of ships
-Little to no micromanagement
-Very short battles

What you're going to end up with, is a game where there is almost no point to combat. The entire focus will be on researching the tech tree, diplomacy, and production of more spaceships.
I Sure Hope So

My ideal model of combat would have you pick a couple settings (Risk level, Primary Goals) and then entirely autoresolve.

In 4x cames, combat has almost always taken more time and effort than All other aspects of the game combined.


There should be a role for tactical judgements... on the level of how much do I want to risk my ships on this combat goal and what combat goals to i want to achieve with them, but in my opinion that should be the limit to the tactics in a 4x game, the rest should be building and designing your society and determining how much of its efforts will go into military.
(now my position is probably less combat oriented than the average here, but it is probably closer to the design doc than otherwise)

I much prefer your empire as an avatar than some of your ships as an avatar.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#6 Post by Josh » Wed Aug 20, 2008 8:50 pm

So, wait, how does risk level and primary goals implement into the tactical scene? It sounds like something is about to get lost in translation to me.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#7 Post by utilae » Thu Aug 21, 2008 7:58 am

Personally, I would like to see a decent amount of detail in combat, and would not like to see combat become too simple (eg Krikkitones idea lol).
In my view, at it's simplest, you could take Master Of Orion 2 and just add modern user interface controls and functionality for giving orders to mass units. For example, imagine being able to select all ships and do some kind of mass move toward the enemy. Also, to even out the combat a bit more, making it semi real time / phased real time (as freeorion plans) would be ideal.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#8 Post by Krikkitone » Thu Aug 21, 2008 8:04 pm

Josh wrote:So, wait, how does risk level and primary goals implement into the tactical scene? It sounds like something is about to get lost in translation to me.
Well my tactical model would basically just be a way to autoresolve battles in a semi managed way [you set the risk level, to help determine how many ships you are willing to lose to try and meet your goal, and you set the goals that you want: eliminate enemy ships, blockade planet (s), invade planet(s), bomb planet(s), protect planet(s), etc. Now I would prefer this be the only way battles are handled, but I know that's not going to happen, and am merely hoping that the move and shoot strategy is at least simplified so that it is closer to an autoresolve.

Multiple Unit Selection is a definite need.
Last edited by Krikkitone on Mon Aug 25, 2008 5:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#9 Post by Josh » Thu Aug 21, 2008 8:09 pm

I will keep that in mind for the combat UI.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#10 Post by Yeeha » Sun Aug 31, 2008 1:57 pm

Geoff the Medio wrote:
Slith wrote:The reason lots of ships are bad: Greater numbers calls for less detail. A player who controls only one ship will highly customize and micromanage that ship. From giving it a name, to outfitting it with weapons suitable to their play style. A single ship becomes more of an avatar of the player than 'just-another-ship' in the army. So follows: the connection a player has to a ship decreases with each additional ship they have to control. When you have dozens of easily reproducible ships, the player has no attachment to them.
This is all true, and has been discussed at length in design and brainstorm discussions on these forums. However it's also all not ver relevant because we're making a galaxy-spanning strategy game, not a tactical RPG. Players might care about single ships near the start of the game (in FreeOrion), but in the mid to late game, it's expected and accepted that there will be too many ships in a large empire to know are care about each one. This is the nature of the genre. You control an empire, not a single crew or a small squad of unique characters. If you want a single crew or squad, play X-Com or Final Fantasy Tactics.

However, it should be noted that the lack of individual ship detail and micromanagement of properties in FreeOrion or similar games is somwehat offset by being able to design ships. The player can spend time creating ship designs, in an enjoyably more detailed way that would be practical for individual ships, because those designs are replicated many times as actual ships. The player doesn't get attached the the indivivdual ships, but the designs can be fun to see in action and tweak in response to performance. The fact that a design is replicated many times becomes a part of what determines how well it works (or doesn't), not an impediment to it being important to think about carefully.
By being easily replaced, they become expendable. By being expendable there is no reason to think tactically with them.
This doesn't make sense. Having lots of ships doesn't mean replacing them is easy, nor that you don't need to think and act tactially with them. If your opponents use their (groups of) ships carefully and tactically, and you ignore tactics and expend your ships to no gain, you should lose. If there are no tactics required in combat, then we haven't designed (the details) or implemented it properly, but it's not possible to conclude this to be the case from your premises.
I think he is partially right, i simply cant see how you can make combat tactical when there are more than 50 units which you need to control so i think gameplay should have somekind of... Well i dont know what but i think 50+ is just too much unless you guys do some combat interface miracle that will get you into history of 4X gaming :). And while this game certainly aint about certain ship i think capital ships that matter would make gameplay lot interesting. Capitalships should retreat when possible because of monsterous construction cost and could have special devices that are directly triggerable - blackhole generator and so on. I liked how in sins of solar empire capital ships affected gameplay in early stages although leveling those ships to have abilities was rediculous but otherwise idea was really well implemented.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#11 Post by Bigjoe5 » Wed Sep 03, 2008 2:08 am

Yeeha wrote: I think he is partially right, i simply cant see how you can make combat tactical when there are more than 50 units which you need to control so i think gameplay should have somekind of... Well i dont know what but i think 50+ is just too much unless you guys do some combat interface miracle that will get you into history of 4X gaming :). And while this game certainly aint about certain ship i think capital ships that matter would make gameplay lot interesting. Capitalships should retreat when possible because of monsterous construction cost and could have special devices that are directly triggerable - blackhole generator and so on. I liked how in sins of solar empire capital ships affected gameplay in early stages although leveling those ships to have abilities was rediculous but otherwise idea was really well implemented.
Actually, combat can be just as tactical whether you have 5 ships or 100 ships. What really matters is how many distinct roles you make for your ships in your tactical and strategic plans. More ships means that the player can have more distinct task forces in a battle fulfilling a distinct role. After a certain point, more ships just means more ships per role. I agree that capital ships should have triggerable effects - the player shouldn't have to worry about controlling individual weapons for all of his ships. Perhaps weapons/systems that the player has direct control over could be very expensive and useless to have more than one, to keep them special....
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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#12 Post by Geoff the Medio » Wed Sep 03, 2008 4:16 am

Yeeha wrote:...i simply cant see how you can make combat tactical when there are more than 50 units which you need to control...
More than 50 "ships" does not mean there has to be more than 50 "units". Ships can be grouped together as a manageble number of units for ordering about.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#13 Post by utilae » Wed Sep 03, 2008 7:19 am

Then the correct term is how many units can you control? Eg 50 may be too much, but 10 is ideal.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#14 Post by MrV » Wed Sep 03, 2008 2:38 pm

Well, if we're looking pragmatically at things, 10 might be ideal if we assign quick-select buttons as standard, 1 thorugh 0. Not sure if that's wanted, though, as a player may want to group several predefined groups in this manner half-way through the battle. In the Total War games you could control, what, 16 units? Something like that - and it worked very well.

How about keeping the smallest individual unit as the singular ship; much like now, and then group them together as fleets - again like now - which in turn count as units in battle? Add an upper limit of 16 ships per fleet as well as 16 fleets per battle, and there you have it. Max 16 units, and max 256 ships.

At the outset you'd build a single scout, and another, and another, while in late game you might want to build an entire 18-scout fleet right out of the factory, which could then be tossed into a battle as one single controllable unit. Translated to Earth history, this also makes sense. In early times, you're going Battle of Trafalgar, with some 20-30 primitive vessels on each side, while later on you're pumping it Battle of Leyte Gulf-style, wherein the Allies used 200+ relatively heavy ships, 1500+ planes and an untold number of lighter ships.

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Re: Casual gaming and combat in Free Orion

#15 Post by General_Zaber » Thu Sep 04, 2008 2:51 pm

MrV's got the right idea. MoO3 may have been horrible but the actual act of controlling Task Forces in combat I found quite engaging (if a little slow and one sided, stupid missiles!) Obviously the system of forming these units would be a lot simpler than in MoO3 (Grrrrrrrrr to Delay boxes) but other than that the concept of controlling units of ships seems quite attractive to me. Just throw in a few rare triggerable weapons and we've got ourselves a very good system.

ps. I think R:TW onwrds allowed you to use 20 units. 320 ships! :D
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