No more OP death stacks

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Ophiuchus
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No more OP death stacks

#1 Post by Ophiuchus »

So... I am just putting down some thoughts about overpowered death stacks.

The main problem with death stacks is that the combat power does not scale linear but more like squared. So roughly, if you duplicate the ships in a fleet you will get four times the combat power.
Combined combat power of a fleet is defined as (sum-of-all-damages)*(sum-of-all-structures).

So why not somehow scale down combat power by square root to get back to linear scale? The result should be equal to the sum of all ships' damage*structure.

I did some rough sketches where a ship's combat power in a fleet is represented as a damage*structure box and the boxes are connected in the bottom right/top left corners of consecutive ships.
The fleet's combat power is the bounding box and if one wants to reduce the combat power to the linear one, one has to get rid of all the excess space around the ship damage boxes.

One can easily determine the combined combat power of a system-fleet and also the linear combat power (i.e. the sum of the combat power of all ships in the system-fleet). So as a prototype we could scale the ships down by the ratio between those two.

The scaling down is tricky of course. We could simply remove some ships by chance from combat until combined combat power is roughly the value of the original linear combat power. We could scale down structure and pseudo-kill ships (remove those from primary combat) if damage is higher than pseudo-structure.

Some fine print supplements
  • one wants shrinking to be based on absolute values. Relative values will work really well with two empires (e.g. scale everything to the less powerful system-fleet) as soon as there are multiple empires with different kind of affiliation this gets complicated
  • total combat damage and total fighter destruction are mostly independent metrics and need separate handling
  • structure-only ships provide weird "boxes"; so my gut feeling teels me those should get side lined. Which is a pity, because colony ships and troop ships might be valuable targets.
  • as usual for battle evaluation the hits-before-death/bouts-survival are more telling metrics, which unluckily depend also on the enemy fleet composition and weapon parts/tech levels.
  • shields influence hits-before-death/bouts-survival
  • fighters are even more weird
  • its also interesting to compare a (2 ships with 2dam*1struct) fleet with a (1 ship with 2dam*1struct, 1 ship with 1dam*2struct) fleet and its implications.
  • having a fleet of 4 ships of the same kind needs combat power to be scaled down to 25% . The necessary amount of fiddling is huge; in this case it would mean removing half the fleet.
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LienRag
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Re: No more OP death stacks

#2 Post by LienRag »

WHAT ?

The square power of numbers is a staple of strategy, namely of the "concentration of forces" principle.
What usually compensates for it is the question of logistics, and of "area damage".

We don't really have logistics in FreeOrion due to the "Production Queue" principle (which is very good to avoid micromanagement but hampers all the strategy based on logistics).
One way to simulate it could be to have speed reduction for big fleet (like, -1 to the speed of all ships per 5 ships in the fleet/system/starlane), but that wouldn't really work to prevent sending a massive and slow deathstack towards an enemy position (though one might ask whether an Empire really should be left alive if he can't stop a large stack slowly sent his way).
Note that what I want for flanking would alleviate this problem, since the slow big fleet would be disadvantaged against flanking smaller fleets.
Also, the more Stealth becomes important, the more big fleet are disadvantaged.

There were talks of "area damage" weapons, but it's a bit hard to keep them balanced. Maybe having them make higher (individual) damage on bigger fleet (or maybe, instead of weapons targeting everything, having them get a number of shots that rise the higher the enemy numbers are) could help this balancing ?
I have very good ideas about that, but they are tied to my so far fantomatic tactical combat rework...

Another option would be to have a morale system, which could help smaller fleet if designed correctly.
And/or a system allowing "points d'appui" where forces in neighboring systems affect in a way or another what happens for in-system battle (I have no idea if this can be considered acceptable design for FreeOrion, though).

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#3 Post by Ophiuchus »

LienRag wrote: Fri Mar 29, 2024 11:28 pm The square power of numbers is a staple of strategy, namely of the "concentration of forces" principle.
Some call it in freeorion also the "boring gameplay" principle.
LienRag wrote: Fri Mar 29, 2024 11:28 pm What usually compensates for it is the question of logistics, and of "area damage".
Why would anybody in the world want to compensate for such a great principle?
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Re: No more OP death stacks

#4 Post by BlueAward »

Some games limit number of units that can engage in battle, and you get ways to increase that limit (research of more advanced command and control techs, or some units increasing the limit, like heroes gaining leadership experience or you building better command and control modules on a flagship/just better flaghsip, or something).

Similar idea could indeed work in FO - you can have some limit of ships that can enter battle, if you bring more, then I guess I would go with randomly drawing what enters battle in one turn. I guess that could lead to some specific metastrategies, like would change the way you look at chaff... That may be what you're talking about?

Some similar games allow only one fleet against another one fleet at a time, and the command and control limit in some points is per fleet, and bigger ships take more command points. That's probably too big of a change for FO where fleets are very loose concept, hence the random drawing in of ships to battle (though still bigger ships could count as more of smaller ships, dunno)

Other concept is active upkeep. There is some resource generated with time, that armies use up. You can't pay up, your units can even be deleted (defect, fall apart, whatever). You can have soft cap on your total army that way, too, by increasing the upkeep if you're over some limit (able to increase through various means - research, buildings etc).

FO has upkeep in form of tax on new construction - stuff is getting more expensive to build, this is a way to have soft cap on deathstack, and whether parts or ships factor into the equation is trying to skew balance of small vs big ships. But since it is not an active upkeep, once you've built a big stack, you're rollin', and can freely spend the resources on whatever other construction than ships

Guess introducing some kind of currency is too big of a change, not sure why we don't have it here to begin with. Though with introduction of influence, that is what subbed in for that. Though it was put forth towards planets, not ships - unless you have engineering corps. So dunno, maybe lessen the harshness of construction upkeep formula and instead all ships cost some influence even without engineering corps. So some kind of engineering corps effect always active, and the policy just increases it both ways, and have some other techs/buildigs/policies that could impact this too. Obiously a big balancing change tho

I think real life favored deathstacks for quite a while, at least in navy, cause on land you have things like insurgency or seemingly random movements of smaller units that suddenly converge in one point. But dunno not like I'm a real life strategist. Future rather looks bleak for big units though, maybe mimicking fighter spam - swarm of drones seem more effective nowadays than big chonky units...

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#5 Post by Ophiuchus »

I think the resulting fleet power effect is so strong that concentration of forces is usually 90% of the strategy.
The main factors why I think it is worse in freeorion as compared to other games is that in freeorion movement options are very limited and concentration (comes for free and) is unlimited both on the map and in combat.

Direct manipulation of the fleet combat value allows much control of this effect. One could basically choose how strongly concentration works as a force multiplier by choosing the fleet combat value formula.

If brought back to linear scale, ship combat value would directly translate to fleet combat value which makes reasoning about it a lot easier.
I am not sure how it would affect gameplay. I can imagine that people would split up attacks and defenses into specialised waves.

Regarding expectations/fluff: I do not think concentration of forces is a staple of space opera combat - so it is not antithematic if it is absent.
Last edited by Ophiuchus on Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: No more OP death stacks

#6 Post by BlueAward »

I might be not following, but you're essentially saying about making individual ships weaker the more of them are around? That's probably more direct and mathematical way to achieve what designers of other games want to achieve, but... not very intuitive I'd say?

There are already somewhat unclear / hard to predict mechanics, like colony influence upkeep or ship construction costs increasing.. Even total production output is a complex web that even game is not able to fully predict (due to not counting stability effects.. but dang it could at least show me how more expensive my already-in-queue ships gonna get if I enqueue more...). This autoscaling of combat ships would prolly be another one of those that I'd need to somewhat take on faith and roll with it, instead of trying to predict what happens.

I mean yes, you're claiming reasoning would be easier, but it's when you "grok" the idea. I have 5 ships with guns, each doing x damage. Now you're telling me I'm bringing sixth such ship and sure, my total damage gonna be more than 5x, but it won't be 6x cause it will be rescaled. I'm already getting headache thinking about it :)

If I understand correctly, It's that you claim the gun damage is not really x, cause it gets higher order multiplicative effect, so 5 ships don't bring 5x to the table, they bring effectively progressively more, and you actually want to bring it down to 5x. And armor plays the role there in that effect too. So there's this effect of force multiplication which may be hard to gauge but I'd argue is somewhat intuitive (like the idea of chaff not bringing much to the table in terms of firepower directly, but they potentially save more expensive stuff from damage, cause the more ships you have, the damage gonna get more distributed, so you ultimately lose fewer units... and that's true even without chaff, it's just that chaff is comparatively cheaper)

And you're trying to fight this effect directly, with something I'd argue is not very intuitive and maybe hard to swallow psychologically. Though presumably game would show that effect so there's at least that. Though dunno, it may have hard time, like with flanking.

You know how DnD has maluses for attributes lower than 10? That's a psychological ploy. You could as well start with some baseline and each attribute gain would be that - a gain. It effectively is, actually. But telling people baseline is at 10, and you get penalty if you lower your stat below 10, makes them less likely to have some minmaxing dump stat cause hey, we humans really take penalties harsh. And gives designers or dungeon masters some leeway into actually penalizing something, assuming baseline is that a character can do something on average. So maybe this effect you're talking about could also be tweaked somehow that for some definition of smaller fleet, you'd get a bonus, some medium fleet would be no effect, and larger fleet would be malus? Not that it would help to understand the effect, but it would allow to swallow it better if I only get maluses at bigger fleet sizes, and small insurgency thing is actually a bonus. Would incentivize to keep fleets at "medium"

Hm are you talking about effectively lowering armor too? Cause dang while I can convince myself lower damage output may be stuff like trying to avoid friendly fire, then lower armor is what? Hm, friendly fire idealized?

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#7 Post by Ophiuchus »

BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 am but you're essentially saying about making individual ships weaker the more of them are around? That's probably more direct and mathematical way to achieve what designers of other games want to achieve
that is the gist.

And the reason for trying to take the direct road is that no convincing practical solution for freeorion emerged in the last years. E.g. this could be made much better with much better maps, but i think that is a really hard problem.
I also did not experience a convincing solution in other games.
BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 am , but... not very intuitive I'd say?
For intuition - depends on expectations. If you expect square power gain the intuition is broken - if you expect linear power gain not.

But my guess is that you mean that we then have derived numbers/effects instead of those directly visible? That is true.

In principle, UI should be possible (because the client has complete knowledge). If one wants to get a preview
What currently is possible is writing down bouts and reason with the unscaled values who hits what and what one would expect the effect to be. That won't be so easily possible because first one would have to determine the scaling and consider its effect.
Considering the effects might be complicated or even kind of unpredictable (if randomness gets applied for those).

If the implementation of scaling is reducing structure for purposes of knocking out ships, one has to a) calculate the scaling ratio and b) apply it to the structure of every involved ship.
BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 am I mean yes, you're claiming reasoning would be easier, but it's when you "grok" the idea. I have 5 ships with 5 guns, each doing x damage. Now you're telling me I'm bringing sixth ship and sure, my total damage gonna be more than 5x, but it won't be 6x cause it will be rescaled. I'm already getting headache thinking about it :)
Well the point is that with scaling the effect will be 6x, but without it will be 6.44x (== 5+6^2/5^2). What I am saying is that with scaling the effect of the sixth ship in destroying enemy ships is more or less the same if you send it with the 5 others or a turn later.
BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 amSo there's this effect of force multiplication which may be hard to gauge but is probably somewhat intuitive
well the metric is easy to calculate once you know system fleet composition
BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 am (like the idea of chaff not bringing much to the table in terms of firepower directly, but they potentially save more expensive stuff from damage, cause the more ships you have, the damage gonna get more distributed, so you ultimately lose fewer units... and that's true even without chaff, it's just that chaff is comparatively cheaper)
Side note on chaff: non-militarized chaff would not work anymore with linear scaling - the combat value of a ship with structure only is zero. But lance based chaff would.
BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 am So maybe this effect you're talking about could also be tweaked somehow that for some definition of smaller fleet, you'd get a bonus, some medium fleet would be no effect, and larger fleet would be malus?
Interesting idea. There are certainly ways to do this. Cant think of a good one yet. I need to think more.
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Re: No more OP death stacks

#8 Post by wobbly »

The mechanics I've seen in other games is probably similar to what BA is talking about. One is a manuverability bonus for a smaller fleet size and the 2nd is a leadership value on the ships officer, with that value setting a max fleet power. Fleets bigger then the officer's command value recieve a penalty.

Not sure whether I like either, they are just ways I've seen it handled.

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#9 Post by Ophiuchus »

BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 3:58 am Hm are you talking about effectively lowering armor too? Cause dang while I can convince myself lower damage output may be stuff like trying to avoid friendly fire, then lower armor is what? Hm, friendly fire idealized?
lowering structure is the effect I was thinking about the most yet. Lowering damage is not so much an option because of the strong direct interaction with shields. Hm maybe damage after shields could actually be scaled.

Another mechanism i was thinking about was removing some ships from combat bouts to bring down resulting combat power. But that has that randomness unpredictability and is a bit chunky.
wobbly wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 4:47 am manuverability bonus for a smaller fleet size
hmm. dunno... i would like some real movement effect...

Speed reduction on a big fleet only works if we change the fleet concepts. No arbitrary splits; maybe reduced number of fleets; or bad effects in combat if there are multiple own/allied fleets.

maybe reduce fleet speed if there is lot of traffic on a starlane similar to the stealth effect?
wobbly wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 4:47 ama leadership value on the ships officer, with that value setting a max fleet power. Fleets bigger then the officer's command value recieve a penalty.
that fits space soap opera fluff quite well (having individuals have a strong influence on battle outcome). This also means to restrict e.g. number of fleets or effectiveness of ships in different fleets.
Last edited by Ophiuchus on Sat Mar 30, 2024 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: No more OP death stacks

#10 Post by wobbly »

What's the end goal look like?

If I'm limited to 20 in combat and have 60, do I put 20 on the front line and shuffle 40 reserves in and out?

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#11 Post by Oberlus »

This whole thread gives me the chills.

Introducing non-linear effects to make the combat look like linear will make things more confusing. We already needed a combat simulator to get an idea of probable combat outcomes and this would not make it easier.

Also, this would be another annoying patch to add to the anti-exponential growth patch: increasing construction PP cost of ships, increasing IP upkeep of colonies, and now diminishing power of fleets. I can't see any light at the end of that tunnel.

In my opinion, death stacks are not a problem. The maps are wide, there are plenty of paths, and if you keep all your fleet together, Wobbly, Blueaward or Ophiuchus will disrupt your supply lines, kill your colonizers, blockade your reinforcements or invade your capital. So accumulating ships in a single system already have a great drawback that I keep finding not worth it.
So, if you manage to make 1 death stack permanently worse than two half stacks, then no one will have death stacks, but several max-size stacks, and I don't see that as fixing anything. That would mean having less viable tactics.


What about using influence upkeep for ships and then increase influence upkeep of ships in a system depending on number of other ships in there?

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#12 Post by BlueAward »

Oberlus wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 11:23 am

In my opinion, death stacks are not a problem. The maps are wide, there are plenty of paths, and if you keep all your fleet together, Wobbly, Blueaward or Ophiuchus will disrupt your supply lines, kill your colonizers, blockade your reinforcements or invade your capital. So accumulating ships in a single system already have a great drawback that I keep finding not worth it.
I think what you are referring to are consequences of how stealth works, not so much about deathstacks. Stealth is indeed a thing that counters deathstack a bit, but doesn't make it obsolete. It just literally lets you go around it, unless the other party is defended enough from stealth. If you split your deathstack, your ships are still an easier target cause weaker stack

So in fact you would wish for deathstacks not to be a thing, so you may better defend from stealth attacks, methinks. In other words, you'd actually liked if having multiple smaller fleets in many places were a more viable thing compared to stacking everything (mostly) in one place

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#13 Post by wobbly »

BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 2:54 am Other concept is active upkeep. There is some resource generated with time, that armies use up. You can't pay up, your units can even be deleted (defect, fall apart, whatever). You can have soft cap on your total army that way, too, by increasing the upkeep if you're over some limit (able to increase through various means - research, buildings etc).

FO has upkeep in form of tax on new construction - stuff is getting more expensive to build, this is a way to have soft cap on deathstack, and whether parts or ships factor into the equation is trying to skew balance of small vs big ships. But since it is not an active upkeep, once you've built a big stack, you're rollin', and can freely spend the resources on whatever other construction than ships

Guess introducing some kind of currency is too big of a change, not sure why we don't have it here to begin with. Though with introduction of influence, that is what subbed in for that. Though it was put forth towards planets, not ships - unless you have engineering corps. So dunno, maybe lessen the harshness of construction upkeep formula and instead all ships cost some influence even without engineering corps. So some kind of engineering corps effect always active, and the policy just increases it both ways, and have some other techs/buildigs/policies that could impact this too. Obiously a big balancing change tho
I'm not convinced upkeep would even fix the core problem. High upkeep means using a smaller death stack, but its no less "stacky".

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#14 Post by LienRag »

Oberlus wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 11:23 am What about using influence upkeep for ships and then increase influence upkeep of ships in a system depending on number of other ships in there?

That could indeed be a solution, even a better one that what I was suggesting.
It's basically a way to re-introduce logistics after the Queue mechanism basically threw them out of the game.
To really reintroduce Logistics, we'd need to have the Influence cost take into account (though way more mildly) the number of ships in neighbouring systems (probably with a inverse distance squared relation).

Basically, I agree with most of Oberlus' post there - which shows how serious the situation is !


(the part I don't agree with is this one : several max-size stacks, and I don't see that as fixing anything. That would mean having less viable tactics. Actually it's what would bring a more tactical game, but only if those were able to join in a deathstack for an assault)

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Re: No more OP death stacks

#15 Post by Oberlus »

BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 12:57 pm I think what you are referring to are consequences of how stealth works, not so much about deathstacks.
Yes and no. I put in the list "conquer your capital", and that only happened with stealth ships. But all the rest in the list I've seen it done without any stealth, just corvettes in early game, regular small fleets harassing from different entry points, or because of starlane bores in late game. In all those situation in which I was the losing part, I had my fleet concentrated in a single point, either attacking or about to it. I make myself too obvious and too easy to harass except if there is a single choke point.
BlueAward wrote: Sat Mar 30, 2024 12:57 pm So in fact you would wish for deathstacks not to be a thing
No, I stand by what I said.

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