seven day project – day four

Hump day!
Today was spent nailing down combat rules and developing a balance between the different Unit Specifications and the different Unit Attachments.
The game isn’t playable yet in the sense that there are no goals and no way to achieve victory, but it can handle spawning units and having them interact and battle it out, which is actually pretty entertaining to see.

Specification Balance

The unit specification system works on the principle that all specification types are balanced and equal in value. When the player is given the opportunity to upgrade a specification, there should be no optimal choice – no one specification should be overpowered, and none should be useless. When the player spends currency to upgrade a unit specification, the decision should be driven by their strategic agenda for that unit.
To tackle this problem Unit Specifications are paired, and balanced to complement each other.
The Armour and Attachment Level specifications are paired – with Armour acting to make the unit more resilient to attack, and Attachment Level actively improving the effectiveness of the unit’s weapon.
Likewise, the Speed and Range specifications are paired – increased Range offers a unit the opportunity to get the slip on a target, with Speed working to limit that range advantage.
These relationships between the specifications compound the importance of each, and give some much needed relevance and a point of comparison.

Attachment Balance

After determining the relationship between specifications, balancing the attachment abilities was straightforward, although there were some balance issue inherent in the attachment ability design. Specifically the Shield Attachment, which required a major rethink.

Due to the nature of the shield attachments ability – blocking projectiles and attacks – the range specification was useless, armour played only a minor role, and the intended motivation for improving the attachment level was extremely weak. Seriously, it’s disgustingly sloppy design.
This had implications on balance in two ways. Firstly, the mitigating effects on the usefulness of the aforementioned specs knocked the Specification system off balance – a player could effectively ignore range and attachment level specifications, focusing those points elsewhere without feeling the corresponding trade offs – and secondly, much the same as Specifications, all Attachments share the same ‘cost’, meaning that their abilities need to be comparable for the attachments to remain balanced.

Shield Attachment Revisions

As appose to blocking all attacks, the Shield Attachment is now only effective against rockets, and is no longer guaranteed to deflect attacks with 100% proficiently. The shield’s effectiveness is determined by Attachment Level – the details of which are included in the chart below.
The unit is no longer limited to deflecting attacks from a specific unit or direction, and can now deflect rockets from any number of units. The (what would have been functionally useless) ability to shield additional units has been removed.

To balance this reduction in the unit’s primary ability – and to make use of the Range specification – the shield attachment is now capable of ‘cloaking’ friendly units within it’s range radius.
A cloaked unit will not be fired upon automatically, and can be attacked only after first engaging an enemy. These revisions make the unit far more strategic and supportive, effective use of the cloak ability can allow units with short ranged attacks to safely move within range of dangerous long range enemies.

The following table displays the scaling of attachment abilities as the Attachment Level specification is increased. For comparison, the Armour value for the corresponding armour specification level is also displayed. Below the table you’ll find a brief explanation of each attachment’s offensive ability.

Armour Points

Armour is analogous to health. As attacks are launched against a unit, armour points are deducted from the unit’s pool. The unit is destroyed when its armour points are depleted. The damage values on the above chart are equal one-to-one with armour points.

Rocket Launcher

The Rocket Launcher attachment is capable of firing rapid rocket volleys as the attachment level is improved. Each rocket has a payload of 1 damage, and as such, the values on the chart can also be read as damage per second.

Machine Gun

The Machine Gun attachment maintains it’s rate of fire, but increases it’s damage output as the attachment level is increased.


The Zapper Attachment deals a flat 1 damage per second. The Zapper is able to engage multiple enemies simultaneously, sharing this damage evenly between each.
The figures for the Zapper detail the total percentage of the damage available to be spread between all targets. For example, at level 8 (400%), if the Zapper were to engage four enemies simultaneously, it could deal the full 1 damage per second to each.
The Zapper is never able to deal more than 100% damage (1 damage per second) to a single target.


The shield attachment is capable of deflecting a number of rockets each second. An advanced rocket enemy is able to engage and overwhelm a low level shield unit, dealing damage to the unit with any rockets the shield is unable to deflect. Likewise, a shielded unit can be overwhelmed by multiple rocket enemies engaging it simultaneously.

Examining the Chart

Examining the chart reveals the relationship between Armour and Attachment levels.
Armour and damage values scale linearly, allowing armour and attachment levels to effectively cancel each other out.
For example, a unit with a level 2 rocket launcher attachment will take the same amount of time to destroy a unit with level 2 armour as a unit with a level 6 rocket launcher will take to destroy a unit with level 6 armour.

The chart also allows us to examine the relationships between different attachment types.

  • A rocket launcher unit can destroy two machine gun units of the same level.
  • A shield unit is capable of deflecting rockets from two rocket units of the same level.

Pairing this information with other rules and abilities (for example, we know that a machine gun unit is capable of easily destroying a shield unit) reveals a scissor/paper/rock relationship between the attachments, help to build a strong profile of each attachment that will resonate with the player.
The player is able to grasp the strategic functions of different attachment types, and with the unit specification system, is empowered to capitalise on these functions.

The information displayed in the above chart is only one aspect to the balance and function of attachments. Speed and Range specifications are free to be modified to handicap and further  improve balance, and unique abilities offering strategic advantages – like the Zapper’s ability to attack multiple enemies at once – also play a major role in defining each attachment’s strengths and weaknesses.

We’ll pick up from here tomorrow, taking a look at how these special abilities and strategic functions come into play during gameplay.


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Playing on Playstation 3

Red Dead Revolver - I paid about $1000 for my launch model PS3, so I guess it's time I get some use out of that emotion chip crammed inside. I remember Red Dead Revolver looking rather good when it was released, and despite the low resolution and odd blurring (that I attribute to playing on a HD set) the game holds up well. It looks good despite these graphical limitations because the art direction is so precise and awesome. And it isn't just the art direction, the music, dialogue and set design (for some reason, set seems a more fitting word than level) all work in tandem to recreate an iconic Wild West atmosphere. Red Dead Revolver doesn’t aim to recreate life in the Wild West, it allows our imagination to take over and populates the locale with legendary men and their legendary stories.

Playing on iPhone

edge - Well I never thought I'd consider playing a game on iPhone as actually gaming, but edge has turned me around. The game is built for the iPhone. Sure, it could be ported, but the elegance of what has been created is astounding, it boggles the mind and makes me wonder what amazing gems we'd receive if current gen consoles weren't clones of eachother.

Playing on PC

Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod, Generals - Zero Hour - It may be a temporary effect as I slowly reintroduce the PC into my gaming diet, but it seems every title I’m excited to play on the platform is either a strategy game, or a cheap indie game. PC gaming isn’t dead, it’s just restricted to titles that require complex input or a pointing device, and games that couldn't be developed or distributed on other platforms. I guess that’s part of the reason the AppStore is so far a success, there were a lot of indie devs stuck on PC for lack of a better alternative.


June 2011
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