Thursday, 16 August 2012

Short Campaign: 96 Battles Later ... Not So Short Then ...

 So Short Campaign turns out to be ... er ... not so short after all. But was ruddy good fun, especially after I fixed the usual gazzillion bugs that you find during a month of extensive playtesting.

I played through my Short Campaign ... and it took 96 battles to win.

... so ...

... err ...

Short Campaign turned out to be not so short after all.

It's been a solid month of playtesting ... with the accompanying solid month of fixing a huge number of bugs that a solid month of playtesting throws up, and an equal amount of tweaking.

For my Campaign test, things started off well, a little too well. Then after 30 or so battles, I found a bug that meant the Ai was never deploying any of it's veteran forces. Whilst my force of veterans and equipment was growing, I was still fighting againstthe halfwit conscripts who can barely hit an elephant at close range. That fixed and things began to be a bit more challenging.

The Ai had a few issues with finding cover under certain circumstances - fixed. The Ai had difficulty re-equipping from the dead when they ran out of ammunition - fixed. Enemy gunners didn't have the correct amount of ammunition on deployment - fixed.

And also made a whole load of tweaks. Some of the most expensive equipment didn't seem to have the firepower to justify the cost - fixed. You get what you pay for but no one piece of equipment tips the balance decisively. I also redid a number of Guis to make them somewhat more ergonomic. The deployment screen now has battle terrain, weather, conditions, objectives and modifiers viewable with less clicking. Conscripts can be added to the deployment force singularly or en masse now.

I also added range-based-passive-phase-fire to the classes. So gunners and snipers could only return fire on the enemy's turn if the target is over 200m away. Recce and Fusilier can only return fire up to 100m, and Sapper, Grenadier and Militia (Conscript) get 100-200m. I found it creates another tactical decision, both in deployment - low visibility prevents Gunny and Marksman using passive fire - but also in battle - do you leave a Fusilier to cover the other classes incase an enemy walks around that hedge just in front of your Sapper and is too close for him to defend himself? Or do you move the Fusilier up doing his own job?

I had started off with the concept of limiting the number of veterans to just 16 as a way of acting to create a further strategic variable. You've got a lot of one class, say a class which can only return fire in the passive phase at long range, and when some conscripts survive they get promoted to a close combat class which you are short of. Do you sack one or more of your experienced veterans to make room for the new - but inexperienced - guys?

And then there was the actual gameplay, and the type of interesting procedural stories you get from unscripted gameplay. Just throw in a bazzillion variables and watch it go.


Late on in the Campaign, after I'd fixed all the bugs I had found, my mixed force of veterans and conscripts was attacking a large enemy base on a hill. Numerically I had the slight advantage, experience wise they probably shaded it and equipment wise we were equal. This was the third or fourth time I had attempted to win this particular hexagon shaped territory on the Strategic Campaign Map, and I needed it to allow for an extra avenue of attack on the final series of enemy territories to win the not so short campaign. Previously I'd mainly used conscripts in the attacks due to poor weather conditions and a lack of close-quarter combat troops. Now I had sunshine and clear weather which favoured my available types of veterans.

   I'd moved my force up to a low bank which gave them cover and split my troops into Support  (Marksmen and Gunners) and Assault groups (mostly conscripts with some veteran Grenadiers). I also had a Recce and a Sapper for spotting boobytraps, and Sapper dualed as a mule carrying lots of aidkits and spare ammunition. I only had one of each of these classes available

   I'd had everyone pouring a bit of fire from behind this bank to suppress the enemy, Recce and Sapper had been spotting and diffusing boobytraps. I'd started moving my Assault team round to the side so that they could run up the hill and attack, when a sniper round critically wounded my Recce. Luckily Sapper was near enough to despense first aid and medivac him. Unluckily it meant he wasn't part of the assault anymore.

   My Assault team broke cover and rushed halfway between the objective and the bank, taking cover behind a series of hedges whilst Support group peppered the enemy. All good so far ... right up until I set my first trooper out. He spotted a large number of enemy that had been obscured and took fire from the far side of the map. I decided to throw my flanking manoeuvre out wider to avoid a crossfire and that's when my lead officer was vapourized by an IED. Sapper was still back with the Support group, Recce had been medivaced, so no one in the Assault team could spot boobytraps. And that's when the conscripts which made up the bulk of my Assault squad freaked out, taking a massive morale loss from the officers death right in front of them.

   Most of them fled blindly in panic back towards the bank, narrowly missing an earlier detected but not diffused IED. A couple stood in the open impotently firing at enemies either to well concealed to be hit or out of range. And then it was the enemies turn to pick a few of my panicked troops off ... which made the surviving conscripts freak out even more.

   Eventually I ended up back where the assault had started, behind the bank with the Assault team. Sapper used the last of the aidkits to heal the wounded, the conscripts had regained their composure. Now the real problem was a distinct lack of ammunition. I spent some time dividing up the remain rounds and added a now unarmed Marksman to the Assault team as there were no more 50cal rounds left. Most of my dead troops still had plenty of ammunition, but they're corpses were stuck in a crossfire.

   Not wanting to fallback to the Deployment area and have a dirigible rescue my guys, I tried again, this time heading for the smoking earth where my lead officer had died. There wasn't going to be an IED left there now so it was a safe route up the side of the hill.

   I headed out of cover, much wider than the first ill-fated attack, and had everyone sprint through the enemy fire, past the scorch blast left by the boobytrap, and scavenged equipment from the deceased. My Support team chewed their way through the last of the ammunition to give covering fire, and I suddenly had half my men sitting behind that bank playing cards and checking Twitter feeds for the rest of the battle. So it was all down to my increasingly small and barely armed Assault force.

   Storming up the hill I noticed a lack of incoming rounds, infact, I could see some of the enemy Ai starting to loot their dead for spare ammunition and weapons. As I'd never had a battle last long enough for both myself and the Ai to run dry of bullets I was pretty bally chuffed to see this in action in real-live gameplay rather than laboratory conditions of dev testing. As my Assault team's ammunition dwindled to naught there was a sudden close-range grenade duel on the hill but I was to the enemy dead first and rearmed. A final push to the top cost another dead conscript from wherever the hell that damn sniper at the other side of the map was hiding, but I seized the enemy's colours and won the battle.


It had all been rather exciting, and nerve wracking, but showed me that my whole gameplay idea and the methodology of how I had been creating it was just what I had been after, 14 months ago when I first started.

And here is the final Campaign map. As you see I had tried my best to avoid cities as much as possible as they always have the largest number of enemies to face. I'd started off from the left, worked my way right up to the last few which are protected by the enemy Citadel's influence (more troops per hex). And that was when I got a bit stuck. Each hex captured which borders the hex you attack gives 4 troops, and for the final attack I just never seemed to have enough and so had to open up a new front all the way up the right side to attack from all available angles. If those 3 cities in the top(ish) centre had been other types of terrain I would have gone through them instead, but they simply were too much of an obstacle.

And here is the final tally. As you can see Sapper survived! Recce recovered from his medivac but was killed later. Out of all 77 victories, half of them were  aided by the bug mentioned above when the Ai only fielded basic forces. Total War Cost is blank because it was an idea I had at the end and thus only just implemented it - it shows exactly how much you spent over the whole war. Tax payers like to know these things ...

And finally, a short video demonstrating starting the campaign and then saving mid-battle and then reloading it with progress restored.