Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Considering combat mechanics

I’m thinking out loud here.

New game (codename: LB, previously G4). Involves military units shooting at each other. One of the mechanics I quite like is heat, where you would have heat based weapons, like flamethrowers, or incendiary bombs. I like the idea of units being vulnerable to, or impervious to, heat as a weapon.

I also still want the idea of armor, and of shields. I like the amount of variety that gives, all before you worry about actual hitpoints and structural damage. What I am unsure about, is exactly how to put all this stuff together.

GSB had a terribly complex system hardly any casual players got their heads around, so I’d like to avoid that. Things I did like was:

  • Shields had to be taken down by different weapons to those that did major internal damage.
  • Concept of different payloads for each weapon, especially missiles.
  • Shields could be taken down, then would not come back.
  • Shields could recharge over time, but armor was finite, without external repair modules.

I had some overcomplex stuff, like individual shield modules being down, rather than the whole thing, of shield-disruptors and the uber-complex shield-reflection and penetration mechanics.

With the new game, I like the idea of overheating a unit until it explodes. You can optionally add heat-sinks, of course, and I could even have environmental factors, so in some scenarios, losing heat is harder than others. However, there are a number of mechanics I’m unsure about.

  • Firstly, Do I have a three tier system like before, where you have to down shields, then armor, then do internal damage?
  • Can heat based weapons just go straight through shields?
  • Do heat based weapons have any effect on armor? and can they go direct through armor? They need to be as good as other weapons…
  • If heat dissipates over time, and shields recharge, aren’t they just 2 flavors of the same mechanic? and if so, does that really matter?
  • Is it worth having dual mechanics? For example, energy-based weapons obviously damage shields, and then armor, but do they also generate some heat?

I want a system that has some depth, but I want it to be understandable to someone who grabs the game for 10 minutes to see what it’s like. Obviously I can ‘drip-feed’ stuff in, so maybe the demo level only has shields,armor  and energy weapons, and I could introduce heat-sinks and flamethrowers later.

35 thoughts on Considering combat mechanics

  1. “Firstly, Do I have a three tier system like before, where you have to down shields, then armor, then do internal damage?”

    It’s pretty common, and in my experience works well both in the “cool” and “mechanically balanceable” categories.

    “Can heat based weapons just go straight through shields?”

    Personally I’d rather it didn’t, but that’s because I’m the kinda guy who loves designing ships/units with massive energy shields that keep damage from getting “messy”. Once stuff gets at the ship, stuff gets messy real fast. But I think having heat be a “lateral” counter to shields could be interesting. Depends on what heat winds up being, mechanically.

    “Do heat based weapons have any effect on armor? and can they go direct through armor? They need to be as good as other weapons”

    Perhaps heat should be able to neatly dodge either shields or armor, but both might be a bit much. If the heat weapons have comparable dps to other weapons it probably would be too much. If they’re on the low-end dps wise and have other effects perhaps it would be ok if heat largely bypassed shields and also ignored most armor, but certain kinds of armor could be very effective at stopping heat (sheep-wool insulation armor, anyone?).

    “If heat dissipates over time, and shields recharge, aren’t they just 2 flavors of the same mechanic? and if so, does that really matter?”

    It’s possible to design it such that they’re pretty much duplicates, yes. And that seems like it would be missing an opportunity. My minimal-thought-put-into-this suggestion is to have heat reduce the efficiency of internal systems (modules in GSB terms). So it doesn’t do very much damage, but the shield generator’s output diminishes as it overheats, engines can’t put out as much thrust, etc. And at extreme levels you could make it blow the reactor or something like that (Mechwarrior is stalking this entire paragraph), leading to perhaps-grander-than-usual cookoffs.

    “Is it worth having dual mechanics? For example, energy-based weapons obviously damage shields, and then armor, but do they also generate some heat?”

    I’m not sure if it’s good to “dilute” the heat mechanic into other weapons. If ye-olde-standard-laser-cannon does heat damage in addition to decent dps, it seems like there would be two possibilities: either the heat component is so high that almost all units have to have significant anti-heat components, or it’s so low that it’s a distracting stat with minimal impact. A decent middle could presumably be found, but perhaps it would be more fun to have a strong distinction between “this is a heat weapon” and “this is not a heat weapon”.

    We’ll see :)

    Anyway, LB is sounding very interesting :) Kindly inform me at your earliest convenience when I may apply my wallet to a pre-order.

  2. Oh, somehow I neglected to mention that the heat effect on “module” efficiency would be temporary via “bleeding off” over time.

    Basically it’d be temporary internal damage.

  3. I’d like to introduce you to
    iMerchant takes your one-time sale and makes it go monthly
    We sell a monthly membership to your product or service
    This gives you a life-time stream of monthly revenue sell your product or service once, get paid every month

  4. A three tier system is still a viable option.

    I like the idea of where heat damages the sheild a bit (after all unless it is a heat gun there are stiff physical particles to be blocked, and if it’s a heat gun thenit’s just another energy weapon), but the heat weapons don’t do a ton of damage to shields, but also continues on to warm up armor (and lacking armor the hull/structure/soft fleshy parts) The heat you have on armor or the internals affects it’s efficency, or how well it can stop a weapon. (Thus a really hot piece of armor is much much easier to destroy then cold armor).

    A reverse that could be done (especially if you’re in space) is actually pulling the heat from enemy heat weapons and using it in a heat engine to generate power. But since the equipment is bulky and requires heat weapons to generate some power (and has a max generatable power) it’s a risk as to whether you’re enemies will shoot heat at you (if they don’t its wasted after all) and if they do they are at a disadvantage sicne they are actually powering you’re ship and not causing signifigant damage) (Heat engines can still overheat though :)

    Basically I like the idea of heat loosening efficency, and destroying equipment becuase it’s overheated.

    My two copper plated zinc discs.

  5. Heat doesn’t go through shields – but if you HAVE shields then your own internal heat can’t escape. Don’t fire your weapon too much, or you’ll overheat (and explode)!

  6. I’d keep them as two separate mechanics. Have a shield integrity and and an internal temperature, both with destruction points. Most weapons would be heavy on the shield, and negligible on the internal temp.

    If you want to bypass a strong shield with a powerful heat weapon, you need to get up close and personal. There should a bit of balanced risk/reward with that one.

  7. I’m probably the only one but I have never really loved the idea of shields. It just seems like a way to prolong the inevitable cool stuff like hulls flying apart. Combat is always so much grittier, prettier, and more fun (to me) if you can just cut to the fun stuff. Before you even mentioned shields, your topic of weapon heat just instantly made me think Mechwarrior. Oh the glory of ripping opponent mechs to little shreds with huge guns. The heat mechanic really did give the impression that you were shooting a big ole’ gun. Shields (again, to me) just take away from the impression that you’re shooting something big and impressive. Any trekkie knows the destructive capability of a photon torpedo. . .but how many times do we actually get to see it? They’re always getting swallowed up by stupid shields. I personally like going the route of countermeasures (anti missile-missiles, decoys, chaff, etc). A countermeasure can be (at best) mostly effective against incoming weapons, but it can easily be overwhelmed by advanced weaponry or large salvos. Having a huge loadout of CM will also burden your vehicle, and take a toll on heat costs. I also just seems a heck of a lot more intense than sitting comfily behind shields.

  8. Keep the seperate heat and shield levels. Heat vs shield, I’d say they don’t damage the shield, and heat damage is dealt to the target but at a severely reduced rate.
    On the subject of heat damage, lets say there are certain points of no return on the scale of cool to melting hot boomtime, perhaps permanent maximum HP damage or debuffs of certain stats/systems occur along this line.
    Are you going to have a units heat raise from firing weapons?

  9. None of what I’m about to write has been fully thought through, and it certainly isn’t an entirely original idea, but here it is:

    Whether or not you incorporate shields (or to what detail you do so) aside for the moment, there are some interesting possibilities that could be had from using heat as the core mechanic. For example…

    Movement could generate heat.
    Firing of weapons could generate heat.
    Weapon impact could generate heat.
    Operation of shields (if you had them) could generate heat, moreso when under fire.

    Heat sinks could dissipate heat at certain rates (perhaps up to certain lifetime maximums, if you wanted/needed more complexity.)
    Some form of heat extraction could convert heat into a form of energy usable for movement and/or firing of weapons.
    Perhaps heat sinks could do both jobs, but at separate and independent rates depending on the specific equipment.
    Or perhaps heat dissipation and extraction would be separate devices, fighting one another for limited space within a given vehicle/structure.

    Avoiding killing a vehicle’s occupants would require keeping heat below a maximum, though perhaps with the ability to exceed said maximum by some specified amount for no longer than some particular amount of time, depending on the equipment.

    In fact, depending on the world in which you intend to set the game, it would be possible to make actual vehicle (or structure or what have you) destruction all but irrelevant in the face of simply cooking its occupants (and maybe melting critical sensitive equipment.)

    There are definitely lots of possibilities in the area, and I’m excited to see where you go with the idea!

  10. “GSB had a terribly complex system hardly any casual players got their heads around, so I’d like to avoid that.”

    Casual players will not be able to get any complex system. In other words – if your target is casual, then the system has to be *simple*. I mean, the rules have to be simple – complexity can be emergent, but not on the rules themselves.

    If you want to add several types of attacks (fire-based, armor-piercing, etc) and several types of enemies (fire-resistant, armored) and also have the casual gamer understand it rapidly, then:

    – use binary rules, not number-based ones. Units completely resist fire, or are completely destroyed by it. No “17% fire resistant soldiers”.
    – Don’t use more than two rules per unit.

    The “complexity” must come from other factors, for example from formations.

    Say you have two types of enemy: ghouls, who are armored, health-regenerating units, affected only by armor-piercing attacks, and vampires, who have a ranged attack and can only be killed with fire.

    The ghouls could form around the vampires, “protecting” them, while the vampires attack your forces with their ranged attack. The player would have to start by destroying the ghouls – so he’d need piercing weapons first, and then the flamethrowers.

    That’s pretty much it. If you keep your rules binary, and don’t apply too many of them on a given unit, it should be fine.

  11. I think everything I had thought about this post has already been said, but I’m going to have a stab at guessing the game name!

    Land Battles?
    Luna Battles?
    Gratuitous Luna/Land Battles?

    Let me know if one of those is right! :D

  12. Why not make heat completely separate from shields and armor and, rather than make it a direct cause of death, cause it to result in the shields and/or armor taking more damage per shot. This would make high heat producing weapons dangerous to operate at length, but not set a limit on how long you could fire them if you didn’t care about risk, and would also make heat weapons be a great support for traditional firearms.

  13. A suggestion with Keith LaMothe’s thoughts:

    If heat goes through shields then it probably shouldn’t go through armor. I like the idea of it going through the shields but not armor. How it would deal damage would be direct damage, but minus the armor. The armor would be kinda of a buffer against the heat so heat would deal low amounts of damage. Also, heat damage would include temporary slowing effects on speed, reload, and/or etc.

    So, farther ranged heat weapons would be a disruption type weapon and the close ranged flamethrower kind would be higher dps output type weapons at the cost of not being able to dodge properly.

    Can’t wait for LB

  14. I was thinking something along the lines of what Jeremy said, with internal heat generated by ship activities, as well as something opposite of what endqwerty said.

    The shields mechanic could stop heat damage, or in GSB terms, heat damage weapons would have lower shield penetration. They could also have a low base damage, and work on a multiplier system in tandem with armor, while not damaging armor: Greater armor would related to greater damage as the heat has nowhere to go. So a low armored target would take little heat damage to internal components, while a high armored target would either take great damage, or the same damage over a longer period of time.

    I’m not sure if this works for the simplicity concept, but it could work toward balancing armor in some fashion.

  15. Actually talk of heat weaponry reminds me of Earth: 2150, a RTS which I used to enjoy.

    You would design your own units by choosing hulls, weapons for hardpoints(only one or two as they were ground vehicles) and shields if available for the hull.

    Kinetic weapons would simply ignore shield and directly damage the hull, however were limited in ammunitions. Each factions also had their own energy weapons which were all powerful in their own fashion but would be blocked by shield. O
    ne used plasma which was used purely for dealing damage.
    Another had a lightning gun which dealt decent damages but also was prone to fry electronics(making an enemy vehicle prone to capture by your force to be turned against the enemy).
    The last faction instead used laser which was a purely offensive weapon, but in a more subtle way dealing very little damages, rather heating the vehicle so that internal components would blow up and takes out the vehicle from within. Similarly, though, this made it totally innefective against “hard” objectives with little “inner components” like buildings and walls.

  16. Heat is an often neglected aspect of combat games, and I think it could definitely have a place in your damage system. You could even use it to replace the “recharging” aspects of shields if you want a simpler two level system. Here’s my idea:

    When a shot comes in, compare it’s strength (with perhaps some armor penetration factor applied) to the armor of the target. If it penetrates, do internal damage of various sorts. If the armor stops the attack, it gets heated up by the damage amount (modified by a heating factor). The heat in the armor might alter its effectiveness against future shots, or perhaps it does nothing until a certain temperature is reached when the armor (or the whole unit) is destroyed from overheating. You could even have separate armor temperature vs internal temperature to allow other components like heat pumps and heat sinks to play a role.

    One question when it comes to heating though will be how to get the heat out of the unit’s system entirely. If the new game is set in space, this is non-trivial, as a radiator for a combat spaceship is going to be either impractically heavy or will be exceedingly vulnerable. In the excellent space combat board game Attack Vector, all heat generated during combat is stored temporarily in heat sinks (this sets a limit on the length of any engagement) and extending your fragile radiators while an enemy is in range is a signal of surrender. Inside of an atmosphere it’s a lot easier to transfer heat to the environment, but air-cooled radiators will still take time to flush out lots of heat and using them would surely compromise any sort of stealth system.

  17. Heat and heat based weapons remind me of FASA MachWarrior (the table game not the PC game).

    In this ruleset is described a simple yet effective system to handle head. If i recall correctly amour is useless against heat based weapons.

    A consequence of overheat may be shutdown instead of caching fire/explode

  18. I like how they implemented all three in Jets’n’Guns :)
    Simple to understand and enough strategy room to play.

  19. Maybe the solution to the problem is not looking at the mechanics but rather looking at the big picture. If the LB is some sort of RTS or RPG or a hybrid then the question is what roles do you want the heat system to play.

    EX: In GSB the players had the long range Missle Cruisers, the tanks, and the cruiser laser rushers. So would the idea of heat based weaponry aid in the player using/designing a heat based weapon to aid a tanking unit or a rushing unit?

    At least I think that’s the right question to be asking at this point.

  20. Cliff, do you do any market research? Take polls, that kind of thing? I was about to write my opinion as advice, then wondered if I represent your target audience.

    At this point in my life (married with kids), I am definitely a casual gamer. I don’t want to learn about types of weapon systems, types of damage, types of defense and so on. I prefer very simple systems – shields, armour and core integrity are great, but I’d like to stop there – the chance to hit and the amount of damage done are really as far as I care to go.

  21. I know what you mean. You are the kind of gamer who I want to pick up LB, and go ‘hey I get it, I can play this’, BUT I want to add a few extra levels of complexity after a few missions, so people don’t get bored or easily find a winning strategy.

  22. As soon as you said “heat” I immediately thought of Battletech.

    I think heat would be your ability to do damage, and shields/armor your ability to resist it. Energy weapons make a lot of heat and do a lot of damage to armor, but less to shields and internals, while ballistics make less heat, don’t do as much damage, and are stopped almost altogether by armor. However, they can pass through shields and go straight to the internals if there’s a hole in the armor.

    Flamethrowers would be energy weapons that cause a lot of heat on the opponent, and melt the armor, while ballistic weapons could have incendiary rounds or something like that that damages the shield as it goes through instead of simply passing in, adding heat to the enemy.

    In short, energy weapons are the bulldozers, clearing the way for the ballistics to do the more precise work of destroying the insides.

  23. different types of armour better at protecting different types of attacks.

    A la Warzone 2100 or Project Aftermath

  24. The concept of adding heat into a game sounds pretty good. It could make it even more interesting if the weapons were to could produce heat or cold. Armor that protects against heat well may not do so well protecting against the cold. Weapons in the middle of the spectrum would be more balanced. You could also have the temperature of the environments factor into this as well (snowy or volcanic terrain).

  25. I like the idea of shields preventing heat sinks! I’d play it as heat applied to a shield distributing heat evenly among all components… Without the shield, heat goes straight to targeted or randomly selected components and causes them to overload. While under fire, you can’t drop your shield so you build up heat, giving you incentive to disengage long enough you can vent heat.

    You could depict this very simply on a unit schematic, with the outline of the unit or affected components glowing brighter red, then orange, then eventually white.

    I think armor should work differently from shields. Maybe shields could reduce up to X amount or percent of incoming damage, while armor must be completely blown off (on a side) before you can attack underlying systems (from that that side). Big, heavy hitting weapons would excel at getting through shields, but would have a low fire rate and thus be ineffective against swarms.

  26. This could work a variety of ways, the heat could be trapped in the shield only when the shield was ‘active’ because they were just hit by a weapon, (meaning you could amplify the effects of heat weapons just by getting loads of small weapons to also join in the fun) or you could simply have a system were the shields were considered always on, so having shields would defend well against energy weapons, but the side effect would be a reduction in heat-dissipation rate.

  27. “the heat could be trapped in the shield only when the shield was ‘active’ because they were just hit by a weapon, (meaning you could amplify the effects of heat weapons just by getting loads of small weapons to also join in the fun)”

    That sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Being able to “siege” large (and perhaps otherwise impenetrable) shield bubbles is one of my favorite past-times. I have odd hobbies.

  28. If your game is one to emphasize combined arms, it might be fun to have heat weapons augment a shield (feeding it more energy), but melt armor to slag. That way heat armaments would be useless against shielded enemies without other weapon types to first bring down the shield, and then the heat weapons can go to town. Could be an interesting way to balance armies/fleets/whatever. You could extend it such that friendly heat units could also act as shield recharge/support for other friendly units. I guess in that vein, heat units would themselves be unshielded to prevent and overpowered defensive setup.

    Conversely, this approach may not appeal as much to the casual audience as it does mean having to pay more attention to armament load-out as opposed to just knowing whatever you equip will do some sort of damage.

  29. Combined arms. Yech. I didn’t even like those when I did have the time to focus on them. Warcraft II for the win! :)

  30. It seems to me that you need a general purpose way of handling different ‘types’ of weapons. This is similar to the problem of armor/weapon type in RPGs, and I think they can both be solved in similar ways.

    Each weapon should have a ‘offensive type’ and each defence / component should have a ‘defensive type’. Then there is a matrix of effects (and links to relevant code) for each offensive type vs each defensive type. Adding new types is as simple as expanding the matrix and deciding what kind of effects the new weapon/armor has on existing types.

    Typically of course, there are two different ways in which damage can be ameliorated. It can be reduced by X points, or multiplied by a percentage. Which depends on your understanding of the physics.

    Examples: Reflective armor should reduce laser damage significantly or by a large percentage. Might not be effective against shells though.

    Metal type armor reduces the damage done by X points. If you have a big enough penetration to get through it, then you still do damage. Small weapons are screwed though.

    The matrix can of course point off to some code snippets as well that work through some more complicated mechanics.

    I still like the 3 tier system with shields, armor and innards. Seems to be a fairly natural concept and well understood.

  31. I spent a lot of time playing Neverwinter Nights, a D&D-based CRPG. It starts out with simple skills, then advances to give lots of combat options, even for the normally-simple fighter class. Perhaps you can make the game that way – have a tech tree that gives players options as they get in farther.

  32. It’s definitely Leaking Butt. Anyway I like where this is going, I know I had my whole anti-shield rant earlier but I can see shields being fun (and more casual-gamer friendly) if there’s an easy to understand weakness about them like is being discussed here. Now you have potential to build a juggernaut with a huge gun and big shields. . .it will just need to expose itself to be able to dissipate the internal heat buildup from firing said big gun. Makes for complicated strategy, but super easy to grasp. Thumbs up!

  33. Heat weapons, really? Can you say Battletech?

    Then I read some of the comments and concepts. Ok I could get into this.

    1) “Heat” is some new form or radiation/energy unused in our current world.
    2) FTL drives exposed to too much “heat” explode destroying the ship.
    3) Other devices are immune to heat, because they can vent to the FTL drive (in other words fighters cannot survive even the mildest “heat” weapon because they have no way to vent).
    4) Heat can be converted to energy (by the FTL engine) and fired back at the enemy! or used for propulsion. This conversion is less efficient than delivery so heat can build up and kill you.
    5) Heat goes right through shields.
    6) Heat does not hurt armor (but alters the damage rate, the hotter the ship the more damage armor takes from the same impact).
    7) Shields stop energy and mass weapons.

    8) Fully non-heat ships should be possible to build (no FTL engine either).

    Yeah, I could keep making “rules” for this universe…. It has promise…

    9) Heat is delivered via traditional-looking means, flamethrowers, mist jet/spray, Gungan energy balls, tightly focused beams, but distinctly colored as opposed to traditional non-heat energy weapons.

    I can see multi-beam heat ships targeting 2-5 ships that are close and those ships firing their heat beams back augmented by heat conversion, which the original ships also convert…thus the whole heat index climbs for all ships locked in combat until BOOM one ship exceeds the ability to disipate and convert and the FTL goes singularity, possibly causing a chain reaction explosion as heat beams are shifted to new targets pushing them beyond their limits….

  34. How about heat management being there to:

    – force a delay in weapon fire. Eary in the battle your ship is cool, so it can fire/move at will for a while, then the heat sinks/rads start accumulatig it and you need to slow down or risk overheat.
    – whenever a system is activated (shield, engines, ect) the all generate heat. usually you can move with all these systems on and you wont overheat, but take a few hits, fire your guns, and it accumulated beyond your ability to get rid of it
    – overheating may do 2 things; do damage over time over all affected coponents, hurt the crew (maybe?).. until you cool down a bit… and if you keep adding more heat you got the higher the chance somethign critical in the ship breaking and it shuts down or blows up. Like weapon system simply burning out and stop working (temporary, permanently?)

    YOu could have a number of system to reduce heat, like passive radiators (passive cooling, low efficiency, cheap and big), coolant (cheaper still, but is a very finite amount that you jetttison outside the ship.. like MW4)
    Engines could be used to dump heat, somewhat. As part of their thrusting system maybe?

    Some terrain could help or cause a problem with heat (like in space: near a sun = bad, near a planet = good)

    Heat could be proportional to power/size. So a big heavy guns is going to produce heat like crazy, light guns and PD have little trouble with it.
    Missile weapons (missile, torpedo, ect) dont produce heat, or nearly none.

    there could be aseveral kind of shileds, some being good VS X weapons system (like leaser, heat, missile ect)

    just my 2 cents.

Comments are currently closed.