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Smart RTS units difficult to make? (Forums : Development Banter : Smart RTS units difficult to make?) Locked
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Dec 2 2012, 12:24pm Anchor

I've had some ideas that, to me, seem like pretty obvious fixes for long standing problems with certain genres. This raises the question of why they have never been done before, or at least done in mainstream games.

In particular, units in RTS games are pretty dumb. You have to tell them when to throw grenades, what to shoot at, and even to step out of the way of that tank that's about to run him over.

The solutions to these problems have been around for a while. Even back on PS1 and N64, enemies in certain games would dive out the path of a car, run away from larger enemies (or even the player) if the enemy was big, or you killed their friends.

Even very simple versions of this could work. If enemy is within X range and is type Y, throw grenade. AI players in old strategy games managed to use powers and abilities just fine as well as retreat injured units, so why not have a similar system working for the player, but limited to using grenades and retreating?

It makes me wonder if it's harder to do than it appears. I should point out I'm not making a RTS at the moment, but it has me thinking.

Dec 2 2012, 2:41pm Anchor

I'd say they're not dumb, they're doing their jobs: they do what they're told, and the point of an RTS is you managing your units and resources.  It was even like that in Warcraft & CnC back in the day.  Except Warcraft was slow.  so slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  :)

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Dec 3 2012, 12:50am Anchor
TheHappyFriar wrote:I'd say they're not dumb, they're doing their jobs: they do what they're told, and the point of an RTS is you managing your units and resources.  It was even like that in Warcraft & CnC back in the day.  Except Warcraft was slow.  so slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  :)

Maybe. But that's the problem with RTS, the focus on micro instead of strategy because your units are so dumb. You can't say "attack the base" you have to babysit them and indervidually destroy every building. Is it really a case that no one has done it because no one wants it?

DragonNOR
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Dec 3 2012, 2:56am Anchor
TheHappyFriar wrote:Except Warcraft was slow.  so slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  :)

Quoted for truth x)

I really like what you're talking about though Sabre, I think it would be a neat type of strategy game if you had to rely on your troops to 'think' for themselves instead of giving them all the waypoints.
I'm guessing it would have to become something experiencebased, where units have a chance of doing this or that depending on their combat record. For example completely green infantry wouldn't shock run the enemy infantry, throw grenades or exploit any kind of niche as often as veteran troops would.

I think the problem would lie in programming, as you would probably have to have a pretty hefty AI and pathfinding set in order for the game to work properly, but then again I'm no programmer so I could be wrong x)

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Dec 3 2012, 7:11am Anchor

As far as I'm concerned, units in RTS games are controlled by something, they don't have their own AI in themselves. There's an "Overlord" AI controlling its own units, they don't controll themselves.

Besides, as an RTS player myself I would be kind of irritated if my units started doing actions I don't want them to, like throwing grenades or destroying one building instead of another. If there's a cooldown on an ability I may not allways choose to use it incase I'm expecting a situation where I need that ability in the time it takes to cool down. If it's a secondary attack I can't controll then there's no harm in it, but I want to controll the abilities.

If the game however is designed around units taking actions in their own hands then I see no problem in it, but not having say Starcraft 2, Halo Wars or C&C have their units do what they think is right inside their range, besides auto attacking the nearest target.

I could see a game where you just send units or squads to specific areas and they take cover, attack priority targets and buildings while using their abilities as they see fit.

As mentioned earler though, it might be tough to program.

Dec 3 2012, 10:01am Anchor
DragonNOR wrote:
TheHappyFriar wrote:Except Warcraft was slow.  so slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  :)

Quoted for truth x)

I really like what you're talking about though Sabre, I think it would be a neat type of strategy game if you had to rely on your troops to 'think' for themselves instead of giving them all the waypoints.
I'm guessing it would have to become something experiencebased, where units have a chance of doing this or that depending on their combat record. For example completely green infantry wouldn't shock run the enemy infantry, throw grenades or exploit any kind of niche as often as veteran troops would.

I think the problem would lie in programming, as you would probably have to have a pretty hefty AI and pathfinding set in order for the game to work properly, but then again I'm no programmer so I could be wrong x)


I am a programmer, but a really bad one. I know it would be tough, but would it be prohibitive? Same goes for design. Is the micro so vital that, if removed, the game becomes tedious? I remember a mod for Dawn of War called Auto Abilities that would auto use certain abilities, but it was pretty basic and didn't make the units smarter.

Naqser wrote:As far as I'm concerned, units in RTS games are controlled by something, they don't have their own AI in themselves. There's an "Overlord" AI controlling its own units, they don't controll themselves.

Besides, as an RTS player myself I would be kind of irritated if my units started doing actions I don't want them to, like throwing grenades or destroying one building instead of another. If there's a cooldown on an ability I may not allways choose to use it incase I'm expecting a situation where I need that ability in the time it takes to cool down. If it's a secondary attack I can't controll then there's no harm in it, but I want to controll the abilities.

If the game however is designed around units taking actions in their own hands then I see no problem in it, but not having say Starcraft 2, Halo Wars or C&C have their units do what they think is right inside their range, besides auto attacking the nearest target.

I could see a game where you just send units or squads to specific areas and they take cover, attack priority targets and buildings while using their abilities as they see fit.

As mentioned earler though, it might be tough to program.


Right. My thinking would be that there would be a sub overlord working for the player, but only controlling certain aspects. Another way to think of it could be if a robot was sitting at the PC with a mouse and keyboard, and the player was stood behind them as kind of a back seat gamer. The player says "attack that base" and the robot handles all the micro aspect of it.

Halo wars is a good example. I like that game, but often, if I have 10 guys, using RPG means alot of overkill and wasted abilities. At it's worst, I'm just pressing RYRYRY to fire off the abilities during a fight, but when infantry are in towers, they will occationally use grenades/RPGs on their own, though it seems to be mostly for show.

But yes, the games design will have to change to reflect the smarter units. Just making Starcraft or C&C with auto abilities would be bad. For one, the map would have to have numberous points of interest. It couldn't be a flat field with some resources and rocks in or it would be pointless making them smarter, and all the player would do is say "attack base" until someone wins. I'm thinking some kind of control point gameplay, but I don't know, it's all hypothetical at this point.

ambershee
ambershee Nimbusfish Rawks
Dec 3 2012, 1:23pm Anchor

I've worked with these kinds of systems before and I can explain that the issues are twofold:

1) Player's don't really want 'smarter units' and the game mechanics rarely demand it; when they do exist, the player tends not to notice.

Having to click to fire the grenade in Company of Heroes is a good example of not-so-good design choices, but the micro-management element does serve a distinct purpose that is not served by having the unit act automatically. Forcing the player to use the ability allows for two things; it firstly applies a cost-barrier to the power that the player must acknowledge and pay for on usage, and secondly it allows for player-controlled direction which is key. When a unit uses it's abilities automatically, there is a likelihood that it will do it at a time that the player does not feel is appropriate, or it will attempt to engage the wrong target. Worst of all, this behaviour is an exploitable behaviour. The rules for ability use will be predefined and opposing players will be able to abuse knowledge of how those powers work. This can often render the ability redundant.

2) The more a unit has to consider, the heavier the cost of processing. This isn't to say that unit behaviour is not important, but the complexity is realistically finite not only in development time, but also in how much time you can spend handling it on the CPU and how much memory is required. If a single unit requires half a millisecond to handle and requires 300kb of data, you can only update the behaviour of 32 in the time it takes to render a frame at 60fps and you're looking at just under 10 megabytes of stored data to maintain. Thankfully you don't need to update every unit every gameplay tick, but you do want it to be as fast and responsive as possible. Realistically a single unit in a modern RTS takes much less time to handle, but there's also a heck of a lot more data to handle.

Dec 3 2012, 2:14pm Anchor

To point 1. The problems you describe there aren't really an issue. As already mentioned, trying to apply this kind of thing to Starcraft of Dawn of War isn't going to work directly. Some reworking of the abilities would be in order. Having them cost resources in a no-no, otherwise a unit would be a major drain as a computer will likely be using them more often.

However, the real issue is the assumption of multiplayer. I didn't mention this in the original post as it wasn't relevant, but another issue I have with RTS is that they all try to be the next Starcraft e-sport balanced for competitive play. Games like Dark Crusade, Endwar, and Xcom have great single player campaigns. I bring this up now because it might be possible to greatly reduce the amount of exploits by having the game be single player, or otherwise a-symmetrical. Even if we assume a competitive multiplayer setting, with Starcraft abilities, that doesn't mean abilities can be exploited. To use the grenade example and assuming 1 minute cooldown, having it only trigger during an attack, and only once per unit per minute. This way, the defender can't bait and switch to waste the grenade. The attacker can't really exploit it since he's not in control of which guy the unit is attacking. A medic heals, but gets a shorter cool down if he only healed a paper cut.

Point 2 though, I don't have an answer for. The game speed could be slowed down to an extent, but even then, would limiting the number of units be enough?

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