A Halo mod for the critically acclaimed Sins of a Solar Empire, that aims to capture the fast paced intensity of the Halo series.
Today we talk with Dianno, the lead balancer at Sins of the Prophets and listen in while he gives us a proper understanding of the balancing and intent behind the UNSC and Covenant factions.
Posted by Unikraken on Dec 17th, 2013
I'm Dianno. Lead Designer of SotP. That means I'm mainly in charge of the UNSC-Covenant-Forerunner faction interaction and balance. We only care about the UNSC-Covenant right now so this will only pertain to them and I have no comments thus far on Forerunner faction specifics so please no questions. I started off as a coder working for Sloose. My first few abilities I coded were things like "New Blood" and other UNSC finishers. I started working on the Covenant going wild and one thing lead to another and I ended up balancing the two factions against each other and then giving a game design for the entire mod. I've been a part of the team since Jan '12. This post will go into game design , balance, and the reasons behind the decisions we've come to. This is a WIP and could change, also note that this mod is done by us who have a certain vision, that might not be your vision of the Halo universe. Please understand this as some of our decisions and gameplay will directly reflect that. Nothing personal, it's just that we're modding it and subsequently it will have our bias.
Here at SotP we have so much to offer that has changed. The main thing is the combat, it's much faster than SoaSE. The combat was designed around the two phase principle. That means when two ships of opposing sides meet, they essentially start a two phase cycle. PHASE ONE is the first few seconds where everyone fires everything, similar to that of a 19th century musket line. The other phase is creatively named PHASE TWO, which is the period of waiting between phase one bursts. Phase one bursts are characterized by the ship's main weapon firing or its most powerful. So for the UNSC that's the MAC, for the Covenant that's the energy projector. The Covenant plasma torpedo has a fast enough recharge that I consider it phase two. Since I designed it you could argue that plasma is more effective but that gets you nowhere so just accept plasma torps are phase II.
What the $#%@ does that mean? It means in practicality that UNSC vs Covenant is about the phases. So UNSC excel at phase one just like the books. They want to offload a ton of damage very quickly to cripple the enemy fleet to make them route or destroy them. Where as the Covenant, although their phase one is nothing to snicker at, is very handy at phase II, picking off the UNSC vessels as they desperately try to survive via archers and point defense guns(PDGs). Remember this as it will come back again when I talk about units, especially UNSC. In essence, the longer a fight goes the more likely the Covenant are to win. This phase system is what really makes the UNSC numerical superiority shine. They'll need it to ensure they cripple/mortally wound their opponent. Too little damage and you're sitting ducks as your opponent begins to dismantle you.
SOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooo we'll start with the easy faction.
Their unit design is very simple. Think Command and Conquer. You get a better unit and you use that unit. No need for infantry, I got tanks! Tanks you say? I got planes? Planes? PSHHHTTTTT I got Nukes. Similar concept. You'll move through the tech tree enabling newer ships. Pickets to CAR to CRS to CPV to CCS. In essence they are stronger versions going on up to the CCS. You'll want an entire fleet of those. Mind you though that pop limits will control that. A good Covenant player will have one big attack fleet of CCS classes and some CPVs while he has a bunch of tinier frigate CAR/picket/CRS class fleets for defense and support. The Covenant HAVE NO STATIC DEFENSE. Save their fighter bay (yeah like that will save you!) So you will need to rely on your frigates to fend off Charon harass or that pesky UNSC AI poking at your empire from the other side of the galaxy. Keep in mind that pickets, CRS, and CARs are nothing to turn your nose up at. It will take a lot, if not a small fleet of UNSC warships to take on a good CAR/CRS mixed force.
Addendum: The tech tree was designed such that the Super Destroyer is less in research due to it being encountered first by the UNSC and it's a specialist ship. It costs a ton. And many other factors. The CAS is so powerful and is meant to be fielded so that it's actually a better unit to have, therefore takes place later in the tree. The Covenant, back in the day, had offensive abilities on all ships. UNSC had passives. That didn't work because it's too hard to micro all those ships AND due to the nature of the quick conflict the abilities become pain in the asses and you can't balance them to save your life. So we decided to go with the build we have with much success. I'm not opposed to the idea (making changes to balancing) but that is a discussion for me to have with very skilled people like Lavo who can code like Canadaman7 woos women.
They were the biggest challenge for balance. We had tons of ships and not a lot of diversity. If there is one thing I hate in RTS games it's units that have one use. You'll use it maybe once in your entire life unless you're "That guy" who relies on wonky strategies. If you don't know anyone like that, chances are its YOU!
So I've designed them to be about fleet diversity. Spamming will harm you more than help. Right now things work, but I'll explain what the true design is once the Stalwart hits (it's not much different than now). We essentially have utility ships, and combat ships (excluding all capitals for now). Utility ships like the Cradle are obviously there to repair. The Charon and Stalwart will be considered utility ships too. Charon will have its MAC cooldown increased (takes longer to fire, and will be the same as the stalwart) Meaning the Paris will have a shorter MAC cooldown than both (I'll explain that soon).
The Charon: The Light frigate of the UNSC and now the siege frigate. It supports orbital invasions, couple this with an Athens carrier's plus siege buff and you'll be liberating planets in no time. It has a long cooldown MAC (All MACs do the same damage so it takes longer to get into its phase one meaning it's a weaker combat vessel. savvy?) Its archer pods are standard and nothing special about its PDGs. So its use is to invade planets. It can defend itself but only in OH-MAI-GEWRD situations. Which the UNSC get into a lot of but I wouldn't build it to specifically hunt down and engage ships, just to be used if you need the extra oomph to turn a battle to your favor. You'll want them in small numbers to take over planets quickly. She also has the lowest HP of the three frigates.
The Stalwart: The UNSC light frigate and soon to be starting frigate. It is fleet support and will take over the AA roles of the fleet. You'll want to have a few around the fleet. It has the same MAC as a Charon, damage and cooldown. Has a health pool in-between the Charon and Paris. Has the same archer compliment (nothing special) and its PDGs are only different in that they are specialized to kill AA, which means they are weak as spitballs against a real target. They will be used in combat but spamming them would be a bad idea because........................
The Paris: The UNSC heavy frigate and the first COMBAT vessel. It's no longer support. Its MAC has a faster cooldown so it can reach its phase I faster than the other two. It has more health than the other two and its archers are standard, BUT the Paris is armed with more PDGs (why it's called a heavy frigate) and therefore we made it do substantial PDG damage. Thats not saying a lot but it works like a damage over time effect. So if you leave these things alive long enough, say the time it takes for it to fire its second MAC round, it will do a MAC round (or something like that) equivalent in damage. So by phase two the second time around you've done approx the damage of Three MAC rounds. This was inspired because the UNSC Savannah took on the Ardent Prayer using its heavy armor and PDGs. So you'll want these in good numbers to make sure the UNSC phase two isn't crippled. This paired with our next item will bring much pain and suffering to your opponent.
The Thanatos: The UNSC destroyer. Armed with Twin MACs, standard Archers, but lacking in PDGs. It excels at phase one combat as it unloads Two Macs. Couple that with the Paris and you have a fleet that dishes it out in both Phase One and Phase Two combat. Very powerful. A perfect showcase for the ideology that the UNSC fleet is more than the sum of its parts.
The Halcyon: The Halcyon Light Cruiser is old. Really Old. Like your Dad old. Its design predates frigates and destroyers. Its compliment of missiles is horrible and PDGs might as well be your grandmum with a machine gun shooting out the window. It only has one MAC, but what it does have though is a CRAP TON of armor and it has nukes. It wont feature the almighty Shiva that capital ships get, but this will have other nuclear devices on board that it shoots rather than archers. So it has really good phase two damage, but the missile takes longer to cooldown than MACs, so it's a one shot wonder. BUT its so tanky it might survive and add a meatshield to the fleet. This is not to be confused with the Pillar of Autumn so put down those pitch forks. The Pillar of Autumn is considered to be the Autumn Class (original right?) capital ship. That has all the refit stuff from the books. I'm sure there are difference and blah blah blah. The Halcyon is a standard Halcyon not some refit.
The Marathon: This is your standard UNSC Heavy cruiser. Because UNSC capitals are just big cruisers we have upped the capital limit to something like 40 + Which means you can field quite a few of these babies, all with nukes. The Marathon has better than standard archer missile damage, twin MACs, better than standard PDGs (about equiv to the Paris) but remember you shouldn't spam these. You should have a good amount but don't replace your Paris classes with this or you'll regret it.
The Athens: Your carrier and a good support invasion ship. Get it when you have time and have a firm combat fleet but you need Charon support for invading planets.
The Orion: This is a specialist ship. It is a sniper, great at killing enemy ships with a prototype long range MAC, but it sacrifices by not having much archer or PDGs. In pairs they can really become a killer Search and Destroy group.
The Valiant class Super Heavy Cruiser: Admiral Cole's ship. Same armament as a Marathon, only better archer damage. It carries fleet buffs so it's essential to have one of these once you get a healthy amount of Marathons in your fleet.
The Autumn Class: A monster, it has tons of damage and outdoes everything in damage but is expensive. Having one in your fleet will suffice to just pop in and teach your opponent a lesson.
Super Carrier: Just everything rolled into one. Good health, damage, can invade, fleet support. One of these is all you'd need in a fleet.
Corvettes: One of the last things I'll cover. To simulate boarding craft we decided to make the Covenant corvette a Phantom gunboat. Corvettes like in SoaSE are like Millennium Falcons from Star Wars, just a bigger more armed fighter doing fighter-ish things. Thats not Halo. So the gunboat will run around and although it can't really dock without a weird, AI breaking gimmick it does shoot a really weak plasma turret that can apply massive debuffs to ships, like increasing weapon cooldowns, decreasing speed, and other stuff. Basically it makes the UNSC take longer to fire its MAC again and that is REALLY bad news for them. This is how we tried to simulate the awesome adventure of boarding craft. The UNSC Mako will become the gunboat and essentially be very specific to anti-Phantoms to repel this debuffing nightmare.
So as a mod team we have worked hard to bring you an experience that is cinematic, dramatic, and fun. The music, the sounds, and the awesome art work are what really bring the game to life. My job is to just make this stuff behave as we think it should to bring you those epic moments in games that make you remember them: Holding out way too long against a superior opponent, crushing your enemies home fleet, watching in horror as your fleet is nuked. Hopefully I've answered your questions here and given you a small glimpse into my world as the lead designer and balancer and some of the challenges and problems I face. Luckily I have help and inspiration from Great People from all sorts of modding teams like Covenant At War, Homefront, Armada III, and Sins of a Galactic Empire.
That's all gents, you can go use the bathroom. You probably shouldn't have drank that epic slurpee. It's like one of the Lord of the Rings movies, you drink it and then end up holding it for the last epic battle for thirty minutes or something.Anyway, hope to see you all Starside. Dianno