Post news RSS SPRAY - EAW's Intrinsic Balance Problem

EAW has an intrinsic space-balance issue: SPRAY (the spray of weapons-fire that is wasted when a hardpoint or ship is destroyed). SPRAY cripples players (AI and human) by causing the native unit AI's targeting to result in a drastic loss of potential damage. The larger the battle/fleets, the greater the balance issue. It can be countered with increasing levels of micromanagement by players (RIP AI) at the cost of decreasing fun of gameplay. The EAW community should address this issue seriously.

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EAW has an intrinsic balance issue that I would like to refer to as SPRAY (the spray of weaponry-damage that is wasted when a hardpoint or ship is destroyed but weapons fire is still incoming from before it had been destroyed. It is an issue with hardpoints, but with ships I consider it a non-issue due to the extreme far less frequency and hey, you killed a ship! so when I say SPRAY I am referring to it as it applies to hardpoints). SPRAY cripples the players (AI and human) by messing with the native unit targeting AI by reducing the damage they are able to output drastically. The larger the battle/fleets, the greater the balance issue. Additionally, it skews the balance of smaller ships that do have hardpoints by making them OP in larger battles. Humans are able to fix SPRAY somewhat by supermicromanaging their targeting (i.e. having gone through the process of targeting many different hardpoints before the first one has even been destroyed by incoming weapons-fire)... but it is draining to me and I would think others as well - it takes much of the joy out of the game by separating results from fun. So I decided to write this to see if we as a community could get some ideas out and start to make our mods better in this regard.

Disclaimer - I do not have the coding expertise to make most of these changes. And I certainly don't have the time to learn. I enjoy this community tremendously as an observer and consumer; I try to help in whatever way I can. I hope that this lengthy bit of words will be helpful. Additionally, I am aware that some of the things I bring up will be incorrect, and some suggesting may simply be impossible to incorporate (unless you, like Steiner Modding, have access to the actual game-code...). The purpose of this is food for thought. I have tried to be critical of my own ideas and welcome further constructive criticism. Let's get some conversation going.


Let's start by a thorough analysis of just how the hardpoint/targeting system works.
1: A ships health is the sum of the health of its hardpoints.
- none of this is necessary as the code is accessable
- it requires all hardpoints to be destroyed for the ship to be destroyed
- except in cases of ships with no hardpoints (i.e. the ship IS a single hardpoint)
2: Native unit AI is programmed to destroy a ship by destroying its hardpoints, one at a time, firing at one hardpoint with all possible weapons (read fire-arc/range) until that hardpoint is destroyed, from closest to farthest ( we will not be talking about ship-type native unit AI targeting preferences... that is a much simpler and straightforward topic that most peeps figure out for themselves)
- not necessary, this is editable, for example I believe you can prioritize hardpoints by type rather than by distance from targeting vessel
-even if a player targets a ship (SHIP-point, rather than a hardpoint), the native unit AI will interpret that and begin firing at the target's closest hardpoint
- in cases of ships having only one hardpoint (ie, no hardpoints) the whole targeted ship will be fired at.
- this can be edited to make the visual hardpoint indicators reflect the damage of the ship overall... which seems to indicate that it is possible to setup the health of a ship as separate but related to the health of its hardpoints. More on this later.
3: weaponry doesn't target hitboxes, they target the target's designated point in the middle of a hitbox
4: weaponry, while aimed at that designated point, will "hit" the target so long as they hit the target's hitbox - though hit/miss %s are possible to edit even if the hitbox is hit to allow some weaponry to pass by/through/miss
5: improper editing of this is what often causes problem with missles/torpedoes being unable to hit hardpoints (even in the vanilla game LOL)
6: this is also what causes SPRAY since once a target (hardpoint or SHIP-point) is destroyed the target's hitbox is removed and incoming projectiles can only intereact with the hitbox of the designated point they were targeted at. In other words, they can only interact with the hitbox (now nonexistent) of the targetable hardpoint rather than the hitbox of the SHIP-point. Thus all that damage is wasted even though it is literally going through the hitbox of the SHIP-point.


Now in small engagements, there are several considerations regarding the effects of SPRAY:
1: tactical choices as far as which hardpoints a player targets are more important
- one of many reasons why humans always beat AI in small battles is that humans have better hardpoint prioritization
2: Bigger ships are much more powerful than smaller ones due to their greater shields and weaponry, but this is balanced by higher cost & population but slower movement. It all evens out.
3: small battles are about taking out specific hardpoints that counter the specific ships you are using
3: SPRAY is easier for human players to prevent since there is a lot less hardpoints as smaller battles have more smaller ships and less big ships, but also less ships in general means less to keep track of... micromanagement is just good old micromanagement and is enjoyable... there is not enough strain to take the joy out of the game. SPRAY is still there, but because it is more manageable there is not a gap between efficient gameplay and fun.
- reasons why humans always beat AI in small battles since AI cannot target correctly to avoid SPRAY... not as serious in small battles, but still present.
IN SHORT... SPRAY does affect small battles but not enough to worry too much... the issues is with the big battles...


Here we go. The biggie. Where SPRAY screws everyone over including players. Lets go.
1: In large engagements there are greater number of hardpoints due to increased numbers of both ships and ships with more hardpoints.
2: This means more management is necessary to begin with as there is more potential damage to deal, more targets to choose from, and more units to defend/maneuver.
3: The key to winning a big battle is to destroy as many hardpoints as quickly as possible.
4: then SPRAY happens
- in large battles tactical designs rotate more about which SHIP to destroy rather than which HARDPOINT to destroy:specific hardpoints targeted don't matter as much since there are so many of them to begin with.
- because there are so many hardpoints, SPRAY is happening every where, all the time.
- because there is so much firepower, and firepower wasted because of spray, the health of hardpoints no longer matters as a (random numbers) 500 health hardpoint will be destroyed in the same amount of time as a 100 health hardpoint (instantly).
- This makes smaller ships with hardpoints OP. A) they are balanced against bigger ships already in every way as their hardpoints have less health B) but now the greater health of bigger ships doesn't matter C) thus, having a fleet of 20 frigates may be preferable to 5-10 capital ships since it will take much longer to take out the 40-80 hardpoints of the frigates than the 30-60 hardpoints of the capital ships. And lets not forget that the frigates will probably have more fighters on their side. The cost will be about even, as will the population, and the firepower, but the winning frigates will have a lot more left on the table at the end.
- Aside from the smaller ships with hardpoints being OP, the other major problem with big battles is how is exacerbates the native unit AI targeting problems with SPRAY. There is sooo much damage being wasted that player AIs get annihilated by human players that can target with super-micromanagement as described above. And in player vs player games, it is the player that sacrifices the most fun in exchange for efficiency who will win. This drains the community of fun in general and leaves only the hardcorest of players (those who prefer the "joy" wins and bragging rights over the fun of actual gameplay)... SOUNDS A LOT LIKE WHAT HAPPENED TO STARCRAFT II.... fun to watch, but with a plummeting playerbase. This is why, in my mind, this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by us, the community.


POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THIS VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM-


A: decrease intervals between weapon volleys/lower damage per round-volley/speed up projectile speed (all the easy fixes... but ones that cause many issues. Not really advisable)

pro: allows native unit AI to waste less time on each hardpoint, results in less damage wasted

con: increases number of projectiles, decreases dodge-ability by small ships, hard to do with torpedoes/missiles, may drastically affect game performance, shortening volley intervals while decreasing damage means the same amount of damage is being wasted on route it just prevents as much from being wasted during re-targeting once the hardpoint is destroyed, adjusting projectile speeds reduce damage wasted drastically since it decreases chance of weaponry firing at a hitpoint that will get destroyed before they get there... but it doesn't look pretty and really affects game performance-Vanilla was definitely to slow so speeding that up is nice both aesthetically and practically but speeding it up enough ot prevent this problem just is an aesthetic nightmare not to mention a pc wrecker).


B: remove targetable hardpoints on all small ships (ie corvettes and frigates; not cruisers or capitals)

pro: balances the OP-ness of small ships during large battles by removing target-able hardpoint issue altogether

con: does nothing to resolve massive difference in results/enjoy-ability between super-micromanagement and good general management that still exists with capitals, also may damage small battle tactics but stress should be on the MAY... i don't see it as being highly likely).


C: drastically reduce target able hitpoints on capital ships (build on point B by fixing first con)

pros:
-removes hitboxes from most weaponry, allowing canon placement of most weapons, better firing arcs, and many weapons still active up-to the ships destruction
- allows targeting only of bigger ones and ability to increase health of targetable hardpoints which will reduce damage wasted by native ai (notice many capital ships do this already with removal of engines and generators and some weapons, AI will be much more efficient both in terms of native unit AI and Non-human AI)

con:
-some players may feel like they have lost "control"... hardpoint spam destroys playability and only creates the illusion of control, in addition to messing with game performance. It isn't realistic either. So this is only a con for a small group of players who aren't interested in balancing the game anyway... (so not a real con).


D: interactions where damage to general hitbox are dispersed across all targetable hardpoints (I KNOW THIS CAN BE DONE FOR SURE, also works with points B+C).

pro:
-if native ai targets SHIP unless ordered to target ship's hardpoints by player this would result in very little to no waste of damage (this would make even the vanilla player-AI so much more effective and fun to play against as (even if their tactics suck) their ships will still be able to do some damage without OP-ing them - guess I am tired of always being able to defeat massive fleets with small ones just by micromanagement as so much native AI damage is being wasted because of hardpoint targeting.)
-if different targetable hitpoints have different amounts of health as damage is distributed equally some hardpoints will be destroyed before others allowing some really cool damage distribution possibilities BY THE NATIVE UNIT AI of all things
-still allows for player targeting to be more tactical and efficient if the player is willing to do so - but by a much narrower margin than the giant abyss of difference beforehand; (this fixes the gap between enjoyability and effectiveness by allowing the player to still be mostly effective without REQUIRING him to super-micromanage and not have fun)

con:
- a small group of hardcore players may prefer the abyss between gameplay and enjoyability since to them the joy is in the win rather than the gameplay. This is understandable... but seriously, I think this is a case where the community would benefit, because this mechanic exists because of poor coding, not because it makes sense for it to be this way. To the contrary IT DOESN'T make sense.


E: Separate ship health from hardpoint health (building on point D) such that damage to hardpoints damages ship's health and damage to ship's general hitbox is dispersed across all hardpoints but ship has less health overall than the sum of its hardpoints health, so ships "die" even though they still have hardpoints...(ie. ship health is less than sum health of targetable hardpoints)

pros:
- allows many targetable weapons to still be active even up to the point of the ship's destruction
- #realism - many systems would be difficult to target and just because I knocked out all of the guns on a ship why would it blow up? Additionally, why should I have to blow up every gun on a ship to blow it up? This allows players to tactically decide which subsystems/hardpoints they want to destroy, lessening the requirements for micromanaging even more
- IT WOULD BE AMAZING... but based on what I know this code change would be IMPOSSIBLE .... a code that if hardpoint is destroyed, weaponry already on route towards the targeted hardpoint can still hit with SHIP-point hitbox if the hardpoint is destroyed - this would essentially reduce damage wasted to almost nil - exceptions being missiles/torpedoes that time out and weaponry that misses the ship altogether due to maneuvering - reasons that are fine for missing and add to gameplay; However, as already said, I think this is impossible since from what I know weapons will only interact with the hitbox of the designated target point (whether than be the hardpoint hitbox or a SHIP-point hitbox). In the end I think the cumulative effects of points B-E (aside from this last bit) if implemented would satisfy the balance-hardpoint-SPRAY problem.

cons: Eh? none other than player preference based cons. Gameplay balance and enhancement has no cons I can think of.


PS-INTERESTING EFFECTS ON SUPERLARGE SHIPS (almost its own category since they always have issues no matter what you do. I will just use executer-class SSDs as examples)

A) SSD Movement/Manueverability
- other ships dance around SSDs
- it is almost impossible to move anywhere but forward. Careful directional adjustments can be made...
- It is almost impossible to maintain optimal fire-arc (pointed directly at target)
- impossible to runaway due to slow speed and slow turn rate

B) SSD SPRAY/Targeting
- the SSD has so much firepower that it should be able to single, double, or triple shot most ships, but it is crippled by native AI's inability to target multiple hardpoints at once and by the SPRAY every time a single hardpoint is destroyed. This can be mitigated (and the power of an SSD greatly magnified) by super-micromanagement (and I mean super... targeting up to 6 hardpoints before the first is destroyed). In the end however, this problem alone and the ability of multiple capital ships to target different hardpoints means that they may be superior since they collectively have more firepower for less pop, cost, and higher speed, even if it is less health.
- on the flip-side, other ships have such a hard time destroying SSDs since they have so many hardpoints that because of single hardpoint targeting and SPRAY it takes forever to destroy... Thus SPRAY might balance itself out regarding SSDs by lowering both its damage to other ships along with their ability to damage it.

C) SSD Hitboxes
- What to do? Most of the SSD's weapons cannot be brought to bear (with the understanding that we are not going to scale the crap out of maps) due to its length almost exceeding the range of its weapon-hardpoints. It might be possible to rig its weapon-hardpoint range from the SHIP-point, but if you are going to do that, I would just remove targetable hardpoints from the SSD in general since there are so many it really doesn't matter anyway.
- This would result in there just being one targetable SHIP-point, which would be aesthetically weird in that all ships would try to fire at SHIP-point, and would need to be much closer, and the ranges of the weapons of the SSD would be screwy do to being rigged to SHIP-point.

IE - Lets say Ship A is the same distance from hitbox-SSD as Ship B, but Ship A is actually in range of SHIP-point-SSD while Ship B is not despite the fact that they are visually the same distance away for hitbox-SSD. It creates the awkward illusion of Ship A firing further (to hit SHIP-point-SSD) than Ship B would have to just to hit the ship period (that is hit hitbox-SSD). This awkwardness would never the less fix the balance issue with SSDs. It is worth noting however that if changes B-E were implemented along with these SSD changes... SSDs would be almost impossible to defeat, as SPRAY weakens them so much. OF course this is always the reality of SSDs... They literally can destroy everything if modded to canon standards, and almost nothing can stop them. However, mods include them to fulfill player fantasy of having the POWER of an SSD... which is silly since the only way to balance them in the end in terms of gameplay is to reduce they size and power ridiculously. Food for thought.



And here I will repeat the disclaimer from the beginning:

Disclaimer - I do not have the coding expertise to make most of these changes. And I certainly don't have the time to learn. I enjoy this community tremendously as an observer and consumer; I try to help in whatever way I can. I hope that this lengthy bit of words will be helpful. Additionally, I am aware that some of the things I bring up will be incorrect, and some suggesting may simply be impossible to incorporate. The purpose of this is food for thought. I have tried to be critical of my own ideas and welcome further constructive criticism. Let's get some conversation going.

Comments
Hyrum_Solo
Hyrum_Solo

Interesting read. I'm working on a mod for the game and some of the things you mentioned were things I was thinking of doing.
I don't know if you mentioned this, but increasing the damage of individual laser bolts, increasing there speed, giving laser weapons an area of effect, but decreasing accuracy at long range would help to prevent SPRAY.

Space ships can have a separate sum of hardpoints health and a ship-point hitbox health pool. If you make the HP smaller than the sum of hardpoints HP, the lasers will cause damage to the Ship-point hitbox if they hit it but miss the targeted hardpoint. I think this is possible, I have yet to test it out.

What you were saying is partly true. Lasers will only do damage to a single hardpoint because they only do damage from a single point. Giving laser weapons an area of effect increases the size of that point and damage can affect more than one hardpoint. There is even an option for the projectile to damage a random hardpoint. I haven't tested this out.

An alternative that I was thinking of was to make the ship-point hitbox HP larger than the sum of the hardpoints HP. This allows ships to survive past the point of total hardpoint destruction. Destroying that last turbo laser to make the whole ship blow up always seemed a little silly to me.

The last alternative that I can think of is only from what I've heard from another mod group. It is possible to make the ship model itself collidable past the point of hardpoint destruction. However, this doesn't so much stop SPRAY as it prevents damage being dealt to the opposite side of the ship.

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