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Prepare For Ground Assault


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#1 Phoenix Rising

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 03:28 AM

In December 2009, I received an unexpected message from a fellow mod leader here at Revora that would alter the path of v1.2 development. Nertea, from The Dwarf Holds, offered his expertise on vehicle modeling. This set in motion a course of events that would come to define the release. What v0.1 was for space combat, v1.2 will be for land combat. In effect, this will be our Land Mini-Mod.

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The last version was a false start for ground battles, more raw specs than mechanic. While there is still much work to be done before we can declare a PR v2.0, the essence of Land is here now. We have a robust framework in place that is just waiting to flourish into a complete game mode. Our goal? To bring epicness and accuracy planetside. And to do it even better than we did for space.

There are obvious drawbacks in our decision to delay ground development, but one of the benefits is veterancy: we're all better at this than we were five years ago. Given the opportunity to start again essentially from scratch, I'm certain we can craft a superior experience.

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The difference between land and space, however, is more than a matter of gravity. There is a real dichotomy here for a number of reasons, at the root of which is the science fiction axiom of "why bother with land battles when you can fight in space". We know relatively little about ground combat during the Galactic Civil War - it just isn't written about. This leaves us with a fairly open canvas.

While depictions of army battles in our era are few, we fortunately have some phenomenal roleplaying material from which to draw individual units - great concepts that have been perpetually trapped in stat blocks and two dimensions. Given the movie models we had on-hand already from EaW, our most dire need was clear: the Armored Freerunner. That was the unit Nertea first set out to recreate that winter, thus commencing our renewed take on land combat.

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The Freerunner is the product that put its manufacturer, Kelliak Arms and Armor Company, out of business. This nefarious distinction had little to do with battlefield performance - the medium repulsortank features great speed and fire coverage. Rather, it was the result of walker bias beginning to take hold on the Imperial Army following the Clone Wars. The Armored Freerunner never entered general deployment with the Empire and KAAC went bankrupt, forcing the units to be sold off to anyone who would pay. Ironically, the versatile Freerunner quickly showed up in the hands of dissidents, where it would become the foundation of the Alliance cavalry.

As the model neared completion in February 2010, I began jotting numbers down on my whiteboard, starting with damage values and recharge rates for blaster archetypes. The roleplaying literals used in v1.1 failed for us because that genre is handicapped for player characters; the new format would be customized and exclusive to PR. Small arms got weaker, while cannons became more powerful. Recharge times, which used to mimic relative cyclic rates, would return to the familiar two-second cooldown of space combat, with two notable exceptions: carbines and repeating blasters fire 50% faster; turbolasers fire 50% slower.

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The next step was to come up with armor and shield classes. Normally, this is where EaW applies its rock-paper-scissors logic, but that's not us - our armor works by subtracting from damage received, while shields offer protection in terms of percentage. The mistake I made last time was allowing units to become invincible if armor exceeded damage, so a half-point minimum is now in place for any regular hit. The exception to this is special damage, which is tied to armor type: Organic, Droid, or Vehicle. An Organic attack, such as a poison, ignores armor reduction when used against Organic armor; however, it does no damage to other armor types and generally should not target them, in practice. Non-lethal effects, such as stun, are also largely based around armor type.

Ranges then rapidly fell into place. From v1.1, it was clear that literal distances and speeds would not work in a game that rarely represented more than 200 meters of a planet using its own scale. Authentic values could still be used for small arms, but they would need to be condensed. The range of cannons, which can even exceed the size of our biggest land maps when done exactly, would best be planned around the camera and how much can fit on-screen at a time. Once I decided that blaster accuracy should be inclined towards infantry and laser accuracy should be inclined towards vehicles - similar to the laser/turbolaser dynamic of space - the basis of combat was established.

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Before anything could be put in data though, it would be prudent to go back to the source materials and reevaluate mechanized armaments under our new framework. Problematically, different titles use "blaster" and "laser" interchangeably, or seemingly at random. On top of that are RPG damage values, which tell another story of how the gun works, separate from the caliber descriptor. These inconsistencies were largely mediated by role and context, so while our armaments may not match every official claim, we stand behind their legitimacy.

At this point, I began updating the damage-to-armor matrices, projectile code, and hardpoints - enough to get vehicles running. By March, the new ground mechanic was ready for its first real test. I built Freerunners and headed for Brentaal. The ensuing battle was one of the most rewarding moments I've had as a developer. Land was playable again. And, for the first time ever, we had an exclusive unit that we alone took from paper to game, fighting on a map made for this mod.

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With vindication came distress: the number of land models available to us was still terribly limited, perhaps unbalancingly so, and there was no quick way to remedy that. The best option, we decided, was to delay the release and commence work on upgrades, essentially adding the functionality for what we dub a "mini-mod". That meant that Ghostrider would more or less have to scrap the ground portion of the campaigns that were already finished. Nertea moved on to the next model and I went back to the whiteboard.

Just as space upgrades were originally metered by the prolific X-wing series, the AT-AT would serve as our gauge for land. Everything we needed to accomplish with a unit - both historically and for depth of gameplay - could be done in four variants. Breakthroughs for armies seemingly progress at a slower rate than they do for navies, so this represents only half the improvement of a fully upgraded space unit, but also costs half as much.

Once again, I've tried to ensure a niche role for each faction unit; however, in a departure from space, abilities are no longer mostly class-based. Instead, we have some innovative powers that might only be available to a single unit: self-healing armors, repulsorlift jammers, point-blank EMPs. Pure combat abilities in the style of Power to Weapons are less common and have been reserved for true battlefield juggernauts.

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Dealing with upgrades gave me a chance to clean up unit tooltips as well. Obviously anything would be an improvement over the non-descriptions in current use, although the space unit block text isn't ideal either. I had naively thought that EaW would parse newlines for popup strings when I first started writing them for space; of course, it doesn't, and the format just stuck. The only way to get text on different lines is to use multiple strings, so I trialled a modular format this time to take advantage of that. The stat blocks are much more clean and readable now and buildable land units have even begun to show prose descriptions, for those that prefer words to numbers. Progress!

Hitpoints took a while to calibrate. We've normally used strict conversions from official figures to determine the amount of punishment a unit can take before it's considered destroyed. Those numbers were in place from the previous release and were immediately quadrupled for all vehicles. That gave them the longevity that was missing, but certain units still felt off during testing. On paper even, some of the canon stats just didn't make sense - speeder bikes were rated tougher than skyhoppers. It became necessary for us to find our own way. So, while I haven't abandoned our sources if they can fit, I will supersede anything that does not with a value that works in the engine. And the game plays better for it.

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The vehicle focus up to this point is intentional, as infantry had suffered from longstanding coding complications dating back to retail EaW, when most land units and all infantry had perfect aim by virtue of non-working XML accuracy tags. This is the default implementation and was never acceptable to us. The alternative is to use hardpoints, which were not meant to go with containers, the "circles" that form infantry into squads, since they create a disconnect in targeting, among other issues. The jury-rigged fix for the previous release was to use the simplest container possible, but that meant that individual troops were doing their own pathfinding, were uncohesive, and were getting stuck all over the map. When I sorted out team targeting and locomotion in April and infantry started firing on their own, all the intricacy and nuance of our small arms design from v1.1 became apparent for the first time.

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Is Han the same character without his DL-44? We think not: blasters are too varied in terms of damage, range, and capacity to simply call two pistols equal. Although lacking art and tooltips, our soldiers have always used specific weapon models where it counts, in data. And not just a single weapon like vanilla - thanks to hardpoints, combatants can brandish as many arms as they can realistically carry. In fact, we've simulated almost every weapon in existence for this era, down to the esoteric, from power hammers to wrist rockets to shatter guns, with special care taken to preserve connotation and rarity in how they are used.

These were essential in correcting my previous oversight of indigenous units and structures. Due to release expediency, many files were simply left in their original state. These have since either been converted or met the delete key, with the most noticeable changes for players being to indigenous. Houses are still in place on the maps, but nothing spawns from them, there is no associated bounty, and they're not destructable. Essentially, they're just ordinary props now, with mobs being placed exclusively through starting forces. 19 alien species were added under the civilian archetype, which will be the standard way of representing non-Humans to prevent excessive variantation. Civilians are also unique in that they come in double-strength platoons of 80 to showcase their numerical advantage.

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Unfortunately, no one was ever missing in a firefight. I'd always thought of in-game accuracy as an angle and thus was sitting around doing trigonometry trying to figure out better values to use, until Ghost mentioned in May that it's actually a measurement of spread between a group of shots at maximum range. The last point is key, since that's what ultimately determines the fire cone. All land hardpoints were redone to account for the mistake. Infantry were divided into accuracy groups - civilian, military, elite, and hero - with each group using a consistent angle, irrespective to range to simulate shooting with the naked eye. In other words, at 100 meters, a pistol and a rifle are equally inaccurate, even though rifle fire likely has triple the effective range. The opposite approach was taken with vehicles: we've assumed that targeting computer quality is proportional to weapon range, so all mounted cannons are just as inaccurate at 50% of their respective maximums.

With ground combat in excellent shape for testing, my focus shifted to aiding Ghostrider with Operation Shadow Hand, which hadn't been overhauled since v1.0. By June, Nertea had completed his second vehicle, the Heavy Tracker.

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The Mekuun Heavy Tracker is a repulsorlift support vehicle designed to house an omniprobe sensor array. This technological breakthrough in the wake of the Clone Wars allows for ground-level detection unimpeded by terrain, a blind spot for existing omnidirectional sensors. Long-range scanning is used to great effect with the topside artillery laser. Trackers typically double as command units for the Rebellion, where they are able to set up rogue reinforcement points with the aid of a landing zone beacon repeater. Although very well armored, the abundance of electronics makes them fat, somewhat fragile targets.

Much of the remaining year was consumed by countless attempts to implement a custom AI, although I continued to expand our projectile roster and convert vanilla units that had been missed. In total, five previously unused troopers, three droids, and eight vehicles were adapted from Petroglyph assets, while the T-16 Skyhopper, Luxury Sail Barge, B1 Battle Droid, B2 Super Battle Droid, Low Altitude Assault Transport, and Mygeeto land map were assimilated from community releases.

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One of the last major changes was to reinvent the bombing run for PR. When bombardment was added in FoC, little was done to differentiate it from the carpet-bombing runs of EaW: both were indiscriminate area attacks. Additionally, there was only nominal difference between bomber types. Given our emphasis on statistical transparency, this grew intolerable in the new mechanic, so I devised a way to reliably bridge space and land. All ground bombers were afforded the same characteristics as their orbital counterparts, including weapon systems. There is now a huge difference between supporting an invasion with TIE Targeters and Scimitar Assault Bombers, although in case both are present, the game will automatically pick the better unit. Pilots strafe with energy weapons and actively target enemies with warheads - no more dumping the bomb bay. This is accomplished with conventional land projectiles; the only special case is for reloads: bombers can't launch more warheads on a run than they can carry.

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The rest of the time was spent collaborating, documenting, experimenting, implementing, testing, fixing, balancing, and optimizing - the daily grind that often isn't newsworthy. Special thanks must go out to the testing team for a year and a half of silent toil. I put off announcing the land revamp this long to avoid a repeat of the last release, where when it came time to wrap up, land was barely a concept. This time, we ended up with something tremendously polished, yet still very much incomplete. Whether or not we can see this through to the end partially depends on fan and community support, so after you download the upcoming release, tell us what you think about it on the forums, and if you like it, tell a friend! That friend might just be the next member of our team.

#2 Admiral Lowarcher

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 03:59 AM

Well Phoenix, all I can say is WOW! I've never been into modding or programming in general but all the things from this post explain all that you folks work with in regards to the mod and game. I have a lot of respect for all of you for sticking with this. I have loved Star Wars as do all of you and it brings a tear to my eye to just sit here reading this post and realizing what it all means. I've read a lot of the books when I was younger so I thoroughly enjoy the space battles I get to live out. You guys are right though about the land battles, there aren't a whole lot about them that I can recall. Up until the recent land patch, I was raiding planets with the snowspeeder like crazy. I had noticed how the turbo laser towers were shooting from on side of the map to another. I had been skipping the land battles as much as possible for this reason alone. I am very anxious to try land battles soon.

Thank you guys and gals?? for all that you have done for us, to allow me to enjoy Star Wars like I imagine it!


I can't wait!!

#3 skie9173

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 04:09 AM

I know I haven't been active on the forum for awhile now (I lose my password all the time and never recover it) but I've been lurking around absorbing all the news lately. I had been expecting something neat for awhile now but not this. Truly marvelous work for all of the PR team!

The teams dedication to the lore while maintaining playability is amazing, far better than many of the current publishers and designers out there.
Can't wait for the release and getting a chance to try out the new system.

Till then keep up the excellent work!
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#4 Kitkun

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 06:31 AM

Our goal? To bring epicness and accuracy planetside. And to do it even better than we did for space.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BeyondTheImpossible

Between this and a working AI, I could really get back into this mod. Just remind me to lobby for a official optimization patch so I can have that 10,000 unit campaign back.

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#5 Ghostrider

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 08:14 AM

Between this and a working AI, I could really get back into this mod. Just remind me to lobby for a official optimization patch so I can have that 10,000 unit campaign back.


Oh a working (and dangerously proactive) AI and the intensity of land combat beat 10,000 unit campaigns any time. Campaigns of that size are not appropriate anymore as the PC tends to melt and smoke, given the additional tasking for AI processing.

However, if you want a challenge, I suggest the revamped Operation Shadow Hand is for you.... Try it on Hard setting and sit back and wait for the light show.

Also - land combat is not easy. Try taking a heavily defended planet and watch your casualties pile up for every meter of ground taken!

#6 DaveAshton

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 11:03 AM

Also - land combat is not easy. Try taking a heavily defended planet and watch your casualties pile up for every meter of ground taken!

True, more than one of my land assaults has turned into basically a war of attrition, as the bodies on both sides pile high.

#7 evilbobthebob

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 01:06 PM

Great to see everyone excited about the land combat. Coming soon, I'll be bringing in another land map article with some more of the battlefields you'll be fighting on. Oh, and one thing: turbolasers of any kind are devastating on land. It's a good idea to avoid them where possible, or upgrade your heavy vehicles. The AT-AT x4 can be an army all on its own...

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#8 Balac

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 01:31 PM

Ah, this day is now officially perfect! School cancelled AND an update to read! Even more excited for the upcoming release now. Can't wait!

#9 scotty75

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 03:55 PM

It just ocurred to met that the name "Phoenix rising", is a very well chosen name :)

#10 Aizen Teppa

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 04:47 PM

Jesus. It is - probably - the most Epic update in PR history! :good:

#11 Stormhawk

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 07:03 PM

What types of ships can execute bombing/strafing runs? Only bombers, or can, say, Z-95's do so as well? And what about transports? Lambda shuttles, Skiprays, Barloz class ships and the like?

#12 Phoenix Rising

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 07:36 PM

What types of ships can execute bombing/strafing runs? Only bombers, or can, say, Z-95's do so as well? And what about transports? Lambda shuttles, Skiprays, Barloz class ships and the like?

Only bombers can target air-to-ground with warheads, which is what separates them from fighters and airspeeders. At some point, I might allow fighters to strafe with cannons, but it hasn't been tested. Transports are only for landing.

Let me know if I can clear up anything else; this was a challenge to summarize and I probably shortchanged a few things.

#13 Ghostrider

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 07:54 PM

Only bombers can target air-to-ground with warheads...


"Only bombers", he says. Gee, talk about understatement when you get a high end bomber flight making a pass. Wow. Now that's a torpedo barrage and a half.

The effect is like nothing you have ever seen in PR before as torpedoes ripple-fire leaving smoke trails behind multiple yellow/orange fireballs that zero in to immolate helpless targets.

However, I can instantly see why TIE Targeters got upgraded! :crazed:

#14 feld

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 07:55 PM

Jeez guys. I disappear into a black hole for a year and you go all epic on me!

Awesome!

v/r
feld

#15 evilbobthebob

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 08:18 PM

I personally find bombers with ion cannon armaments to be the most useful. Disable vehicles -> torpedoes launch -> explosions result.

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#16 Stormhawk

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 08:49 PM

Just a small curiosity, in the first of the last pair of images,a B-Wing torpedo seems to be missing due to the interference of the AT-AA's jamming field. Is this accurate, and a secondary question, if that AT-AA shoots down the B-Wings, does that mean you lose a squadron of B-Wings in Galactic?

#17 Ghostrider

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 08:52 PM

Here's something to throw out there - i've only just thought of it - but should heroic fighters be allowed to make bombing runs when we get round to V1.3? (It wont happen in this release!)

Wedge Antilles is almost as scary in strafing runs as he is in a furr-ball with TIE Fighters.

#18 evilbobthebob

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 09:02 PM

Just a small curiosity, in the first of the last pair of images,a B-Wing torpedo seems to be missing due to the interference of the AT-AA's jamming field. Is this accurate, and a secondary question, if that AT-AA shoots down the B-Wings, does that mean you lose a squadron of B-Wings in Galactic?


Yes, the jamming field prevents bombing run missiles and (along with heavy turbolasers) is one of the best defences against bombers. If the B-Wings are shot down, you do not lose a squadron in galactic due to game mechanics. It wouldn't make sense to lose an entire squadron anyway because each squadron has 12 fighters and only three will take part in a bombing run. Consider replenishment as similar to that which occurs after a space battle when only a few starfighters of a squadron survive.

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#19 Stormhawk

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 09:09 PM

At some point, I might allow fighters to strafe with cannons, but it hasn't been tested. Transports are only for landing.


So military transports cannot be used for bombing runs, then? Shoot, Gamma transports strafing with turbolasers and proton rockets sounds just awesome.

Edited by Stormhawk, 30 November 2011 - 09:10 PM.


#20 evilbobthebob

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 09:15 PM

Unfortunately, that might be a little bit overpowered! Transports are already excellent in space combat, I dread to think what a flight of Skiprays would do to an army.

Phoenix Rising, head of mapping. Thanks to everyone who got us to the position below!
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