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Those dastardly doomstacks  

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Gaius Konstantine
(@gaius-konstantine)
Master Chief Reporter
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 120
February 3, 2020 06:41  

We haven’t had any conflicts in space (yet), but we humans have been fighting on the water since the day after the first boat was invented, (ok, maybe the second). When it comes to space based combat, especially in 4X games, combat, (with some exceptions) is modeled after real life surface naval action. So what gives then? Why do so many games fall apart here?

Doomstacks!

Go back in time about 2500 hundred years ago, and there was a great naval war between Athens and Sparta. This war played out like a space game as hundreds of islands and massive coastlines were key to this conflict. At some point, the Athenians came to a bone-headed decision and sent their fleet 1000 miles away to attack Syracuse. Predictably, the fleet was annihilated. Had this been a true 4X game, the war would have ended shortly after that… but it didn’t. The Athenians fought on for years after the debacle at Syracuse bay.

Fast forward to about 75 years ago and we saw the IJN get shellacked at the battle of Midway by the USN… once again had this been a 4X game, the war would have ended shortly after the battle. The war did not only continue, but the Japanese retained offensive capability for years after the disaster at Midway.

So what happened?

Well, in the case of the Athenians they had 100 ships in reserve that were activated after the battle. In other words there was no “doomstack” present at Syracuse, just a sizable portion of their overall fleet.

As for the Japanese, they had many units scattered throughout the pacific, meaning that the forces at Midway, while large and formidable, were not a doomstack.

And therein lies the problem, games that feature doomstacks tend to devolve warfare to single battle affairs. Lose your doomstack and you’re done for, conversely if you defeat the enemy doomstack they are done for and the game becomes a mop up operation.

While I’ve seen attempts to get around this, some more natural than others, it never ceases to amaze me at how many otherwise great games become completely un-done… by those dastardly doomstacks!


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D.C.Elington
(@d-c-elington)
Warrant Officer Registered
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 207
February 3, 2020 08:43  

I do agree... but then again the problem might also lie with us players who can just simply rage-quit and reload after a critical defeat! If the stakes were higher some concepts like Defense-in-Depth would make more sense maybe. Have you considered the strategy employed by online RTS players? I remember watching a pro Starcraft game and unless I'm mistaken each side could survive the loss of a outpost or two.

Also with 4X games there might be a pacing issue. I mean that it's difficult to fit operational time scales into an empire building game. I'm thinking of the reducing turn lengths in the Civ games for instance.


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Gaius Konstantine
(@gaius-konstantine)
Master Chief Reporter
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 120
February 4, 2020 06:41  
Posted by: @d-c-elington

I do agree... but then again the problem might also lie with us players who can just simply rage-quit and reload after a critical defeat! If the stakes were higher some concepts like Defense-in-Depth would make more sense maybe

Yes, rage quitting or save scumming are never the sign of a good game, as it may denote frustration or poor mechanics where the player is best served by reloading until a desired outcome is met. Ironman settings can alleviate this to a degree, but the game should be structured well enough so it isn't needed. Defense-in Depth, as you say would be a positive factor as would the use of good strategic depth. Add in some clever use of speed and range, and it would be a great start as keeping all your forces in a single doomstack would not be attractive.

 

Posted by: @d-c-elington

Also with 4X games there might be a pacing issue. I mean that it's difficult to fit operational time scales into an empire building game. I'm thinking of the reducing turn lengths in the Civ games for instance.

Spot on! Not only is it difficult but I also find that a lot of games suffer from poor pacing/balance between early game and late game. The initial pace must be fast enough to allow reasonable growth within the time scale of the game without creating a snowball in the later stages. I don't believe that it is insurmountable though, just difficult to achieve and balance correctly


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DarkOne
(@sscadmin)
Supreme Dark Emperor Admin
Joined: 4 years ago
Posts: 7199
February 4, 2020 09:40  

I haven't really played too many 4x games online with other players because usually people end up dropping and ruin a game session.

If a game can successfully keep you engaged or force you to stay engaged you usually can limit the surge people tend too do in rts/4x style of games. I am not taking away from the players that do their game research, so if you study the units and the enemy units and you build accordingly you should win if you exploit your opponents weaknesses. I think more gameplay should be focused on that instead of the building and surge aspect.

Now you have to also bring in the brain factor too 😉 not as many gamers want to actually think to win... so developers have to kinda dumb down game mechanics to attract a bigger audience this is getting to be a bigger thing these days and a shame really.


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Gaius Konstantine
(@gaius-konstantine)
Master Chief Reporter
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 120
February 4, 2020 12:01  
Posted by: @sscadmin

Now you have to also bring in the brain factor too 😉 not as many gamers want to actually think to win... so developers have to kinda dumb down game mechanics to attract a bigger audience this is getting to be a bigger thing these days and a shame really.

Bingo! This and the demand for instant gratification makes it harder for us veterans to get a good fix, especially with single player games which are not only dumbed down, but often ruined by devs attempting to please everyone...only to please no-one.

I see on your list of games Imperium Galactica 2, this was one of the best executions of a 4x RTS game I've ever played. It also featured an AI that could stomp most players on the "normal setting". Now twenty years later and I see nothing like it. Sigh, time for me to look for some good exploration/rpg type games instead. Sometimes I find it far more engaging to command a single ship, (not a fighter though, an actual ship with crew).


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