"There shall be wings! If the accomplishment be not for me, 'tis for some other.
The spirit cannot die; and man, who shall know all and shall have wings..."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Many people are making suggestions about Generals, but everyone has a different idea of exactly what they want to happen. All we can agree on is that Generals need to be changed in some way. Some people want ridiculous changes that are too drastic and would be virtually impossible to balance. Some people are catering to the devs and trying to just change numbers around within the current system to find that golden ratio. In truth, neither system will work.
Generals: The Demigod
"First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win."
- Mahatma Gandhi
The devs have clearly chosen a direction for the Generals, so a total about face isn't going to happen. What we know is that they are supposed to be out on the battlefield boosting their units, similar to ACU's in SupCom. They should have support spells more than damage spells, and buff nearby units with auras. This is perfectly fine. This design choice in no way contradicts the RTS elements of the game. Heroes are very common in RTS games. They are not one man armies, but instead supplemental to your real army. An army with a hero is always more effective than an army without a hero, and similarly heroes with armies are a thousand times more useful than solo heroes.
From this, you can rule out anything that would take the General off of the battlefield. Some people want him to stay behind the towers and summon things, but that is never going to happen. Some people want to nerf his HP to death so he cannot participate in a fight, but that would in no way bolster RTS elements. The General needs to be on the front line with his units. Nerfing the HP would just turn them into Support Assassins with Pets instead of Damage Assassins with Pets. Additionally, most of the forces are going to be used in close proximity to the General. Many people want to be able to have units run around the map at will doing various different tasks independent from the General. While this would be good to an extent, the bulk of your forces should always be centered on the General. More on this in a moment.
Generals should be on the battlefield. They should be weaker than Assassins but should have units backing them up. They should be the backbone of their army, providing critical extra damage where needed as well as buffing all nearby units. There is nothing wrong with a General with a direct damage spell, as long as the General has primarily support abilities. Even better than damage nukes are aimed debuffs, like Oak’s Penitence or Erebus’s Bite. This is far better than direct damage for a General as it reinforces the need for minions to do damage once the debuff has taken effect.
Idols: The Epic Fail of RTS
Unit Cost: If you read nothing else in this post, read this.
"To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill.
To subdue the enemy without fighting, is the highest skill."
The number one perpetrator of RTS elements is the Idol system. Let me break it down for you. Take an RTS. I’ll use Supreme Commander because I am the most familiar with it. On a fundamental level, you are trying to destroy the enemy ACU. There are many ways to do this, some more unscrupulous than others. However, while it is possible to ninja the enemy or hope to take him out in a genius tactical maneuver, the most reliable method is the conventional approach. You have to out produce him. If you get into a battle, you want him to take more losses than you do. You need to keep tabs on him to find profitable places to strike, and be prepared to repel any attacks he attempts to make on you. If your net income is greater than his and you put all of that income to good use, then you will most likely win.
Let’s look at a specific example. You are a few minutes into the game, and you are moving out with your tanks to take land and mass points (economy). You scout his base and see that there is no anti-air defense. In response, you build an Air Factory and construct a Jester (Tech 1 Light Gunship). That Jester costs 200 mass. By the time it arrives, he is also constructing an air factory and preparing to build an Interceptor, a unit that will quickly destroy your Jester. The softest target in his base is the Engineer, each of which costs 52 mass. Ignoring the value of anything they would go on to build (and the possibility of him reclaiming the Jester); you would need to destroy four Engineers with your Jester in order to make it a worthwhile investment. That way, you would lose the 200 mass worth of Jester and he would lose 208 mass worth of Engineers. If you only destroy three Engineers, then you take a loss of 44 mass. If you destroy five Engineers, then you make a profit of 60 mass. If you can retreat your Jester before the Interceptor finishes and somehow prevent it from being destroyed, then you are free to attack other points on the map and make an even larger profit.
As you can see, that Jester has a value. If you mindlessly sent it at the enemy, then you would probably take a loss. Similarly, if you are careful and manage to retreat and save it, then you are at an even larger profit. This is where the majority of strategy stems from in an RTS. You want to hurt the enemy in a way that puts you at a higher economical vantage point. This does not exist in Demigod.
Let us look at a similar situation in Demigod. Just looking at the 10,000 gold cost of the Level 4 Siege Demolisher Idol (because it costs 10,000 gold which is a nice round number), we can see how the exact opposite mechanic is used. You buy the Idol and summon one pair (2) Siege Demolishers. At this point, each Demolisher costs 5,000 gold. You summon two more, and each one costs 2,500 gold. But wait, you can only have four on the field at a time. Suddenly, in order to continue profiting from that Idol, you need to kill your units. The best thing to do at this point is send them out to mindlessly die and do as much damage as possible on the way. Once that happens, you can buy some more. The next batch of four makes each one cost 1250 gold. The next batch 833.3 gold, the next 625 gold.
Does anything strike you as odd about this? You are rewarded for killing your units. Instead of trying to keep units alive because they are worth something, you are trying to kill them so they were a better investment. In the current balance, the more units you lose, the more economical the Idol purchase was. This is encouraging you to kill your units. Seriously, wtf?!?! People complain about the lack of RTS elements, and I’m telling you to look right here. Idols are the primary culprit. Not powerful Assassin-esque-Generals, not an inability to split up your forces, and not the lack of base structures. Sure, the lack of these things might detriment the RTS experience (actually, only the second one, but that’s not the point right now), but the main reason this game is not an RTS and will never be an RTS in its current style is because of Idols.
The only recurring cost for summoning Minions is manna which is basically free thanks to the health crystal. In addition to removing any level of importance for keeping the units alive, this has several balance implications. Because the units have no real cost, they cannot be too powerful. They are severely limited in usefulness due to the fact that they can be endlessly replenished for free. In order to balance Assassins vs. Generals, you cannot give minions any true level of competence without giving the Generals a massive advantage. If minions had a cost in gold like a normal RTS, then each minion could be balanced according to its cost. The devs are afraid that it will be impossible to balance Generals vs. Assassins if they make them too different, but doing it this way would actually make it easier and more straightforward.
Gold and Bases: RTS 101
"Minds are like parachutes - they only function when open." - Thomas Dewar
One issue that needs to be addressed is gold. It is scarce enough as it is, being used to buy Citadel upgrades, consumables, and items. Having to buy minions on top of that would be ridiculous. Thus, Generals would need additional gold income. Remember references to QoT’s “Money Tree” in the hidden Beta 1 Achievement files? All Generals should have supplemental gold. It would be balanced as well, because they would be required to spend the gold on units in order to maintain any reasonable level of combat effectiveness.
Income provides another way the Generals could potentially be unique from each other. Erebus just screams for some sort of “Extortion” or “Bounty” ability that grants him increased gold from killing enemy units. QoT could have a standard passive gold income from her “Money Tree”, of course scaling to the amount of flags captured as to introduce map control. Sedna could be “Blessed by Life” or something, granting her gold based on how much she heals herself, allied Demigods, and units (via auras and the actual Heal skill). The Oak’s “Homage” could be based on damage taken by the Oak and/or damage he absorbed (Shield) from himself and his allies (shielding that Hammer Slam just became pretty awesome). I’m just throwing ideas out there, but I think they could all have unique and interesting methods of collecting money. Even if they all just got a passive increase, it would do the job just fine. Additionally, I think they would need some kind of additional starting income in order to get some units on the field.
Why don’t Generals just construct economic buildings to increase their gold income? And where would the new minions be purchased from? While building small bases wouldn’t break the game, I don’t think it would particularly help things either. I just don’t think it really lends itself to a lane based game such as Demigod.
Minions should come from portals. Not as uncontrollable creeps, but as controllable minions. You would simply purchase them from the portals like an item shop. This accomplishes several things. Firstly, it makes sense. You buy the minion, and it comes through the portal. Secondly, the Item shop is running out of space for tabs. Also, recruiting minions through portals could be accomplished away from home. Cataract is a rather small map where nothing is too far away from anything else, but on larger maps like Zikurat and Atlantis (or whatever they were called) you would have to take a hike to get your units which would put you out of commission for a while. Zikurat and Atlantis happen to have neutral portals in the middle of the map. This is a feature that I imagine would be on most (if not all) larger maps. This is the main reason why you would be able to recruit minions from portals: convenience.
Minions: They do all the Work; You get all the Credit
Unique Minions: Mine’s Bigger
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." - Carl Sagan
One thing many people are complaining about is the lack of multiple unique minions. In all honesty, I don't think this is important. Generals shouldn't have a bunch of unique units just for the sake of having a bunch of unique units. The primary difference between the Generals should be their skills. Already, you can see drastically different gameplay styles emerge just based on builds. QoT is good at siege and anti-creep, Sedna has amazing healing potential, and the Oak is designed to tank damage and hold the line on the battlefield. This is reflected by their single unique minion. QoT has ranged Shamblers to capitalize on her distanced roll, Sedna has beefy Yetis to make the most of her health regeneration, and the Oak can continually replenish his Spirits on the battlefield so he never has to fall back. Making additional unique units is not necessary to implement an RTS element. Also, from a realistic perspective, there's no way that would be finished in the few remaining months of the beta.
Generic Minions: All Hail the Mirror Match!
"Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers." - Unknown
What is necessary to the RTS role is minion diversity. They don't each need to have a different Minotaur, but they each need to be able to summon Minotaurs. Again, they don't all need their very own Siege unit, but they each need to have access to a Siege unit. Currently, the creep types in Demigod cover a wide range of classes. Honestly, I think the devs did an excellent job when designing them. Unfortunately, the different classes are not all available to Generals. We currently have the basic Minotaur for melee and that is fine. We then have priests for healing, which is also fine. Next we move on to Siege units, which multi-role as Archers and Siege units. While possible to get away with that, I think splitting the two apart would increase the RTS element. The Angels and Giants are not represented at all, except in unique units (Spirits and Yetis respectively).
Currently, minions are split up into four levels. I think this is a good system, similar to Tech Levels in SupCom. This could be carried forth for all minion types. The level 1 minions should be cheap and weak. Zerglings in their purest essence. Level 2 would be the “basic” level that can hold its own as a respectable unit. Level 3 wouldn’t be seen en masse until around halfway through the game, and Level 4 units would be extremely expensive and able to contend with fully leveled Demigods.
This is how I see the Minions in a rough sense.
· Minotaur: Standard melee combat unit. It charges up, does damage, and takes a few hits before biting the dust. This would probably make up the bulk of your forces alongside Archers, depending on which Demigod you are using.
o Level 1: Zerg. Nuff’ said.
o Level 2: Standard melee unit to be used in the game.
o Level 3: Standard melee unit to be used starting around halfway through the game. Damage and health are both increased.
o Level 4: Very durable minion. Can no longer be sent flying, as that would make them fairly worthless against any Demigod (maybe a trait at Level 3…). Damage is buffed to deal with a Level 18-20 Demigod and they can take a few hits from an auto attack before biting the dust. Expensive.
· Archer: Standard ranged combat unit. It stays back and does light damage from afar. It dies very easily, but shouldn’t be up front taking damage anyway. It does NOT outrange towers. Why am I explaining this? You all know what the Archer does.
o Level 1: Zerg with guns.
o Level 2: Standard ranged unit to be used in the game.
o Level 3. Standard ranged unit to be used starting around halfway through the game. Damage is increased, and I guess health could use a small buff as well.
o Level 4: Powerful minion. With Minotaurs, Giants, and the General soaking up damage, these guys will be adding a large dps bonus. They are still weak, so watch it.
· Priest: Heals you. Go figure. It is fairly meaty and the attack isn’t worth worrying about, but it does heal you.
o Level 1: I can’t really imagine a weak utility unit like this being of much worth, but we’re running on a four level system (and they already made four Priest models) so whatever. Heals minor damage but dies easily. Worthless attack. Would probably only be used in unusual utility builds.
o Level 2: Standard Priest you get in the game. Yay for it.
o Level 3: Standard Priest you use in the second half of the game. Increased heal and health. Heals 10-15% through Sedna’s Counter Healing. Can no longer be sent flying.
o Level 4: Very expensive unit, but does its job well. Tanks a lot of damage and heals a large amount. Heals 25-50% through Sedna’s Counter Healing.
· Siege: Siege units are pretty straightforward. They outrange towers, so they are ideal for attacking bases. They have low health though and rely on protection. They are not economical against normal units, and move too slowly to retreat effectively. Would have limited use against large armies, similar to normal artillery.
o Level 1: Only to be used in rush strategies.
o Level 2: Again, first half into the…
o Level 3: second half. Range and damage are increased.
o Level 4: Still fairly fragile, but immensely powerful. Fires from a very long range, but also expensive and slow. A large investment to be guarded with the rest of your army, but invaluable if protected.
· Angels: Now we get to the fun parts. Angels are important because they are basically your air force. They can be hit by towers, but are immune from Minotaurs and most Demigods. Higher levels can ninja people, lower levels are useful scouts. All around, a utility unit more than a core combat unit.
o Level 1: Scout. Cheap, fast, low damage and health. Maybe even no weapon.
o Level 2: Good for projecting power across the map. Might be useful as a rapid response unit, but that’s about it. Can’t imagine how practical they would be.
o Level 3: Similar to the normal angel currently in the game. Good for finishing off retreating Demigods and projecting your power across the map quickly.
o Level 4: The Strat Bomber of Demigod. Very expensive, but packs quite a punch. This is what you use to ninja people. Still weak though, so keep them away from towers.
· Giants: Giant walking fortresses. These guys tank damage so your Demigod doesn’t have to. Invaluable for siege, slaughter, and assassinations, these would be the first and last line of defense for any army. A lot like the theory behind SCU’s in SupCom. A “Sub”-Demigod, if you will. Allow them to capture flags. They do lower damage/cost than other units, but make up for it with much HP.
o Level 1: I kind of like the idea of a weak giant. It would be too expensive to buy at the start of the game, but affordable a minute or two in. Better at soaking up damage than doing damage, but capable of leaving some hurt if ignored. Primarily though, this would be used to capture flags in the early game should your Demigod be elsewhere.
o Level 2: Stronger, more powerful Giant. Very powerful, but also expensive. Much more capable than Level 1.
o Level 3: Slightly scary. Wouldn’t be seen much until the end of the game.
o Level 4: SupCom Experimental. Extremely high cost, but extremely high reward. If you see a supported enemy Level 4 giant, you should be scared.
Those 24 units cover almost every role you could want from beginning to end of the game. Speaking to the devs here, I know this is a lot of work. Definitely more work than anything else in this post. However, it is not as bad as it appears. From a graphical perspective, 12 of the units are already done. The other half is simply modifications on existing models. Archers, Angels, and Giants are already in the game. The visual distinctions between creep Minotaurs/Priests and minion Minotaurs/Priests are seriously limited. Also, the differences between the different levels of minions in the game already are miniscule. From a balancing perspective, well, that’s what we’re here for . It is much more feasible than balancing an entire unit set for each General. Once you get it in initially set up, then all you have to do is change numbers to change balance. With the whole community out here eagerly testing (read: playing) the game and providing feedback, that task is no more impossible than balancing Supreme Commander or Sins of a Solar Empire.
Unit Limit: An Army of One
“There is strength in numbers, and if we all work together as a team, we can be unstoppable." - Craig Kielburger
What should the unit limit be for the Generals? First, I would say that unique minions should stay as they are. They have a system that works and the unit limit is part of that system. However, the generic minions are completely changed if you get rid of Idols. Should the current limits on each unit remain, or should they be lifted? Should each individual unit have a limit or should the total army have a limit? Should the limit play a factor into what minions you use? (Will zerging eat up all your unit count?)
My answer is: This is the SupCom engine! You know; that game with giant maps and a thousand units per player? This engine is built to support many units, so why would you impose a unit limit? Sure, stick some ridiculously high number in there like SupCom which is essentially the same as having no limit. With Idols, the amount of units had to be limited because nothing else was stopping you from just summoning a thousand of them. If minions had a cost, then practical factors (like the economy) would be the limiting agent in minion numbers. I say you have no unit limit. Leave it to the player to decide how they want to build their army. The engine can do it, so I say “why not”?
Strategy: Summing up the Anti-Idol
"Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so." - Bertrand Russell
Backtracking a little bit, want to go back to splitting up your forces. For the most part, I believe that this shouldn’t be done. However, I do recognize the immense strategic and tactical advantages (and appeal) that this option provides. That is why I think Giants should be able to capture flags. If an Assassin (or another General for that matter) comes across a task force lead by a Giant, then the Demigod should win and take the flag. If a General sends a significant amount of forces off to do another task, then they should lose a fight with a full health Demigod. So why would you want to do this?
Well, let’s say your Citadel is under attack in a small game (1v1/2v2). The/Both Demigods are pushing on your Citadel and are supported by a large army of creeps. They are doing significant damage, but you can hold them back for the time being. If one of you would leave, then the tide would turn drastically in favor of oppressing forces. You can, instead, divert a small amount of forces to go and capture flags, or make a strike on an enemy portal. While not a decisive game winner, it would give you the breathing room necessary for one of the oppressing Demigods to break off, which would allow you to repel the assault. This is just one example showing that, while Generals and minions should stick together, there are always going to be times when they need to be able to break apart. When those times come, it should be an option.
Even while staying near a General, there are reasons for multiple unit types. Take the following picture.
Forgive my bad drawing. I am using Paint on a touchpad and I don’t have my home computer to get screenshots from. That is supposed to represent the area outside a Portal on Cataract. The General probably won’t win that battle. A lot of money went toward the Siege units so the normal army is weakened. However, the General doesn’t have to “win” to be victorious. If he can hold the line until the Siegers are finished, then he can safely retreat. If the enemy Demigod attempts to push through, then he would be mobbed by all the units he ignored and probably killed. If the enemy Demigod falls back and loops around, then the General wins the main front but can fall back the Siegers before harm comes to them.
I could go on, but you probably get the idea that there are a lot of possible outcomes based on what happens. From the General’s perspective, he is trying to make the enemy lose more than he does. If he can take down the towers, then he wins. If he can take down the enemy Demigod, then he wins. If he retreats and loses ground, then he loses both units and the Fortitude Flag just south of his location (map control) without any significant advantage for his efforts (read: loses). Whatever happens, the consequences are going to be more far reaching than if it were two Assassins. If that were the case, then one would simply die, respawn, and everything would start over. Because there is a General, the minions have a cost and increase the value of the venture. He needs to have thought out the long term effects of his venture or he is going to be down more than 30 seconds of respawn time and a Fortitude Flag. You may be wondering why I am going into so much detail about some random, generic situation that would be seen in any match in dozens of other games. After all, this is situation is just like any other RTS game. Oh wait, what? RTS elements?
Generals vs. Assassins: Also Featuring “The Meaning of Life” and other Unanswered Questions
"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." - Henry Ford
This is the ultimate question right now in Demigod. Is it possible to balance RTS and RPG so they work together without one having a decisive advantage over the other? The only real answer is 42, as nothing but the answer to life, the universe, and everything could ever resolve such a situation. However, we will do our best.
What the heck is going on here?
"The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." - Eden Phillpotts
First, let’s look at the strengths of both sides. The Assassins are (obviously) one man armies. They focus on leveling up and farming creeps to gain experience. This experience makes them more powerful in combat and it grants them many potent abilities. In order to progress through the game, they need to level up as fast as possible. At high levels, they are unstoppable juggernauts that plow through any non-Demigod in their path. Most can take out a late game creep wave in a couple of seconds if they go all out.
Generals are a creep wave. They have numbers on their side. This is both a blessing and a curse. It allows them to be in multiple places at once, it increases their overall damage potential, and it slows things down for Demigods that can only target a single unit. This is also very bad, as an AoE Assassin would be able to quickly wear down all units at the same time. This leads to another benefit of Generals: unit diversity. Against a Demigod that targets single units, spamming low level Minotaurs would win. Against an AoE assassin, it may be in your best interests to consolidate your forces into a few sturdy Giants. Against glass cannons like Regulus and Torchy, you would want to be able to damage them quickly so they have to fall back. Against beefy tanks like the Rook (assuming they eventually nerf his speed), you would want to use ranged units and keep your distance, forcing him to come to you. Generals (would) require gold to support their armies, and while levels would increase their potency, gold is what would truly drive their war machine.
Of course, if a General loses a confrontation, then it loses a large investment. Assassins just respawn after a while and end up down some exp. Generals lose their entire army, a large gold investment. While they both miss out on gold, the General’s gold would be much greater in abundance and much more important. Also, if a General dies, all of its units perish. Generals carry a much higher price for failure. However, this is to be expected. Someone who chooses the RTS play style should be willing to be accept the RTS risks, namely the Slippery Slope. Generals would occasionally have to go back to replenish units anyway, so the gold they use to start their next life would be the gold they would have used to spawn their next wave. If you die repeatedly without making money, well, Slippery Slope. Welcome to an RTS. I think this is actually a good thing, as it reflects similarities between Demigod and the RTS genera should you be playing with Generals. This is what we want, right?
There is a thought that a General should only be able to beat an Assassin if they have their whole army with them. I disagree. The Assassin’s play style will inevitably change if it is against a General. They would have to focus on wearing down the General’s units before finally striking and preventing the General from escaping. The thing is that if an Assassin charges in and kills ten minions, then Wand of Speeds away to the health crystal, the General ends up down some units. These units cost money and don’t come back, so when the Assassin comes back with full health, it is even easier. However, the Assassin loses its economy (experience) when it runs off the battlefield and the General continues to gain gold. This actually helps to balance that particular issue.
But that doesn’t solve the problem of, “How many units does it take to get to the center of a giant walking castle?” You would need a sizeable army in order to take down an Assassin. Of course, this army won’t come instantly. The answer is “as many as it takes.” I know, you want something more than that, but what if I asked you something else. How many units does it take to destroy the enemy ACU in Supreme Commander? Not just the ACU, but in a real game where he builds an army. How many units does it take to win? The answer: as many as it takes.
If you attack an outpost in Supreme Commander, there are three basic outcomes. First, you attack the outpost, destroy it, and gain an advantage. Second, you attack the outpost, are repelled, and take a loss for that skirmish. But there is another way to lose. If you attack that outpost and destroy it, but the cost of the attack was greater than the advantage gained by destroying the outpost, then you take a loss. In Demigod, saying that a General should require all units that he can support to take down an Assassin is like taking that outpost at such a high cost that you ultimately end up at a disadvantage.
An Assassin can attack a General and die, yet still end up with the advantage. If the Assassin takes out a large enough quantity of the General’s units, then the General’s cost of destroying the Assassin can be greater than the Assassin’s penalty for dying. This is a good thing. The problem with the entire concept of Generals vs. Assassins is that it is being quantified as an RPG experience. The “winner” is being determined by who dies. However, should true RTS gameplay be implemented, then the full strategic depth of Generals would have to be brought to bear. If a General dies, then it is a big problem. After the first few minutes, without any allies, a death from the General would likely cost him the game. Assassins do not have to attack the General himself to win. All they have to do is attack the General’s war effort. If this effort is sufficiently diminished, then the Assassin is beating the General. Measuring it in deaths is an RPG term, and you cannot measure RTS success in RPG standards.
"The only ones who fly are the one who dare to fly." - Luis Sepulveda, Chilean writer
If a General can take down an Assassin and the losses are minimal enough that the General ultimately profits from the exchange then the General is winning. If an Assassin can corner the General and/or deny it an effective war effort then, even if the Assassin takes a death, the Assassin is winning. The problem with the concept of Assassins vs. Generals is it focuses on the RPG element, not the RTS element. In reality, the battle will not be determined by Demigod deaths and kills like an RPG, but instead by how effectively the General is able to expand and use its forces. The Assassin will be forced to play on the General’s turf. It will still be an RPG character in play style, but it will have to attack according to the General’s potential strengths in order to keep the beast at bay.
That is how I imagine the combat will go. I can’t speak as to how it will actually work as I can do nothing but hypothesize at the moment. However, I have the utmost confidence that we can pull it off if the devs are willing to give it a shot. I personally never settle for anything less than the best, and “Assassins with Pets” is far from the best. We can make this game an effective RTS-RPG hybrid that has balance between both game styles. The devs just have to try. No risk, no reward. That’s what everything comes down to.
"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." - Les Brown