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After what seemed like a short hiatus, Harebrained Schemes is back for a 26th update to their BattleTech Kickstarter campaign. In this entry, Jordan Weisman discusses the challenges of translating the tabletop mechanics to an electronic medium, the design goals that they've set out to accomplish with the RPG, the "rapid prototyping" that's necessary to get a feel for each of its mechanics, and more. Quite a bit to read, here:
Working from an established set of design goals for a system, we like to move directly into rapid prototyping. As designers, it's always tempting to engage in lengthy debates, waxing poetic about the merits of different approaches, but we've found that it's by far more effective to simply try out each compelling idea! Our designers and engineers jump right into Unity to quickly create crude working versions of design concepts that we can play right away. These prototypes look ugly, and are missing a lot of bells and whistles, but they're enough for us to really get a feel for how the design element plays in both singleplayer and multiplayer scenarios.
This approach has made working on BATTLETECH a great deal of fun for for the entire team as we can all discuss the merits of each approach from an informed position. Even more importantly, the rapid prototyping methodology has allowed us to vet the game design many months before a fully architected code base would allow us to.
We have built and played the hell out of seven (7!) different approaches to turn order, from a completely linear XCOM-like system to a completely simultaneous action system with many variations in between. Since a simultaneous action approach is a natural one to gravitate to for BattleTech, I'm going to take some time to outline how those particular prototypes went in a bit of detail.
Our first simultaneous action prototype was one in which players plotted both movement and combat secretly and then watched as the round unfolded. The biggest issue with this prototype turned out to be with targeting and weapon selections for each 'Mech. In the prototype, players could target enemies with specific weapons while plotting their movements and then, during a simultaneous resolution phase, they'd see their choices play out in real-time action.
Sound great, doesn't it? Unfortunately, things often went very differently than folks anticipated. Watching everyone's plans going awry is supposed to be part of the fun of a simultaneous action system but instead, players felt frustrated watching one of their MechWarriors slavishly waiting to shoot their designated target rather than unloading in the rear armor of an enemy 'Mech that wandered right into the line-of-fire. To compensate, we started to give the MechWarriors the ability to override the player's targeting and weapon selections in specific circumstances and... eventually it just started feeling like the player was losing control of critical decisions. So much for Simultaneous Action Prototype #1!
With this system, you can keep reserving your '˜Mechs' actions, holding an entire lance of '˜Mechs until Phase 1, if you wanted to.
What's so interesting about reserving actions? First of all, consider the case of a whole lance of Light and medium '˜Mechs being reserved until Phase 1, where they'll get to act right at the end of a Round. Then, when the round ends and a new Round starts, they'll immediately get to act again in Phases 4 and 3! (This tactic isn't theoretical - in a recent battle, I snuck up behind our Lead Designer Kevin's Centurion with a Jenner I'd reserved to Phase 1. Then, on Phase 4 of the next Round I got to make a full alpha strike right into his back armor.)
As you'd guess, there's also a lot of value in using this tactic to locally outnumber an opponent. You want your engagements to be uneven in your favor, and you want to be able to fall back from any engagement in which you're outnumbered. Focusing your forces in one spot when your enemy is spread out is right out of Sun Tzu.
Our initiative system, which allows you to reserve units, means you can locally outnumber your enemy in time as well as space. If you can take three actions in a row, and all three actions are effective fire on a target with no chance for it to respond by moving or returning fire. you've essentially made part of the turn a 3-on-1 battle.